Monday, April 30, 2012

Truth to Power

With the white house correspondent's dinner this past weekend, time to look back at (in complete seriousness) one of the finest moments in our democracy's history.

If you want the whole thing uninterrupted click here, embedding is disabled for some reason.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Train of Thought Lounge: Punks Jump Up Feat. Dave 1 of Chromeo–Mr. Overtime

Greetings friends, it’s been a long, LONG week.

In honor of all the overtime hours at school, work, family obligations, dealing with stress and all that fun stuff.

Shout out to & DJ Fucking Pretentious for featuring this song earlier in the week.

Train of Thought Lounge: Martin Solveig

Martin Sloveig: The night out

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Either Gay People Are Full Humans, Or They Aren't

I've been growing increasingly tired of this Obama Administration dance whenever a gay rights issue comes up:
The White House says President Barack Obama does not plan to issue a ban on discrimination against gay federal contractors sought by gay rights groups. The decision disappoints a constituency that has been an important source of support for him.

White House press secretary Jay Carney says Obama is committed to gay rights and would support legislation that would protect gay, bisexual and transgender employees of federal contractors.

But he ruled out a special presidential order that would accomplish the same thing now. Gay rights groups say that Congress won’t act to pass such a law and that the White House should step in with an executive order.

Carney denies the White House is trying to avoid a politically sensitive issue in this election year.
If he were king, would Barack Obama do all the awesome gay rights things we all hope for? Maybe. Or maybe he wouldn't. Since none of us can look deep into his soul the way Bush did with Putin, we really have no idea. So we judge him based on his actions.

Have there been successes under this administration's watch, like the repeal of don't ask dont tell? Absolutely. Yet, there are things like this, that are 1000% in Obama's control, and he chooses to give shelter to those who discriminate. Either gay people are human beings, or they aren't. There isn't room for political maneuvering on these issues. You're either with us or against us.

On To The Next One

Overtime win in game 7... doesn't get any better than that.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The French Election is Awesome

Anyone want to close your eyes and dream about hearing things like this in our presidential election? Taken from wonkblog:
Here was Francois Hollande, the Socialist presidential front-runner in France, back in January: “Let me tell you who my rival is. It does not bear a name or have a face, it’s the finance industry. In the past twenty years, the financial industry has taken control of our societies, of our lives and threatens our states.” In London the following month, this was Hollande’s way of dialing back his speech in a talk with investors: “I am not dangerous… [still], there must be regulation everywhere.”

And Jean Luc Melenchon, a one-time Trotskyist who was running on Hollande’s left, didn’t even make that minor concession. “I’m dangerous!,” he told the Guardian proudly. “Dangerous for financial interests, and dangerous for the oligarchy in France and Europe.”
Hollande has proposed subjecting all income above $1.34 million to a 75 percent tax. Melenchon, for his part, had been demanding a 100 percent tax on any income over $500,000 per year. That meant current president Nicolas Sarkozy was the tax conservative in the race: Having already enacted a comparatively meager 4 percent surcharge on high incomes, he was merely content to propose an “exit tax” on French citizens who moved abroad. Melanchon, for his part, wasn’t so worried about rich French people fleeing the country: “If they do, no problem. Bye bye.”...

Sarkozy set the standard for France’s approach to bank regulation by passing a 0.1 percent tax on all financial transactions within the country. (His efforts to spread this tax around the world has been opposed by the Obama administration.) Hollande, meanwhile, wants to go even further, separating retail and investment banking, banning “toxic” financial products, and preventing French banks from operating in tax havens.
Hollande wants to limit the pay of CEOs at state-owned companies to 20 times the lowest worker wage. That’s no small thing: Even after decades of privatization, state-owned company holdings account for about 5 percent of GDP in France, a category that includes the railway company, various airports, and the nuclear industry. (Melanchon, by the way, wants to try to reverse this privatization trend and nationalize France’s biggest energy companies.
If Barack Obama repeated anything half as bold as what was said here, I'm pretty sure the entire David Brooks would commit seppuku on the White House lawn.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Empathy Fail

Man, neither Romney can speak like a human being that cares about non-rich people:

“My hats off to the men in this room too that are raising kids — I love that, and I love the fact that there are also women out there that don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids,” Romney said. “Thank goodness that we value those people too. And sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us.”

Monday, April 23, 2012

Shell Spill 60 Times Bigger than Initially Reported

During our own fun oil spill, not enough of a point was made that while this was fucking terrible, this is something oil companies have been getting away with all around the world with pretty much no media attention. Part of the "getting away with it" is usually making up numbers to make the spill seem less significant.

That was the case here, although it took about a month for video to get released and for non hacks to produce real estimates of what we were doing to the gulf. Shell's spill in Nigeria received almost no media coverage, and people are just now piecing together the scope of this atrocity. Firedoglake:
The two NGOs unveiled documents pertaining to the Royal Dutch Shell Oil 2008 Bodo oil pipeline spill that showed that 60 times the amount of oil Shell had originally reported spilling have actually spilled in the ravaged Niger Delta coastal townwith a population of 60,000 people.
In a press release, Amnesty explained its findings:

The previously unpublished assessment, carried out by US firm Accufacts, found that between 1,440 and 4,320 barrels of oil were flooding the Bodo area each day following the leak. The Nigerian regulators have confirmed that the spill lasted for 72 days.

Shell’s official investigation report claims only 1,640 barrels of oil were spilt in total. But based on the independent assessment the total amount of oil spilt over the 72 day period is between 103,000 barrels and 311,000 barrels.
Adding insult to injury, Shell has yet to do a damn thing about it. “More than three years after the Bodo oil spill, Shell has yet to conduct a proper clean up or to pay any official compensation to the affected communities,” wrote Amnesty.
It may sound bad, but I'm pretty sure this isn't a problem that more drilling can't solve!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Continued Murder of Unionists No Concern To Obama as Free Trade Deal Is Set To Become Law

Earlier this week:
President Barack Obama certified Colombia’s labor protection efforts, allowing both sides to put the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement into effect May 15.

“We’re moving ahead with our landmark trade agreement,” Obama said at a news conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos as they wrapped up the Summit of Americas in the resort city of Cartagena. Obama called the trade deal a “win” for both nations. In the U.S., it will create “thousands” of jobs, he said, and Colombia will get more access to the U.S. market, its largest.

However, several prominent politicians along with U.S. and Colombian labor unions disagree with this assessment and oppose the deal due to the fact that Colombia is still one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a trade unionist.

Paez said, "They have barely completed the minimum. Of the 37 points in the plan, the Colombian government has not even fully completed two of the requirements,”

In a 2008 campaign speech, Barack Obama said he would oppose the Colombia FTA “because violence against unions in Colombia would make a mockery of the very labor protections that we have insisted be included in these kinds of agreements.”

That year, 52 Colombian trade unionists were killed. In 2010, 51 workers were murdered. Between 2011 and 2012 the total is 34.

“To pass the FTA without completing the labor action plan is a way of saying that the FTA is more important to the U.S. than workers’ rights. The North American government is thinking more about domestic politics, like possibly the upcoming election or the need to provide markets for American-made products in other countries like Colombia,” said a spokesman of opposition senator Alexander Lopez Maya.
He went on to say that this weekend’s announcement was a negative signal to Colombian workers and about Obama’s stance on human rights. “The U.S. needs to evaluate how serious they are about workers rights. If their support is in fact just for show, then that’s what they demonstrated with this summit. What are the actual politics of the Obama administration with regards to human rights?” he asked.
The most bullshit filled statement of them all:
There are strong protections in the accord for labor and the environment, “commitments that we are going to fulfill,” Obama said.
Yes! Really strong protections for labor! The Action plan was taken sooooooo seriously that ONLY 15 unionists were murdered DURING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE ACTION PLAN. And that was in September. I don't know about the data between September and December, but I do know that 4 more unionists have already been murdered this year. So that's at least 19 unionist that have been murdered SINCE the glorious labor ACTION PLAN took effect. The action plan was always a load of shit, but 19 murders! And that's apparently good enough.

Common sense would tell you that if you actually gave a fuck about stopping these murders, that when your plan to stop them results in at least NINETEEN additional murders, you would probably take a step back and reconsider. Apparently not.
President Obama: We need to sign off on that trade agreement and make it official. Just to check in, since we pretended to care about unionist murders in Colombia in April last year and created that toothless "action plan", has it yielded any results?

President Santos: Since we've been pretending to do something about the fact that murdering unionists is basically legal in our country, at least an additional 19 union leaders have been murdered.

President Obama: Nineteen murders. Nineteen times a mother or father was taken away from their children, solely because they were leaders in a union. And since 19 people were killed when we were all pretending to care about this, we can pretty much guarantee that these murders will continue without any efforts to stop them once this deal is signed, right?

President Santos: Yeah basically.

President Obama: Good enough for me!
It's not pretty, but Obama's actions on this deal speak much louder than his lies about the agreement. He never took these murders seriously, and even worse than that, he attempted to whitewash them with an "action plan" that was nothing more than a joke.

This isn't an issue of wages or even bargaining rights. It's an actual issue of life or death, and the President has trivialized their deaths. President Obama and anyone else involved in this deal should be fucking ashamed of themselves. The blood is on their hands.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Smart People Talking

Sam Seder has been on a roll recently with two really great interviews.

Chris Hayes:

Thomas Frank:

Don't know why embedding if fucking up, but apparently it is. Both awesome and worth a listen.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Wanker of the Decade

To the surprise of no one, it was Tom Friedman. Go over there are read the whole thing.
Friedman possesses all of the qualities that make a pundit truly wankerific. He fetishizes a false "centrism" which is basically whatever Tom Friedman likes, imagining the Friedman agenda is both incredibly popular in the country and lacking any support from our current politicians, when in fact the opposite is usually true. Washington worships at the altar of the agenda of false centrism, and people often hate it. Problems abroad, even ones which really have nothing to do with us, should be solved by war, and problems at home should be solved by increasing the suffering of poor and middle class people. Even though one political party is pretty much implementing, or trying to implement, 99.999999% of the Friedman agenda, what we really need is a third party catering precisely to this silent majority of Friedmanites.

Truly great wankers possess a kind of glib narcissism, the belief that everything is about them while simultaneously disavowing any responsibility for anything. The important thing about an issue is whether it proves Tom Friedman fucking right, but if it doesn't we can just move on to the next big thing that will prove Tom Friedman fucking right. If you advocate for wars that go a bit bad, well, it's not your fault. If only Tom Friedman had been in charge everything would have been great.
And if you're not reading atrios on a regular basis, you should. He's one of the best combination of really smart and really funny there is today. And if nothing else, he's the one who brought this clip to the world's attention:

Check him out.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The He Said/She Said School of Reporting

I listen to NPR when I wake up in the morning, and tend to get frustrated endlessly by what Dean Baker describes here:
Is today Tuesday? Some people say it is and others say it isn't. It's just so hard to decide.

That is pretty much what NPR told us about President Obama's record in turning around the economy this morning. It cited Alan Blinder, an economist who has served in past Democratic administrations, saying that President Obama's policies helped the economy. It then cited Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served in the Bush administration and was the chief economic advisor to John McCain saying that his policies harmed the economy.

It would have been helpful to give us the assessment of neutral observers such as theCongressional Budget Office. It also would have been helpful to try to make evaluate the claims of the Romney campaign that the stimulus harmed the economy.

NPR reported that the Romney campaign said:

"The president made the recession worse, the statement says, 'by pursuing a series of disastrous, partisan policies that created uncertainty, discouraged investment and stifled job creation.'"

There is a simple claim that can be evaluated here. The Romney campaign says that investment would have been higher had it not been for Obama's actions. This can be evaluated by comparing the path of investment with what might have been predicted absent the bad policies from President Obama.

Investment in equipment and software is currently close to 7.5 percent of GDP. It was 7.9 percent before the downturn in 2007. Given the huge amounts of excess capacity in large sectors of the economy, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which investment would have been much higher than it is today. If the Romney campaign is to be taken seriously in this claim then it should have to present some evidence that would establish its counter-factual as being credible. On it's face, it is not.
I actually heard this live this morning and was driven a bit nuts for the same reason. Also, if you ever listen to Marketplace or a bunch of their other shows they take the same approach. It's not helpful, and no one learns anything from the stories. But NPR doesn't see themselves as "taking sides" between truth and non-truth and being accused of liberal bias, so it all works out ok!

The More Things Change...

Came across this quote looking at an old post, just thinking about how true it remains. Robert Kuttner:
In April 2004, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney grew concerned that John Kerry was getting too much of his economic advice from the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party. Kerry had just completed his primary sweep. In the general election, he would need the unions. Sweeney proposed a private meeting to discuss living standards as a campaign issue, and the candidate invited the labor leader to his Beacon Hill home. Sweeney arrived at the Kerry manse, bringing his policy director, Chris Owens, and Jeff Faux of the Economic Policy Institute. There, seated in the elegant living room, were Robert Rubin and two longtime lieutenants: investment banker and former Rubin deputy Roger Altman, and fellow Clinton alum Gene Sperling -- Kerry's key economic advisers.

In a three-hour conversation, the group discussed the deficit, taxes, trade, health care, unions, and living standards. The labor people urged the candidate to go after Wal-Mart's low wages. Rubin countered that a lot of people like Wal-Mart's low prices. Kerry eventually announced that the meeting needed to wrap up, because "Bob has to get back to Washington." Rubin responded that, no, he could stay as long as Kerry wanted. Sweeney and his colleagues were ushered out the door; Rubin, Altman, and Sperling remained. "Wall Street was in the room before we arrived," says Faux, "and they were there after we left."
Living standards as a campaign issue?! I'll take spirited debate over who cares most about the deficit, thank you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

99% Spring Training

Yesterday I attended a 99% spring training session. The goal is to educate citizens on the use of non violent direct action, allowing people to understand that it is a valuable tool that has led to many of the most meaningful social and economic changes we've seen throughout history.

If you have the time to attend on of these trainings, I really couldn't recommend it higher. Click here for a list of trainings in your area.

I also think that for liberal organizations to be investing serious resources into this type of training is very significant. There was a debate among occupy folks and others over how this should be perceived. Worries of attempts at co-option from the occupy movement are completely valid, but my hope is that it's going on the other direction. I couldn't agree any more with Alexis Goldstein's comments here:
"These organizations are encouraging thousands of people to undergo direct action training, without any electioneering diluting that goal, despite the fact that we are six months out from a presidential election," says Occupy the SEC's Alexis Goldstein. "This is unprecedented, amazing, and shows that there is an important focus on trainings and educations among groups that may have different strategies."

Goldstein adds that Occupy is fighting an information battle, and any effort to educate people on direct action is a positive act.

"If anything, this is Occupy 'co-opting' [MoveOn]," she says.
And having attended a training, I can say this is completely true. The videos shown and discussion of the financial crisis don't spare team D, and there is no discussion of electoral politics, something that's honestly rare based on my time working with the labor movement. Check it out, it's worth your time.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The System Needs Less Rules, More Fraud

Most of us look back on the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act with dismay. How did such overwhelming bipartisan majority gleefully undo regulations that had been in place since the great depression, and think that all would end well?

As always, I'd be happy to be wrong, but the more I read about the JOBS Act, I feel like we'll be looking back in a few years and wondering the same thing. Matt Taibbi:
The "Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act" (in addition to everything else, the Act has an annoying, redundant title) will very nearly legalize fraud in the stock market.

In fact, one could say this law is not just a sweeping piece of deregulation that will have an increase in securities fraud as an accidental, ancillary consequence. No, this law actually appears to have been specifically written to encourage fraud in the stock markets.

Ostensibly, the law makes it easier for startup companies (particularly tech companies, whose lobbyists were a driving force behind its passage) to attract capital by, among other things, exempting them from independent accounting requirements for up to five years after they first begin selling shares in the stock market.

The law also rolls back rules designed to prevent bank analysts from talking up a stock just to win business, a practice that was so pervasive in the tech-boom years as to be almost industry standard.

Even worse, the JOBS Act, incredibly, will allow executives to give "pre-prospectus" presentations to investors using PowerPoint and other tools in which they will not be held liable for misrepresentations. These firms will still be obligated to submit prospectuses before their IPOs, and they'll still be held liable for what's in those. But it'll be up to the investor to check and make sure that the prospectus matches the "pre-presentation."

The JOBS Act also loosens a whole range of other reporting requirements, and expands stock investment beyond "accredited investors," giving official sanction to the internet-based fundraising activity known as "crowdfunding."
The next provision he describes sounds the law was designed to promote fraud:
When I first read this, I asked myself: how does a law exempting a Silicon Valley startup from independent accounting actually encourage investment? If American companies have to have their internal processes independently verified before and after they go public, doesn't that give investors all around the world a big reason to put their money here, instead of investing in, say, Mobbed-Up Siberian Aluminum LLC, or Bangalore Sweatshop Inc.?

In other words, how does letting go to market (and stay on the market for five years!) without publishing real numbers actually help the industry attract more financing in general, when the whole point of all of these controls is to make investment a less risky experience for the investor?

Get ready for the ostensible answer, because you won't believe it. Here's how CNN explained the reasoning behind that exemption:
Having 500 investors or raising $5 million previously forced a company to register with the SEC -- a costly endeavor. Filling out stacks of legal forms and undergoing independent accounting audits can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The law loosens requirements for most companies by raising several thresholds.
We needed Barack Obama and the congress to compromise the entire U.S. stock market because it's too expensive for a publicly-listed company with billion-dollar ambitions to hire an accountant? That almost sounds like a comedy routine:
SILICON VALLEY EXECUTIVE: Listen, is the hottest thing on the internet. We're so huge it hurts... I can't even walk to my corner bodega without women throwing me their phone numbers!

INVESTOR: I'd love to invest. Can I see your numbers from last year?

SILICON VALLEY EXECUTIVE: Well, that's just the thing. We painted the bathrooms last March, and then we also had that Vitamin Water machine put in the lounge. You know, the one next to the ping-pong table? So we just didn't have any money left over for an accountant. But I estimate our revenues for 2014 to be $4.2 billion.

INVESTOR: Sounds hot! Where do I send the check?
There's just no benefit that the JOBS Act brings to an honest startup company. In fact, it puts an honest company at a severe disadvantage, because now it has to compete against other, less scrupulous companies that can simply make their projections up on the backs of envelopes.

This is like formally eliminating steroid testing for the first five years of a baseball player's career. Yes, you can pretty much bet that you'll see a lot of home runs in the first few years after you institute a rule like that. But you'd better be ready to stick a lot of asterisks in the record books ten or fifteen years down the line.
As we ask with the overwhelmning majorities that passed banking deregulation in the 90s, you ask: Why would people do this? There isn't a majority of tea party members, why on earth would otherwise not completely awful members of congress get behind this bill?

The best I can come up with is:
1) Most members of congress are financed heavily by the banks, which makes supporting something that helps them a priority at all times, whether it makes logical sense or not.

2) People in congress are freaking out that the economy sucks and they might lose their jobs, and since one party doesn't care about governing and large portions of the other party are almost as bad, passing a a piece of legislation that promotes fraud that has the word "Jobs" in the name is better than doing nothing. It's low risk, and as they say on Wall Street, by the time this goes bad IBGYBG (I'll be gone, you'll be gone).

It's worth pointing out that things like the JOBS act are exactly why our system is broken. We have the biggest economic collapse since the great depression 4 years ago that was caused in large part due to massive fraud made possible by the non enforcement of existing protections and the deregulation of the banking industry. A mere 4 years since the crisis, congress passes a measure that deregulates these industries in a way that basically encourages fraud.

What's happened with the JOBS Act should basically be studied as a template for why our system is fucked up beyond belief. I don't have any easy answers, but it is worth pointing out how insane this whole thing is.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Swear to God, This Country...

Longer post with more about Tibet and the self-immolations is in the works, but glancing at the WaPo home page and seeing these three stories just blew my mind:

1. "Panel: Pepper-spraying at UC Davis was wrong"

2. "George Zimmerman to be charged in Trayvon Martin shooting, official says"

3. "Rep. Allen West says many Democrats in Congress are Communists"

All Hilarious/Horrible Things Must Come To An End

It's all over for Rick Santorum. May he live on forever on the internet.

At least we still have Newt!

Keep reaching for that rainbow, big guy!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Which Poor People Would Jesus Mock?

Rick Warren continues to be one of the biggest assholes in the universe. Pointed to this from tbogg:

1. This is bullshit, people pay taxes all the time, and this is talking about federal taxes.

2. I'm not as familiar with the teachings of Jesus as many who read this blog, but I'd love to know where Jesus mocks those who are doing SOOO well for themselves that don't make enough money to pay federal taxes. What a lavish life. They must have spent the big bucks for their fancy rain gear.

If only we were all so wildly successful at raising money off our bigotry... then we would be living a truly virtuous life.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Healthcare Debates, Regulation and Stuff

On a somewhat hilarious note, I had been working on a response to some of the questions Luke had posted in a comment, and when I had finished my response, blogger told me I had exceed the number of characters allowed for a comment. So here we are, in the form of a post.

Even though it's not directly related to the Supreme Court ruling or RB's post, I think it's worthwhile to keep these debates going because it raises further questions and clarifies makes the fault lines of disagreement.

The idea that because regulation exists both in the banking and health care sector that the government is somehow incapable of regulating healthcare in a helpful way is kind of talking past the point. Regulations are not inherently good or bad, but the idea that a greater role for government automatically means things get worse is proven wrong by the vast majority of industrialized countries who have a far greater role for the government in their health care programs than the United states. Those countries don't have giant populations of people without access to healthcare, in addition to having much cheaper health care costs than the United States. That's not to say that all regulations are good, just that more regulations (or enforced regulations) definitely aren't inherently bad either.

I know it's not the main point here, but since you brought up regulation of the banking sector, I really think you're mis-characterizing my views. I have put blame on the banks, but I believe I have also pointed out just about endlessly that both deregulation and corrupted officials in positions of regulation are absolutely equally responsible. Government had one of the greatest roles in these failures, but that was because we took away many of the laws that regulated the banks! And we had administrations that didn't believe in enforcing the regulations that were there! To say that because there were some regulations remaining within the banking sector and yet the crash of 2008 happened is about as inverted of a way of seeing that problem as I can think of. In other words, to me this is a case where although there were government failures in preventing this crisis, it should also be pointed out that government successes kept the economy less crappy and without these crashes for a long period of time when the regulations were doing their job. They cheat because we took away the rules that stop them from cheating, and stopped hiring competent people to enforce what few rules to remain.

With that tangent over, there were two main points I wanted to respond to from your last paragraph.

You want everyone to have access to medical care. At what cost? You think our free markets have created losers and winners when it comes to medical care. Losers compared to what?

I mean that winners (people with money, or jobs that provide it) get health care versus losers (people who don't have the means to get health insurance) are either forced to go through life without proper medical care that often leads to death. When you ask "compared to what?" I would say that someone who is poor but gets to live because they have access to medical care vs someone who is poor and dies because of it is the "loser" "compared to what" example I would use. The person who is poor would still not be a winner in economic terms, but they would also be alive because of access to medical care.

You think the government is capable of running the medical care industry and averting the impending collapse of our medical care system. What hard evidence do you have to support that?

My evidence is that just about every other industrialized country manages to provide better healthcare to their citizens for less money. ( and countless other places) And the government plays a much bigger role in the health care system in almost all those countries. Also, while it isn't perfect, medicare is more cost effective than private insurance, and people tend to like it better than private insurance. I haven't read a compelling argument that if medicare were expanded (either lowering the age to put more healthy people into the pool, or for everyone) that it would make the government less capable than it is at running medicare now. People pay for it in their taxes, and people tend to like the services they receive. That's not to say it's perfect, but I do think that's solid evidence that it can be done here. And that's also when you put aside that fact that most of the countries (close to all I think) that have better health care systems than us have far greater government over the health care industry than we do, I think that's good evidence as well.

With that in mind, since we agree that the US system could be made better, is there a particular country that you have in mind? I'd say that statistics show that France, England, Canada and countless others (including some that have extremely regulated private markets) have figured out this problem a lot better than we have, based on the fact that their health care costs are much lower, and they all have many, many less deaths due to a lack of health care (page 13 here: ) . I'm not throwing that out there as some re herring fact, "deaths due to a lack of preventable health care" is one of the better indicators of if a country is doing things well or not. (thank you Dan for pointing me to that graph). I'd be curious to know what your ideal health care system is, or what the closest example is, as exists in the world today? While there are elements I like or don't like about plenty of health care systems, I can list quite a few that I'd trade with our system without many second thoughts. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on that, and if they don't exist I'd be interested in why that is or what changes you'd like to see that would make it more possible.

As I said before, I love having these discussions, and I do think it's been a worth while discussion to have, so thanks to Luke for making that happen.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Few Thoughts About The Tibetan Self-Immolations

On Monday the self-immolations reached a level of coverage that had previously eluded them when both the Washington Post and the Huffington Post ran stories about them on the front pages of their sites. Right now the total count is 33 self-immolations, 32 of which have taken place over the last year, from a group of individuals ranging from young monks and teenage students to older nomads. Although a few journalists have been motivated to travel to the areas in eastern Tibet that are the hub of the self-immolations, they’ve mostly been given little notice by major media outlets. It seems that Jamphel Yeshe, the Tibetan who lit himself on fire in India, has provided the media with an accessible and undeniable example around which they can justify further coverage. Some thoughts:

1. The Chinese government has largely brought this crisis on itself. Although they have always gone to great lengths to restrict expression, ever since the 2008 Tibetan Uprising the government has upped the ante in every way. Closing Tibetan forums, arresting writers and singers, cancelling festivals, detaining intellectuals, increasing their interference in the monasteries, restricting travel between Tibetan regions, and striking hard at even the smallest protests, China has largely sealed every avenue for expression. Trends and policies that have been growing since the mid-90s, like greater Han immigration into Tibetan areas and more strident government denunciations of the Dalai Lama have also been taking their own toll. By refusing to reconsider these policies, Beijing has directly taken us to this crisis.

2. Self-immolations have not been a regular part of Tibetan resistance in the past. Some people, perhaps familiar with the Vietnamese self-immolations that also came largely from Buddhist clergy, harbor a misconception that this is a common tactic in Tibet. In fact, they’re almost unprecedented, with a sole self-immolation in the late 90s as the only prior incidence. In the long history of Tibetan resistance, from the defeat of the Tibetan army in 1950 to the Lhasa Uprising in 1959 to the guerilla resistance of the 60’s and massive protests of the late 80’s all the way to the Tibetan Uprising in 2008, never has the situation led to a rash of political suicides like this.

3. Beijing doesn’t know what to do about this. They’ve been very visibly struggling with how to respond, going back and forth frequently. First they denied that the self-immolations were happening, but then later admitted to it while trying to claim that they were the work of saboteurs and terrorists sent by the Dalai Lama. For a while they were trying to find other reasons that each person had lit themselves on fire, making up stories about particular monks having broken their vows or students having received poor grades and self-immolated in response. No one seems to have bought these explanations from the beginning, and they also backfired in terms of making Tibetans angrier- the immolators have largely been seen as heroes and martyrs, and hearing them slandered by state-run media figures served only to raise tensions. The armies of militarized police stationed in Tibetan areas may have prevented some larger street protests from occurring, but they can’t do anything about a single person with some kerosene and a lighter.

4. This may be the shape of the Tibet struggle in the future. In the past China has been able to identify consistent sources of protests (Labrang in Amdo, Lithang in Kham, Lhasa in U-Tsang, etc) and pacify them by force. Now the troops stationed in these places have kept them relatively quiet, but protests have spread to literally any place with a Tibetan population. We saw some of this in 2008, where protests took place in every major Tibetan town and prefecture (perhaps with the sole exception of Gyalthang), but in the last few months there have been protests and self-immolations in towns I’ve never even heard of before. These are small places that China has never felt the need to fortify in the past, and now they have to figure out how to respond. Do they have to keep every nook and cranny of Tibet under martial law? Will most of the plateau be locked down, not just every March but for months or even years at a time? Is there any effective way to prevent self-immolations? These are questions Beijing is going to have to deal with.

Just yesterday a group of 12 Nobel peace prize winners wrote an open letter to Hu Jintao, urging him to engage with the Dalai Lama and try to negotiate an end to the Tibet struggle. The Senate has passed a resolution condemning the Chinese crackdown in Tibet, and the UN has slowly been starting to take on the issue. Between outside pressure and the undeniable fact that the situation in Tibet is deteriorating, it seems like this would be an obvious time for China to re-evaluate their Tibet policies. Sadly there is no sign yet of them doing this, and in fact Beijing seems to be going even further in some regards. It has been two years since the last round of negotiations between the Dalai Lama’s envoys and Beijing, and after a state-run editorial called the Dalai Lama ‘Hitler’ last week, it doesn’t seem like they’re about to change course on that one. Changes to the minority autonomy system actually look like they would be even worse than the current one, with one plan from the United Work Department calling for an end to what little affirmative action policies exist in China. Par for the course, perhaps, but unlikely to help at a time when people are willing to burn themselves to death for a chance to register their disapproval of Chinese rule.

"Creating Jobs" = Giving Money To Rich People

This is the case with every single conservative "jobs" plan, and it's a point that doesn't get emphasized enough. If anyone wants to find a conservative jobs plan that isn't some form of giving money to rich people or rich corporations, I'm all ears. (via atrios)
Since taking office in 2010, Gov. Chris Christie has approved a record $1.57 billion in state tax breaks for dozens of New Jersey’s largest companies after they pledged to add jobs. Mr. Christie has emphasized that these are prudent measures intended to help heal the state’s economy, which lost more than 260,000 jobs in the recession. The companies often received the tax breaks after they threatened to move to New York or elsewhere.

The generous distribution of subsidies in New Jersey has come under fire from government-reform groups, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City and some New Jersey landlords, who contend that the programs are an expensive and ineffective form of assistance to wealthy corporations.

The critics pointed out that even when the promised jobs have not materialized, the Christie administration has merely reduced, not withdrawn, the subsidies. And they say that the administration is mortgaging the state’s future by forgiving so much tax revenue for the next 10 to 15 years.

“Christie has taken this to a whole different level; it’s become a feeding trough,” said Deborah Howlett, executive director of New Jersey Policy Perspectives, a liberal policy organization. “It seems ridiculous to steal jobs from one city in the state and move them to another city a couple miles away. There just doesn’t seem to be any benefit to taxpayers.”
It should be pointed out that there is no evidence that giving money to rich people makes them any more or less likely to create jobs. It does in fact, give them more money, usually at the expense of poorer taxpayers, who either pay more to make up the balance or don't get the services that their taxes pay for.

Also, this is another reason Republicans don't give the slightest shit about the budget, or budget deficit. If we suddenly had a balanced budget or a budget surplus it's not like they'd be happy and go home. No, they'd find a way to make the budget unbalanced again by giving trillions of dollars to rich people. Yes, this actually happened.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Horrible People

It's easy to go back and forth about hypothetical priorities and arguments about what someone really wants to do. With that said, sometimes people release the blueprint for the horrible stuff they want to do, and it make those debates clearer. Here is what Paul Ryan and congressional Republicans want to do, in two graphs, via Ezra Klein:

Tax cuts for rich people, and cuts to programs that benefit non-rich people. They know what they want, and they aren't shying away from it.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Deregulating Our Way Out Of This Mess

Watching up with Chris Hayes this weekend, I was frankly ashamed that I had not payed more attention to the JOBS Act that is bipartisanly sweeping it's way through congress. As Professor Black says in this clip, it is as if we have learned nothing, and we taking some of the main elements responsible for the financial crisis and expanding their usage.

Watch the clip and educate yourself:

I think the congresswoman's comments are frankly shocking, and a perfect example of how this type of thing goes through unnoticed. After plenty of substantive criticisms are made of the act, he defense has 3 parts:
1) The President wanted it
2) We care about jobs and needed to do something3) If it's bad, we can always go back and change it (for anyone who has followed our government over the last 3 years, that's a downright insulting statement)

Ugh. More on this when I get a chance to find out more. Sorry for missing the ball on this one.