Quote of the Day

“John Boehner said today he wants to take away North Korea’s missiles, but he won’t because that’s a slippery slope from there to gun control.” –Bill Maher

Reality Check

Does Maureen Dowd realize that The American President is a movie, The West Wing is a television show, and that real life doesn’t work that way?

SciFi Weekend: Doctor Who; S.H.I.E.L.D.; Defiance; Continuum; Community; Dexter; Once Upon A Time; Zooey Deschanel, Terrorist; And A Warning From The Future

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Hide looked like a ghost story, but this week’s episode of Doctor Who was actually a love story involving two couples (or maybe a third). The young assistant Emma was the real reason for Doctor showing up where he did, to see if the clairvoyant Emma could detect anything unusual about Clara, “the only mystery worth solving.” While nothing unusual was revealed about Clara, Emma did warn Clara about the Doctor’s icy heart. I suspect this will play a part in whatever is revealed in the season finale.

The episode picked up on the theme of the TARDIS not yet accepting Clara, but by the end they worked out their differences and went on to save the Doctor. Last week in Cold War it was necessary to contrive a way to get rid of the TARDIS to avoid a simple solution to being trapped in the submarine. This week did something which few too many episodes do–use time travel as part of a story. This did wind up leaving one time traveler just hanging around, possibly a loose end to come up in  a future episode. It also showed Clara the full meaning of time travel and the Doctor:

Clara: “To you I haven’t been born yet, and to you I’ve been dead a hundred billion years. Is my body out there somewhere, in the ground?”

The Doctor: “Yes, I suppose it is.”

Clara: “But here we are, talking, so I am a ghost. To you, I’m a ghost. We’re all ghosts to you. We must be nothing.”

The behind the scenes video is above.

This was actually the first episode filmed with the modern Clara Oswald, written by Neil Cross, who subsequently wrote The Rings of  Akhaten. Cross did better with his first attempt in Hide.  Like previous episodes since Doctor Who returned, there is an homage to a previous Doctor. This time it is John Pertwee’s Doctor, from a scientist with assistant (or is it companion?) using 1970’s oscilloscopes to the need for a blue crystal from Metebelis III. Will next week’s Journey To The Center Of The TARDIS include references to Tom Baker? I suddenly feel like some Jelly Bellies.

DOCTOR WHO SERIES 7B

Hide played with Doctor What while Steven Moffat has made the question Doctor Who? a recurring theme.  The official synopsis for The Name of the Doctor, the final episode of the season is “Someone is kidnapping the Doctor’s friends, leading him towards the one place in all of time and space that he should never go.” Moffat says we really will learn something we haven’t known about the Doctor, telling Radio Times: “There’s going to be a revelation. I’m not teasing. I’m not wrong-footing you – you’re about to learn something about the Doctor that you never knew before. And I think you’re in for a shock.”

River Song, who proved her relationship to the Doctor by being the only person to know his name in Forest of the Dead, will be returning in this episode. The Wedding of River Song included this warning:

“The Fields of Trenzalore, the fall of the eleventh and the question. The first question, the question that must never be answered hidden in plain sight, the question you’ve been running from all your life. Doctor who? Doctor who? DOCTOR WHO?”

The fall of the eleventh has been interpreted as meaning the time of his regeneration, but it might mean something different if the Doctor’s name really s revealed, or this might not be the secret which is revealed. Even if his name is revealed, there would have to be more to the secret for it to be meaningful. Finding that his name is the Gallifreyan equivalent of John Smith would not mean very much. Perhaps the Grammar Daleks have been correct and  his real name is Doctor Whom.

There is yet another possible clue to a secret in this rumor about the 50th Anniversary episode:

…there are several sites claiming that two very reliable sources have independently revealed that John Hurt will be playing the real 9th Doctor :O Basically Eccleston, Tennant and Smith’s Doctor have either forgotten or have repressed Hurt’s incarnation for some unknown reason, and it is very possible that the secret due to be revealed in the season finale next month is that Smith is the 12th Doctor rather than what his real name is.

I suspect that if this is the case John Hurt’s character might not really be the Doctor, similar to the misdirection in The Next Doctor. The order of the Doctors has become ingrained too much to disturb this chronology. If Matt Smith’s Doctor really is the twelfth, it might give Moffat an opportunity to answer the question of the number of regenerations. Originally Time Lords had thirteen but obviously they will not end the show when this limit comes. There was a throw away line when David Tennant was in an episode of Sarah Jane Adventures claiming 507 but the line wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. They already have had two events in the new episodes which could alter the original limit. As the Time Lords have been overthrown, nobody knows if the old rules apply. There is also the possibility that the Doctor obtained additional regenerations when River Song gave up her future regenerations to save the Doctor’s life in Let’s Kill Hitler There is plenty of precedent for transfer of regenerative powers in Doctor Who, giving Moffat a number of possible routes. Plus, unless the number is extended, where will the Valeyard fit into this–or has the Doctor managed to avoid that fate?

Clark Gregg has a lot of information on S.H.I.E.L.D in the video above. Transcript below via Bleeding Cool:

If you watched The Avengers it was hard to miss the moment where that Asgardian bastard stabbed me quite thoroughly. And I died in The Avengers and it was a sad day because I loved Agent Coulson, and I loved going to the cons and hanging out with the Coulson fans. I was a little heartbroken. The Marvel guys said “You’re dead. You’re dead. But it’s the comics so it’s a different form of dead. Who knows, maybe we’ll see you again some day.”

I thought “You know what, I had a hell of a time playing this guy, I loved the death scene, I loved what Joss did so much,” to want any more of it felt greedy. So when I got a call a couple of months ago to say ‘We want you to come to New York Comic-Con. We’re going to announce that perhaps Coulson lives” I was very curious but also wasn’t sure that I was necessarily down with it.

I didn’t want to do anything to undermine the integrity of The Avengers and Joss didn’t either. So I had a conversation with joss and he explained to me that this [show] takes place after The Avengers, after ‘The Battle of New York’. I’m from New York, I’ve lived in a world after somebody has attacked New York, I know that there’s fall out.

The Avengers version of that world is a world that has superheroes and doorways to other dimensions and chaos. And the way Joss described to me the mystery that takes place in Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and the complexity and the unanswered questions about Phil Coulson standing there trying to deal with this, I found it so fascinating and so true to the world of the comics and mythology in general as I understand them that I was immediately in.

I don’t know you could not change going through what he went through in The Avengers. If he hadn’t gone through some kind of change it wouldn’t be any good. That said, I don’t know if he understands how much he’s changed.

It would be surprising to me if this was a world where there wasn’t some reckoning…the fact that there was some level of deception must have been perpetrated on The Avengers. It must have been.

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Defiance has been billed as the next big thing from Syfy but I was not very impressed. The computer-generated special effects looked fake and I just don’t see the point in computer generated graphics which fail to give a sense of reality to scenes which could not otherwise be filmed. The town of Defiance, which is St. Louis around thirty years after a war which has altered earth, provides a scene which could just as easily be an alien planet or a spaceship which contains civilians. Julie Benz is the mayor (or if this was a spaceship, she fulfills the traditional science fiction role of the Captain). In this case, the future looks like the old west, but is far less fun than Firefly. The backdrop will allow for a wide variety of stories, with stories which felt very familiar filling the two-hour premier. Now that we have the setting down, perhaps the series can move onto more original stories.

Continuum is returning to a second season. Star Rachel Nichols was interviewed here. An excerpt:

What can we expect from the new season?
The second season is very interesting. Obviously the first season was very centered on getting home. I wanted to go home. I would be friends with the baddies, I would partner up with Liber8, whatever it took to get home. It’s obviously still important to me in the new season. However, the theme of Season 2 is responsibility. Kagame had a speech at the end of the last season about how, if you drop a pebble on one side of the world, it will become a tsunami on the other. For Keira that’s very, very important, because she wants to get home to her husband and her son. Very early on in season 2, she starts asking questions: what am I going to be returning home to? Am I costing my husband and son their lives? Will they never be born? Will I never be born because of what I’m doing now? It’s a lot to wrap your head around!

This week’s Community brought up the dark timeline. There was also a lot of nonsense such as the group believing they failed, with the grade changing to a C to an F and back again, and a knot which was not a knot. It is clear that new producers David Guarascio and Moses Port do want to keep this show as offbeat and original as it was under Dan Harmon. They just don’t have the ability to pull it off.

Dexter will be returning for its final season. A sneak peak at part of the first episode is above. The final trajectory for the series is in motion, but a spinoff isn’t ruled out.

Emilie de Ravin of Lost teased tonight’s episode of Once Upon A Time by describing her character (after losing her memory) as “young, scantily-clad chick, Lacey.” Okay, she sold me on watching, even if it is on network television.

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Zooey Deschanel was identified on the closed captioning as the suspect being chased in Boston on Friday by one television station. Needless to say, it was a Fox channel. This is no more ridiculous (and false) than most of the type going by while watching Fox, such as identifying Barack Obama as a socialist from Kenya.

From 2068, above is a documentary on The Internet: A Warning from History. The Internet was one of the greatest disasters to befall mankind…

 

Tsarnaey and Miranda Rights

While we had national support for the successful law-enforcement efforts to capture Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev yesterday, the aftermath has demonstrated the usual political divisions in this country. Republicans see terrorism as reason to ignore Constitutional liberties, the left (joined by the ACLU) protests the lack of Miranda warnings, and the Obama administration has taken a middle of the road approach. The Obama administration is ignoring Republican pressure to treat Tsarnaey as an “enemy combatant” and deny him right to legal counsel or a fair trail but is using the public safety exemption to postpone reading of the Miranda warnings.

From a pragmatic viewpoint in this particular case I doubt that this will have much impact. There is ample evidence of Tsarnaey’s guilt even before he is medically capable of saying anything. Being immersed in American popular culture (as indicated in interviews with friends and his Twitter account), Tsarnaey is also probably well aware that what he does say can be used against him. I have seen contradictory information in various posts on the subject I read today as to whether anything he says before being advised of his rights can be used  to convict him under the public safety exemption. There is no reason to believe that civilian courts could not handle this case, but strong civil liberties arguments for failing to follow Constitutional safeguards which have been strengthened by the courts with decisions such as establishing the Miranda rights in light of a past history of abuses.

What matters here is the precedents which are established for trials of American citizens in future cases who are accused of terrorist acts, and the degree to which we preserve the rights of the accused in the post 9/11 era. Emily Brazelon discussed many of these concerns at Slate:

There is one specific circumstance in which it makes sense to hold off on Miranda. It’s exactly what the name of the exception suggests. The police can interrogate a suspect without offering him the benefit of Miranda if he could have information that’s of urgent concern for public safety. That may or may not be the case with Tsarnaev. The problem is that Attorney General Eric Holder has stretched the law beyond that scenario. And that should trouble anyone who worries about the police railroading suspects, which can end in false confessions. No matter how unsympathetic accused terrorists are, the precedents the government sets for them matter outside the easy context of questioning them. When the law gets bent out of shape for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, it’s easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.

She concluded with this warning: “But the next time you read about an abusive interrogation, or a wrongful conviction that resulted from a false confession, think about why we have Miranda in the first place. It’s to stop law enforcement authorities from committing abuses. Because when they can make their own rules, sometime, somewhere, they inevitably will.”

Scott Lemieux added:

It is true that, in a narrow sense, the federal government is free under Miranda to interrogate Tsarnaev without informing him of his rights if it believes it has enough independent evidence to convict him.   But this is not the only consideration.   Miranda does not require us to be indifferent about the distinction between coercive and non-coercive interrogations, and indeed its logic suggests that we shouldn’t be.  Earl Warren, to his great credit, did not believe that there was a inherent contradiction between professionalism and the respect for the rights of the accused and crime control.  The local authorities that relied on coercive interrogations and didn’t follow professional procedures weren’t more likely to convict criminals, although they were more likely to convict the innocent.  Miranda reflected this belief, and the intent of the rule was to inhibit coercive interrogations, because coercive interrogations were both wrong in themselves and produced unreliable information.

To refuse to inform Tsarnaev of his rights — outside of the acknowledged emergency exception to Miranda — sends the opposite message.   It’s the message of the previous administration — i.e. that the rule of law and the “war on terror” are incompatible, that slapping the label “terrorist” on a suspect means that professional procedures that respect the rights of the accused can’t work.   This isn’t right  — it’s wrong in terms of the values it represents and it’s wrong in terms of the underlying assumption that less respect for the rights of the accused means more effective crime control.  The appropriate course of action is for Tsarnaev to be treated like any other criminal suspect, consistently with not only the letter but the spirit of Miranda.  Coercive interrogations are wrong because they’re wrong, not just because the state isn’t permitted to introduce evidence gained from them.  This is why the Bill of Rights contains the Fifth Amendment rights Miranda was designed to enforce.

Quote of the Day

“This week on the ‘Today’ show, Chelsea Clinton said she’s open to running for political office one day. When she heard that, Sasha Obama was like, ‘Cool. How does secretary of state sound?'” –Jimmy Fallon

Wingnuts Say The Darndest Things (Boston Terror Edition)

“I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?” — Arkansas State Rep. Nate Bell (R)

Right Wing Watch quotes Glenn Beck on a rant about a cover-up of a Saudi tie to the Boston Bombings and quotes Bryan Fischer as proposing an immigration policy to ban anyone who believes the “Quran is the holy book of God.”

Tyranny of the Red State Minority

When I first heard that expanded background checks for gun sales failed to pass the Senate on a 54-46 vote in favor of the checks, my first thought was to wonder exactly how undemocratic this vote was. First of all, there is the virtual requirement that a bill have 60 votes to pass if the Republicans desire to stop it. This allowed 46 Senators to block the bill. I also wondered about these 46 Senators who voted against expanded background checks. I figured that many would be from small population states. As each state has two votes in the Senate, voters in the small states (which are more likely to be red states) have far more influence.

Writers at New Republic and  Think Progress were thinking along the same lines and did the math:

If you assume, for sake of argument, each senator represents half of his or her state’s population, then senators voting for the bill represented about 194 million people, while the senators voting against the bill represented about 118 million people. That’s getting close to a two-thirds majority in favor of the measure.

This looks even worse when considering that polls show that 90 percent of voters support stronger background checks.

It has become a common occurrence for Senators representing well under half the population to be able to block popular legislation. The Founding Fathers did intentionally establish such a system in  a different era, when representation based upon state made far more sense than it does today. I doubt that they would be happy with how undemocratic the system has turned out to be.

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Wingnuts Say The Darndest Things

Republican State Senator Dennis Guth from Iowa on the health risks of homosexuality:

“The media, for the most part, has bamboozled us into thinking that having a relationship outside of the boundaries of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is positive, happy and fulfilling,” Guth said. “Movies, television shows, articles and magazines abound with this theme, giving partial information to vulnerable audience: our children.”

Guth said there are “numerous” health and mental problems associated with homosexuality that “ultimately” shorten the lives of gays and lesbians.

“There are health risks that my family incurs because of the increase of sexually transmitted infections that this lifestyle invites. For example, there are more and more medical tests required before giving blood or giving birth,” Guth said.

Guth said “many civilizations have fallen” because the traditional family was not protected and he argued the homosexual lifestyle “is a lie.”

Republican Representative Louie Gohmerton from Texas on how Islamic terrorists are infiltrating the United States:

The Tea Party favorite said he feared people entering the country illegally or posing as undocumented Hispanic immigrants could carry out “copycat things.” “We know Al Qaeda has camps on the Mexican border,” he said. “We have people that are trained to act Hispanic when they are radical Islamists.”

Gohmert criticized the bipartisan immigration bill unveiled by the Gang of 8 this week, arguing that it would give immigrants “a bit of amnesty.” “You have to understand that we want America to continue to be a haven for people that want to live free,” he added. “When you have the greatest liberties, you will draw people that want to destroy you.”

Republican State Senator Tommy Tucker of North Carolina on open debate:

“I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”

Bipartisan Report On Torture After 9/11

In case anyone still had any doubt that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be tried as war criminals, a bipartisan report confirms the long-standing criticism of torture being used under them:

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

Many on the right justified these actions belieing they were necessary for our national security. Therefore I will repeat the line above which points out:  The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

 

Howard Dean’s Anti-Obama Scream

I have suspected that there was bad blood between the Obama Administration and Howard Dean since the start, including the fact that he was not kept on as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Dean has some over the top comments on Obama’s budget proposals as described by Buzzfeed. He gives an inaccurate portrayal, essentially describing it as a combination of cuts to Social Security in exchange for increasing military spending. He even threatens to leave the Democratic Party over this:

“If this passed I would have to reevaluate if I belong in the Democratic Party. If this were passed with Democratic votes, I think it would be impossible to be Democrat.”

“I would have to oppose any Democrat that is supportive of this,” Dean added.

In an email to several Democratic consultants Sunday night he forwarded to BuzzFeed, Dean excoriated the White House over the defense spending in Obama’s budget proposal.

“If the businessweek.com article I sent you is correct, it means the Prez proposed chain CPI cutting SS benefits while asking to restore Pentagon spending. He would never get that through either chamber,” Dean wrote. “What the hell are they thinking or is BW wrong?”

Ed Kilgore compared this to the Dean scream (acknowledging that the scream was greatly exaggerated by the media) and points out past criticism of Howard Dean for his previous support for Medicare cuts. This was a topic I researched in great detail back during the 2003-4 primary campaign, ending my support for Dean when the evidence clearly showed he was lying when he denied his previous position on Medicare.

There is no doubt that when Howard Dean supported Medicare cuts it was not because he has a great passion for cutting Medicare, but because he saw that as a politically necessary compromise. The same could be said about Obama’s budget proposal. It is a compromise, and while we would all prefer to see no cuts to Social Security at all, it is not as bad a deal as many are saying.

One major benefit is that it gets rid of most of the cuts from the sequester. Yes, that means that military spending cuts would be restored. It also mean that the cuts to social programs will be preserved. To only point out the change in military spending while ignoring the increases to social spending is not very honest. Obama’s budget would also help preserve Medicare financially, even putting an end to the sustainable growth formula which is contributing to the difficulty of many Medicare patients to find physicians who will accept them.

Being a compromise, there are good and bad aspects. While any cut to Social Security is undesirable, the cuts proposed by Obama are not as severe as many fear. By reducing the cost of living adjustments (by changing how they are calculated), Social Security payments will still go up, but by a smaller amount. In any given year the monetary amount of the difference will be fairly small, well under $100 per year.

There are two major problems with this, and Obama has addressed both. Lower income people who cannot afford any reduction in potential benefits will be hit the hardest, but Obama has supported an adjustment to provide them with greater benefits. As the reduction in calculated cost of living increases is cumulative, this could hurt seniors more as they get older. It is not possible to give an exact dollar amount to this as we don’t know future inflation rates, but one report I heard on NPR estimated that an 85 year old might receive $600 less per year than they would receive without chained CPI. I have also seen projections that this could top $1000 per year after twenty years. However, Obama is also proposing an adjustment starting at age 74 to make up for this cumulative change over time.  These offsets are expected to actually reduce the rate of poverty among the elderly. Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has considerable criticism of the budget plan but does point out:

In an effort to address this problem, the budget includes a series of adjustments and protections for the very old and for people with low incomes.  No set of adjustments can fully shield the very old or the poor, but the Obama package is robust and well designed.  It should prevent an increase in the overall poverty rate among the very old and would shield the beneficiaries of most programs that focus on people at the bottom.

There are benefits to this compromise beyond reversing the cuts in the sequester. If liberals want to pay for social programs, it is necessary to get approval for the spending through a Republican House and a Senate where 40 Republicans can also block Democratic programs. This budget, with all its faults, does give liberals increased taxes on the wealthy, and more money for social spending. This is not an easy accomplishement (and Republicans are showing no signs of going along with this deal).  James Vega, at The Democratic Strategist has a good look at the realities of presidential power these days, explaining why Obama feels he must appease those in the center who see cutting the deficit as a major political goal:

Let’s face it. Every Democratic president has to walk a very fine line in dealing with the business community and the economic elite of this country. That group is not entirely composed of extreme right wing ideologues like the Koch Brothers (although there is a very disturbingly large group who are). Many are relatively pragmatic individuals who are willing to accept a certain range of progressive policies when the political climate of the country overwhelmingly favors them. The majority of American businessmen are not going to go on a John Galt-style “producers strike” and shut down all their banks, offices and factories to protest a modest tax increase nor will they try to foment a military coup because they don’t like Elizabeth Warren.

But on the other hand, any Democratic president absolutely has to maintain a certain working relationship with the business community or face huge obstacles to almost all of his domestic priorities. Had Obama seriously threatened to prosecute substantial sectors of the business and the financial community for their role in the financial crisis when he first took office in 2008, he would not have gotten the stimulus bill, the modest financial regulation bill that he did get or health care reform. There were only a few major business figures who went overboard with hysterical accusations that Obama was out to destroy the entire free enterprise system in 2009, but if he had really come down hard on business and Wall Street that attack would have been picked up and become so widespread in the business world that plenty of Democratic Congress and Senate members would have melted away from supporting Obama’s first term agenda like snowflakes in forest fire…

Now the business guys at the table are not completely unreasonable. A recent opinion studyDemocracy and the Policy Preferences of Wealthy Americans,” by Benjamin I. Page and Jason Seawright of Northwestern and Larry Bartels of Vanderbilt, indicates that the “1 percenters” — those with $8 million in net worth – are at least somewhat open to some relatively liberal economic ideas. Most agreed, for example, with improving public infrastructure such as highways, bridges and airports; scientific research; and aid to education. They also agreed that the Social Security system should ensure a minimum standard of living to all contributors, even if some receive benefits exceeding the value of their contribution and they also agreed that people with high incomes actually should pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than those with low incomes. And they recognized the need for sensible regulations.

But on the other hand, the study also found the following:

When we asked respondents how important they considered each of eleven possible problems facing the United States, budget deficits headed the list. Fully 87 percent of our wealthy respondents said deficits are a “very important” problem facing the country. Only 10 percent said “somewhat important,” and a bare 4 percent said “not very important at all.” The high priority put on this issue was confirmed by responses to an open-ended question about “the most [emphasis added] important problem facing this country today.” One third (32 percent) of all open-ended responses mentioned budget deficits or excessive government spending, far more than mentioned any other issue. Furthermore, at various points in their interviews many respondents spontaneously mentioned “government over-spending.” Unmistakably, deficits were a major concern for most of our wealthy respondents…. [In contrast, unemployment and education] were mentioned as the most important problem by only 11 percent, indicating that they ranked a distant second and third to budget deficits.

So it’s not just the professional deficit scolds like Pete Peterson or the PR shop called “Fix the Debt” who are pushing the deficit fixation. Nor is it just the columnists and editorial writers at the Washington Post. The belief that dealing with the deficit is the most important national issue is pretty much a consensus opinion of America’s wealthy and business elite.

Unfortunately, while economically there is no great need to cut Social Security at this time,  far too many people in both the business elite and in the media are as certain that this is necessary as progressives are opposed. After further discussion, which should be read in its entirety, Vega gives far more rational advice to those who still disagree with Obama’s policies than Howard Dean does:

Obama has made a basic strategic calculation about how far he has to go to propitiate some part of the economic elite that holds tremendous power in American society. Progressives can and should debate his decision and, if they disagree, criticize it on that realistic strategic basis. They should not get sidetracked instead by arguments based on extraneous and essentially irrelevant claims regarding Obama’s flaws of character, defects of personality or inadequate fealty to the ethos and ideals of progressivism.

When all the calculations and projections are done, there still might be strong reasons for liberals to oppose Obama’s compromise. However, a knee jerk opposition to absolutely any cuts in Social Security, without considering the actual numbers and what is received in return, is as irrational as Republicans signing a pledge to never raise taxes. There remains plenty of good reasons to still oppose this plan, but not because absolutely no cuts to Social Security could be considered, even if they include offsets to protect the poorest and oldest seniors. Remember that we are supposedly the reality based community. Look at the facts, and certainly don’t follow Howard Dean’s bogus scream that Obama is taking money away from seniors in order to increase military spending.