Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jim Messina: Bad Tactician, Asshole.

From the Nation:
In March 2009 the Campaign for America’s Future, a top progressive group in Washington, launched a campaign called “Dog The (Blue) Dogs” to pressure conservative Blue Dog Democrats to support President Obama’s budget. When he heard about the effort, White House deputy chief of staff Jim Messina, who was regarded as the Obama administration’s designated “fixer,” called CAF’s leaders into the White House for a dressing down, according to a CAF official. If the group wanted to join the Common Purpose Project, an exclusive weekly strategy meeting between progressive groups and administration officials, CAF had to drop the campaign. We know how to handle the Blue Dogs better than you do, Messina said. Not wanting to sour its relationship with the White House at this early date, CAF complied, and the campaign quickly disappeared from its website. Despite Messina’s assurance, however, the Blue Dogs would remain a major obstacle to the realization of the president’s legislative agenda.

The hardball tactics used by Messina against CAF exemplified how the Obama administration would operate going forward—insistent on demanding total control, hostile to any public pressure from progressives on dissident Democrats or administration allies, committed to working the system inside Washington rather than changing it. As deputy chief of staff, Messina held the same position once occupied by Karl Rove (and Josh Lyman on The West Wing). He worked as a top lieutenant for Rahm Emanuel and became the administration’s lead enforcer after Emanuel left for Chicago. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer calls Messina “the most powerful person in Washington that you haven’t heard of.” Messina’s dream job was to become chief of staff. Instead, he recently got an arguably more important assignment—manager of Obama’s re-election campaign.
The whole article is fascinating, and great look into the world of one of the lead asshats who runs things in the White House.

It explains a lot, and it terrifies you when you realize that this man is in charge of getting Obama reelected.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How To Fix America's Schools

Cheating, apparently: (credit to Jake Mcintyre for the photoshop inspiration)
WASHINGTON — In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its "shining stars."

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes' students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes' staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district's elementary schools, Noyes' proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.
Rhee's response is typically classy:
"It isn't surprising," Rhee said in a statement Monday, "that the enemies of school reform once again are trying to argue that the Earth is flat and that there is no way test scores could have improved ... unless someone cheated."
Any time someone starts throwing around the Nixionian "enemies" line you know you're dealing with a real piece of work. Laura Clawson:
No, Michelle. Flat-earthers follow faith, not evidence. Just as you are doing by trying to cast this as your reform or no reform, good guys and bad guys, evidence be damned. Let's review: Noted enemy of school reform McGraw-Hill, which scores the test sheets, flagged the pattern. Fringe left publication USA Today investigated it—unlike your administration, which conducted only the most cursory investigation and that belatedly. And academics at Arizona State University, Georgetown University, and Western Michigan University agreed that the pattern called for thorough examination.
So it could be that the testing companies, statistics professors and other enemies have finally exposed their elaborate plan to get Michelle Rhee higher and higher paying jobs with endless positive media exposure...

Or it could be that Rhee simply has terrible ideas about education reform, but will always get new school systems to destroy because her driving principle is one that everyone that from Bill Gates to Arne Duncan can agree on: union busting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Did You Pay Taxes? Funny, Cause GE Didn't.

They're far from the only ones, but since Obama has appointed their CEO as the shining tax dodging/outsourcing example we should all follow, they deserve extra attention.

Click and here for some nice graphs of the details, but for the cliff notes version Jon Stewart absolutely crushed this topic on last night's show:

Atheist Muslims

With everyone falling over themselves trying to please the teabaggers' buzzword based incoherent ideology, you get the feeling we're going to see a lot more of this during the 2012 primary. (via twitter)

Newt Gingrich:
"I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."
(deep breath)
One more time:
"they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists"
There really aren't words.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Class War Monday

In Graph/Chart form: (Via EPI.)

And this mind blowing graph from Third and State:

When anyone tells me about the lack of need for organized labor, I always tell them to find me a better way to reduce income inequality in our society, or find me another way that helps those of us outside of the top 5% get our share. They can't, of course, because none of their ideas work in practice. Or their ideas work exactly as designed, creating massive inequality, lowered wages and poverty.

Friendly conservatives who aren't soulless: I'm open to your ideas, just show me examples of them ever working in practice!

And if you're cool with the top 5% owning 62% of our country's wealth, that's fine. Just be upfront and embrace the plutocracy you desire.

Friday, March 25, 2011

She Would Know...

Guess the quote:
“I frankly don’t understand why policy makers aren’t more worried about the suffering of real families, I think there are tools we have tools we have that we can use, and I think it’s shameful that we’re not using them.”
That's not atrios, Paul Krugman or Dean Baker.

Those are the words of former Obama Administration Council of Economic Advisers Chair, Christina Romer.

She can call Obama and tell him this. She can call any one else on his econ team if she wants to. Instead, she decided to go public with these sentiments.

Last year I wrote that someone should resign and publicly call out the economic team. So it wasn't done explicitly in conjunction with her resignation, but this basically that, isn't it?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Election Strategy: Douche Caucus Style

Harry Reid has a plan to make sure the Democrats hold the Senate: Let everyone do and say whatever the fuck they want.

What could go wrong?:
Over the past couple of weeks, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has railed against an increase in the debt limit, slammed his party on the budget and blasted President Barack Obama in a floor speech.

It’s all music to the ears of Democratic leaders.

“I don’t see that as an attack on the president; I think that’s just Joe Manchin,” said Washington Sen. Patty Murray, who as chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is trying to get Manchin reelected.

Manchin’s freelancing is part of what’s driving the Senate these days. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has given politically vulnerable Democrats license to do almost anything they need to survive a grim political environment, even if that means ripping the president, voting against Democratic bills and teaming up with Republicans to appear bipartisan. For Reid, it seems that, at this point in the election cycle, keeping his imperiled majority after 2012 is a far more important goal than preserving party unity on legislation.
. . .
Even on some politically contentious votes, there hasn’t been much effort to whip skittish 2012 senators into line. When the Democrats put forward their budget proposal earlier this month, Reid lost five Democrats and one independent who are expected to run for reelection next year. The defections opened up Democrats to GOP charges of pushing forward a bill that couldn’t even pass muster with the moderate wing of their caucus.

But in reality, it allowed the disloyal Democrats to tout their independence back home.
I realize that not every issue that liberals support will be crazily popular in all states, but with this everyone do what they feel like approach seems to destroy whatever common messages/brand you want to build.

If you don't have common values, you're just a bunch of assholes trying to beat another bunch of assholes in a statewide popularity contest, and that's about as far from a successful get out the vote message as you can get (See Deeds, Creigh).

At their core quite of few of these senators are just buffoons who don't give the slightest shit about policy of any kind (Ben Nelson and Joe Manchin are two of the most obvious, but they're far from the only ones). They want to protect the people who bankrolled their campaigns, see their face on TV so to feel special, but most importantly they need to win the biggest dick waving contest of them all, an election. There are lots of high priced consultants who make a living telling these people that the best way to win elections is through meaningless stunts, and of course these assholes don't actually care about any real policy issues, so they excitedly follow along.

So just to recap, Harry Reid is "freeing up" a lot of these douche bags to do even more pointless political stunts than usual, because everyone seems to agree it will help them get reelected.

Just another day in the US Senate, the living, breathing representation of why Americans hate politics and politicians.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NFL Owners Caught In A Big Fucking Lie

I'm stunned this didn't get more attention. From the Associated Press:
Figures obtained by The Associated Press underscore the substantial divide between the NFL and the locked-out players on a core issue: What portion of additional revenue goes to players.

Players' share of incremental increases to all revenues under the NFL's expired contract was about 53 percent from 2006-09, according to calculations by the accounting firm that audited the collective bargaining agreement for both sides.

The NFL has repeatedly said that 70 percent of extra revenue went to players, a main justification for changing the sport's economic system. The league's numbers remove the portion of revenues — about $1 billion a year — taken off the top for owners to spend on expenses.

Data prepared in 2010 by PricewaterhouseCoopers and obtained Monday by the AP show that about $3.8 billion of the $7.2 billion in incremental revenue over those four years — 52.9 percent — went toward players' salaries and benefits.

The league and players agree on the $3.8 billion; they disagree on how to look at revenues. Setting aside the off-the-top expense credits — for things such as stadium improvements or NFL Network — makes the players' take a higher percentage.

The figures from PricewaterhouseCoopers — calculated last year at the request of the NFL Players Association — include that upfront money, because it is part of the league's gross revenue.

"The NFL wants to artificially inflate the percentage of incremental revenue going to players by excluding revenues that never go to players," NFLPA spokesman George Atallah said. "League officials ... have been selling a lockout to owners based on misleading and incomplete financial information. They excluded the cost credits to be able to tell owners that player costs are rising faster than all revenues. This is not true."

. . .

Just before last month's Super Bowl, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash — the league's lead labor negotiator — said: "The players have gotten 70 percent of the incremental revenue that the NFL clubs have generated since 2006. They know that's not a sustainable model."

A year earlier, Commissioner Roger Goodell made a similar point during his annual Super Bowl news conference.

That 70 percent figure not only made an impression on owners — it also made players wonder whether there was, indeed, an adjustment that needed to be made.

"One of the owners' big problems with the deal, as they reported from 2006 forward, is they had the argument that player cost was north of 70 percent, say. When that number was first presented, it caused everyone on our side of the table to sit down. It caught our attention: 'If it is 70 percent, we need to address it,'" said former player Pete Kendall, who has been advising the NFLPA during negotiations.
There was a caltuclated effort to get that 70% figure out there by the owners, and it was just complete bullshit. The different between 70% percent and 53% is fucking enormous, especially when the owners have been hammering that number over and over again as one of the main reasons for the lockout.

The question I have is about how many of the owners were aware that this number was bullshit. There's already been talk of dissent among owners who didn't want this to go to court, so I wonder how they feel about being led into a lockout on completely made up information.

Of course they wouldn't let the players see the NFL's books! If they're lying about something this big, who knows what else they're lying about!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Libya?

So we're at war with Libya now.

It's caused a lot of debate and rightfully so, about our role, and what (if any) positive role our military can play in the conflict.

Until I got a chance to read more about the situation, my first initial thought was, why Libya?

I mean, there's no question Gaddafi is nuts, and he seems to have taken things to another level recently, but claiming that we're doing this "to prevent another rwanda" is a pretty ludicrous premise, considering how we do nothing when our despots engage in similarly horrific acts.

Eugene Robinson:
I have to admit that I, too, would have found it hard to stand idly by as Gaddafi drenched the streets of Benghazi in blood. But what makes it any easier to watch other despots do the same thing?

In Yemen, forces loyal to dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh have slaughtered dozens of defenseless protesters seeking democratic reform. Saleh, who has ruled the nation for 33 years, clings desperately to power despite having been abandoned by many of his political supporters and some of his generals. He has shown nothing but defiance. “Every day we hear a statement from Obama saying, ‘Egypt, you can’t do this, Tunisia, don’t do that,’” Saleh said in a speech earlier this month. “Are you president of the United States, or president of the world?”

But there has been no U.S. military intervention. Saleh has been seen as a valuable ally in the fight against al-Qaeda, which has perhaps its most active — and potentially dangerous — base in Yemen. Attacks against the United States have been planned and staged there. Saleh, therefore, is a useful tyrant. He gets nudges, not bombs.

In Bahrain, the ruling al-Khalifa royal family has responded to peaceful demonstrations with violent repression. While the world’s attention was focused on the unfolding tragedy in Japan and the looming tragedy in Libya, Bahrain’s leaders brutally cleared Pearl Square of its protest encampment and even destroyed the towering monument that had become the pro-democracy movement’s most powerful symbol.

But for Bahrain, too, we have polite words rather than decisive action. Why? Because the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is based there, astride the Persian Gulf shipping lanes through which 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipments must pass. The base gives the United States a way to counter Iran’s growing power.

Also, the al-Khalifas are close allies of the Saudi royals, who are desperate to keep the protests in Bahrain from spilling over into the nearby kingdom. The Saudi rulers sent troops to help crush the Bahrain demonstrations and have banned any kind of pro-democracy agitation at home. For the House of Saud, however, the White House has barely managed to choke out a tsk-tsk.
And that's before you get started onour closest ally Israel, who may not have been killing "their own people", but were freely using chemical weapons on a civilian area in a way that would make monsters like Gaddafi proud.

The bottom line is that even these made for TV wars were we drop a few nightvision bombs, only kill the bad guys and declare victory in the morning, nothing is ever as simple as it seems.

What if it a few quick strikes?

Who are the people we're helping?

Will we be arming them?

How can we be sure our bombs only hit the bad guys? (Answer: You can't.)

What if our involvement actually empowers Gaddafi because we're so hated in the region?

Does the hypocrisy of our involvement in Libya vs support of other monsters in the region mean that even more people will hate us?

Clearly doing this under the banner of the UN can help with several of these concerns, and Obama is saying all the right things about how he won't escalate our involvement beyond what it is now. And obviously there are no easy solutions here, but I tend get uneasy when the press and new republic liberals get all "America FUCK YEAH" about shooting tomahawk missiles at a bad guy.

A few takes I've been reading if you want to learn more:
And these amazing segments on the situation from Jon Stewart:


Monday, March 21, 2011

The Social Security Hot Potato

Hey, great use of your time, senators!
More than 60 senators — evenly divided by party — sent President Obama a letter on Friday urging him to support a comprehensive effort to confront the nation’s growing deficit and debt.

The letter was signed by 32 Republicans and 32 Democrats in the hopes that evidence of broad support in the Senate will help prod Mr. Obama to lead the debt reduction charge this year.

“By approaching these negotiations comprehensively, with a strong signal of support from you, we believe that we can achieve consensus on these important fiscal issues,” the senators wrote in the letter. “This would send a powerful message to Americans that Washington can work together to tackle this critical issue.”

Senators Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, and Mike Johanns, Republican of Nebraska, led the effort to send Mr. Obama the letter from the 64 senators.

A smaller bipartisan group of six senators has been meeting privately for weeks in the hopes of negotiating a framework for changes to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax code. That group has said about 30 senators have expressed interest in their efforts.
Hey look, the letter is signed by an equal number of Democrats and Republicans! THIS MEANS SOMETHING.

But seriously, this letter is such a perfect embodiment of the Senate's worthlessness because with 64 senators, they could... (GASP) actually pass legislation and do something about this horrible problem worth writing a letter about! The reason they won't is that while all these people "know" that social security needs to be cut, most of them are too chickenshit to actually do it because... well...  it would end their careers.

Meanwhile, the leadership our president has shown on Social Security has been, errr, what's the opposite of courageous?
The White House will not prominently inject itself into congressional negotiations on Social Security reform until after key legislators in both the House and Senate unveil their plans to reduce projected long-term deficits, according to administration officials.

The White House's reticence has been characterized by some as a symptom of a rift between Obama's economic and political advisers. Some, like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, do in fact believe that a bipartisan deal on Social Security would result in real economic benefits, while others argue that Obama shouldn't embrace any plan that substantially cuts benefits at all.

But while opinions vary within the administration his advisers are united in the belief that achieving a workable deal with congressional Republicans will be difficult, and that it would be foolish for Obama to speak up now.
You could write a term paper on the idiocy of our Treasury Secretary thinking that cutting social security would improve our economy, but we don't have time to get into that too deeply. Let's just say that if he thinks that, he's an moron, and should have never been given the job/be fired immediately. But we knew all that months years ago.

The bottom line is that Obama is cool with cutting Social Security, but (just like his congressional counterparts) he's just to much of a pussy to say so himself.

It also wouldn't be beyond the realm of possibility to expect a Democratic president to respond by strongly defending any attacks on Social Security, but I'm long past expecting Obama to do anything that positive.

So what's the end game?

Who the fuck knows, and it just depends on how serious everyone is about wanting to making old people suffer.

If people really want to get it done, they would have to make so bipartisan that no one can take the blame for doing this incredibly unpopular thing. Obama has made it clear that all he cares about is doing something "bipartisan", so I'm sure he wouldn't have any problem cheering on whatever abomination the douche 64 comes up with.

And that's how Social Security gets cut. There are obviously plenty of reasons it won't get happen (#1: Anyone who takes real responsibility for this will lose their job in the next election), but crazier things have happened.

Taking a step back, it's pretty phenomenal that with foreclosures rampant, high unemployment and multiple disastrous wars, the only thing a majority of US Senators and our Democratic president can agree on is the need to cut Social Security.

What a world, huh?


Photo via DCist and dcsplicer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Train of Thought Lounge: Pharoahe Monch

Oh man, only days away from a new Pharoahe Monch album.

Pharoahe on the song "Clap":
"Instead of protect and serve, police often escalate situations, as with the cases of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, or Aiyana Stanley Jones, and hundreds more who fell victim to police violence," Pharoahe Monch told "I wrote this song to express my frustration, as well as raise the question of how our communities can create safety and prevent violence, with out relying on police."
The extended video for "Clap" featuring Chris from the Wire!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Evan Bayh Retired Like He Governed: As a Corporate Whore

I really liked this Ezra Klein post on Evan Bayh's retirement, but I'll lose all respect for him if he was actually surprised by any of this:
An acknowledged moderate who’d taken on these crusades wouldn’t have just been a good senator. He’d have been a great one. This new incarnation of Evan Bayh, I wrote, should stay in the Senate, where he could do some good. But he didn’t want to stay in the Senate, he told me in subsequent interviews. He waxed rhapsodic over his time teaching at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Business. “It was real, it was tangible, and it was making a difference every day,” he said. He wanted that feeling again. He wanted to come home at night, he told me, and say, “Dear, do you know what we got done today? I’ve got this really bright kid in my class, and do you know what he asked me, and here’s what I told him, and I think I saw a little epiphany moment go off in his mind.” For a United States senator to explain his retirement by saying, “I want to be engaged in an honorable line of work,” was the single most persuasive and devastating critique I’d ever seen of the Senate as an institution.

But Bayh did not return to Indiana to teach. He did not, as he said he was thinking of doing, join a foundation. Rather, he went to the massive law firm McGuire Woods. And who does McGuire Woods work for? “Principal clients served from our Washington office include national energy companies, foreign countries, international manufacturing companies, trade associations and local and national businesses,” reads the company’s Web site. He followed that up by signing on as a senior adviser to Apollo Management Group, a giant public-equity firm. And, finally, this week, he joined Fox News as a contributor. It’s as if he’s systematically ticking off every poison he identified in the body politic and rushing to dump more of it into the water supply.

The “corrosive system of campaign financing” that Bayh considered such a threat? He’s being paid by both McGuire Woods and Apollo Global Management to act as a corroding agent on their behalf. The “strident partisanship” and “unyielding ideology” he complained was ruining the Senate? At Fox News, he’ll be right there on set while it gets cooked up. His warning that “what is required from members of Congress and the public alike is a new spirit of devotion to the national welfare beyond party or self-interest” sounds, in retrospect, like a joke. Evan Bayh doing performance art as Evan Bayh. Exactly which of these new positions would Bayh say is against his self-interest, or in promotion of the general welfare?
Evan Bayh spent his Senate career as one of the sleaziest motherfuckers in the building (and that's saying something), who lied, bargained and did the bidding of any corporate interest that looked nicely in his direction.

The idea that he would leave the Senate for anything different is laughable. Almost as laughable as Chris Dodd's "I won't become a lobbyist" talk, on the way to taking the most prestigious lobbying job that exists.

There's no need to expect any different from Bayh and Dodd, because they are just following the Douche Caucus plan. You do the bidding of these interests while in the Senate just long enough to make the necessary connections, then leave for a much easier job, making even more money directly for those same interests.

Most people on this path are just slicker about it than Bayh or Dodd were, but then again, it's almost telling that they didn't even need to pretend they were doing something more noble.

No one cares enough about their doublespeak enough to not invite them back on the morning shows every couple of months, and they're making more money than any of us will see in our lives.

What's their incentive to care about what anyone thinks?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Train of Thought Lounge: R.I.P. Nate Dogg

Not his most famous hook, but probably my favorite.

Oh No - Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def and Nate Dogg

Rest in Peace Nate Dogg

The Magic of Social Security Cuts

Obama Team Looks For New Ways To Fire Up President's Base

Obama acknowledged the challenge last week in Boston. "Somebody asked me, how do we reinvigorate the population, the voter, after two very tough years?" he told Democratic donors. "How do we recapture that magic that got so many young people involved for the very first time in 2008?"

One answer, the president said, is to persuade hardcore liberals to swallow their anger over political compromises the administration reached with Republicans, even when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.

Obama's concessions include dropping his proposed public option for health insurance, and extending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest.

"There's no weakness in us trying to reach out and seeing if we can find common ground," the president said.

Despite his pleas, many Obama supporters clearly are disappointed. When he was inaugurated, 83 percent of Democrats said they expected his presidency to be above average, and nearly half predicted it would be "outstanding," an AP-GfK poll found. Two years later, 68 percent of Democrats rated it above average so far, and just 20 percent called it outstanding.
Solution: For starters, stop having me read articles like this.
Social Security Reform Splits White House Political, Economic teams
Social Security reform is splitting President Obama’s economic and political advisers.

Obama is being pulled in opposite directions by those whose priorities are fiscal and those whose No. 1 concern is electoral.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Sperling’s deputy, Jason Furman — leading figures in the president’s economic team — are pressing Obama to cut Social Security benefits if necessary, say sources familiar with their positions.

But Obama’s political team, led by David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Jim Messina, are urging the president to understand that backing benefit cuts could prove disastrous to his 2012 reelection hopes, sources say.
Or this:
Obama Administration Issues Veto Threat Against Bill to End Controversial HAMP Housing Program

In February 2009, President Obama said HAMP would help 3 or 4 million American renegotiate the terms of their mortgages. Two years later, the program has permanently renegotiated the loans of approximately 540,000 Americans. Approximately 1.5 million Americans have received temporary modifications – but more than 800,000 of them have been cancelled.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., recently called HAMP “an arbitrary, capricious system that kicks hard- working people out on the street. The administration cannot allow this to continue.”

Earlier this month, Neil Barofsky, then the inspector general of TARP program, testified before Congress that HAMP was “clearly a failure,” saying there is “basically universal and bipartisan agreement that the HAMP program is failing to meet TARP's goal of preserving homeownership."

But, Barofsky said, “Secretary Geithner continues to celebrate the status quo…Treasury stands alone in its defense."

The independent investigative journalists at ProPublica  recently issued a report noting the failures of the HAMP program, noting that “only a fraction of struggling homeowners are getting help,” that the “largest servicers, especially Bank of America, have left most struggling homeowners in limbo without either modifying or foreclosing,” that just about one in five homeowners who applied for the HAMP program received a permanent modification, and that “HAMP itself hasn't made much difference.”
Or this:
White House to Cut Energy Assistance for the 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.
Fire anyone who wants to cut Social Security.

Fire anyone who still defends the government run predatory loan program that you created.

Fire anyone who thinks that cutting heating aid for poor people would "prove you're serious" about anything other than killing poor people. 

You don't need six months of negotiations with Max Baucus to make any of those articles go away. They are 100% in your control.

And until you do those things, you don't have to wonder why your base isn't "recapturing the magic".

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fukushima: The Scare Y'all Were Waiting For

So, yeah, this is pretty much why people worry about nuclear energy. Great when it's working, but when it goes wrong, holy shit does it go wrong. This is an unfolding situation and I still have hope that the heroic efforts of the reactor workers and their helpers will pay off. But many of signs I've seen are pretty catastrophic, and I expect this to get worse before it gets better.

The good news is that even the worst Fukushima meltdown would not be a second Chernobyl. The choice of RBMK reactors for the Chernobyl power plant was incredibly stupid, even for the time, and was a product of even more unbelievably stupid cold war thinking. Virtually all Soviet industry in that era had to theoretically serve dual civilian and military purposes: car plants had to be able to be quickly converted to produce tanks, and nuclear power plants had to be able to produce mass amounts of plutonium for nuclear weapons. Why anyone thought it made sense to apply the same thinking to nuclear weapons production (estimated maximum length of a nuclear war: 2 hours) as conventional weapons production (estimated maximum length of a conventional war: 10+ years), I will never know. But that's hindsight for you.

Because of their stupid design, the Chernobyl reactors were made primarily with graphite, which burns. After the reactor massively spiked (read: exploded), the graphite was exposed to oxygen and ignited into a towering pillar of white-hot flame with a base that surrounded the still-critical reactor, shooting the equivalent of a 12-megaton bomb's worth of radiation into the atmosphere alongside the smoke. Furthermore, the plant was built without a concrete-and-steel vessel that would be capable of containing the radioactivity even in the event of such a meltdown. In this sense, the disaster could have been much worse: by dumping tons of neutron-absorbing material onto the hole in the building by helicopter, the Soviet army managed to cool the reaction (both in the thermal and radioactive sense) before it burnt its way into the groundwater.

(Fun Fact #1: there were actually FOUR reactors at Chernobyl, and the other three continued to operate for years after the accident.)

In contrast to Chernobyl, the Fukushima reactors are water-moderated and built within an intelligently-designed containment structure. Even if the temperatures got so high within the core that the fuel rods melt (which is looking more and more likely), there isn't any graphite to ignite and the containment structure would still have a fighting chance of keeping most of the radioactivity out of the groundwater and atmosphere. In theory, the torus-shaped shell underneath the reactor would spread out the fissionable material sufficiently to keep it from going supercritical and producing so much heat that it would melt through and escape into the ground underneath.

(Fun Fact #2: there is actually a name for the radioactive lava-like substance that is produced when a reactor melts down. It's called Corium.)

Thankfully, the reactor scrammed (shut down) successfully during the earthquake, and most of the heat in the core is caused not by chain-reacting nuclear fuel but by the remaining decay products from when the reactor was operating normally. As the short-halflife (ie, highly radioactive) byproduct isotopes decay into long-halflife (ie, less radioactive) isotopes, and thus do not decay (and release heat) as often, the excess heat problem will take care of itself. In this sense, it's a race against time that the rector operators will win if they can just hold on long enough.

That said, increasing radiation levels and additional fires and explosions can only mean one thing: the situation basically looks terrible at Fukushima right now, and is only getting worse. The fact that there have been hydrogen-caused explosions in the reactor buildings is actually a way worse sign than the explosions themselves: the most likely cause of hydrogen production under these conditions is the reaction between the casing of the fuel rods with the air at much higher temperatures than normal reactor operation. In other words, the fuel rods inside the reactor appear to have been exposed to the air for some time, at temperatures higher than 1000 degrees... and the resulting contaminated steam was vented outside the core.

Furthermore, pumping salt water into the cores is an absolutely last-ditch effort to stem a catastrophic meltdown, and is essentially an admission that the reactors will never operate again (at an instant loss of billions of dollars). The additional salt water produces additional contaminated water that either has to be contained or released into the environment, as well as introduces additional (and somewhat unpredictable) elements into the reactor core that can potentially produce additional, dangerous radioisotopes. The fact that salt water cooling appears to have failed at at least one of the reactors is an abysmal sign. There's not all that much more that can be done to save the reactors.

Now here's the real, real shit. As I've said, most Fukushima meltdown scenarios aren't globally, or even nationally, catastrophic: the possibility of true failure is on everyone's mind, but the reactor containment systems are reasonably well-designed and could probably keep a complete meltdown from seriously contaminating the surrounding environment. More worrisome are the on-site cooling pools that house spent fuel and byproducts from the reactor. This waste is flammable, highly radioactive, and largely unprotected - which is to say, tremendously vulnerable and dangerous in a situation like this.

Because they aren't going to be subjected to the same insane pressures and temperatures of a nuclear reactor core, the cooling ponds aren't protected with the same sorts of containment structures. And because they are home to highly radioactive substances, they require the same sort of cooling mechanisms that have failed at the reactors themselves. The timeframe is longer than for the reactors, but if the pumps remain off for too long and the heat level in the ponds rises sufficiently (particularly if reactor leaks render the area unsafe for work), a massive release of radioactivity is possible. This is before we even begin to consider the possibility that they have been damaged by the (ongoing?) hydrogen explosions.

Anyway, this is an incredibly complicated and evolving issue. I've skipped a lot of background info in this post, and there's still an enormous amount that I don't know myself. Ask questions in the comments, and I'll do my best to answer!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Not Good

SOMA, Japan -- The second hydrogen explosion in three days rocked a Japanese nuclear plant Monday, sending a massive cloud of smoke into the air and injuring 11 workers. The blast was felt 25 miles (40 kilometers) away, but the plant's operator said the radiation levels at the affected unit were still within legal limits.

Later Monday, fuel rods at a separate reactor in the plant were fully exposed after it lost its ability to cool down, officials said. The exposure raises the risk of the unit overheating and adds to fears of a potential third explosion at the plant.
On the levels of scary shit, that seems pretty high, but I won't know for sure until 6.54 weighs in with a terrifying post.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hey! He's Lying!

Glenn Greenwald wrote about this a few weeks back, but our media outlets seem not think it's their job to tell us when someone is lying. So props to the New York Times for making the headline "Christie’s Talk Is Blunt, but Not Always Straight":
New Jersey’s public-sector unions routinely pressure the State Legislature to give them what they fail to win in contract talks. Most government workers pay nothing for health insurance. Concessions by school employees would have prevented any cuts in school programs last year.

Statements like those are at the core of Gov. Chris Christie’s campaign to cut state spending by getting tougher on unions. They are not, however, accurate.

In fact, on the occasions when the Legislature granted the unions new benefits, it was for pensions, which were not subject to collective bargaining — and it has not happened in eight years. In reality, state employees have paid 1.5 percent of their salaries toward health insurance since 2007, in addition to co-payments and deductibles, and since last spring, many local government workers, including teachers, do as well. The few dozen school districts where employees agreed to concessions last year still saw layoffs and cuts in academic programs.

“Clearly there has been a pattern of the governor playing fast and loose with the details,” said Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University. “But so far, he’s been adept at getting the public to believe what he says.”

Mr. Christie, a Republican who took office in January 2010, would hardly be the first politician to indulge in hyperbole or gloss over facts. But his misstatements, exaggerations and carefully constructed claims belie the national image he has built as a blunt talker who gives straight answers to hard questions, especially about budgets and labor relations. Candor is central to Mr. Christie’s appeal, and a review of his public statements over the past year shows some of them do not hold up to scrutiny.
That wasn't so hard, was it?

Which Side Are You On?

With friends like these...
WASHINGTON -- When House Republicans targeted the budget of the National Labor Relations Board last month, the agency shot back, warning that such cuts would force it to largely cease operations for an extended period of time, creating a backlog of thousands of cases.

It was one of the few counterattacks from the Obama administration, which was otherwise busy proposing its own cuts and endorsing the Republican call for slashing spending -- and it didn't last long. The White House demanded that the NLRB scrub the statement defending the agency from its website, an NLRB spokesperson told The Huffington Post.

The link to the statement, issued Feb. 18, can still be found on the website, under the heading: "Top NLRB officials respond to House budget proposal." But click through and a new statement, dated Feb. 22, appears: "The content in this statement has been removed. For further information on this subject, please see the President's Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) regarding the budget, which can be found on the OMB website."
The never-ending debate about the White House continues. This tells either:

a) They are a bunch of gutless pussies who concede at the slightest sign of an actual principled fight with the Republicans.


b) They actually don't care that much about a functional NLRB, and are willing to let it become a casualty of the budget debate.

Neither explination is good, and I'm honestly not sure which is worse.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

He Loved His Country Too Much!

Newt Gingrich, on his many affairs:
"There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate. And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn't trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing them. I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness. Not God's understanding, but God's forgiveness. I do believe in a forgiving God. And I think most people, deep down in their hearts, hope there's a forgiving God."
So you cheated on your wife because you were too passionate about your country, not because you were too passionate about the other woman you were fucking. Got it.

Just in case anyone needs reminders about what an asshole he is: (via frumfourm)
After going to the doctor for a mysterious tingling in her hand, [Marianne Gingrich] was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Early in May 1999, she went out to Ohio for her mother’s birthday. A day and a half went by and Newt didn’t return her calls, which was strange. They always talked every day, often ten times a day, so she was frantic by the time he called to say he needed to talk to her.

“About what?”

He wanted to talk in person, he said.

“I said, ‘No, we need to talk now.’ “

He went quiet.

“There’s somebody else, isn’t there?”

She kind of guessed it, of course. Women usually do. But did she know the woman was in her apartment, eating off her plates, sleeping in her bed?

She called a minister they both trusted. He came over to the house the next day and worked with them the whole weekend, but Gingrich just kept saying she was a Jaguar and all he wanted was a Chevrolet. “‘I can’t handle a Jaguar right now.’ He said that many times. ‘All I want is a Chevrolet.’ “

He asked her to just tolerate the affair, an offer she refused.

He’d just returned from Erie, Pennsylvania, where he’d given a speech full of high sentiments about compassion and family values.

The next night, they sat talking out on their back patio in Georgia. She said, “How do you give that speech and do what you’re doing?”

“It doesn’t matter what I do,” he answered. “People need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live.”
I'm definitely of the belief that whatever happens in your private life should stay that way, but when people like Gingrich make everyone's private lives their business, than what they do is most certainly fair game.

And regardless of anything else, let's look back at that last quote:
“It doesn’t matter what I do, people need to hear what I have to say. There’s no one else who can say what I can say. It doesn’t matter what I live."
Holy fuck what a douchebag.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Final Word On The Bush Tax Cuts

Joesph Stiglitz on the Bush tax cuts:(via)
"It must have been hard to design a tax program that cost so much while doing so little to stimulate the economy"

Monday, March 7, 2011

Losing the Budget Fight On the Right's Ground

Part of the idiocy of the Administration's budget fight strategy (in addition to the fact that they seem totally clueless on the "negotiating" element), is the direct comparison to how much (or how little) they put in work during the Bush tax cut fight. So thanks to CAP for giving us this chart (via Balloon Juice):

It's also a reminder about the fight that we could be having. Instead of asking why most corporations payed no taxes over the last 5 years, the Administration wants to show they're willing to cut heating assistance to the poor because... they're assholes? I honestly have no clue what they're trying to prove, I just know it's really stupid.

When you embrace the right's budget rhetoric and philosophy, even when you win, you lose. If you're negotiating with people who think the poor have it too good and barely think the federal government should exist... you're probably not going to come away with a compromise you can be proud of.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Train of Thought Lounge: Ducksauce

I've known this song for a while, but I had no idea it had a video, much less one this tight until DJ FUCKING PRETENTIOUS brought it to my attention.

Ducksauce: Anyway

The War On Teachers

The Daily Show was ubelievable last night.

The interview with Diane Ravitch is great, and she is also awesome in general, so follow her on twitter if you do that sort of thing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's 100% Owner Greed

Big Daddy Drew's column on the NFL lockout is the one I've been hoping with a big megaphone would would step up and write:

You only need to see the topline of U.S District Judge David Doty's TV ruling to know the owners are the vile pieces of shit responsible for this work stoppage. Or, better yet, read it straight from Roger Goodell's desk. Witness just how poor of a job Goodell does trying to convince you the players are to blame for this potential disaster.
Staying with the status quo is not an option.
You had record ratings, made billions of dollars, and established yourself as the dominant force in televised entertainment. So you're going to have to do better than, "Well, it's the same shit!" to convince me this deal currently puts you in dire straits.
The union has repeatedly said that it hasn't asked for anything more and literally wants to continue playing under the existing agreement. That clearly indicates the deal has moved too far in favor of one side.
That's a fucking pathetic argument. "Hey, one side is happy with the deal. IT MUST BE UNFAIR!"

You can read the rest of Goodell's letter for yourself. He also says that the league "needs" new stadiums in Minneapolis, San Diego, Buffalo, and L.A. That's a bald-faced lie. The NFL doesn't NEED new stadiums at all. It won't become financially unviable just because the Bills are still eating ass in Orchard Park a decade from now. It WANTS new stadiums, and it wants the players to help pay for them. And while I'm all for making as much money as you can, I'm not all for it if it means dicking everyone out of football for two years just because you can get away with it.

Regardless of how this shit plays out, starting tonight, this is all 100 percent the owners' fault. Maybe you'll grow tempted to start blaming the players equally as this thing drags out, but you shouldn't. This isn't like 1994, when baseball shut down because it had both asshole owners and a players union that didn't even want drug testing and initiated the labor conflict by putting down their bats and striking in the middle of the season. This is different. This was premeditated and instigated by the NFL owners. And while Goodell may continually try and spin it otherwise as we go on (no doubt with help from his accordion monkey Peter King), and while some people might start buying into joint blame, I won't. And neither should you. The players are cool. The owners are worthless titblisters. There's no need for even-handedness here.
Read the whole thing and spread the word.

If we're going to lose a fucking NFL season over this, and millions of people will lose their jobs because of it, the least we can do is make sure the blame goes to the right place.

The Train of Thought Lounge : Miles Davis “Stella by Starlight”

A return to the master, enjoy:

Live Recording from Carnegie Hall 1964

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The British WERE a Bunch of Imperialists!

While most people picked up on Mike Huckabee's idiotic "Obama growing up in Kenya" crap for the birther flirting... to me there's a far crazier element to it. Let's look at the quote:
Mike Huckabee seemed to suggest that Barack Obama grew up in Kenya, even though he indicated that the president's birth certificate is real. [...]

"One thing that I do know is his having grown up in Kenya, his view of the Brits, for example, very different than the average American," Huckabee said in response.

"If you think about it, his perspective as growing up in Kenya with a Kenyan father and grandfather, their view of the Mau Mau Revolution in Kenya is very different than ours because he probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather," Huckabee added.
Like Newt Gingrich criticizing Obama for his "anti-colonial" views, Huckabee seems to imply that the British rule of Kenya was a myth or something.

"He probably grew up hearing that the British were a bunch of imperialists who persecuted his grandfather"


Someone might want to explain the history of our own fucking country to these morons.

SCOTUS Docketwatch–Court sides with Westboro Baptist Church

Around 10 AM today, the Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, ruled that the First Amendment protects fundamentalists of the Westboro Baptist Church, known for their anti-homosexual protests outside of military funerals.  The immediate consequence is that the decision upholds the Court of Appeals ruling that threw out a $ 5 million judgment that was awarded to a father of a slain marine.

When we last covered the arguments, it was clear that this would be an interesting choice by the justices, who really strained to find some sort of argument to rule against the Church group.  But, it seems that the Church’s argument of their right to promote “ a broad-based message on public matters” is embedded within the constitution’s first amendments protection of speech.

Chief Justice Robert wrote the majority opinion for Snyder v. Phelps, with Justice Alito as the sole dissenter. 

UPDATE: Here is a breakdown of the Majority Opinion, which can be found at :

Roberts framed the issue around whether the Speech of the Westboro Church members was a ‘matter of public concern’, which The Court has ruled is at the very heart of the First Amendment’s Protection.  The key distinction between Private and Public speech is that “There is no threat to the free and robust debate of public issues; [and] no potential interference with a meaningful dialogue of ideas” in regard to censoring private speech. See Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. v. Greenmoss Builders, Inc., 472 U.S. 749 (1985).  To determine whether speech is a public or private concern, Roberts noted that The Court must look to the “content, form and context” of the speech in question, in order to make an independent decision so as not to intrude on free expression. 

Now, this is where the decision gets particularly interesting, on pages 8-9:

The “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of “purely private concern.”  The placards read “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11,” “America is Doomed,” “Don’t Pray for the USA,” “Thank God for IEDs,” “Fag Troops,” “Semper Fi Fags,” “God Hates Fags,” “Maryland Taliban,”“Fags Doom Nations,” “Not Blessed Just Cursed,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pope in Hell,” “Priests Rape Boys,” “You’re Going to Hell,” and “God Hates You.” While these messages may fall short of refined social or political commentary, the issues they highlight—the political and moral conduct of the United States and its citizens, the fate of our Nation, homosexuality in the military, and scandals involving the Catholic clergy—are matters of public import. The signs certainly convey Westboro’s position on those issues, in a manner designed, unlike the private speech in Dun & Bradstreet, to reach as broad a public audience as possible. And even if a few of the signs—such as “You’re Going to Hell” and “God Hates You”—were viewed as containing messages related to Matthew Snyder or the Snyders specifically, that would not change the fact that the overall thrust and dominant theme of Westboro’s demonstration spoke to broader public issues.

At the end of the opinion, Roberts concludes by writing:

Speech is powerful. It can stir people to action, move them to tears of both joy and sorrow, and—as it did here—inflict great pain. On the facts before us, we cannot react to that pain by punishing the speaker. As a Nation we have chosen a different course—to protect even hurtful speech on public issues to ensure that we do not stifle public debate. That choice requires that we shield Westboro from tort liability for its picketing in this case.

I’ll have more later as I dissect the opinion in full, along with Justice Alito’s dissent.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Nobody Goes To Jail

As usual, a really great piece by Matt Tiabbi:
Nobody goes to jail. This is the mantra of the financial-crisis era, one that saw virtually every major bank and financial company on Wall Street embroiled in obscene criminal scandals that impoverished millions and collectively destroyed hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars of the world's wealth — and nobody went to jail. Nobody, that is, except Bernie Madoff, a flamboyant and pathological celebrity con artist, whose victims happened to be other rich and famous people.

The rest of them, all of them, got off. Not a single executive who ran the companies that cooked up and cashed in on the phony financial boom — an industrywide scam that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities — has ever been convicted. Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What's more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even "one dollar" just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars.

Instead, federal regulators and prosecutors have let the banks and finance companies that tried to burn the world economy to the ground get off with carefully orchestrated settlements — whitewash jobs that involve the firms paying pathetically small fines without even being required to admit wrongdoing. To add insult to injury, the people who actually committed the crimes almost never pay the fines themselves; banks caught defrauding their shareholders often use shareholder money to foot the tab of justice. "If the allegations in these settlements are true," says Jed Rakoff, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, "it's management buying its way off cheap, from the pockets of their victims."
It's long, but it's really worth reading the whole thing.

So People Don't Hate Public Workers?

I was hoping that some data would come out and test the right's fantasy of private sector members of the middle class hating public sector members of the middle class. I never thought it would be this overwhelming or conclusive:
Three national polls show scapegoating of public employees is a bust: We now have three big national polls showing that Americans back public employees in their standoffs with governors who would roll back bargaining rights -- clear evidence that the public has not been as quick to scapegoat them for our economic doldrums as many expected.

The new Pew poll asks people about the Wisconsin standoff in particular, finding that more (42 percent) side with the unions than stand with Governor Scott Walker (31 percent). Last night's New York Times/CBS poll asks the question more generally, finding strong support for the right of unions to collectively bargain, 60-33.

These come after last week's Gallup poll finding that 61 percent favor the public unions against Walker. Tellingly, all three polls show support for the unions among independents, and all three show that only higher income folks lean towards opposing them. Whatever hostility exists towards public employees, it seems fair to speculate that proposals to roll back long-accepted fundamental rights represent an over-reading of public sentiment -- and may even be stirring some public sympathy for these workers and their right to organize.

Conservatives may retain the upper hand in the broader war over the fate of organized labor -- polls show the public continues to have mixed feelings about unions in general. But for all the distortions and faux populism the right has thrown at public employee unions, Americans just don't seem willing to be manipulated into questioning their basic right to exist.
I may be overly optimistic, but I think if there is a revival of union membership, then people's overall view of unions will become more positive again. Most people who have real world contact with a friend or family member who is in a union discover that they aren't the anti-christ, and people tend to like the things that organized labor fights for, even if they may be worried the word "union".

The momentum from Wisconsin keeps rolling on...