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Falafel Pop-Tarts, Debt Commission, O'Reilly vs. Milbank, Fetuses in jars and more with ComPost Live

Nov 12, 2010

The Compost, written by Dana Milbank and Alexandra Petri, offers a lighter take on the news and political in(s)anity of the day. If you believe life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it, this is the chat for you. Join us every Friday at 11 to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

Liza Minnelli for Senate? Keith Olbermann's "indefinite" suspension? California's mystery missile? Touchy-feely Michelle Obama? Which wacky moment from this week was your favorite? Vote now, then come back and discuss it with us here!

Good morning, web denizens, and thank you for decomposing with us today.  Much to discuss, from the debt commission to Joe Miller's spelling obsessions.  Fire away (but not with live ammunition, please).

The debt commission basically cuts taxes for the wealthy and does away with, or severely cuts, the social safety nets for the lower and middle class. How can you possibly think this is anything other than your typical hard right Republican agenda? I suggest you read Paul Krugman's column today.

Because it sharply cuts Pentagon spending, raises the capital gains tax, and restores the estate tax.  See, everybody can find something to hate in this plan, which is why it will almost surely die.  But this, or something like it, is the only thing that's going to get us out of this mess.  If liberals hold out for a plan that preserves spending and conservatives hold out for a plan that insists on no tax increases, we'll never get anywhere.

I don't disagree with the Debt Commission's ideas on how to reduce the debt, but isn't this the wrong thing to do in the middle of a recession? What distinguishes Democrats from Republicans is that Democrats use deficit spending to support the economy during bad times and pay it off during good times, like Clinton did. Republicans do just the opposite.

Well, the good news is by the time they get around to doing anything, this recession -- and several others -- will have come and gone.

So, Milbank, you're starting at Fox News when?

I'm forwarding this to Bill O'Reilly, who this very week dubbed me not only a liberal but a "far left" columnist.

Don't you think Pelosi passed every bill she was asked only to be ignored or water down by the senate , and Obama's absence in the debate did not help either.Isn't unfair now to blame Pelosi? How about Obama and Reid?

Good point.  While I think the Democrats would do well to clean house/House, arguably Pelosi was much stronger than Reid as a leader.   The problem isn't her management; she was quite an effective speaker.  The problem is her image, which is dreadful.   This, too, was largely Obama's fault, by allowing her to be the face of health-care reform.  

Probably we'll be seeing a lot more of Steny Hoyer.  Would be very difficult to demonize him. Too bland and sensible.

There is a Harvard Law School negotiation class (which the business school uses as well) which includes a series of practice student-student negotiations based on different scenarios. They chart how each student has done versus what is expected for their negotiating position to see how you rank versus your classmates. Can someone ask Gibbs/Obama how he did in that negotiation class? I'm guessing he didn't do very well by the last two years experience of offering compromises without the other side gives up anything in exchange. He seems to negotiate against himself all too often...

Alexandra may know more on this. The only thing I studied at Harvard was bartending, while my wife was getting her MBA.

I actually agree with Michael Moore on this (and I can't say that too often): The administration was foolish not to begin the health-care negotiation by asking for a single-payer system. If you're going to be called a socialist anyway, you might as well act like one.   Then they all could have "compromised" on something resembling the current plan, and everybody could claim victory.

I used to do studies at the business school frequently in order to raise cash, as it happens! I remember one memorable negotiation in which I was asked to pretend to be a banana czar -- that is, the head of a large banana-exporting family who was about to enter a contract -- and I had to negotiate the best deal possible on a variety of points. I decided that the best way to negotiate would be to come up with a rich and vibrant backstory for this banana czar, and so I told my negotiating partner all about the crop difficulties, the banana weevils, and my son's pregnancy (one of the negotiating points was that I was supposed to keep all my family members employed), in an attempt to drum up sympathy. The guy stared at me blankly. I wound up conceding every point and at the end of the study, I think I actually had to pay the business school instead of receiving the nominal "show-up" pay.

Couldn't we now all agree that President Obama is a Republican? He passed a Republican health care bill, escalated a war just as W would have done, cut taxes, stacked this budget committee with conservatives and yet his party got knocked out for being liberal? I think there's only one party.

Yes, Obama is now a Nixon Republican.  But the Republicans are not Republicans anymore. They are the Tea Party. It's enough to make me hide myself in a Whig.

In that photo of the current/former presidents in your blog he's off to side, like an afterthought. Even Clinton is pretending not to notice him. It's like the photo is set up so they can crop Carter out later.

Adding insult to, well, being the self-described greatest ex-president ever, I was going to use Photoshop to replace his head with Justin Bieber's, but I didn't have time.

Thinking which politicians I would like to see on that cruise--it would build character and teamwork. Bipartisan sharing of Spam and Pop-Tarts would ensue.

This just vindicates a theory I've had for a while, because the name "Carnival Cruise" to me implies a cruise where everything smells like the elephant tent, is cramped, and the entertainment consists of a bunch of people doing magic for hours with inadequate lighting.

So the best strategy is to just stare at your opponent?

Have you ever seen a goldfish lose a negotiation?

Dana, My pet peeve is not drivers on cell phones or nor using their turning signal. It is why everyone in DC seems to ignore an obvious way to save lots of $ on Social Security: End the COLAs for recipients whose gross annual income (stocks, wages, etc.) is $100K+. There is a vast difference between these people and seniors living on a fixed income, when the added COLA is needed. It is an equity issue here. No one would be "cutting" anyone's SS. Several years ago, I asked Gary Hart about whether any study was ever done on how much $ it would save and he said yes, there have been numerous ones, but that AARP and unions are vehemently against dropping COLAs for wealthy people in any Social Security Reform package. Please include L.A on any book tour:-)

I can appreciate the opposition to this.  Social Security works because everybody, rich and poor, has a sense that they're all in it together.   If there's means testing, the wealthy will come to see it as a welfare program, and opposition will grow.  So, in an ideal world, you wouldn't want to do this.  The problem is we're reaching a point where we're going to have to make a whole bunch of unpleasant decisions in a whole range of areas.

They demonized Harry Reid - a Morman who never talks above a whisper and weighs about 60 pounds. I think it needs to just be accepted that anyone the Right decides to demonize, will be demonized.

Yes, but Harry said the war is lost, and he called Bush a loser.  He's a feisty old boxer.   Steny looks like an ad for Brylcreem, his silver hair parted just so.  His favorite thing to talk about is PAYGO.

On Futurama they have the heads of people like Nixon and Ron Popeil in jars. Can we expect that to be the future of your head?

No, all is well now with Papa Bear.  After the Wednesday column, he went on air that night and said he does not wish violence to befall me.  I am so pleased I have it in mind to send him a case of hummus.

There's a bum for every bench. What the drink o the day?

The Carnival Cruise

ingredients: warm beer, spam flakes. Serve in fancy looking boat from which you expected better things.

The Long Island Iced Tea Partyer

ingredients: enough alcohol to make Nancy Pelosi think showing up at a rally with teabags attached to her hat would be a logical choice. Cola.

I think times like these require us to bring back the Evil Dewars.

No. But I have heard that if you stare at certain animals long enough they will attack and kill you, so I'm wary of that approach.

That's true. I have a similar fear, which I trace back to a short story by James Thurber that said that if you stared into your dog's eyes long enough, it would become deprogrammed and attack you. Unless your dog turns out to be one of those decorative iron dogs. But have you ever been savaged by a goldfish?

Scrap the hummus. Send a monogrammed loofah.

It was in this very chatroom that somebody confused the loofah with a falafel.  This may explain why he talked about me being turned into hummus.  Probably he meant tahini.

All the time with Garfield. (The Fat Cat, not the president. Although...)

What, if any, of the debt commission recommendations are likely to become reality? Aren't these merely outliers for starting painful negotiations?

Worse -- they aren't even debt commission recommendations.  They're recommendations of the co-chairmen, just two of the 18 members of the panel.  I think if the full commission agrees to anything (by the end of this month) it will be an anodyne statement about how the national debt is bad and we ought to do something about it.

Ha. No, they'd fight over which Pop-tart was the best one, and whether you should toast them or not.

Toasted Poptarts are destroying the American way of life. If God had intended us to toast poptarts, He would have created Adam and Toasted Poptart, not Adam and Eve.

Who ever heard of toasting poptarts?  At the Post, I eat 'em right out of the vending machine.  (Strawberry, unglazed.)

Great! Bland and sensible are what we need right now. What is next for Pelosi? Dancing with the Stars?

Yes, but she will be paired with Tom DeLay in a dance of national unity.

I hope not! Once she got on, she'd never leave, and would keep insisting that no matter how the people voted, they "needed her more than ever"! Also, she'd probably claim WinnerofDancingWiththeStarsPelosi on Twitter before even getting cast. Maybe she already has.

Having a means test on Social Security would be unfair to those of us who saved for retirement. My dad told me when I went to work in the early 60s to not depend upon SS for retirement. I believed him and saved for retirement and took advantage of 401k and IRAs instead of buying a bigger house and the latest electronics, cars, etc. Now we're comfortable in retirement so why should our SS be cut particularly since as a married couple we already paid in and get less than a one earner person with a spouse at home. His (usually a he) income was the same as our joint but he gets more and we never got the luxury of a cutoff in SS tax when our joint hit the max as his did.

Absolutely right, in your case.  But I think they're talking about means testing today's toddlers, or something like that.   I'm giving my first-grader her allowance under the table, just to make sure they don't count it against her.

Do you find it ironic that congressman-elect Allen West's almost chief of staff, Joyce Kaufman, claims to be the victim of "an electronic lynching by proxy" while she advocates the "non-electronic lynching not by proxy" of illegal immigrants?

Alexandra may want to correct me on this, but I think the electronic lynching was referring not to her but to West.  Either way, I would find it preferable to be the victim of an electronic lynching to being the victim of an actual lynching, which is indeed what the inimitable Ms. Kaufman had proposed for illegal immigrants who commit crimes in America.

I believe her exact words were "I will not be used in an electronic lynching by proxy." They're certainly freighted words. This being said, I'd definitely take the by proxy kind of electronic lynching before even the regular electronic kind.

Why would you want a leader that's difficult to demonize? The more you get done, the easier it is to demonize you. Seriously, why would the Democrats choose their leaders based on how much Republicans like them? It doesn't make any sense.

Speaking in my capacity as writer of the Washington Sketch, I believe all parties should select leaders who are easy to demonize, or at least easy to make into caricatures.

This explains the difference between Dana's and my images on the top left of the Compost.

Albert Grossman was the most successful manager of rock musicians in the 1960s and 70s (Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, The Band, etc. etc.) Whenever he was in negotiations with a concert promoter he would let the other guy make his offer first, then he would just sit there and say nothing. The silence would be so awkward that the promoter would take it as a rejection of his offer, so he would start yammering away, invariably making the deal more favorable to Grossman and his client. More silence would follow. The deal would get more favorable. Then Grossman, having gotten the deal he wanted would say, "Fine, I'll send you the contract." This story has been repeated in numerous memoirs so I presume it's true. (Grossman also once offered to settle a $2 million dollar music publishing dispute with Dylan by flipping a coin. Dylan, wisely, said no.)

(Wisely indeed.)

I will definitely try that on my next date.

The proper way to eat them is toasted with butter. Unless you've got the frosted kind, which you shouldn't because they're gross.

No, the proper way to eat them is smeared with hummus. 

Too soon!

All the hate against Nancy Pelosi makes me wanna cry. How do you think history will judge her?

As Sue Sylvester?

Ten years ago, Bill Clinton managed to balance the budget and we began paying down the debt. And this was done without drastic measures. So why are we facing such drastic measures now?

Because we have been the victims of an electronic lynching by proxy.

Eeeew. My brains just exploded. Is this why GW is so clueless? Did his brain shut down after this?

Mine certainly has. This moment is like "The Ring" of political memoirs -- once you've seen it, you can't un-see it, and it slowly unravels your life and relationships. The only thing you can do with it is pass it on to others.

What are the odds he flies coach? Or has to get in the cattle stall boarding process on Southwest?

And what about his security detail?  Imagine all those angry business travelers bumped from their Thursday night DCA-CVG flight because they had to make space for the speaker and his entourage.

So it's time to go -- I can smell the pop tarts in the toaster.  Thanks for chatting, and we'll meet again next week for another electronic lynching by proxy.

I know. Saturday Night Live will be so boring.

Then again, President Palin is farther than I'd be willing to go, even though it would mean seeing Tina Fey every Saturday.

One more thought on this: Oscar Wilde said that "Formerly, we used to canonize our heroes. The modern method is to vulgarize them. Cheap editions of great books may be delightful, but cheap editions of great men are absolutely detestable."

I've been dating Joyce Kaufman for 3 weeks, but she doesn't know I'm an illegal immigrant from Puerto Rico. Now I'm deathly afraid of getting a parking ticket. What should I do?


Thanks for writing! It is important to tread lightly. Maintain the relationship as long as you can! But insist that she drive whenever you go anywhere.  Tell her that "passenging" is one of your hobbies and that you "love watching her negotiate the lanes." Women love being told that! If you do get a parking ticket, try to brush it off as a compliment -- "Look! Someone said 'Parking Fine'! That's nice. I'm insecure about my parking." If and/or when you break up, cross state lines immediately.

I vote that we give Alexandra her own chat ( The Petri Dish ? ) and that we post her picture on this one in place of that other guy -- all in favor ?

I hope you found this chat more pleasant than being trapped on a cruise line with hummus pop tarts, or electronically lynched by proxy, or serving on the Deficit Commission.

Come back next week! And keep reading the Compost!

In This Chat
Dana Milbank
Dana Milbank writes the Washington Sketch column about political theater in the capital. He joined The Post as a political reporter in 2000, after two years as a senior editor of The New Republic and eight years with the Wall Street Journal. He is also author of two political books, Homo Politicus (Doubleday, 2008) and Smashmouth (Basic Books, 2001). He lives in Washington with his wife and daughter. • Dana Milbank Bio & Archive
• Milbank Q&As
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost, a lighter take on the news and issues of the day, and she contributes to the Post editorial page. Her work has appeared in venues such as The Huffington Post, The Week,,, Collegehumor, and The Harvard Crimson. She has appeared on Jeopardy!, Showbiz Tonight and Canadian radio, and she has performed at Boston's Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. She would love to be on your TV show, radio show, Daily Show, HBO special, or to be an honored guest (or regular guest) at your Bar Mitzvah. She is the author of two books (unpublished, but contact her!), two screenplays, three plays, one musical, and one memoir (Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.)
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