Monday Reads

Josep Balounek CoffeeGood Morning!

Well it’s my turn for a sinus infection I guess!  I’ve been trying to fight it with sleep and the usual but it just got the better of me yesterday.   Let me share a few quick links with you.

This one is a little out there but according to Michael Douglas, the HPV virus gave him his cancer.  He believes oral sex was the root cause.

The cause of Douglas’s cancer had long been assumed to be related to his tobacco habit, coupled with enthusiastic boozing. In 1992, he was hospitalised for an addiction which some at the time claimed to be sex. Douglas himself denied this and said he was in rehab for alcohol abuse. He has also spoken of recreational drug use.

HPV, the sexually transmitted virus best known as a cause of cervical and anal cancer and genital warts, is thought to be responsible for an increasing proportion of oral cancers.

Some suggest that changes in sexual behaviour – a rise in oral sex in particular – are responsible. Such changes might be cultural, but could also be linked to fears about the safety of penetrative sex in the wake of the Aids epidemic.

Mahesh Kumar, a consultant head and neck surgeon in London, confirmed that the last decade has seen a dramatic rise in this form of cancer, particularly among younger sufferers. Recent studies of 1,316 patients with oral cancer found that 57% of them were HPV-16 positive.

“It has been established beyond reasonable doubt that the HPV type 16 is the causative agent in oropharyngeal cancer,” said Kumar, who also testified to increased recovery rates among this kind of cancer sufferer. This would help explain why Douglas was given an 80% chance of survival, despite the advanced stage of his illness.

But Kumar expressed scepticism that Douglas’s cancer was caused solely by HPV, and surprise at Douglas’s assertion that cunnilingus could also help cure the condition. “Maybe he thinks that more exposure to the virus will boost his immune system. But medically, that just doesn’t make sense.”

So, anyway, something to read more on if that’s the case.

A new Republican Woman politician has stepped into the role played by Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman. It’s called let’s sell out women! Congresswoman Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) opposes Pay Equity Laws saying that women ‘Don’t want the decisions made in Washington’. 

Blackburn’s comments came during a round table on Meet the Press. The panel was discussing women’s increasing roles as the primary breadwinners in American families, and women’s general rise in the corporate and political arenas. After she asserted that companies — and her own Republican Party — had to do a better job of incorporating females into the workplace, former White House adviser David Axelrod asked Blackburn whether paycheck fairness laws would bolster women’s chances of achieving success. She responded by saying that Washington should stay out of the matter:

AXELROD: How about pay equity laws to ensure that women are treated fairly in the workplace?

BLACKBURN: I think that more important than that is making certain that women are recognized by those companies. You know, I’ve always said that I didn’t want to be given a job because I was a female, I wanted it because I was the most well-qualified person for the job. And making certain that companies are going to move forward in that vein — that is what women want. They don’t want the decisions made in Washington. They want to be able to have the power and the control and the ability to make those decisions for themselves.

But as the panel pointed out immediately before the exchange, companies are already “recognizing” and hiring more and more women. Women are now the primary breadwinners for 40 percent of all American families — a four-fold increase from 50 years ago.

The problem is that many of those women aren’t placed on equal footing with their male counterparts once they’re hired. Contrary to Blackburn’s insinuation, paycheck and workplace equity legislation isn’t about affirmative action — it’s about making sure that employers don’t discriminate against their workers on the basis of gender. Women in full-time, year-round jobs only make 77 cents for every dollar a man makes for the same level of work.

After all, who wants civil rights and liberty?vintage_cafe_posters_D285

I’ve often thought that basic idea of ‘state’s rights’ and of the right wing’s extreme distrust in the government was hooked historically to maintaining the institution of slavery in the south.  Guess I am not the only one.

Over the last several decades, the Right also built an imposing vertically integrated media machine that meshes the written word in newspapers, magazines and books with the spoken (or shouted) word on TV and talk radio. This giant echo chamber, resonating with sophisticated propaganda including revisionist (or neo-Confederate) history, has convinced millions of poorly informed Americans that the framers of the Constitution hated a strong central government and were all for “states’ rights” – when nearly the opposite was true as Madison, Washington and Hamilton rejected the Articles of Confederation and drafted the Constitution to enhance federal power.

Further, the Right’s hijacking of Revolutionary War symbols, like yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, confuses the Tea Party rank-and-file by equating the founding era’s resistance against an overseas monarchy to today’s hatred of an elected U.S. government.

Amid this muck of muddled history, the biggest secret withheld from the American people is that today’s Right is actually promoting a set of anti-government positions that originally arose to justify and protect the South’s institution of slavery. The calls of “liberty” then covered the cries of suffering from human bondage, just as today’s shouts of outrage reflect resentment over the first African-American president.

Senator Bernie Saunders has written an excellent piece in the UK Guardian saying that we can not except the status quo as the “new normal.” The worsening gap income inequality and wealth should not be acceptable.

The front pages of American newspapers are filled with stories about how the US economy is recovering. There is some truth to that. Since President George W Bush left office in 2009, significant progress has been made in moving our economy out of the abyss of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s. But in the midst of this slow recovery, we must not accept a “new normal”.

We must not be content with an economic reality in which the middle class of this country continues to disappear, poverty is near an all-time high and the gap between the very rich and everyone else grows wider and wider.

The good news is that instead of losing more than 700,000 jobs a month as we were five years ago, we’ve been gaining almost 200,000 jobs a month since January. The bad news is that, in addition to those job numbers being much too low, nearly 60% of the jobs gained since the “recovery” are low-wage jobs that pay less than $14 an hour, while most of the jobs lost during the recession were decent-paying middle-class jobs.

The good news is that the official unemployment rate has gone down from 10% in October of 2009 to 7.5% in April. The bad news is that 20 million Americans still are looking for work and the real unemployment rate – counting those who have given up looking for work and those working part time when they need full time jobs – is 13.9% The very bad news is that youth and minority unemployment is far higher than that and, with the decline in factory jobs, income for poorly educated men has shrunk by nearly two-thirds over the past four decades.

I know this is a little short, but I hope you’ll understand.  I just don’t to seem to have much energy.  So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Obsessive Poll Watching Open Thread: Pew has Obama by 3 . . . Plus, microtargeting voters for GOTV

I’m sure glad MSNBC is running real programming tonight, because I can’t think of much other than the upcoming election. The polls have been moving toward Obama over the past few days, and suddenly he’s ahead in the Pew Poll which has been showing Romney ahead for some time.

Nate Silver reacted on Twitter, saying that the results match his findings:

Nate Silver ‏@fivethirtyeight
Simple average of national polls released Thursday: Obama +0.9. Friday: Obama +1.2. Saturday: Obama +1.3. Today (so far): Obama +1.4

Pew reports:

In the Pew Research Center’s election weekend survey, Obama holds a 48% to 45% lead over Romney among likely voters.

The survey finds that Obama maintains his modest lead when the probable decisions of undecided voters are taken into account. Our final estimate of the national popular vote is Obama 50% and Romney 47%, when the undecided vote is allocated between the two candidates based on several indicators and opinions.

The interviews all took place after superstorm Sandy struck.

Obama’s handling of the storm’s aftermath may have contributed to his improved showing. Fully 69% of all likely voters approve of the way Obama is handling the storm’s impact. Even a plurality of Romney supporters (46%) approve of Obama’s handling of the situation; more important, so too do 63% of swing voters.

Pew expects voter turnout to be lower than in either 2004 or 2008, which could help Romney, but other data favors Obama.

Nearly four-in-ten (39%) likely voters support Obama strongly, while 9% back him only moderately. A third of likely voters support Romney strongly, compared with 11% who back him moderately. In past elections, dating to 1960, the candidate with the higher percentage of strong support has usually gone on to win the popular vote.

Similarly, a much greater percentage of Obama supporters than Romney supporters are voting for him rather than against his opponent (80% for Obama vs. 60% for Romney), another historical indicator of likely victory. And far more registered voters expect an Obama victory than a Romney victory on Nov. 6 (52% vs. 30%).

Obama’s increases in likely voter support are most notable among women, older voters, and political moderates. Women now favor Obama by a 13-point margin (53% to 40%), up from six points a week ago and reflecting a shift toward Obama since early October. Right after the first presidential debate, the women’s vote was split evenly (47% each). Men, by comparison, favor Romney by a 50% to 42% margin, with little change in the past month.

At the Guardian UK, Ewen McAskill writes:

The findings are similar to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll published at the weekend. The two offer the first firm evidence of the impact of Sandy on the election. Pew carries one caution for Obama, suggesting turnout may be lower than in 2008 and 2004, which could help Romney.

Obama’s team claimed that Romney’s frantic campaign schedule reflected a sense of desperation, squeezing in a late visit to previously neglected Pennsylvania Sunday in the search for elusive electoral college votes elsewhere. The Obama team also cited visits Monday to Florida and Virginia, two states it said the Romney camp had claimed to have locked up.

In an interview with ABC, David Plouffe, who organised Obama’s re-election bid, expressed confidence the president will win on Tuesday, and seized on a comment by Karl Rove that Obama had benefited from superstorm Sandy. Democrats are interpreting this as Rove, George W Bush’s former campaign strategist and co-founder of the Crossroads Super Pac that has poured millions of dollars into Romney’s campaign and those of other Republicans, beginning to get his excuses in early.

“A few days ago he [Rove] predicted a big Romney win. My sense is Karl is going be at a crossroads himself on Tuesday when he tries to explain to the people who wrote him hundreds of millions of dollars why they fell up short,” Plouffe said.

Another Obama strategist, David Axelrod, commenting on Romney’s Pennsylvania trip, told Fox News: “They understand that they’re in deep trouble. They’ve tried to expand the map because they know in states like Ohio. They’re behind and they’re not catching up at this point.” He added: “They understand that the traditional, or the battleground, states that we’ve been focusing are not working out for them.”


On Microtargeting . . .

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been reading some interesting articles on the GOTV efforts of the two campaigns. I was struck by this piece at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel about a woman in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, Priscilla Trulen, who received a spooky call on Halloween.

“It was Mitt Romney saying, ‘I know you have an absentee ballot and I know you haven’t sent it in yet,’ ” Trulen said in an interview. “That just sent me over the line. Not only is it like Big Brother. It is Big Brother. It’s down to where they know I have a ballot and I haven’t sent it in! I thought when I requested the ballot that the only other entity that would know was the Mukwonago clerk.”

Other voters are being “creeped out” by calls from Democratic groups.

In Brown County, residents are unnerved about “voter report cards” from Moveon.org that show the recipients how their voting participation compares to those of their neighbors.

The solicitations give only a small glimpse into how much digital information the campaigns are able to access about voters.

Corporations working for candidates request publicly available voter data as well as information about absentee ballots from state governments, which they can combine with other data to target individual voters.

The cost of the entire state database is $12,500. Four requesters have been willing to pay that since Sept. 1, Magney said: Catalist (a progressive voter database organization), the Democratic National Committee, and data analysis firm Aristotle – all based in Washington, D.C. The last requester was Colorado-based Magellan Strategies, a firm that specializes in “micro-targeting” for Republican parties and candidates….

In an interview with PBS that aired in October, Aristotle’s chief executive officer, John Phillips, said the company keeps up to 500 data points on each voter – from the type of clothes they buy, the music they listen to, magazines they read and car they own, to whether they are a NASCAR fan, a smoker or a pet owner, or have a gold credit card. Some of that information comes from commercial marketing firms, product registration cards or surveys. Other information is obtained through Facebook, door-to-door canvassing, petitions and computer cookies – small data codes that register which websites the user has visited.

Through data modeling, analyzers can categorize voters based on how they feel about specific issues, values or candidates. They then try to predict voting behavior and figure out which issue ads voters are most likely to be susceptible to – for instance ads on education, gun control or immigration.

One of the companies that requested the full Wisconsin voter database, Magellan Strategies, explains on its website that it conducts surveys on people’s opinions and merges that with their political, consumer and census demographics.

Whoever targeted Trulen made one important mistake, however. She tends to vote Democratic although she lives in a Republican district.

According to Sasha Issenberg, author of the book The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns, writes that in 2008 and 2012, the Democratic microtargeting operation is far superior to the Republican one.

In fact, when it comes to the use of voter data and analytics, the two sides appear to be as unmatched as they have ever been on a specific electioneering tactic in the modern campaign era. No party ever has ever had such a durable structural advantage over the other on polling, making television ads, or fundraising, for example. And the reason may be that the most important developments in how to analyze voter behavior has not emerged from within the political profession.

“The left has significantly broadened its perspective on political behavior,” says Adam Schaeffer, who earned graduate degrees in both evolutionary psychology and political behavior before launching a Republican opinion-research firm, Evolving Strategies. “I’m jealous of them.”

In other words, the Republican dislike of science and academia may be holding Romney back in the microtargeting area.

Schaeffer attributes the imbalance to the mutual discomfort between academia and conservative political professionals, which has limited Republicans’ ability to modernize campaign methods. The biggest technical and conceptual developments these days are coming from the social sciences, whose more practically-minded scholars regularly collaborate with candidates and interest groups on the left. As a result, the electioneering right is suffering from what amounts to a lost generation; they have simply failed to keep up with advances in voter targeting and communications since Bush’s re-election. The left, meanwhile, has arrived at crucial insights that have upended the conventional wisdom about how you convert citizens to your cause. Right now, only one team is on the field with the tools to most effectively find potential supporters and win their votes.

Go read the whole thing if you’re interested. It’s quite a long article, but fascinating. After reading some of his pieces yesterday, I was also able to heard Issenberg on MSNBC’s “Up with Chris Hayes” this morning. So many books to read, so little time.

Now what are you all hearing/reading? Are you as excited as I am?


Sunday Shows: The “L” Word

No, I don’t mean “liberal.” The “L” word for this week is “lies.” Democrats were out on the Sunday shows this morning calling out Mitt Romney for lying in last Wednesday’s presidential debate. Talk about a “game changer.” It used to be that politicians were uncomfortable coming right out and calling their opponents liars, but with the number and scale of Romney’s lies in the 2012 campaign, that calculus has changed. Two Obama surrogates actually used the word “lie” and two Obama advisers called Romney “dishonest.” It appears to have a been a coordinated attack.

On Face the Nation, David Axelrod called Romney “dishonest.”

“Governor Romney showed up to deliver a performance, and he delivered a very good performance,” Axelrod said. “It was completely unrooted in fact; it was completely unrooted in the position he’s taken before, and he spent 90 minutes trying to undo two years of campaigning.”

Doubling down on his assertion, Axelrod said, “I think he was dishonest…absolutely.”

Axelrod criticized Romney for saying during the debates that he “never proposed” $5 trillion worth of tax cuts, which an analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center found would occur if Romney implemented his plan to reduce tax rates by 20 percent. “That was dishonest,” Axelrod said….

“It’s impossible….He cannot name one loophole that he would close. If you took away all the loopholes for upper-income Americans, every single one of them, he would still be trillions of dollars short.” In order to pay for the tax cuts and remain revenue neutral, Axelrod said, “He has to sock it to the middle class or explode the deficit.”

Axelrod even compared Romney to Sinclair Lewis’s fictional character Elmer Gantry.

Suggesting that Mr. Obama had expected, and prepared for, a more substantive debate, Mr. Axelrod said, “I think he went thinking that this was going to be a discussion about the country’s future, and he was confronted by this kind of Gantry-esque performance on the other side, just serially rewriting history.”

The program’s moderator, Bob Schieffer, stopped Mr. Axelrod for clarification.

Yes, Mr. Axelrod said, he was referring to Elmer Gantry, the title character in a book – banned in Boston when published in 1927 – and later a movie about a charismatic, fast-talking, but deeply dishonest street preacher.

Axelrod also noted that President Obama “was ‘taken aback at the brazenness’ of the Republican nominee’s answers.”

Robert Gibbs also used the word “dishonest” to describe Romney on This Week.

“The underpinnings and foundation of that performance were fundamentally dishonest,” said Gibbs, an Obama campaign senior adviser. “Look, the only thing he outlined that he would cut in the budget is Big Bird. He’s taken the battle straight to Sesame Street and let Wall Street run hog wild.”

The Obama campaign has attacked Mitt Romney for tax plan, which is to lower tax rates, but also close certain loopholes, which would produce revenue for the government. Romney has not specified exactly which ones he would close.

“And let’s be clear, if you’re willing to say anything to get elected president, if you are willing to make up your positions and walk away from them, I think the American people have to understand, how can they trust you if you are elected president,” Gibbs said.

On Fox News Sunday, top Obama surrogate Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said of Romney’s tax plan, “The fact of the matter is in this debate we saw Big Bird meet the big lie.” In addition, he told Chris Wallace:

“Mitt Romney tells us to trust him, his plan is hiding behind door No. 3 with Carol Merrill and his undisclosed tax returns,” O’Malley said, referring to “Let’s Make a Deal,” the game show that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Merrill was the model that assisted host Monty Hall.

Another Obama campaign surrogate, Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia said on CNN’s State of the Union that

Mitt Romney had offered “lie after lie” during last week’s debate.

“He is the Etch-A-Sketch guy, [he] has transformed himself and, quite frankly, we always have to wonder which Mitt is going to show up.”

Nutter said that Romney

had undergone an “11th hour conversion” before his debate appearance. “So, if you just lay out lie after lie after lie about your own plan, as well as what the president has been talking about, of course you can look good,” he said.

I’m very glad that Democrats are getting so tough on Romney. But on Meet the Press, even Romney surrogate Newt Gingrich agreed that Romney was lying about his tax plan.

When asked if Romney was being dishonest in the presidential debate, Gingrich said it was “clear” Romney ran away from the tax plan he has long promised on Wednesday night.

GINGRICH: I think you got to look carefully at how Romney structured, what he said is, something that frankly true supply siders don’t necessarily love but it’s good politics, he said, “I will close enough deductions that wealthy Americans will not get a net tax cut.” Now, that’s a pretty clear description.

Senior Obama Campaign Adviser Robert GIBBS: Let me just say this. Standing on the stage with you in Arizona, this is what Mitt Romney said.” Number one, I said today we’re going to cut taxes on everyone across the country, by 20%, including the top 1%.” Mr. Speaker, you mentioned that your opponent, Mitt Romney, had a problem with being dishonest in the primary. My question is, was he dishonest when he said that?

GINGRICH: I think it’s clear he changed.

GIBBS: So we don’t disagree that he changed.

The most stinging rebuke this morning came from Paul Krugman’s indictment of the media coverage of Romney’s debate performance on This Week.

On ABC’s “This Week” roundtable Sunday, Paul Krugman said Mitt Romney is exploiting a press that is ineffective at holding politicians accountable for lies.

“The press just doesn’t know how to handle flat-out untruths,” he said.

“I don’t know whether to blame [the debate moderator Jim] Lehrer or the president, but it was kind of amazing because Romney was not only saying things that are not true, he was saying things that his own campaign had previously said weren’t true,” said the economist and New York Times columnist.

Citing Romney’s claims on taxes and preexisting conditions, Krugman said the Republican nominee showed “contempt for us by thinking the news media will not cover on me as long as they say forcefully I won.”

Please use this as an open thread. What are you hearing?


Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen!

Remember back in 2008 when the Obama campaign accused Bill Clinton of making racist comments? Remember when all the prog bloggers wrote that Obama didn’t want Bill Clinton hanging around the White House giving unwanted advice? My, how things have changed!

According to Joe Conason, Obama’s “campaign chiefs” secretly sneaked into Harlem last Wednesday to ask for the former President’s advice on how to get Obama re-elected.

President Obama’s top political operatives — including campaign chief adviser David Axelrod — traveled from Chicago and Washington to the headquarters of the William Jefferson Clinton foundation in Harlem last Wednesday afternoon for a meeting with the former president and two of his top aides. The topic? How to re-elect the current president — including some very specific advice from Clinton, according to sources present.

The Nov. 9 meeting, which went on for more than two hours, also included Clinton counselor Douglas Band and Justin Cooper, a senior adviser whose multiple responsibilities have included work on the former president’s memoir and last two books. Their guests were former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina, who is serving as Obama’s 2012 campaign manager; Patrick Gaspard, executive director of the Democratic National Committee who until recently oversaw political affairs in the White House; and Obama’s lead pollster Joel Benenson, who played the same role in the 2008 campaign.

According to Conason, the meeting was requested by Obama advisers. Much of the discussion centered on how to win in southern and southwestern battleground states “such as North Carolina, Virginia, Nevada, and Arizona” that Obama won last time, but is now struggling.

Economic conditions and how to address them dominated the discussion. What most interested the Obama team were Clinton’s insights on heartland voting blocs that remain in the political middle: not the Republican-leaning independents who always end up voting for the GOP nominee, but the truly uncommitted who largely ended up supporting Obama in 2008.

Apparently Bill was told in no uncertain terms that his help is very much needed and wanted during the upcoming campaign.

Meanwhile, at the Financial Times, Edward Luce is echoing James Carville’s recent advice to Obama: Mr President, it’s time to panic. In discussing the failure and recent demotion of Obama’s latest chief of staff Bill Daley, Luce argues that Obama hasn’t learned the lesson that his campaign staff are not the best advisers on governing and policy.

On his way out, Rahm Emanuel warned Mr Daley that he would be just one among four de facto chiefs of staff, each with independent access to Mr Obama. That has proved accurate. Effective presidents rely on powerful managers, who are not obliged to compete with election consultants for the president’s ear. At a time when there is “low visibility” in the US economy, and when volatility holds the whip hand over American politics, there is greater need than ever for a leader who can focus on the bigger horizon.

It has been almost three years, and frustrated allies say that Mr Obama shows few signs of finding a learning curve. He still fails to consult widely and dislikes “reaching out” when he has to. Many Democrats have given up trying. “He doesn’t want to listen,” said one senator. “I don’t think the leopard is going to change his spots.” The plain fact is that Mr Obama prefers to campaign than govern. With the entrenched inner circle that he has, no one should be surprised by this. Whether or not Mr Obama can eke out a victory next year, it would be optimistic to expect things to change radically in a second term.

Will Obama be able to learn from Bill Clinton’s advice? My guess is the focus will be on taking advantage of Clinton’s skills as a campaigner rather than listening to the wisdom he gained during eight years in the White House and as a world leader.\


Monday Reads

Good Morning!! It’s the beginning of another week and, despite the impending holidays, there is quite a bit of news.

Six U.S. soldiers were killed by a bomb in Afghanistan yesterday.

Six U.S. soldiers were killed and more than a dozen U.S. and Afghan troops were wounded Sunday when a van packed with explosives was detonated at a new jointly operated outpost in southern Afghanistan.

The soldiers were inside a mud-walled building near the village of Sangsar, north of the Arghandab River, when the bomber drove up to one of the walls and exploded his charge.

The explosion blasted a hole in the thick wall, causing the roof to collapse on the soldiers inside. Others quickly arrived and clawed and pulled at the waist-deep rubble to free the buried troops.

[....]

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the bombing. “We have killed numbers of Americans and Afghan soldiers and wrecked and ruined their security check post,” a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, said by phone. “We will carry out similar attacks in the future.”

USA Today: Taliban small arms attacks nearly double

U.S. forces have encountered more than 18,000 attacks this year from Taliban fighters armed with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and in some cases missiles, according to data from the Pentagon. That compares with about 10,600 such attacks in 2009.

But supposedly, that’s a good sign.

Army Capt. Ryan Donald, a military spokesman in Kabul, said the rise is a result of bringing “the fight to them.”

Donald said coalition troops have been on the offensive in an attempt to dislodge Taliban forces from their strongholds in southern Afghanistan and in the east along the mountainous border with Pakistan.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, this week to assess the situation.

More hard fighting remains, Gates said.

“This is tough terrain, and this is a tough fight,” Gates said. “But as Gen. Petraeus has said, we are breaking the momentum of the enemy, and we will reverse that momentum in partnering with the Afghans and will make this a better place for them, so they can take over, and we can all go home. It will be awhile, and we’ll suffer tougher losses as we go.”

More from the Globe and Mail:

Barack Obama’s high-risk war wager that sent tens of thousands of U.S. troops surging into Afghanistan is showing signs of success, U.S. officials say. The raging Taliban insurgency is being defeated, but foreign troops are still years away from heading for the exit.

“Our joint efforts are paying off,” said Robert Gates, U.S. Secretary of Defence and the only cabinet secretary kept on by Mr. Obama from the former Bush administration. “[I’m] convinced that our strategy is working and that we will be able to achieve key goals set out by President Barack Obama last year.”

Hey, we’re years away from exiting this endless war, so how is that success? I just don’t get the point of all this violence and death.

In another of Obama’s battles–this one to give more money to the rich–David Axelrod claims the Democrats in Congress will go along with the con game.

White House adviser David Axelrod said the administration expects House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to back the compromise tax package negotiated by President Barack Obama and the Republicans.

“At the end of the day no one wants to see taxes go up for 150 million Americans on January 1st,” Axelrod said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program. “This framework represents a compromise that both sides can accept and we can’t change it in major ways and expect that this thing is going to pass.”

So the rich will get richer and the old and the disabled with pay the price.

At Huffpo, former Obama believer Robert Kuttner writes about the “coming cave-in” of Social Security.

If you think the Democratic base is mad at Obama now for making a craven deal with Republicans that continues tax breaks for the richest Americans and adds new ones for their heirs through a big cut in the estate tax, just wait a few weeks until Obama caves on Social Security.

A few weeks?!

…Obama has created a kind of pincer attack on Social Security. One arm is the deficit commission, which has created the blueprint. The other is the tax-cut deal, which increases the deficit, adding to the artificial hysteria that Social Security is going broke. Meanwhile, the right is playing a very cute game, congratulating Obama for the deal….

When the right congratulates Obama for winning, you know he is losing. For starters, the proposed compromise isn’t much of an economic stimulus. If the deal passes Congress, taxpayers will be paying the same income tax rates in 2011 and 2012 as in 2010. No stimulus there.

The only real stimulus is the temporary cut in Social Security taxes, the extension of unemployment insurance plus a few minor tax breaks for regular people, totaling about $200 billion. That’s a little more than one percent of a $15 trillion economy. Pretty puny, certainly a lot smaller than the inadequate stimulus of February 2009 when the recession was only beginning to deepen.

Except for the extension of unemployment insurance, which should be done out of common decency, most of the “stimulus” is pure Republican ideology — stimulate the economy by cutting taxes.

Folks, the only thing standing between us and economic disaster for the majority of Americans is the weak-kneed Democrats in Congress. Nancy Pelosi needs to come through this time.

Robert Reich thinks lots of people are going to be to beat down and discouraged to drag themselves to the polls and vote in 2012.

In the 2010 midterm elections Democrats suffered from a so-called “enthusiasm gap.”

If Dems agree to the tax plan just negotiated by the White House with Republican leaders, they’ll face a “why-should-I-get-up-out-of-my-chair” gap that will make 2010’s Dem enthusiasm seem like a pep rally by comparison.

It’s a $70,000 gift for every millionaire, financed by a gigantic hole in the federal budget that will put on the cutting board education, infrastructure, and everything else most other Americans need and want.

“Why should I get out of my chair” in 2012, he asks.

Here are a couple of interesting stories about the potential effects of Wikileaks on the corporate media.

Dakinikat sent me this link: ‘The Fourth Estate is dead,’ former CIA analyst declares

Ray McGovern, of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, told Raw Story in an exclusive interview. “The Fourth Estate in his country has been captured by government and corporations, the military-industrial complex, the intelligence apparatus. Captive! So, there is no Fourth Estate.”

[....]

McGovern, a CIA analyst for 27 years, whose duties included preparing and briefing the President’s Daily Brief and chairing National Intelligence Estimates, said that he preferred to focus on the First Amendment battle of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange than on the current “cyber war” in which WikiLeaks is embroiled.

McGovern said that modern people can now become informed through what he termed “The Fifth Estate.”

“Luckily, there is a Fifth Estate,” he said. “The Fifth Estate exists in the ether. It’s not susceptible of government, of corporations, or advertisers or military control. It’s free. That is very dangerous to people who like to make secrets and to make secret operational things. It’s a huge threat. And the Empire – the Goliath here – is being threatened by a slingshot in the form of a computer and a stone through these emissions thrown into the ether to our own computers.”

And there’s this story at The New York Times: WikiLeaks Taps Power of the Press

In July, WikiLeaks began what amounted to a partnership with mainstream media organizations, including The New York Times, by giving them an early look at the so-called Afghan War Diary, a strategy that resulted in extensive reporting on the implications of the secret documents.

Then in October, the heretofore classified mother lode of 250,000 United States diplomatic cables that describe tensions across the globe was shared by WikiLeaks with Le Monde, El Pais, The Guardian and Der Spiegel. (The Guardian shared documents with The New York Times.) The result was huge: many articles have come out since, many of them deep dives into the implications of the trove of documents.

Notice that with each successive release, WikiLeaks has become more strategic and has been rewarded with deeper, more extensive coverage of its revelations. It’s a long walk from WikiLeaks’s origins as a user-edited site held in common to something more akin to a traditional model of publishing, but seems to be in keeping with its manifesto to deliver documents with “maximum possible impact.”

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’s founder and guiding spirit, apparently began to understand that scarcity, not ubiquity, drives coverage of events. Instead of just pulling back the blankets for all to see, he began to limit the disclosures to those who would add value through presentation, editing and additional reporting. In a sense, Mr. Assange, a former programmer, leveraged the processing power of the news media to build a story and present it in comprehensible ways. (Of course, as someone who draws a paycheck from a mainstream journalism outfit, it may be no surprise that I continue to see durable value in what we do even amid the journalistic jujitsu WikiLeaks introduces.)

A new site for leaks, “Open Leaks” is supposed to debut today. It was formed by some disgruntled Wickileaks employees. Is it possible that we are really seeing a way to combat the power of the corporate media and force them to respond to the needs of ordinary Americans or become obsolete?

Media professor Douglas Rushkoff says the Internet “was never free or open and never will be.”

Secrets outlet WikiLeaks’ continuing struggle to remain online in the face of corporate and government censorship is a striking example of something few truly realize: that the Internet is not and never has been democratically controlled, a media studies professor commented to Raw Story.

“[T]he stuff that goes on on the Internet does not go on because the authorties can’t stop it,” Douglas Rushkoff, author of Program or be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age and Life, Inc.: How Corporatism Conquered the World and How to Take it Back”, said. “It goes on because the authorities are choosing what to stop and what not to stop.”

Rushkoff told Raw Story that the authorities have the ability to quash cyber dissent due to the Internet’s original design, as a top-down, authoritarian device with a centralized indexing system.

Essentially, all one needs to halt a rogue site is to delete its address from the domain name system registry.

Rushkoff says if we really want a free internet we’ll have to build it ourselves.

Here’s a great story: a blogger at NPR asked a question about the 1969 moon landing, and Neil Armstrong himself responded with a lengthy e-mail.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s walk across the lunar surface back in 1969 and wondered, how come they walked such a modest distance? Less than a hundred yards from their lander?

Today Neil Armstrong wrote in to say, here are the reasons:

It was really, really hot on the moon, 200 degrees Fahrenheit. We needed protection.

We were wearing new-fangled, water-cooled uniforms and didn’t know how long the coolant would last.

We didn’t know how far we could go in our space suits.

NASA wanted us to conduct our experiments in front of a fixed camera.

We [meaning Neil] cheated just a little, and very briefly bounded off to take pictures of some interesting bedrock.

But basically, he says, we were part of a team and we were team players on a perilous, one-of-a-kind journey. Improvisation was not really an option.

You can read the entire e-mail at the link.

I know everyone has already seen this nutty op-ed by Ishmael Reed: What Progressives Don’t Understand About Obama. I just want to call attention to one strange comment that Reed made in the piece:

…I read a response to an essay I had written about Mark Twain that appeared in “A New Literary History of America.” One of the country’s leading critics, who writes for a prominent progressive blog, called the essay “rowdy,” which I interpreted to mean “lack of deportment.” Perhaps this was because I cited “Huckleberry Finn” to show that some white women managed household slaves, a departure from the revisionist theory that sees Scarlett O’Hara as some kind of feminist martyr.

WTF?! Scarlett O’Hara, a feminist? Let’s see, she wore corsets and spent most of her time flirting with boys. She disliked other women and used men to get what she wanted. What could possibly make her a feminist? Believe it or not, I found a journal article on the subject. You can download the entire article in PDF form if you’re interested. The author, J. M. Spanbauer, describes Scarlett as:

…at best irritating, and at worst, despicable: a character who embodies all of the negative stereotypes attributed to women throughout history. She is narcissistic, shallow, dishonest, manipulative, amoral, and completely lacking in any capacity for self-reflection and for analysis of the emotional and psychological responses of others.

That’s a feminist? The article is an interesting analysis of the roles of women in Scarlett’s time and ours, and why many women still find Scarlet’s fascinating. Read it if you want to know more. I still don’t see how anyone could make a case for Scarlett as a feminist though, any more than I can agree with Ishmael Reed that the reason Obama can’t fight for any principle is that he’s black and black men can’t get angry without threatening white people. Reed should stick to poetry, because he doesn’t understand politics. Obama wouldn’t need to get angry to stand for something. He could be cool as a cucumber and still veto the tax cut extension for the super-rich.

Sooooo… what are you reading this morning?


Axelrod to Leave White House Soon?

Fox News:

President Obama’s senior advisor David Axelrod is planning to move up his departure to sooner than originally planned, a senior White House official told Fox News on Monday, heading out in late January or early February.

The purpose is “to leave enough time to spend time with family before the next project begins,” the official said.

As recently as Nov. 14, Axelrod told “Fox News Sunday” that he’d probably stay about six more months before leaving to work on the president’s re-election bid.

Really? You mean this has nothing to do with the “shellacking” Obama received in the midterms?

CNN’s Ed Henry reports that:

President Obama is planning to bring former campaign manager David Plouffe onto the White House staff at the beginning of January to work alongside senior adviser David Axelrod for a brief time before Axelrod moves on to help run the re-election campaign, according to a senior administration official and a senior Democratic strategist familiar with the plan.

The sources added that Axelrod is now planning to leave his White House post as soon as immediately after the State of the Union address, which is an earlier departure date than originally expected and could be part of a new round of departures at the White House.

While there have been reports suggesting Plouffe will directly replace Axelrod, the working plan right now is actually for the two veterans of the 2008 campaign to work together for at least a short period as sort of a handoff, as the White House continues to reshape itself to deal with a Republican-controlled House and a shrunken Democratic majority in the Senate.

Well, there’s no time to lose with the President’s approval rating at 39% in the latest Zogby poll and only 28% strongly supporting him in the Rasmussen daily tracking poll today.

Yikes! Look at those disapproval numbers.

Meanwhile, at Huffpo, Sam Stein continues his reporting on disgruntled Democratic donors:

In the wake of an electoral drubbing and fearing another one in two years, some deep-pocketed Democratic donors have decided to essentially go rogue with respect to the Obama White House.

In meetings this past week, some of the top financiers in the party advanced discussions about building a third-party apparatus to counter that on the Republican side of the aisle.

I’m not sure how “rogue” these donors are really willing to go, since they are mainly talking about David Brock’s new project. James Carville sounds skeptical too:

“There probably is some kind of need [for a third-party outlet]. The one thing about us though is when we lose we have a lot of meetings. We are not even getting started on the retreats or retrospectives,” said James Carville, a longtime Democratic strategist, during an unrelated breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “There is probably going to be one now, it is just the nature of what it is. Undoubtedly the Democrats will have symposiums and retreats.”

Big whoop.

Still, at least the Dems are recognizing that things don’t look so rosy for Obama. It appears that David Axelrod is worried too.


President Obama Phones New GOP Senators and House Members

If you were wondering what President Obama has been up to during off-hours during his trip to Asia, wonder no longer. The New York Daily News reports that

President Obama has reached out to most of the incoming GOP lawmakers victorious on Nov. 2, telephoning many of them while abroad traveling to meetings in Asia.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner’s press secretary Michael Steel.

[....]

the President has also spoken to many of the incoming GOP House committee chairmen, including Rep. Pete King (R-L.I.), who will take the gavel of the Homeland Security Committee.

The same Peter King who recently said that George W. Bush “should get a medal” for approving waterboarding?

“There was no harm done,” King said Wednesday, referring to the waterboarding of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohmammed, who was subjected to simulated drowning 183 times in March of 2003. “In the big picture, to hold someone’s head underwater, the chance of permanent damage is minimal and the rewards are great.”

The Daily News did not report whether President Obama called new Democratic Senate and House members.

In other new of White House weakness, Sam Stein reports that The President and his top advisers had no warning about the release of the draft report of the Catfood Commission chairmen yesterday. In fact David Axelrod had to look up the report on-line.

Hours after the commission’s two chairs — former Sen. Alan Simpson and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles — unveiled their 50-page list of deficit reduction recommendations, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod admitted that he had to find a copy of the report on the Internet.

“I heard at noon that those guys were going to hold a press conference at 1 PM,” Axelrod told The Huffington Post. “And I pulled off the Internet the coverage of it.”

Asked if he was bothered by the lack of warning, Axelrod replied: “I think they set out to be an independent commission and they are being independent. But we will let them complete their work and we will take a look at what they’ve done. Maybe they will get consensus around some of these ideas, maybe they won’t. We will take a look at it.”

Apparently I spoke too soon when I suggested Axelrod is running the Obama administration. Perhaps John Boehner is now in charge?

This is an open thread.