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TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

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Good morning everybody and welcome to your Sunday morning liveblog of dodgy political conversations. My name is Jason, and i hope everyone out there is doing well. I thought that before we got to our revolutionary combination of watching teevee and typing about it, we might start with a basic primer on what's going on in Wisconsin, because it's not something you can trust any of the jerks on any of the shows we're going to watch today to get right. Forgive the long blockquotes in places.

All sorts of states are working on budgets, and are negotiating with public sector unions. What makes Wisconsin different?

The short answer is that in Wisconsin, the "budget shortfall" isn't simply being used as an excuse to pare back public sector salaries or pensions -- it's being used to strip away labor rights altogether, with an eye toward eliminating collective bargaining completely. David Weigel and Harold Myerson made a Friday appearance on Dylan Ratigan's show, and Weigel's succinct summary of that appearance excellently captured the heart of this matter:

I was just on Dylan Ratigan's show, where Harold Myerson gave the right answer to a good question: Why aren't unions up in arms about the pension reforms proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown, D-Ca., and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY?

Well, they sort of are. New York State United Teachers are buying up ad time to oppose Cuomo's cuts to the school budget. But in the state with the most union members, and the state with the highest proportion of unionized workers, the unions are mostly holding their power. And that's because unlike Scott Walker, the Democratic governors are limiting their reforms to pensions and other items relevant to the budget. Walker is doing that and 1) going after collective bargaining rights and 2) asking for mandatory annual elections to determine union membership. And those measures are patently designed to weaken labor for all time, long after the crisis is over.

Wisconsin has a budget shortfall. What caused it and why?

Easy. Governor Scott Walker caused it, so that he could roll back labor rights about 150 years. Wisconsin wasn't a state facing impending austerity measures. Quite the contrary -- that state's fiscal bureau projected that the state would run a surplus this fiscal year. But Walker saw an opportunity to create a crisis-slash-opportunity. Here's Brian Beutler:

"Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond he control," says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future -- a public interest think tank. "He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts... so he could rush through these other changes."

"The state of Wisconsin has not reached the point at which austerity measures are needed," Norman adds.

In a Wednesday op-ed, the Capitol Times of Madison picked up on this theme.

In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state's budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.

To the extent that there is an imbalance -- Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit -- it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January.

You can read the fiscal bureaus report here (PDF). It holds that "more than half" of the new shortfall comes from three of Walker's initiatives:

* $25 million for an economic development fund for job creation, which still holds $73 million because of anemic job growth.

* $48 million for private health savings accounts -- a perennial Republican favorite.

* $67 million for a tax incentive plan that benefits employers, but at levels too low to spur hiring.

In essence, public workers are being asked to pick up the tab for this agenda. "The provisions in his bill do two things simultaneously," Norman says. "They remove bargaining rights, and having accomplished that, make changes in the benefit packages." That's how Walker's plan saves money. And when it's all said and done, these workers will have lost their bargaining rights going forward in perpetuity.

Now, as has been pointed out to me, Politifact has some disagreements with this. Says Beutler: "There's been a lot of confusion about what Walker's doing -- but he's definitely not passing a budget. He's pushing optional legislation in a vehicle that's meant to tweak the budget in the event of a budget emergency. To the extent that there is an emergency, Walker essentially created it, giving him the chance to pass a bill that would permanently deny public workers collective bargaining rights, while he's still riding the wave of his own post-election popularity."

In Wisconsin, budget season is two years long. The current budget window was opened on July 1, 2009, and will close on June 30 of this year. If for unexpected reason, the state finds itself faced with a severe deficit within a biennial window, the legislature must pass what's known a "budget repair bill" -- to close the gap with spending cuts or other emergency measures.

The state has not crossed that threshold.

The previous governor, Democrat Jim Doyle, passed a budget that left the state poised for a surplus this year. When Walker took office in January he chipped away at that surplus with three conservative tax expenditure bills, but not severely enough to trigger a budget repair bill. The current, small shortfall was "manufactured by Governor Walker's own insistence on making the deficit worse with the bills he passed in January," Kreitlow said. But Walker cited that shortfall to introduce a "budget repair bill" anyhow -- a fully elective move that includes his plan to end collective bargaining rights for state employees.

"The trigger had not been reached prior to Governor Walker adding to the previous year's deficit by passing bills that didn't create a single job," Kreitlow said.

Walker will soon have to introduce an actual budget, which will outline spending and revenue policy for the two years between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013. And the state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau -- the official scorekeeper -- does project that he'll face a $3 billion shortfall. But Democrats faced a shortfall twice as large ahead of the previous budget cycle and managed to close the gap.

More on that, below.

Wisconsin's state employees: are they overpaid?

Again, this is easy! The answer is no.

That's from Ezra Klein. Here's the pertinent details:

If you prefer it in non-graph form: "Wisconsin public-sector workers face an annual compensation penalty of 11%. Adjusting for the slightly fewer hours worked per week on average, these public workers still face a compensation penalty of 5% for choosing to work in the public sector."

The deal that unions, state government and -- by extension -- state residents have made to defer the compensation of public employees was a bad deal -- but it was a bad deal for the public employees, not for the state government. State and local governments were able to hire better workers now by promising higher pay later. They essentially hired on an installment plan. And now they might not follow through on it. The ones who got played here are the public employees, not the residents of the various states. The residents of the various states, when all is said and done, will probably have gotten the work at a steep discount. They'll force a renegotiation of the contracts and blame overprivileged public employees for resisting shared sacrifice.

Is it possible to close a budget shortfall in Wisconsin without dismantling worker rights?

Yes. In fact, one can close a bigger one! Per Brian Beutler:

Walker will soon have to introduce an actual budget, which will outline spending and revenue policy for the two years between July 1, 2011 and June 30, 2013. And the state's Legislative Fiscal Bureau -- the official scorekeeper -- does project that he'll face a $3 billion shortfall. But Democrats faced a shortfall twice as large ahead of the previous budget cycle and managed to close the gap.

"The $3 billion is a projection based on requests and forecasts, but it's the governor who has to do the hard work of putting together a plan," Kreitow explained. "it is just practically half of the projected deficit that we closed in the last budget bill, which we did by making serious cuts and some very deliberate choices. That's what we expect leaders to do." In 2009, Wisconsin Dems did get just over a billion in help from the stimulus bill, but they made up the rest by giving state agencies less money than they asked for, and through furloughs and other real austerity measures.

"We know it could be closed again by making tough choices," Kreitow said. "But not included in those tough choices would be stripping away labor rights that have allowed there to be labor peace in Wisconsin for over 50 years."

LATE ADDENDUM, 2:22pm.

These teachers from Madison who are joining the demonstrations and staging sick-outs, they should be fired, right?

Well, not if you actually prefer to have some of the best teachers in the country working in your school system! Let's check in with the Awl's Abe Sauer:

Through the weekend, calls to fire all of the Madison teachers who called in sick to protest were repeated. That this demand was of Madison teachers could not be more preposterous. Madison graduates 94 percent of its high school students (compared to a national average of around 70 percent). Just three years ago Forbes named Madison the second best city in all of America in which to educate a child. This is just one of the high rankings of Madison nationally--from safest for children, to elderly quality of life, to live music, to most innovative to, simply, best all around.

And as Sauer points out, two weeks ago, Wisconsin's largest teachers' union "announced that it supports both merit-based pay reform and measures that would streamline the firing of under-performers."

As with anything from Abe, it pays to read the whole thing, because...

"One thing that's been lost in all the bluster about the union busting measures was all the other juicy stuff in the bill itself."

Try this on for size:

Wisconsin's union employees are upset about a loss of collective bargaining and a mandated increase in benefit payments, including for health insurance. But at least these employees would still have health insurance. What has been widely ignored about Walker's bill (in part because of the speed with which he's fisting it down Wisconsin's gullet) is a sneaky provision that paves the way for him to cut, or eliminate, Medicaid and BadgerCare healthcare benefits for low-income people.

Administrative rules changes sound about as interesting as the words "administrative rules." And Walker's "administrative rule" change is the kind of complex, procedural legislative legalese that few reporters are sickly masochistic enough to slog though through. (And it's especially true that nobody reports on America's rising war on the poor. This was evidenced by the fact that major network stars have yet to appear in Madison, and, until this weekend, the tens of thousands sleeping in the capitol warranted segment bites equal in length and depth to the latest update on reporter Serene Branson's migraine.)

So in short: Walker's administrative rules change would allow the Department of Health Services, via the overwhelmingly GOP-controlled budget committee, to change state laws unilaterally, skipping the legislative process altogether...this means Walker's bill will allow the governor to subvert the legislative process and make his own laws without going through the tiresome and long American tradition of lawmaking. But wait, there's more!

Not only should there be no doubt Walker would do this, his statements foreshadow who he would blame it on. On Feb 11th, before Madison got in the labor movement time machine, the governor said, "The alternative [to state employee health and pension changes] is to look at 1,500 layoffs of state employees or close to 200,000 children who would be bumped off Medicaid-related programs." At the time, PolitiFact Wisconsin asked, "But can he remove children from Medicaid, the state-federal program that pays medical bills for low-income individuals and families?"

Not without the administrative rules change he can't--the changes he's going to get when this bill passes.

Go read the whole thing, I'm telling you!

OK, well, that's the basics. I'll probably have reason to refer back to these paragraphs today as people get it wrong. That will save me some typing. Anyway, let's get started in just a few minutes. As always, you can feel free to send an email or leave a comment or join me in the world of twitter.

FOX NEWS SUNDAY

Today, Tom Coburn and Claire McCaskill will yell at each other until they can compromise in bipartisan fashion, or something. Plus paneling with Bill Kristol and Mara Liasson, and Juan Williams and Liz Cheney.

Wisconsin: it's a firestorm! A storm of FIRE! So here's Scott Walker, to yammer about it. Will he compromise with the Democrats who are lamming it at Indiana's Tilted Kilt chain of restaurants? No, he won't. They did not "come to the arena" and won't "come do their jobs," like the other state workers, whose jobs are now yelling at Scott Walker full time. Walker says that these cuts are needed to shore up the budget gap that he caused, he's wrong, see above.

Why does Walker need to take the additional step of taking away their collective bargaining rights. The honest answer is, of course: because I also want to do harm to the political standing of ordinary working people. Instead he says that he isn't trying to take away the bargaining rights. (And then he says that he is.) Anyway, see above for the difference between Wisconsin and California, above.

Walker thinks that the Democrats will come back. Why? Those Democrats are basically shoring up their own re-election every day they don't back down.

"We have to do this," Walker says, "We've pushed off this problem." Actually, Walker caused this problem himself, see above.

Walker, prompted by Wallace, says that it's inappropriate for the president to interfere with Wisconsin, or assisting in the organization of protests, though, he does say that Wisconsinites who want to protest his decision are free to do so.

Walker goes on to take credit for Wisconsin's awesome history of unionship, which he wants to also end?

Does Walker think that the public worker unions have gotten too powerful? Yes.

COME ON! FEEL THE POWER!

Is this a test case of the power of the government versus its employees? Walker says it's not new to him but he's proud of the potential spread of this political power drain. John Kasich and Chris Christie and Tim Pawlenty are all on his side, apparently.

And now, here's Coburn and McCaskill. I miss Coburn's beard, a lot.

So, the House budget bill. Will it be passed in the Senate? McCaskill says that the bill isn't "dead on arrival," cuts are necessary, compromise is hoped for, but she's worried that the GOP has got a trigger finger on shutting down the government. McCaskill isn't going to tell anyone how much she's going to cut. She attempts to lay down a $41 billion cut to the president's budget that isn't part of current spending, but Wallace, showing more tenacity on McCaskill than he did on Walker a few minutes ago, doesn't let that get past. McCaskill won't commit to a number, but sites a few things that could stand to be eliminated.

Will Coburn commit to $61 billion in cuts? Don't know! Coburn says that cutting the "waste" will be easy, and that people won't notice. He praises McCaskill for being willing to work on the matter where others won't.

The Senate will have just four days of work before the CR runs out, can the Senate do it? McCaskill says yes, they are ready to work, the CR can be extended if necessary, and she returns the compliment to Coburn and loops in Durbin into the Senate Cut Club.

But Boehner says he won't "move a short-term CR" under any circumstances, even going so far as to deploy the "read my lips," phrase that always works out great for politicians. Coburn doesn't think there's going to be a problem, cooler heads will prevail, and if the CR needs extending, it will. Wallace points out that either the White House or Boehner will have to back down, Coburn says that Americans of all political ideologies want to see the government cut some spending, and he thinks that the Senate can get it done to everyone's satisfaction. McCaskill is just as optimistic, and says that Boehner is the one who won't extend the CR. "It's silly," McCaskill says.

This is a good time to point out that it's a good year for Obama to get out of the legislating business. Make driving the agenda in the Congress Boehner's problem. He can't send anything to the Senate that fails to get the support of Harry Reid and a dozen Democrats.

Will McCaskill be willing to make cuts to Social Security? She answers...earmarks...she's got an eye on long-term entitlements...we have to protect Social Security...she'd never cut benefits for current recipients...everything needs to be on the table...

Here's a good piece from Matt Yglesias that describes why I groan whenever I hear a politician say, "We wouldn't dream of cutting these benefits for current recipients." As Matt points out, when you typically propose a cut, it goes into effect RIGHT AWAY and impacts all of the people who were benefitting from the program you've cut or eliminated. "When LIHEAP gets the ax, it gets the ax right away. When Arizona cuts Medicaid, people can't get organ transplants right away."

And on the politics, it's a mess. Right now we have conservatives simultaneously calling for huge spending cuts and also getting the line's share of old people's votes even while the vast majority of non-security spending is on old people. In essence, by first separating the domestic budget into "discretionary" and "entitlement" portions and then dividing the entitlement programs up into "what today's old people get" versus "what tomorrow's old people will get" the political class has created a large and vociferously right-wing class of people who are completely immune from the impact of their own calls for fiscal austerity. In my view, that reality is the biggest driver of our current political dysfunction. There's some need for spending to be lower over the long term than it's currently projected to go and I think it's politically and morally vital that the adjustments be made in a balanced way. You frequently hear of the need to exempt everyone over the age of 55 from any possible cuts. That's nice for them and encourages them to go right on complaining about out of control spending. But the average 55 year-old will still be alive and collecting benefits in 2035 so the long-term budgetary implications of this "let the geezers keep their full benefits while they whine about how Democrats are bankrupting the country" are actually pretty significant.

If I were the president, my line would be closer to the reverse: I don't want to cut Social Security benefits for anyone, but if the Republicans want to tempt me into a compromise they're going to need to make sure that their own core constituency--people born before 1955 or so--pay a fair share of the price. Progressives don't need to indulge the premises of this "welfare state for me but not for thee" brand of conservatism that's taken over the country.

Quite right!

OK, let's panel.

The shizz is getting hectic in Bahrain and the like. Kristol says that it's a moment we should not be rooting against, but rather try to have a hand in shaping. Liasson points out that "it's pretty hard to shape it," actually. Liasson might jump on board the "light tough-big result" foreign policy approach yet! It's a pretty tough hang for authentic democrats in these countries without the United States coming around and trying to "brand" it.

Cheney says that we shouldn't be rooting against the regime in Bahrain, no matter how much the people want it. Wallace points out they are an ally and our Navy docks there.

Williams says that the challenge is the same as it was in Iran -- how do you assist these people without inviting a crackdown. And what can the U.S. do if a crackdown comes anyway? Wallace says that the WSJ has encouraged Obama to become active in meeting and arming dissidents. Naturally, Bill Kristol is totally behind this. Liasson points out that the fact that it's sweeping across the region makes the opportunity more possible. (Of course, perhaps the world sweep of this call to reform benefits from the fact that it exists outside the world of American geopolitical ambitions? I mean, the Egyptians didn't seem to be demanding a whole lot from the United States. None of these protest movements seems to want to engage the U.S. or seek their assistance.)

Oy, Liz Cheney thinks we should have definitely branded ourselves upon the Iranian dissident movement as heavy-handedly as possible, so that the Iranian government would have had ample pretext to kill thousands of people.

Liz Cheney thinks that if Obama had voiced support for the Green Revolution we'd have "a very different Iran today." #greenlanternmagicless than a minute ago via Brizzly

"Not a single taxpayer penny," says Cheney, "should go to the Muslim brotherhood." Not a single taxpayer penny should have gone to Jamie Dimon to pay for lobbyists to reinforce the "Too Big To Fail" regime either, but I guess MONEY IS FUNGIBLE and no on in Washington has heard of "fund accounting."

Meanwhile, Wisconsin! What does the panel have to say about it? Juan Williams apparently doesn't understand that the budget crisis has been ginned up by Walker, but he nevertheless thinks that eliminating collective bargaining should not be on the table. Then he slags Wisconsin's teachers, pretty badly! That's from the "liberal" on the panel.

Kristol, naturally, thinks that it's a corrupt system. Liasson points out that public sector workers have given up wages for the promise of benefits over the long run. Liz Cheney just doesn't think anyone should have the right to collectively bargain at all. Friend of the liveblog Chris Blakely has something to say about that!

I was surprised to hear that Liz Cheney does not support public workers retaining the ability to negotiate and secure both wage and benefits while serving in the public sector.

This is a little shocking to me, as her father, Dick Cheney, certainly received top-notch wage and health care benefits during his public sector career. Of course, both of these benefits have continued well into Dick's retirement.

As a long-time public sector employee, I don't want to be stripped of the right to collective bargain. Whether these benefits will continue, well, that should be decided at the negotiations table.

What is it that I really want, Liz??? Well, ideally, I want the same level and quality of health care your father has and continues to receive on the public dime. Since I have served as long, if not longer than Dick in the public sector, I feel that I have earned it. Unlike your father, I was not able to game the system and cash in by taking a highly lucrative job with Haliburton between government stints.

The only thing I'd add is that now that Dick Cheney is a pulseless cyborg and looking thin and trim, I would very much like to see him locked in a chainsaw battle with Watson, inside a Thunderdome.

THIS WEEK WITH CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR

Wisconsin is in a STATE OF SIEGE, apparently! Seems like a pretty happy sort of siege, really.

Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill Protest from Matt Wisniewski on Vimeo.

Anyway, Bob Woodruff's been hanging out in Mad City, awaiting snow to dump on the capital. Yesterday, the Tea Party came to protest the protesters, which is truly something to see affluent people protest working class people, upon whose backs they've surfed their entire lives.

It's funny to hear Tea Party types take the "elections have consequences" position now, since their position in 2008 was that they were against the fact that elections have consequences. The old Tea Party branded sign I remember was this, I-am-the-center-of-the-universe signifying slogan, "Listen to me!" They lost an election, and thus felt it was important to re-insist that theirs was the only voice worth listening to. In that way, this is consistent: now that public employees have decided to have their own protest, the Tea Party would like them to stop pretending to be anything other than second-class citizens and shut up.

At least, that's what those Tea Partyers who have bothered to show up say. I think one reason you'll always see the anti-Walker throngs dwarf the counter-protestors by several orders of magnitude is that even while people disagree, most understand that it's one thing to yell at Washington elites -- it's another thing entirely to yell at your neighbors.

Roundtable time with George Will, Congressman Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), Donna Brazile, and Jonathan Karl who is here without his Army of Penny-Stacking Interns.

Will is upset about Obama and the way he's managing the budget and helping Wisconsinites, saying that he's positioning the Democrats as the "party of government." Brazile says that what's going on in Wisconsin has gone on and will go on regardless of what Obama will do. At any rate, the only thing Obama has said is that he doesn't want DOES WANT collective bargaining rights kept in tact.* Also, I'm not sure that Will can appreciate this, but cutting spending is basically Boehner and Reid's problem, not Obama's.

[*Sorry! Remember, I am trying to type very fast. In this case, two alternate ways of saying the same thing (1. "he doesn't want collective bargaining rights taken away," and 2. "he wants collective bargaining rights kept in tact") collided with each other in my brain, and sent a signal to my fingers to type a third sentence of words that hybridized the colliding thoughts into a phrase that contradicted both my intent and the actual facts of the matter. Sorry for that, it happens, liveblogging does have some pitfalls.]

Karl says that Obama was "quicker to denounce Walker than he was Mubarak." Ha, ha. Of course, he did not "denounce" Walker. No one at the White House wants Walker to step down and flee Madison and go into a coma.

And yes: why are all these former dictators going into comas? That's weird! I blame Watson, the supercomputer.

Anyway, the two conservatives on the panel are pro-Walker, the one liberal isn't, and the one journalist is trying to be clever. Meanwhile, it's possible to close this Wisconsin budget gap without taking away collective bargaining rights.

Will continues to insist that if all the public sector employees would just shut up and get in line, the losses they will incur will still leave them better off than their private sector counterparts. This is what we call, "wrong."

There's lots of crosstalk and chatter that sounds pretty uninteresting. This whole panel is lapsing into ennui, as everyone just repeats the positions they've already taken. Finally, we go to commercial.

Now the panel takes up the matter of cutting spending. Naturally, there's a lot of praise for deficit peacockery. Southerland seems to understand that on the House side, they largely did a lot of jolly-having, and that the Senate will have their own ideas on how to proceed.

Brazile and Will disagree about the matter, duh. Brazile calls it "primal scream politics" that are "draconian" and will slow the economy down at the worst possible time. Will thinks that there's no way a $61 billion cut will even be noticed. Brazile says it's not the amount that's draconian -- it's the suddenness of the cuts. That much in that time-frame would be shock therapy at a time when the economy is starting to re-expand.

Government shutdown? Southerland says that the GOP has "no desire to see a government shutdown," and that there's been a lot of comity and process and debate so far. We probably should have a "minutes to midnight" clock on a potential government shutdown. Amanpour asks Will if a shutdown will hurt Boehner like it hurt Gingrich and he says, "It won't be good for anyone."

Now let's head around the world. Bahrain seems to have pulled itself from what looked to be a violent downturn -- negotiations are planned between the ruling party and the protestors, and the Pearl Square mood has gotten more positive. (Don't look to Bahrain for the same gender integration among the protesters as there was in Egypt, by the way. Women are sequestered to their own section of Pearl Square.)

By far the brutalist of crackdowns appear to be coming out of Libya.

Amanpour sat down with Hillary Clinton, who continues to walk the "fine line" of urging both stability AND reform. She says that in general, Americans are in favor of reform and emerging democracy, and "that's what we want to see." But at the same time, the process can be "hijacked" as it was in Iran in the '70s.

In Egypt, Clinton says, "There are many ways that these transitions can go right and there are many ways they can go wrong."

Can the United States "control democracy?" Or do they have to "let the chips fall where they may," in terms of a democracy producing a regime that's not as willing to ally itself with U.S. interests? Clinton says: "Democracy is not one election that then whoever wins it decides never to have another one...Democracy requires the building of institutions like independent judiciaries, the free press, the protection of minorities. And I think there has been somewhat of a misconception in the last several years about OK, what do we do to get a democracy while we hold an election and then we can be as dictatorial, authoritarian, oppressive as possible. That is not what anyone wants."

Does she feel like she's on a tightrope here? Clinton finds it challenging: the U.S. has to seek their interests and diplomatically balance the interests of others.

I like Amanpour's "#revolution" segment so much that I'll just post the whole darn thing.




MEET THE PRESS

Lindsay Graham is here today, which tells you all you need to know about what I'm about to endure. Also, Gregory's insistence that cutting spending will be the defining issue of the 2012 election when it won't be, that will be JOBS, just like in 2010, "TEH DEFICITZ" remain the obsession of Beltway touts who don't have to worry about the household debt that normal Americans are struggling with, everyday.

First, here is Susan Rice, our Ambassador to the United Nations. What is the deal with Libya, and why are they so crazy with the casualty making? Rice says that they are concerned about the violence and that they condemn the violence. She says that Libya is part of a region-wide movement that's desirous of change and reform, and the U.S. supports that. Rice says that she is greatly concerned about reports that Libya's security forces are firing on demonstrators in Benghazi, and there's a hint that this sort of violence has come to Tripoli. In Bahrain, Obama and Clinton and Tom Donilon have been reaching out to Bahrain and believe that their encouragements have tamped down the violence that was happening there earlier in the week.

Rice's recommendation seems to be "lead" on reforms, Middle Eastern autocracies, lest you "get pushed." She says that they have, for years, "pressed publicly and privately" for reform and openness, and that they do not see these emerging reforms as antithetical to our interests. She insists that the message they've sent has been consistent throughout the region: no violence, get ahead of reform, respect the rights of people. Gregory points out, though, that in Egypt, there was some mixed messaging, that signaled support for Mubarak initially.

Any answers coming in the Lara Logan case? Rice says that they are working to hold the wrongdoers accountable, but they don't have any solid information yet.

What about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood? Rice says, "There's no indication that the Brotherhood is going to dominate the politics of Egypt." The reform movement, she says, is demographically "cross-cutting" and secular in nature. "We have faith in the people of Egypt and we have faith in Democracy," she says.

What about the controversial vote in the U.N. about settlements being illegal? She says that she voted the measure not to urge disputes but to resolve disputes. In her mind, the measure to make settlements illegal would impact the negotiations negatively, irrespective of the problems that the settlements themselves cause in the region.

Now we are joined by Senators Dick Durbin and Lindsey Graham.

Graham says that we've been "inconsistent" in Iran, and that he wants to see regime change in Libya and Iran, but that the White House has handled Egypt and most of the other regional uprisings well.

On to our occasional obsession with deficits! Let's recall how they happened, shall we?

Would that the Avatars Of The Deficit Neutral Universe had been on or near the teevees back when we were rolling out to fight two wars that have accomplished nothing! (This especially burns now when you see organic changes happen in Egypt at no cost to American taxpayers or lives, doesn't it?)

Will there be a government shutdown? Durbin says, "I certainly hope not." How sexxxxy would a government shutdown be to liveblog, however?

Still Harry Reid is beefing, so what does Graham think? Graham thinks that it will only happen if there isn't a reduction in spending in bipartisan fashion. That said, he can foresee an extension of the CR on the basis of needing more time for compromise. But he won't support a "CR without cuts," and he supports the prevailing point of view in the House.

Understand that what Durbin and Graham think isn't as important as what Harry Reid thinks.

Now Durbin is sort of arguing with Gregory as to whether he's serious about cutting, and hello: SNORE. One thing you need to understand about this stage in the Budget Kabuki is that nothing Obama could have submitted as a budget would have been greeted by the GOP as "serious." If Obama had promised to actually burn down the Departments of the Interior and Education and Energy with the flames from John McCain's own farts, Paul Ryan would have said, "Why aren't we fart-arsoning the Department of Health and Human Services as well? The President just isn't serious."

Durbin cites the deficit commission, who asked for big cuts, but on a slow rollout that didn't immediately shock the economy into a Mubarak-coma.

Wisconsin! I'm guessing that Durbin is on the side of the protesters and Graham is on the side of Walker, and that Durbin is glad that Obama made some mild supportive comments about collective bargaining, but that Graham hates the fact that Obama got involved. And...Graham does what I said Graham would do, and Durbin...he says what I said he would do. (Durbin is far more fired up about protecting labor rights than Obama was, in his comments.)

Graham takes the "elections have consequences" point of view, a point of view he's never taken ever when an election goes against him. I will cite every single opera-whine performance he's ever given on Sunday shows circa 2008-2010 as evidence.

Also, seriously, let's have some Alex Pareene Real Talk on Lindsey Graham up in here, right now:

The South Carolina senator fancies himself the authority on when bills should be considered, how long the amendment process should last, how many days of debate they should receive, and when it is politically "safe" to finally vote on the damn things. (Usually later. No matter the bill, it will usually be safe to actually hold a vote later.)

His tantalizing promise: If you listen to him, your bill will magically become bipartisan! What always happens, though, is that someone screws up -- says the wrong thing to Roll Call, schedules a procedural vote on the wrong day, decides to actually hold a vote instead of waiting forever -- and then Lindsey Graham gets mad and promises that nothing will ever be accomplished in the Senate again.

[...]

Say you support immigration reform and comprehensive climate legislation. If you're Lindsey Graham, you announce that you will un-support the climate bill you helped craft with your good friend Joe Lieberman, because:

"What I have withdrawn from is a bill that basically restricts drilling in a way that is never going to happen in the future," Graham said. "I wanted it to safely occur in the future; I don't want to take it off the table."

But of course the real reason Graham withdrew from the climate bill was because Reid announced his intention to make immigration reform a priority, and Graham wanted to do climate first. Doing things in the wrong order is one of Lindsey Graham's biggest turnoffs.

Of course, three months earlier, Graham was peeved that the White House and Democrats weren't leading the charge to craft immigration legislation. "At the end of the day, the president needs to step it up a little bit," he told Politico.

But apparently Harry Reid was not supposed to do the stepping -- and that's why eventually Graham came out against the DREAM Act, a far-from-comprehensive bill that would've provided a path to citizenship solely for children who spend a decade or more on their very best behavior.

Where some saw the bill as a small, painfully gradual step toward a just outcome for people who came to this country as children and have never known another home, Graham saw "a silly, stupid game."

To close Guantánamo Bay, all master Senate negotiator Lindsey Graham required is that Khalid Sheik Mohammed's civilian terror trial in New York be canceled. The Justice Department didn't listen to Graham, so now, even though the New York trial is apparently canceled anyway, Graham's now declaring that everyone should go to the military tribunals ... at Guantánamo.

[...]

Legislation is entirely about feelings and deal-making for Graham. He'll join in apparently good-faith efforts to craft pragmatic solutions to complex problems, but the second anyone looks at him the wrong way he'll dive off the bandwagon and accuse everyone else of ruining the compromise by not following some bizarre script that exists solely in Lindsey Graham's head to the letter.

Graham's personal rules of order are a magnitude more insane and complex than "Riddick's Senate Procedure" could ever hope to be. Almost every senator makes obnoxious "process" arguments when they cast votes against things they ostensibly support (Oh, I want to give homeless orphans hot Thanksgiving meals, sure, but unless my colleague Senator Inhofe is allowed to attach an amendment excluding orphans who don't speak English -- an amendment that will fail and that I will not actually vote for -- I simply can't vote for cloture at this time), but Graham's made it an art. If you can call narcissism an art.

Sorry, that was just ENTIRELY TOO AWESOME to not quote at length. And folks, I do recommend that you get yourselves some more!

GAH. Thirty-four more minutes of this.

Let's have some crying over entitlements. Obama kicked that can down the road, how does Durbin defend it? Well, he credits the cuts that are there to keep you from being upset about the can-kicking. But as a member of the commission, Durbin admits that they went a lot further. Durbin wants everything, but Social Security, on the table. Gregory says that it's political gamesmanship: collar the side that makes the first move. Graham happily goes along with that, and calls the proposed cuts "timid."

Durbin and Graham don't agree on Social Security. Durbin won't consider ANY changes. Graham won't consider any conditions that DON'T INCLUDE changes. They should all probably put Social Security on the back burner and work on Medicare and Medicaid, where the actual drag is. (And if you're going to screw anyone on Social Security benefits, you should screw everyone, including the immediate beneficiaries. Not doing that? That's "timid.")

Another dreary panel Sunday on Meet The Press with Ed Gillespie and Jennifer Granholm and Harold Ford and Rick Santelli. The meritocracy is well-represented! In case you thought they had lost their voice in all of this stuff happening in Wisconsin.

Granholm points out that the workers protesting in Wisconsin re-asserted the fact that they would be happy to help Scott Walker out by making increased contributions to their own pensions and health care benefits, so the only unresolved matter are the labor rights that aren't necessary to close the budget gap, which they reckon they would like to retain. Let's recall! This is why there aren't mad protests in New York or in California, where public sector workers' intrinsic rights aren't being threatened.

Having made this clear, we should just move on, unless everyone is going to say, "Thank you, Jennifer Granholm, for asserting the objective truth." Instead we have Gillespie referring to union-busting as "democracy."

Also, there's this rampant idea that Obama, having TALKED ABOUT WISCONSIN, has "injected himself" into the matter, or even "elevated" Scott Walker. Can the media just stop jerking themselves off and then complaining about how the sheets get stained? Y'all mofeaux asked Obama about Wisconsin with the intention of either a) making a big deal about how he "injected himself" into the matter if he said anything about it or b) making a big deal about how he chickened out if he didn't talk about it. It's just a tired "damned if he does, damned if he doesn't" game you're playing, some stupid "get the president" nonsense that matters not a whit to anyone outside of Washington and, HELLO? MEANWHILE? High-stakes stuff is actually happening in the world? Can't find a story to cover, circa February 20, 2011? Really? You're pathetic.

Harold Ford, snore. SNORE!

Rick Santelli: "I'm not a collective bargaining expert." Ha! Yes, I shouldn't imagine you've much experience with collective bargaining, let alone the type of work that gives a man calluses. I'm guessing your palms are as soft as an infant's ass, Rick.

Granholm notes that the country is very much concerned with jobs and the economy, and not deficits. Of course, she is Canadian! But in Michigan, she cut spending, and got the unions to make contribution concessions. She is making a lot of sense, so now, David Gregory says, "Well, I don't want to turn this into a discussion about collective bargaining." YOU BROUGHT IT UP, CHUMP!

Harold Ford says that he thinks the President looked "strongest and best" when he was giving tax breaks to the richest Americans and blowing a trillion dollar hole in the deficit. But Harold Ford is willing to have his benefits means-tested! So that's something. Thanks for the shared sacrifice, Kid Helicopter!

Now they are talking about the possibility of a government shutdown. Granholm says that a shutdown is bad for everyone. Gillespie thinks that a CR will be extended.

Is there a balance to be had between austerity and investment? I'm a little surprised to hear Gregory suggest that such a thing can happen. Ford just sort of trails off on a tangential topic and finally cycles back around to a semi-contradiction: the president's "win the future" message is the right one but it won't square with the urgent need to curb deficits. (Most of that "urgent need" stems from the fact that the nation's unemployed who don't care about structural deficits and rather want jobs do not have access to microphones and teevee cameras in Washington, which reliably bombard the world with deficit hysteria. Would that there was some "unemployment hysteria" in the world!

Oh, it's over? Yes. Because Bill Monroe passed away, and his memory forms this week's "Remember when this show used to be substantive moment." Peace be on you, Mr. Monroe. I shall now delete Meet The Press from my playlist.

Okay, so that's this day in fatuous political talkathons. Stay warm, Wisconsinites! And the best of weeks to all of you!