Monday, February 28, 2011

Wisconsin Police Refuse to Kick Out The Protesters

Really moving stuff.

And even more importantly, last night a Republican Senator (the first) flipped, saying he will vote no. Momentum is on our side.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Well, He'd Basically Have It Coming

Pure Class:
From Georgia, the Athens Banner-Herald reports that at a townhall meeting Tuesday night Republican Rep. Paul Broun was asked by a person in the audience when — or who, depending on the person doing the reporting — someone is going to shoot President Obama.

Two things about what happened next stand out:
— The question "got a big laugh," the newspaper reports.
— Broun, his press secretary confirmed, moved on. "Obviously, the question was inappropriate, so Congressman Broun moved on," spokeswoman Jessica Morris told the Banner-Herald.
He moved on after condemning the question right?

Nope. His response:
The thing is, I know there's a lot of frustration with this president. We're going to have an election next year. Hopefully, we'll elect somebody that's going to be a conservative, limited-government president that will take a smaller, who will sign a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.
Real profiles in courage stuff, Rep Broun.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Know Your Role

Really great stuff from Glenn Greenwald:
Over the weekend, The Los AngelesTimes James Rainey mocked CNN's Anderson Cooper for repeatedly using the word "lie" to describe the factually false statements of Egyptian leaders.  Though Rainey ultimately concluded that "it's hard to find fault with what Cooper had to say" -- meaning that everything Cooper identified as a "lie" was, in fact, a "lie" -- the bulk of Rainey's column derided the CNN anchor for his statements ("Cooper's accusations of 'lies' and 'lying' got so thick on Wednesday's show that the host seemed to be channeling comic (and now U.S. Sen.) Al Franken’s 2003 book, 'Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them'").  Rainey also suggested that the harsh denunciations of Mubarak's false statements were merely part of "Cooper's pronounced shift toward more opinion-making in recent months . . . trying to adopt the more commentary-heavy approach of [CNN's] higher-rated competitors, Fox and MSNBC."  To Rainey, when a journalist calls a government lie a "lie," that's veering into "commentary-heavy opinion-making" rather than objective journalism (h/t Mediaite).

Yesterday, Cooper's CNN colleague, media critic Howard Kurtz, sounded the same criticism but went even further.  On his Reliable Sources program, Kurtz showed a video clip of Cooper and then posed the following question to guest Christopher Dickey of Newsweek:
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: What we heard were the same lies we've heard from [Mubarak] and his regime for more than two weeks now. What we heard is a man who clearly believes that he is Egypt. He kept repeating this lie that this is all some sort of foreign interference.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KURTZ: Chris Dickey, Anderson Cooper repeatedly using the word lies. Now I think most journalists would agree with him, perhaps most Americans would agree with him. But should an anchor and correspondent be taking sides on this kind of story?
To Kurtz, when a journalist accurately points out that a powerful political leader is lying, that's "taking sides," a departure from journalistic objectivity, something improper.  In reply, Dickey agreed with that assessment, noting that "part of the soul of [Cooper's] show is to take sides" and be "committed to a certain vision of the story."  Like Rainey, Dickey was forced to acknowledge that all of the statements Cooper identified as "lies" were actually lies, and thus magnanimously decreed:  "I think Anderson can be forgiven for using that word in that context."  Kurtz then patronizingly noted:  "And of course, Anderson Cooper was repeatedly punched in the head when he was covering the demonstrations" -- as though his departure from good journalistic objectivity can at least be understood here (though of course not justified) because of the emotional trauma he suffered.

Rainey, Kurtz and Dickey all have this exactly backwards.  Identifying lies told by powerful political leaders -- and describing them as such -- is what good journalists do, by definition.  It's the crux of adversarial journalism, of a "watchdog" press.  "Objectivity" does not require refraining from pointing out the falsity of government claims.  The opposite is true; objectivity requires that a journalist do exactly that:  treat factually false statements as false.  "Objectivity" is breached not when a journalist calls a lie a "lie," but when they refuse to do so, when they treat lies told by powerful political officials as though they're viable, reasonable interpretations of subjective questions.  The very idea that a journalist is engaged in "opinion-making" or is "taking sides" by calling a lie a "lie" is ludicrous; the only "side" such a journalist is taking is with facts, with the truth.   It's when a journalist fails to identify a false statement as such that they are "taking sides" -- they're siding with those in power by deceitfully depicting their demonstrably false statements as something other than lies.

This warped reasoning is one of the prime diseases plaguing establishment political journalism in the U.S.  Most establishment journalists are perfectly willing to use the word "lie" for powerless, demonized or marginalized people, but they genuinely believe that it is an improper breach of journalistic objectivity to point out when powerful political officials are lying.  They adamantly believe that such an activity -- which is a core purpose of political journalism -- is outside the purview of their function.  The one who put this best was NBC News' David Gregory when he vigorously defended the American media from criticisms (voiced at the time by former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan) that they failed to do their job in the run-up to the Iraq War:
I think there are a lot of critics who think that . . . . if we did not stand up and say this is bogus, and you're a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn't do our job. I respectfully disagree. It's not our role.
That these establishment journalists believe that pointing out the lies of powerful political leaders is "not their role" -- indeed, is a violation of the rules that govern what they do -- explains a large part of the failings of both America's media class and its political class.  Ironically, David Gregory is ultimately right that doing this is "not his role"; he's not paid by NBC News and its owners to alert the American citizenry to lies told by the U.S. Government (i.e., he's not paid to be an adversarial journalist).  He's there to do the opposite:  to vest those lies with respect and depict them as reasonable statements to be subjectively considered along with the truth.  But it's in these moments when they are so candid about what their actual role is -- or when they attack people like Cooper for the rare commission of actual journalism -- that they are at their most (unintentionally) informative.
It should be clear that the right knows this, and uses it to their advantage at every opportunity. The fact that there is absolutely no consequence for constant, calculated lying in our political discourse is one of the biggest problems our democracy faces.

Politifact (a service which plenty of networks have chosen to use rather than doing their jobs) named "A Government Takeover of Healthcare" their Lie of the Year, yet every Republican interviewed on TV to this day repeats that bullshit, knowing that no one will call them out. If these spineless cowards feel awkward because one of their own was calling out HOSNI FUCKING MUBARAK, you can bet the house they'll let someone like Paul Ryan say whatever the fuck he wants.

Until the press learns how to do their jobs, the lies will never stop, and our political discourse will continue to be completely dysfunctional.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Bush Administration In One Memo

It's not exactly clear why... but Donald Rumsfeld wikileaked himself, putting a massive liberary of his documents online.

Pretty sure this email kind of sums everything up:

Stunning that nothing went according to plan during the Rumsfeld years, huh?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fighting Back Pays Off

When you fight back hard, you get results:
Indiana Democrats kill right-to-work bill

INDIANAPOLIS — Democrats killed a controversial right-to-work bill by refusing to show up at the Statehouse on Tuesday, denying majority Republicans the quorum needed to move the legislation forward and delighting union workers who gathered for a second day to protest it.
Matt Stoller made this point on twitter, but when was the last time you read a positive headline like that about the Democratic party?

The Republicans have been playing this game at 110% for years. It's about time our side got up to speed.

The Path to Same-Sex Marriage - A Maryland Prologue

Today, the Maryland Senate preliminarily approved the Civil Marriage Protection Act (originally introduced as the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act) by a vote of 25-22. The final vote is scheduled for Thursday.

The language is actually quite brief and simple:

The relevant language is near the bottom in § 2-201 (a) & (B), which changes the Maryland code to now recognize marriage as between TWO INDIVIDUALS instead of just between a man and a woman. Much of the debate today focused on religious organizations, who lobbied for amendments that would grant them exceptions from having to recognize or limit their services. As of today, the Senate
. . .rejected 30 to 17 an amendment that would have allowed religious-affiliated adoption agencies, such as Catholic Charities, to refuse services to same-sex couples. Opponents argued that it was discriminatory and conflicted with current adoption regulations, which do not allow organizations to discriminate based on sexual orientation or other factors.
So what does all this mean? Well, if this passes (and Governor Martin O'Malley has hinted that he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk), the new law would be the culmination of countless battles, both in the social and legal sense. To better understand how legal underpinnings of this change, it is important to look back on the evolution of case law on the subject, to see how Courts and legislatures manuevered into this direction by steadily recognizing an ever expanding core of privacy rights.

As part of a 6 part series, I will explore these issues and consider the importance of the Court's initial definitions of marriage, and how it has evolved to the more fluid, and heavily debated definitions argued by various sides today. As a disclaimer, I will only present the legal history and theory behind the current body of law. Tomorrow, we will start with the initial Contract theories used to define a marriage, and how that impacted the courts' decisions of how exactly to define the marriage relationship.

Stay tuned.

Living in the DC Bubble

Josh Marshall repeats some important points about the deficit fetishism that Obama embraced in his budget proposal:
Here's the key thing to keep in mind in this current round of budget politicking. President Obama has proposed some pretty substantial cuts to government spending. Sen. Sessions and other Republicans are saying it's not nearly enough. And ABC reports not only Republicans but some Democrats are saying it too.

But while Washington and much of the national political press (Norah O'Donnell, I'm lookin' at you) gets into a frenzy let's not forget that all the available public opinion data suggests the public either opposes this or considers it a low priority relative to job creation and other priorities. There's really not more to say than that. Douglas Holtz-Eakin just said on TV that the public spoke on this in the last election. Washington is acting as though it's chasing public opinion, public demands. But it's not. It's just not. That doesn't mean it's bad policy or good policy. But the public isn't on board with it. And there's virtually no demand for cuts to Social Security.
These people truly live in their own world. No one outside of David Brooks' house cares about this shit. It doesn't show up in polls, anywhere. All the smart economists say that the deficit problems are caused by the recession and rising health care costs, and that more spending is actually needed to turn around the economy.

There are actually people in the Obama Administration that think cutting heating assistance for poor people was a good political move.

I honestly have no clue how we combat that type of madness.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Art of Stupid

Reasons for not posting something about Sarah Palin:

1. You really could write a post literally every time she opens her mouth.

2. The amount of mainstream media attention she gets enrages me, and even gawking at her sideshow still feels like it's part of the problem sometimes.

3. Other people do it better, and more frequently.

Reasons for posting about Sarah Palin:

1. She is a moron, and speaks constantly.

2. She's one of the most popular figures among the nutjobs that makeup today's Republican party.

3. Her comments often go beyond typical brainless conservative talking points, and into a new frontier of beautifully nonsensical right wing buzzword formulated word vomit. When that happens, I dare you to find better comedy.

With these pros and cons weighed, these are her actual, unedited comments on Egypt: (via 6.54's twitter)
Nobody yet has explained to the American people what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know, who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak and I’m not real enthused about what it is that, that’s being done on a national level and from D.C. in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt.

And in these areas that are so volatile right now because obviously it’s not just Egypt but the other countries too where we are seeing uprisings, we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House.
(Deep Breath)

Read it again for the full effect.

Some years from now when it's revealed that Sarah Palin was the greatest piece of performance art ever constructed, we need to look back at these remarks as the artist's finest hour.

Friday, February 18, 2011

OFA and Obama Wake Up in Wisconsin

From someone who has been pretty critical of the president, especially as his policies have related to working people and organized labor, major kudos for this:
MADISON, WIS. - President Obama thrust himself and his political operation this week into Wisconsin's broiling budget battle, mobilizing opposition Thursday to a Republican bill that would curb public-worker benefits while planning similar action in other state capitals.

Obama accused Scott Walker, the state's new Republican governor, of unleashing an "assault" on unions in pushing emergency legislation that would nullify collective-bargaining agreements that affect most public employees, including teachers.

The president's political machine worked in close coordination Thursday with state and national union officials to mobilize thousands of protesters to gather in Madison and to plan similar demonstrations in other state capitals.
Not just words, but resources as well:
WASHINGTON -- Building on the momentum in Wisconsin, where tens of thousands of protesters have turned out to oppose Republican Gov. Scott Walker's effort to strip collective-bargaining rights from the state's public-employee unions, President Barack Obama's campaign organization is mobilizing its followers in Ohio and Indiana, where similar measures are being considered.

Thousands descended upon the Ohio statehouse Thursday to protest a bill that would eliminate collective-bargaining rights for state employees and curtail the rights of local-level government employees. The debate is similar to that in Wisconsin: Supporters say it's necessary to deal with budget problems, while opponents say it's nothing but a vicious assault on unions.

Now folded into the Democratic National Committee, Obama's campaign group Organizing For America is already actively engaged in Wisconsin and is beginning to ramp up organizing efforts in Ohio, though observers say the latter process is about a week behind that in Wisconsin. The group is also beginning to dig into Indiana, whose legislature is considering a bill to limit collective bargaining by teachers.

A DNC staffer told The Huffington Post that the group upped its efforts in Wisconsin after Chairman Tim Kaine spoke with local legislators last week. OFA then began organizing turnout for Thursday's statehouse rally and running phone banks in Ohio targeting state senators, which are slated to continue next week. This weekend, organizers have set up door-to-door canvassing in key districts that they hope will likewise put pressure on swing lawmakers.
This makes perfect sense. There is a huge crossover between the protestors, people siding with the protestors, and OFA members. Getting these groups together and getting all of them envolved in this fight is smart for the short term, and very important for the 2012 elections.

Here's my question: What the fuck took so long?

Evidently someone who had been asleep on their job during the first two years of Obama's administration woke up on Thursday and did some simple math:
Unions = Democratic Party Education and Mobilization

Wisconsin Governor's Plan = No Unions.

No Unions = No Democratic Party in Wisconsin
The same equation remains true with the whole Democratic party and their electoral fortunes. So why did Obama and his staff govern his first two years in office with what seemed like contempt for organized labor and their goals?

Who the fuck knows.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Game Just Got More Fierce

This is getting intense:
A Democratic source in Wisconsin has confirmed to TPMDC that, in the heated budget battle going on in that state, the minority state Senate Democratic caucus walked out within the last few hours -- which would deprive the legislature of the three-fifths majority needed for a quorum on budgetary matters. And if this goes on, the GOP leaders could call in the State Patrol.

The source has confirmed that the chamber is conducting a quorum call, and no Democrats are present. There are 33 total members of the chamber, 19 Republicans to 14 Democrats, with 20 members required under the state Constitution to be present in order to pass the budget.
. . .
According to the Associated Press: "The proposal would effectively remove unions' right to negotiate in any meaningful way. Local law enforcement and fire employees, as well as state troopers and inspectors would be exempt."

In the past week, the state Capitol has been deluged with protests, and some schools have closed as a result of teachers calling in sick en masse.
Inspiring stuff to see.

Assholes Who Hate Trains

It continues:
Despite its capital costs being almost entirely covered by Washington and plenty of evidence that private investors want to move forward, project is off the tracks for now.

Just days after the White House revealed its ambitions for a $53 billion, six-year plan for an American high-speed rail network, the place where it was all supposed to begin now appears to be out of the running. Today, Florida Governor Rick Scott (R) announced that he would refuse $2.4 billion in federal funds to build a rail line between Orlando and Tampa. The project’s construction would have required $280 million in state aid to be completed, but projections had indicated that the line would cover its own operating costs.

The Obama Administration has funded the project more than any other outside of California and hoped that the scheme, which would have opened in 2016 as the first line in a nationwide network, would serve as a model for the rest of the country. Numerous private corporations — including international conglomerates such as Siemens, Alstom, and JR East — have indicated that they would be willing to pick up the state’s tab and cover construction and operations risks, in exchange for the right to operate the trains.

Yet Mr. Scott has moved to squash the project nonetheless, acting before those companies were supposed to respond to the state high speed rail authority’s request for proposals. This is a shortsighted move that will only benefit others: The federal funding will be redistributed to projects in states such as California and Illinois.
The big corporations in Florida, all huge GOP donors, are willing TO PAY THE COSTS themselves to keep this project going.

As we've seen in other states, Scott is turning this down based on some combination of wanting to stick it to the muslim usurper, pissing off liberals and generally being an asshole.

Great job Republicans, I'm sure ten years from now you'll be looking at the high speed rail in California and Illinois, congratulating yourselves on how you helped your state avoid that menace.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

CPAC: Unbelievably Gay Edition

In the run up to this year's crazy conservative conference CPAC there was a big debate among conservatives on whether gay people were human beings or not. This split was very real, and as a result quite a few big names (the Heritage foundation being the biggest) pulled out the conference, due to CPAC's refusal to ban a group of gay conservatives from participating in the conference. This is a victory for gay rights in the sense that walking across the street without getting killed is an achievement. I'm glad that it happened, but I'm not sure anyone should be given too much credit for accepting that gays are people in 2011.

For actual attempts at a recapping last weeks madness check here and here. Since the conference is pretty full of crazy in it's own right, I wanted to look at some of the people who refused to attend, and check out their rational and well thought out responses.

First let's start with someone boycotting the conference, popular conservative blogger (and bigot) Pam Geller:
Pamela Geller, the most vocal of the activists opposed to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" to be built two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center, said Friday that the Conservative Political Action Conference she was speaking at had itself been "corrupted" and "compromised by Muslim Brotherhood activists."

Speaking at a non-official CPAC event on Friday afternoon, Geller said that many members of the board of the American Conservative Union had to go because they were allowing the event to be infiltrated by Muslim Brotherhood activists.

"If you look at the agenda of CPAC, look at all of the panels and then look at your daily news headlines, they're either clueless or complicit," Geller said. "And I'm telling you that before you throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are 12,000 people that come to this event that don't know they've been completely sold out by CPAC leadership. We have to take CPAC back, you can't create this again."
Wow. Even by modern day conservative standards, that's fucking insane.

Erick Erickson doesn't need crazy conspiracies about the Muslim Brotherhood to prove he's a racist:
Grover Norquist is caught on tape praising Democrats’ sympathetic views toward muslims in America and attacking Lt. Colonel and Congressman Allen West for “attacking Muslims.” West, who served in Iraq and was a civilian adviser in Afghanistan, might just know what he is talking about.
Norquist was “caught on tape” arguing that bigotry towards anyone, including Muslims, should not be tolerated. This position, apparently, is unacceptable to Erickson, who then sides with a guy who said:
“We already have a 5th column that is already infiltrating into our colleges, into our universities, into our high schools, into our religious aspect, our cultural aspect, our financial, our political systems in this country. And that enemy represents something called Islam and Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion. It has not been a religion since 622 AD, and we need to have individuals that stand up and say that.”
It's a good thing that while Erickson is too racist for CPAC, CNN feels comfortable employing him. Heckuva job, guys.

So how did this year's CPAC end up on the tolerance front?

The Positives: They allowed gay people to attend, and it did not turn everyone at the conference gay, as had been initially feared. Some young conservatives also argued with a white supremacist and made him leave the convention. (Again, major kudos for joining for reaching the 1960s, conservative movement)

The Negatives? Well let's see how it went for African American CPAC attendee (and Republican Senate candidate in Texas) Michael Williams:
Last year, I interviewed Williams -- who at the time was among the lucky conservatives to have Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-SC) endorsement in the Senate race that was supposed to happen when Hutchison quit after her run for governor (she didn't, so Williams had to wait.) During our chat, he told me how conservatives need to do a better job reaching out to the African American community, where he acknowledged right wingers have little entre or experience.

When I ran into him yesterday, it appeared conservatives have not made much progress on that front. Ahead of me was a CPAC attendee rushing past, as they are wont to do in this giant place.

"Hey, are you Herman Cain?" the young man asked Williams, referring to another African American conservative running for federal office and attending CPAC.

I asked Williams if that happened a lot.

"Not really," he told me. "A lot of people think I'm a waiter."

Williams blamed the confusion on his trademark bowtie, which -- like a lot of conservatives -- he wears all the time, and wears well.

A friend with him said that on more than one occasion, people had asked him to get them a drink.

"I think it's really because of the bowtie," Williams explained.
Michael, I have some bad news. I'm pretty sure it's not the bowtie.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

There Is No Crisis

I wanted to post this partially in response to a great comment debate we were having a few weeks back. It cannot be said enough, that social security is not in a crisis. A massive write up by Mark Miller of Reuters:
Why do reporters parrot misinformation about Social Security? It’s probably done in the name of balance and a centrist approach. Trouble is, the center on this issue has been pulled so far right that the Beltway consensus portrays Social Security as a program in crisis and a main driver of the federal budget deficit.

But the consensus is wrong, and so is much of the reporting.

The latest example among many: National Public Radio’s story on Feb. 9 claiming that Social Security has hit a tipping point. Why “tipping?” Because the program has gone cash-flow negative. NPR quotes alarmed politicians who express dismay that Social Security is taking in less than it spends — but that’s no surprise at all.

Social Security’s actuaries have long projected that the program would shift to a cash-flow negative status as boomer retirements accelerated. It happened a few years earlier than projected due to job loss in the Great Recession, which reduced Social Security payroll tax collections and also prompted a higher-than-expected number of benefit applications from unemployed older workers.

Yet NPR lets Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) get away with this:
“It’s very significant that this year, Social Security has more money going out than coming in,” says Lamar Alexander, a member of the Senate GOP leadership team. “And it’s very significant that in the next 10 years, Social Security will add a half-trillion dollars to the deficit. Social Security would be a good place to start when dealing with these mandatory entitlement programs that are 57 percent of our budget.”
No challenge or analysis required on that one, it seems.

Question: how, exactly, does Social Security add a half-trillion to the deficit?

Answer: the program will be drawing down the Social Security Trust Fund (SSTF) to pay out expected benefits – over a period of years. The SSTF holds a $2.5 trillion surplus accumulated under the 1983 Social Security reforms, which boosted payroll taxes and the retirement age. But Social Security’s trustees don’t have that money sitting in a piggy bank somewhere. It is invested, sensibly, in one of the world’s safest investment vehicles — U.S. Treasury notes. So, the SSTF now starts redeeming some of those notes to pay out benefits.

Enemies of Social Security like to flip this upside down, describing it as irresponsible Federal government borrowing, for which we must now pay the piper. But there’s nothing more-or less-irresponsible about the existence of SSTF bonds than any other federal debt obligation.
The whole article is worth a read if you have the time.

Social Security cuts were kept out of the state of the union, but as Chris Bowers notes there's no question that plenty of people in the White House are getting aroused at the thought of fucking with the most popular government program in the history of the United States. He also points because of Social Security's popularity, that any deal would be negotiated with the Republican congressional leadership in secret, similarly to how they did the tax cut deal.

Regardless of anything else, the Reuters article is a good sign, because I can't remember the last time a mainstream news organization called out bullshit like this. Well done.

Monday, February 14, 2011

What Year Is It?

Unbelievable stuff:
Republican Scott Walker is pulling a Pullman in the Badger State, threatening to bring in troops to battle teachers, cops and other public workers he considers overpaid. Walker doesn't even bother to argue that the goal is to improve education or public safety -- it is explicitly to bust the union. AP: "Gov. Scott Walker says the Wisconsin National Guard is prepared to respond wherever is necessary in the wake of his announcement that he wants to take away nearly all collective bargaining rights from state employees. Walker said Friday that he hasn't called the Guard into action, but he has briefed them and other state agencies in preparation of any problems that could result in a disruption of state services, like staffing at prisons. Walker says he has every confidence that state employees will continue to show up for work and do their jobs and he's not anticipating any problems. His plan would require higher pension and health insurance contributions and remove bargaining rights except in a limited way over wages."
As Eddie Vale pointed out: "Last time the National Guard was used against public workers was the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968, just before King’s assassination."

What the hell is going on?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

I'm Willing to Lose For Your Crazy Ideas!

Not really sure why Santorum thinks this is a positive:
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) spins his landslide 18-point re-election loss into what he hopes will be a vote getter in a bid for the GOP presidential nomination, the AP reports.

Said Santorum: "It's not like I ran to the middle. I was going out and talking about things that probably caused me to lose more."
He's not only willing to lose, Santorum is willing to get his ass kicked for your crazy ideas.

Now that's fucking commitment.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

He's Serious About Making The Poor Suffer

Inside the beltway, being "serious" means a willingness to do something that will make the poor or middle class suffer. In this case, it's the very poor:
President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget will cut several billion dollars from the government’s energy assistance fund for poor people, officials briefed on the subject told National Journal.

It's the biggest domestic spending cut disclosed so far, and one that will likely generate the most heat from the president's traditional political allies. That would satisfy the White House, which has a vested interest in convincing Americans that it is serious about budget discipline.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, would see funding drop by about $3 billion from an authorized 2009 total of $5.1 billion. The government will not touch its the program's emergency reserve fund, about $590 million, which can be used during particularly harsh cold snaps or extended heat spells, three officials told National Journal.

In 2010, Obama signed into law an omnibus budget resolution that released a total of about $5 billion in LIHEAP grants for 2011. Pointing to the increasing number of Americans who made use of the grants last year, advocates say that LIHEAP is already underfunded. The American Gas Association predicts that 3 million Americans eligible for the program won't be able to recieve it unless LIHEAP funding stays at its current level.
These cuts will have a very real life or death impact on anyone who relies on that program. But doing this will make Obama seem "serious" to half a dozen rich white people who write newspaper columns, so there's that.

Any move Obama makes about the budget should be held in direct comparison with his unwillingness to fight against an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the super rich.

He would prefer cutting off heat for the powerless than fighting to make the powerful pay their share.

It's not pretty, but that's the bottom line.

Train of Thought Lounge: J. Dilla

Dilla's birthday was Monday. RIP.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Big Fucking Deal from the Administration:
Philadelphia, PA - Vice President Joe Biden today announced a comprehensive plan that will help the nation reach President Obama’s goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years, as outlined in his State of the Union address. The proposal will place high-speed rail on equal footing with other surface transportation programs and revitalize America’s domestic rail manufacturing industry by dedicating $53 billion over six years to continue construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network. As a part of President Obama’s commitment to winning the future by rebuilding America’s roadways, railways and runways, the plan will lay a new foundation for the nation’s economic opportunity, job creation, and competitiveness.

The Vice President made the announcement with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood during a visit to Philadelphia’s historic 30th Street Station, where passengers traveling from Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on Amtrak’s Keystone Corridor connect to high-speed Acela service to Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Since track improvements raised speeds between Harrisburg and Philadelphia to 110 mph in 2006, the Keystone Corridor has seen rail ridership rise by 57 percent. In fact, more passengers now travel from Harrisburg to Philadelphia – and from Philadelphia to New York City and Washington D.C. – by rail than by plane.

“As President Obama said in his State of the Union, there are key places where we cannot afford to sacrifice as a nation – one of which is infrastructure,” said Vice President Biden. “As a long time Amtrak rider and advocate, I understand the need to invest in a modern rail system that will help connect communities, reduce congestion and create quality, skilled manufacturing jobs that cannot be outsourced. This plan will help us to do that, while also increasing access to convenient high speed rail for more Americans.”

As the first step in this comprehensive, six-year plan, the President’s Budget for the coming fiscal year would invest $8 billion in expanding Americans’ access to high-speed passenger rail service. In order to achieve a truly national system, these investments will focus on developing or improving three types of interconnected corridors:

* Core Express: These corridors will form the backbone of the national high-speed rail system, with electrified trains traveling on dedicated tracks at speeds of 125-250 mph or higher.

* Regional: Crucial regional corridors with train speeds of 90-125 mph will see increases in trips and reductions in travel times, laying the foundation for future high-speed service.

* Emerging: Trains traveling at up to 90 mph will provide travelers in emerging rail corridors with access to the larger national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.

This system will allow the Department – in partnership with states, freight rail, and private companies – to identify corridors for the construction of world-class high-speed rail, while raising speeds on existing rail lines and providing crucial planning and resources to communities who want to join the national high-speed rail network. With rail ridership reaching all-time highs in many areas of the country during 2010, these investments will ensure that more Americans have the option of taking a train to reach their destination.
Since the GOP controls the house this could very well be another casualty of the Republican war on trains, but the proposal is phenomenal.

It's still a great move by the administration to put this plan out there, push it, and make the Republicans oppose it. WHO WOULD DARE OPPOSE MORE TRAINS???

Monday, February 7, 2011

Appointing Fuckups Has Consequences

Background: The number of foreclosures taking place due to the housing crisis is staggering. In addition to making someone homeless, it's horrible for the economy in general, and destroys the housing prices in the effected neighboorhoods.

There were lots of very smart experts (and Democratic members of congress) pushing for "cramdown" reform, which would have prevented lots of foreclosures by allowing judges to renegotiate the terms of these loans. How did the geniuses on Obama's economic team respond?
To force those servicers to modify mortgages, advocates pushed for a change to bankruptcy law giving judges the power not just to change interest rates but to reduce the overall amount owed on the loan, something servicers are loath to do [3].

Congressional Democrats had long been pushing a bill to enact cramdown and were encouraged by the fact that Obama had supported it, both in the Senate and on the campaign trail.

They thought cramdowns would serve as a stick, pushing banks to make modifications on their own.

“That was always the thought,” said Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), “that judicial modifications would make voluntary modifications work. There would be the consequence that if the lenders didn’t [modify the loan], it might be done to them.”

When Obama unveiled his proposal to stem foreclosures a month after taking office, cramdown was a part of the package [4]. But proponents say he’d already damaged cramdown’s chances of becoming law.

In the fall of 2008, Democrats saw a good opportunity to pass cramdown. The $700 billion TARP legislation was being considered, and lawmakers thought that with banks getting bailed out, the bill would be an ideal vehicle for also helping homeowners. But Obama, weeks away from his coming election, opposed that approach and instead pushed for a delay. He promised congressional Democrats that down the line he would “push hard to get cramdown into the law,” recalled Rep. Miller.

Four months later, the stimulus bill presented another potential vehicle for cramdown. But lawmakers say the White House again asked them to hold off, promising to push it later.

An attempt to include cramdown in a continuing resolution got the same response from the president.

“We would propose that this stuff be included and they kept punting,” said former Rep. Jim Marshall, a moderate Democrat from Georgia who had worked to sway other members of the moderate Blue Dog caucus [5] on the issue.

“We got the impression this was an issue [the White House] would not go to the mat for as they did with health care reform,” said Bill Hampel, chief economist for the Credit Union National Association, which opposed cramdown and participated in Senate negotiations on the issue.

Privately, administration officials were ambivalent about the idea. At a Democratic caucus meeting weeks before the House voted on a bill that included cramdown, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner “was really dismissive as to the utility of it,” said Rep. Lofgren.

Larry Summers, then the president’s chief economic adviser, also expressed doubts in private meetings, she said. “He was not supportive of this.”
The Stimulus and cramdown were probably the two best tools the Administration had to improve the economy. Larry Summers made the stimulus too small, shutting out voices from within the administration saying it needed to be bigger, and both he and Geithner opposed cramdown.

Obama picked these people to fix the economy, and it had very real consequences.

"It's like America just got out of an abusive relationship"

A very smart/funny routine on Conan last week from comedian Jamie Kilstein:

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Joe Buck Disgusting Act of the Week: Richard Cohen

This column from Richard Cohen oozes stupid:
Things are about to go from bad to worse in the Middle East. An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is nowhere in sight. Lebanon just became a Hezbollah state, which is to say that Iran has become an even more important regional power, and Egypt, once stable if tenuously so, has been pitched into chaos. This is the most dire prospect of them all. The dream of a democratic Egypt is sure to produce a nightmare.
Take a minute to absorb what he just said. He is decrying that once "stable" Egypt has been thrown into chaos. He thinks this is sure to produce a nightmare, because...
Egypt's problems are immense. It has a population it cannot support, a standard of living that is stagnant and a self-image as leader of the (Sunni) Arab world that does not, really, correspond to reality. It also lacks the civic and political institutions that are necessary for democracy. The next Egyptian government - or the one after - might well be composed of Islamists. In that case, the peace with Israel will be abrogated and the mob currently in the streets will roar its approval.
1. Richard Cohen knows what's best for Egypt more so that the Egyptian people themselves.

2. They lack the tools for a democracy... once again, because Richard Cohen thinks they do.

3. A democratically elected government might not be friendly with Israel. This is because Egypt is populated by bloodthirsty savages who of are irrationally not fond Israel, a clearly stupid and wrong position that would only be taken by morons with no capacity for reason.

It gets even worse:
My take on all this is relentlessly gloomy. I care about Israel. I care about Egypt, too, but its survival is hardly at stake.
Prediction: If you're talking about the two countries that receive more US military aid than anyone else in the world, it's a decent bet that no country's "survival" is at stake.

And what is he implying will happen? That Egypt will start bulldozing houses in land that isn't theirs and installing in their own settlements? Who would let a country get away with doing that???
I care about democratic values, but they are worse than useless in societies that have no tradition of tolerance or respect for minority rights. What we want for Egypt is what we have ourselves. This, though, is an identity crisis. We are not them.
"societies that have no tradition of tolerance or respect for minority rights"

He actually fucking said that.

You know, good democracies like like the United States, France, England, Germany, Israel. All countries with great records of tolerance and respect for minority rights throughout their history.

Let's skip a few paragraphs where Cohen talks about the Muslim brotherhood as the new Al QeadaNaziCommunists and see how he ends this masterpiece:
Majority rule is a worthwhile idea. But so, too, are respect for minorities, freedom of religion, the equality of women and adherence to treaties, such as the one with Israel, the only democracy in the region.
Wait. Is he suggesting that a democratically elected government might not like the treaties that their undemocratically elected dictator signed? STUNNING.

"Respect for minorities". "Israel". Sorry, every time I read those words in the same sentence my mind goes blank and I wake up two hours later on the floor in the fetal position. Anyone else having that problem?
Those Americans and others who cheer the mobs in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities, who clamor for more robust anti-Mubarak statements from the Obama administration, would be wise to let Washington proceed slowly. Hosni Mubarak is history. He has stayed too long, been too recalcitrant - and, for good reason, let his fear of the future ossify the present. Egypt and the entire Middle East are on the verge of convulsing. America needs to be on the right side of human rights. 
Strong statement, and a great way to end... wait there's more? Fuck.
But it also needs to be on the right side of history. This time, the two may not be the same.
And that sums up the column so much better than I could.

Just for fun, try to name the times that being on the side of "human rights" was not on the right side of history.


But like many pundits and politicians, Richard Cohen views "democracy" as a form of government conducted by white non-Muslims, whose foreign policy is aligned directly with whatever the United States or Israel wants to do.

When an event happens that questions their worldview (see hamas' 2009 election), smoke starts coming out of their ears and they say things about how this particular group of people "isn't ready" for democracy because they didn't like the outcome. This case is even more absurd because Cohen just *knows* that a democracy in Egypt won't work out.

Guess what Richard? The beauty of this democracy thing is that it isn't our call.

Libertarian Privilege

David Roberts of Grist had two tweets that explain why libertarian policy ideas often drive me insane.
It's not just that libertarians support policies that would impose horrible suffering, it's that they're so CASUAL about it that rankles.
Who else but someone swimming in privilege like a fish in water could be so glib about life & death issues for working families?
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"I Don't Need Your People"

Yikes. (via thinkprogress)
Delivering on his vision for a “new way,” Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) “is on pace to be the first governor since 1962 to have an entire Cabinet without any racial diversity.” Every one of his 22 full-time agency head appointments has been a white person. Only five are women. Dubbing diversity as “metrics that people tend to focus on,” Kasich said, “I can’t say I need to find somebody to fit this metric” because “it’s not the way I look at those things. I want the best possible team I can get.”

Yesterday, the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus held a press conference to express their waning patience with his dismissive attitude and “implore[] Kasich to make better strides to diversify his Cabinet.” But according to State Senator Nina Turner (D-OH), this time Kasich’s response was a bit more blunt. According to Turner, when the caucus offered him help in finding qualified minority applicants, Kasich told Turner, “I don’t need your people“: 
Ladies and Gentlemen, your modern day Republican Party!