Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope Noam Chomsky

I love this pope.
On the importance of remembering those who are less fortunate: "We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications. At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences."

On the seriousness of economic exclusion: "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills."

On the failure of traditional economic dogmas:  "... some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

On exploding inequality: "While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few."

On the world's obsession with money: "We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose."

On the dangerous mix of inequality and consumerism: "It is evident that unbridled consumerism combined with inequality proves doubly damaging to the social fabric."

On the role of the state in providing for the common good and regulating the economy: "This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. "
I agree with what atrios says here too:
I'm not catholic and the guy doesn't represent me, but christianity - including catholicism - seems to have been reduced "abortion, contraception, and gay people are evil" over the past several decades. If the dude manages to adjust the balance on those things - even if he thinks those things are still bad - I'll applaud. Supposedly we're all sinners, it just hasn't been clear why some sins have been more important than others lately.
Keep it up new pope!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Not Going to War With Iran is a Good Thing

I've only read the basics of the deal, but anything that makes us or Israel attacking Iran less likely is a good thing. Times like this are useful to point out the warmongering psychopaths among us by watching the people who reflexively oppose any deal. Kudos to the Obama Administration and John Kerry putting time and energy into this route.

Peace is good. We should try it more often. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

It's Pronounced Nuuuuuu-CU-LAR


Harry Reid finally did the right thing. And this is big fucking deal. Eliminating the filibuster for nominations is key because it's not some deal that solves the problem for this specific set. He's changed how the senate will govern, probably forever.

I've had several like minded friends express concern to me that if we eliminate the filibuster Republicans will be able to force through really awful stuff once they regain power. Let me quickly explain why this was the right move:

1) If the Republicans regain the Senate (and have a Republican president and house), they would have used the nuclear option on the first day of the session, for legislation, for supreme court nominees, for absolutely everything. Trust me on this. Only Democrats get ask questions about whether or not they should use power the power they have. And if the Republicans didn't, they actually have a base that will boot them out of office for fucking up.

2) The Republicans have been able to get 40 of their members to walk in lockstep on every major bill/nominee they've wanted to kill. There is a 0.0% chance the Democrats would do the same. The corporate dems, the gangs of gangs, the ones who don't have any reason to fear enraging their liberal base (spoiler: all of them). But what if they nominated a Supreme Court justice as horrible as Scalia or Alito? Exactly.

The Republicans would waited 5 minutes to make this change not 5 years, and even if they hadn't it's not like the Democrats would have put up a fight. And besides, it's making an undemocratic institution slightly more democratic, which is always a good thing.

This is major progress towards giving us a functional government. Not just because filling the courts with these nominees is important (it is), but because the senate is governed by made up undemocratic rules, and the sooner you start changing them, and the sooner staffers and DC journalists stop getting the vapors any time it's mentioned... you get steps closer and closer to the real thing, eliminating the filibuster (and the Senate entirely, but I'll take this for the moment). Proving things like this can be done is critical breaking down these imaginary barriers that have been used so long in institutions like the senate to shield corruption and disgusting lawmaking. It took far to long to get here, but I'm glad we've taken this step forward.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sign That You Are Treating Your Workers Like Shit


This is from a Walmart in Ohio, where they are running a canned food drive for their own employees.

If this is needed, you are probably not paying them enough.

Related: Walmart is America's largest employer by a lot.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The ACA Will Be Used to Refute Liberalism

This was one of my biggest concerns and things that was pushing me towards opposing the law. I agree with what Chris Hayes said last week that we need to work our hardest to make the ACA work because it's going to be hung on "our side" no matter what happens, but this is still so annoying because you could see lots of these issues coming from miles away and so much of it was preventable.

Friday, November 15, 2013

There is a better way

This is no radical, this is the former president of the Center for American Progress and Bill Clinton's former chief of staff.

But we knew this all along. We know what works, and we know what would have been an easier path to improving our healthcare system. Some people pushed for an ACA style reform because they are owned by the insurance industry and liked it for that reason, and some people were sold on the idea that it would be easier to pass because it was a compromise with the insurance industry.

We'll never know what could have passed, but I'll go to my grave thinking a simpler idea like a medicare buy in could have worked. When you're dealing with something on this large of a scale, the ability to minimize the complexities and places where things can go wrong matters. In retrospect, it was an aspect of the ACA's stupidity that I didn't emphasize enough.

Anyway, I remain convinced that a medicare buy in is the policy principle we should have organized around 5 years ago, and the one we should be organizing around today. Obamacare is going to be a disaster (actually seems like it could be even worse than I had imagined which is saying something), and this will work without having to completely undo the rube goldberg structure that the ACA needs to exist. Let's do this. Dream big for ideas that actually work. Another world is possible.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Obama's Approval Ratings Heading South

I'll admit that this shocked me a bit. I knew things weren't going well for Obama and that the economy is still awful, but I didn't think it was this bad:


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The ACA Will Not Stop Private Insurance Companies From Screwing Us

During the debate over the ACA, one of the main contentions from people like myself was that any reform needed to (at the very least!) provide a public alternative to the insurance companies because as long as they are the only game in town, they will continue to do shit like this:
Across the country, insurance companies have sent misleading letters to consumers, trying to lock them into the companies' own, sometimes more expensive health insurance plans rather than let them shop for insurance and tax credits on the Obamacare marketplaces -- which could lead to people like Donna spending thousands more for insurance than the law intended. In some cases, mentions of the marketplace in those letters are relegated to a mere footnote, which can be easily overlooked.
The extreme lengths to which some insurance companies are going to hold on to existing customers at higher price, as the Affordable Care Act fundamentally re-orders the individual insurance market, has caught the attention of state insurance regulators.

The insurance companies argue that it's simply capitalism at work. But regulators don't see it that way. By warning customers that their health insurance plans are being canceled as a result of Obamacare and urging them to secure new insurance plans before the Obamacare launched on Oct. 1, these insurers put their customers at risk of enrolling in plans that were not as good or as affordable as what they could buy on the marketplaces.
TPM has confirmed two specific examples where companies contacted their customers prior to the marketplace's Oct. 1 opening and pushed them to renew their health coverage at a higher price than they would pay through the marketplace. State regulators identified the schemes, but they weren't necessarily able to stop them.

It's not yet clear how widespread this practice became in the months leading up to the marketplace's opening -- or how many Americans will end up paying more than they should be for health coverage. But misleading letters have been sent out in at least four states across the country, and one offending carrier, Humana, is a company with a national reach.

"If you're an insurance company, you're trying to hang onto the consumers you have at the highest price you can get them," Laura Etherton, a health policy analyst at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, told TPM. "You can take advantage of the confusion about what people get to have now. It's a new world. It's disappointing that insurance companies are sending confusing letters to consumers to take advantage of that confusion. The reality is that this could do real harm."
Everyone could see this coming. Once this issue stops, there will be new ways that the insurance companies try to screw us as long as they are existence.

"Insurance companies argue that it's simply capitalism at work", and and they aren't entirely wrong. As long as they are trying to make a profit and subject to weak regulations, they will be constantly looking for ways within this new framework to screw people and increase their profits. It's what they do.

Friday, November 8, 2013

How Political Power Works

I always enjoy it when someone states things you have said in a much more concise and eloquent manner. Ian Welsh does just that:
Politicians do most things because someone wants them done who can hold them accountable if they don’t do it. That includes bad things, and good things. Anyone who doesn’t understand this reality doesn’t understand even the most basic part of politics.
...
Note that gays were originally ignored by Obama as well.  What did they do?  They got in Obama’s face personally, heckling him and they organized a very effective donor boycott.  As a result, they got much (but not all) of what they wanted from him.

Holding someone accountable means “inflicting pain”.  If they don’t do what you want, you must be able to do something to them they don’t like (heckling), or take away something they want (money).

Like FDL or not, the last serious attempt by left-wingers other than gays to hold Obama accountable was when they refused to go along with the Affordable Care Act if it didn’t include a public option.  FDL said “if this bill has no public option, we won’t support it.”  When it didn’t, they didn’t.  You may think that’s not a good red-line, but they had a red line.  Of course FDL, virtually alone, did not have the juice: they could not inflict enough pain or take away enough funding  or create enough bad publicity for Obama to care, especially when powerful interests (read: insurance companies), didn’t want a public option.  (For doing so, FDL was attacked by all the usual suspects on “left-wing” blogs and labelled firebaggers.)

Political power is constituted of getting people elected, getting people unelected and being able to reward or punish people for doing or not doing what you want. If you can’t do any of those things, you have no power.
Understanding how to interact with the political process is extremely basic, but it's something people on the left fuck up constantly. I'll try to write more on this subject when I have more time because I think it's pretty important and you see the same mistakes over and over and over.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Virginia, this is your new governor


A few highlights from his past from this great Mother Jones post:
Allow me to explain. McAuliffe represents an unseemly slice of Washington. His primary role in politics for the past two decades or more has been raising money—most notably, for the Clintons. He cooked up the idea of essentially renting out the Lincoln bedroom during the Clinton administration as a fundraising vehicle, and he smashed all previous presidential fundraising records in the process. When McAuliffe was the Dems' top fundraiser, a campaign finance scandal besieged the Clinton White House. Coincidence? No. McAuliffe was all about pushing the envelope when it came to the political money chase.

That alone might not be enough to render him a distasteful political candidate. What's different about McAuliffe is his brazen mixing of his campaign fundraising activity and attempts to enrich himself personally. Many of McAuliffe's business deals have come about due to his place in the political cosmos, not because he possesses a wealth of business skill. That tangled history has linked him to a long list of unsavory characters.

Let's take a look at some of his business associates over the years.

Richard Swann: Swann is McAuliffe's father-in-law, and his story starts back in 1980, when Swann helped found American Pioneer Savings and Loan in Florida. Ten years later, federal regulators seized the thrift, which was drowning in bad loans and foreclosed real estate. The bailout cost taxpayers more than $500 million. Swann settled charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which found that Swann and a partner had broken the law in selling $10 million worth of junk bonds from the thrift to shore up its reserves. Investors—mainly mom and pop depositors at the thrift—lost their shirts, and Swann eventually filed bankruptcy. But he saw an opportunity in the wreckage of his former savings and loan. In 1991, he helped McAuliffe set up a partnership to buy up the failed thrift's former real estate assets, which were being sold at rock-bottom prices as part of the federal liquidation.

Swann and McAuliffe persuaded the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers pension fund to finance the purchase of Orlando strip malls and apartment buildings on the cheap in a highly risky investment scheme. The pension fund put up $38 million; McAuliffe put up nothing, but he got a 50 percent stake, meaning that if the deal went south, the pension fund would lose millions while all he would lose were his free shares in the partnership. The deals didn't perform well, and the union never got its promised 9 percent preferred return—about what Treasury bills were paying back then. McAuliffe, though, walked away with $2.4 million after the pension fund bought him out. The US Department of Labor sued the union for making imprudent investments and two IBEW officials were forced to pay six-figure fines; the union had to reimburse the pension fund for the losses. Swann and McAuliffe escaped unscathed by the investigation.

Tony Coehlo: Coehlo is a former California congressman who resigned in 1989 after the disclosure that he had taken a sweetheart loan from the operator of a troubled savings and loan operator and used the money to buy junk bonds from the notorious Drexel Burnham Lambert, which that year paid a record $650 million to settle criminal charges with the SEC for stock manipulation. Coehlo and McAuliffe worked together on various political campaigns, but they also were involved with a real estate firm in Washington, DC. Former business associates accused the pair of using their political connections to win improper commissions on deals involving federal agencies. The matter eventually was settled confidentially.

Gary Winnick: Winnick was the founder of Global Crossing, a fiber optic company that earned McAuliffe $8 million on an initial investment of $100,000—a deal he accessed because he was working as a consultant to Winnick before the company went public. Winnick had been an acolyte of junk bond king Michael Milken before starting Global Crossing. His management of Global Crossing has been compared with Ken Lay's leadership of Enron. He and other top executives hid the company's losses and cashed out more than a billion in stock before the company collapsed in 2002 and caused $54 billion in shareholder losses. Lots of people thought Winnick should have gone to jail, but he avoided any serious federal action. McAuliffe cashed out his shares in Global Crossing before it crashed and was not accused of any wrongdoing, but his profiteering in this case has been a political liability for him.

Anthony Rodham: When McAuliffe in 2009 created GreenTech, a now-troubled electric-car company, he turned to an old pal for assistance in courting foreign investors: Tony Rodham, who is best known as one of Hillary Clinton's embarrassing brothers. A former repo man, prison guard, and private eye, Rodham by then had a long history of trying to cash in on his famous sister's connections and generally causing problems for her. In 1999, he and brother Hugh nearly caused a diplomatic crisis with a plan to sell hazelnuts from the Republic of Georgia; their partner was a local political boss who also happened to be a political rival of the country's president and US ally, Eduard Shevardnadze. Over the years, Rodham has been in the news for the occasional fistfight and for child-support arrears. He was implicated in the Clinton pardon scandal. But McAuliffe somehow thought Rodham was just the guy to help him with his electric-car venture. Rodham owns a company that solicits foreign investors for American projects (deals that allow these foreign investors secure US visas). GreenTech relied heavily on foreign investors. Now, the car company (McAuliffe resigned from the firm to run for governor) and Rodham's visa operation are under investigation by the SEC.

Joseph Caramadre: Caramadre is a Rhode Island estate planner who pleaded guilty to scamming terminally ill people by stealing their identities and buying annuities in their names. When they died, Caramadre and his investors could cash in. McAuliffe invested $33,000 in this scheme in 2006 and netted $47,000 in return. Caramadre also was a big donor and fundraiser for McAuliffe's first run for governor in 2009, giving $27,000 to McAuliffe's campaign. (Caramadre apparently wanted to become an ambassador to the Vatican.) During this most recent governor's campaign, Bob Lewis, a veteran AP reporter, was fired for reporting inaccurately on this episode, and the matter evaporated as a campaign issue. But that doesn't change a basic fact: McAuliffe was doing business with this guy.

The list of McAuliffe's questionable business dealings goes on. But he has used his substantial influence to try to minimize the news coverage of his various wheeling-and-dealing. In 1996, the New York Daily News fired reporter David Eisenstadt after he wrote an unfavorable story about McAuliffe potentially having connections to notorious fundraiser John Huang, who in 1999 pleaded guilty to felony charges for arranging more than $150,000 in illegal campaign contributions to the Democratic Party. McAuliffe later gloated to the Washington Post about having called paper owner Mort Zuckerman to get Eisenstadt canned.
The craziness of this isn't that I was really happy he won, considering the alternative was a dude who doesn't think women are people. Another victory for the "Corrupt over crazy" Democratic party electoral strategy.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Monday, November 4, 2013

The GOP Will Learn No Lessons Because Their Base Will Not Change

I know I've been kind of harping on this point, but I like to use space particularly for times when I think the main media narratives out there are completely bonkers. Greg Sargent:
Tomorrow, a year will have passed since the Dems’ big victory in 2012 touched off an extensive bout of Republican soul searching about the future. The RNC’s post-election autopsy declared the need to articulate an affirmative governing agenda for “those who seek to climb the economic ladder,” to broaden the party’s appeal to Latinos and women, and to demonstrate more sensitivity to young voters who view gay rights as a “gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be.”

One year after Election Day 2012, here’s where we are:

The Republican Party is still doing all it can to undermine the Affordable Care Act without offering a meaningful alternative — after doing the party untold damage with a government shutdown crisis over it – and Republicans are absolutely convinced that this time, the law is certain to fail. The House GOP leadership is likely to kill comprehensive immigration reform for the year and may not even allow a vote on it in 2014. Republicans are likely to lose a major purple-state gubernatorial race against a flawed Dem candidate, in part because the GOP nominated a Tea Party candidate with a harsh stance on women’s health issues who is losing massively among female voters. Senate Republicans are set to filibuster a measure that would end discrimination against gays in hiring decisions – and may block it in the House.
Explaining this phenomenon isn't complex. The base of the Republican party is largely made up of bigoted misogynistic neanderthals with a 1800s view of the world. The biggest threat to the job security of most Republicans is if this group of people is unhappy with them. It is destroying the party in state and national level races, but it does make sense. Republicans don't need to re-branding or heroically allow a vote on immigration reform that will pass in spite of them. They need to stop appealing to their base, which of course is political suicide. So unless a lot of house members suddenly decide they no longer want their prestigious well paid jobs... this will continue for some time.

There will be more calls for change after the ass kicking they will receive in Virginia at the hands of Terry fucking Mcauliffe... but like the ones after the 2012 loss, they will fall on deaf ears. There is a lot of energy and grassroots activism in the GOP, and unfortunately for them comes from a group of people who have ideas that the vast majority of the American people find loathsome.