Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Good Riddance President Snowe

Veteran Douche Caucus member Olympia Snowe is leaving the senate:
In a highly unexpected announcement, Olympia Snowe, the Senator from Maine, will not seek re-election, putting another seat on the table for the Democrats in the Senate and possibly shifting what was seen as a likely Republican takeover into more of a tossup.
Here’s the statement from Snowe, who didn’t really face much resistance for re-election:
After an extraordinary amount of reflection and consideration, I am announcing today that I will not be a candidate for re-election to the United States Senate.
After 33 years in the Congress this was not an easy decision. My husband and I are in good health. We have laid an exceptionally strong foundation for the campaign, and I have no doubt I would have won re-election. It has been an indescribable honor and immeasurable privilege to serve the people of Maine, first in both houses of Maine’s legislature and later in both houses of Congress. To this day, I remain deeply passionate about public service, and I cherish the opportunity I have been given for nearly four decades to help improve the lives of my fellow Mainers.
As I have long said, what motivates me is producing results for those who have entrusted me to be their voice and their champion, and I am filled with that same sense of responsibility today as I was on my first day in the Maine House of Representatives. I do find it frustrating, however, that an atmosphere of polarization and ‘my way or the highway’ ideologies has become pervasive in campaigns and in our governing institutions.
So Snowe alludes to the constant pressure on her to join her Republican colleagues on virtually every issue to block progress in the Senate, and presumably the prospect that she would have to do that for the rest of her career. This is another example of moderates being run completely out of the Republican Party.
Cry me a fucking river. Snowe has given cover for McConnell and the crazies more than just about anyone else. She went along with the nutjobs in her party almost ever time, doing their bidding in destroying any semblance of functional governance we had.

For all her bullshit moderate talk, when the chips were down, she was nothing but a coward. For this great moderate leader, where did she break with republicans on climate change? Immigration? Labor law? War? Health care reform when idiots on our side shut down the entire process to appease her every demand?

In the end, she caved to the demands of the crazy people running her party every single time. And for doing their bidding, I'm sure there's a lucrative career as a lobbyist waiting for her.

Good Riddance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Austerity-Pushing Assholes

There are many reasons the various incarnations of the Plutocracy Now! movement are really stupid, but Paul Krugman nails an important one:
I haven’t written much lately about the spate of articles either calling for, or at least wistfully speculating about, a “centrist” third-party candidacy. It’s nonsense, of course, on multiple levels. For one thing, if you look at what pundits calling for such a candidacy want, it’s all already in Obama’s proposals. For another, it’s not going to happen. For a third, the favorite imaginary candidate, Michael Bloomberg, turns out to be totally ignorant about the economic crisis.

But thinking about today’s column, I realized that it’s even worse than that. What defines centrist heroes, as far as I can tell, is that they are people who, faced with a catastrophic slump driven by private-sector abuses, and a severe shortfall of spending, declared that our most urgent priority is … to reduce budget deficits.

That’s often described as a courageous position, but it’s actually anything but: nobody in the Beltway dinner-party circuit has ever been ostracized for demanding entitlement cuts. And aside from being totally conventional, it’s also deeply wrong-headed — and if you ask me somewhat unethical, too, because it involves exploiting a crisis to push an agenda totally unrelated to that crisis.
The austerity consensus among our economic betters is pretty robust. Check out this chart that Matt Yglasias found from OCED's report on structural reforms. It's not supposed to be ironic.

Wow, those countries all the way on the right must be doing GREAT! They implemented so many reforms!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Perils of Interventionism

I think I'm going to post something from Up With Chris Hayes every week until one of the suits at General Electric realizes it's on their airwaves and shuts it down.

I thought this section on interventionism was incredible, especially the exchange between Scahill and Anne Marie Slaughter. As someone who is very sympathetic to Scahill's point of view, I can't say how amazing it is to see on television, and also that it was treated as a respectable point of view.

Watch the whole show if you get it a chance, it's really worth your time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Crisis Meeting at Komen HQ

Inspired by this.
*All quotes are fabricated. The stupid Mark Penn ideas are real. No, seriously.*

(Idea for this shamelessly stolen from the much funnier Drew Magary at Kissing Suzy Kolber)

Nancy Brinker: Man, we really fucked up this time. Maybe helping a right wing hack use our organization as a vehicle for her personal jihad against planned parenthood wasn't the greatest idea after all.

Random Komen Exec: No kidding! Not only did we do something that people hated, but we looked like incompetent liars in the process.

Pink Hat: Especially you Nancy! In retrospect, maybe you shouldn't have been on TV making up shit when it could easily be revealed as bullshit just a few days later. I mean, Jesus, how do you still have a job?

Brinker: Ok! I get it. It's not about who turned gave the keys to our organization over to an antiabortion nutjob, or about who tarnished our reputation by constantly lying. This is about me, urr, uhhh, cancer! This is about breast cancer, and how we convince people to trust us again! Yeah, that's the one.

Komen Exec: Maybe we could get a PR firm, someone who could help us with our image? Someone who could tell us how to make the public like us again?

Brinker: Yeah, that's a good idea, we need to find a way to make people give us money again. My $400,000 a year salary isn't going to pay itself! I don't care how much this costs!

(Door flies open)

Mark Penn: I've got two words for you: Archery Moms!

Pink Hat: Wait, Mark Penn? Isn't that the guy that single-handily lost the nomination for Hillary Clinton?

Komen Exec: Didn't he blow her $125 Million dollar war chest before they even faced a single primary?

Brinker: Now wait guys, let's hear him out. He's done work for firms in crisis before, I think he can help us.

Penn: That's right. First question: Anyone heard of Xe?

Komen Exec: Isn't that what Blackwater changed their name to?

Penn: Uh, yes. Well, what about Academi?


Penn: YES! Don't you get it? Blackwater changed their name first to Xe, and now to something different, and now no one remembers them for being a company of lawless mercenaries that murdered civilians for fun! I think this is a tactic we could employ here, a double, possibly a triple name change. Step one: Let's make the first name change something unpronounceable. How about Qkz?

Komen Exec: Uhhh, Mark, we're trying to make people like our existing name again, not make it so that no one will know who we are. Can you help us figure out what will make our members give us money again?

Penn: Sure, we'll shelve the Qkz project for another day. So you want a poll of your members? You've come to the right man, polling is my expertise. So what do you want your members to suggest?

Komen Exec: Isn't that what we'd be paying you to find out?

Penn: Of course, of course. Sorry, it's just that when I worked for Hillary Clinton we... we'll that's a story for another time. So what do you want to know from your members?

Brinker: We want to know how much we have to pretend we're sorry about this whole mess in order for people to give us money again, and how much we can push right wing bullshit on our members in the future without them freaking out and not giving us money.

Penn: Alright, I understand completely. What you need is a new microgroup you haven't tapped into yet, one that can give you more money. I happen to have written a book on this subject, so you've come to the right place.

Pink Hat: I'm not sure you understand what...

Penn: He's what I see: There are plenty of groups that are an untapped market for breast cancer donations. My idea: Aspiring snipers.

Komen Exec: What? We're trying to find out more about our members, what does this have to do with anything?

Penn: You're probably not aware of this, but small is the new big! Did you know in some random survey, 1% of people said they wanted to be snipers? How cool is that? That means 1% of the US population wants to be snipers! 12% of women have breast cancer in their lifetimes. Snipers care about cancer more than most, so by my calculations 50% of snipers have been effected by breast cancer and 75% would be interested in getting involved. If you can convince all of these snipers to donate to Komen, think of what that could mean for the ASPIRING SNIPERS! That trend could be a super-micro trend! I may have just crapped my pants with excitement.

Pink hat: Wait, what the hell are you talking about? What do you mean 50% of snipers have been effected by breast cancer? How do you know that? Where are you getting these numbers? Why are we talking about snipers?

Komen Exec: And when 1% of a survey says something, isn't that usually below the margin of error and meaningless? Also, why are we talking about snipers?

(Brinker reaches under table, pulls out gun)

(Room Gasps)

Brinker: I love it! This gives us a chance to use this gun promotion that we've been trying to roll out. Any chance we can get sniper rifles in pink?

Komen Exec: I mean, I guess, but that doesn't seem to do anything about the fact that our members don't trust...

Penn: Trust is a out of date macro trend, and you don't want to be living in the past. Anyone who wasn't on board with axing Planned Parenthood probably didn't really care about cancer that much anyway, at least that's the word I'm getting from the sniper community.

Pink Hat: Is there any polling you can do for us that doesn't involve snipers?

Penn: Of course! How do you feel about archers?

Brinker: I'm with the snipers! If our members wouldn't stick with us when the going got tough, what use are they anyway! Mark, whatever your rate is, we'll pay it, I'm sure these sniper insights don't come cheap. I'm glad we had this meeting, We'll have turned things around in no time!

Komen Exec: I give up. Anyone know if that pink gun is loaded?

Penn: One day everyone will look back in awe at the day these microtrends changed the breast cancer and sniper relationship forever. As for payment, that sound you hear is a dumptruck pulling around back, feel free to shovel what cash or valuables or organization has in there. Next meeting we'll plan the sniper focus group and I'll reveal a few more mircotrends that will BLOW YOUR MIND. Did you know that 1% of the population is a "pessimistic parent"? If merge them with the aspiring snipers that's SIX MILLION new members for Komen!

Brinker: My god... that's brilliant!

Penn: I know! Well, the president of Syria wants some polling on the political turmoil he's found himself in, and I think their population of NASCAR dads could give him an easy path to victory! Farewell!

Maryland Leading the Way

Well done home state!
The Maryland Senate passed a gay marriage bill Thursday by a 25-22 vote, sending it to Gov. Martin O’Malley, who sponsored the bill and is likely to sign it soon. Maryland would become the eighth state to allow same sex couples to marry, though opponents have vowed to force a public vote on the issue in November. 
Yes. And for anyone thinking of forcing a referendum:

That's what I fucking thought.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Is it a Walking Clock?

A constant debate among many of my friends is how did the Simpsons go to from the funniest show in the history of television to as unwatchably bad as it's been the last 10 years or so.

I thought this was an interesting take:
The Simpsons first aired when I was in the seventh grade, and like much of the country, I fell in love with the characters and embraced it with the same enthusiasm that I had shown for other, more wholesome programs like The Cosby Show. Certainly, The Simpsons felt rougher around the edges, darker, and definitely more controversial than previous sitcoms. Homer frequently leapt on Bart and choked him in rage. Marge was stupid, and Lisa misunderstood. Still, the show adhered to the sitcom form well enough to endear it to the public, but it alarmed conservatives. William Bennett scolded a rehabilitation center in Pittsburg for having a Simpsons poster on the wall. President Bush said, “We need a nation closer to the Waltons than the Simpsons,” causing Bart to crack wise on a later episode, “We’re just like the Waltons. We’re praying for an end to the Depression, too.”

A couple of years after The Simpsons first aired, I discovered that series creator Matt Groening, had been known for a weekly cartoon called Life in Hell. The strip featured the adventures of a forlorn rabbit living the life of an 80s-era loser from the Boomer generation. Someone—probably my stepfather—had a pile of Life in Hell compilations lying around and, being a teenage bookworm, I inhaled them in short order.

Life in Hell, as its title might suggest, took a dim view of existence. The cartoon portrayed the school system as a prison designed to drill any spark of individuality out of students, romance and marriage as a trap that put you on the long road to death, and death itself as a welcome relief from the tedium of living. It was clear that the Groening who wrote this comic simmered with rage at, well, everything. Reading Life in Hell pointed out the cynicism lurking right under the surface of The Simpsons, exposing it as a sharp and unflinching satire of middle American life. Marge and Homer had a loathsome marriage based on mutual inertia and stupidity. Homer is a child abuser, always set on Bart, who is destined to be a loser. The town was full of worthless people who couldn’t be bothered to lift a finger to help a neighbor. The America that Groening depicted in Life in Hell was the same America in The Simpsons, but the veneer of sitcom tranquility in the show made it more subversive. No wonder conservatives railed against it.

Then, slowly but surely, the show lost its direction. Gradually, the writing staff stopped seeing the characters as satirical darts thrown at America’s pretensions, and started to embrace The Simpsons as if they were characters on Friends, flawed but with the expectation that the audience wants them to win in the end. This particularly came out with regards to the Marge and Homer relationship. Earlier episodes, such as “Life in the Fast Lane” or “The Way We Was,” satirized the romantic view of marriage that portrays even the most dysfunctional matches as the meeting of soulmates. Over time, however, the show started to embrace the model of marriage it used to mock, giving in to audience desires to believe that Marge and Homer were made for each other.
I actually think this last paragraph put words to something I had felt for a long time. You knew the show had lost it's edge, but I had never really put my finger on why.

Also, this should be a PSA to anyone who wrongly associates anything the Simpsons have done in the last 10 years with the incredible show that preceded it. Don't be fooled. Go back and watch any episode from season's 3-9, they're just as funny as they've always been.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Shermaning Against Austerity

Krugman's anger is pretty great on this one:
Karl Smith, if I understand him, thinks that I should refrain from pointing out how foolish and destructive foolishly destructive ideas have been, and offer the proponents of these ideas a face-saving exit.

Chris Dillow, via Mark Thoma, explains why this is wrong. Dillow points out that Labour is responding with incredible lameness to the Cameron austerity agenda, even as this agenda fails, because it allowed Cameron to shift the Overton Window, so that only varying degrees of austerity are considered “responsible”.

I’m trying to shift that window back, both by relegitimizing Keynes and by delivering ridicule where ridicule is due. And I think I’m making progress.

PS: Karl first quotes Lincoln’s words about malice towards none, charity for all. Lovely words indeed. But the Second Inaugural was delivered after Sherman had laid waste to Georgia and South Carolina, ripping out the heart of the Confederate economy; Grant was about to be joined by Sheridan, who had just done the same to the Shenandoah Valley, giving him overwhelming superiority over Lee. If and when austerian ideology is in a state similar to that of Confederate war prospects in early 1865, I promise to be equally magnanimous.
A general Sherman style campaign against Austrian economics... I think that is something we can all get behind

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Actually posted at Politico:

WH flies labor flag in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE -- It's very clear what side President Obama is on here in Wisconsin.

Behind the stage where he will speak today are two flags: an American one, as usual, and right alongside it -- and a flag for the local union, Wisconsin 1848.

The president has been mum in recent months on the battle raging in the Badger State between unions and Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is facing a recall election largely pushed by labor after he pushed through laws effectively taking away collective bargaining rights in the state.

Here at Master Lock, Obama is speaking about domestic manufaturing and highlighting what he calls "in-sourcing," bringing jobs back from overseas. The padlock manufacturer brought roughly 100 jobs back from China to this factory --union jobs, the White House has noted.

Walker had been expected to join the president but canceled this morning because his office said he has the flu.
OMG Obama's in the tank for big labor!?!!!?

Or... it's the Wisconsin state flag. Idiots.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Train Lounge: Pictureplane

That band HEALTH has been frustrating me by not releasing new music recently, but label-mates Pictureplane got Jupiter Keyes from HEALTH to record with them, and follow the HEALTH school of messed-up music videos, so... close enough?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shocking Revelations From Within The White House (With Cats and animated gifs!)

The debate over the size of the stimulus has always been one that captivated progressives, and this will probably not end any time soon. People like myself have looked at all kinds of reporting on the subject for clues as to who chose the size, why it was chosen, and why there was such an emphasis on tax cuts.

Apparently a new book will be giving us a more complete picture of that process, and a whole lot more:
There has been no shortage of literature to dissect how President Obama handled the stimulus debate. But a new book by Noam Scheiber of The New Republic, "The Escape Artists," sheds new light on the matter.
As Scheiber writes, members of the president's economic team felt that if they were to properly fill the hole caused by the recession, they would need a bill that priced at $1.8 trillion -- $600 billion more than was previously believed to be the high-water mark for the White House.

The $1.8 trillion figure was included in a December 2008 memo authored by Christina Romer (the incoming head of the Council of Economic Advisers) and obtained by Scheiber in the course of researching his book.
"When Romer showed [Larry] Summers her $1.8 trillion figure late in the week before the memo was due, he dismissed it as impractical. So Romer spent the next few days coming up with a reasonable compromise: roughly $1.2 trillion," Scheiber writes. 

As has now become the stuff of Obama administration lore, when the final document was ultimately laid out for the president, even the $1.2 trillion figure wasn't included. Summers thought it was still politically impractical. Moreover, if Obama had proposed $1.2 trillion but only obtained $800 billion, it would have been categorized as a failure. 

"He had a view that you don't ever want to be seen as losing," a Summers colleague told Scheiber. 
So that's news. Before now, no one had previously mentioned a 1.8 trillion dollar stimulus under any context. But wait there's more:
When Summers made the final presentation to the president's then-chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, Scheiber writes, "It reflected what he deemed the best course that was politically feasible ... Yet because Emanuel and the president assumed Summers was largely giving them [economic advice], they believed they were closer to the ideal than they actually were." 

Well that's not good. Summers thought his job was to give the president a proposal that he thought was politically feasible, while Obama and Emanuel believed they were getting a strictly economic overview of what needed to be done. That may salvage some of Summers' rep as an economist (He still thought the stimulus only needed to be a "insurance plan", so not really), but it is fairly damning on the whole administration that this fuck up occurred on the most important decision of Obama's presidency.

But at least no one in the room was peddling completely discredited arguments against a larger stimulus, right?
The split was noticeable as early as the crafting of the Recovery Act, often with Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag playing the role of Keynsian antagonist. Orszag, writes Scheiber, "worried that the sheer size of the stimulus could undermine the confidence of businessmen and money managers." In the subsequent year, when other advisers argued that an additional dose of stimulus would prop up a staggering economy, he downplayed the potential impact. 

Sweet Jesus. Having someone making such a bullshit argument against stimulus is the equivalent to having to having a climate denier in the room when talking about global warming. It's not true and stupid, and why the fuck was someone who believes crazy things like that advising the president. Moving on:
At various intervals, Orszag clashed with different members of the president's economic and political team. David Axelrod, the president's chief communications hand, became convinced that Orszag was leaking material to The New York Times. Orszag, in turn, refused to incorporate any of Axelrod's talking points that he didn't personally find credible. Summers fought Orszag's pursuit of a deficit reduction commission, arguing that it would lock the president into uncomfortable reforms. He also pushed back on Orszag's idea of a domestic spending freeze, insisting the cuts would be too close to the bone.
"We're Democrats," Summers harrumphed. "We believe in these things." Besides, both ideas struck him as gimmicks unworthy of a president. To colleagues he complained that "what's really important in life is not to believe your own bullshit."
Orszag, in turn, so distrusted Summers' influence that, as Scheiber writes, he "enacted a special rule for Summers's deputy, Jason Furman: anyone receiving an unsolicited inquiry from Furman was to alert Orszag's chief of staff, Jill Blickstein."

In the end, however, only one economic adviser truly argued that deficit reduction should be put off for another day. And by the time the 2010 elections were over, even Obama's top political advisers were arguing that Christina Romer's position was utterly untenable.
It's nice to have Larry Summers being a dick for our cause every now and then! The "believing your own bullshit" line is key. I remember after Obama gave his main 'Austerity Now' speech, my first thought was, holy crap, I think they might actually believe this stuff. Not everyone believes it, but it's scary to know that some of them do.

Even with all the stuff listed above, we haven't gotten to the most stunning revelation in this article:
[Top Adviser David] Plouffe urged the president to give [entitlement reform] a shot. "I said he [Obama] should be big on entitlements," Plouffe told one former administration official, by which he meant reining in these budgetary elephants. Sure, this would enrage the party's base. But the political upside with the rest of the country would more than make up for it ... "Plouffe is pretty big on accomplishments trump normal politics," said one White House colleague. "Plouffe's view is that big trumps the little."

This is quite possibly the dumbest thing I have ever fucking heard. Putting aside the merits of cutting social security and medicare (none)... HE THINKS THAT CUTTING THE TWO MOST POPULAR GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS WOULD BE A POLITICAL WINNER. The guru brought back into the administration to put his reelection back on track THINKS CUTTING SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE IS A POLITICAL WINNER.

There are seriously no words for that level of stupidity. With advisers like that, what could possibly go wrong?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

News You Can't Use!

ABC News seems fine with making people stupid: (Dean Baker)
ABC News took budget reporting to new levels of irresponsibility last night telling its viewers to think of the federal budget like the family budget by knocking off 8 zeros to make spending $38,000, instead of $3.8 trillion. While this approach could be useful to put some items in context (spending on TANF, the main welfare program, would be around $190; the $1 million Woodstock museum that served as a main prop for John McCain's presidential campaign would cost 1 cent), it is fundamentally misleading in explaining the significance of the deficit and debt.

Unlike ABC's family, the government is expecting to be around in perpetuity. This means that it never has to pay off its debt. At the least, it would be more appropriate to make a comparison to a corporation, which may forever add to its debt as it grows. No shareholder would complain if General Electric borrowed a huge amount of money to expand a profitable division. Government spending fosters growth by financing education, infrastructure and other public investments which will make the country richer in the future.

However, there are even more fundamental differences between the government and a family. The U.S. government's debt is in notes printed by the government. If ABC wants to make the family analogy, its family has an obligation to pay off the $9,000 it has borrowed in 9000 sheets of paper that say "I owe you $1, payable in notes that say 'I owe you a note saying that I owe you a note'."

Most families can't borrow on such terms, but the government can and does. If ABC can't explain this distinction in its 2 minute and 30 second news segment, then it should look for a different analogy.
You would think a news organization would be slightly ashamed that anyone who watched that "family budget" segment is now grossly misinformed about how our economy works. Guess not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day Washington

One more sane state...
Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation on Monday to make Washington the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, but opponents said they would try to seek its repeal through a ballot measure. Ms. Gregoire, a Democrat and a Roman Catholic, said, “I’m proud of who and what we are as a state.” Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York and Vermont recognize same-sex marriage, as does Washington, D.C. The measure will take effect 90 days after the legislative session ends.
Also, here is a really cool Valentine's day mix from Bird Peterson:

Bird Peterson - Dearest Lover (A Mix For Heavy Petting) by Bird Peterson

Monday, February 13, 2012

People Won't Always Agree!

Atrios really nails this:
Everybody in DC needs to stop this fantasy that if only we find all the magic compromises then people will stop caring about this stuff. I'm not religious, but if I genuinely had beliefs that those in the Church profess to have, I wouldn't be happy with some sort of compromise. Why the hell would I? I'd be fighting to outlaw contraception completely if I thought it was strategically reasonable to do so within a broader agenda.
There is a sense that if each side moves a little close to the other person's position, then all differences can be worked out. This may be true when your friends are debating where to go for dinner, but in politics any decision you make is going to piss some people off, no matter what. People who oppose contraception aren't going to like this agreement or you! It's ok, they represent an extreme viewpoint held by 2% of the population! Tell them to suck it and move on!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them

Jonathan Chait touches on a pet peeve of mine:
And this is why I am forced to be so mean. There are just a lot of people out there exerting significant influence over the political debate who are totally unqualified. The dilemma is especially acute in the political economic field, where wealthy right-wingers have pumped so much money to subsidize the field of pro-rich people polemics that the demand for competent defenders of letting rich people keep as much of their money as possible vastly outstrips the supply. Hence the intellectual marketplace for arguments that we should tax rich people less is glutted with hackery. The very simple fallacy I pointed out by de Rugy has been knocking around for years, without end. (Here it is in a piece by Stephen Moore in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page. Here is Senator Jim DeMint making it today in an interview with the approving editors of Reason.) A similar problem exists, perhaps to an even worse extent, with climate change denial.

Most people don’t follow these issues for a living and have a hard time distinguishing legitimate arguments from garbage. I don’t mean this patronizingly: I certainly would have trouble distinguishing valid arguments from nonsense in a technical field I didn’t study professionally. But that's why there’s a value in signaling that some arguments aren’t merely expressing a difference in values or interpretation, but are made by an unqualified hack peddling demonstrable nonsense. Being so mean is a labor of love, I confess, but also one with a purpose.
The only issue I take with his post is that I'm not even sure qualified/unqualified is the distinction we want to be making. I'm sure plenty of these hacks have all the right credentials! The difference is that one side of the policy debate is lying almost all the fucking time. It's important to understand the difference between genuine disagreements on policy, and lying. Mainstream media outlets rarely point out the difference, and this unsurprisingly leads to people thinking most policy debates are genuine disagreements or he said/she said bickering. There is always some of that too, but the right has figured out that there is absolutely no political cost to lying constantly, so they're using it to great effect. Watch an interview with any Republican politician/think tank hack and I guarantee you over half the stuff they say are either highly misleading or outright bullshit. That's not to say that Democrats don't lie (All politicians do), but conservatives have turned it into a science.

I'm genuinely not sure how you counter this when most media outlets don't seem to give the slightest shit about educating their readers/viewers. However, since this is one of the defining dynamics of this era, it's at least worth pointing out from time to time.

Foreclosure Settlement In

I need to read more about this, but my initial verdict is: Not good:
Forty-nine states, every one but Oklahoma, as well as federal regulators will participate in a foreclosure fraud settlement that will release the five biggest banks (Wells Fargo, Citi, Ally/GMAC, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America) and their mortgage servicing units from liability for robo-signing and other forms of servicer abuse, in exchange for $25 billion in funding for legal aid, refinancing, short sales, restitution for wrongful foreclosures and principal reduction for underwater borrowers. The announcement will be made on Thursday.

This settlement arises from multiple abuses found in the servicing of loans and the foreclosure process over the past several years. At the height of the housing bubble, banks sliced and diced mortgages and traded them with little regard for the rules following land recording or securitization to such a sloppy extent that they lost track of the true owner on potentially millions of homes. To cover up for this massive failure, banks and their servicing units have been found to have routinely forged, back-dated and fabricated documents at county recorder offices and state courts across the country. Furthermore, they employed “robo-signers,” who signed hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of documents and affidavits without any knowledge of the underlying mortgages. In addition, investigations uncovered massive servicing abuses, including illegal fees charged to borrowers, putting borrowers into foreclosure at the same time as they were working out loan modifications, failing to honor previous settlements where promises were made on modifications, and countless other errors that maximized servicer profits and gouged homeowners. There are also cases of wrongful foreclosures where homeowners have been turned out of their homes without just cause, and servicer-driven foreclosures, where servicers illegally added late fees and applied payments inaccurately, pushing the homeowner into foreclosure. This is but a smattering of the examples of foreclosure fraud and servicer abuse found in a series of interlocking investigations, court depositions, reviews of documents in registers of deeds offices, and homeowner testimonials.

The deal caps a 16-month process that had several fits and starts, and closed with the final holdouts, New York and California, coming to terms. The deal will release claims from state Attorneys General, but individual homeowners retain private rights of action to sue over foreclosure fraud and other abuses. As part of the settlement, states will get a fixed amount in hard dollars that would go to fund legal aid services. “This will get a lawyer for everyone facing foreclosure in the state,” said one source in an Attorney General’s office. “This will stop every wrongful foreclosure.”

Oklahoma stayed out of the deal because the state’s Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, did not believe that the banks should face any penalty.

As far as the release goes, AG offices that signed onto the lawsuit claimed it was narrowly crafted to only affected foreclosure fraud, robo-signing and servicing (which I don’t feel is all that narrow, but I’m trying to just-the-facts this -ed). The lawsuit that New York AG Eric Schneiderman filed last Friday, suing MERS and three banks for their use of MERS, was preserved fully. There was a last-minute request by the banks to dissolve that lawsuit, but it was not successful. In addition, Schneiderman reserves the right to sue other servicers for their use of MERS along the same lines as the current lawsuit.

In addition, all securitization claims, tax fraud claims, insurance fraud claims, and more will be able to be investigated and prosecuted by individual AGs and the RMBS working group, set up at the Financial Fraud Task Force, with Schneiderman as one of five co-chairs. They will be able to use all findings gathered in multiple investigations into servicing and foreclosures in their investigation. At least one of those investigations, the HUD Inspector General report, will be made public as part of the settlement. That report, according to a senior Administration official, will show a wide variety of errors among the major servicers, but the worst will show up to a 60% error rate. In one incident described in the report, an employee of one of the servicers spent two weeks experimenting with her staff to see how long it would take to process foreclosure documents correctly. They determined it would have taken at least 1-2 weeks. This employee went to their manager and reported the information. The following week, the manager told the employee they were reducing the time spent on each file from 48 to 24 hours.
Read the entire article, because Dayen has been one of the best people covering this topic.

This seems to be a key point:

And then there’s the settlement price: $25 billion, divided up several ways. $3 billion will go toward refinancing for current borrowers who are underwater on their loans, as well as short sales. $5 billion will go as a hard cash penalty to the states, which can use them for legal aid services, foreclosure mitigation programs, and ongoing fraud investigations in other areas (one official close to the talks feared that much of that hard cash payout will go in some Republican states toward filling their budget holes). The federal government will get a cash penalty as well. Out of that $5 billion, up to 750,000 borrowers wrongfully foreclosed upon will get a $1,800-$2,000 check if they sign up for it, the equivalent of saying to them “sorry we stole your home, here’s two months rent.”

The bulk of the money, around $17 billion, will go to principal reduction credits for troubled borrowers. The banks will not get dollar-for-dollar credit for every write-down; reductions on loans bundled in private-label mortgage-backed securities, for example, will be under 50 cents on the dollar, and write-downs for second liens (mostly home equity lines of credit) will be more like 10 cents. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan believes that they will be able to get between $35-$40 billion in principal reduction in real dollars out of the settlement. Donovan became the point person on the federal level, along with DoJ, as the Administration pretty much took over the investigation and settlement process from the states, who were led by Iowa AG Tom Miller.

But even this $35-$40 billion number, which is at best a guess since the direction of the principal reduction is mostly at the discretion of the banks, pales in comparison to the negative equity in the country, which sits at $700 billion. And the banks have three years to implement the principal reductions, drawing out the loss on their books. As the New York Times reports, banks have covered reserves for all of this, and should see major boosts to their stock price as a result of the settlement.
35-40 Billion out of 700 Billion = Not good. More to come once the full details of the settlement are released.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Do Campaign Promises Matter?

I care about contested primaries. A lot. I think everyone should face them, even people I "like". I think they the make candidates stronger in the longer run and most importantly, it is the only real window to make someone earn your support. If there is a political position with enough popular support, during a primary you have leverage to force a candidate to nominally support that stance. Does this mean they will always keep this position? Of course not, but getting someone to commit to supporting something on the record, at least in theory makes it the candidate open to flack from both the media and various outside groups if they decided to flip. But is this actually true?
Obama on the individual mandate:

Also, Obama's pledge to renegotiating NAFTA
His pledge to renegotiate NAFTA was important in gaining support from manufacturing workers in many key primary states. This pledge was clearly never taken seriously once he got in the White House.
President Obama also promised to push for legislation that would allow for judges to rewrite the terms of home mortgages in bankruptcy. Any effort in this direction has been all but invisible since he entered the White House.
My way of choosing the candidate to support in any primary has always been to pick the one with the most progressive record and the one whose stated positions most closely reflect my own. During the 2008 election I thought it was silly when people picked their candidate based who they trusted the most, often with little evidence that that candidate supported the policies of their liking. Well, promises don't matter, not in the slightest, and I would feel differently in 2016 if someone told me they're voting for someone because they "have a feeling" they'll be more progressive while in office. If their stated positions and backgrounds are all relatively similar, why not?

I have to admit that during the 2008 race I didn't follow my own rules either. I was an Edwards supporter because his platform and advisers were significantly more progressive than Clinton or Obama, particularly on Economic issues. Once it was down to Clinton and Obama, I was strong for Obama mostly because of their differences on the Iraq war. But on other issues, I ended up following the same methods I ridiculed. Nominally Clinton took positions to the left of Obama, that I dismissed because of her record and because I didn't trust her in the slightest. On the issue I cared the most about outside the war (passing the Employee Free Choice Act), when Hillary Clinton said she would pass the Employee Free Choice Act  in the first 100 days of her administration it didn't change my mind in the slightest, even as Obama was barely choking through the acronym for the bill in his stump speeches. When Obama talked about reforming NAFTA, I took one look at his advisers and cynically rejected any hope that he would even mention those words once he became president.

I would bet everything I own that Hillary Clinton would not have passed EFCA in the first 100 days. And I was right that there wasn't a chance in hell that Obama would touch NAFTA. But is that good? Shouldn't the promises and positions that candidates take have some sort of importance? When it's clear that they're being broken (like Obama and the mandate), shouldn't there be some political cost for those actions? If what candidates say is completely meaningless, what is the point of primaries in the first place?

We all have priorities and issues we care about more than others. Say your issue was health care, and within that your preference was strongly against the individual mandate. You gave money, you donated time, you did everything to support Barack Obama based on his strong opposition to the individual mandate, as seen in the video above. He gets elected, and immediately embraces the mandate, and no one says anything. No one cares or remembers that this is a complete 180 from his position on one of the most divisive issues of the primary.

My question is this: What should you have done? Should you have done more homework on Obama's advisers, hoping to have a window into whether or not he would keep this promise? Should you have looked deeper into his soul, as Bush did with Putin, to know he wouldn't betray your trust?

I don't know if there is a right answer, but it is something worth thinking about. I'd be curious about your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Arizona is the new Wisconsin

Collective bargaining rights under attack, as fiercely as ever:
With a sweeping series of bills introduced Monday night in the state Senate, Republicans in Arizona hoped to make Wisconsin’s battle against public unions last year look like a lightweight sparring match.

The bills include a total ban on collective bargaining for Arizona’s public employees, including at the city and county levels. The move would outpace even the tough bargaining restrictions enacted in Wisconsin in 2011 that led to massive union protests and a Democratic effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

“At first glance, it looks like an all out assault on the right of workers to organize,” Senate Minority Leader David Schapira (D) told TPM on Tuesday. “And to me, that’s a serious problem.”

The bills were crafted with the help of the Goldwater Institute, a powerful conservative think tank in Phoenix that flew Walker to the state for an event in November. Nick Dranias, director of the institute’s Center for Constitutional Government, told TPM he sees Walker as a “hero” but that Wisconsin’s laws were “modest” compared to Arizona’s measures.

“In Arizona, we believe that the political will exists to do even more comprehensive reform,” Dranias said. “The environment, the climate that we face in Arizona is much more receptive to these kinds of reforms than Wisconsin is.”

Beyond a ban on collective bargaining, the bills would also prohibit state and local government workers from deducting money from their paychecks to pay union dues.

They would ban state and local governments from paying anyone to spend time doing union work, a practice known as “release time.”

And in another break from the Wisconsin model, the restrictions would affect every type of public union, including police and firefighters.
This ad that AFSCME made is pretty great. I remember that video at the time, but completely forgot that it was Brewer. The 2010 elections put some real imbeciles in office.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Tonight three states were overrun by Santorum... eh, let me try that again. Santorum surged from behind tonight... nah, that isn't right. Republican primary voters in Minn, Colo, and Mo experienced an explosive discharge of Santorum... Santorum erupted to the top for tonight, covering three states...

Alright, there isn't any way to make this not sound really gross, but I'm still psyched. Just when you thought the Newt derailment meant that the fun was over for this season, Santorum pulls a hat trick. Santorum just popped out of a hole and saw his own shadow and now we have a few more weeks of delicious Republican primary to enjoy! Maybe Newt can get his act together in a few of the states down the road and the three of them can just keep smashing each other all the way to the convention.

We can hope, right?

Class War Tuesday

Share of national income, % changed over the last 30 years:

(Via business insider)

Monday, February 6, 2012

Deportations for All, Nonexistent Political Victories for Others

The number of deportations during the Obama administration is something that has very much flown under the radar as far as mainstream media coverage goes. It's a shocking policy that unfortunately fits the Obama Administration's attempts at political calculus on a variety of issues. The idea seems to be that if they embrace a conservative policy (mass deportations, or cutting deficits), they believe it gives them room to move in the other direction and pursue more liberal policy goals (comprehensive immigration reform, increasing spending on infrastructure, etc.).

This strategy is frustrating for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they are playing a game that no one else has agreed to play in a world that doesn't exist. If they deport 400,000 people a year, the Republicans will demand you deport 500,000. It does not increase the ability to pass comprehensive immigration reform in the slightest and the only thing you will have accomplished is ruining the lives of many hardworking people who have done nothing wrong.

To learn more about the immigration policies under Obama, watch this really incredible episode of Frontline, and judge it for yourself. When issues like this don't get enough coverage (admittedly, they haven't gotten enough coverage here either), it's worth doing your part to educate yourself on what's going on.

Watch Lost in Detention on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Train Lounge: A-Ha

Being performed by North Korean accordionists, that is. Listen to this while you think of dear leader and the glories of juche ideology:

Good Economic Numbers

Good news: (Dean Baker)
The Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in January, bringing its drop over the last year to 0.8 percentage points. African Americans in particular saw an especially sharp decline in unemployment, with their overall rate falling by 2.2 percentage points to 13.6 percent, the lowest level since March of 2009. The unemployment rate for African American men over age 20 fell by 3.0 percentage points to 12.7 percent, the lowest level since November of 2008. The drop for women over age 20 was 1.3 percentage points to 12.6 percent. The unemployment rate for Hispanics dropped by 0.5 percentage points to 10.5 percent, the lowest since January of 2009. These numbers are erratic and may be partially reversed in future months.

The gains for whites were more modest, with the overall unemployment rate edging down by 0.1 percentage points to 7.4 percent. The unemployment rate for white men over age 20 fell by 0.2 percentage points to 6.9 percent, while it was unchanged for women over age 20 at 6.8 percent. The unemployment rate for all men and women over age 20 is now the same at 7.7 percent, the first time they have been equal since the recession began in December, 2007.
As atrios points out:
One more month of good news and I'll shed a bit of my bearishness, but it's still important to note that while this is good, it isn't recovery good. It's basically the average monthly job growth over the entirety of the Clinton presidency. Job growth in a recovery should be better and faster. This is enough to make a difference, but not a fast difference.
So, it's not quick enough, things are still really shitty, but this terrifying chart apears to be slowly moving in the right direction.:

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dem Senate Leadership Screws Unions Yet Again

Watch this powerful video of CWA president Larry Cohen describing this latest maneuver.

The emotion and anger there is real, and rightly so.

This is a small enough issue that calls on it really make a difference. And even if your senators are Democrats, this call still matters because we want them to take notice of this issue enough to bring it up with their leadership. It's the Democratic leadership that's fucking us on this.

If you get the urge to call, here is the number, and here is a sample script: If you want to learn more about the issue, click here)
Call 1-888-516-5820 to connect to your Senator's office.

When you are connected say: Hello, my name is _____ and I am a constituent. I am calling to ask the Senator not to pass the FAA Reauthorization Bill with the unrelated labor provision that would gut collective bargaining rights for aviation and rail workers. This has no place in a bill for funding of aviation safety, heath and security. Get it out of the bill or don't pass it. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Caving to Bullshit Over Fighting Cancer

This is going to make you scream:
Susan G Komen For the Cure has announced that it will stop funneling money to Planned Parenthood, ending a years-long partnership between the two organizations that provided mammograms and related services to low income women. But what accounts for the Komen Foundation's sudden change of heart? Surprisingly, it seems that the pressure may not have come from external sources, but from within the Foundation itself.

The Susan G Komen Foundation's official line is that they didn't end their relationship with Planned Parenthood in response to relentless bullying from pro-life groups, but because the family planning organization is currently under investigation by Congress. They have a rule, you see, that bars them from contributing to organizations that are under investigation at the local, state, or federal level.

Interestingly, this brand new rule that suddenly appeared in the books of the Komen Foundation just so happened to coincide with a Congressional investigation launched by a Republican legislator, who himself was pressured by the pro-life group Americans United for Life. And last year's assault on Planned Parenthood also coincided with the addition of a vocally anti-abortion ex-politician to the ranks of Susan G Komen For the Cure.
. . .
Komen's relationship with Planned Parenthood has been on the radar of anti-choice groups since the two organizations began their relationship in 2005. Last year, a shipment of pink Bibles were recalled after the publishing house behind them realized that by supporting Komen, they were kinda sorta supporting mammograms for poor women who received services from Planned Parenthood and thus kinda sorta supporting abortions, which is totally consistent with how "pro life" groups also make extra careful sure that none of their money goes to support "pro death" things like war or sweatshops or poverty or animal cruelty. Pro-life groups are always nice and consistent like that.
Man, there are some terrible people in this world of ours.