Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A View Inside The Bubble

David Dayen catches an amazing quote from recently not-employed-by-the-White House economist Jared Bernstein: (in response to this Paul Krugman column)
Let me be clear. I totally agree that we mustn’t let “political realism” shut down our thinking on the best way out of this mess. And while that kind of writing sometimes feels academic to me, if done well (as Paul does it), it can slowly but persistently set the stage for actually doing the right thing when the political landscape shifts. Shift it will, and at that time, Paul will be among those who built the “new” paradigm from which economic policy will flow (“” around ‘new’ because most of this is known since Keynes).

I know—sounds like wishful thinking (well, for some…for others, sounds like their worst nightmare)…but I bet I’m right.

But then there’s this: There will be no WPA-type programs in our near future. There was no appetite for them in the Obama admin in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression and there’s a lot less now. The reasons for that are interesting and I’ll speak to them another day. But it ain’t happening.

And please don’t accuse me of “negotiating with myself” here. I stressed above the importance of making those arguments, and I frequently made them myself as a member of the President’s economics team.
1) on a WPA program, Bernstein explicitly says it was the White House, not Republicans, who had no appetite for direct, public job creation during the first term. Bernstein says he made the arguments about public works jobs inside the White House, but he was clearly outvoted. He doesn’t give the arguments made in response, tantalizingly alluding to “interesting” reasons that he will “speak to another day.” But he says very clearly that the reason we did all of this hoops-jumping and nudging in the stimulus package rather than just paying people to work at jobs that needed to be done was a philosophical decision inside the White House. In a sense we already knew this, but it’s important that a former White House insider re-emphasized it.
I can't say that this is too different than what I had guessed based on the various reports that had come out on the subject, but it's important to hear it from someone who has worked there, and made these decisions.

Bernstein's revelations about attempts at morgage modification are just as upsetting:
It’s also congenitally hard for politicians to get behind “a serious program of mortgage modification.” Those who advocate for this (the NYT editorial page, e.g.) are right, but they’re also downplaying a very binding constraint. The politics of this idea are deeply wound up in moral hazard. People forget, but it was precisely this action—giving mortgage relief to someone at risk of default and not to someone who was struggling to keep up their payments—that birthed the Tea Party.
Dayen (who has done some great work reporting on the forcolsure crisis, points out:
2) on mortgage modification, Bernstein agrees that this would be a wise course of action. But he adds that there’s a restraint on politicians, presumably also at the White House, about moral hazard, about the “wrong kind of people” getting a mod. He references the Rick Santelli rant, which happened over two years ago, as proof for this difficulty.

Now, the most interesting thing about this is that the Obama Administration, through federal regulators, are RIGHT NOW attempting to negotiate a program of mortgage modification with the country’s major banks, as part of the foreclosure fraud settlement. This raises very troubling issues about what the eligibility would look like on that deal. Clearly, the White House is preoccupied with the “right” type of person getting help; Obama has mentioned this on several occasions. Yet who is that “right” type of person when the banks have engaged in systematic fraud? They didn’t just defraud those deserving of aid, whatever “deserving” means; they defrauded everyone, with their fake documents and breaking of the chain of title and fee pyramiding and the like. There’s no way to slice the salami at this point, and divy up the “deserving” from the “undeserving” of a mortgage modification. That simply doesn’t make sense in this case.
I think it's worth pointing out that while politicians claim they support a rigorous examination of making sure only the "right" people get helped, this only matters when we're talking about people who have been screwed by the banks. When the richest of the rich came asking for help, no one gave a shit. Trillions of dollars were given, no questions asked, to the very same fuck ups whose recklessness enriched themselves and destroyed the economy.

So while I understand the point that he's making, I think he's giving the White House/Politicians who make that argument too much credit. They're not worried about the chance of helping a "wrong" person, they help them all the time. The issue is that they don't care about helping anyone who isn't rich and powerful. That, in my view, is the real problem.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Train of Thought Lounge: Miike Snow

When In Doubt, Blame The Jews

Rep. Joe Walsh, a Republican from Illinois (and a Catholic) in an Op-ed that appears to have been written by a 3rd grader:
It pains me to say this, but President Obama is not pro-Israel. After last Thursday’s speech, that should be clear. His call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on the 1967 borders should leave no doubt where he stands. The 1967 borders are entirely indefensible. He is not pro-Israel.
President Obama has effectively abandoned the 50-year-old U.S. alliance with Israel.

So, where is the outrage from the American Jewish community? Don’t they understand that the president is not pro-Israel? Aren’t they troubled by his history of pro-Palestinian writings, speeches, and actions? The short answer is that most American Jews are liberal, and most American liberals side with the Palestinians and vague notions of “peace” instead of with Israel’s wellbeing and security. Like the president, the U.N., and most of Europe, too many American Jews aren’t as pro-Israel as they should be and too many share his belief that the Palestinians are victims of Israeli occupation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we want peace in the Middle East, we need a paradigm shift. The U.S. can no longer be an honest broker, a “referee” between two opposing sides. That mindset has gotten us nowhere.
The US as an honest broker... cause... well... yeah.

Damn those anti-Israel American Jews! So just what exactly have they stopping Israel from doing?

Continuing to expand settlements on other people's land?

Carpet bombing a civilian area for having voted the wrong way?

Murdering unarmed peace activists?

Using chemical weapons in civilian areas?

Yeah, not so much. I shudder to think of the monstrous actions Joe Walsh thinks Israel has been prevented from undertaking.

Wow! Cool!

Hey Train! Long time no see. I'm totally not dead, for what it's worth. It's been ten thousand years since my last post, but I'll definitely do that again some day. Maybe some day soon...

But for now, I'm here to say that I've started a little bit of a blog myself, located over here:

The China Hotline

Last year I would go to the office and open my email and get hit by a torrent of China news. I always thought it was a pity that all that info frequently pretty much stayed within the walls of that office. I thought about posting it here- but anyone not interested in China would be driven away from the train by like a dozen posts a day about one thing or another. Hijacking the train? Not on my watch!

So come on over to The China Hotline and get links to the meatiest, hottest stories of the day. Feast your eyes on the sensual dance of words and images and information, and maybe come away with a little more knowledge of what's going on over here. Oh, and don't worry- whenever I have words of my own they'll still show up here at the Train!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Something Everyone Can Agree On

Prime Minister Netanyahu's visit to the United States this week has led to serious discussion about the relationship the United States has with Israel.

Wait, did I say I serious discussion? I meant OMG stop the Kenyan Muslim from being so mean to Israel!!1! Glenn Greenwald:
The Right Wing Noise Machine all but accused Obama of trying to destroy Israel, with the GOP's leading presidential candidates condemning the President for the crime of "disrespecting" and "throwing Israel under the bus," Glenn Beck denouncing him for "betraying Israel," and Matt Drudge exploiting ignorance to screech in headlines that "Obama Sides With Palestinians."  Meanwhile, a former AIPAC spokesman demanded that Obama take a renewed public pledge of devotion to Israel, and circulated to the media statements of condemnation from numerous "pro-Israel" Democrats in Congress.  The neoconservative Israel-devotees at The Washington Post editorialized against Obama and predictably blamed him for the resulting tension with Netanyahu, siding (as usual) with this foreign government over their own.  And a Reuters article this morning claims that "some prominent Jewish Americans are rethinking their support for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election bid" due to that speech:

The backlash after Obama's keynote speech on the Middle East has Democratic Party operatives scrambling to mollify the Jewish community as the president prepares to seek a second term in the White House. . . .
"I have spoken to a lot of people in the last couple of days -- former supporters -- who are very upset and feel alienated," billionaire real estate developer and publisher Mortimer Zuckerman said.
"He'll get less political support, fewer activists for his campaign, and I am sure that will extend to financial support as well."
But remember: it's so very heinous and hateful to suggest -- as Walt and Mearsheimer shamefully did -- that some Americans are driven by devotion to Israel as their primary political preoccupation and that, banded together, they exert substantial influence.  Perish the thought.
It's not just right wing noise machine we can blame either. If there's one thing that can foster bi-partisanship, it's cheering on a nutjob who has made it perfectly clear that he wants no part of any plan that doesn't result in the destruction of anyone/anything Palestinian:
Top Democrats have joined a number of Republicans in challenging President Obama’s policy toward Israel, further exposing rifts that the White House and its allies will seek to mend before next year’s election.

The differences, on display as senior lawmakers addressed a pro-Israel group late Monday and Tuesday, stem from Obama’s calls in recent days for any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians to be based on boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, combined with “mutually agreed swaps” of territory.

Addressing a joint meeting of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will not return to borders set in 1967. He also welcomes negotiations on "the status of settlements."

Addressing a joint meeting of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will not return to borders set in 1967. He also welcomes negotiations on "the status of settlements."

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and other Democrats appeared to reject the president’s reference to the 1967 lines in his latest attempt to nudge along peace talks, thinking that he was giving away too much, too soon.
So what did Obama say that got everyone so fired up?

Did he say he'd reconsider US military aid if Netanyahu doesn't stop expanding settlements? Did he say he'd stop using the US veto on the security council to stop any resloution that so much looks in Israel's direction?

Not even close: (Greenwald)
Obama's call for a peace deal ultimately "based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps" is not even arguably a change from past American policy.  Though he's the first President to publicly call for such an outcome, that's been the working premise of American policy for decades.  It's controversial in one sense -- it unduly rewards Israel for its illegal seizures of land by suggesting they should be able to permanently keep West Bank settlements (the "land swap" aspect of the formula) -- but it does not remotely constitute a step in an anti-Israel direction.  When even Israel-devoted stalwarts such as former IDF Corporal Jeffrey Goldberg and the ADL's Abe Foxman are dismissive of the condemnation of Obama's statements, it's crystal clear that they pose no challenge to the dominant pro-Israel orthodoxy that has shaped American policy (and political discourse) for decades.

At most, Obama's public endorsement of this position was a symbolic gesture to chide Netanyahu for his overt indifference to U.S. interests (and, more so, belligerence toward Obama), and a small rhetorical fig leaf to the populist forces driving the Arab rebellion.  Yet even the most microscopic deviation from the dictates of the Israel Government produce shrill and ludicrous backlash from The inside-the-U.S. Israel Lobby.
. . .
This is one area where I think President Obama deserves support and some modest credit.  From the start of his administration -- from appointing George Mitchell as his envoy to  demanding a settlement freeze in the West Bank -- the White House has appeared to recognize that tongue-wagging subservience to the Israeli Government is a counter-productive policy.  Of course, the movement away from such blind support has been extremely slow and cautious -- Obama was silent in the wake of the attack on Gaza, supportive after the flotilla assault, and recently vetoed a thoroughly uncontroversial U.N. Resolution calling for a settlement freeze -- but there have been signs of a genuine desire to push the Israelis in a direction they plainly do not want to go.
So where does this leave us? Matt Yglesias points out that Netenyahu pushed the US around, without even the usual (false) pretense of a genuine desire for peace, and it made absolutely no difference in the outcome:
The upshot is that with a series of bold strokes following Barack Obama’s inauguration, Netanyahu has debunked the Barak/Sharon/Olmert/Livni centrist conventional wisdom that has previously dominated Israeli politics. It turns out that it’s not true that Israel needs to be willing to make tactical concessions to the Palestinians or even be polite to the White House in order to retain American support. Israel has a basically free hand to behave as it wishes, taking the pieces of the West Bank it wants.
The problem, as Glenn Greenwald points out, is that anyone (even the president) who finds the courage to do this most likely be ending their political career by going up against the most powerful force in American politics:
What made this last week significant is that it underscores how politically difficult such an undertaking is for any American President: precisely because of the obsessive, relentless Israel Lobby that Walt and Mearsheimer invented in their conspiratorial, bigoted heads.  If even the tiniest step provokes the backlash that we saw this week, imagine the domestic political upheaval which a true effort would engender.  The New Yorker's Hendrick Hertzberg put it this way:
The President wants to make peace and presumably knows that it won't happen without a huge and politically brutal American effort. Such an effort would probably provoke the Israel lobby (a better name for which would be the Likud lobby) into an all-out fight against his reĆ«lection. 
Andrew Sullivan added:  "To achieve this, he has to face down the apocalyptic Christianist right, the entire FNC-RNC media machine, a sizable chunk of his party's financial base, and the US Congress."
Unfortunately that is where we stand. Even stating publicly what had been known US policy for years leads to an unforgiving bipartisan backlash. And all of this for what? To blindly support a country whose decades long occupation and rampant human rights abuses helps ensure the United States remains extremely unpopular around the the world.

Our relationship with Israel really is one of those things that historians will look back in 100 years from now and be completely baffled at our actions. If nothing else, it's a great way to understand how few other things matter when this level of political influence is achieved. One of my favorite statements about political power came from Steve Rosen, the former director of foreign policy issues at AIPAC:
A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table. “You see this napkin?” he said. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”
Judging by the response to the last week's events, he could have had a lot more than that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Contempt for Ordinary People

Much credit to the loathsome David Brooks for saying out loud what many of our political elites think in private:
Britain is also blessed with a functioning political culture. It is dominated by people who live in London and who have often known each other since prep school. This makes it gossipy and often incestuous. But the plusses outweigh the minuses.
Ahhh the good old days. Politics is their club, and you're not invited.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"How are you not ashamed to do the job that you do?"

Don't know how I missed this earlier, but watching Matt Taibbi destroy Megan McCardle during this interview was incredibly satisfying. For background on McCardle, this Jesse Lee quote sums her up best:
It’s not so much that McArdle is wrong. It’s that she proves herself wrong and then stands on her mountain of stupid wrongness sneering at everyone who’s noticed that she’s gloriously fucking wrong about everything.
Taibbi setting up the interview:
Wanted to post the video for an appearance I did this weekend on "CNN Your Money" with Ali Velishi, in which I was invited to debate the Goldman issue with Megan McArdle of The Atlantic. Megan and I have a long history, which I don't need to get into here, but I'll say this: her ragged intellectual poverty could not possibly have been laid any more bare than it was in this appearance. In it, she actually argues that Goldman did not have any more responsibility to see that their clients made money than, say, The Atlantic magazine has a responsibility to see that Rolling Stone makes money.

I will leave it to the reader to figure out how exact a correlation there might be between a bank that sells a multibillion-dollar pool of mortgages to a client with whom it has an written contractual commercial agreement – an agreement struck under the umbrella of an extensive series of securities laws – and two magazines that have absolutely no business relationship whatsoever.

Taibbi saying "How are you not ashamed to do the job that you do?" and the stunned silence that follows the exchange is priceless.

Likewise, as Taibbi says the Atlantic magazine/Rolling stone comparison might be one of the stupidest things ever uttered on live TV in some time. All that came to mind was this:

An Independent Labor Movement

This type of stuff always seems to always end up being more talk that substance, but it's good to hear regardless:
In a speech at the National Press Club, the head of the nation’s largest labor federation will say that unions intend to focus their 2012 political efforts not based on lawmakers’ party affiliation but rather their stance on issues near and dear to labor.

“We are looking hard at how we work in the nation’s political arena. We have listened hard, and what workers want is an independent labor movement that builds the power of working people — in the workplace and in political life,” Trumka will say, according to excerpts of his remarks. “Our role is not to build the power of a political party or a candidate. It is to improve the lives of working families and strengthen our country.
The decisions on this stuff largely rests with the individual unions within the AFL, but a drastic change in course needs to occur within organized labor.

The amount of time, money and political credibility invested in Obama by union leaders in 2008 was immense, and there are very few results (including one massive betrayal) to show for it. My thinking had always been if there isn't a candidate in a race that strongly supports unions, the money that would have gone into GOTV efforts should be reinvested in organizing campaigns that builds worker power within that state for future elections.

It's not a perfect solution, but it's a thought. Any other ideas?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Spirit of Galt Compels Me

One of my favorite things about atrios is his ability to whittle down complex issues into simpler points. Like he says, I don't think this is always the case, but I do think there's a lot of truth in here:
There Are Two Kinds Of People In The World

Sort of kidding, but roughly I do think that you can differentiate between those of us who understand that no matter how hard we've worked, how talented we are, how much of the spirit of Galt pumps through our veins, that luck plays an immense role in whatever success we manage to achieve, and those who think that it's all them.
It's been my experience that often those who have experienced the most privilege are the often the last ones to acknowledge the success they've achieved isn't exactly a direct result of how awesome they are.

I don't quite understand why that is, because it's not a knock on all the great things you've done. Just an acknowledgement that luck, connections, not growing up in poverty may have played a role in where you are today. It shouldn't be that difficult.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Eric Schneiderman For President

Espcially after the previous post, it's also very important to point out when elected officials are kicking ass and taking names. Glenn Greenwald:
As the U.S. DOJ steadfastly looks the other way and other state Attorneys General prepare to settle all potential charges in exchange for payment of woefully inadequate "cost-of-doing-business" fines, Schneiderman is doing the opposite, aggressively expanding his investigation in a way that could single-handedly sabotage the efforts to permanently protect this industry from accountability:
The New York attorney general has requested information and documents in recent weeks from three major Wall Street banks about their mortgage securities operations during the credit boom, indicating the existence of a new investigation into practices that contributed to billions in mortgage losses.
Officials in Eric T. Schneiderman’s office have also requested meetings with representatives from Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley . . . The inquiry appears to be quite broad, with the attorney general's requests for information covering many aspects of the banks' loan pooling operations. . .
The requests for information by Mr. Schneiderman's office also seem to confirm that the New York attorney general is operating independently of peers from other states who are negotiating a broad settlement with large banks over foreclosure practices.
By opening a new inquiry into bank practices, Mr. Schneiderman has indicated his unwillingness to accept one of the settlement's terms proposed by financial institutions -- that is, a broad agreement by regulators not to conduct additional investigations into the banks' activities during the mortgage crisis. Mr. Schneiderman has said in recent weeks that signing such a release was unacceptable.
The investigation is still in its early stages but, at least preliminarily, it seems clear that Schneiderman is unwilling to permit the type of impunity that has been granted over the last decade to lawbreaking telecoms, Bush officials, NSA eavesdroppers and CIA torturers to be quietly extended to Wall Street tycoons, whose plundering precipitated a massive worldwide financial crisis, only to be even more enriched and empowered by the political response.  Earlier this month, Scheinderman also issued broad and sweeping subpoenas to two large multi-billion-dollar investment funds and their lawyers at the heart of the mortgage fraud scandal, independently jeopardizing the collective efforts to shield those culprits from accountability:
As state attorneys general work on a potential settlement of the nationwide probe of home-loan servicers, Mr. Schneiderman, a Democrat, has expressed concern that a deal could let the companies escape liability for future legal claims.
"We believe it's critical that attorneys general retain their ability to conduct comprehensive investigations of the mortgage crisis and follow the facts wherever they lead," a spokesman for Mr. Schneiderman said.
Pretty incredible stuff in this climate.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

If Rand Paul Says Something Crazy In The Forest, Does It Make A Sound?

I had been thinking about an exchange in the comments during the blogger-post-eating-period, so I figured I'd address some of the questions that came up during the debate.

The first debate was specifically about the post, where Paul compared being a public servant to slavery. On this point I thought 6.54's response said it best:
Rand's implicit definition of slavery, which you made explicit, is a big part of why I think his statement is insane.

Under that definition, all laws are slavery. Taxes are slavery. The draft is slavery. Fuck, even jobs and relationships are slavery. Rand appears to have no sensitivity to the shades of meaning in these different circumstances, most of which are much more easily comparable to slavery than universal health care.

Here's the difference:

If Doctors and hospital administrators and janitors and anyone else in the medical industry doesn't like the idea of universal health care, they are free to do whatever else they want to do. Slaves do not have this freedom. Period.
Luke argued in the comments that it was insensitive rather than crazy to call it slavery, which is also true, but I think that misses the point. I don't have a problem with hyperbole and saying over the top things in general (Goldman Sachs is not literally a vampire squid), but there just needs to be some form of factual basis to start, and to me this wasn't even close.

I also understand the point that Luke made about how his father felt about the taxes he paid, but I do think that generally moves into a debate about the merits of progressive taxation, rather than about losing our freedoms. I readily admit to mocking right wingers when they refer to "tyranny" and "slavery" when they refer to the social compact of taxes that exists in most western democracies. I do this because the 99.9% of the people making this complaints have never encountered the slightest bit of actual "tyranny" in their lives. These words have meaning, and these things actually happen in our world, so it just doesn't look good to pretend that they're even remotely the same thing.

So then the question becomes, as Luke asked, why do I call Paul crazy if that doesn't help the conversation?
I'd rather see the buck stop here though. I like this blog because you guys care, have good ideals, and are active in the political process. You have a chance to do good things, and I want you to succeed. I feel like the word crazy gets thrown around a lot here, though, and I don't think you are doing yourselves any favors by using it. For the most part, your political opponents (i am talking average folks, too, not just politicians) aren't crazy, they are just fed up and have lost faith in the government. You can't blame them for that.

You can't work with people you aren't even attempting to understand. As much as you would like to, you can't just pretend they don't exist either, which I know has been suggested here, too. Majorities never last forever.
And in addition to what Luke wrote there I'd add that I've called people far worse things than crazy. Frankly, this may just be a difference of opinion about what tone is appropriate in our discourse.

However, I completely agree that most people aren't crazy, and are fed up with the people in charge. No argument at all. I think part of the problem is the high levels of misinformation that exist in our society, that it makes getting into these debates very difficult. It's hard to get into a to a legit disagreement about the role of government in X industry if you can't agree on a basic set of facts.

Political journalists tend to look at the world as Blue vs Red, but the reality is that a huge portion of peoples' views are ideologically incoherent, and don't fit a cookie cutter mold. I'm not talking only about the right either. Having done a decent bit of canvasing (most of it during the 2008 election) I've heard some the full spectrum from extremely coherent arguments to some of the most confusing justifications imaginable about why someone was voting for or against our candidate. One of the reasons I like voter education work is precisely because I like speak to people one on one, attempting to talk out people's concerns and understanding what they expect from the people they vote for. On that level, not only do I have no problem with "attempting to understand" what someone with a different background from me thinks about politics, but I'm actually lucky enough that every now and then it's a part of my job.

Similarly, I really like talking about politics with friends (and people where there are much bigger disagreements than Luke), but the difference as 6.54 pointed out in his comment is that you are debating in good faith. I know that Luke is a good guy (pranks that he, J.N and I may have pulled on Jacob aside), and genuinely cares about a lot of the same stuff I care about, but may just have some fundamental disagreements over some major issues like the role of government, tax rates, etc. And I love debates like that, talking about issues like with friends is what makes being a nerd worthwhile!

As for why I treat the people I write about in a much different tone on the blog than I do when I engage in those discussions, I think 6.54 said it wonderfully:
But I have no interest in pretending that Rand Paul or Michelle Bachman or Newt Gingrich make their arguments in good faith. They just don't. Their ideas are literally incoherent most of the time, in the "get the government out of my medicare" sense. They have no respect for facts and history, and an explicit disrespect for Americans who aren't white, male and wealthy. (For this reason, I doubt that particular brand of American politics will survive our generation).

In this particular case, I'd certainly agree that using a word like slavery to describe a small change in medical funding policy builds up the illusion of a threshold being crossed in the minds of Paul's supporters. In fact, that's the whole reason he said it. But his immediate jump to such rank hyperbole is only another reason to write him off as just another disingenuous politician with no real interest in seriously debating about the public good.

If I took him seriously, I would indeed think him either stupid or crazy. In fact, I think he's just disingenuous. His goal is to create conflict and worsen the impression of an ever-growing monolithic government, when in fact decades of cuts have shrunk the government below the size it needs to be to do the very basic jobs we ask it to do.
Luke's response that if I understood Paul's worldview I would see it as an inappropriate exaggeration rather than an insane statement may also be true. In that case, I just view him as a selfish asshole rather than someone who isn't all there mentally.

The reason I think that type of language is necessary is that I think it's an appropriate response to much of what is happening in our current political climate.

When Republicans in congress propose destroying medicare as we know it, I think it's more than appropriate to point out that many old people will die as a direct result.

When Dick Durban flirt with cutting social security, I don't mind calling him a monster.

When Rand Paul says that the mining industry should be allowed to regulate themselves in the wake of the Big Branch disaster that killed 29 people, it's only logical to point out that he doesn't care if more people die preventable deaths on the job. And there are probably some words that come to mind about people who don't care if people live or die, aren't there?

This blog isn't the Washington Post op ed page, and I don't want it to be. The people who run our country make very important decisions on a daily basis, and the real effects of these decisions are often sanitized to keep people from getting too upset and connecting the dots about who is screwing them.

I like policy debates, but it drives me nuts how often discussions about these issues end up in the clouds. The real world consequences of Rand Paul's insane ideology would be fucking disastrous. And yes, I am saying I think Paul's Galtian style libertarianism can't make sense for anyone who is "sound of mind" and operates in a fact based world. In my mind, that can't be separated from what I think about Rand Paul the man or more specifically, what I angrily write about Rand Paul the man.

Frankly, part of the problem with politics is that we're taught to treat it like an other, a clean, honest debate between smart, well meaning people in a closed laboratory.

I don't need to tell you that it's not. It's a shitshow involving various groups of privileged, narcissistic assholes with truckloads of corporate money flowing to all sides. That's not to say there aren't good people in there, it's just to point out that when someone tries to make change there, this is what they encounter.

Anyhow, just my general thoughts on why I feel compelled to call people mean names on the blog.

What do you all think?

New Washington D.C. Basketball Uniforms–(Wizards De-emphasized . . .but still no return of Bullets name)

(Reposting this - JJ)

Yesterday, the Washington ("wizards”) NBA franchise unveiled a completely new branding scheme; attempting to blend in classic elements from the Championship Era Wes Unseld days, with a modern, sleek design that channels the new glory of Ted Leonsis’s Capitals franchise. 
The Home Jersey, which I must say, is absolutely beautiful:
I like them.  What gets me is that after the Gilbert Arenas “finger guns” fiasco, it seems that we will never return to the bullets moniker.  The new jerseys then do the next best thing, by incorporating the old bullets basketball and typeface in to the design.  Importantly, Leonsis has also created a recognizable, marketable and hopefully iconic secondary logo with the “d.c. unity hands”; similar to the bullets features:

Also note; the “d” in the wizards is shaped like the Washington Monument, and the team now has a secondary Monument inspired basketball logo for accents on the shorts and above the nameplate:

Thoughts? I like it; at least until the inevitable to the Washington Justice!  Welcome to the Supreme Court! Justice will be served! And now introducing Chief Justice John Wall!!
Can you imagine the Justice Scalia Bobblehead promotional tie-ins?!  The possibilities are endless!


So I wrote some posts that were supposed to go up on their own when I was away from computer access for a few days, but it appears that didn't happen.

Instead I see some posts that once were actually published on our blog as drafts in the editor, now having been un-posted, and the ones that were supposed to go up have disappeared altogether.

From what I remember, the only time sensative one was wishing 6.54 a happy birthday on Tuesday (Happy Birthday!), but I should be able to recreate some of the other ones over the weekend.

Also, I wanted to thank everyone who kept the discussion going in this thread in the absence of new content! There's nothing cooler to be away from the site and see that something like that has transpired in the comments.

I'll be writing a post soon on some of the issues Luke brought up because I think the debate raised some really interesting questions.

Most of all, thanks for your continued readership and support of the blog!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

But We Didn't Mean It!

Attention assholes: If you don't want to take the heat for trying to abolish medicare, don't try to abolish medicare.

A group of House Republican freshmen, tired of getting hammered on Medicare, is leading a fresh protest against Democrats' tactics on the senior citizen health care program.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger sent a letter to the White House Tuesday signed by 41 of his classmates “calling on President Obama to end the 'MediSCARE' tactics,” according to a release today.

“As new members of Congress, we are committed to having a fact-based conversation immediately. Our mission must be about the next generation, not the election—this is something we cannot lose sight of,” the letter reads. “Will you join us to stop the political rhetoric, work to advance America’s interests, and end this cycle of debts, deficits and indecision?”
Man, scare tactics attacking you for something you actually did are the worst.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Rand Paul Knows The Appropriate Comparison

I've told plenty of people that as nuts as he is, I actually agree with Rand Paul's positions on more stuff that 90% of the Republicans, and probably more some of the Douche Caucus Democrats as well (Stopping aid to Israel, fed transparency, drug legalization. With that said, holy fuck he is out of his mind: (via awesome Kentucky blog Barefoot and Progressive)

With regard to the idea of whether you have a right to health care, you have realize what that implies. It’s not an abstraction. I’m a physician. That means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me. It means you believe in slavery. It means that you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the person who cleans my office, the assistants who work in my office, the nurses.

Basically, once you imply a belief in a right to someone’s services — do you have a right to plumbing? Do you have a right to water? Do you have right to food? — you’re basically saying you believe in slavery.

I’m a physician in your community and you say you have a right to health care. You have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away and force me to take care of you? That’s ultimately what the right to free health care would be.
In fairness, saying people have a right to healthcare is basically slavery when you think about it.

This Is Not What Democracy Looks Like

When people look back and see when things truly went to shit for us, this quote from Mitch McConnell should get mentioned.
The main argument: If the president met Republicans and agreed to entitlement reform -- with no tax increases -- then both parties would be inured from political damage.

"I view this as a major opportunity for us to do something important for the country," said McConnell. "Think of Tip O'Neill and Ronald Reagan in 1983, when they fixed Social Security for a generation. Think of Bill Clinton and the Republicans on welfare reform in 1996. Think of Bill Clinton and the Republicans actually balancing the budget in the 1990s. Look, divided government, when neither party controls the government is the best time, the best time, and some would argue the only time, when you can do really big stuff. And if you do it on a bipartisan basis... I was running for the Senate the first time in 1984. This was the year after the bipartisan agreement between Reagan and O'Neill raised the retirement age for Social Security. I do not exaggerate when I say I was not asked about it a single solitary time. Not once in the course of a whole race. And the reason was that they did it together. When you do something together, the result is that it's not usable in the election. I think there's an understanding that if there's a grand bargain, none of it will be usable in next year's election."
And that's basically the end of any healthy democracy right there: Both parties collaborating on something monstrous in order to ensure that the public doesn't have anyone to blame. Credit to McConnell, he's more honest than most, and he actually said it out loud.

But We Didn't Mean It!

Attention assholes: If you don't want to take the heat for trying to abolish medicare, don't try to abolish medicare.
A group of House Republican freshmen, tired of getting hammered on Medicare, is leading a fresh protest against Democrats' tactics on the senior citizen health care program.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger sent a letter to the White House Tuesday signed by 41 of his classmates “calling on President Obama to end the 'MediSCARE' tactics,” according to a release today.

“As new members of Congress, we are committed to having a fact-based conversation immediately. Our mission must be about the next generation, not the election—this is something we cannot lose sight of,” the letter reads. “Will you join us to stop the political rhetoric, work to advance America’s interests, and end this cycle of debts, deficits and indecision?”
It's a shame when people question you about things you actually did, isn't it?

So Blogger fucked up and destroyed this post and rahul's awesome uniform post that went up yesterday.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

People Should Be In Jail

I came across this interview from 2009 doing research for work, and was reminded how good it was.

William Black should be nominated for something important, preferably 5 years ago.

An Hilarious Graph

Take a look at these awesome poll trends:

They support a belief I've held since the disastrous 2010 midterm elections: the more the Republicans submit their stupid ideas as actual policy possibilities, the more they get fucking creamed. Being forced to try to govern without having any real power was the best thing that could have happened for the Democrats' election campaigns.

Not that the Republicans haven't fucked over lots of other stuff with their House majority – they have – but at least the Democrats will have a shot at taking back the chamber in 2012.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Alan Simpson: Asshole, Idiot, Well Respected Person

At this point there is very little that Alan Simpson could say that would shock me. He's basically called for dismantling social security while serving on a presidential commission, and nothing. He's ranted about "enema man". Nothing seems to hurt his "seriousness" within the beltway media.

Along those lines, I don't expect that to change despite the fact that last week he:

a) Made an obscene gesture "to the AARP"

b) Has no clue what social security is/does
WASHINGTON -- Alan Simpson’s cold relationship with AARP is no secret, but the former Republican Senator from Wyoming took it to a new level Friday. At an event hosted by the Investment Company Institute, Simpson delighted the finance industry audience members by aiming a rude gesture at the leading lobby for senior citizens.

Financial and investment interests have long been supportive of Simpson’s broad critique of Social Security, since privatizing the old-age and disability support program would be a tremendous boon for Wall Street’s financial managers. ICI represents mutual funds and other money managers who control more than $13 trillion in assets.

Simpson’s forceful gesture came after an extended diatribe against Social Security, which he said is a "Ponzi" scheme, "not a retirement program.”

Simpson argued that Social Security was originally intended more as a welfare program.

"It was never intended as a retirement program. It was set up in ‘37 and ‘38 to take care of people who were in distress -- ditch diggers, wage earners -- it was to give them 43 percent of the replacement rate of their wages. The [life expectancy] was 63. That’s why they set retirement age at 65” for Social Security, he said.
Oh wait, there's more:
HuffPost suggested to Simpson during a telephone interview that his claim about life expectancy was misleading because his data include people who died in childhood of diseases that are now largely preventable. Incorporating such early deaths skews the average life expectancy number downward, making it appear as if people live dramatically longer today than they did half a century ago. According to the Social Security Administration's actuaries, women who lived to 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 79.7 years and men were expected to live 77.7 years.

"If that is the case -- and I don’t think it is -- then that means they put in peanuts," said Simpson.

Simpson speculated that the data presented to him by HuffPost had been furnished by "the Catfood Commission people" -- a reference to progressive critics of the deficit commission who gave the president's panel that label.

Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: "If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 -- that all of them lived to be 77 -- that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true," said Simpson, who will turn 80 in September.
The fact that Alan Simpson said the words "Catfood Commission" means that an angel gets their wings, and firedoglake gets some sort of prize.

This series of quotes at the end of the article really emphasizes how crazy he is:
Simpson said that questioning his data wasn't helping to solve the underlying problem.

"This is the first time, the first time -- and Erskine [Bowles, the deficit commission co-chair,] and I have been talking for a year and many months -- that anyone’s going to sit around and play with statistics like this," he told HuffPost. "Anything I tell you, you repudiate. You’re the first guy in a year and a half who’s stood out here with a sharp pencil playing a game that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with: 'What the hell are you going to do with the system?'"

The former senator enjoys a pension for his service in Congress, which lasted fewer than 20 years.

At the ICI event on Friday, Simpson called the members of AARP “38 million people bound together by love of airline discounts” and derided the group as concerned only about its own profit. He called AARP Magazine a "marketing instrument."

"Are these people patriots or marketers? That’s a harsh statement, and I intend it to be,” he added.

“They’re 1.5 percent of every mailing in the United States. One-and-a-half percent!” he griped, thrusting his fist into the air and gesturing toward AARP. “Gah! Jeez!”
There is literally nothing this man can do to lose his "respectability" in Washington.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Trains For Some, Idiot Governors for Others

It's good to see that even though some people are too stupid to have nice things given to them, the money will go to use somewhere.
WASHINGTON -- Amtrak and rail projects in 15 states are being awarded the $2 billion that Florida lost after the governor canceled plans for high-speed train service, the Department of Transportation said Monday.

The largest share of the money – nearly $800 million – will be used to upgrade train speeds from 135 mph to 160 mph on critical segments of the heavily traveled Northeast corridor, the department said in a statement..

Another $404 million will go to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest, including newly constructed segments of 110-mph track between Detroit and Chicago that are expected to save passengers 30 minutes in travel time.

Nearly $340 million will go toward state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest. California will also get another $300 million toward trains that will travel up to 220 mph between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

"These projects will put thousands of Americans to work, save hundreds of thousands of hours for American travelers every year, and boost U.S. manufacturing by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in next-generation, American-made locomotives and rail cars," Vice President Joseph Biden said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has sought to make creation a national network of high-speed trains a signature project of his administration. He has said he wants to make fast trains accessible to 80 percent of Americans within 25 years.
I gotta say, I think I generally understand the modern day Republican mindset (make the poor suffer, every benefit possible for rich people), but I will never understand their hatred of trains. I get it that poor and middle class scum are more likely to ride trains, but that means there's more room on the road for rich people!

Seriously don't get it. Who could hate trains?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011

What Recession?

I know I'm like a broken record on this, but not everyone is struggling:
CEOs at the nation's largest companies were paid better last year than they were in 2007, when the economy was booming, the stock market set a record high and unemployment was roughly half what it is today.

The typical pay package for the head of a company in the Standard & Poor's 500 was $9 million in 2010, according to an analysis by The Associated Press using data provided by Equilar, an executive compensation research firm. That was 24 percent higher than a year earlier, reversing two years of declines.

Executives were showered with more pay of all types – salaries, bonuses, stock, options and perks. The biggest gains came in cash bonuses: Two-thirds of executives got a bigger one than they had in 2009, some more than three times as big.

CEOs were rewarded because corporate profits soared in 2010 as the economy gradually got stronger and companies continued to cut costs. Profit for the companies in the AP analysis rose 41 percent last year.
Considering that these are the people who have the greatest influence over our political system, it's not too surprising that no one seems to care about continuing economic disaster known as 9% unemployment.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Declare Victory and Go Home

Conservative Republican Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina:
"I hope, after taking out bin Laden, that maybe President Obama will feel better about bringing our troops home," Jones said in an interview Monday evening, while complimenting the president and the military for a job well done.

"If bin Laden was the leader of al Qaeda, well we took the leader out. And there are so few al Qaeda in Afghanistan, their presence is so limited," added Jones, a vocal opponent of the Afghan occupation. "We could declare victory today. We have eliminated the leader of al Qaeda, bin Laden. He's now dead. So let's declare victory and start bringing our troops home."
I've favored leaving Afghanistan long before Bin Laden was killed, but you'd have to think this would give momentum to those opposing our presence there.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Life and Times of A DC Sports Fan

Fucking Depressing.
In the past 10 yrs the city of Tampa Bay has won a Super Bowl, a Stanley Cup, been to a World Series, DC hasnt even been to a Conference Final
It ain't over till it's over.

Caps in 7.


The Train of Thought Lounge–Drop Electric “What Now, of Paradise?”

Everyone, I present local group Drop Electric and this emotionally epic track.  I am not very good at writing music reviews, so I will just let the beats speak for themselves.

off the album–Finding Color in the Ashes

Drop Electric’s entire debut album can be downloaded here: http://www.dropelectric.com/audio/.

Props to whoever can identify the lone verse and poet behind those words.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Probably The Most Important Moment In US History

Fucking idiots.

The Right Wing Torture Fantasies Won't Quit

After Bin Laden was killed under the Kenyan usurper reign, I'd been wondering what fantasy the right would create to make this somehow their success. We have a winner!
Like so many memes that persist in politics, this one started on the Internet. The morning after President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan, conservatives started crowing that credit should be given to President George W. Bush -- specifically, for having the foresight and courage to torture the people who provided the initial scraps of intel that ultimately led the CIA to a giant compound just north of Islamabad.

The most prominent of these conservatives was Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who took to Twitter to ask sardonically, "Wonder what President Obama thinks of water boarding now?

About two hours later, the Associated Press published a brief story claiming that the CIA obtained the initial intelligence it needed to find bin Laden from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed -- the so-called mastermind of 9/11 -- and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi at CIA black sites in Poland and Romania.

Those secret prisons, which the Obama administration contends to have abandoned, were the facilities where Mohammed and al-Libi were waterboarded. There, the detainees supposedly identified by nom de guerre a courier who would years later be located by American intelligence officials, and lead them to bin Laden's compound.

"The news is sure to reignite debate over whether the now-closed interrogation and detention program was successful," the AP wrote. "Former president George W. Bush authorized the CIA to use the harshest interrogation tactics in U.S. history. President Barack Obama closed the prison system."

There's just one problem. The key bit of intel wasn't acquired via torture, according to a more fleshed out version of the same report.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Bin Laden is Dead

Osama Bin Laden is dead, President Obama will announce, according to multiple television networks.
This made me laugh, via kos' twitter:

 I guess no event is too serious for a meme.