Filibusters and the “liberal media”

It has definitely been annoying me lately the way the Post and the Times increasingly underplay Republican obstructionism in the Senate, which is truly at unprecedented levels.  [Ezra Klein reproduces a chart that shows just how absurd and historically unprecedented the level of Republican filibusters is.  Rather than an accurate rendering such as, “Republicans blocked XX with a filibuster,” we instead get the misleading, “Democrats failed to achieve the 60 votes in the Senate needed for passage.”  I decided yesterday to do a little Lexis/Nexis search to see how often the Post and the Times have actually used the term “filibuster” in 2007, compared to how often it was used in the same period in 2005 (I wanted to compare the first year of a new Congress).  Since I didn't have time to blog about my results yesterday, I emailed them to Glenn Greenwald, who had just written a post on the matter much better and more thoroughly than I could ever do.  I'm pretty pleased to say, that I've now been attributed by name in one of my very favorite blogs.  And, of course, in Glenn's blog thousands of people can see the fruits of my research, rather than just the 30 or so here (though, I do desperately appreciate all of you reading this).  Anyway, here's Glenn's post with my contribution:

As Steve Benen detailed yesterday, a new study from the Campaign for America's Future found that Republicans have broken the single-term record for filibusters this year already, with more than a year to go in the session:

The 62nd cloture vote of the session is more than any single session of
Congress since at least 1973, the earliest year cloture votes are
available online from the Senate. Republicans are on pace to force 134
cloture votes to cut off a filibuster, according to the Campaign for
America's Future analysis, more than double the historical average of
the last 35 years…

As I've documented before,
the media — with the filibustering GOP in the minority — now
routinely refers to the “60 votes required to pass a bill in the
Senate,” as though that's the most normal and natural state of affairs
in the Senate, rather than what prevails only when a filibuster is
invoked. It's precisely because Beltway reporters slothfully refer to
the “60-votes required to pass,” rather than making clear that
Republicans are engaged in a filibuster to obstruct legislation, that
such a misleading picture has been created. Thus, they endlessly depict
these filibusters as noting more than a “failure on the part of
Democrats to obtain the 60 votes required to pass.”

Because of that, the public is largely unaware of just how
obstructionist the Republicans have been because most Beltway
journalists haven't reported it. And they haven't reported it because
the rule they follow most religiously is that they never will describe
the facts as they are if those facts reflect poorly on Republicans,
because to do that means that they are “unbalanced” and “biased” and
will be attacked as such. In Beltway journalism circles, misleading
though balanced accounts are always preferred to factually truthful,
“unbalanced” ones. Republicans always have a valid point, their version
is always reasonable and worthy of respect, even when false.

UPDATE: Steven Greene of North Carolina State University's Department of Political Science emails as follows:

quick and dirty Lexis/Nexis search reveals that in 2007 the Times had
83 stories with the term “filibuster” and the Post had 187. Over the
same period in 2005 (seemed like the first year of a Congressional
session was the fair comparison), the term “filibuster” appeared in 358
Times stories and 407 Post stories. The data therefore totally back you
up on this.

Those facts are, of course, just “the liberal version.”

Christianity and the GOP

I know I'm not going to get around to excerpting and commenting on this nice Harold Meyerson column, just read it.  Okay, at least my favorite section:

Rather, it's the gap between the teachings of the Gospels and the
preachings of the Gospel's Own Party that has widened past the point of
absurdity, even as the ostensible Christianization of the party
proceeds apace.

The policies of the president, for instance, can be defended in
greater or (more frequently) lesser degree within a framework of
worldly standards. But if Bush can conform his advocacy of preemptive
war with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount admonition to turn the other
cheek, he's a more creative theologian than we have given him credit
for. Likewise his support of torture, which he highlighted again this
month when he threatened to veto House-passed legislation that would
explicitly ban waterboarding.

It's not just Bush whose catechism is a merry mix of torture and
piety. Virtually the entire Republican House delegation opposed the ban
on waterboarding.

Race and IQ

There's been quite an interesting debate raging on-line on race and IQ, that largely began with James Watson's (of DNA fame) remarks not long ago.  William Saletan's series of articles in Slate suggesting that there is a real race-IQ link really got the ball rolling and has led to a number of thoughtful articles and blog postings.  Malcolm Gladwell had a really good New Yorker book review on the matter recently, but his recent blog post, really makes the most sense of it to me.  At the crux of the explanation is the insight that the relationship between environment and IQ is definitely not a linear one:

Children moving from poverty to the middle class see their IQ's
jump: IQ at that end of the socio-economic scale is highly sensitive to
environmental improvements. But the kinds of twins studies usually
relied upon by IQ  fundamentalists and that yield such high genetic
effects, are much more likely to involve comparisons among middle and
upper middle class environments–and that end of the scale,
Turkheimer's data suggests, environment doesn't play a big role. 

In other words, the lawyer who plays Mozart in the crib for his
daughter, in order to raise her IQ, is wasting his time.  But
dramatically increasing the educational resources available to inner
city kids makes a  lot of sense.

This, I think, helps to clarify a lot of what drives so many of us
crazy about Charles Murray and his ilk. We're not disputing the
importance of IQ. And we're not disputing that genes play a huge role
in determining IQ. We're just saying that it's hopelessly naive to
assume that the same rules apply to suburban, middle-class whites as
apply to, say, urban, inner-city black families.

Like most things in life, there's clearly an interaction between environment and genes, but the effect is clearly much stronger in moving from an impoverished environment to a healthy one than from a healthy environment to a super-healthy environment. 

Growing income inequality

Is a subject that you read a lot about in the left-wing blogosphere, but rarely makes into mainstream news reports.  So much for liberal bias.  Kevin Drum today reproduces a chart that shows just how ridiculous it has become.  He also puts the lie to the conservative claim that growing inequality is all about education:

The numbers in this chart are all normalized to zero in 1979, and
what they show is that the total share of national income going to the
super-rich has more than doubled over that time. The merely well off
have also gotten a slightly bigger piece of the pie, while everyone
else has funded this free-for-all. “Everyone else,” in this case, means
90% of the country. Our share of national income has gone down in order
to make sure that virtually all the fruits of economic growth over the
past four decades could go to the well-off, the rich, and the
[emphasis mine]

One of the reasons it's important to see charts like this, even if
you've seen them before, is that it gives the lie to the endlessly
recycled myth that growing income inequality is mainly due to increased
returns to education and technical skills. But it ain't so. The returns
to education might be growing a bit ? though even that's debatable ?
but by far the biggest beneficiaries of skyrocketing income inequality
have been the top 1%, the top 0.1%, and the top 0.01%. Not even
Republicans will try to make the case that the top 1% have become
better educated over the past 40 years compared to the top 10%, so if
that's where income inequality is concentrated then education just
can't be a huge factor. If you're interested in the truth, you have to
look elsewhere.

The super-rich are getting super-richer because Republican economic policies favor them, not because they are so much better educated than you and me.

The Imploding Republican Party

Paul Waldman (one of my favorite political analysts/writers– that PhD in Political Science doesn't hurt), has a great article up at The American Prospect about the problems the Republican party is finally facing in holding their uneasy coalition of Christian Conservatives and Wall Street Conservatives together.  Some highlights:

After months of tedium and mindless chest-thumping, the race for the
Republican presidential nomination finally got interesting over the
last couple of weeks. And the way it did so highlights the fundamental
rift threatening the future of the GOP: the divide between the party's
corporate/anti-tax wing, which includes the people who write the
checks, and its social conservative wing, which includes the people who
get bodies to the polls. It's the plutocrats versus the theocrats, and
at the moment it's hard to tell who's going to win.

Try to imagine the combination of pain and dread now covering the
Mitt Romney campaign like a wet wool blanket. After all the work, after
all the enthusiastic pandering, after outspending his opponents by
millions, after the months in which he was the only candidate airing
ads in Iowa, his support there turned out to be a mile wide and an inch
deep. At the first opportunity, the social conservatives whose feet he
had kissed with such commitment wandered away from his gleaming
campaign and over to that smooth-talking preacher setting up folding
chairs in his bare-bones storefront.

It now looks as if a lot of Iowa conservatives were leaning to
Romney because they felt that they didn't have much choice. Sure he's a
phony, they thought, but what other options do we have? The
somnambulant character actor? The cross-dressing New Yorker? As someone
recently said, at least Romney was pretending to believe the right things…

The plutocrats couldn't care less whether Romney's recent conversion to
hard-right social conservatism was sincere. He can blather on all he
wants about activist judges and border fences; what's important to them
is the tax code, whether the National Labor Relations Board keeps its
Bush-era affection for union-busting, and whether agencies like OSHA
and the FDA remain regulatory panda bears, lolling about in the grass
munching bamboo without worrying their little heads about the safety of
workers and consumers. When it comes to these matters, the plutocrats
know Romney is their guy.

But they don't quite trust Huckabee, who, as Sarah Posner has noted, has shown troubling flashes of sympathy for ordinary people…But as of yet, Huckabee has not pledged allegiance to the de rigueur Republican tax fantasy that cutting taxes ultimately leads to an increase in revenues.

This may be the most consequential difference between the battles
the two parties are waging. Yes, the Democratic candidates are drawing
more heavily from distinct groups, but the lines are nowhere near as
clear. John Edwards has strong labor support ? but so does Hillary
Clinton. Clinton is the candidate of the Democratic establishment ? but
Obama has plenty of backers in that establishment as well. Once a
nominee is chosen, the Democratic factions will rally around him or her
without much grumbling.

Not so on the Republican side. This primary battle is a symptom, not
a cause, of a crumbling conservative coalition. They may yet put
themselves back together, but chances are it will happen after a
crushing defeat next November.

Why do Republicans hate your children?

This week the House passed legislation that would dramatically curtail the impact of the Alternative Minimum Tax– a tax originally designed to affect the wealthy, but instead increasingly hits the middle class as it was never indexed for inflation.  The Senate has tried and tried to pass a revenue-neutral version– that is, one that increases taxes elsewhere (primarily the wealthy) to make up for the lost revenue from the AMT.  Sounds reasonable enough– yes?  Lose one source of government taxation revenue replace it from elsewhere.  Not so for Republicans who filibustered until the Democrats gave up.  Are the Republicans offering spending cuts, therefore, to make up for the revenue loss?  Of course not.  That would be fiscally responsible.  Instead, the government will just borrow more money.  So, instead of us paying for the costs of government now, the Republican party prefers to pass it onto future generations.  Why do Republicans hate children? 

The Death of Recess

While I'm at it with being lazy, I'm also going to recommend this interesting NYT article on how schools are increasingly ruining recess— a subject near and dear to my heart is this is very much the case at David and Alex's school.  I understand the issues with dodgeball, but rolling the ball for dodgeball (as they do at Kingswood Elementary) hardly seems worth the effort. 

5 myths about torture

Lots of stuff I want to blog about, so little time, so I'm just going to take the easy way out on this one and strongly suggest you read “5 Myths about Torture” in the Post (from a Political Science professor, no less). 

Wal-Mart: promoter of family values

I couldn't quite bring myself to put a picture of girls panties on my blog, you'll have to go here for the actual photo, but this is really quite something.  Wal-Mart is selling junior's (i.e., adolescents) underwear with the tag-line in front: “Who needs credit cards”  Um, what exactly is the subtext in that?  As Feministing put it: ” Who needs credit cards when you have a junior vagina?” (They've got the photo with the post).  In reading the post, I got a “hey, that's my Wal-Mart” moment” as it is actually the Wal-Mart in Cary, NC where the photo of the offending item was taken.  Hey, at least they don't carry music with racy lyrics.

Of Government and 2nd Graders

Wow.  I just got back from talking about “the government” to David's 2nd grade class.  What an amazing experience.  Virtually all the kids were very engaged and desperately attempting to answer my questions and get their many questions and comments answered.  Americans may be apathetic about the government, but this was certainly not the case in 2nd grade.  What happens to these kids?  Why, when 95% of these 2nd graders were desperate to say virtually anything in front of my classmates do I have classes of 18-22 year-olds where more than half the class seems literally afraid to speak?  Why when these kids seem so interested in and excited about the government do college kids (and most adults) have such apathy about government and politics?  I don't have much thought on the first question (though, it is a great sociological question).  On the second, I wonder how much the media's incredibly inane, game-obsessed, form of political coverage turns people off who might actually still be paying attention of more political coverage actually talked about stuff that matters.  In my 40 minutes today, I talked about federalism, the many policies that actually affect their (all of our) lives, and things like freedom and liberty.  If we got a little more of that and a little less what somebody spent on their haircut or the tactical implications of somebody's speech, I wonder if things would be better. 

Mitt’s Rough Draft

Thanks to Ezra Klein (now blogging at The American Prospect), I came across this tremendously hilarious parody of Mitt Romney's comments on a draft of his big religion speech last week (from the Weekly Standard, no less).  Do take a look.

I also must mention that I especially loved the part about Pentecostals, as I was actually listening to some serious banjo-playing bluegrass music while I read this. 

Democrats and Torture

On one level I've known that Democrats in Congress are almost as responsible for enabling Bush's authoritarian crusade as are Republicans, yet its still very distressing to read story's like this in Sunday's Post:

In September 2002, four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA
program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism
suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group,
which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention
sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make
their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was
waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as
torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill.
But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two
lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials

As for any defense of the complicit Democrats, Glenn Greenwald takes them apart well here.  My favorite part:

Why would they even bother to go to the briefings if they tell
themselves ahead of time: “even if intelligence officials confess to
serial, deliberate lawbreaking and vow to continue breaking the law,
there is absolutely nothing I can do about it, because I'm sworn to
secrecy”? That's absurd. Their obligation to maintain the secrecy of
classified information applies to proper and legal
intelligence activities. They're not only able, but duty-bound, to act
to impede patent lawbreaking (such as torture). That's the whole
purpose of “oversight.”

I've been watching Rescue Dawn (half way through; so far, so good) and as I'm watching the appalling scenes of American POW's being tortured in Vietnam, I was literally thinking about how barbaric it was and that I'm so glad I live in a country where expect better out of people.  Unfortunately, not enough of the people that matter feel the same way.

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