Friday, September 19, 2014

From the Department of the Painfully Obvious

Wow.  You could have knocked me over with a shovel with this news via the New York Times:

The parade of politicians on the Sunday morning talk shows veers to the right, not the left.

Conservative members of the current Congress have appeared more often on the network talk shows than their liberal counterparts. Senators and representatives from the conservative end of the ideological spectrum have made 57 percent of the appearances, compared with 42 percent for liberals, according to an Upshot analysis of data collected by American University.

This slightly lopsided distribution is primarily the result of three Republican senators’ frequent visits to the network shows: John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell. Because of the Republican Party’s control of the House during the past three years, its leaders and committee chairmen are presented with more opportunities to discuss the latest political news.

Participants in the 2008 and 2012 presidential nominating contests also helped boost conservative representation: Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin congressman who was the G.O.P.‘s 2012 vice-presidential nominee, made 46 appearances between early January 2009 and Aug. 3, 2014.

[...]

As we’ve previously reported, John McCain, the Arizona Republican senator, sets the standard for lawmaker appearances on the shows.

Which is why I spend my Sunday mornings in the silence of the Quaker meeting.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

How Congress Really Works

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) tells us what we already knew.

“A lot of people would like to stay on the sideline and say, ‘Just bomb the place and tell us about it later,’ ” said Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, who supports having an authorization vote. “It’s an election year. A lot of Democrats don’t know how it would play in their party, and Republicans don’t want to change anything. We like the path we’re on now. We can denounce it if it goes bad, and praise it if it goes well and ask what took him so long.”

Congress always wants to be in control as long as they’re not held responsible.  Now that’s democracy.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Off To A Good Start

Chuck Todd took over the reins of Meet The Press on Sunday, and did such a crapfestival job that David Letterman is already making fun of him.

David Letterman has debuted a new segment in honor of Chuck Todd’s listening skills.

As he says, you’ve got to be on it, paying attention to every word. Watch him nail Chuck for missing four separate mentions of Syria before telling the President he hasn’t heard him mention Syria.

It’s got to be some kind of record.

Oh, and not for nothing, but NBC News has promoted morning show host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough to be a regular panelist on MTP, but passed over Rachel Maddow because apparently she’s too partisan.  Uh huh.  I think the real reason is that she would run circles around Joe and Chuck and show them to be the dullards and hacks that they truly are.  And you can’t have them get beat by a girl.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Delaying Tactics

I’m not sure what difference in terms of actual policy it makes that President Obama is putting off his promised executive action on immigration and deportation, but I don’t see how it can help Democrats running for re-election in tough states like Arkansas or Colorado by putting the announcement off until after the November election.

People who are against any kind of kindness or adjustment for undocumented people and families are not going to vote for the Democratic candidate in that race regardless of what the president does, and trying to take it off the table as a political chess piece makes it a political chess piece.  I’m pretty sure the people who support immigration reform don’t like being treated as pawns in the game, either.

This also hands the Republicans a couple of more months of demagoguery about immigration: “Obama didn’t do anything about immigration, and now he’s playing politics with it!” while they know full well that the Senate passed a bipartisan and comprehensive immigration bill over a year ago and Speaker John Boehner has stuffed it up his ass in the House.  Mr. Boehner knew that passing immigration reform, even if it had the backing of the majority of Republicans, would be seen as a victory for the president, and of course he cannot allow that to happen.  So out come the usual suspect charges of playing politics.  It is axiomatic that when someone points at someone else and complains about that, they’re usually looking in a mirror.

The White House is counting on the indulgence of the Latino community to support the Democrats through this maneuver, knowing that no matter what they do — within reason — they’re not going to vote for the Republicans.  That’s a bit of a risk, but the administration had to know that they were opening themselves up to this kind of problem and thought they could get through it.  But I concur with Steve M: it would have been a lot easier to get it over with in June and have it be a non-issue in November given the short-term memory of the electorate.

If Obama had signed the order back in June, giving the press and the population a few months to deal with the reality of the plan instead of paranoid fantasies about it, including lots of video of sweet and overjoyed families, how much effect would that have had on Mark Pryor’s campaign? How much effect did the original Dreamer order in June 2012 have on that year’s elections? Other than to make Marco Rubio very uncomfortable and thirsty?

Not for nothing: this White House has a pretty rocky track record for deals brokered between an election and the start of the new Congress in January.  Brace yourself.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Kool Kidz Table

NBC unceremoniously dumped David Gregory as moderator of Meet The Press last month and replaced him with Chuck Todd.  Mr. Todd, who comes across as a sycophant to all but the most Serious People inside the Beltway, is now populating his new gig with even more suck-ups and bombasts with all the intellectual insight of a high school lunch room.

NBC is bringing in Luke Russert, son of the late beloved “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert, as a regular panelist on the Sunday morning show in a bid to turn around its catastrophic ratings slide, Page Six has exclusively learned.

Also joining new moderator Chuck Todd’s team will be former Republican congressman and “Morning Joe” host Joe Scarborough, who sources say “is taking on a larger role within NBC News as a senior political analyst and would be one of the regular Sunday panelists.”

We’re told the move is part of a plan to bring a right-leaning voice to the program to appeal to viewers turned off by the show’s famously left-leaning former hosts including the ousted David Gregory.

The only people who think that David Gregory was “left-leaning” are the same people who think that Fox News is fair and balanced and Barack Obama was born in Kenya.  Chuck Todd is the heir of Mr. Gregory’s kneepads that he put to good use when John McCain and Lindsay Graham would drop by every Sunday.

Yet another reason why Sunday mornings in my house are just me and the crossword puzzle.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Optical Illusion

Now that President Obama is back from his vacation, is it too much to ask the Villagers and the rest of the people who seriously waste their time counting the days he or any other president takes off to please shut up about it already?

If that’s what they think is worth the time and pixels to waste talking about, then they need to find something else to do.  It’s not like anyone really cares, and if they do, then they can go back to reading about the latest antics of the Kardashians in the National Enquirer.

The latest version of this comes from the usual suspects like Maureen Dowd, who, in true eighth-grade-mentality aggravation, sniffs that playing golf is more important to the president than shedding TV tears.  Her theory is that the president has to fake phony sincerity in order to be a genuine leader.  Others, less neener-neener spiteful, worry that because the president would rather play a round of golf with Alonzo Mourning than John Boehner, the work of the Congress won’t get done.  News flash: the work of the Congress won’t get done — at least not by the current crop of Republicans — if President Obama sent John Boehner a case of scotch and a truckload of Camel cigarettes.

I would rather have a president who doesn’t give a flying rats ass about the optics of schmoozing some backbencher from Congress or glad-handing some donor than one who does.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Short Takes

72-hour ceasefire announced in Gaza.

G.O.P. craters border bill.

What a shock: C.I.A. finds that they did break into Senate computers.

Emergency efforts in Africa to combat ebola.

Stocks fall on weak economic data.

Tropical Update: We now have Tropical Storm Bertha in the North Atlantic.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 7-4, but landed pitcher David Price from Tampa Bay.

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Shinseki Out At VA

By now you’ve heard this.

Eric Shinseki resigned as secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department Friday after meeting face-to-face with President Obama about mounting evidence of widespread misconduct and mismanagement at the agency’s vast network of medical facilities.

In a statement Friday morning after the meeting, Mr. Obama said that Mr. Shinseki had offered his resignation from the post he has held since the beginning of the president’s administration. “With regret, I accepted,” Mr. Obama said.

“He has worked hard to investigate and identify the problem,” the president said, adding that Mr. Shinseki told him that “the V.A. needs new leadership to address it. He does not want to be a distraction.”

Although the calls for him to go came from both Democrats and Republicans, it was the noise from Congress — the same people who failed to pass legislation increasing funding for the VA while at the same time spending billions on the wars that created the huge backlog at the hospitals — that made it politically impossible for him to stay.

Just like in baseball, they always fire the manager but never the owner…the one with all the money.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pelosi Picks Five For The Benghazi! Panel

The moment I heard the Democrats were “torn” about appointing House members to the “select committee” on Benghazi!, I knew they would end up going along with it.

Charlie Pierce thinks its a good thing.

Nancy Pelosi did a smart thing and appointed her full allotment of Democrats to the upcoming Fox News special and general kangaroo festivities regarding Benghazi, Benghazi, BENGHAZI! I am sorry that all the Alan Grayson fans out there may be disappointed, but it’s not like Elijah Cummings hasn’t been fighting the good fight on this issue for a while now. The idea of a Democratic boycott of the committee was politically maladroit and pragmatically stupid. It is going to be of paramount importance to have someone in there, the way Barney Frank and Robert Wexler were there on the Judiciary Committee when it was considering the impeachment of Bill Clinton, and the way Richard Ben-Veniste was there to demolish the entire premise of the phony Whitewater scandal a few years earlier. Without participating, the Democrats would have been conceding the development of the narrative to the Kangaroo Kaucus not only among the Beltway opinion elite, but out in the country as well. As it happens, that’s where the case for impeaching Bill Clinton truly fell apart. The Democrats who participated in that particular series of charades from 1992-1998 did a lot to hijack the issue in the dim frontierland beyond Washington. In a situation like this, the Democrats have one advantage — they can illustrate the essential absurdity of the exercise until the country gets heartily sick of it.

There was a strong movement to get Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) on the committee as well.  He’s outspoken and not afraid to call bullshit on the GOP.  While it would be fun to have him there for clickbait and entertainment, he would give the Republicans the completely ironic excuse to claim that the Democrats were politicizing the hearings.  Gee, we can’t have that, can we?

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

No Big Deal

A major government contractor screwed the taxpayer out of $100 million and nobody cares.  But let a government seminar caterer charge $16 for a muffin and the Orcosphere blows up.

So says Greg Sargent:

So what does this tell us? First, conservatives have a media apparatus that they can use to force certain stories into mainstream awareness when they find those that tell a tale they want people to hear. It doesn’t always work — for instance, their efforts to get everyone to care about the New Black Panthers have not borne fruit — but it works often enough.

Second, if there’s a vivid detail, even one that turns out to be untrue (like the $16 muffin), then all journalists are much more likely to find it compelling and do stories about it. You’d think that the story of the guy who managed to bill for 100 hours of work per day would be pretty compelling. Guess not.

It’s also true that the simpler the story, the easier it is to get the low-information voter pissed off.  Everyone knows what a muffin costs; even Starbucks can’t sell them for $16.  But explaining billable hours or deliverables requires understanding of the actual process of contracting, and when you try to do that, you can see the eyes glazing over.  That’s why Ronald Reagan was able to get elected making up stories about welfare queens in Cadillacs and young bucks buying t-bone steaks with food stamps.  The better the lie the better the outrage quotient.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Gone Quiet”

Greg Sargent in the Washington Post:

As #Benghazi fever rises among Republicans, the Hill reports this morning that the House GOP has “gone quiet” on Obamacare. There are no scheduled votes or hearings on the Affordable Care Act. Contacted by the Hill, most GOP campaign committees won’t say whether they will be launching any new attacks on the law.

As the Hill puts it: “The lack of action highlights the GOP’s struggle to adjust its message now that enrollment in the exchanges beat projections and the uninsured rate is going down.”

At the same time, the Hill notes that GOP operatives overseeing Senate races remain “conscious of the need to keep a drumbeat going against the law.” The question now: If Republican officials really are backing off on Obamacare, will the base go along?

A new CNN poll illustrates the situation nicely: It finds that far more Americans want to keep Obamacare than repeal it. At the same time, only majorities of Republicans want repeal and only majorities of Republicans think the law is already a failure.

The CNN poll finds that 49 percent of Americans want to keep the law with some changes, while another 12 percent want to keep it as is — a total of 61 percent. Meanwhile, only 18 percent want to repeal and replace the law, and another 20 percent want to repeal it, full stop — a total of 38 percent.  That’s 61-38 for keeping rather than repealing the law. Among independents, that’s 55-44.  [Emphasis in original.]

There’s another reason why Obamacare has been pushed aside: Hillary Clinton has a new book coming out this summer and we’re going to be seeing her all over the TV as she promotes it.  That explains the sudden interest in Benghazi! and why the GOP will try to drag it out through the summer and into the fall with their select committee in the House and the natterers on Fox.

Once they find that the Benghazi! hearings are going nowhere they’ll probably circle back to Obamacare.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Sunday Reading

Moderate This — Jonathan Chait takes on the hurt fee-fees of confused journalists.

The Obama administration, like previous administrations, holds frequent briefing sessions with straight news reporters and opinion journalists, both conservative and liberal. (I don’t recall the Bush administration ever inviting liberal opinion journalists to briefings, but I may be mistaken.) There are some liberal opinion journalists, most of whom generally agree with Obama’s policies.

It’s interesting to try to disentangle the competing strands of liberal ideology (which is a perfectly valid function of opinion journalism) and Democratic partisanship (which, at the very least, is not the same thing), and whether White House access can corrupt or influence their incentives. A National Journal story by James Oliphant, headlined “Progressive Bloggers Are Doing the White House’s Job,” horribly botches the topic by blurring everything together. Hence, Dave Weigel is cited as a prime example of the administration using liberal bloggers as a partisan message vehicle despite the fact that Weigel has not attended such briefings and frequently takes unfriendly stances toward Obama. Likewise, Ezra Klein is cited as both an example of a partisan water-carrier and an independent, truth-to-power-speaker in the same story. It’s a total, incoherent mess.

The way to make any sense of it, I think, is an expression of a certain kind of centrist worldview currently embodied in its most flamboyant form by Oliphant’s colleague, Ron Fournier. The foundation of the Fournier epistemology is the premise that the truth lies somewhere between the positions of the two major American political parties at any given moment. Deviations from that truth can be explained by partisanship or ideology, which Fournier regards as more or less the same thing. In Fournier’s mind, since any expression of non-partisanship is by definition true, any attack on such a claim is by definition partisan, and therefore false.

The Case for Joe Biden’s Candidacy — Peter Beinart in The Atlantic explains that “What the Democratic Party, and the nation, need is a real debate between Hillary Clinton’s interventionism and the vice president’s restraint.”

Although Biden, like Clinton, supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, those calamitous wars have instilled in him a new devotion to the cautious realism that men like Scowcroft and Baker exemplify. In 2009, according to Bob Woodward, the then-secretary of state argued passionately for sending 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, at one point pounding her fist on the table and declaring, “We must act like we’re going to win.” Biden, by contrast, didn’t think defeating the Taliban was either possible nor necessary, and argued for a narrower mission focused on al-Qaeda alone. What she feared most in Afghanistan was chaos and barbarism. What he feared most was quagmire.

Biden, according to Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes’s book, HRC, was also skeptical of a Western air campaign in Libya. Clinton supported it. Biden considered the raid on Osama bin Laden too risky. Clinton pushed Obama to go for it. Clinton, perhaps remembering the way her husband’s decision to arm Croat forces helped enable a peace deal in the former Yugoslavia, urged Obama to arm Syria’s rebels. Biden expressed caution once again. “Over the last few years, and especially amid the Arab Spring, events have forced the Obama White House to choose between its prudential instincts and its great ambitions,” Traub writes. “In almost every case Biden has sided with the skeptics.”

It would be a good thing for Democrats, and the country, if the private debate between Biden and Clinton went public. Otherwise, it’s likely that during the campaign Clinton will take stances more hawkish than Obama’s—partly because Ukraine has made hawkishness fashionable again and partly because that’s where her own instincts lie—but barely anyone will notice.

Unless, of course, she confronts the only other major potential candidate likely to stake out a position less interventionist than her own: Rand Paul.

Andy Borowitz on the most important thing Congress can do.

Millions of unemployed Americans who have fruitlessly been looking for work for months are determined that Congress get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi, a new poll indicates.

According to the survey, job-seeking Americans hope that Congress will eventually do something about job creation, but they are adamant that it hold new hearings about Benghazi first.

By a wide majority, respondents to the poll “strongly agreed” with the statement “I would really like to find a job, but not if it in any way distracts Congress from my No. 1 concern: finding out what really happened in Benghazi.”

In related findings, a survey of Americans found that taxpayers overwhelmingly consider Benghazi hearings to be the best use of taxpayer money, well ahead of schools, roads, and infant nutrition.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker John Boehner released the following statement: “I want to reassure the American people that, until we have completed our Benghazi investigations, there will be absolutely no action on job creation, infrastructure, immigration, education, housing, or food.”

Doonesbury — Art critic.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Another Shiny Object

Now that Obamacare has succeeded and the economy is getting back on track, the Republicans are desperate to find something to do.  Oh, dear, what shall they do?

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Friday he would appoint a select House committee to expand the Republican investigation into the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

That’s it?  That’s the best they can come up with?  Please.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Not Too Shy

The big news of the Pulitzers was the citation to the Washington Post and the Guardian USA website for breaking the N.S.A. story.

A lot of people on both sides of the story were concentrating on the players: Edward Snowden and the reporters who broke the story.  But it did reveal something a lot of people subconsciously took for granted: that there’s a lot of things that our government does that we don’t know — or don’t want to know about.  Seeing them in print made a lot of people, including members of the Obama administration, rather uncomfortable.  That’s what journalism is supposed to do.

So it’s a tad ironic to hear Sharyl Attkisson, a former correspondent for CBS News, complain about the press for being “very shy” about challenging the Obama administration.  I think the Pulitzer committee would beg to disagree.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Reading

Crossing Christie — Ryan Lizza at The New Yorker profiles the governor of New Jersey.

On April 1st, Chris Christie, the beleaguered Republican governor of New Jersey, attended a celebrity roast, in Newark, to celebrate the ninetieth birthday of Brendan Byrne, the state’s governor from 1974 to 1982. “He’s an inspiration,” Christie told the audience, referring to Byrne, who won reëlection against long odds, because he has “shown that political comebacks can actually happen.”

Christie sat on a long dais with five former governors and five local comedians, listening to the guitarist John Pizzarelli sing an ode to the state: “I may leave for a week or two, but I’m always coming back.” Christie was seated next to former Governor Thomas Kean, a longtime supporter, but he did not say hello or shake his hand, and he glared at the comedians as they delivered their lines. “You scare the shit out of me,” Stewie Stone said to Christie during his routine.

Just five months earlier, Christie had won a sweeping reëlection, securing nineteen of New Jersey’s twenty-one counties, sixty per cent of the vote, and endorsements from Democratic officeholders. He won fifty-one per cent of the Hispanic vote and twenty-one per cent of the African-American vote. His plan was to shed part of his Jersey persona, and perhaps a few more pounds, and begin in earnest the transition from state politician to Presidential candidate.

But the past was catching up with him. In September, an unusual incident had occurred in Fort Lee, the small town on the Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge. Without warning, the number of access lanes from Fort Lee to the bridge’s toll plaza had been reduced from three to one. The lanes were closed for four days, and the resulting traffic jams caught the attention of several Democratic legislators. They opened an investigation and eventually accused the Christie administration of engineering a plot to punish the town’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for his failure to endorse Christie’s reëlection. The accusation seemed so ludicrous that Christie belittled a reporter for asking about it. “I moved the cones, actually, unbeknownst to everybody,” he said during a press conference in early December. But on January 8th an e-mail surfaced showing that Bridget Anne Kelly, Christie’s deputy chief of staff, had instructed David Wildstein, who was the Governor’s second-highest appointee at the Port Authority, the agency that runs the bridge, to engineer the gridlock. Months of scrutiny and withering criticism followed, and Christie’s approval rating fell twenty points.

Christie had spent the week before the Byrne event trying to repair the damage. He hired lawyers who, on March 27th, released a report declaring that he knew nothing about the plan and placing the blame on Kelly and Wildstein. The next weekend, Christie flew to Las Vegas and met with Sheldon Adelson, a right-wing billionaire who is looking for a Presidential candidate to fund. Christie managed to offend Adelson, who is a major supporter of the conservative Likud Party, in Israel, by publicly referring to the “occupied territories,” a term to which Adelson objects. (“Occupied territories” is common parlance among both Democrats and Republicans, but Christie, fearful of losing Adelson’s favor, apologized.)

The Newark roast wasn’t going well, either. The speakers aimed much of their fire at Christie. “You knew whose ass to kiss,” Stone said, referring to Christie’s trip to Vegas. “ ‘Whatever you say, Sheldon! Whatever you say!’ ” Vince August, a New Jersey judge turned comedian, noted, “It really is an honor to be standing next to what could be the next President of the—.” He shuffled some papers on the lectern. “I’m sorry, these are the wrong notes. I’m doing a roast next week with Jeb Bush.” Even Byrne got in a dig, about Christie’s waistline. “Somebody referred to that bronze statue of me that’s in the courthouse,” he said. “Actually, that was supposed to be Governor Christie, but they didn’t have enough money to pay for all that bronze.”

Joy Behar, the former co-host of “The View,” was even more pointed. “When I first heard that he was accused of blocking off three lanes on the bridge, I said, ‘What the hell is he doing, standing in the middle of the bridge?’ ” After another barb, Christie interrupted her. “This is a Byrne roast,” he said. He stood up and tried to grab her notes. The audience laughed awkwardly. “Stop bullying me,” Behar said as he sat down. Christie said something out of earshot and Behar responded, “Why don’t you get up here at the microphone instead of being such a coward?” Christie stood up again and moved in front of the lectern as Behar retreated.  “At least I don’t get paid for this,” he said.

Christie sat down and Behar continued, though she was noticeably rattled. “I really don’t know about the Presidency,” she said. “Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.”

Before the bridge scandal, Christie was known as a governor who transcended New Jersey’s reputation for toxic politics and toxic dumps. He took on the exploding costs of the state’s pension system, reformed property taxes, and worked with his opponents in the legislature, and he provided decisive leadership after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. But the scandal hinted at a darker story line: that Christie’s barrelling style, and the dealmaking that had secured his rise through New Jersey politics, might as easily undo him.

Stuck In the Middle — Andrew O’Hehir in Salon takes on both sides in the religion vs. science debate.

Karl Marx’s famous maxim that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, can apply just as well to the history of ideas as to the political sphere. Consider the teapot-tempest over religion and science that has mysteriously broken out in 2014, and has proven so irresistible to the media. We already had this debate, which occupied a great deal of the intellectual life of Western civilization in the 18th and 19th centuries, and it was a whole lot less stupid the first time around. Of course, no one on any side of the argument understands its philosophical and theological history, and the very idea of “Western civilization” is in considerable disrepute on the left and right alike. So we get the sinister cartoon version, in which religious faith and scientific rationalism are reduced to ideological caricatures of themselves, and in which we are revealed to believe in neither one.

Young-earth creationism, a tiny fringe movement within Christianity whose influence is largely a reflection of liberal hysteria, is getting a totally unearned moment in the spotlight (for at least the second or third time). Evangelist Ken Ham of the pseudo-scientific advocacy group Answers in Genesis gets to “debate” Bill Nye the Science Guy about whether or not the earth is 6,000 years old, in a grotesque parody of academic discourse. Ham’s allies, meanwhile, complain that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new “Cosmos” TV series has no room for their ludicrous anti-scientific beliefs. If anything, Tyson’s show has spent a suspicious amount of time indirectly debunking creationist ideas. They seem to make him (or, more properly, his writers) nervous. Not, as Ham would have it, because somewhere inside themselves these infidels recognize revealed truth, but because religious ecstasy, however nonsensical, is powerful in a way reason and logic are not.

Everyone who writes a snarky Internet comment about why the T-Rex couple didn’t make it onto Noah’s ark betrays the same nervousness, and so do earnest Northeast Corridor journalists who rush to assure us that Ham’s elaborate fantasy scenarios about fossils and the Grand Canyon are not actually true, and that we would all find science just as wonderful as religion if only we paid attention. (Such articles strike me as totems of liberal self-reassurance, and not terribly convincing ones at that.) Repeating facts over and over again doesn’t make them any more true, and definitely doesn’t make them more convincing. I suppose this is about trying to win the hearts and minds of some uninformed but uncommitted mass of people out there who don’t quite know what they think. But hectoring or patronizing them is unlikely to do any good, and if you believe that facts are what carry the day in American public discourse then you haven’t paid much attention to the last 350 years or so.

This creationist boomlet goes hand in glove with the larger political strategy of Christian fundamentalism, which is somewhere between diabolically clever and flat-out desperate. Faced with a long sunset as a significant but declining subculture, the Christian right has embraced postmodernism and identity politics, at least in the sense that it suddenly wants to depict itself as a persecuted cultural minority entitled to special rights and privileges. These largely boil down, of course, to the right to resist scientific evidence on everything from evolution to climate change to vaccination, along with the right to be gratuitously cruel to LGBT people. One might well argue that this has less to do with the eternal dictates of the Almighty than with anti-government paranoia and old-fashioned bigotry. But it’s noteworthy that even in its dumbest and most debased form, religion still finds a way to attack liberal orthodoxy at its weak point.

[...]

So on one hand we have atheists whose views would have seemed old-hat under Queen Victoria but who see themselves as representing the apex of progressive modern thought, and on the other we have a modern twist on religion that pretends to be ancient or traditional. Biblical fundamentalism as we know it today is essentially a 19th-century British invention that took root among white rural Americans much later than that. William Jennings Bryan, although revered as a forefather by today’s creationists, would have had nothing in common with them politically and very little theologically. (Bryan would have told you that the Bible was “true,” but he didn’t mean that God created the universe in six literal 24-hour days.) Islamic fundamentalism, the particular bugaboo of Dawkins and Harris, is more recent still, a metaphysical uprising against late modernism and the global force of Western consumer culture.

It would be foolish to deny that fundamentalism is or can be dangerous, but the liberal intelligentsia compulsively exaggerates the danger posed by the likes of Ken Ham or Pat Robertson, who are deemed to be plotting the theocratic overthrow of the republic when in fact they represent a marginalized constituency with little power. Fundamentalists oppose the science of climate change on supposed scriptural grounds, for instance, but on that issue they’re just serving as handmaidens to corporate money and power. In much the same way but on a larger scale, conservatives and government apparatchiks interpret the scattered and disparate actions of al-Qaida and its allies as an apocalyptic threat that justifies secret drone wars, unknowable levels of surveillance and the expenditure of countless billions.

Kathleen Sebelius’s Legacy — Jonathan Cohn at TNR looks at what the departing HHS secretary’s tenure brought us.

Sebelius brought two main assets to her job. She had experience regulating insurers and, as a successful Democrat in Kansas, she knew how to work with Republicans. But what Obamacare needed more was a deft, aggressive manager. Case in point: By all accounts, Sebelius did not grasp the severity of tech problems at healthcare.gov until the day it went live and crashed. If she got the warnings, then she should have heeded them. If she didn’t get the warnings, then she should have appointed people who would have kept her better informed. Either way, that’s a serious management failure.

Still, it’s not as if Obamacare’s implementation difficulties are entirely, or even mostly, the fault of HHS. It’s a typical, if predictable, failure of Washington to demand a fall guy when things go wrong. But responsibility rarely lies with just one person. (That’s one reason Obama resisted calls to fire her.) And this case is no exception.

Implementing Obamacare was never going to be easy. The law is full of compromises that, however politically necessary, weakened regulations and depleted funding that would have made introducing the new insurance system a lot easier. And Sebelius never had the kind of control a chief executive officer would. She was always dealing with a host of other players—from superiors at the White House to underlings at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to Democrats on Capitol Hill to lobbyists for the health care industry. And that’s to say nothing of her war with the congressional Republicans, who were trying actively to sabotage the law through repeal votes, funding cuts, and intimidation of would-be allies.

More important, the law seems to be working, despite all of those early problems. That 7.5 million figure she announced on Thursday is a genuinely big deal—particularly since, from what I hear, the final number is likely to be even higher. It’s now clear that Obamacare is succeeding in one of its primary goals—reducing the number of Americans without health insurance. The only question is by how much. “Secretary Sebelius took and will take her share of arrows for the initial roll out, but she unquestionably deserves credit for the recent successes,” says one former Administration official. “Her external cool was sometimes a liability, but it helped internally to avoid the finger pointing and to allow the Department successfully regain their sea legs.”

Of course, Sebelius can’t take all or even most of the credit for the Affordable Care Act’s improved performance, any more than she should take all or most of the blame for the law’s troubles. But any accounting of her tenure must include such achievements (and others, like improvements to Head Start and stronger regulations on child care safety). To take one obvious example, Sebelius worked extensively with Republican governors who wanted to expand Medicaid in states with hostile conservative constituencies. Some of those efforts succeeded.

Authorities from one of those states, Ohio, reported on Thursday that more than 100,000 low-income residents were getting coverage through the state’s expanded Medicaid. The announcement came just hours before the news about Sebelius’ resignation broke—and the juxtaposition seems fitting. The memories of Obamacare’s difficult start will certainly linger. But to the millions of people around the country who now have access to affordable medical care, I’m not sure that really matters.

Doonesbury — Thanks for the help.