True that: David Broder on Glenn Beck

David Broder has beautiful column today on Glenn Beck. Sometimes the voices of decent moderates are especially powerful, saying: enough.

I live in a majority African-American community. My kids go to a school that is majority nonwhite. Much of my public health and violence prevention work is in African-American communities. It saddens me that so many white people genuinely fear the political and economic ascendance ascent of African-Americans, exemplified by President Obama. This is a strange, but genuinely human fear that African-Americans will seek to avenge the legacy of slavery, segregation, and discrimination. That’s just not what’s in people’s hearts or in their heads.

What is in Glenn Beck’s heart and in his head–that’s another matter. He is speaking today, the anniversary of Dr. King’s I have a Dream Speech, at the Lincoln Memorial, seeking to “take back” America from God knows what. Forty-seven years later, the largeness of Dr. King’s vision, its fidelity to the best of America, utterly overshadows Mr. Beck’s strange and pathethic spectacle.

David Broder has a beautiful column today, recounting his own experience in Washington on that 1963 day. He concludes:

What became apparent, as the masses moved slowly along the Reflecting Pool and gathered before the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, was that if this was a mob, it was the most benign mob in history.

Even before a word was spoken — let alone the eloquent words that have echoed down through history — it had become absolutely evident from the people themselves that achieving civil rights would be the way to heal, not damage, the country.

I went back to the Star wondering what it was we had been afraid of. And I’ve remembered this many times since, when people have tried to teach us to fear certain things, such as someone else’s marriage or place of worship.

Sometimes the voices of decent moderates speak especially powerfully, to say: Enough.

The President Insults His Most Loyal Supporters AGAIN

Come November, General Obama is going to look behind him and suddenly realize he doesn’t have an Army.

Some of us complained about this several months ago, but Jonathan Bernstein notes today that the White House has been unconscionably derelict in filling empty federal judicial slots: the number of vacancies has grown over the last two months. 

And no, this isn’t just about GOP obstructionism:

The important thing to remember here is that this is in one important respect unlike Democratic obstruction while George W. Bush was president: right now, and throughout this 111th Congress, every one of Barack Obama’s nominees probably has the votes to be confirmed. And I’m not talking about 50 votes plus Joe Biden; I’m talking about the Senate gold standard, 60 votes, enough to beat a filibuster and invoke cloture. Of course, that hasn’t been tested on the remaining nominees, but I’m confident that there’s no one nominated who would lose the votes of Snowe and Collins…in fact, I think there’s a solid bloc of somewhere between 62 and 65 votes for cloture for any scandal-free liberal nominee. I believe that’s true across the board; it’s certainly true of most of the nominees. That doesn’t mean that GOP obstruction isn’t a factor, but it’s a factor that Harry Reid, Pat Leahy, and Barack Obama could easily overcome if they decided to make it a top priority. There’s still plenty of time to confirm every single one of the current nominees if Democrats really want to do that and are willing to be as aggressive in their use of Senate rules on offense as the Republicans have (quite legitimately, for the most part, in my view) in their attempts to obstruct. They won’t do it, however, unless Barack Obama sends clear signals that he wants it done. And if they don’t, well, who knows what’s going to happen in the 112th Senate? So, Mr. President, are you going to step up on this one?

Do we even need to ask this last question?  I’m far less optimistic than Bernstein is on the obstruction question, but you can’t test it unless you’ve got nominees.

Once again, this is where Obama has just decided that he doesn’t care about his most loyal supporters.  Judgeships are a way of showing people you care about their concerns without the need for constant compromising — and it’s not as if there is a shortage of outstanding candidates.  Why do you think George W. Bush made such a big deal about stem-cell research?  Or was out there every day with “up or down vote” demands for Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown?

Obama was right to compromise on the health care bill: he needed the votes.  But he doesn’t need to do that here.  Or with Elizabeth Warren. Or with Dawn Johnsen.  Or with the Solicitor General’s position on Connecticut v. AEP.  Or with recess appointments.  Or with Afghanistan.  Or with all kinds of things.

This is the sort of steady drip, drip, drip that does a wonderful job in deflating your most loyal supporters.  Oh yes, we’ll come out to vote — but it’s harder to get people to give money, to walk precincts, to make phone calls, to do the kind of basic blocking and tackling that you need in a very challenging electoral environment.

I can’t help but think that this is a Rahm Emanuel production.  His only political tactic is to tell liberals to STFU, and he keeps playing it regardless of the circumstances.  Sometimes it is right, but not always.  He’s got a hammer, and every political problem looks like a nail.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s campaign featured marchers billing themselves as the “wide-awakes.”  Obama seems set on establishing the Chloroform Brigade.

How the DMV Undermines Democracy

“She was a fat, resentful woman. The kind who is always behind the counter at the DMV when you need to renew your registration”

–P.J. O’Rourke, A Parliament of Whores

“There are days when we don’t let the line move at all.”

–Patty and Selma, The Simpsons

I generally ignore the protesters with the “Obama-is-a-Radical-Muslim-with-a-crazy-Baptist-preacher-in-Chicago” and “Get government out of Medicare” signs when I walked from the Metro station to my office in Washington D.C. But the day I had to register my car at the Virginia DMV, I saw a method to at least one protester’s madness. He set up a table about 300 yards away and around two building corners from the front door of the DMV. Continue reading “How the DMV Undermines Democracy”

Gambling and Losing in Las Vegas Housing, With Help

The median price of new and resale houses and condos sold in Las Vegas in July dropped by over $9,000 relative to (gulp) the prior month. The federal tax incentive to purchase a house was worth up to $8,000, meaning there are no doubt people in Sin City who have already had that inducement’s value wiped out. In the rush to save realtors and homebuilders, the government created a program that tempted many Americans into making a lousy investment during a sucker’s rally.

Metaphor, formerly Phil Spector’d, resurrected.

Infinite loop, meet one-song shuffle.

Republicans have no economic policy except tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.  You might say they’re playing their obsession on an infinite loop.

…except that the “infinite loop” metaphor is dying, almost dead.  At 41, I’m almost certainly one of the youngest people to use (in middle school, when it was already almost obsolete) a reel-to-reel tape player on which one could actually splice the tape containing some music or words into a loop for the machine to play ceaselessly.  Granted, “infinite loop” is also programming talk for a subroutine from which there’s no exit—hence Apple Computer’s corporate address—but that’s hardly common knowledge.  I suspect most younger people have no idea what an infinite loop is, nor should they.

Steve Benen, though has coined the twenty-first century version:

It’s as if someone bought an ipod, uploaded one song, and hit “shuffle.”


Update: OK, it looks as if I got it wrong (as Kevin Drum and his commenters noted, as well as many of the comments below).  The audiotape term was endless loop.  Infinite loop always referred to programming.  My mistake.

But as I note a fair way down in the comment thread, my point stands, in slightly modified form: to say something is “playing in an endless loop” is a dying metaphor, and Benen’s one-song-shuffle remains an outstanding update.

Howard Dean: A Party-Builder, not a Leader.

Howard Dean: great party builder; lousy moral leader.

Howard Dean made the news twice this week.  By that I mean that he was in the news once and brought it about invisibly a second time.

He was in the news for his inane remarks about the non-mosque that has been approved for a site not-at-Ground Zero (if its backers had any money to build, which they don’t)–not that Dean took the trouble to learn any of this before mouthing off that Cordoba was an “affront” to the families of 9/11 victims.

He was behind the claim trumpeted by Tim Kaine that “Democrats [hold] important structural advantages over Republicans, particularly the strength of their political organization in states across the country.”  I’m less confident than Kaine is that this will salvage the election (it’s his job to be upbeat), but it’s a real strength nevertheless, and Dean can take credit.  Kaine is talking about the fifty-state strategy, which was Dean’s doing, and which made the Democratic Party stronger throughout the country than it had been in decades.

I know that people’s political likes and dislikes tend to go in a lump: our favorable or unfavorable feelings about politicians radically shape our judgments about everything they do.  In Dean’s case, though, a mixed verdict seems appropriate.  This week vindicates both those (e.g. me) who thought Dean the presidential candidate an arrogant, moralizing aristocrat with a barely concealed cynical streak and those who thought his ideas about fundraising and party-building were nothing short of a revelation.  We should be very glad that Dean brought back the party, and very glad that he’s not running the country.


Feisal Abdul Rauf of Cordoba House delivered for the Bush Administration when it needed prominent Muslims to speak for America after 9/11. Now they’ve left him hanging out to dry.

So it turns out that Feisal Abdul Rauf of Cordoba House went on at least two “public diplomacy” missions for the Bush State Department. That makes the wingnuts who are portraying him as a crypto-terrorist a bunch of liars, but that’s hardly news. What ought to be news is that George W. Bush, Condoleeza Rice, and Karen Hughes can’t be bothered to defend the guy they used, now that their political buddies have decided that he’s the Second Coming of Osama bin Laden.

Practical politics, much as academics and pundits despise it, has its own ethical code. And the first rule of that code is that, when people do stuff for you, you owe them. I don’t know how much danger Rauf put himself in by standing with America against its enemies, but on his current State Department mission he has cause to reflect not only on the quality of American tolerance but on the morals of some of its former leaders.

Rice in particular surely knows that the invented controversy is extremely bad for our foreign relations. And yet she has obviously calculated that saying the right thing would damage her influence with what she seems to believe is now the permanently dominant Republican faction.

I keep saying it only because it keeps being true: the contemporary GOP is simply not a plausible alternative governing party. There is simply no adult supervision available at that particular jamboree.

Haiti’s ruins and Pakistan’s flood

A plea for charity alone is not, I’ll admit, compelling reading. Here, then, are some actual reasons to believe we may be less inclined to help Pakistan after the floods than we should be.

Keith a few days ago drew some fascinating conclusions from the fact that a post of his on AIDS evoked no comments: AIDS now evokes ennui, to both good and bad effect.  It would appear that my post on Pakistan suggesting that people send money to both UNICEF and carbon offset funds was equally boring.  I deserved it: this is an intellectual blog, and though I implied intellectual reasons behind my call for charity, I didn’t spell them out.  I will now.

First, there is every reason to believe that global warming made the flood worse.  (Monsoons themselves are natural; this is a different case from James’ outstanding post on how certain high-intensity storms, in places that never used to experience them, are probably caused uniquely by global warming.) The storm itself is part of a trend in which global warming is making extreme weather events of all kinds more common. Specific details about the climate in the region suggest—with less than perfect confidence, but with no reason I can see to demand such—that storms just like this one are becoming more frequent and stronger due to warming trends. In this case, the fact that the Himalayan glaciers are melting has likely also made things worse.  Millions of people have been left homeless by the storm and at risk of starvation or cholera.  That the fate of one of those people can be chalked up to the amount of CO2 one of us produces throughout a lifetime seems pretty likely.  My headline “Peccavi,” Latin for “I have sinned,” was an intended reference to the famous Punch cartoon portraying Charles James Napier saying this after illegally conquering Sindh province.  Like him, we’ve done something to Sindh, and like him we’re guilty.

Second, we’re almost certainly giving less in response to this disaster than we give in response to others that are equally catastrophic or even less so.  Part of this is “poor marketing” by Pakistan’s government.  (Sad commentary on being as poor as Pakistan: your people’s welfare hangs on the quality of a PR job regarding their misery.)  A New York Times story today blames several other factors: the low initial death toll, slow media coverage (and no telethon, e.g. like this one), the global recession, donor fatigue, the August vacation season, and Pakistan’s bad image as a center for war, terrorists and loose nukes.  But unnamed “aid groups” seized on the main reason, I think:

Images of people slogging through water did not generate the same kind of sympathy as a leveled city, even though the dimensions are similar, aid groups noted, especially since, according to the United Nations, more than 15 million people have been affected and are often difficult to reach.

Ruins are like accidents: they’re fascinating.  Burke in his work on The Sublime and the Beautiful noted that “numbers from all parts” would visit London in ruins after an earthquake who would never care to visit when it was standing—even though almost nobody is so wicked as to want it leveled.  He further, and rightly, noted that this apparently morbid interest is socially salutary as long as it’s paired with sympathy: the fascination leads us to seek out disasters, and then the sympathy makes us want to help.  But floods aren’t as impressive; they don’t seem violent or disastrous.  They evoke images of wading to higher ground where help will arrive. We can’t picture a reality in which the help, in an unimaginably large area, has also been flooded out.

With all that as preface, here’s take two:

UNICEF United States’ page on the Pakistan floods, Sustainable Travel International, or the U.S.’s top-rated carbon offset funds (per this report, .pdf)

The Case for Standing — or Lack Thereof

Emily Bazelon asks “do we really want gay marriage to become legal in California because of what’s essentially a technicality?” Uh, yes — that’s EXACTLY what we want.

Emily Bazelon asks:

But in the end, do we really want gay marriage to become legal in California because of what’s essentially a technicality? That seems a highly unsatisfying resolution to what was always billed as an epic case, and it would expose in the left a bit of hypocrisy about standing much as it would the right.

Answer: yes, that’s precisely what I want.

If the Prop 8 is dismissed for lack of standing, then that means that gay marriages will be legal in California.  It will move the cause forward.  We will see gays and lesbians get married, with the end of the world not occurring.

And most importantly, it will mean that all of this can occur without worrying about what Anthony Kennedy will feel like when he wakes up in the morning.  Kennedy has been sympathetic on issues of gay rights: after all, he wrote Romer and Lawrence.  But taking this case to the Supremes means asking him to hold that gay marriage is mandated across the United States.  He doesn’t want to do that: that’s why he wrote Romer narrowly, without squarely facing the issue of review standard for sexual orientation discrimination.  It’s too much of a risk to force him into this kind of position.

Bazelon rejects this.  “Isn’t it odd,” she asks, “to think that a majority of the voters could pass a law, and then just because the governor and the attorney general don’t like it, no one gets to stand up for it on appeal? Especially after they’ve been allowed to do so at trial?”

Well, yes — it is odd.  And you know what?  Courts do this all the time.  The Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education did not rest its decision on the equality principle, but rather a bunch of social science research concerning educational outcomes.  And you why that was?  Because the justices knew that if they wrote the decision more broadly, they would have to come to grips with — irony alert – anti-miscegenation laws.  And they knew that the time wasn’t right for that.  That actually is what standing is really about.

I’m no fan of restrictive standing, and think that constitutionalizing it is a terrible idea.  But I’ll take it.  That’s the way progress works.  And if this causes conservatives to become enraged at restrictive standing rules, we can’t say we didn’t warn you.  Maybe your friends like Chief Justice Roberts can actually do something about it.