03/13/2011 06:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

TV SoundOff: Sunday Talking Heads

Hello and good morning everyone, and welcome once again to your quickly typed rundown of some political show on the television and the feelings they give us. My name is Jason, and the staggeringly trivial nature of these political shows, where I'm supposed to believe America's political horse race is the most important thing in the world (SPOILER ALERT: NO ONE WINS, IT JUST KEEPS GOING FOREVER) is never in starker relief than it is on days like today. There's no point in belaboring it, or pretending to be able to translate what's happening in Japan. It's already perhaps the most exhaustively documented natural disaster ever, so that obliterates the need for me to try to use words to rub at your raw nerves. Here are ways in which you can help.

Meanwhile, there was this terrible economic collapse in America a few years ago and ever since then, the important campaign to get Americans to stop blaming the perpetrators of said collapse and the ensuing widespread economic devastation, and in turn start blaming one another, to the material benefit of those who wrecked the economy in the first place, continues to take important steps forward in Wisconsin. That's seen in pretty stark terms in Abe Sauer's interview with a Scott Walker supporter, I think.

For what-happens-nexts, here's Abe again, and here's Nick Kroll at Mother Jones. Generically speaking, I think that most people see this story heading into a resurgence of the Democratic party's political fortunes in Wisconsin -- it makes sense because the recall effort has already raised a ton of money and Walker's popularity has hit the skids. The cynic in me warns you, however, that if Wisconsin Dems came back to power as swiftly as they could, don't be surprised if they, too, find the collective-bargaining-less new world suddenly VASTLY appealing. Power doesn't come from nothing!

Anyhoo, let's get this already delayed, Daylight-savings version of this liveblog started. Send emails, leave comments, pray or meditate or speak kindnesses aloud in the direction of Japan.


Today we'll have Mitch McConnell and Mark Warner and Saxby Chambliss, taking about the sexy budget battle in Congress that matters so terribly much to political reporters who live in the most safe economy and wealthiest community in America.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the terrifying new part of the aftermath involves their nuclear power plants and the damage that's been done to them. Joe Cirincione, the president of Ploughshares Fund and nuclear expert (who has lent his expertise to the Huffington Post on many occasions) is here to talk about this side of the story.

"This is an unprecedented crisis, this is extremely serious," Cirincione says. The flooding of seawater to prevent a meltdown, is, in his estimation, a move of "desperation." The worst case scenario as far as meltdowns go involves the leaching of radioactivity into the ground, the water, the air, with the potential that some could reach the West Coast of the U.S. The twelve-mile evacuation radius is "not enough under a meltdown scenario," he says.

On the 1-to-7 scale of nuclear event seriousness, the situation in Japan had been rated a 4. (Three Mile Island was a 5.) Yes, we have ratings scales for everything. Cirincione says that if the situation in Japan stopped right now, it's fair to call it a four, but it seems headed into higher territory. A meltdown is a 6. Benign sets of numbers thus help us understand things that are terrible.

Anyway, what happens in the next 24 hours is apparently very important, as cliched as that sounds.

Now Mitch McConnell is here, so I hope everyone enjoyed the six minutes of the show where an actual knowledgeable individual imparts useful information.

Is McConnell having second thoughts on nuclear power, given what's happening? "I don't think that right after a major catastrophe is a good time to be making policy." Oh, sure. It's best to let the lessons learned from something to fade in time! (This, he likens to the BP oil spill, where a year after the disaster, the policy seems to be "keep allowing deep water drilling like crazy with no further regulations or Senator Mary Landrieu will block your legislative agenda.)

Wallace points out that this is really going to turn out the NIMBYs to oppose nuclear power, McConnell doesn't really have much of a reaction.

Onto the budget, which continues to creep from CR to CR. McConnell says there's no reason to shut the government down, and that they're on a slow path to reaching the $61 billion cuts (which was $100 billion). On riders that defund Planned Parenthood and/or the Affordable Care Act, McConnell doesn't have his war-flag in the air today. He's not opposing the riders, but he's not suggesting there's any particular need for them, either. He writes them off to incidental politics as they continue on the "slow path" they're on.

Harry Reid, of course, is upset that the GOP is "destroying jobs." So, what about that? McConnell dogs out government spending: "We'd be in a boom because we've added" so much to the debt the past two years. Y'all should be taking a pool as to how soon in the liveblog each week I have to come bust this out:

And your weekly reminder of what people want to do about it:

Would the GOP filibuster a bill that didn't include spending cuts? No. They'd offer amendments that cut spending.

What about the debt limit? McConnell wants to do "something important" about the debt -- Wallace wants to know what the hell "something important" means. What it means, apparently, is that McConnell thinks TEH DEFICITZ are bad and "raising the debt ceiling gives us the opportunity to do something important about the subject being raised by raising the debt ceiling, which is the debt." Never forget that adults of known importance used to come on the teevee and say things like that.

Wallace still is confused, understandably, but can't get much further than let's "come together and figure out what to do" from McConnell, who authentically has no ideas of his own on the matter. Why do people keep booking McConnell? I don't know.

Anyway, the bottom line is that know Republican will vote to raise the debt ceiling unless something that's both "credible" and "important" is "done" about "TEH DEFICITZ." (Ending the War in Afghanistan and rolling back tax cuts on the wealthiest two percent of America would, in my estimation, be serious and credible, but guess what?)

McConnell says it's Obama's fault that gas prices have gone up. And not, you know, the result of armed conflict in the Middle East. Speaking of, McConnell wants us to arm the insurgents, which is somewhat a more realistic goal than continuing to overextend our current, costly military excursions.

Get excited, people. Here's Mark Warner and Saxby Chambliss, who have been getting their Gang Of Six on in fighting TEH DEFICITZ. The last time we had a Gang of Six, if you recall, it was health care reform, and it was basically a front group for Chuck Grassley's sour-faced dicktery.

Is Chambliss willing to increase revenue? Will he raise taxes? He says that he's actually suggesting a reform in the tax code that limits deductions that will raise revenue without raising taxes. Wallace notes that this means he will draw the warblogging fire of Grover Norquist, America's most terrifying Grover. Chambliss says, "Whatevs, I've got Tom Coburn on my team, and he's crazy conservative. Even his beard is a supply-sider."

"Everyone has some skin in the game, and everyone gets their ox gored," says Chambliss, on their tax reform plan.

Warner says that he, in turn, is willing to take the lead on entitlement reform, because otherwise, the pie of available cuts come from the non-defense discretionary budget. "So, Saxby and I are going to take some arrows," says Warner.

Reid wants Social Security eliminated from the discussion. Warner says that his plan would not continue to take proceeds from Social Security to continue to pay other bills. But he does say this will involve a raise in the retirement age.

Chambliss says that their group is "dialoguing." Another grey hair succumbs to the post-modern verbing of nouns!

Warner says that their Gang of Sixery has no timetable, they want to "get it right" and "link arms" and work together and the notion of requiring them to have a plan ready prior to the deficit ceiling vote makes him "nervous."

Would John Boehner get on board with this plan? Chambliss says that everyone will have to "have a discussion," but that "John Boehner gets it," and he thinks at the end of the day, they'll have something the appeals to House Republicans, Senate Democrats, and the White House.

Panel time, with Bill Kristol and Dana Perino and Kirsten Powers and Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times, here in the remaining "NPR chair" usually filled by Mara Liasson.

Bill Kristol says Japan is a big setback to further nuclear plants coming to the United States, despite the fact that they are so resistant to damage (?!?!). (Also, it's a big setback for Japanese people who didn't want their bodies filled by a range of deadly cancers.) The upshot is that we'll obviously be drilling the bejeezus out of it.

Jeff Zeleny agrees that no one is going to embrace nuclear power anytime soon, and Obama will have to make adjustments to his energy policy.

Perino: "Gas prices can make or break elections." Ha! Yes! To say nothing of people who live 25 miles from places where food is sold!

Powers: "When you hear 'meltdown' it sounds very scary." Yes. Yes it does. She goes on to suggest that our nuclear power ambitions may not get scuttled. YES, BUT WHERE WILL YOU BUILD THE THINGS? Is there a community that wants them? I don't think so. (Probably, they will build the nuclear power plants next to the teachers' unions, since they are, at present, history's greatest monsters in the eyes of political fad phreaks.)

Dana Perino doesn't want to tap the strategic energy reserve because then gas prices might get low enough to disadvantage the people whose politics she likes.

Bill Kristol is sad and humiliated that the Arab League wants to bomb Gadhafi more than Obama does, because Obama should just have a huge hard on for warring, because it never costs us money, at all! At any rate, the Arab League gives the White House "political cover," but Jeff Zeleny says that Obama is loath to involve American pilots. (PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY ARE FIGHTING A WHOLE OTHER SUPER EXPENSIVE WAR.)

Perino is baffled that Libya has required the intervention of the UN Security Council, when Egypt and Tunisia and Bahrain didn't. (HINT, DANA: Probably because those other countries didn't turn anti-aircraft guns and fighter jets loose on the demonstrators.)

Powers points out that "limited air strikes" often lead to "murdering innocent people" and "pilots getting shot down and held hostage" and "hundreds of U.S. ground troops trying to take over a country."

"Bill, clearly, you seem to favor the idea of military intervention," says Wallace, because March 13 is International Make Mind Bogglingly Obvious Observations About The Two Dimensional People In Whose Company You Spend Significant Amounts Of Your Time Day." Kristol wants us to bomb all of Libya's ships and tanks, because he will restart his nuclear activities and support for terrorism, and yellowcake from Niger, and gassing his own people, and didn't we lift sanctions on this guy and have a whole bunch of lobbyists working on improving Gadhafi's brand just a few years ago? OH WELL, IT PROBABLY WON'T ADD TO THE DEFICIT.


It looks as if FACE THE NATION has scuttled their original programming to deal specifically with Japan. THIS WEEK did the same, I believe.

Schieffer says the "news is not good, not good at all," and points out the three-pointed nature of the disaster: earthquake to tsunami to nuclear aftermath. And of course, that's a really obvious thing to say, but somehow, the way he puts it like that is making it sink in anew, with me at least. "The worst crisis since World War II," says Japan's PM. And the death toll is going north of 10,000.

First off, in Fukushima, where the ongoing problem with the nuclear power plant is occurring, CBS has Celia Hatton. She says the news is "grim" and that the challenge they face is that the vulnerability of one reactor could set off a chain reaction of vulnerabilities in the other reactors. "We're expecting more explosions from that nuclear plant," she reports, in this case, the explosions would apparently come as some controlled measure, designed to relieve the pressure on the system in toto, which unrelieved, could lead to catastrophe.

Evacuations continue, and signs of radiation sickness come in with varying numbers. Iodine pills are being handed out. The affected citizens are anxious and concerned and glued to their televisions looking for signs that they can go home again. Hatton says that the people who live around Fukushima tend to be the sort who have grown up and lived their whole lives there.

Harry Smith is in Tokyo, where he reports that life is returning to normal. Rescuers in the area are being deployed up north, but that yesterday, people in the city walked around as "if nothing had happened." Smith says that as far as Tokyo's earthquake-proof reputation, the proof is in the pudding -- very few signs of damage. Smith says that had an earthquake of this magnitude occurred just about anywhere else, the impact would have been worse, because the Japanese make earthquake preparation a regular part of their lives.

In Sendai, which is the town closest to the epicenter of the quake, we have Bill Whitaker. He says that it took fifteen hours to get into Sendai because of extreme damage to roads, and that there's very little electric power. Aftershocks continue, tsunami warnings continue, fires are still raging, and evidence of the force of the tsunami wave continues to astound.

Lucy Craft reports that the Japanese are reeling at the damage, and fingers are beginning to be pointed at the government. She says however, that the mantra is, for the moment, that the quake was "beyond our expectations...not in the textbooks." The quake lasted for five minutes, she says, and their was an unprecedentedly short time to get out of the path of the tsunami. "Right now, the country is in a state of shock."

Also: "the stock market may crash on Monday, when it opens." That will be terrible news for CNBC's resident anthropomorphic sack o' choddocks Larry Kudlow, who yesterday was terrifically excited that only people seemed to be dying in droves in Japan, and not any sweet, sweet money.

"The country is on hold right now," says Craft.

Okay, so, Face The Naysh is going to continue with their planned show, now, so here's Joe Lieberman. Who doesn't want to see Joe Lieberman on the teevee in times of crisis, right?

Lieberman says that we need more Joementum behind earthquake monitoring and disaster preparedness. He should tell his pal Johnny McCain to stop making fun of the programs that do this work, as if funding them is hilarious.

I think that Lieberman just said we need to "put the brakes" on our "nuclear power pants." Sorry, Joe, but my atomic powered gabardines just can't be contained! He assures us that current plants are safety rated to the "known highest earthquake" in the region in which they are built. While the New Madrid Seismic Zone is on my mind, it makes me wonder what "known highest earthquake" means, because the devastating quake on the New Madrid Fault happened in the 1800's.

Schieffer asks if Lieberman means we need a moratorium. Lieberman says that he doesn't want to stop building them, just "quietly put the brakes on until we can absorb what's happened in Japan," and see if we're demanding enough from the new plants in terms of safety. That all seems eminently reasonable, actually.

"It's time, I think, for states to revisit their building codes and see if they should take preventive action," Lieberman says. Yes, we could totally WIN THE FUTURE by not having all of our junk fall down in the future, but I gather we actually don't have the political will to spend money on infrastructure, ever, because too many people might end up getting jobs and the country could get demonstrably stronger as a result, and then what would be left to pointlessly demonize. JUST THROW ALL THE TEACHERS INTO THE SAN ANDREAS FAULT AND BE DONE WITH IT.

Lieberman advises us all to visit the Department of Homeland Security website. Longtime readers of this liveblog know that we've already done that.

Now David Sanger of the NYT is here, along with David Martin. Sanger says that the nuclear plants are "going to be the real focus of attention" and inquiries will continue about the extent of the damage and the meltdown. Cesium levels apparently have the potential to increase in the atmosphere and create more chaos in terms of evacuation, but that no one expects a Chernobyl-level disaster. Martin says that the U.S. is operating a "lily pad" in the ocean and providing aid in the search for quake and tsunami survivors at sea.

Sanger says that the Japanese have not done a bang up job in the nuclear regulatory arena, up to and including some corruption. He says it's hard to know if the stock market will crash, but the yen has gone up since Friday and the country could benefit from the economic stimulus the disaster brings. That's what we need, I guess, in America -- a fast, suddenly occurring disaster instead of the long, slow decline of everything!


Chuck Todd is here, as is Lester Holt who is in Tokyo, who says the earthquake is now being considered a 9.0. The rest, we already know: some astounding nuke disaster is in the offing, potentially, and people are being told to put wet cloths on their faces.

Japan's Ambassador, Ichiro Fujisaki is here. He says that rescue efforts continue to be stymied by an inability to reach all of the affected people. "We are mobilizing all of the forces we have," he says.

As for the reactor, he says that the affected container unit has too much pressure and too much heat. They are flooding the reactor with seawater. The consensus on that is that this is a last-ditch tactic, but Fujisaki says that this is not necessarily the case. He emphasizes that they're not in a situation where an entire reactor is melting down. "We are trying to avoid that." (The last-ditch seawater-flood plan plays a big role.)

Seventy countries and international organizations have offered help, he says, including nuclear experts and rescue teams from the United States, for which Fujisaki is grateful. He's grateful for all of you great, good people who are just wishing his countrymen well in whatever small way you are, as well.

Marvin Fertel, the President of the Nuclear Energy Institute is next, to talk about, "What a Terrifying Meltdown Means For You." "I understand," Todd says, "that you represent the industry's interests in this." Great! Let's not entirely gloss that over, I guess.

Anyhoo: Fertel says that after the quake, everything seemed to be performing as it should have been, but that "we think" that the tsunami caused further damage and "cut off their ability to cool the core." Fertel says that you can have a partial melt of the fuel without public safety ramifications. He says that the plants that currently exist in seismic zones are built to stand the force of a "credible" seismic event. So, it's just the incredible ones you have to watch out for.

Here's Chuck Schumer: is he going to continue to back nuclear power? He says he's doing the wait-and-see thing, but we have to get off the petroleum and nuclear power will maybe have to play a part in that, but is has to be done "safely and carefully."

As to the short-term CR agreement, Schumer is in favor of it, and it gives him "cause for optimism" that the further conversation of cuts will proceed in a bipartisan fashion and focus on the "fat, not the muscle" of the overall budget picture.

But Claire McCaskill be trippin' on people who are apparently, "in denial." Schumer says, yeah, well, she and the rest of us voted against H.R. 1, but we aren't going to "cut into our seed corn." WE WILL HAVE MAIZE, LIKE THE GENOCIDED NATIVE FOLK TAUGHT US.

"We are willing to be reasonable and meet in the middle as long as it doesn't cut what we need to help America grow," Schumer says.

Is this the last short-term CR? Because Harry Reid be trippin' over all these short-term CR's. Schumer doesn't say one way or the other that there will or won't be another short-termer, or if he'd be for or against. He's just happy that the seed corn doesn't get cut. And also the seed corn that funds our tsunami warning systems, which were on the chopping blocks but will be hard to cut now. CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL YOU TSUNAMI MONITORS. (You all might be able to "collectively bargain," still, without being treated by governors as if you were fecal demons.)

Schumer is asked if he supports a no-fly zone over Libya. He says that Obama is handling it well, because there are consequences to unilateral action. With the Arab League on board and NATO coming to the same mind, the reality of a no-fly looms.

Todd asks, "Does Congress have to have a say?" And Schumer says that Congress should defer on short-term military actions like this, you know, the same way that Congress abdicated their Constitutional authority on that tiny trifle known as the War in Afghanistan, that has lasted a decade. We don't declare wars anymore, or representatives just "authorize the use of military force" after being told that they'll be repeatedly demonized as un-American if they don't. The system works! Keep up that heroic deferring, Chuck!

One armed social trucing governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels is here. He's not been paying attention to the Washington budget fiasco, but advises that Boehner stop warblogging all the time, with riders to bills, and instead try to have a full-spectrum engagement between all parties. On the debt ceiling, he had previously advised to raise the debt ceiling, because it's a "housekeeping matter." He says today that as serious as the debt is, the debt ceiling is a "rear view mirror exercise." Use the moment to raise the issues, he advises, but doesn't recommend any hostage taking on the matter. Truce it up, truce-head!

Unemployment went up in Indiana as Daniels pared the budget down, so why hasn't Daniels awesome budget cutting powers created jobs. Oh, he inherited a recession, you know! But people still like coming to Indiana to start a business, because it's landlocked nuclear reactors won't melt down in a tsunami or something.

Did Scott Walker win or lose the political fight? Daniels begs off. What about the fact that he didn't campaign on eliminating collective bargaining? Daniels begs off. In general, he suggests that getting rid of collective bargaining helped to provide the "flexibility" to solve fiscal problems, and that they couldn't be made until it was done away with, because you'd have to maybe raise taxes, like Satan would do. This is apparently what passes for public policy wisdom in the new gilded age of state level idiocracy -- state officials run things into the ground and pick a scapegoat and encourage everyone else to ride along with the torch posse as they run down the new Frankenstein monster.

Daniels says, here, today, that he "supports collective bargaining for the private sector," which is kind of a LARF, but look: the real goal is to get all those private sector union folk all ginned up and enraged at the public sector union folk, because if you split the middle class into factions and keep them from aligning their common economic interests, you can do just about anything you want, like privatize your elementary schools and teach kids to be hotel concierges with robots.

Todd takes the conversation to 2012, to which Daniels, echoing all Americans who are not deeply invested in masturbatory fantasies rooted in Matt Bai articles, says, "Do we have to?"

Todd asks if anyone running for President run successfully in South Carolina while ignoring social issues? "I don't know?! I don't sit around and calculate the political pluses and minuses of every word I utter," Daniels says, inadvertently stating the job description of every single political reporter in America, who have continued the rich ancient traditions of rooting around in bird entrails.

Will Daniels run for president? He doesn't know. Will he support Richard Lugar? Yes. Will he intervene in the Indiana primary? Probably not.

Somehow, there is still time left on this show, to be filled with Dan Balz and Michele Norris. (This segment should probably be titled, "We noticed that some things happened this week, in politics."

Dan Balz noticed that Mitch Daniels isn't sure if he wants to run for President. There are a lot of speculative questions that "only he can answer," if badgered enough times into doing so.

Michele Norris noticed that some of the big name candidates haven't jumped into the race. Will it have an impact? "Time will tell. We really don't know." It will totally have an impact, in case it doesn't, in which case they won't. Operatives don't know who to sign up for, because they don't know who is running, except you sort of do.

Dan Balz noticed that Newt Gingrich talked about all the marriages he's destroyed because he needed a Chevrolet lady and not a Jaguar lady. British auto engineering, not the best. Will it matter to religious conservatives? Probably not, because there exists a very strong infrastructure of whitewashing Newt Gingrich's infidelities, and Ralph Reed, is like, the President of that.

Michele Norris noticed that Michele Bachmann opens her mouth, and stupidities fly out of it with the force of a gale. (Now she thinks Lexington and Concord are in New Hampshire.) Norris says that there are a lot of people who dismiss her and a lot of people who embrace her, because sometimes, people with a "fighting spirit" impress people to such a degree where they say, you know what, I'm going to look past the fact that this person is a complete dumbass -- literally got a bucket of wet leaves and mulch sloshing around inside that cranial cavity.

Dan Balz noticed that Mitt Romney is the frontrunner because everyone got together at a fancy dinner and made jokes about him, before retiring to Sally Quinn's mansion to indulge in the post-Gridiron tradition known as the "Eyes Wide Shut/Barnyard Style orgy-party." (Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee always attend as the front and back of a gold-dipped winged buffalo in memory of Sally's father.)

Michele Norris noticed that everyone in the GOP hates NPR now and wants to defund them, and says that Ron Schiller was wrong when he suggested that they could survive without federal funding.

David Broder died, y'all. Who will fetishize bipartisanship-sauce in the media now? (Answer: EVERYONE.)

Okay, well, we hope all of you have the best week possible. Again, if you'd like to help the people of Japan, here are ways in which you can help.

[More liveblog is coming next week, until then, here's "A Guide to American Majority's Plan to Dismantle Public Schools."]