Saturday, January 30, 2010

o captain!

whenever a leader faces a crisis of confidence, it often takes an extraordinary demonstration of the very qualities that originally inspired confidence to reinvigorate one's demoralized troops. such was president obama's friday trip into the lion cage — at the invitation of the lions.

the daring and unlikely high-wire animal-taming act seems to have thrilled the crowds for the time being. it most certainly thrilled the press:

mike madden @ salon:

obama's trip to the retreat started off slowly, with a speech that could have worked almost anywhere with only a few edits ahead of time. and then the question-and-answer session got started, and the event turned into a spectacle, the kind of thing that hasn't been seen in american politics in years — and probably won't again, once the people responsible for putting it together go back to look at the video. (which is too bad, because nbc does have an opening for a 10 p.m. show, and this was a lot more watchable than leno.) rarely has his administration done such a good job of bluntly underscoring the differences between what obama wants to do and what republicans would prefer if they had power. the president was funny and disarming, but he defended his policies fiercely, and he tiptoed up to the line of calling republicans liars to their faces ...

the whole thing basically went like that: republican asks obnoxious question rooted in glenn beck-ian talking points; obama swats it away, makes the questioner look silly, and then smiles at the end. it got so bad, in fact, that fox news cut away from the event before it was over. democratic operatives around washington watching it had pretty much the same reaction: "where the hell has this guy been?"

mark ambinder @ the atlantic:

obama's question time: an amazing moment

the moment president obama began his address to republicans in baltimore today, i began to receive e-mails from democrats: here's an except from one of them: "i don't know whether to laugh or cry that it took a f$$@&$* year for obama to step into the ring and start throwing some verbal blows... i'm definitely praying at mass on sunday morning that this obama doesn't take another 12 month vacation."

this e-mail comes from a very influential democrat.

accepting the invitation to speak at the House GOP retreat may turn out to be the smartest decision the white house has made in months. debating a law professor is kind of foolish: the republican house caucus has managed to turn obama's weakness — his penchant for nuance — into a strength. plenty of republicans asked good and probing questions, but mike pence, among others, found their arguments simply demolished by the president. (by the way: can we stop with the obama needs a teleprompter jokes?)

... republicans may have wished they had spoken to john mccain about what happened to him in the presidential debates before they decided to broadcast this session. the president looked genuinely engaged, willing to discuss things. democrats believe that he tossed away the GOP talking points and lack of real plans into a bludgeon against them. "the whole question was structured by a talking point," he told jeb hensarling. obama took the blame for not living up to some of his promises on transparency in health care negotiations. he displayed a familiarity with republican proposals that seemed to astonish those who asked questions of him. and at the end, republicans rushed up to him, pens and photo cameras in hands, wanting autographs and pictures.

mused one mid-level white house official: "this really is the best thing we've done in a long, long time".

ezra klein @ the washington post:

obama's Q&A session with the house republicans was transfixing. what should have been a banal exchange of talking points was actually a riveting reminder of how rarely you hear actual debate — which is separate from disagreement — between political players.

this was a surprise. the session was clearly proposed so that obama could appear to be taking real steps to reach out to republicans. that implied warm feelings and a studied unwillingness to cause offense. but that was not the event we just saw. instead, obama stood at a podium for an hour and hammered his assailants. that makes it sound partisan and disrespectful. but it wasn't. it was partisan, but respectful.

there's a value in proving that you understand the other side's ideas deeply enough to disagree with them. and that was the message of obama's session. not that the republicans were right. but that he'd looked hard enough at their ideas to realize they were wrong.

... amazed that obama knows offhand that ryan wants medicare vouchers. more amazed he can explain it offhand. this is a command performance.

yesterday, i interviewed david axelrod and was struck by his inability to explain how the white house would highlight the the difference between disagreement and obstruction. today's session, if it becomes a regular event rather than a one-off, provided part of the answer. he'll debate them directly. but that may be tough to do. republicans are already spreading the word that they made a mistake allowing cameras into the event. apparently, transparency sounds better in press releases than it does in practice.

but if this is to be the last of these we see for a while, make sure to take the time and watch it, or read the transcript. it's some of the best political television i've seen in memory.

steve benen @ the washington monthly:

i'm reasonably certain i've never seen anything like it. GOP house members were fairly respectful of the president, but pressed him on a variety of policy matters. the president didn't just respond effectively, he delivered a rather powerful, masterful performance.

it was like watching a town-hall forum where all of the questions were confrontational, but obama nevertheless just ran circles around these guys. i can only assume caucus members, by the end of the Q&A, asked themselves, "whose bright idea was it to invite the president and let him embarrass us on national television?".

note, however, that this wasn't just about political theater — it was an important back-and-forth between the president and his most forceful political detractors. they were bringing up routine far-right talking points that, most of the time, simply get repeated in the media unanswered. but in baltimore, the president didn't just respond to the nonsense, he effectively debunked it.

republicans thought they were throwing their toughest pitches, and obama — with no notes, no teleprompter, and no foreknowledge — just kept knocking 'em out of the park.

it's easy to forget sometimes just how knowledgeable and thoughtful obama can be on matters of substance. i don't imagine the house republican caucus will forget anytime soon — if the president is going to use their invitation to score big victories, he probably won't be invited back next year.

nevertheless, the white house should schedule more of these. a lot more of these.

matt yglesias @ think progress:

it was sort of like prime minister’s questions and it revealed, simply put, that barack obama is a lot smarter and better-informed than his antagonists. a lot. he very calmly and coolly dismantled them.

to me, personally, it’s not a surprise. i debated policy with mike pence once and the guy is a stone-cold idiot. that was a years ago and i’ve been surprised since then to learn that conservatives consider him an unusually sharp policy mind and i take leading rightwingers at their word about that. but it’s the kind of thing that i think most americans aren’t aware of. obama knows what he’s talking about. a lot of the members of congress you see on TV all the time talking smack don’t. that’s not always clear to people since the TV anchors interviewing them usually also don’t know what they’re talking about. judd gregg’s whining freakout on MSNBC yesterday punctured the illusion of calm confidence and so did obama’s back-and-forth.

richard adams @ the guardian:

obama eats republicans' lunch

... i think we can confidently predict this is the last time the republicans invite the president to a similar format. indeed, because the hall the republicans are holding their event seemed to have just a single TV camera, obama literally took the spotlight away. republican questioners showed up as shadowy figures, and when caucus leader mike pence kicked off the republican questions at first he couldn't be heard at all.

at the end, shaking hands with the president, pence's face looked as if he'd sucked a lemon for an hour — and in a way he had.

... the net effect is that obama looked serious, reasonable and intelligent. the republicans got to sound like whiners, complaining about various pet peeves and chewing over their old laundry list of tax cuts and opposition".

jed lewison @ daily kos:

check out this video of fox news bailing out on president obama's Q&A session with more than 20 minutes left to go.

now if that ain't evidence that president obama cleaned the GOP's clock ... well, then i don't know what is.

Friday, January 29, 2010

the scott roeder defense

ben sargent penned this cartoon in 1977, so it is not a response to scott roeder's murder of doctor george tiller, for which roeder was today found guilty (in 37 minutes!) on all counts.

it does nonetheless capture the message roeder sent dr. tiller and to all those who would give women the choice to terminate their pregnancies.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

when people start thinking you have no plan

... it's usually because you have no plan:

the white house had no contingency plan for health care reform if democrat martha coakley lost the special election in massachusetts, and officials did not discuss the possibility a democratic loss would dramatically imperil their legislative efforts, a top adviser said today.

president obama's senior advisor david axelrod said there "wasn't much discussion" about an alternative path to passing health care with just 59 democrats in the senate because there was "widespread assumption was that that seat was safe."

"the truth is the flares went up about 10 days before that election," axelrod said during a briefing today with reporters and opinion-makers.

"there wasn't much discussion about the implications if the thing went the other way," he said.

this time, it royally sucks being right, but jesus aytch christ, just what other conclusion was possible? not only did no one in the entire party appear to know what was going on, but they all were yelling at each other and scaring the kids.

the ghost of condoleeza rice should frighten everyone.

it's bad policy to speculate on what you'll do if a plan fails when you're trying to make a plan work.

Monday, January 25, 2010

of mice and democrats

the obama legislative agenda was built around an "advancing tide" theory.

democrats would start with bills that targeted relatively narrow problems, such as expanding health care for low-income children, reforming pentagon contracting practices and curbing abuses by credit-card companies. republicans would see the victories stack up and would want to take credit alongside a popular president. as momentum built, larger bipartisan coalitions would form to tackle more ambitious initiatives.

here's another theory:

any strategy that depends on your enemy doing what you want is doomed to fail.

so what's plan b?

convince the rest of us that just because you control three branches of government by overwhelming majorities doesn't mean you're not completely helpless:

it is mathematically impossible for democrats to pass legislation on our own. senate republicans [need] to come to the table with ideas for improving our nation and not obstructionist tactics.

this plan, of course, is based on the theory that the enemy will be shamed into helping you win when they realize they've kicked your butt ...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

stir crazy

nsfw, but srsly, wtfaydawosn?

richard pryor:

i've always said the black man been fucked over, y'know: "the revolution ... muddafukkin whitey ... we gotta go to [unintelligible] ... nice people just gettina bad break" ...

and i was there for six weeks [at arizona state prison filming "stir crazy" with gene wilder] and i talked to some of the brothers there ...

[catches breath]

... thank god we got penitentiaries!

chris rock:

if i had a choice right now between the electric chair or tossin' a salad, i'd be like: "so where ya plug it in?" "shouldn't i be wet?"

rick reynolds:

eventually we're led into this big gymnasium, like your high school gym. four sets of bleachers pulled out, little stage in front of 'em. bleachers packed with about 800 pissed off guys in blue denim. as soon as they see us, it is like a scene from a bad prison movie.

they started whistling and catcalling and yelling: "bend over!" "whoo-woo!" "fresh meat!"

apparently it was mating season in prison.

what the f*ck are you doing at work on sunday night?

Friday, January 22, 2010

homogenized milquetoast

looking for a savior for your suffering psyche?

look! up in the sky! it's a bird! no — it's a plane!

dispatching your inner demons faster than a knee-jerk opinion, from the pen of still-prolific underground comix and alternative press pioneer kim deitch comes ...

(story and art by kim deitch, 1969; colorization by aarrgghh, 2010)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

o captain

captain picard and dr. crusher, on the run on a hostile planet and victims of a mutual telepathic link courtesy of their captors:

crusher: [stops in her tracks]
picard: what is it?
crusher: i'm not sure whether we should go over this hill or that one. the topography on this map is a little vague.
picard: let me see. [scans map, then points]
this way. [begins walking]
crusher: you don't really know, do you?
picard: what?
crusher: i mean, you're acting like you know exactly which way to go, but you're only guessing. do you do this all the time?
picard: no ... but there are times when it is ... necessary for a captain to give the appearance of confidence.
crusher: [shakes head in amused epiphany]

this is what every leader pretends no one knows: never let anyone, not your enemies — but most importantly not your own crew — see you sweat. if you do, they won't be your crew much longer.

knowing that every leader knows this rule, what are we to make of the democratic leadership's reaction to the cloakley loss in massachusetts?

well, after months of analyzing senate procedural kabuki while being assured of the intricate tri-dimensional chess being played, we can now say with confidence that the democrats aren't sweating. no, the lieberman ratfuck was sweating. we are well past that.

even taking account of the ready-made obituaries rolled out with the morning headlines, after a race that had spiraled noisily out of control for weeks, it's excruciatingly clear the democrats never prepared for the loss. evoking the worst of the previous administration, there was no plan b. even before the votes were in, fingers were wagging and there was plenty of blame to go around, but no coordinated spin, no coherent message and absolutely no composure whatsoever.

ladies and gentlemen, this is open panic.

yesterday i asked, rhetorically: does the democratic caucus now limp along like a supermajority minus one or charge ahead like a majority plus eight? after all, there's always a chance democrats might not live up to their much-maligned image. i didn't have long to wait for my answer:

massachusetts election means that senate republicans have more responsibility to govern, not obstruct
  • we welcome scott brown to the senate.

  • while senator-elect brown's victory changes the political math in the senate, it does not change the challenges are country faces or the need to address them.

  • we remain committed to strengthening our economy, creating good paying jobs and ensuring all americans can access affordable health care.

  • senate republicans have an obligation to the american people to join us in governing our nation through these difficult times and to help clean up the mess they left behind.

  • it is mathematically impossible for democrats to pass legislation on our own. senate republicans [need] to come to the table with ideas for improving our nation and not obstructionist tactics.

  • saying "no" might be a good political strategy but it does nothing to create jobs or help improve the lives of struggling americans.

  • we understand that there is great anger, anxiety and frustration among voters as the economy continues its recovery. that is why senate democrats will continue to do everything that we can to strengthen our economy, put americans back to work, reform wall street and address the health care crisis.

  • republican hypocrisy on debt limit puts our economy, seniors and veterans at risk

  • failing to raise the debt limit would undermine our nation's credit worthiness, badly weaken our economy and put social security and veterans benefits at risk.

  • in 2001, america enjoyed a $236 billion budget surplus with a projected 10-year surplus of $5.6 trillion.

  • republicans squandered those surpluses by spending wildly on massive tax breaks for the wealthy and special interests, leaving president obama with a $1.3 trillion deficit on the day he took office last year.

  • now, as the time comes to take responsibility for those mistakes, senate republicans want to pass the buck.

  • senate democrats didn't create this problem — we are simply cleaning up the fiscal mess that we inherited from the last administration in order to avoid the economic catastrophe that would be created if the united states defaulted on our debt.

  • when they were in control, senate republicans voted seven times to raise the debt limit and refused to pay for the costs of major initiatives. their claims of fiscal purity do not square with their record of wasteful spending and excess.

  • increasing the debt limit does not authorize a single penny of new spending — it allows the government to pay bills already incurred.

  • standing against this measure would demonstrate yet again that senate republicans have no real plan to solve our nation's economic challenges they helped create.

  • republicans, now more than ever, have a responsibility to work with us to move our nation forward with economic policies that continue us on the path to recovery.

charitable supporters will give them credit for attacking the party of "no!" but no crew wants to follow a captain that cries "uncle!" and begs his abusers for help.

sigh. looks like it's supermajority minus one full speed ahead, folks.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

headline of the day

the village voice:

scott brown wins mass. race, giving GOP 41-59 majority in the senate

not so super majority?

so the big question is: does the democratic caucus now limp along like a supermajority minus one or charge ahead like a majority plus eight?

Monday, January 18, 2010

kirk in tights

it was something about the cover ...

the early eighties was a period of waning comics interest for me, but, lying on a subway newsstand (not my regular boutique for buying comics), it caught my eye.

"psst ..." it whispered, as if not wanting to draw undue attention to itself. "hey buddy, down here. go ahead ... pick me up." and i did.

i ended up buying the next 70 issues, as well as back issues. (there were only five out at this early stage in the title.)

i was intrigued by the intersection two of my favorite genres, superheroes and star trek. nexus was a literate, brooding and reluctant solar-powered executioner of mass murderers in a starfaring multispecies galaxy where, seemingly, matt jefferies and bill theiss were god.

• • •

from color issue #4:

from issue #14, where one could spot a familiar duo working crowd control:

yes, it's a small galaxy.

(art by steve rude, stories by mike baron)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

in what respect, charlie?

guilty as sin but free as a bird, rapper r. kelly opines (in sep. 2008) on his taste in girls women and the justice system.

the interviewer's double-take when kelly asks "how old are you talkin'?" is priceless: it is the look of a man who realizes he's talking to, if not a complete moron, then a man who has failed to grasp the meaning of his predicament.

BET: do you like teenage girls?
kelly: [after a pause] when you say teenage, how old are you talkin'?
BET: girls who are ... teenagers.
kelly: 19?
BET: 19 ... and younger.
kelly: i have some 19-year-old friends ...

kelly: if you was charged with something, and you were found innocent ... then you can't be found guilty, for being found innocent.

Monday, January 11, 2010

i haven't seen his free throw

... so, who knows?

disgraced former illinois governor rod blagojevich:

it's such a cynical business, and most of the people in the business are full of shit and phonies, but i was real, man — and am real. this guy, he was catapulted in on hope and change, what we hope the guy is. what the fuck? everything he's saying's on the teleprompter. i'm blacker than barack obama. i shined shoes. i grew up in a five-room apartment. my father had a little laundromat in a black community not far from where we lived. i saw it all growing up.

rod attends to his natural.

quote of the day

nathan empsall @ mydd, on the reid endorsement:

seriously, if even al sharpton doesn't find something overly offensive, isn't the discussion kind of over?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

e.e. comics

it is difficult to say almost anything meaningful about chris ware's "i guess" (1991) without giving away the whole game, but ... he cleverly deconstructs the language of old-school golden-age comics in order to pack in two stories for the price of one.

(story and art by chris ware)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

quote of the day

charles blow @ the new york times:

the attack on the republican establishment by the tea party folks grabs the gaze like a really bad horror flick — some version of "hee haw" meets "28 days later".

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

meet paul kirk

nairobi, kenya, august 1974:

archie goodwin, writer, may 1984:

in the spring of 1973 i was a freelance writer/editor for dc comics, packaging three war titles for them. the publisher, carmine infantino, wanted me to take a try at editing detective, which was then in a period of low sales. these are not bad circumstances under which to inherit a title, contrary to how it may sound. one's encouraged to tinker, to tamper, and try new things rather than preserving the status quo. if anything improves, you're a hero; if nothing works out, well ... the book wasn't selling that well anyway. to demolish any possible suspense: i didn't become a hero. there was no turnaround in detective's sales, but there was, as they say in show business, some artistic success. manhunter was responsible for most of it.

with my lead character, batman, appearing in two other titles besides mine and with an already well-established stylistic foundation, i couldn't do anything too radical. he couldn't suddenly appear in a brand-new costume, exhibit vastly different powers, or (with any credibility) burn the cape and cowl, swearing to be the batman no more; none of the standard let's-try-to-get-their-attention-and-pump-some-more-juice-in-this-rag ploys. i didn't even have that second-best option of killing off a beloved supporting character; they'd already done that to alfred years before (rest easy; death was only temporary). any big change in the book, then, had to come in the back-up feature. what i wanted was something that would fit (however loosely) within the "detective" format of the book, but contrast vividly in terms of mood, character, and artistic style with the lead stories; something that would nail the eye of the casual browser and maybe eventually develop a following of its own, bringing the book a few readers beyond the dyed-in-the-wool batman fans.

spanning only seven episodes (six 8-page back-ups and a climactic 20-page lead story team-up with series headliner batman) from july 1973 to august 1974, the "manhunter" series resurrected a WWII costumed adventurer not seen in thirty years and mashed-up superheroes, sci-fi, martial arts and international espionage during its short run, all while accumulating a fistful of top honors from the short-lived academy of comic book arts:

1973 best writer (archie goodwin)

1973 best individual short story, dramatic ("the himalayan incident")

1973 outstanding new talent (walt simonson, tied with jim starlin)

1974 best individual short story, dramatic ("cathedral perilous")

1974 best individual story ("gotterdammerung")

1974 best writer (archie goodwin)

though only at the very beginning of his career, overnight sensation walt simonson's distinctive storyboarding, composition, linework and adventuresome use of typography and sound effects had become firmly established.

(art by walt simonson, story by archie goodwin)

the series has been reprinted in whole twice: "manhunter #1" (1984) and "manhunter: the special edition" (1999).

Monday, January 04, 2010

buh bye blackwater

it's official: the welcome wagon has been retired:

the iraqi government is actively pursuing any former blackwater personnel still working in the country, spokesman ali al-dabbagh told CNN in an interview sunday.

"i don't think [the] iraqi government is willing to have any blackwater member, even if they are working in other companies, we don't like to see them here working in any company," al-dabbagh said. "instructions have been given to check if there is any blackwater member [in the country]. i advise him to leave iraq and not to stay in iraq anymore."

... officials are checking records in iraq's ministry of interior regarding blackwater — which is now known as xe — along with its related companies, subsidiaries or any members of the company working with other companies, al-dabbagh said. once that checking is complete, authorities will undertake whatever action is needed, he said.

he said he had not informed the U.S. embassy of these measures. "i don't think we need to consult any others," he said. "it is an iraqi prevailing law and we have to practice that law in our country."

something tells me this will probably work.

you just might be a birther if ...'re just now realizing bill o'reilly, ann coulter and glenn beck are idiots. think a clever alias for a stealth muslim is "barack hussein obama". prefer online grand juries 'cause it gets kinda stuffy under your white hood.
...your boycott of hawaii doesn’t interrupt any of your plans.'re sure all birth certificates are printed in australia. think the "white house" means exactly that.
...the deli counter guy asks "american or swiss?" and you say "vattel!"
...hawaii's health dept has your phone number on call-blocking.'re "damn shure" you're a natural born citizen — 'cuz both your parents are brother n' sister!
...your lawyer takes payment in fillings.
...your team's down 0-60 and you're still betting. think "usurper" is a quaint southern euphemism.
...susan herbert can count on your vote in 2012. pray nightly for the usurper's downfall — to the same god that ignored you on election day. think "dismissed without prejudice" means your case wasn't racist enough. think it's long past time we closed the border — with hawaii. learned a moving and historic lesson about democracy last year — from honduras. won't be satisfied 'til you see the death certificate. don't believe everything you read on the internet — just the really friggin' stupid stuff.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

a new year's guarantee

one more doomed resolution ... and a few healthy giggles (at least for me) to look forward to in 2011:

the 2010 new year's resolution of all good conservatives should be to achieve the goal of restoring the u.s. constitution this year. if the kenyan usurper is still in office a year from now, we will have failed.

Friday, January 01, 2010

politics 2010

i see no surprises in the coming year — conservatives will triple-down on their special brand of crazy ...

... which unfortunately for the rest of us means another year of non-stop lies, attacks, obstruction, fear-mongering, tantrums, tea-bagging and general misanthropy, all in a craven effort to poison the taste of liberal governance.

it's a brain-free strategy that doesn't require them to actually tackle real problems, like jobs and money, the kind real people worry about. no doubt the increasingly impolitic-looking defection of parker griffith (r-al) and increasingly divergent polls from increasingly GOP-chummy pollsters are sending visions of sugar-plum majorities dancing in their rovian heads.

but, as i noted in "no rewards for failure", conservatives need to pay attention not to democratic but republican ratings. because as frustrated and disappointed as the electorate appears with the struggling democrats, john q. public is giving no points to republicans, whom john q. continues to rate worse.

the bad news for the GOP: voters still trust president obama more than republicans, even on health care. the numbers: economy, obama +12; health care, obama +7; afghanistan, obama +12; energy, obama +10.

what's the lesson? even though americans disapprove of president obama's record on many domestic policy issues, they do not see the republican party as a viable alternative.

at the very least, john q. recognizes that democrats are at least trying to address real problems, even if he isn't entirely sold on their solutions. as long as republicans continue to hold their breath, stamp their feet, wave their guns and threaten to repeal health reform, john q. is not going to switch horses in midstream, especially if the other horse is a crabby, flea-bitten nag.

conservatives will remain too cynical to realize that their 24-7, it-goes-to-11, non-stop attack-poodle shtick actually alienates those of us living outside their echo chamber. unleashed without any sense of moderation or proportion, their constant carping has already become impossible to take seriously. but, desperate to make any muck stick, republicans will continue to take every possible opportunity to politicize every event and loudly accuse every democrat of ... something, whether it's simply accepting prestigious international awards or making sales pitches for the olympics. why stop now? unfortunately for the GOP, anybody who's not a political junkie will simply tune this noise out — and with it the noisemakers.

still, conservatives need only knock off one democratic senator to bring congress to a literally screeching halt, especially if the house, even if left its sizable margin, chooses to defer to the senate, as it appears resigned to do in order to pass a health reform bill. but that is a dilemma for 2011 and 2012.