TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Good morning everyone and welcome to your Sunday Morning Liveblog and I am Jason. Look at me, here!

All right, now stop that. I hope you are ready for a stimulating conversation, by which I mean a conversation about stimulating. By which I mean the stimulus package. And whether it stimulates the economy. You know, some people think the economy is best stimulated through tax cuts. Others think that we should pay out on spending projects that get things built and people employed. That's why I'm glad that Senators Susan Collins and Ben Nelson have taken over, because those two know what the country needs right now - hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit. Oh, say! Can you see by the dawn's early light all of the hyper-timid incrementalist bullshit being tossed at the walls of the Senate? It's delicious, really. Now, the package probably won't work, but it will at least be safe, and filibuster-proof.

I mean, in the event that we even have a filibuster! Seems like lately, you just say the word "filibuster" and suddenly to can compel Harry Reid to start spinning straw into hyper-timid incrementalist--

Well, you get what I mean. But remember! Straight from the White House and President Obama, this bill is supposed to have a bipartisan stamp of approval! That bipartisanship is so important! Seriously. If you don't believe me, take out your wallet, and start enthusiastically shouting, "Bipartisanship is here!" to your money. See what happens? Seriously, can you tell me if you see anything happening? My money doesn't do anything when I tell it about the bipartisanship and I am really, really, really hoping it's broken. So, leave a comment, send an email, and enjoy hearing about how failure sausage gets made.


Oh, joy. Lawrence Summers is on televsion this morning, so maybe Paul Volcker can have a little White House face time while he's chatting up Wallace.

How big a re-write is to be expected, once the stimulus package, or "Stimpy" goes to conference committee? Well, Summers wants you to know that the priority is jobs and that there will be some scrubbing and the nipping and tucking but everyone needs to transcend politics, which is like water trascending wetness. Summers thinks that there's too much at stake to miss the February 16 deadlines that Obama has sought.

Wallace goes down some of the cuts that have been made. The $40 billion to the states that have been cut is a huge loss to Stimpy. Just re-route that money to the states of the Senators that don't vote against it. Seriously, why should Haley Barbour and Sarah Palin have money forced on them? Enjoy you FEMA trailers and wolf-pelts, Governors!

Summers is all a-politicking here. I'm wondering if there's going to be any actual economic theory here.

Wallace hits him with the timely-targeted-temporary tag, and wonders if Stimpy is living up to those principles. Summers notes that hiring on an infrastructure project begins right away. Wallace says that social spending initiatives aren't targeted, but Summers counters by saying that a family that receives assistance in sending their kid to college helps stimulate the economy in myriad ways (it also tucks someone who'd otherwise be looking for a job in a bad job market into a four year college program). Wallace asks if Obama's trying to permanently expand the size of government. Isn't that something the last administration did?

Summers says we're "inheriting the worst financial situation since the Depression." Which, as you recall, was solved through bipartisanship.

Summers addresses the too many chefs criticism by saying that Obama has "final edit" on economic decisions. As for the fact that Summers has been labelled as sort of a dick, Summers says he's just trying to help Obama with his awesome opinions, and a "high-degree of intensity" is needed. This is where I notice that Summers is answering these questions just like a guy who knows he's a hothead would, with slow, pointed preambles that allow him to mentally count to ten. He praises Paul Volcker, though, so maybe he got his nuts trod on during the week.

Now, it's time for Representative Chris Van Hollen, who I still have a hard time thinking of as some sort of major player, and Senator John Cornyn, for which I have a boundless contempt for that I shall not even try to hide. This guy is a fool and a horse's ass and you should all take dizzy pleasure in the way Hillary Clinton emasculated him in the Capitol. Cornyn ran and found someone from the National Republican Senatorial Committee with flowy enough skirts to hide behind and issue a denial, but look, anytime that Glenn Thrush and Megan Carpentier say something happened, print it, grab it, put it in the bank, and don't look back.

Anyway, onto the blather. Why can't Cornyn support a bill that his party have added so much crap to? Cornyn mumbles, "Guh, this is a political document! I'm going to pretend that the 2% of the total package, which is all we're objecting to, is worth having a snit-fit over." Cornyn says, though that it will pass, and then he spits out some Amity Shlaes talking points about how the New Deal didn't work.

Van Hollen, counters with a raft of cliches and platitudes and warnings and admonishments that all come straight from whatever talking point flashcard he was handed. He moves off of those to talk about things he wants back in the final package: classroom building and such. But no one's going to draw lines in the sand.

Does the House need to meet the Senate halfway? Van Hollen issues about a page of words that add up to...uhhh, something on the maybe to not at all spectrum.

On to TARP II. Is Cornyn more supportive to the new approach to dispensing the TARP monies? Cornyn was down on the lack of transparency and the strategy that ruled the disbursal of the first half, but he doesn't seem to be that excited about TARP II. Cornyn wants to "fix housing," in some inspecific way.

Van Hollen says that the second half of the TARP will be disbursed with much more transparency, more accountability, and with a greater target to housing. But that's Geithner's baby, and it's being delivered this week.

Cornyn is presented with a raft of polling information: Obama is loved, Congress is not, Congressional Republicans are especially disliked. Cornyn plots the way his party is weaving around the numbers: basically saluting Obama for his effort, talking him up as a fair player, and dumping all over Pelosi and Reid.

There's a brief discussion of the census, and how both parties are really eager to get down to some old-fashioned gerrymandering, without looking like their interested in doing that. Cornyn's the more worried, because his party's out of power. Ordinarily he'd be carving up his home state of Texas for MAXIMUM SHRILLNESS.

Hume and Kristol are off today, leaving Fred Barnes and Charles Krauthammer to fill in.

So, a bunch of people in the Obama administration have had tax problems! Barnes says that the problems don't seem to be dragging Obama down, but that the Democrats in general may be hurt by it. Barnes yammers on about what a MONSTER Daschle is: "He makes money! He rides around in a limo!" Yes, you know Barnes has to walk to and from work in the cold with nothing but a baked potato to eat and/or warm him. But, okay, Tom Daschle is a sickening fellow, who loves lobbyists and using the entire supply of American car services.

Liasson says that Obama has "boxed himself in" in expecting a Cabinet to not have terrible eithical failings, since the country is pretty much run by ghouls who crave baby tears and shiny Sacajewea dollars. Krauthammer basically thinks that Obama maybe should have not tried to be such a "transcendant figure." Juan Williams reads from his notes.

Does Obama get good will for saying "I screwed up?" Barnes notes that guys like Cornyn aren't slagging Obama. I'm not sure the two relate, but okay. Is there a danger that Obama could get over-exposed, stumping for Stimpy? Liasson thinks no: he gooses Stimpy's popularity the same way he sells magazines. By God, we really are going to totally shift to a Barack Obama Hummel Figurine-based economy, aren't we? Aren't we?

How will the bill get sorted out? Krauthammer says that the conference committee will act in terms of politics and not economics, and that Susan Collins will have to be "okay with it," because she's suddenly a chowder-eating economic genius instead of someone who has to run like a meemy to one party or the other when the tide turns against her.

Barnes is totally leading the panel by the nose, suggesting that passing Stimpy would be "easy" if there were some tax cuts in it! Again, I'll point out, the Republicans aren't objecting to the bill on substance, and they have received a lot of tax cuts and compromise. The ingredients for the "ease" Barnes talks about are there, and Barnes knows it, he's just being a good little waterboy. The drag is ALL POLITICAL, and it's all wrapped up in the excuse that 2% of the total package is objectionable. If you stripped that 2% out, though, opponents would just find another 2% worth of objection. This happens because the Democrats refuse to acknowledge or use the leverage that majority status conveys.

Now, the $64,000 Question: Will the package work? Liasson says that Stimpy will work if it's stimulative. "in the end," she says, "we'll never know if it did work." Yeah! Woo! Nuts to monetary policy! No one knows anything about anything! Krauthammer says that the "honest answer is nobody knows," but when Williams interrupts him (a bold move for Juan) to suggest that infrastructure spending will work, Krauthammer says, that every dollar spent on that will have been taken away from another use, so the net effect could be zero. Uhm, I think every dollar taken away from frivolousness and spent on, say, high-denisty rail corridors will have the net effect of creating connected economic hubs, like we have out here in Acela country.

Conservatives like the conclusion that having the federal government engage in deficit spending can't improve economic performance, irrespective of the circumstances. But the same reasoning would also support the conclusion that a tax cut stimulus can't work, which is less congenial. And it gets worse. The same logic also leads to the conclusion that monetary policy can't boost the economy. Sure, you could lower interest rates thus encouraging firms to take advantage of cheap money to engaging in some debt-financed investment but since those companies don't "have a vault of money to distribute in the economy" they won't be creating new aggregate economic activity, they're "just transferring it from one group of people to another."

Indeed, [this] view makes it a little difficult to understand how economic growth can happen at all--as a result of public policy or as a result of private initiative. His model does allow for vault-based growth, in which Scrooge McDuck decides he doesn't need so many gold coins lying around and invests the funds in something useful. The real-world economy, however, clearly doesn't depend on vault-based growth as its primary mechanism. Riedl has set out to come up with an argument against stimulus spending that sounds like common sense, but the principle he's invoking (roughly, the idea that "the money has to come from somewhere") leads to sweeping and clearly incorrect conclusions far beyond the narrow point at issue.

The problem is that for [this] to be true, we would not only need the velocity of money to be a constant...rather than a variable, but we'd also have to assume that we're operating in circumstances of full employment. Needless to say, however, we're not in that situation.


Reader Gary Gehman has a point about the relative tax evasiveness of our elected/appointed officials:

Of course Daschle had to go, and frankly, so should Geithner. The Obama administration set its standard high and we should hold them to it.

But just once I would like to hear Wolf or Anderson or even Olbermann remind our Republican brethren about a certain Halliburton CEO whose labyrinthine (and purportedly legal and self-avowedly patriotic) tax delinquency somehow managed to continue paying him while he made himself Vice President of the United States, almost single-handedly redistributed the oil resources of the middle-east and then handed out more than $10 Billion in no-bid contracts to his old employer.

Well, these are nice jobs, if you can get them, and are successful in obscuring the reasons why one shouldn't be allowed. And the matter becomes so much easier when you suggest for yourself the job you were supposed to fill with another. Contrafactual history fans: what happens to the world if anyone besides Dick Cheney is asked to find and vet the Vice-President?

Anyway, Chris Matthews. He's got a panel of Michelle Norris, Michael Duffy, Andrea Mitchell and David Brooks.

So, Tom Daschle made the Obama White House sad, so Obama had to get back to the dynamic campaigner from yesteryear. Is it good? Matthews calls sticking up for the people who voted for him "partisanship" and Michael Duffy dimwittedly agrees. Jesus, this guy, Matthews is all about burying his nose up into the nethers of the "common people" until sticking up for those people cause the slightest loss of cliquish favor.

Brooks sticks up for the GOP, saying that they really want a stimulus, as long as it doesn't really stimulate anything. Tax cuts are required when stimulus is needed the same was they are required when stimulus isn't needed. Brooks is also totally flummoxed by the SEPARATION OF POWERS - "BLUHH," he says, "It's almost like the President can't just demand the Congress do things!" Michael Duffy is all: THAT IS WEIRD!

Brooks sticks up for Daschle, on the grounds that he can "tolerate a little corruption" and a "few limousine rides" for the sake of being able to move legislation. UHM, there are some Americans, David, who think that slick bills passed by corrupt officials maybe aren't really in the national interest. I mean, health care has so many moving parts, so many lobbyists, so many special interest groups, and here's a guy saying that it's okay with a guy whose got some taint on him to navigate that snake pit. To me, that's a good reason to keep a guy like Daschle away. There's also the whole thing about Daschle just not being the boldest policymaker in the world.

Duffy - I've never seen this guy on this show before, but man, oh man, he is just an embarrassing dumbass. His cranium is clogged with the dimmest, most idiotic, cliquish thinking in the world. "You won't be able to call [this bill] bipartisan!" he warns. Hey! Chump! Don't know what limousine you fell out of today, but guess what, policy efficacy is not measured on how "bipartisan" something is. If Stimpy works, and not a single member of one side votes for it, know what? I'll take it. If anything, kicking the spurs to the flanks of bipartisanship is killing Stimpy. Killing it dead. You going to build me a shelter out of you stupid platitudes, Duffy?


Oh, Christ. Duffy has got a "geese metaphor" to dispense. And he doesn't seem to know what state the TARP is in right now. Hook this fool, please.

Norris says, by contrast, that when the challenges a President faces are, uhm...CHALLENGING, then being President isn't easy. She tries to be as nice as she can, given the fact that her job is to talk as if she were addressing a two year old.

Matthews then runs down a rich history of Presidents reading to children.

Argh. Now there's this dizzyingly pretentious New York Times commercial. If you haven't already seen it, please enjoy this parody:

Argh. Back to the show. Here's some stuff from Chris Blakeley, reacting to John Cornyn:

Senator John Cornyn commenting on the Stimulus Bill: "Spending money we don't have for things we don't need." Senator, you should know, since you are describing your votes for the Iraq War along as well as all of those subsequent votes for supplemental Iraq funding -- and let us not forget your many party line votes facilitating the Bush Administration's unprecedented expansion of government spending. I guess being in the minority provides more fertile soil in which to grow a conscience and take a stand.

Brooks: There are times that people want to watch movies about the super-rich...

Matthews: Fred Astaire!

Me: What? I don't think of Fred Astaire as a avatar of the super-rich.

Duffy - who should be replaced with the British soul-singer of the same name, because I am BEGGING YOU FOR MERCY - remarks that Obama's stance on executive compensation was the "only good tonal moment for Obama this week." Why was that, Duffy? BECAUSE IT WAS RAMMA-JAMMA FILLED WITH THAT SWEET OLD-FASHIONED MAPLEY SMELLING GOODNESS OF BIPARTISANSHIP!" He notes: "Not a single Republican I talked to wanted to object to that." Andrea Mitchell helpfully points out: "YEAH, THAT'S BECAUSE THERE ARE ENOUGH LOOPHOLES."

Stuff Chris doesn't know! Norris says that the public doesn't understand Stimpy. Duffy says people are losing their jobs. (Really?) Mitchell says that the foreign policy team is struggling with some communication failures - Tony Zinni's aborted ambassadorship is a highlight. David Brooks says John McCain is on a sugar high.

How challenging will passage of the bank bill be? Norris says it will be hard. Duffy says it will be hard. Mitchell says it will be hard. Brooks says it will be hard, but maybe BIPARTISANSHIP WILL SAVE EVERYTHING.

Jesus, goodbye.


Over on THIS WEEK, some highlights:

Via Sam Stein comes the news that Michael Steele's been advancing his utterly nimrod take on what constitutes "a job."

And George Stephanopoulos reports on Steele's funny-money troubles. Steele blames the Wasington Post for his problems:

"We're being very proactive about this," he said, "because I'm sick and tired of this gotcha business that the Washington Post and others in the media tend to engage in. We're getting out in front, we're pulling all the data together. We're going to take it to the FBI. I'm not going to wait for them to come to me. I'm going to take it to them and give them everything they think they need. And if that's not enough we'll give them more because I want to clear up my good name. This is not the way I intend to run the RNC with this over my head."

Anyway, now it's time for...


The fight over Stimpy will be waged by John Ensign, Barney Frank, Claire McCaskill, and Mike Pence. Then a foreign policy discussion with Thomas Ricks.

But, ugh. The only way to muddle through this first part is to do it conversation style.

GREGORY: These are some massive packages! God damn! Let's all meet OUR NEW GOD, Susan Collins, from Maine. She sure has made tasty hash out of this whole bill.

SUSAN COLLINS: This isn't perfect, but I can live with it! It has more of what the people want!

MY WIFE: Yes! The people hated all that education funding! How are we gonna stimulate the economy by hiring teachers and producing a well-educated generation of Americans?

COLLINS: The bill is so deliciously bipartisan now!

MY WIFE: AWESOME. I mean, who needs a GOOD IDEA when we can have a mediocre one that everyone's willing to live with?

COLLINS: Americans don't want to see us divided and fighting!

ME: I could live with you all fighting, frankly.

GREGORY: Is this bill better than no bill at all?

ENSIGN: Let me fall back on a well-worn talking point about Japan, and how they prove stimulus doesn't work. I am lying, through my teeth, by the way. Or so would you say if I had come up with this nonsense by myself.

PAUL KRUGMAN: "[I]t's clear. The Japanese -- when they were really pushing hard, when they had strong programs, when they spent a lot on trying to buck-up their economy -- it actually did grow. What happened was they chickened out very early in the process, said, 'OK, let's cut back, let's raise interest rates, let's raise taxes, let's cut back on those public works.' And they lost momentum, and they never got it back."

ADAM POSEN: "[Japan's] 1995 stimulus package ... did result in solid growth in 1996, demonstrating that fiscal policy does work when it is tried. As on earlier occasions in the 1990s, however, the positive response to fiscal stimulus was undercut by fiscal contraction in 1996 and 1997...Similar contractions undertaken both openly and by hidden means in 1994, 1996, and 1997, with reference to announced but unimplemented spending, had destructive effects. Future government packages must recognize that when the Japanese government paid for fiscal stimulus in 1995, it got economic growth, and that when it mistakenly pursued fiscal austerity in most of the remainder of the 1992-97 period, it got economic contraction."


PENCE: The American people are in favor of a policy perspective that they flat out rejected in the actual election.

MY WIFE: Dude. Mike Pence. When, pray tell, does your magic economic formula actually start to work? When? When? Eight years of this terrible job growth?

ME: You know, their idea is by Jim DeMint, and he seems to think that if we look at bad numbers on a per-year basis, we'll get depressed. But what if we took bad job growth numbers and multiplied them by TEN, for the next ten years? Then we get a big number!

MY WIFE: Until you divide that number! By ten!

ME: You think too much like a teacher or something.

MY WIFE: And I teach long division to special education students! Sounds like I'd have a hard time with this DeMint fellow.

ME: I'm sure DeMint can fingerpaint like nobody's business!

PENCE: I'm going to reference 9/11!

GREGORY: Hey. Doesn't the government have to be the spender of last resort? I mean, where was all this when we were running up the bill fighting in Iraq?

PENCE: That's exactly right, though! The American people want their money to be spent on pointless wars!

GREGORY: Oh, my. We have some Democrats in the room. You know. The folks that actually won the election and stuff?

MCCASKILL: The American people want compromise! They want something bold!

ME: Do the twain ever meet, Claire!

ENSIGN: We only got the bill at eleven last night! We need time to go through it! To read it!

GHOSTS OF LEGISLATIVE SESSIONS PAST: Hey, jackass! Where was that "slow-down-and-look-at-this" attitude when we were talking about the PATRIOT ACT.


ME: Actually, it didn't. It had an acronym: Please Assume This Rotgut Isn't Obtuse Tripe.

MY WIFE: Is it wrong of me to not hold bipartisanship as some sort of be-all, end-all virtue?

ME: That's basically the premise of my liveblog this week. Next week, we'll be fair and balanced by exploring what happens when Republicans and Democrats suggest that the best thing we can do is to put our heads in the oven.

[everyone pauses to eat pancakes]

FRANK: We hear the opposite reasoning any time military spending is brought up. We're still building weapons to fight the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, the real waste is going to be felt when cops and teachers get laid off. But hey! Way to go, GOP, for finally learning what it's like to be on the outs, not just with your position in the Congress, but with the American people. Didn't get a bill on time? Worried about not getting your say? BOO-HOO. We won the election.

MY WIFE: Barney Frank doesn't play nice, God love him.

GREGORY: OMG! What is the long term spending about!

McCASKILL: A lot of that long-term spending is long-term investment in energy efficiency and green technology that we can begin to get job growth on now.

ENSIGN: There's no hurry on this!

ME: Seriously? There's no hurry on weaning ourselves off foreign oil? I just got through an entire year of you lot telling me how damned critical it was!

ENSIGN: This is just fearmongering! We're not going to be laying off firefighters and teachers, in any of the states.


FRANK: John Ensign is some boooool-sheeeeet.

McCASKILL: I think we have a good bill, sixty percent spending, forty percent tax cuts. That ratio equals good, right? RIGHT?

PENCE: Another 9-11 reference! We jolted the economy after 9-11.

ME: No you didn't. Job growth has been anemic throughout the post-9/11 period.

FRANK: The economy we built under the Clinton administration worked just fine, and we had no bipartisan support, so suck on that one.


FRANK: You can't create a whole new credit system from scratch.

PAUL ROMER: Why not? "The government has $350 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds that it can use to encourage new bank lending. If this money is directed to newly created good banks with pristine balance sheets, it could support $3.5 trillion in new lending with a modest 9-to-1 leverage. Right out of the gate, the newly created banks could do what the Fed has already been doing -- buying pools of loans originated by existing banks that meet high underwriting standards."

FRANK: We will be reducing foreclosures.

McCASKILL: We need to explain to the American people that our outlay to banks is not about propping up banks, it's about getting banks to lend.

ROMER: Uhm...guys?

GREGORY: What are you going to ask the bank executives?

FRANK: What is it that you big bonuses compel you to do, exactly? What's stopping you from lending money?

GREGORY: Must we punish banks? What's a healthy level of lending.

PENCE: Congress forced banks to make all those bad loans, you know! With their magic powers! And, now: grandstanding!

FRANK: Agh. Everything they are saying is crap.

PENSIGN: Hey, now, shut up.


PENSIGN: Quit being so mean!


McCASKILL: Everyone please play nice! BIPARTISAN!

GREGORY: What do you all think about Tom Daschle, since this conversation is going nowhere? Because I think he's a monster!

McCASKILL: Obama was right to admit a mistake!

GREGORY: Well, he didn't admit it right away.

McCASKILL: Well, he was weighing the good and the bad.

ENSIGN: We're leaders, though, we're supposed to obey the laws.

DAVID VITTER: Hey, John Ensign! Thanks for calling me a colleague of yours!

TED STEVENS: And thanks for giving me, a criminal, a heroes sendoff when I was finally kicked out of the Senate, for being a criminal.

DAVID VITTER: I'd like to remind everyone! I love whores! And, I love wearing diapers, when I meet those whores!

GREGORY: Well, I'd like to thank everyone for a spirited debate!

DAVID VITTER: Oooh. Let me run and get you a diaper!

An emailer, who used Mark Zandi's assessment of the stimulative effect of food stamps, asks what should be said to someone who believes Zandi's assessment is "black magic." I say, well, it sounds to me like you are talking to someone who's just unreasonable, and hates the thought of food stamps. But if you must argue back, use Zandi's underpinnings:

"If someone who is literally living paycheck to paycheck gets an extra dollar, it's very likely that they will spend that dollar immediately on whatever they need - groceries, to pay the telephone bill, to pay the electric bill," he said.

Tracking that single dollar spent through the economic chain shows what economists call the ripple effect, Zandi said. For example, that dollar spent at the grocery store in turn helps to pay the salaries of the grocery clerks, pays the truckers who haul the food and produce cross-country, and finally goes to the farmer who grows the crops.

The report pointed to expanding unemployment benefits as the program that gets the next biggest bang for the buck. That's because, although the unemployed are already getting checks, they need to spend the money. For every dollar spent here, the economy would see a return of $1.64, Zandi said.

Expanding the food-stamp and the unemployment insurance programs are not in the current stimulus package expected to be passed by the House. In the Senate, the Finance Committee is now working on its own version of a stimulus package that might include extending unemployment benefits and other options.

Now let's here from Thomas Ricks, author of Tha Gamble. Ricks believes that this first year in Afghanistan and Iraq will be rough going for Obama. How so? RIcks says that many Americans are under the impression that the wars are over, which is probably true. He quotes Ryan Crocker, who says that the "most memorable moments of the Iraq War have not yet happened."

There are a "whole lot of be thrown." Troop withdrawals get more dangerous, and none of the basic problems of the Surge have been solved.

Here, David Gregory starts basically prevaricating: "But the administration says that the Surge 'was successful, undeniably, violence has gone down.'" It's just amazing. Now, suddenly Gregory gets skeptical about the Surge, but he's ascribing an inverted rule to the Obama administration after a constant "Why won't you admit that the Surge worked? Why won't you admit that the Surge worked? Why won't you admit that the Surge worked?" harangue. To my recollection, the administration had always acknowledged the Surge's effectiveness in brining US casualties down, but never suggested that it was contributing to a broader, workable strategy in Iraq.

The Obama administration was never impressed with the Surge, in accomplishing anything else. Ricks clarifies things for Gregory: officially, the Surge was a military success, but a political failure.

Gregory continues to misrepresent the Obama withdrawal position, And this is so damn slippery. He begins with a clip of Obama saying, "I will bring the troops home, put it in the bank," and follows with a clip of him saying that his plan to bring troops home was predicated on his ability to do safely. Gregory seems to imply that each of these statements contradict the other. Of course, they don't. Would we think it prudent for Obama to withdraw troops in the absense of a safe means to do so? No. Clearly, reasonable people will allow the military to pull troops out safely.

Besides, if the withdrawal ended up being speedy, and disastrous, would anyone let Obama skate by with the explanation, "Look, I promised that I would do it fast, everyone's safety be damned?"

The problem here, is how the media continues to treat that magic phrase "conditions on the ground." To them, "conditions on the ground" constitute reasons to remain in Iraq. And there will probably never be conditionless ground there! What people need to start wrapping their head around is that we've signed a Status of Forces Agreement stipulating a withdrawal over the next sixteen months. The Status of Forces Agreement is the new conditions on the ground.

Ricks thinks that Obama will be "torn between what voters expect and what generals suggest." And I think that's entirely fair. I'm not sure about the way he categorizes the force that will remain in Iraq at the end of sixteen months. Yes, the military is the military, but you can definitely do the main thing America expects - end the occupation of Iraq. That's the difference between 155,000 troops in Iraq and 35,000. At some point, you are no longer an occupier. And despite what Ricks notes about the pace at which Odierno might want to drain the pond, I remind you, there's a Status of Forces Agreement, dictating the timeline.

Ricks main worry is that the removal of Saddam has given rise to any number of new strongmen. I'd say the major worry is that Iran's influence in the region has grown much stronger, and we have less leverage. This is another good reason to end the occupation.

Ahh, Ricks is of the right mind on this: "If you had to call the ball right now, I'd say Iran" won the Iraq war.

Challenges in Afghanistan? Ricks says that any war in Afghanistan is also a war in Pakistan. Ricks seems to think that Obama's on the right track there, but still terms it "a problem from hell": "I don't think Newsweek got it right...I think Pakistan is Obama's Vietnam."

I think it's amazing that Ricks can note the broad sympathy that exists in the Pakistani military and intelligence communities for al Qaeda, and Gregory just sits there, nodding. I mean, this was all true when Bush was pinning our counter-terror hopes to that nation!

Anyway, by and large, while I'm not sure Ricks has everything right, it's pretty clear that he's put about a thousand times more thought and effort into formulating his analysis than most people you see in the media, and I hope he makes regular appearances on MEET THE PRESS. I feel like he's inspired me to keep track of a bunch of new foreign policy factors.

Anyway, that's it for this Sunday. I think I'm going to go see MAN ON WIRE today, so that I'm not at a complete loss when the Oscars come around. I hope everyone has a great week, and hey, if you'll allow a shameless plug, if you're looking to stimulate some economy, join me at the Rorschach Theatre Fire of Love Valentine's Day Fete! If not, don't worry, I'm sure bipartisanship will be just as much fun.