Thursday, January 31, 2013

Where Do Unions Make Us Strong?

Interesting Charts from Dean Baker:

I'll have thoughts on this at some point, but for now check out Baker's own analysis at the link.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Immigration Reform Proposed

With Obama and the Senate moving actually proposing things, it seems like immigration reform might start to move forward in one form or another.
“I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is within our grasp,” Obama said. He described the key planks of his plan as “smarter enforcement, a pathway to earned citizenship, improvements in the legal immigration system so that we continue to be a magnet for the best and the brightest all around the world.”

His remarks came one day after a bipartisan group of eight senators released their own blueprint for reform. White House officials described the Senate framework as “similar” and Obama praised them for their work in his speech.

Neither plan is fleshed out with enough detail to definitively compare them. But on the broad requirements for a bill - a path to citizenship, improved workplace enforcement, visas for high-tech workers - there wasn’t a lot of daylight between the two frameworks. As a result, the president indicated he was willing to let Congress work out a plan themselves — so long as they didn’t get “bogged down in an endless debate.”

“If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send them a bill based on my proposal and insist they vote on it,” he said.

The biggest difference was on border security. Obama, like the Gang of Eight in the Senate, called for a set of technological and personnel investments to prevent illegal immigration as well as a streamlined process to track people who overstay their visa illegally. But the Senate’s plan included an additional requirement that border security measures go into effect before currently undocumented immigrants can apply for a green card, a prerequisite to citizenship. It also would create a commission of Southwestern officials and community leaders to monitor the implementation of the security measures, although senators suggested it would not have veto power over the “trigger” for permanent residency applications.

On citizenship, both Obama and the senators suggested an earned path in which current undocumented immigrants would have to pay a fine, back taxes, pass a background check, and wait until green card backlogs had been cleared by legal immigrants before being considered for permanent residency. The details on this process are critical, since experts warn that the current visa system could delay citizenship for many undocumented workers by decades — perhaps even a lifetime — without further changes.

Neither side has gotten too in the weeds on fixing the system yet, although a White House official said Tuesday that reform has to “both change the structure of the legal immigration system permanently as well as add visas to the system temporarily to get through the backlog.” The Senate wants a separate expedited process for young immigrants and agricultural workers, the president’s blueprint only singles out young immigrants. Obama’s plan explicitly allows same-sex couples to sponsor their partners or spouses for a visa, the Senate does not address the issue.

But Obama also stressed in his speech that citizenship could not be some far off goal, but must be a defined and specific path that immigrants would be able to fully grasp from the start.

“We all agree these men and women should have to earn their way to citzenship, but for comprehensive immigration reform to work, it must be clear from the outset that there is a path to citizenship,” Obama said. The president added that it “won’t be a quick process, but it will be a fair process”

This could create conflicts with Congress, especially if the border security trigger ends up relatively strong or the green card system isn’t revised to review the undocumented population’s applications in a timely manner.
Josh Marshall was writing on twitter that he thought a bill would pass the Senate, and eventually pass the house with Dem votes. I think this is kind of madness, and would be absolutely stunned if any comprehensive reform with citizenship passes. This is the Neanderthal caucus we're dealing with in the house, and they run the show to the extent that any of the fuck-ups in the majority there run anything. Bringing this bill to a vote without a majority of his caucus would be suicide for the orange one, and people in those positions tend to not give up their jobs voluntarily.

Either way, it's really good that this issue is getting more attention and that the political ground seems to be shifting. The stigma against immigration reform seems to be fading, and that's not insignificant.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Krugman Invades the Moronic DC Happy Talk Bubble

If you're looking for a show that combines all the worst elements of DC groupthink in one place, morning Joe is the show for you. Brethless talk about deficits and serious discussions over the urgency of cutting social security and medicare is discussed by the Mark Halprins and Harold Fords of the world. Earlier this morning their world was invaded by Paul Krugman, and some predictable hilarity ensued.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I wish he had been more aggressive in attacking the general premise of Medicare cuts and emphasized that it is a health care spending problem not a medicare problem, but I can see why he would take a less combative approach on their show. Still, it was fun to watch him repeatedly point out that their biggest obsession (that the deficit is going to kill us all) is basically bullshit.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Obama is Sending Someone Involved in our Torture Program to Jail: The Whistleblower

This is such disgusting behavior by the Administration it's really hard to know where to begin:
A former CIA officer, who was the first member of the agency to publicly acknowledge that torture was official US policy under the administration of President George W. Bush, has been sentenced to thirty months in jail. He was convicted in October of last year of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) when he provided the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program to a reporter.

He was initially indicted for allegedly releasing classified information to journalists that included the identities of a “covert CIA officer” and details on the role of “another CIA employee in classified activities.” The Justice Department also charged him with three counts of violating the Espionage Act and one count for “allegedly lying to the Publications Review Board of the CIA” so he could include classified information in his book in addition to the charge of violating the IIPA.

The Justice Department under President Barack Obama wanted to convict him under the Espionage Act, as they have tried but thus far failed to do in the prosecution of a record number of alleged leakers or whistleblowers.
People who crashed the economy?
People who lied us into a war that killed hundreds of thousands?
People who attempted to legalize torture?

The Obama Administration wants us to move forward.

The first CIA officer to publicly acknowledge that we tortured?

The Obama Administration throws the book at him, trying to prosecute him under the espionage act.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Filibuster Fight Puts Dem Kabuki out in the Open

The filibuster wasn't changed because many senate Democrats don't want to change it. It's that simple.

Here's the tell::
Senate Democrats have the 51 votes necessary to weaken the filibuster, the top two Democrats declared unequivocally on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said he’s continuing discussions with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) over a bipartisan resolution. But when asked if he has the 51 votes for filibuster reform via the constitutional option if that fails, he didn’t mince words.

“Yes,” Reid said.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) told reporters that the Merkley-Udall “full talking filibuster” approach likely won’t happen because it “does not have 51 votes.” But he said a more modest package that Reid has put forth to McConnell, aimed at shifting the burden from a governing majority to an obstructing minority, would pass.
Breaking this down, both Reid and Durbin agree that they have 51 votes for a package that would weaken the filibuster. They don't have votes for Merkley-Udall, which is disappointing but not too surprising. As long as we get some reforms that are passed with simple 51 vote majority, that would be helpful for governing in the short term and important in changing norms for the rules in the long term. And let's state this once again for the record: they have the votes to take this option.

Fast forward to today (writing this before Wednesday night, so if they don't do a deal, forgive me), but so if, where they predictably "cave "and strike a worse deal with Mitch McConnell, it's because they don't want to actually change the filibuster. This is one of those moments where Kabuki dance is put right out in the open for the world to see. In the fiscal cliff negotiations, it was obvious that Obama didn't want all of the taxes on rich people to expire (including estate and carried interest), because he agreed to a deal that was much worse than what he would have gotten had he done nothing and rates went up on their own. It wasn't that he was a bad negotiator, he got the deal he wanted. There is no other explanation.

The same principle applies here. If you have 51 votes to do stronger reforms, and you agree to weaker ones, it means you didn't want to do the stronger reforms in the first place. That's exactly what happened here. Senators use made up rules like the filibuster to cover for the fact that quite a few of them don't give the slightest shit about actually trying to pass good public policy that risks offending their corporate masters. They would rather campaign and grandstand about popular policies and then whine about endless obstruction when in fact it's providing them an excuse to kill something they never wanted to do anyway.

If the Senate wants to do something (particularly it's leadership, they will make that shit happen. Harry Reid used the freaking NUCLEAR OPTION in 2011 when Turtle man was trying to embarrass the Democratic caucus into voting for a bill that was never going to pass. Notice he didn't do that for the public option, or stronger elements in Dodd-Frank, or any of the other millions of things Republicans have "stopped" with filibuster. Republican obstruction is actually a very useful tool for Democrats who don't give a shit about passing progressive legislation, which, unfortunately is a large portion of the caucus. They want the filibuster because it gives them the ability to campaign on progressive (and popular) policies that keep them in good standing with their base while actually doing nothing or watering down legislation to please the corporate interests that really pay for their campaigns. That's the game, plain and simple.

Harry Reid and Barack Obama make plenty of mistakes, but they aren't as dumb, naive and incompetent as these negotiations make them seem. They're getting what they want, we're just not playing the same game.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Dear Patriot, You and I are literally surrounded"

This Mitch McConnell email is all kinds of awesome:

Dear Patriot,

You and I are literally surrounded.

The gun-grabbers in the Senate are about to launch an all-out-assault on the Second Amendment. On your rights.

On your freedom.

Just the other night, President Obama urged them to act. And then he went one step further, spelling out the 23 different Executive Orders he will take to get your guns.
Barack Obama is literally at your door. Literally about to take your literal gun from your literal hands. The end is near, patriot.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Obama's Kenyan Anti-Colonial America, Round 2

We'll start with this amazing Chuck Shumer photobomb.

The speech was pretty interesting on a couple of fronts. Probably the most progressive speech he's ever given. Not quite sure what/if that means anything, but good to see regardless.
  • Strong defense of social security/medicare in his speech, if nothing else will be easy to clip and throw back at him next time he proposes cuts.
  • Obama wasn't in favor of gay marriage 9 months ago. His speech today mentioned the Stonewall riots and a full defense of gay rights. I'd say that's evolution.
  • Mentions of climate change, in fact more time devoted to them than during the entire campaign. We'll see if that means an actual push for anything whether through through congress of executive order/EPA/Keystone.
  • There was talk of an end to war, which will be great if it inclues the end of Afganistan as well as our constant bombings of Pakistan/Yemen/etc.
As for what we should really want/expect in the second term, our best bet for congressional legislation is for nothing major outside of raising the debt ceiling and not shutting down the government. If nothing other than those passes that's probably a good sign since anything that can get through the house is almost assuredly something I want no part of. Our best bet for good things would be Obama expanding his use of executive orders in immigration/climate/gay rights areas where he seems interested in taking action.

Any thoughts on the speech/second term predictions?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Abolish the Senate

But since we can't do that, let's at least make the institution somewhat more governable with sane filibuster rules. A really good slideshow here on why reform is needed:

Call your Senator (especially if they're a Democrat) and tell them to support Senate Resolution 4. This would be a major win for democracy (and as a result, progressive goals).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stupid Fucking People

Proof that you can be very rich and successful in business and still be a fucking moron:

Whole Foods founder and CEO John Mackey would like to revise a previous accusation that Obamacare is a form of socialism.

"It's more like fascism," Mackey recently told NPR. "In fascism, the government doesn't own the means of production, but they do control it -- and that's what's happening with our health care programs and these reforms."

Mackey, a libertarian, compared Obamacare to "socialism" in a Wall Street Journal op-ed he penned in 2009. Obamacare would "move us much closer to a government takeover of our health-care system," he proclaimed.

Idiot libertarians are probably my favorite sub-group of stupid people, because they try the hardest to sound like they know what they're talking about. "In fascism the government doesn't own the means of production, but they do control it". Yep, that's what fascism is, nothing more or nothing less. Controlling the means of production. Also just like Obamacare. Fascism. Carry on.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Everyone's born confident, and everything's taken away from you"

I find this quote genuinely powerful and thought provoking. (via upworthy)

But how will this effect rich people???

The Wall Street Journal put out this info graphic today as an explainer about how the fiscal cliff deal will effect people. You know, just a random sample of the population...

Whether you're making $650,000 a year or struggling to get by on $180,000, it's hard times for everyone.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Chained CPI: The Only Purpose is Cutting Benefits

When someone as powerful as Obama continuously floats a conservative proposal, there will always be an endless parade of Democratic hacks saying really stupid shit to justify whatever he did. Since Obama doesn't want people going around and pointing out that his proposal to cut Social Security would impoverish/kill old people, I can understand why these people exist, but it doesn't mean we need to listen.

Nancy Pelosi saying it was about strengthening Social Security was about as intellectually honest as saying that eliminating Social Security altogether would make it the STRONGEST PROGRAM IN HISTORY. Some douche on NPR the other morning claimed it was a more accurate representation of inflation, while Dean Baker points out if they wanted an accurate measure of inflation for the elderly one is being developed. And if they used a measure of inflation for the elderly it would certainly mean more generous benefits because of how much of their income goes to medical expenses.

It is about one thing: Cutting Social Security benefits. Nothing else. And yes, this remains the case even if it's greatest supporter is President Obama.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

R.I.P. Aaron Swartz

Extremely sad and infuriating.

Open democracy advocate and internet pioneer Aaron Swartz was found dead Friday in an apparent suicide, flooding the digital spectrum with an outpouring of grief. He was 26 years old.

Swartz spent the last two years fighting federal hacking charges. In July 2011, prosecutor Scott Garland working under U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, a politician with her eye on the governor's mansion, charged Swartz with four counts of felony misconduct -- charges that were deemed outrageous by internet experts who understood the case, and wholly unnecessary by the parties Swartz was accused of wronging.

Swartz repeatedly sought to reduce the charges to a level below felony status, but prosecutors pressed on, adding additional charges so that by September 2012 Swartz faced 13 felony counts and up to half a century in prison.

Swartz had long lived with depression and a host of physical ailments, which made his accomplishments that much more astonishing. Barely a teenager, he codeveloped the RSS feed, before becoming one of the earliest minds behind Reddit.

Ortiz's office declined to comment for this article. Late on Saturday, Swartz's family issued a statement mourning the loss of their loved one's "curiosity, creativity" and "commitment to social justice." They also put some of the blame for Swartz's death on federal prosecutors.

"Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy," the statement reads. "It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney's office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims."

That sentiment was echoed by Harvard University Law School Professor Lawrence Lessig, a friend of Swartz, wrote a withering blog post attacking the Department of Justice for its misplaced zeal:

"We need a better sense of justice, and shame. For the outrageousness in this story is not just Aaron. It is also the absurdity of the prosecutor’s behavior," Lessig wrote. "[Aaron] was brilliant, and funny. A kid genius. A soul, a conscience, the source of a question I have asked myself a million times: What would Aaron think? That person is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying."

Swartz's friend Henry Farrell, a political scientist at George Washington University, also pointed at the DOJ. "His last two years were hard, thanks to the U.S. Department of Justice, which engaged in gross prosecutorial overreach on the basis of stretched interpretations of the law," he told HuffPost. "They sought felony convictions with decades of prison time for actions which, if they were illegal at all, were at most misdemeanors. Aaron struggled sometimes with depression, but it would have been hard not to be depressed in his circumstances. As Larry Lessig has rightly said, this should be a cause for great shame and anger."

In the fall of 2010, Swartz downloaded millions of academic journal articles from the nonprofit online database JSTOR, which provides such articles free of charge to students and researchers. As a faculty member at Harvard University, Swartz had a JSTOR account, and downloaded the documents over the course of a few weeks from a library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
JSTOR typically limits users to a few downloads at a time. Swartz's activities ultimately shut down JSTOR's servers briefly, and eventually resulted in MIT's library being blocked by JSTOR for a few days.

This was inconvenient for JSTOR and MIT, and a violation of JSTOR's Terms of Service agreement. Had JSTOR wanted to pursue civil charges against Swartz for breach of contract, it could have. But JSTOR did not, and washed its hands of the whole affair. In 2013, JSTOR made several million academic journal articles available to anyone, free of charge. Academic research is designed to be publicly accessible and is distinct from the research of private corporations, which assert aggressive intellectual property rights over activities they fund. Last June, Swartz told HuffPost that both JSTOR and MIT had advised prosecutors they were not interested in pursuing criminal or civil charges.

But the government pressed on, interpreting Swartz's actions as a federal crime, alleging mass theft, damaged computers and wire fraud, and suggesting that Swartz stood to gain financially.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Train of Thought Lounge: Freeway

Such a classic, maybe my all time favorite Freeway. Always forget that some wire cast members make cameos. #Bodie4life

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mint The Sad Obama Coin. It's time.

As a fan of economist Stephanie Kelton I've known about the weird platinum coin loophole for some time. For those who aren't familiar, the treasury has the right to mint a platinum coin of any denomination. There has been a movement in recent weeks from some mainstream outlets to use a trillion dollar coin to pay down the deficit to avoid the debt ceiling. This is completely logical and should be done. However doing it would reversal from the DC establishment which has spent the last __ years convincing themselves and others that the deficit is a real and urgent crisis.

But most importantly, it made the morons at the NRCC create this incredible Photoshop:

Look, I'm not even going to focus on the fact that the person that made this doesn't understand how money works (as JN joked with me last night "What do they think paper is worth? How do they think you create the difference between $5 paper and $20 paper???").

I'm more concerned with the awesomeness of this photoshop. A sad Obama coin (with spending etched around the edges) sinking the titanic. It checks all the boxes. Distilled greatness.

Actual Problems: Climate Change

This is, uh, terrifying. (Via anonymous' twitter account)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

States That Have Implemented Rhee's Reforms Are Negatively Correlated With NAEP Test Scores

Michelle Rhee and her unionbusting/Tea party funding "education reform" organization Students First are at it again. They released a map of states, where they are ranked based on their willingness to support Rhee's favored reforms. They were surprisingly honest in their assessments of each state's education policies, and should be commended for that. The reason that I say "surprisingly honest" because Doug Henwood crunched the numbers, and Michelle Rhee's rankings are actually inversely correlated with actual educational achievement:
StudentsFirst, the school “reform” outfit led by the notorious Michelle Rhee, is out with a state-by-state Report Card on the nation’s schools. Grades were awarded on the basis of states’ conformity to the standard reform agenda—ease of creating charter schools, ease of firing teachers, ease of hiring teachers who aren’t certified in the traditional fashion, and testing testing testing. In the past, there’s never been any evidence that this agenda actually improves educational outcomes—and this report is no exception. Despite Rhee’s love of testing, there’s no mention of how states that do well under her criteria do on standardized tests compared to those that score poorly. That’s no surprise, really, since states that get high grades from StudentsFirst do worse on tests than those that score poorly.
StudentsFirst has Louisiana at #1 in its rankings—but the state ranks 49th in reading and 47th in math. North Dakota, which StudentsFirst ranks 51st, comes in at #14 in reading scores and #7 in math. Massachusetts, which ranks #1 in both reading and math scores (and which is also the most unionized state for teachers in the country), comes in at #14 on the Rhee scale.

Looking more rigorously at the results, the correlation coefficient on the rankings in the StudentsFirst report card with state rankings on reading scores is -0.20. (The correlation coefficient is a measure of the similarity of two sets of numbers, ranging from -1.0, completely dissimilar, to +1.0, perfect similarity.) That’s not a large number, but the negative sign means that the correlation is in the wrong direction: the higher the StudentsFirst score, the lower the NAEP reading score. The correlation on math is even worse, -0.25.
The results aren’t perfectly negative, and there’s not a perfect downward stairstep pattern in the NAEP columns on this table. But the evidence is nonetheless against Rhee. Alas, that’s the typical story of school reformers’ efforts. For a bunch of business-supported technocrats supposedly in love with metrics, there’s absolutely no empirical support for their ambitions. You might suspect that their real aim is to bust teachers unions and save money educating a population that elites have lost interest in.

Rhee herself has a rather checkered history. When she was being vetted to run the DC public schools, she claimed miraculous results in her previous work in Baltimore—but, as the Washington Post put it, “she could not produce data to support [her] statement.” That didn’t stop her from getting the job. And when she left the Washington post, an investigation by USA Today found strong evidence of cheating behind her claims of vastly improved test scores. And now she has a foundation, promoting the same agenda using data that can’t survive fact-checking. But the corporate and financial elite loves her education agenda, and when the elite loves you, there’s no blemish that can’t be overlooked.
I quoted extensively from this cause I think there is a real utility to what was done here. When Rhee supporter Matt Yglasias looked at the data, he thought that looking at their ratings would be a good way to measure the results of these reforms. I actually agree! One of Rhee's main beliefs is that economic factors are an excuse, and not the cause of poor education achievement, and that her reforms alone can turn Louisiana into Massachusetts. Considering I don't think her reforms will do anything to increase educational achievement, I would guess that they won't help and the states that have implemented her reforms will stay bottom of the barrel. I genuinely hope this is something people revisit because Students First has put their cards on the table. I'm not sure they realize how bad this list makes them look (I guess they hope we give them the benefit of the doubt and start looking from improved outcomes starting... now), but even then, I would be pretty much floored if any of those states made huge jumps in achievement over the next few years.

Of course, the easy answer for the negative correlation is these are policies designed to punish teachers and empower administrators rather than ones to actually improve educational outcomes, which is what I tend to believe. But in trying to pretend that students first isn't a union busting front group, Rhee is just going to make herself look foolish when her reforms do nothing to improve their stated goals. Since her union busting goals are popular in elite circles I'm sure this dichotomy will continue to be swept under the rug, but it does seem like she's painting her organization in a corner in the long run by trumpeting goals that she will never achieve. Then again, her entire career is based on one exaggeration or outright lie after another, so why would she think this was a bad idea? She's become a media star and multi-millionaire using this strategy, why would she stop now?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Obama Nominates Torture Enthusist John Brennan

Heckuva job. Greenwald:
Prior to President Obama's first inauguration in 2009, a controversy erupted over reports that he intended to appoint John Brennan as CIA director. That controversy, in which I participated, centered around the fact that Brennan, as a Bush-era CIA official, had expressly endorsed Bush's programs of torture (other than waterboarding) and rendition and also was a vocal advocate of immunizing lawbreaking telecoms for their role in the illegal Bush NSA eavesdropping program. As a result, Brennan withdrew his name from consideration, issuing a bitter letter blaming "strong criticism in some quarters prompted by [his] previous service with the" CIA.

This "victory" of forcing Brennan's withdrawal proved somewhat Pyrrhic, as Obama then appointed him as his top counter-terrorism adviser, where he exerted at least as much influence as he would have had as CIA Director, if not more. In that position, Brennan last year got caught outright lying when he claimed Obama's drone program caused no civilian deaths in Pakistan over the prior year. He also spouted complete though highly influential falsehoods to the world in the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing, including claiming that bin Laden "engaged in a firefight" with Navy SEALS and had "used his wife as a human shield". Brennan has also been in charge of many of Obama's most controversial and radical policies, including "signature strikes" in Yemen - targeting people without even knowing who they are - and generally seizing the power to determine who will be marked for execution without any due process, oversight or transparency.
So Greenwald's most depressing point comes here:
Although I actively opposed Brennan's CIA nomination in 2008, I can't quite muster the energy or commitment to do so now. Indeed, the very idea that someone should be disqualified from service in the Obama administration because of involvement in and support for extremist Bush terrorism polices seems quaint and obsolete, given the great continuity between Bush and Obama on these issues. Whereas in 2008 it seemed uncertain in which direction Obama would go, making it important who wielded influence, that issue is now settled: Brennan is merely a symptom of Obama's own extremism in these areas, not a cause. This continuity will continue with or without Brennan because they are, rather obviously, Obama's preferred policies.

Still, this is worth commenting on because the drastic change between the reaction to Brennan in 2008 and now is revealing. The New York Times article this morning on the appointment claims that "it is uncertain whether the torture issue will now cause any problems for Mr. Brennan." Of course, there is nothing at all uncertain about that: "the torture issue" won't cause any problems for Brennan, as it did in 2008, because Obama has buried that issue with his "Look Forward, not Backward" decrees; because most people who claimed concern over such issues back in 2008 have resigned themselves to Obama's posture in this area; and because, with very rare exception, there are no more serious campaigns mounted against Obama's decisions except from the American Right.

It is a perfect illustration of the Obama legacy that a person who was untouchable as CIA chief in 2008 because of his support for Bush's most radical policies is not only Obama's choice for the same position now, but will encounter very little resistance. Within this change one finds one of the most significant aspects of the Obama presidency: his conversion of what were once highly contentious right-wing policies into harmonious dogma of the DC bipartisan consensus. Then again, given how the CIA operates, one could fairly argue that Brennan's eagerness to deceive and his long record of supporting radical and unaccountable powers make him the perfect person to run that agency. It seems clear that this is Obama's calculus.
There was a time when these issues were controversial, but that time has passed. Obama has cemented Bush's war on terror legacy to the degree that this is possible. Democrats don't care the slightest about these issues unless a Republican is doing them. Upsetting, genuinely not sure how this gets fixed.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Cliff Madness

I don't know why I find this stuff so hilarious, but I do.

It was only a few days before the nation would go over the fiscal cliff, no bipartisan agreement was in sight, and Reid had just publicly accused Boehner of running a “dictatorship” in the House and caring more about holding onto his gavel than striking a deal.

“Go f— yourself,” Boehner sniped as he pointed his finger at Reid, according to multiple sources present.

Reid, a bit startled, replied: “What are you talking about?”

Boehner repeated: “Go f— yourself.”

The harsh exchange just a few steps from the Oval Office — which Boehner later bragged about to fellow Republicans — was only one episode in nearly two months of high-stakes negotiations laced with distrust, miscommunication, false starts and yelling matches as Washington struggled to ward off $500 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts.
And it turns out Harry Reid likes Obama's proposals as much as I do.

The White House sent Reid a list of suggested concessions as his staff debated what to send back to McConnell. Reid looked over the concessions the administration wanted to offer, crumpled up the paper and tossed it into his fireplace. The gesture was first reported by Politico and confirmed to HuffPost by sources with knowledge of it, who noted that Reid frequently keeps his fire going and is fond of feeding a variety of proposals to it.
If I had a fireplace, I would be doing this with Obama's proposals to cut Medicare and Social Security at all times.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fake Crisis: Averted. Real Crisis: Created.

Late last night a deal passed that solved some of the fiscal cliff problems. David Atkins has a good summary:
Taken on its own and without context, the deal isn't that bad. Significant taxes were raised on the wealthy, unemployment benefit extensions were passed, the "milk cliff" was averted, and sundry other positive things were done. There's some ugly stuff in there, too, of course: not enough increase in the capital gains rate, an indexing of the estate tax to inflation, and a continuation of various corporate tax giveaways among the nastiness. But the biggest problem with the final deal is that we're now set up for the debt ceiling fight with no leverage whatsoever against the Republican ideological cult if the President doesn't either take the Constitutional option or mint the $1 trillion platinum coin. As I argued before, little absent going over the cliff completely would have denied the Republicans that leverage, anyway. Still, the thought of this Republican Congress negotiating with Grand Bargain-desperate Obama over the debt ceiling is a terrifying prospect. It's going to take massive progressive mobilization over the next two months to block the worst from happening.

But perhaps the biggest negotiation failure of the day wasn't over the fiscal cliff at all, but over Hurricane Sandy relief. To the shock of decent people the world over, Republicans adjourned the House without even taking up a vote on relief funding for the states hardest hit by the hurricane.
The deal sucks, and is well worse than a deal they could have negotiated in only a few days with a new (more democratic) congress, and all the tax rates resetting. But whether because of his lust of a deal or someone convincing him that there could be genuine economic problems if a deal wasn't reached, Obama chose this path. So the deal sucks, but the deal isn't the worst part of this deal. The most problematic part of the deal is what it sets up in two months:
But Republicans are vowing to channel their anger and disappointment into a new round of brinksmanship near the edge of a new cliff. The bill that passed the House Tuesday night pays down the sequester for only two months. By no coincidence, that’s right around the time when the country’s borrowing authority is expected to be exceeded and the debt ceiling will have to be lifted. A month later, funding for the federal government will also lapse.

Republicans insist they’ll be better positioned to exploit that much steeper and more dangerous cliff to force the White House to swallow deep cuts to federal safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

The White House insists it will not negotiate with Republicans over raising the debt limit. But even if the President sticks to his guns, and even if the debt limit issue gets set aside, there’s still the sequester, and still a very real chance that Republicans will gore a Democratic sacred cow early this year, months after a decisive Democratic victory in November.
Forcing the White House to "swallow" cuts to Medicare and Social Security is a bit rich, considering they are the ones that initially made them a part of this game. And considering that Obama floated serious benefit cuts to social security and Medicare when he had all the leverage, you can bet those will be back on the table for this next deal. And unfortunately for us, failing to pass a debt ceiling increase would send the world economy into a depression, so this is not a made up "fiscal cliff" type crisis, and instead one that needs to be averted.

Obama can claim he "won't negotiate" over the debt ceiling, but taking that type of stance in bargaining requires you to have a viable alternatives to take if Republicans don't pass a clean debt ceiling bill (which they won't). The methods to do this are controversial, but possible. It's in Obama's power to invoke the 14th amendment or mint a platinum coin to pay down the debt. Republicans would most definitely attempt to impeach him for either of those actions, but you should have either of these options in your back pocket and at least let Republicans know you're willing to do either of them if they refuse to pass a clean bill. Obama won't do this, so this makes his threat about being unwilling to negotiate completely pointless and obviously toothless.

So the most likely scenario is another set of negotiations similar to this last round where a "grand bargain" is attempted that would prevent the sequester cuts and raise the debt ceiling. I'm pretty sure this is how this problem gets resolved, the only major question mark would be how big/terrible the deal is for progressives. There could actually be a grand bargain that include all the horrible things those deals include, or it could fall apart and some small deal gets through with made up cuts and minimal other elements. This is probably the best option to hope for, even though it, much like this entire process, is painfully stupid and an abomination of democratic (small d) values.

So in two months, we'll be doing this same game, all over again, except with much realer consequences and probably steeper cuts on the table. Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy Going Over the Fiscal Cliff!

Here's to a year of our Democratic president not cutting social security or medicare!