Saturday, January 30, 2010

Manning Up - It's Called Being a President

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

On Friday Morning, President Obama travelled to Baltimore for the Republican Caucus's annual retreat, and submitted himself to questioning from the opposition. Here is the video via MSNBC; and be on the lookout for replays in primetime via CSPAN.

Now, could you imagine Bush doing this? Or even Clinton for that matter? And on camera?

Mind you, we may disagree with some of his answers and proposals - especially regarding Energy Policy (What the hell is "Clean Coal"?), Health Insurance Reform and his initial economic policies, but Obama finally appears to have recaptured some of his Campaign Trail Swagger.

Be sure to check out the question from Tom Price at 39:20 (GA), where he asks "You have stated that Republicans have repeatedly offered no ideas and no solutions...In spite of the fact that we have offered postive solutions for health care...that would provide health care for all Americans...What should we tell our constituents when who know that Republicans have offered positive answers to the challenges that Americans Face?"

Obama's Response at 42:30 - "It's not enough that you say we've offered a health care plan, and I look up the section you've provided me 'Summary of GOP Health Care Reform Bill' [which says] 'The GOP Plan will lower health care premiums for American Families and Small Businesses, addressing America's number One priority for health reform.' That's an idea we all embrace, but specifically it must work. There must be a mechanism that will actually work."

Friday, January 29, 2010


After two plus years, we've somehow managed to total 1,000 posts.

We've spanned one absurd primary season, a general election, JN's yearlong adventure in China, the glory of the PUMAs, the first year the Obama Administration, and of course, the hilariousness of fucking with the teabaggers.

Thanks to you, the reader who gives us reason to believe that we're not just endlessly typing away into the vast abyss of the internet.

Our traffic varies, but we've grown to the point where we now average between 40-70 unique visitors a day, something I would have never thought possible two years ago.

Hopefully we can plan some sort of real world 1,000th post party where we can exchange profane rants in person, as our founding fathers would have wanted.

Keep reading, keep commenting and thank you for your support of our endless vituperation!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Howard Zinn

The Boston Globe:
Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as "A People's History of the United States," inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.

His daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington, said he suffered a heart attack.

"He's made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, said tonight. "He's changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can't think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect."

Chomsky added that Dr. Zinn's writings "simply changed perspective and understanding for a whole generation. He opened up approaches to history that were novel and highly significant. Both by his actions, and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement."

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. "A People’s History of the United States" (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers -- many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out -- but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe
The People's History of the United States was one earliest books I read that got me seriously into history and politics. He will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

State of the Union LIVEBLOG

Starting at 8:45 or so... be there.

Thanks for taking part everyone!

Just a Reminder...

Crazy/super controversial ideas like taxing the rich to fund BIG GOVERNMENT are actually well liked, and can be passed by popular referendum:
It looks like Oregon corporations and high-income earners will pay higher state taxes as voters weighed in Tuesday on two hotly debated measures.

The latest results indicate both Measure 66 and 67 passed in 11 of Oregon's 36 counties.

"Tonight, I want to thank Oregonians for voting to protect critical public services during this difficult economic period," Gov. Ted Kulongoski said in a statement. "Even with this result, we still have some challenges before us. It is going to be a slow growth recovery from this recession for Oregon and the entire nation."

Measure 66 raises the income tax paid by households earning at or above $250,000 a year or individual filers who make $125,000 or more. Measure 67 raises the state's $10 minimum corporate income tax.

Together they generate an estimated $727 million, which has already been budgeted by the 2009 Legislature for public schools and other state services.

The tax measures were strongly supported by the state's teachers and other public employee unions. They argued that schools and public services would face damaging cuts.

A coalition of Oregon businesses, including the state's grocers, mounted a campaign to defeat the taxes, arguing that they would cost jobs at a time when the economy is already struggling.

House Speaker Dave Hunt said he and other supporters "have been hopeful from the beginning that Oregonians would be committed to strong schools, access to services and a healthy business climate."
You wouldn't know it from the way many Democrats piss their pants at the thought of populism, but these ideas are... wait for it... *popular*!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Train of Thought Field Trip: James O’Keefe Is Still A Moron

In case you’ve forgotten, James O’Keefe is the guy who asked ACORN employees silly questions whilst dressed in silly costumes and got silly answers in return. Conservatives then tried to transmogrify these videos into a vindication of the decades they’ve spent accusing ACORN of voter fraud, a serious allegation for which they’ve never been able to secure any evidence. How did those videos prove that charge? That part is still a mystery, but the right spent the better part of a month shitting itself with joy at the chance to attack an organization whose insidious mission is to support low-income families.

O’Keefe made the news again today with his latest venture, which was somehow even stupider: he and a number of accomplices entered federal property under false pretenses with the intent to wiretap the office of Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu.


Personally, I think we should consider an experiment in radical transparency in which everything senators say and do is recorded on camera and put up on the internet for everyone to see. Landrieu would make an excellent choice for a test case, actually- her willingness to make it easier to wiretap people abroad, as per her vote on FISA, seems to signal that she’s really comfortable with the idea of being covertly kept under surveillance. But there’s a time and a place to have that debate, and this clod seems to have decided that he would just skip that part and go straight to law-breaking. Seriously, I might have a bit more sympathy for him if his last target wasn’t a group dedicated to “working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues.”

That’s where I was going to leave it- O’Keefe is an idiot who deserves to be caught, Landrieu sucks and should probably take some time to rethink her stances on wiretapping. But JJ reminded me that it’s been a while since the last Train Field Trip, and that Freepers might have some invaluable contributions to this discussion. They sure do have plenty of threads on the subject- why don’t we start with this post by A CA Guy?
If true, dumb move and possibly highly illegal.
Whoa, that was actually pretty reasonable! Off to a good start-
IF true.

On the other hand, the left is anxious to make an example of O'Keefe & they're definitely not above setting him up.

I'll need more info.
There we have skeeter, who apparently thinks it’s entirely reasonable to imagine that ACORN captured O’Keefe, dressed up his friends like telephone mechanics, gave them a wiretapping advice, and tricked them into sneaking past security and into the office of an American senator. Real plausible. Mazda77 actually has something even more nonsensical:
As I posted to an earlier thread, my view is they were doing a sting on the lax security in the secure building. That is the only logical solution I can come up with since they were in the building without ID for the “phone company” clothes and tools they were carrying. Gonna be intersting to see if they release the security point video.
Sure, so here O’Keefe went from taking down the great white whale of conservative mythology to harassing the security at a federal building in Louisiana? What’s next, O’Keefe foils the mall cops at a shopping center in Thompson Falls, Montana? O’Keefe engages students from a local preschool in a battle of wits?  Machogirl has a hunch:
This smells of lib payback.
Liberals get revenge by having conservative activists attempt and fail to commit felonies against them? That sounds like a really roundabout form of revenge, but what do I know?  Tirednvirginia wants to add a little perspective to the discussion:
How many times was MLK arrested and now he has a national holiday named after him?

Who knows what they were on the verge of uncovering? Maybe some light will be shed on this whole incident in the next few days.
MLK fought tirelessly for the downtrodden, which makes him a natural comparison for O’Keefe, whose magnum opus at this time is the smearing of an organization which fights tirelessly for the downtrodden. Perhaps one day we’ll celebrate O’Keefe day, where everyone finds a poor person and takes a dump on them.  Plutarch is apparently from some alternate universe where the videos weren’t broadcast constantly for days:
The MSM will have to explain how it is the filmaker was a big deal, when they never showed the films.
In Conservative Fantasy World the media overtly battles them at all times in order to justify their persecution complex. The next one is also from Fantasy World, although this time it’s my own fantasy:
The ridicoulis thing is that Okeefe may be charged under RICO because of the pending charges out of Maryland and California.
Thanks Thunder90, but I’ll believe that when I see it.

There's No Freeze on Stupid Ideas

Apparently our economic situation is now serious enough that it requires a political gimmick that was laughed out of the room when the McCain campaign gave it a try:
President Obama plans to announce a three-year freeze on discretionary, “non-security” spending in the lead-up Wednesday's State of the Union address, Hill Democratic sources familiar with the plan tell POLITICO.

The move, intended to blunt the populist backlash against Obama's $787 billion stimulus and an era of trillion-dollar deficits -- and to quell Democratic anxiety over last Tuesday's Massachusetts Senate election -- is projected to save $250 billion, the Democrats said.

The freeze would not apply to defense spending or spending on intelligence, homeland security or veterans.

The proposal is in line with a plan floated by Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), a fiscal hawk, who told Bloomberg's Al Hunt last week that there was a “fighting chance” Obama would propose a freeze in most discretionary spending by the federal government as part of his address.
It's an idea so blindingly stupid that you don't even know where to start. Krugman:
It’s bad economics, depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment. Jonathan Zasloff writes that Obama seems to have decided to fire Tim Geithner and replace him with “the rotting corpse of Andrew Mellon” (Mellon was Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, who according to Hoover told him to “liquidate the workers, liquidate the farmers, purge the rottenness”.)

It’s bad long-run fiscal policy, shifting attention away from the essential need to reform health care and focusing on small change instead.
I happened to be watching Rachel Maddow's show when she absolutely demolished Jared Bernstein (who happens to be the only economist I really like in the administration) when he tried to defend this insanity:

You gotta feel for Bernstein a bit because you know this wasn't his idea (again, he's a smart economist), and he was sent out there to defend something that cannot defended in any logical way. When looking at the impact, as usual atrios said it best:
I guess the best defense of the "spending freeze" is that it's a cheap political gimmick with little actual impact.
Yep. Engaging in cheap political gimmicks while the economy burns. Voters will love that, just ask John "suspend my campaign until the economy clears up" McCain.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Trying Again

The Tibetan Government In Exile is giving it another go:
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy Lodi G. Gyari and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen will arrive in China tomorrow for discussions with the representatives of the Chinese leadership. This is the ninth round of dialogue. The Envoys are visiting China after a gap of 15 months in the process that began in 2002.
The last talks reached a discouraging conclusion after Chinese officials dismissed a detailed proposal for Tibetan autonomy presented by Lodi Gyari in October 2008. The proposal didn't make any outrageous demands- for the most part it didn't extend beyond the laws currently on the books in China. How did the Chinese react?
"[The] Dalai Lama is seeking a legal basis for his activities of 'Tibet independence', 'semi-independence and 'independence in a disguised form'," Zhu said.

'Secondly, the Dalai Lama is scheming for a 'Greater Tibet', which has never existed," he said.
A nonexistent Greater Tibet? Which areas is he talking about?
Zhu said the so-called "Greater Tibet" included not only the whole Tibet Autonomous Region, but also a large territory of Qinghai Province, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gannan in Gansu Province, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Garze and Aba in Sichuan Province, Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Deqen in Yunnan Province and some other areas.
Oh ok, he's talking about the Tibetan regions of Kham and Amdo, in which Han Chinese have never been anything but a tiny minority, if that. Areas where even today, after more than 60 years of occupation, the population is still a majority Tibetan, the main language is still Tibetan, and the people still practice Tibetan Buddhism. I visited the Gannan Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture last winter, and I can say that it's immediately evident upon arrival that the only thing Chinese about the area is the flag flying over government buildings... oh, and the People's Armed Police units patrolling the streets. How crazy is the Dalai Lama for insisting that these areas be included in the negotiations, right?!

Best of luck to the Tibetan delegation- they're going to have their work cut out for them.

Blame The Left

In Evan Bayh's world, THE ALL-POWERFUL LEFT always wins:
If you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wake-up call, there’s no hope of waking up. ... It’s why moderates and independents even in a state as Democratic as Massachusetts just aren’t buying our message. They just don’t believe the answers we are currently proposing are solving their problems. That’s something that has to be corrected. ... The only we are able to govern successfully in this country is by liberals and progressives making common cause with independents and moderates. Whenever you have just the furthest left elements of the Dem party attempting to impose their will on the rest of the country -- that’s not going to work too well.
Single Payer?
Public option?
Employer mandate?
Medicare buy-in?
Not paying for mandatory private insurance by taxing the middle class?

Yep, the same people who have gotten exactly none of their principles included in the health care bill are clearly the ones responsible for it's demise. Now this is nothing new for Evan Bayh, but I'd be much less annoyed if it wasn't becoming the conventional wisdom for our lazy political media. Digby:
In case you were wondering, the consensus on all the Sunday gasbag shows is that Obama is an abject failure because of his radical leftist ideology and that his only hope of even maintaining the presidency, much less winning a second term is to take a sharp turn to the right and enact the Republican agenda. Several commentators, including such luminaries as political cross dresser Matthew Dowd on ABC, insisted that the first thing the president has to do is pick a huge fight with the Democrats to show the country that he isn't one of them. Cokie said he should have asked John McCain from the beginning what he was allowed to do.

The historians and expert political observers on Fareed Zakaria's CNN show all agreed that Obama is no Reagan, a president who never governed ideologically and always worked across party lines. Oh, and he needs to be a president or a prime minister, but nobody could agree on exactly what that means except that he should try to be more like Scott Brown, the white Barack Obama, except without all the liberalism.

Oddly, the Republicans weren't mentioned, although Robert Caro did note that Obama inherited something of a mess. Peggy Noonan said he ran to win not to govern and they all agreed that was a brilliant observation. Zakaria did point out that Obama had a higher approval rating at this stage than both Reagan and Clinton and that the two Bush's were higher at this point because of wars and they all stared for a moment and then went on about centrism and prime ministers again.
The idea that this health care bill was anything close to what "the left" or "liberals" wanted is so far from the truth and easily dis-proven it's stunning. But that would mean we live in a strange world where the broader-fication of the bill would have made it less popular, and we can't have that.

They can't acknowledge that because it would shatter the lazy cookie cutter world view that shapes the thinking among 90% or so of the beltway media. Most of them have already made up their mind on the slant they'll give these stories, so why let the facts get in the way? And no one is promoted high enough to challenge this thinking because it's so clubby and cliquish that LUKE FUCKING RUSSERT is under consideration to host "This Week", a thought so mind blowing that it would make David Gregory seem like a goddam savant in comparison.

The never ending stupidity contest between the corrupt idiots like Evan Bayh who rule us and simplistic idiots who cover them is so fucking depressing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Strange Outcomes From Brown's Victory

In the crazy world of current day politics where 59 votes out of 100 isn't a governable majority, could Brown's election have helped progressive politics in the short term? Chris Bowers thinks it might:

If we achieve the reconciliation path, it would be possible to re-insert the Medicare buy-in during that process. There are no parliamentary issues about inserting a Medicare buy-in through reconciliation, and at least 56 Democratic Senators were supportive of such a buy-in back in December (only Conrad, Lieberman and Ben Nelson expressed worries about it).

It is remarkable and ironic how the defeat in Massachusetts could actually spur Democrats to move in a good direction for progressives. That defeat has revived the public option, made stopping Bernanke a real possibility, and opened up talks about reforming the filibuster. It also has prompted the Senate to throw in the towel on a climate change bill, which is good as long as EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gasses isn't stripped.

Could the Massachusetts special election actually make things better for progressives? That would be very surprising, but it isn't out of the question.

We live in strange, strange times...


Remember when Obama said Gitmo would be closed within a year? You know, more than a year ago? So it's gone by now, right?
As one of his very first acts as president, Obama signed an executive order to close the military prison for terror suspects within a year. The one-year mark arrive[d] Friday, and he [missed] it by a wide margin.
Well I'm sure he'll be done any moment now-
He has not offered a new deadline.
Keep up the good work Obama!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

More About MA

On the subject of why Coakley lost, let's hear what voters who supported Obama in 2008 but ended up voting for Coakley this week have to say:

In a poll conducted after the election Tuesday night [they said] that if Democrats enact tougher policies on Wall Street, they'll be more likely to come back to the party in the next election.

In a somewhat paradoxical finding, a plurality of voters who switched to the Republican -- 37 percent -- said that Democrats were not being "hard enough" in challenging Republican policies.

The poll also upends the conventional understanding of health care's role in the election. A plurality of people who switched -- 48 -- or didn't vote -- 43 -- said that they opposed the Senate health care bill. But the poll dug deeper and asked people why they opposed it. Among those Brown voters, 23 percent thought it went "too far" -- but 36 percent thought it didn't go far enough and 41 percent said they weren't sure why they opposed it.

Among voters who stayed home and opposed health care, a full 53 percent said they opposed the Senate bill because it didn't go far enough; 39 percent weren't sure and only eight percent thought it went too far... 86 percent favored the public option, while only seven percent opposed it. The findings suggests that progressive arguments that disappointed Obama supporters deserted have serious merit.

These findings should terrify almost every Democrat up for reelection in 2010- they need these voters to come back if they want to weather the teabagging storm that frenzied hordes of freepers and 9/12 types are going to summon.

By the way, 41% opposed reform but didn't know why?! How... who in this day and age... what?!

Message Received?

After watching the news coverage following Scott Brown's win in Massachusetts two nights ago, you would have thought Obama would be forced to resign in shame by week's end.

And while most sane people could see that the loss was a result of demoralized base/crappy candidate/10% unemployment combo, it was hardly the overwhelming rejection of big government/black people/health care that everyone made it seem.

I was joking with a coworker yesterday that a "wake up call" wouldn't be a bad idea if I wasn't so sure that the Democrats would get the wrong message of why people were angry.

Well, if this is true, I couldn't be happier to be wrong:
WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama on Thursday is expected to propose new limits on the size and risk taken by the country's biggest banks, marking the administration's latest assault on Wall Street in what could mark a return, at least in spirit, to some of the curbs on finance put in place during the Great Depression, according to congressional sources and administration officials.

The past decade saw widespread consolidation among large financial institutions to create huge banking titans. If Congress approves the proposal, the White House plan could permanently impose government constraints on the size and nature of banking.

Mr. Obama's proposal is expected to include new scale restrictions on the size of the country's largest financial institutions. The goal would be to deter banks from becoming so large they put the broader economy at risk and to also prevent banks from becoming so large they distort normal competitive forces. It couldn't be learned what precise limits the White House will endorse, or whether Mr. Obama will spell out the exact limits on Thursday.

Mr. Obama is also expected to endorse, for the first time publicly, measures pushed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, which would place restrictions on the proprietary trading done by commercial banks, essentially limiting the way banks bet with their own capital. Administration officials say they want to place "firewalls" between different divisions of financial companies to ensure banks don't indirectly subsidize "speculative" trading through other subsidiaries that hold federally insured deposits.
. . .

The rules could also keep banks out of the business of running hedge funds, investing in real estate or private equity, all businesses that have become important, profitable parts of these banks. The collapse of two highly leveraged hedge funds began the process that led to the collapse of Bear Stearns.
Holy crap. That is BY FAR the best banking policy endorsed by the administration since it took office. Still waiting for more details, but if these pictures of Paul Volcker and Larry Summers are any indication, then we may be on the right track.

SCOTUS Docket Watch - Citizens United v FEC Ruling Pt. 1

Newsflash ladies and gentlemen! In a 5-4 Decision this morning, the Supreme Court has overturned a 63 year old law and several lower court decisions that prohibited labor unions and private companies from using their own funds to air their own campaign ads. The Full text of the decision is available at

It leaves in place a prohibition on direct contributions to candidates from corporations and unions.

Critics of the stricter limits have argued that they amount to an unconstitutional restraint of free speech, and the court majority agreed.

"The censorship we now confront is vast in its reach," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his majority opinion, joined by his four more conservative colleagues.

Strongly disagreeing, Justice John Paul Stevens said in his dissent, "The court's ruling threatens to undermine the integrity of elected institutions around the nation."

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor joined Stevens' dissent, parts of which he read aloud in the courtroom.

The justices also struck down part of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that barred union- and corporate-paid issue ads in the closing days of election campaigns.

Advocates of strong campaign finance regulations have predicted that a court ruling against the limits would lead to a flood of corporate and union money in federal campaigns as early as this year's midterm congressional elections.

For those who have not followed the case, the controversy started when the Conservative Political group Citizens United created an anti-Hillary Clinton campaign video during her run for Presidency. Their goal was to air the ads thru "On-Demand" distribution services. The FEC and federal Courts took issue, saying the film looked more like a campaign ad, and enforced campaign advertising regulations on the film.

The issue developed as lower tried to draw distinctions between what is permissible for individuals, unions and corporations.

As for the immediate impact, expect a RIDICULOUS AMOUNT of spending by privately funded groups, including corporations and union groups in the upcoming midterm. The mechanics of the change simplify just how corporate money can be funneled to candidates:

This basically eliminates a middleman: before today, corporations and unions had to set up PACs (political action committees), filed separately with the IRS, that would receive donations. And they did. Corporations and unions spend millions of dollars on elections. Now, however, the accounting firewall is gone, and Wal-Mart or the Service Employees International Union, for instance, can spend their corporate money directly on candidates.

What do you think? How will the change impact the progressive movement, labor unions and the midterms? I will have more posts on the topic when I get a chance examine the full decision in greater detail.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Coakley: The Aftermath

The bottom line for now is that we get the chance to see Democrats fail miserably with 59 seats, instead of seeing them failing miserably with 60 like they've been doing for the last few months. The only difference we'll see here may be from some changes in individual failure strategies, interesting permutations of the failure equations which have governed their rule in Washington since they ousted the Republicans way back when. I'm excited to hear if the Democratic leadership is going to revert back to blaming legislative defeats on being one seat short again- "Oh, if we just had 60, then we'd be able to do at least one or two of the things we promised! Damn that 41st vote!"

Obama is already talking about making more compromises, which is great because if he makes one or two more he gets to officially change the letter next to his name from a D to an R. Presumably the White House and Senate leadership are already scrambling to find more ways to compromise the health-care reform bill, like instituting annual ceremonies in which human sacrifices are pushed into a live volcano to sate the hunger of the mighty Insurance Executive Gods, or making it legal to shoot people with preexisting conditions out of a cannon for the purposes of entertainment. Luckily the chances of us escaping with worthwhile reform were already approaching zero even before Brown won, so we don't have to get too hung up on that.

Extremely shallow Dem turnout was a key factor in Brown's victory, which seems to have validated the Obama Plan of shitting on his base every time the chance is offered. Apparently you have to throw your supporters a bone or two every now and then if you want them to vote for you again?! We'll see if the leadership realizes that their attempt to solely please Republicans is pleasing exactly no one, or if they take this as a sign that they should tack to the right, hard. Anyone want to wager on which one seems more likely?

Is Our Presidents Learning?

Doesn't look promising:
President Obama plans to re-emphasize his interest in bipartisanship by addressing House Republicans this week, but whether that will produce an election-year truce is very much in question.
Great idea! It'll be useful practice for when he'll actually need to work with Republicans when this type of stupidity hands them control of congress next November.

He wasn't talking about this, but I think Jon Stewart said it best the other night:
"It's not that the Democrats are playing checkers and the Republicans are playing chess. It's that the Republicans are playing chess and the Democrats are in the nurse's office because once again they glued their balls to their thighs."
Update: The learning continues... (via TPM)
We're starting to pick up hints that the White House is making another serious bid to pick up the vote of Sen. Olympia Snowe. Really? If they do it and get a reasonable bill, great. But it's exceedingly difficult for me to see that as a realistic possibility.
President Snowe!

Glad to see she's back in the picture, I'm sure she'll be open to supporting a good bill this time. At least it gives me an excuse to use this:

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Essence of Harold Ford

This just about sums up Harold Ford's political career:(via atrios)
The interview - granted under the condition that the questions be limited to his rationale for running, and not issues - comes at the end of a rocky first week of buzz surrounding his potential candidacy.
Later in the same interview...
"This race isn't about feet, it's about issues," he said of ribbing he has taken on the web and elsewhere of his regular pedicures.
I'm no fan of Gillibrand, but I think we can all hope that Harold Ford's reverse carpetbagging adventure ends in the most humiliating/career ruining defeat possible.

Although since his track record of being spectacularly wrong on everything hasn't deterred his monthly Meet the Press appearances, I doubt losing another senate race will either.

Israel: Great Bulwark of Freedom

Oh my god:
Israel Threatened To Hit West Bank Hard If Abbas Did Not Stop Goldstone Report
By M.J. Rosenberg - January 17, 2010

Remember that amazing moment when President Abbas asked the United Nations to defer consideration of the Goldstone Report that found that Israel committed war crimes in Gaza.

Now we know why Abbas did it.

"The request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the United Nations Human Rights Council last year to postpone the vote on the Goldstone report followed a particularly tense meeting with the head of the Shin Bet security service, Haaretz has learned. At the October meeting in Ramallah, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told Abbas that if he did not ask for a deferral of the vote on the critical report on last year's military operation, Israel would turn the West Bank into a 'second Gaza.'
The Goldstone Report concluded that Israeli forces (and Palestinian forces, to a different degree) certainly committed war crimes and possibly committed crimes against humanity during the recent Gaza Conflict. Israel protests the findings vehemently, and threatens to... commit war crimes and maybe throw in a few crimes against humanity against the West Bank if President Abbas doesn't stop the report.

This makes me really happy about how much money and weaponry we throw at Israel, nice to see it's being put to good use.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Remember That Guy Who Was Incompetent and Universally Hated? Yeah, Let's Get Him!

Fresh, bold thinking from the Heritage Foundation:
The U.S. government response should be bold and decisive. It must mobilize U.S. civilian and military capabilities for short-term rescue and relief and long-term recovery and reform. President Obama should tap high-level, bipartisan leadership. Clearly former President Clinton, who was already named as the U.N. envoy on Haiti, is a logical choice. President Obama should also reach out to a senior Republican figure, perhaps former President George W. Bush, to lead the bipartisan effort for the Republicans.
There are probably dumber ideas out there, but so far I haven't seen any that top this.

Yet More Google/China

A few more bits and pieces from this story. First, in the comments from the last one JJ asked-

Do you think that's more due to it being a PR disaster for google in the US or because of the escalating problems with the Chinese government making the situation unworkable from a business standpoint? Or both?

The business standpoint is interesting. Google has been fighting an uphill battle against Baidu, a Chinese site which is the preferred search engine for about 60% of Chinese netizens. I've seen a few numbers for Googles share, but they all seem to range from the low teens to about 20%. The other big thing is that one of the big Chinese telecom companies was set to be the distributor for the Google phone, which they were presumably hoping would compete well with the iphone. I'm not sure how much money they were making, but it seems like they decided that keeping their smallish market share isn't worth dealing with all this nonsense.

The story about them pulling out because they were being hacked is also a bit suspect. Pulling out of China won't make Chinese hackers leave them alone if they're out to steal Google code. They can still try to hack Google from across the Pacific, no big deal. It does make a bit more sense if Chinese Google employees were involved though.

6.54 linked to a story about how political motives probably played a part in the decision. Yahoo got in trouble for their role in getting a number of Chinese dissidents jailed, and there have been rumblings about prosecuting American companies who continue to assist Beijing. Making a big deal about how they can't abide by Chinese law anymore will probably put them in better footing with Washington, even if the real reason they're leaving is because they're tired of Chinese employees stealing valuable code while Chinese netizens largely continue to rely on Baidu.

They've also been playing up how much importance they place on freedom of information, but their ideals clearly didn't stop them from setting up shop in China in the first place. Google statements about how they went to China to offer better information to the Chinese are pretty silly, because they agreed to play by Chinese rules which specifically prevent them from passing any useful information to Chinese citizens.

The only positive aspect of this story for the Chinese is that this has the potential to drastically increase awareness of the extent to which Beijing is censoring information. When you go to forbidden pages in China it doesn't say "THE GOVERNMENT DOESN'T WANT YOU TO SEE THIS, GO AWAY!" The message it displays looks like a standard 404 site not found error, leaving people to wonder if the site is down or if there are connection problems. Having more people in China talking about the extent to which their government lies to them is definitely a good thing- a number of the comments on Chinese message boards slammed Baidu for being explicitly controlled by the government.

Edit: Now I've seen a few sources saying Google has about a third of the search engine market. These sources include the WSJ and James Fallows, so...

First Palinpost of 2010

Brand new year, brand new decade, brand new Palin videos! This just in: she's still dazzlingly stupid.

The most recent evidence can be found in the first clip of the Beck-Palin interview to hit the net, wherein Palin is asked to name her favorite founding father. I won't give away her answer, but lets just say it's a trick we've seen from her before:

You see, if she had told Couric which newspapers she reads, Couric might have then asked why. Does she like something about some particular paper? Palin could have been forced to give some praise to a media outlet! This flies in the face of the Republican politician handbook, so the only answers left are either:

1. 'none,' which might have given pause to even her staunchest supporters.
2. 'all of them,' which still sounds pretty bad (but luckily her allies will get right to work spinning the question itself as a dastardly attack from the Extreme Leftist Media).

Ok, 'all of them' it is! So now, over a year later, Beck has the audacity to ask her about the founding fathers. Half of his show is meaningless drivel about how they're all spinning in their graves because of our Marxist Kenyan Usurper President, so she might have guessed that something like that was coming. Apparently not though, given that she defaults to her go-to answer: "All of 'em."

Here we hit a speed bump though: Beck, addled as he is (or pretends to be), knows how unspeakably dumb that sounds. "Bullcrap." Damn, shot through the heart! Well, if that won't work then who can she use? How about Washington, does he count? First president, that probably makes him a founding father. Fine, now combine with some goofy platitudes about Washington and serve! A Palin answer is born.

I'm genuinely sad that her move to Fox News seems to have revealed that she doesn't plan on running in 2012. One-term Obama will have to be fun while he lasts, I guess.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Disaster in Haiti

The news just keeps getting worse:
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Haitians piled bodies along the devastated streets of their capital Wednesday after a powerful earthquake flattened the president's palace, the cathedral, hospitals, schools, the main prison and whole neighborhoods. Officials feared thousands – perhaps more than 100,000 – may have perished but there was no firm count.

Death was everywhere in Port-au-Prince. Bodies of tiny children were piled next to schools. Corpses of women lay on the street with stunned expressions frozen on their faces as flies began to gather. Bodies of men were covered with plastic tarps or cotton sheets.

President Rene Preval said he believes thousands were killed in Tuesday afternoon's magnitude-7.0 quake, and the scope of the destruction prompted other officials to give even higher estimates. Leading Sen. Youri Latortue told The Associated Press that 500,000 could be dead, although he acknowledged that nobody really knows.
You can donate to relief efforts through Doctors Without Borders, the Solidarity Center's earthquake relief fund, or Wycelf's Yele foundation.

More On Google Nuking China

First, a little bit of background. The Great Firewall has become even more repressive over the last year or two- measures that may have been put in place before the Olympics, but then continued long after the athletes and press corp left. Also, specific incidents have resulted in the censorship of various websites:

-Youtube was blocked last year after videos showing Chinese riot police beating Tibetan monks during the Spring 2008 Riots were posted. It remained blocked until the day I left and is still blocked, from what I've heard.

-Twitter and Facebook were blocked during the Uyghur anti-government riots last summer, out of a fear that angry Uyghurs were using the sites to communicate with each other and with Rebiya Kadeer. Kadeer has been smeared by the Chinese government as some sort of all-powerful terrorist mastermind, similar to their treatment of the Dalai Lama.

Ok, so Google has remained unblocked all this time. They arranged that by agreeing to censor results for searches related to topics like Tiananmen, human rights, Taiwan, Tibet, etc. Pathetic as that is, at least they aren't Yahoo, who managed to royally shit the bed two years ago:
"The journalist Shi Tao was sent to jail for 10 years for engaging in pro-democracy efforts deemed subversive after Yahoo turned over information about his online activities as requested by Chinese authorities."
Great job you terrible human beings! It's also worth noting that the recent government crackdown hasn't merely been limited to recalibrating the Great Firewall- Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese human rights activist who survived the Tiananmen crackdown and more recently was one of the initial signatories of Charter 08, has been officially deemed subversive and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Some people have been calling this a bluff, but I think this post on TechCrunch makes a good point-
Google is ready to burn bridges. This is not how negotiations are done in China, and Google has done well enough there to know that. You don’t get results by pressuring the government in a public, English-language blog post. If Google were indeed still working with the government this letter would not have been posted because it has likely slammed every door shut, as a long-time entrepreneur in China Marc van der Chijs and many others said on Twitter. This was a scorched earth move, aimed at buying Google some good will in the rest of the world; Chinese customers and staff were essentially just thrown under the bus.
I think 'thrown under the bus' is an odd phrase to use given that this Chinese attempt to steal Google code and private emails from Chinese citizens is the straw (albeit a fairly heavy straw) that broke the camels back. This has been a long time in the coming. But the rest of the point is right on: if Google wanted to negotiate, this is very obviously not the way to do it. It seems very unlikely that Beijing would do anything to allow the perception of a foreign company bossing around the government.

As an aside, it seems that Google hasn't stopped censoring its results yet- my search for Tiananmen info using didn't uncover anything interesting. Perhaps they need time to index previously censored results, or maybe something else is happening? It is a mystery.

Another interesting thing is the reaction from Chinese netizens- they seem to be widely supporting Google. Beneath the obnoxious authors commentary on this page there are a bunch of translated Chinese message board comments on the subject. For example:
Shut it down.
The government already does whatever it wants.
Entering email boxes, deleting the account owners’ emails…
is tantamount to entering someone else’s company and kicking out the old customers.
Google can no longer do business, so of course they will want to leave.
I ding [support] you Google.
Your name will go down in history
I would still argue that Beijing is showing weakness with these actions- jailing dissidents and blocking sites and infuriating major companies to the point where they publicly tell you off and leave the country does have consequences in terms of riling up Chinese citizens. They aren't doing this simply because they can, but because they believe that Liu Xiaobo and videos of militarized police beating unarmed civilians and access to information about what really happened in '89 pose a threat to the survival of their one-party stranglehold on power.

So, the next move belongs to China.

Google Nukes China

In response to a large-scale attempt to acquire Google-protected information belonging to human rights activists working within China, Google initiated an investigation that uncovered a massive, below-board surveillance effort almost certainly instigated by the Chinese Government. In a a statement issued at 3:00 today, Google's Chief Legal Officer has indicated their intent to exercise the nuclear option in retaliation:

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

This might be the first time that a corporation declared war on a country. Whoever wins, things are about to change.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brian Williams Courageously Calls Out President McGwire

Last night on NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams was outraged:
Good evening. Because this is a family broadcast, we probably can't say what we'd like to about the news today that Mark McGwire—the home run hitter, the family favorite from the St. Louis Cardinals—stopped lying today and admitted that he did it while on steroids. For those of us who were raising young baseball fans and baseball players who looked up to Mark McGwire, that summer of ‘98 was magical stuff, as he and Sammy Sosa vied back and forth for the title of Single Season Home Run King. He didn't tell the truth to Congress or to his fans until finally, formally coming clean today. He's been unable to get into the Hall of Fame and, apparently—even for him—the shame here was too much.
See what he did there? He called someone who knowingly concealed/distorted the truth a liar.

It would have been nice if he'd showed similar outrage during the Bush Administration, the run up to the Iraq war, the health care debate, either presidential election... really anything meaningful that's happened over the last 10 years.

I'm glad to see that NBC News is comfortable holding Mark McGuire to a higher standard than any elected official they've ever covered. But I guess their lies are different, because as their slogan says: IT'S JUST POLITICS BRAH!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yep, I Still Oppose Creating A New Tax For Working Families

Since I doubt my anger over the administration's endorsement of the excise tax will subside after his meeting with union leaders today, here's an example of the fliers that I was handing out to union members throughout Virginia (and others were handing out to union members across the country):
McCAIN’S HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL Will Increase Costs and Reduce Benefits
John McCain’s health care proposal is similar to President Bush’s failed plan. Like Bush’s, McCain’s plan undermines existing employer-based health care and pushes workers into the private market to fight big insurance companies on their own. It will reduce benefits, increase costs and leave many with no health care at all.

A New Tax on Working Families. McCain wants to shift the burden from employers to workers. He will make health care premiums part of taxable income, essentially creating a new tax for working families.

Increases Costs to Workers. The modest tax credit McCain wants to give people to cover his new tax would cover less than half the average health premium, leaving workers to pick up the difference. Also, by promoting high-deductible Health Savings Account (HSA) plans, which provide fewer benefits at higher costs, he will make the high costs of individual insurance even worse.

Leaves Workers at the Mercy of Big Insurance Companies.McCain’s efforts to “eliminate the bias” toward employer-based health care will encourage employers to stop offering health care, pushing workers into an unregulated private insurance market to fend for themselves. Big insurance companies will be free to weed out people with health care needs, charge excessive premiums and limit benefits.

Makes Health Care Harder to Get. Pushing workers into the private health care market and promoting HSAs will encourage insurance companies to attract only the healthiest people, driving costs up overall. Insurance companies can decide to refuse to cover people with preexisting conditions, such as cancer survivors. Retirees will have a particularly hard time getting health care.

Lowers the Quality of Available Health Care Plans. Many states have laws regulating health care quality by requiring basic services to be included in health care coverage. McCain’s proposal would circumvent these laws, resulting in lower quality coverage without consumer protections.
Things like that flyer (PDF here) are the reason Labor will face such a huge credibility gap with their members if the excise tax remains in the bill.

As ATT Repairman Ron Gay said in this weekend's NY Times story:
“If this passes in its current form, a lot of working people are going to feel let down and betrayed by our legislators and president.”
Obama meets with labor leaders today at 4:30... so we'll know a lot more about the fate of the tax by tomorrow.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Reasons I care about Losing Byron Dorgan

Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
Vote Counts:
YEAs 90
NAYs 8
Present 1
Not Voting 1

NAYs ---8
Boxer (D-CA)
Bryan (D-NV)
Dorgan (D-ND)
Feingold (D-WI)
Harkin (D-IA)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Shelby (R-AL)
Wellstone (D-MN)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Fire Tim Geithner, Part 643

If you've been reading this site with any regularity, it's not news that I'm not a fan of Tim Geithner. He's been too friendly to the big banks at every turn, on a Treasury department wide crusade to make sure voters know the Democratic president isn't on their side when going up when dealing with those who destroyed our economy.

His most recent scandal involves his role as chair of the New York Fed during AIG's bailout. David Sirota recaps:
For some history, the New York Fed, headed by Tim Geithner, bailed out AIG and then had the company famously pay back its creditors at 100 cents on the dollar. These creditors were huge banks that were taking big risky bets on mortgage-backed securities, and then buying "insurance" from AIG (more on this concept of "insurance" in a second) on potential losses on those bets. When the mortgage-backed securities lost their value in the housing bubble collapse and they called in their insurance, AIG was about to go under, until the New York Fed swept in.
If AIG had gone into bankruptcy like a normal corporation would have, there's little chance its creditors would have been paid back at 100 cents on the dollar. A bankruptcy judge or AIG shareholders/executives would have negotiated a much lower reimbursement rate. But because it was taxpayer money on the line, and because politically influential banks like Goldman Sachs can influence the government officials who made those reimbursement decisions*, AIG paid them in full with our taxpayer dollars. Put another way, the decision to pay back AIG's creditors in full with taxpayer cash was a massive giveaway/sweetheart deal to the big banks.

Well, you say, even if normal bankruptcy proceedings might not have paid back creditors at 100 cents on the dollar, ethically, shouldn't those creditors have gotten 100 cents on the dollar for an insurance policy? Well, maybe - if the insurance policy is real insurance. But what Goldman et. al bought from AIG wasn't insurance - it wasn't regulated like a regular insurance policy because it wasn't a regular insurance policy. It was simply another risky investment called a credit default swap that both the banks and AIG deceptively called "insurance" (The banks did this to allow them to show less risk on their books and thus be able to take more risk and AIG did this to sell more credit default swaps). In fact, even calling Goldman and the other banks "creditors" of AIG isn't right - they were investors in AIG's risky schemes.

So, I'm sorry, no - when you take risks and then "cover" your risks by taking other risks, you aren't entitled - legally or ethically - to getting back 100 cents on the dollar on either set of risks. That's why they're called risks. Having the government pay out 100 cents on the dollar on those absurd risks is a taxpayer ripoff.
And to be clear, these are the facts we knew before the most recent scandal. So just to show how absurd this whole thing is, apparently everything you just read wasn't enough reason for Geithner to lose his job before. Actually after knowing about the information above, Obama promoted him to Treasury Secretary.

Regardless, here is the latest bombshell:
Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then led by Timothy Geithner, told American International Group Inc. to withhold details from the public about the bailed-out insurer’s payments to banks during the depths of the financial crisis, e-mails between the company and its regulator show.

AIG said in a draft of a regulatory filing that the insurer paid banks, which included Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Societe Generale SA, 100 cents on the dollar for credit-default swaps they bought from the firm. The New York Fed crossed out the reference, according to the e-mails, and AIG excluded the language when the filing was made public on Dec. 24, 2008. The e-mails were obtained by Representative Darrell Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The New York Fed took over negotiations between AIG and the banks in November 2008 as losses on the swaps, which were contracts tied to subprime home loans, threatened to swamp the insurer weeks after its taxpayer-funded rescue. The regulator decided that Goldman Sachs and more than a dozen banks would be fully repaid for $62.1 billion of the swaps, prompting lawmakers to call the AIG rescue a “backdoor bailout” of financial firms.

“It appears that the New York Fed deliberately pressured AIG to restrict and delay the disclosure of important information,” said Issa, a California Republican. Taxpayers “deserve full and complete disclosure under our nation’s securities laws, not the withholding of politically inconvenient information.”
He's a walking train wreck. I'd say this last scandal should be the nail in his coffin, but since none of the other idiotic/corrupt things he's done seem to matter, I'm not sure why this would be any different.

And one more note: Look at that last quote, made by a Republican member of congress. No matter how corrupt and in bed with the banks they have been throughout their careers, the Republicans are not stupid.

Unlike the Democrats, they seem just fine with using populist lines of attack to nail their political opponents to the cross for their ties to extremely unpopular banking industry.

It would be hypocritical, maddening and done 100% in bad faith.

And you know what else? It will win them elections in 2010, 2012 and beyond.

The outlook is not pretty, but pick people like Tim Geithner to be your Treasury Secretary, and this is the bed you make.

I want to throw up.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Obama's Excise Tax Betrayal

The excise tax is billed as a tax on the health care plans of high income individuals, when in reality it will be a sizable tax increase for a large number of middle class Americans. The worst part, as Bob Herbert explains, that the real design isn't to raise money off the tax, but to cut health care coverage:
The tax would kick in on plans exceeding $23,000 annually for family coverage and $8,500 for individuals, starting in 2013. In the first year it would affect relatively few people in the middle class. But because of the steadily rising costs of health care in the U.S., more and more plans would reach the taxation threshold each year.

Within three years of its implementation, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the tax would apply to nearly 20 percent of all workers with employer-provided health coverage in the country, affecting some 31 million people. Within six years, according to Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation, the tax would reach a fifth of all households earning between $50,000 and $75,000 annually. Those families can hardly be considered very wealthy.

Proponents say the tax will raise nearly $150 billion over 10 years, but there's a catch. It's not expected to raise this money directly. The dirty little secret behind this onerous tax is that no one expects very many people to pay it. The idea is that rather than fork over 40 percent in taxes on the amount by which policies exceed the threshold, employers (and individuals who purchase health insurance on their own) will have little choice but to ratchet down the quality of their health plans.
One fifth of middle class households, those who have employer based health care. Who are these people?

By and large those with employer based health care are union members, the same people responsible for electing Barack Obama president.

They supported Barack Obama because of speeches like this:

Union members all over the country (such as myself) mobilized using that line of attack to convince their members who were unsure about voting for Barack Obama that it was the right thing to do. No one put their ass on the line more than Richard Trumka, whose speech about Obama and Race might have made a bigger impact at swaying the demographic of white middle class voters than any other during the campaign.

In return for all that hard work electing him president, President Obama decides to make everyone who campaigned for him on that line of attack to be a liar:
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama signaled to House Democratic leaders Wednesday that they'll have to drop their opposition to taxing high-end health insurance plans to pay for health coverage for millions of uninsured Americans.

In a meeting at the White House, Obama expressed his preference for the insurance tax contained in the Senate's health overhaul bill, but largely opposed by House Democrats and organized labor, Democratic aides said. The aides spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.
We voted and worked our asses off for Barack Obama's policies, and instead we got Joe Lieberman's health care plan, payed for with John McCain's tax on the middle class.

This fight isn't over yet, and organized labor still has its biggest card to play. Opposing this bill would be a real act of courage, and I hope that the new AFLCIO President Richard Trumka has what it takes to do what's right. Unless labor stands up to this type of betrayal, there's no reason President Obama or any other politician won't repeat this cycle again and again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Reasons I Don't Care About Losing Chris Dodd

1. He was in bed with the banking industry during his time as chair of the Senate Banking Committee. He may have recently found religion when people started pointing this out publicly, but there's something to be said for suffering the consequences of your actions.

2. He probably would have lost and his retirement has gives the Democrats a much better chance of holding the seat.

3. He literally moved to Iowa when he ran for president. Even for typical presidential candidate pandering, that's pretty fucking lame.

4. This:
Joe Lieberman has once again rolled a political hand grenade into the Democrats’ tent.

The Connecticut independent obliterated any illusion that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) can quickly ram through health care reform with a public option, telling reporters on Tuesday that he would join Republicans in a filibuster to prevent a vote on Reid’s plan if it isn’t changed first.
. . .
But Lieberman's fellow Connecticut senator, Democrat Chris Dodd, who faces a tough reelection fight in 2010, dismissed the idea that Lieberman would incur any retribution.

"No, no, no. People are going to be all over the place," he said when asked if Lieberman should be punished. "The idea that people are going to be reprimanded because somehow they have a different point of view than someone else is ridiculous. That isn't going to happen."
5. And This...
In a floor speech Wednesday night, Dodd said there is "nothing wrong" with partisanship, but added he has "been deeply disturbed by some of the [healthcare] debate I have heard, usually from newer members, usually those who have been here one, two, three years, who do not have an appreciation of what this chamber means and how we work together."

Dodd did not name names, and spokesmen for the Connecticut senator did not respond to requests for comment.

Most of the newest members of the Senate are Democrats, having been swept into office in the blue waves of the 2006 and 2008 elections. One of the newest members of the upper chamber is Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who recently did not allow Dodd's Connecticut colleague, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I), to extend his floor remarks on healthcare reform. Franken's office has noted that as the presiding officer, the Minnesota senator was under strict orders to keep the healthcare debate moving, which was confirmed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) office.
It's not all bad and Dodd has definitely been good on some issues, but I'm also not gonna shed too many tears over his retirement either.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Change Comes to the Labor Department

Having a Secretary of Labor that actually believes in labor laws is already having an impact:
Soon after she became the nation's labor secretary, Hilda Solis warned corporate America there was "a new sheriff in town." Less than a year into her tenure, that figurative badge of authority is unmistakable.

Her aggressive moves to boost enforcement and crack down on businesses that violate workplace safety rules have sent employers scrambling to make sure they are following the rules.

The changes are a departure from the policies of Solis' predecessor, Elaine Chao. They follow through on President Barack Obama's campaign promise to boost funding for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, increase enforcement and safeguard workers in dangerous industries.

Solis made a splash in October when OSHA slapped the largest fine in its history on oil giant BP PLC for failing to fix safety problems after a 2005 explosion at its Texas City refinery.

Garnering less attention, she just finished hiring 250 new investigators to protect workers from being cheated out of wage and overtime pay. She also started a new program that scrutinizes business records to make sure worker injury and illness reports are accurate. And she is proposing new standards to protect workers from industrial dust explosions -- an effort the Bush administration had long resisted.
As you'd expect, people that have been exploiting the lack of a functioning labor department are less enthusiastic:
Some business groups say they prefer a more cooperative approach between government and businesses -- what the Bush administration called "compliance assistance."

"Our members are concerned that the department is shifting its focus from compliance assistance back to more of the 'gotcha' or aggressive enforcement first approach," said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business' small business legal center.

Other business leaders point out that the rate of workplace deaths and injuries actually fell to record lows in the previous administration, while the agency also helped employees collect a record amount of back pay for overtime and minimum wage violations. Chao has claimed that success was the result of cooperating with businesses to help them understand the myriad regulations.

Keith Smith, a spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, said his members "want to build upon that progress and recognize what's working."
Ahh, the good old days! Things were working so well:
The business lobbyists' reaction to Solis' tenure is unsurprising, given the fact that her predecessor's Labor Department spent eight years "walking away from its regulatory function across a range of issues, including wage and hour law and workplace safety." The Government Accountability Office found that under Chao, the agency "did an inadequate job of investigating complaints by low-wage workers who alleged that their employers were stiffing them for overtime, or failing to pay the minimum wage." In one survey, 68 percent of low-income workers reported a pay violation in the previous week alone.
Following how terribly they've handled major legislation, it's easy to forget the very real positives that come from having a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President. Making vital government institutions functional again is no small feat. And while that sounds like a low bar, it's important to remember what monsters governed us for the last 8 years. Undoing their damage isn't easy, and it's as important as any of the other things Obama has on his plate.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Lost Decade

What a crappy 10 years:
The U.S. economy has expanded at a healthy clip for most of the last 70 years, but by a wide range of measures, it stagnated in the first decade of the new millennium. Job growth was essentially zero, as modest job creation from 2003 to 2007 wasn't enough to make up for two recessions in the decade. Rises in the nation's economic output, as measured by gross domestic product, was weak. And household net worth, when adjusted for inflation, fell as stock prices stagnated, home prices declined in the second half of the decade and consumer debt skyrocketed.