Friday, March 29, 2013

True love is blind

Cliff Schecter and Gaius Publius were the panelists this week on Virtually Speaking Sundays and discussed what it means that Obama has finally come out of the closet as the Cutter-in-Chief, and how it's an opportunity for people who actually have to face the voters regularly to separate themselves from Obama and demonstrate to the public that they aren't part of his coalition of the killing. Truly, marginalizing Obama is the best thing they can do.

From Dean Baker, "Senate Unanimously Votes Against Cuts to Social Security: Media Don't Notice: There are few areas where the corruption of the national media is more apparent than in its treatment of Social Security. Most of the elite media have made it clear in both their opinion and news pages that they want to see benefits cut. In keeping with this position they highlight the views of political figures who push cuts to the program, treating them as responsible, while those who oppose cuts are ignored or mocked. This pattern of coverage was clearly on display last weekend. Both the New York Times and Washington Post decided to ignore the Senate's passage by voice vote of the Sanders Amendment. This was an amendment to the budget put forward by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders that puts the Senate on record as opposing the switch to the chained CPI as the basis for the annual Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA). "

Jay Ackroyd is also interested in the Trans Pacific Partnership. Unfortunately, his link to the Angry Bear article he's referencing went awry, but it's worth a look, so click on "Trans Pacific Partnership: A new Constitution." We get to that title this way: "This document is about reducing the regulation a sovereign entity may apply to an investment to the point that any investment is almost certain to pay out whether by actually carrying out the investment or through reimbursement for not being able to carryout the investment. Heads you lose, tails I win. This is accomplished in many ways (kind of covering all bases) but mostly by giving a representative of an investment equality to a nation in the eyes of the 'law'. It is the elevation of an entity created solely for the purpose of profit (though there is some language toward nonprofit) all the rights and liberties that a nation of people reserve for themselves. There is one thing the investment entity receives that the nation entity ('party' as used in the document) does not: A guarantee against loss. This guarantee comes in the form of insurance. The insurance is the full faith and credit of the nation - it is the ability to tax it's citizens. That is a new world order as in: any period of history evidencing a dramatic change in world political thought and the balance of power.

"Victory: Unanimous Supreme Court Rules that Citizens Can Hold Federal Government Liable for Abuse by Law Enforcement Officers (Police, Prison Guards)."
"High Court Rules in Favor of Comcast: A divided Supreme Court on Wednesday put the brakes on a class-action lawsuit against Comcast Corp., the latest example of the court's conservative majority limiting large suits against companies."

R.J. Eskow: "Can 147 people perpetuate economic injustice - and make it even worse? Can they subvert the workings of democracy, both abroad and here in the United States? Can 147 people hijack the global economy, plunder the environment, build a world for themselves that serves the few and deprives the many." Yes, they can, and he explains why. (Thanks, as is so often the case, to ksix for the link.)

Timeline: Obama signs the Monsanto Protection Act.
Meanwhile, social issues make a great distraction.

From Ezra: "Wonkbook: Entitlement cuts may be coming in Obama's April budget." Nothing can convince Obama that he shouldn't cut entitlements..

Digby: "What George W. Bush and Barack Obama have in common: the same agenda."

"High school teacher under investigation for saying 'vagina' during anatomy lesson [...] But his students are defending him, arguing in a petition that parents from their conservative community in Dietrich are trying to push a political agenda by getting their biology teacher fired."

"Conservatives for States Rights - Until States Go Green" - In other words, they don't believe in states rights at all (and never did). What they believe is that if the majority of the US wants one thing and they want another, they should be able to carve out pieces of the US where the minority rules. And then impose those same rules on the other parts of the country. They were much the same on slavery - they didn't start the Civil War because Wisconsin's laws were being imposed on the south, they started it because the south couldn't impose slavery on Wisconsin.

"Why Does No One Speak of America's Oligarchs? Confucius said that the beginning of wisdom was learning to call things by their proper names. The time is long past to kid ourselves about the nature of the ruling class in America and start describing it accurately, as an oligarchy."

This one translates fairly well across national boundaries, although it's a response to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards: "Why the British Banking Industry has become identical with an Organised Criminal Enterprise"

Inexplicably brutal treatment of people in custody is not really news these days; but worse, officials aren't even hiding the fact that they are more concerned with punishing those who expose such criminality than they are with stopping the rot.

Glenn Greenwald on how dissenting voices are marginalized and "How Noam Chomsky is discussed."

Bust 'em or bust no one - even Rand Paul knows it: "Look, the last two presidents could have conceivably been put in jail for their drug use and I really think - look what would've happened, it would've ruined their lives. They got lucky. But a lot of poor kids, particularly in the inner city, don't get lucky and they don't have good attorneys and they go to jail for some of these things and I think it's a big mistake."

Chris Hedges dates the death of journalism with the day MSNBC fired Phil Donahue for opposing the Iraq invasion.

A cartoon
It's amazing what you can buy on the internet. (Almost as amazing as what we buy from Democrats.)
I'm so sorry I missed this one when it was more timely.

I was offended by the title of this bunch of photos, but some of them are really neat - and I include the cute little kitty at the bottom in that (flip through for the baby elephant). But also the hamster, Stephen Hawking, and some mushy stuff.

Ruth with your spring sunrise.

"Finding Out True Love Is Blind"

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The roads must roll

Our infrastructure is paid for by the Highway Trust Fund. Like Social Security, it is not part of general funds, but is a dedicated revenue stream. We never used to mention Social Security or the Highway Trust Fund monies when we talked about "the budget" because they just aren't part of all that - they are something separate.

And then, suddenly, we started hearing about how we had balanced the budget or even had surpluses because of a magical accounting trick in the '90s in which we started pretending they were "assets". And also this:

Although the majority of highway user tax revenues are credited to either the highway or mass transit accounts, there is a noteworthy exception. The exception is that 4.3 cents per gallon of fuel taxes are credited to the General Fund of the U. S. Treasury for deficit reduction purposes.

This is why a lot of people in the red states hated the Clintons - and the Democrats - so very much. They raised taxes on gas, but the maintenance on the infrastructure wasn't done - because the money was diverted.

A big pile of money is in new budget proposals to go back into the Highway Trust Fund. Which, you might think, is good - and, ordinarily, it would be.

Except that our Democratic leadership doesn't want to be on record as failing to reduce budget deficits. So they want to take that money from somewhere else, and that's what you're hearing so much about right now:

Bipartisan deficit reduction consensus in the '90s tanked our Highway Trust Fund, so now $18bn a year in deficit has to be reduced by tanking the Social Security Trust Fund.

(Why, yes, the title is a reference to Heinlein's much-lauded, engineeringly-defective, atrociously anti-union story.)

* * * * *

By the way, is this a big money-saver? "States Urged to Expand Medicaid With Private Insurance: The White House is encouraging skeptical state officials to expand Medicaid by subsidizing the purchase of private insurance for low-income people, even though that approach might be somewhat more expensive, federal and state officials say." Like Lambert says, "They don't even care enough to fake it anymore."

It's important to remember how short-sighted everyone has been about this. Buying silicon from the Chinese to make solar panels was expensive. So a company called Solyndra got federal funding to bypass the problem with a new technology that reduced the need for their silicon. They needed the funding because starting up such a business, requiring unique plant-fittings, costs a lot of money. And after they spent all that money to get started, the Chinese suddenly dropped the price of silicon and Solyndra went bust. You can see what's coming, right? "China may soon stop offering the world cheap solar panels." (As a side-note, I have been sitting here for the last four hours watching it snow outside my window. At the end of March. Last year March was unseasonably summery. Now, although I admit the snow doesn't seem to be sticking, there's hours of snow. But, you know, Al Gore is fat.)

From Down With Tyranny!:
"Why Did 35 Democrats Join The GOP To Defeat The Senate Budget? Wednesday evening, we took a quick look at the House vote on the Progressive Caucus Back To Work Budget. Wednesday the House also voted on the Senate budget. Oddly, it was introduced by South Carolina teabagger Mick Mulvaney (who voted against it). Every Republican voted against it... and it failed 154-261. The Democratic caucus operation is a near-shambles and no one was leading. Nancy is preparing herself to sail away into retirement. Hoyer is conflicted with everything and Clyburn is sidelined. No one is cracking the whip and Democratic Members are just doing whatever they want. 35 of them voted with the Republicans against the Senate budget. Oh, wait-- they weren't just doing whatever they wanted. Many of them-- the freshmen and vulnerable members in red-leaning districts, were counseled by Steve Israel, chairman of the DCCC, to vote with the Republicans. He does that kind of thing; it's a losing strategy that causes low Democratic turnout. It killed the Democrats in 2010... but Israel has learned nothing from the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse."
"A Clear Majority Of Democrats Abandon Pelosi's And Hoyer's Job-Destroying Sellout To Boehner: One of Pelosi's finest moments was when she stood up to her boss, House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, in October 2002, and told him to take the Iraq War Authorization bill he and DeLay had put together and stuff it where the sun don't shine. Although-- with help from House leaders Steny Hoyer, Steve Israel, Joe Crowley and Eliot Engel-- Gephardt managed to get 81 crucial Democrats in the House to OK Bush's plot to invade Iraq, most Democrats backed Pelosi and that was the end of Dick Gephardt's dreams of being Speaker or president. He's a creepy-crawly, sleazy Beltway lobbyist now. And Pelosi went on to be the first woman Speaker of the House f Representatives in history. She's eager to retire now-- at least according to her daughter-- and she's... well, slipping. She's been backing Obama's crackpot scheme to go along with Republican plans to torture seniors by mercilessly slashing Social Security. And this week she voted for Boehner's Continuing Resolution. It passed-- with only with a minority of Democratic votes-- 81 + Pelosi. 115 Democrats voted no. The House caucus leader who did on Thursday what Pelosi had courageously done in 2002 was Los Angeles' fighting progressive Xavier Becerra, the emerging antidote to corrupt conservatives like Hoyer, Wasserman Schultz, and Israel."

"Commentary: Media throw Bradley Manning to the wolves" - The media certainly agreed with Bradley Manning that the material he saw should be shared with the world - they used it themselves on their own pages - but they haven't raised a peep to defend him.
Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone reviews a film and talks about secrets. Corporations are allowed to have secrets. Corrupt governments are allowed to have secrets. For the rest of us, our every private moment is public and for sale.

"Supreme Court Rejects Ban on Taping Police Officers" - Well, actually, they've refused to overturn a lower court ruling, but that's the same thing, and it's a very good thing indeed. The idea that public servants should be able to hide their activities is wrong on its face and clearly intended to cover-up criminal behavior on their part.

In AlJazeera, "Chained CPI: A direct attack on middle class and working class people." But you knew that.

Even Ezra says: "House Progressives have the best answer to Paul Ryan: The correct counterpart to the unbridled ambition of the Ryan budget isn't the cautious plan released by the Senate Democrats. It's the 'Back to Work' budget released by the House Progressives. The 'Back to Work' budget is about exactly what the name implies: Putting Americans back to work. The first sentence lays it out clearly: 'We're in a jobs crisis that isn't going away.' So that's the budget's top priority: fixing the jobs crisis. It begins with a stimulus program that makes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act look tepid: $2.1 trillion in stimulus and investment from 2013-2015, including a $425 billion infrastructure program, a $340 billion middle-class tax cut, a $450 billion public-works initiative, and $179 billion in state and local aid."

"Everyone But China" Agreement Prevents Regulation of Hot Money and Speculation
I know I posted the link to the show last June, but since we were on the subject, here's the video clip from Sam Seder's interview with Lori Wallach about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

In USA Today, Atrios says, "Marriage equality no longer impossible." I appreciate that Duncan probably wants to write about more than one thing, and it's not an unimportant issue, but since he only gets one column every couple of weeks, I wish he'd keep hammering the economic stuff. Social progress goes down the tubes unless the economy gets fixed.

Charles Pierce thinks people who got it all wrong on Iraq should shut up: "Go away. You are complicit in one way or another in a giant crime containing many great crimes. Atone in secret. Wash the blood off your hands in private. Because there were people who got it right. Anthony Zinni. Eric Shiseki. Hans Blix. Mohamed ElBaradei. The McClatchy Washington bureau guys. Dozens of liberal academics who got called fifth-columnists and worse. Professional military men whose careers suffered as a result. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the world. The governments of Canada and France. Those people, I will listen to this week. Go to hell, the rest of you, and go there in silence and in shame."
At the bottom of this article on the conspiracy of silence is a documentary from Bill Moyers' Journal on buying the war.

The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon's 'treason'

Weather report: Big weather in Australia.

It figgers: Barack is a Klingon name.

Imagine a world without hate.

Ruth still has more snow.

Buffalo Springfield

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What kind of fool...?

As it turned out, Joan McCarter was ill Sunday night, so I did Virtually Speaking Sundays with Jay Ackroyd alone, and the link was updated (podcast). I spent the hour trying to make two points - one, that incessantly talking about the need to expand Social Security is making inroads into the Washington dialog (not huge ones, but any acknowledgement is more than we had even a few weeks ago), and two, that the Republicans are doing a really great job of making Obama and Democrats take credit for wanting to wreck our social insurance system, with even sites that have had a touch of the Obot apologist having headlines to the effect that yes, Obama and the Dem leadership really do want to cut Social Security. (Only a couple of weeks ago, I was accused of being "a conspiracy theorist" for saying so.) If this goes on, no one will ever again have any reason to vote for Democrats. (Background reading on how Cyprus is robbing ordinary depositors to shore up their banks. Here's relatively entertaining video from Lee Camp on The Secret Global Corporate Coup of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement - EFF has the ramifications for freedom of speech here - and thanks to commenter ksix for supplying those links in comments below.)

With this ugly anniversary, a lot of people are talking about how a hugely stupid mistake was made. Eric Boehlert wonders if Twitter could have slowed it down, or at least made the debate a bit less stupid. Atrios seems to be on the same page, though I have my doubts. Maybe a few people in the media and Congress are being affected by our tweets about Social Security, but I honestly think Atrios' column in USA Today probably has more impact than all our tweets and web-only articles combined. Honestly, the minute you heard bottom-of-the-barrel scraping like Tony Blair's obviously false claim that Saddam could hit us in 45 minutes (that would be 45 minutes in which he would have to start testing nuclear devices for the first time and acquire delivery systems), you should have known they had nothing to support invasion. When journalists were criticized for swallowing so much swill, they chalked it all off as coming from dirty hippies.
Michael Calderone notes that the same failures inherent in access journalism are still going on: "With the 10-year anniversary of the Iraq invasion on Tuesday, journalists are again reminded -- and reminding each other in first-person essays -- of the media debacle a decade ago. But while there's a tendency to look back on the pre-Iraq media drumbeat as a post-9/11 aberration, a number of the same institutional forces exist today that could combine for a similar media-driven rush to war. Some prominent pro-war voices a decade ago still occupy high-profile perches on op-ed pages, cable news or Sunday show round-tables. In recent years, some Iraq cheerleaders have similarly sounded the drums for war with Iran, alongside reports laced with anonymous sources suggesting Iran's nuclear program had passed the point of no return. There's also the nature of national security reporting itself, which relies heavily on confidential sources and has arguably become more difficult amid the Obama administration's unprecedented crackdown on leaks. Several journalists who rightly scrutinized the Bush administration's claims a decade ago told The Huffington Post in interviews that some of the same potential pitfalls exist when covering current issues surrounding war, drones and military intervention. Reporters, they said, need to remain vigilant when speaking with government sources -- especially when doing so under the condition of anonymity."
Jack Mirkinson reminds us of some of the gory details of press failure so stunningly blatant that even at the time it should have seemed glaring to anyone watching: Perhaps the most notorious example of the Washington-media nexus over Iraq came when Dick Cheney appeared on "Meet the Press" in September of 2002. He cited the lead story in that morning's Times as he talked to Tim Russert ("I want to attribute it to the Times," he memorably said). The story, by Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon, said that Hussein was busy using aluminum tubes to help build nuclear weapons. The Bush administration had leaked that story to Miller. The circle was complete.
David Sirota, "Who's held accountable for Iraq? [...] However, that's not the whole story. The other factor that explains the reaction gap between Vietnam and Iraq is a change in the political system. Simply put, in the last decade, that system has become almost completely impervious to any kind of consequences for bad decisions. Over time, such a lack of accountability has created a self-fulfilling feedback loop. With the public seeing no consequences for wrongdoing, the expectations of consequences, or feelings that they are even necessary, slowly but surely disappear."
Vincent Stehle sees an upside in how the war created an opposing non-profit media partnership, but this only works for me if it starts having more impact on public policy.
Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, "Iraq, Ten Years Later: What About the Constitution?" [...] The dominant question that marked the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals - what did the President know and when did he know it? - no longer needs to be asked. We have a President who found a way, last May, to let the world - and, most importantly, those wavering independents in the months before last year's election - know via the New York Times that he personally participated in discussions about which terrorist, real or suspected, was to be assassinated."
Ted Rall remembers.
Blast from the past: Tom Tomorrow, September 11th, 2002

I just listened to Sam Seder expressing his frustration and anger over much of the foregoing, noting on The Majority Report that the only person who was allowed to go on TV and voice dissent for the war was someone who was brought on because they could dismiss her. (And another interesting discussion of activism with Becky Bond from Credo, as well.) (Sam also had a talk with Matt Taibbi about JP Morgan's crime spree.)

"Chuck Schumer once suggested this man for a seat on the Supreme Court and was backed up by the Alliance for Justice" - that'd be Michael Mukasey, former Bush administration Attorney General and current anti-Muslim fruitbat.

It seems pretty clear that the over-the-top attacks on Wikileaks, Assange, and Aaron Swartz are having the intended effect of chilling whistleblowing.

"How Weev's Long Prison Term Makes You More Vulnerable: Today my primary takeaway from the case is the same as when I began working on the story nearly three years ago: AT&T was almost criminally sloppy with customer data, and its partner Apple was negligent in monitoring how AT&T was securing interactions with iPad subscribers. But federal officials, who began investigating the breach within a day of my report, chose to focus not on AT&T but instead on the people that brought to light the company's careless exposure of private customer data. Goatse member Andrew 'Weev' Auernheimer was sentenced to 3.5 years in prison by a U.S. district judge in New Jersey on Monday for one count of identity fraud and one count of conspiracy after being found guilty of those crimes this past November. The scapegoating of Auernheimer is revolting for two reasons. One, it lets AT&T off the hook for exposing sensitive information to public view, shifting the blame onto those who reported the slip-up, and discouraging future disclosure. Two, the jailing of Auernheimer criminalizes the act of fetching openly available data over the web."

Anu Partanen in The Atlantic on "What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success" notes that, while everyone wants to look at the Finnish system and ask how it got to be at the top of international educational rankings, no one seems to hear the answer: "Decades ago, when the Finnish school system was badly in need of reform, the goal of the program that Finland instituted, resulting in so much success today, was never excellence. It was equity."

Oh, man, does this mean I can't be snarky about British politics anymore? "UK press-regulation defines "press" so broadly as to include tweeters, Facebook users, bloggers." "In a nutshell, then: if you press a button labelled "publish" or "submit" or "tweet" while in the UK, these rules as written will treat you as a newspaper proprietor, and make you vulnerable to an arbitration procedure where the complainer pays nothing, but you have to pay to defend yourself, and that will potentially have the power to fine you, force you to censor your posts, and force you to print "corrections" and "apologies" in a manner that the regulator will get to specify."

Do you know what this is? It's the secret origins of the game that eventually became known as Monopoly. And you know what? Monopoly is Theft, in more ways than one.

Ruth sent a couple more snow pictures. And a cardinal in flight.

The Tams, "What Kind Of Fool (Do You Think I Am)"

Saturday, March 16, 2013

When your head tells you to run

Avedon Carol and Joan McCarter (mcjoan) are this week's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays.
This week's guest on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd was Los Angeles Times Business Columnist Michael Hiltzik, about his book, The New Deal: A Modern History, "and the public understanding of Social Security and Medicare as 'safety net' for US citizens most in need, when they were intended to set citizen funds aside in a safe place where they can't be 'lost' by private sector institutions in 'panics' or 'bank failures' or 'bubbles' or 'depressions.'" (Background for people who like to do a lot of reading: Stock Exchange Practices. Hearings before the Committee on Banking and Currency Pursuant to S.Res. 84 and S.Res. 56 and S.Res. 97.. a.k.a the Pecora Commission hearings, 1932-1934. And for deep background, Horace Greeley Hjalmar Schacht.) I highly recommend that you listen and that you pass it on.

The Republican strategy continues to succeed: "DC's Worst-Kept Budget Secret: Lots Of Democrats Support Entitlement Cuts" That's a headline from Josh Marshall, and everyone's talking about it now.

Sperling spills it: "Just FYI, Gene Sperling said today on his Reddit chat that the president really prefers the Chained-CPI and that it's not just an inducement to get the Republicans on board with the Grand Bargain. This may sound obvious, since it's been clear from before the inauguration that the administration wants to "reform" the so-called entitlements. But Sperling made it clear today that they believe in this on the merits."

Even Nancy Pelosi keeps talking like chained CPI could be reasonable, but the Progressive Caucus is showing signs that they don't want to play ball. They've produced their own budget plan, which so far even people like Yglesias admit is better than all the other proposals. But, as Taylor Marsh says, "Of course, it's dead on arrival, but that doesn't mean it's not a real work of economic progressivism that makes a lot more sense than austerity, which hasn't worked anywhere it's been tried. Beyond the progressive budget is obviously President Obama's much anticipated grand bargain, with Democratic 'leader' Nancy Pelosi now saying 'let's take a look' at chained CPI cuts through Social Security. It's the same Pelosi who allowed the Catholic Bishops to help write ACA, which included codifying the Hyde Amendment into law for the first time in history. The rest is written on the wall."

RJ Eskow on A President Who'll Cut Social Security - And Liberals Who Love Him Too Much: "The spectacle of a supposedly liberal President repeatedly and needlessly trying to cut Social Security is enough to bring a reasonable, economically literate person to the point of existential despair. To see leading liberal lights like Rachel Maddow and Ezra Klein chuckle indulgently at those foolish Republicans in Congress over the subject - Don't they know he's already giving them what they want? - is to risk plunging into the depths of that despair. [...] Silly, silly Republicans. Klein quotes one reporter as saying of the White House, 'They tell us three times a day that they want to do chained CPI!' That's right: The White House has been trying to impose this benefit cut on Social Security's elderly and disabled recipients for years, and Republicans don't even know. Neither do most Democrats, for that matter. They think they voted for a President who will defend those benefits, not work relentlessly to cut them. But Democrats like Maddow, Klein, and Chait know better. They know exactly what Obama's been trying to do. And their only complaint seems to be that he's not doing it effectively enough. We're not hearing much from the ‘left' side of the debate about the profound flaws, biases, and inherent cynicism behind both the President's policy and his rhetoric. [...] If things don't change, we'll remember President Obama for cutting Social Security - and his party will pay the price. Disabled and elderly Americans will pay an even higher price. And the Republicans will be laughing all the ways to the polls in 2014."

Alan Grayson is right: Just cancel the sequester.

Bill Black: "Let me attempt again to make the basic facts clear. Third Way is not a "liberal think tank." It does not take "a centrist approach." It is not run by "fellow progressives." It is not concerned with "protecting entitlements." It is not even a "think tank." Third Way is a creature of Wall Street."

It's not news that a rich jerk is in the NYT pretending to care about our children's future and advocating that we steal even more from them than rich jerks already have stolen. But the comment thread below his post is heartening, at least as of five in the morning GMT on Friday. No one is falling for it. But then, I guess they've been reading Dean Baker.

Elizabeth Warren has some more good questions - this time about why a minority in Congress is holding up an appointment to her agency after Congress passed the law to create it. "And what I want to know is why there are agencies all over Washington who's rules are final, subject to the ordinary reviews and oversight, while the CFPB is the only agency in government, subject to a veto by other agencies. But unlike the CFPB, no one in the U.S. Senate holds up confirmation of their directors, demanding that those agencies be redesigned."
Matt Taibbi live-blogged the hearings.

This would be really good news if I didn't think it would be overturned: "Federal Judge Finds National Security Letters Unconstitutional, Bans Them. Ultra-secret national security letters that come with a gag order on the recipient are an unconstitutional impingement on free speech, a federal judge in California ruled in a decision released Friday."

Sam Seder's minions did a pretty good job covering for him while he took time off for the birth of his son Saul. One of them interviewed Christopher Petrella about the private prison industry, and there was a quick throwaway line during the introduction about how they're ending private prisons... not followed up. I couldn't find anything on the web about this and I can't figure out where that came from. Was it a gag? Because if it isn't, it should have been big news. It certainly didn't sound very likely.

The selection of a new pope from Argentina has caused some people to utter the words "Liberation Theology" again, but I'm not terribly hopeful that this pope will be any more useful than the last one, even though he rides the bus, or at least used to before he became pope.

If I were Scott Prouty, I would never have allowed my name and face to be in the press, after that 47% video went viral. Some of us still remember that Frank Willis, the security guard who noticed the Watergate break-in and was just doing his job, was never really able to find work again in Washington and suffered the consequences of this simple action. My immediate fear was that Prouty would never be able to find another job. It seems, however, that the United Steelworkers didn't want to let that happen.

I've mentioned my friend and sometimes colleague Peter Tatchell before. He's the most famous gay rights activist in Britain, so I've run into him a lot over the years, and we are usually (but not always) on the same side. In this case, though, Peter is giving a talk on what to me is Topic A these days - the anti-democratic push to destroy western economies.

Three Democratic myths used to demean the Paul filibuster

Anti-marijuana New York assemblyman busted for weed possession

Snow pic - Ruth had her camera out early this morning. (As I write, she says it's still coming down.) And she's also been writing about the long rifle.

A while back Swedish fan John-Henri Holmberg wrote an article for Earl Kemp's sf e-fanzine, called, "God, how silly!", about religion, the Enlightenment, and science fiction. A fine example of why Gibson said it's harder work to write for fanzines than to write professionally, because fanzine articles have to be better than that.

Photos of Children From Around the World With Their Most Prized Possessions

Unusual clouds over Scotland

18 obsolete words, which should never have gone out of style and the Grandiloquent Word of the Day

Martha & the Vandellas

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dead of Night Express

This week's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays were David Dayen (dday) and Dave Waldman (KagroX), and they talked about the filibuster - that Rand Paul's filibuster wasn't actually a real filibuster (because he wasn't preventing or even delaying cloture), that an actual "filibuster" (the silent kind to which they've all become accustomed) was happening at the same time but nobody noticed, and Senators - particularly powerful Senators - really have no interest in real filibuster reform. And, of course, the "sequester".

This is interesting. First Atrios (as Duncan Black) has a couple-few columns in USA Today talking about how we need to expand Social Security and how the 401K experiment has failed and how real pensions are disappearing, like this one a few days ago. And at first, nothing much happens, except that this week something did:
First there was a bit of yes-but-no from CBS (that didn't even mention his name), but then Thomas B Edsall has a column at the NYT site about "The War On Entitlements" that actually tells the truth about the problem Americans are facing and the real political position in America: "So why don't we talk about raising or eliminating the cap - a measure that has strong popular, though not elite, support? When asked by the National Academy of Social Insurance whether Social Security taxes for better-off Americans should be increased, 71 percent of Republicans and 97 percent of Democrats agreed. In a 2012 Gallup Poll, 62 percent of respondents thought upper-income Americans paid too little in taxes."
And then, to my surprise, Josh Barro has a piece up at Bloomberg called "Don't Cut Social Security, Expand It."

Alex Pareene explains what Obama is really doing with The undead, unnecessary, unhelpful Grand Bargain: "The recent Obama charm offensive is designed to convince Republicans that he is very sincere in his efforts to get a Serious Debt Deal, involving 'entitlement' cuts and tax reform. Here's a fun secret: Tax reform (in this case referring to eliminating or scaling back 'tax expenditures') is technically a conservative policy priority, even if elected Republicans refuse to ever support it for real. This is a compromise in which conservative policy is being offered in exchange for conservative support for a conservative policy. The sequester and Obama's Bargain quest mean that Republicans can choose between allowing a Democrat to 'take credit' for cutting the two most popular programs in the country or they can just live with the already-passed government spending cut that they are also able to blame on the president. Because the party's 'brand' is effectively beyond tarnishing, and because they are still guaranteed control of the House and veto power in the Senate for the foreseeable future, their bargaining position is actually much stronger than even they seem to realize." (via)

Liz Warren wants to know how much money-laundering you have to do to invite a prosecution.

It's worth your efforts to bookmark New Economic Perspectives, where Bill Black posts regularly. Recent examples include:
"Sequestration - Fourth Austerity Shoe Drops"
"The latest failed effort to blame the Community Reinvestment Act for Accounting Control Fraud"
"Representative Conyers needs our Support to Kill the Sequestration's Austerity"
"'Pervasive' Fraud by our 'Most Reputable' Banks"
"The Sequester Is Awful And Obama Didn't Even Try To Stop It"
"Why Obama Refuses to Kill the Sequester" ("I wrote last year about the fact that President Obama had twice blocked Republican efforts to remove the Sequester. President Obama went so far as to issue a veto threat to block the second effort. I found contemporaneous reportage on the President's efforts to preserve the Sequester - and the articles were not critical of those efforts. I found no contemporaneous rebuttal by the administration of these reports.")
"Reinventing Government: the 1995 Speeches announcing the Road to Ruin"

Maureen Dowd's piece on Dick Cheney (via) would almost seem like vindication if it wasn't, y'know, Maureen Dowd. Still, all your worst suspicions have been confirmed.

How the Iraq war hurt Republicans

Robert Parry, "Rethinking Watergate/Iran-Contra"

Dept. of No One Could Have Predicted: "Senator Joseph Lieberman to Join Senator Jon Kyl as Co-Chair of the American Internationalism Project at the American Enterprise Institute."

The trouble with public schools - and why we need charter schools - is that in public schools it's a lot harder to pay your boyfriend $95,000 instead of just $40,000 to be the school chef. Of course, the best reason to support charter schools is still so rich people can get richer.

New blog on prosecutorial accountability - or, rather, prosecutorial misconduct.

Doonesbury on GOP soul-searching for the winning election strategy

Another cool photo of the Milky Way, seen from Mt. Rainier.

Map of travel times on commuter rail, from Manhattan stations (via)

School of Thrones, Episode 1. (Related: Game of Thrones artwork for those who have too much money to spare and aren't sensible enough to send it to an independent, unpaid blogger.)

Started watching the BBC's period jazz drama Dancing on the Edge the other night and I'm recommending it to everyone. There's an amusing back-story about how Angel Coulby had never even told her agent she could sing and had never sung in public before she auditioned for the role of the band's singer, Jesse Taylor. And when she sings swingin' jazz in this show, you see a very different energy from the kind we saw from her as Gwenevere in Merlin - and, for that matter, from the Jesse Taylor we see here off-stage. Ladies and gentlemen, The Louis Lester Band!

Friday, March 8, 2013

But don't forget who's takin' you home

Big political news of the week was that Rand Paul led a real filibuster of the Brennan nomination for 13 hours, demanding that the administration answer questions about its willingness to use drones to murder Americans on American soil. To their shame, the Democrats produced only the weakest tea in support by Ron Wyden, who did join the filibuster but said he would vote for the famously pro-torture nominee anyway. They also produced Dick Durbin, who stood up to oppose the filibuster. The consensus in the liberal blogosphere: Rand doing the right thing for the wrong reason, but at least he got some conversation going about drones. Even if it was just to get a phony fund-raising letter out of it.
(ACLU Comment on John Brennan's Confirmation to CIA Director)

There was no Virtually Speaking Sundays last week due to the Oscars, but Culture of Truth did have something to say about the Sunday talk shows and how they covered the irresponsible blind cuts that our political class is calling "the sequester".
But this week, Dave Johnson and Stuart Zechman tried to sort out whether the horrifying policies of the Democratic leadership are a matter of ideology or plain-old corruption. Which is, I guess, a high-toned way of saying "stupid or evil". (I think Dave does need to be reminded that some of these people just aren't being paid enough to be pure evil - some of it is what I wrote about in "How you became crazy", too. When that kind of thing goes on long enough, there are people who know so little about the subjects under discussion that they actually believe the crazy stuff they are hearing is perfectly reasonable, not because they've had to consider it, but because they've never heard anyone explain why it isn't true.)
Bruce Schneier was also a guest recently on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd.

Sam Seder was sufficiently horrified by Jonathan Alter's piece advocating that liberals accept cuts to our economic insurance programs that he managed to get him into an interview on The Majority Report. This is really worth listening to for a chilling insight into the ideology of "liberal" Washington that places vowing not to cut Social Security and Medicare (a highly popular position that also makes good policy sense) on the same level as taking Grover Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes (a highly unpopular position that makes terrible policy sense).
Sam also talked to Nikolas Kozloff about Hugo Chávez.
Congratulations to Sammy on the birth of his second child (first son), celebrated with a pre-recorded interview he had ready for the occasion with Bill Black on austerity. Sam's producers Matt and Michael handled the live portions of the show, with Matt in high-gear over what he saw as inappropriate reaction to Rand Paul's filibuster. Last time I looked, Sam and Nicki (not sure how she spells that) still hadn't chosen a name for the kid.

Jon Lee Anderson on the passing of a complex leader, and his controversial legacy: "Postscript: Hugo Chávez, 1954-2013
John Pilger's documentary on Chavez
Greg Palast writes, "Vaya con Dios, Hugo Chávez, mi Amigo," advising that the Bush administration's sudden hatred of Chávez was all about the fact that he told Big Oil they were going to have to pay a little more money for oil they extracted from his country. You can get a free download of the film The Assassination of Hugo Chavez in honor of the occasion.

Dr. Duncan Black says, "Expand Social Security - The three legged stool is down to one leg."

Matt Taibbi on punishing people who blow the whistle on irresponsible and illegal bank dealings. "Well, just weeks after the PBS documentary aired, the Court of Appeals in the state of California suddenly took an interest in Winston's case. Normally, a court of appeals can only overturn a jury verdict in a case like this if there is a legal error. It's not supposed to relitigate the factual evidence. Yet this is exactly what happened..."

Dean Baker says, "Time to Bury Pew Report on Wealth by Age Group." Too right. Look, there's only one demographic group that can truly said to be wealthy, and that's the wealthy.

Susie Madrak says the sequester is Obama's fault.

Yves Smith say, "As Dow Sprints to New High, the Middle Class and Manufacturing Languish."

Our Current Economic Mess, Explained With Headlines

Bradley Manning pleads guilty to leaking secret government documents
A difference between Mark Ambinder and Bradley Manning

Organizing against The New Jim Crow

The crying need for some white people to be able to talk about race (via)

Organizing for Acce$$ - it's like magic!

Where all 50 states stand on abortion, in two charts

"Darpa Wants You to Transcribe, and Instantly Recall, All of Your Conversations."

"Conservative activist pays $100,000 to former ACORN worker: James O'Keefe, the conservative activist whose hidden-camera stings have been aimed at liberal targets, has agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by a former employee of the group ACORN, according to documents filed Thursday in federal court here."

When America Was Female - before Uncle Sam, there was Columbia.

"Next Tuesday, the European Parliament will vote yes to a report calling for a legislative ban on all pornography in 'media'. This 'media' is worded to include the internet, and is broad and vague enough to even include photos you take of yourself and send to friends, as well as simple text messaging. This horrendous attack on our fundamental freedoms of speech and expression needs action now."

In bad company: Death penalty world map

Busting myths about porn stars - not what you think (and, as usual, Camilla Paglia is way behind the times).

Study American Sign Language online at ASLU.

Oooh, I missed the cute Google doodle for Copernicus' 540th birthday. (Can't believe I missed the one for Grimm's Fairy Tales last year. And this one, too.)

Dalmation puppies like peanut butter.

The Drifters, "Save the Last Dance For Me"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's a jungle out there

With Randy Newman on the piano.

Is there still time to tell your reps to support Conyers' bill to repeal the sequester bill?

Steven Brill's cover story in Time, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us" pretty much tells the story, although not as well as we might like - but the gist is that medical bills really are too high, thanks to a friendly little racket our bought-and-paid-for political class has allowed the insurance companies and hospitals to run against Americans. Nicole Sandler calls that scam "Government Sanctioned Extortion" and interviewed Wendell Potter (author of Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans) to discuss the article, the scam, and the process that's killing more Americans than Osama bin Laden ever dreamed of.

"40% of Americans Now Make Less Than 1968 Minimum Wage had the minimum wage kept pace with productivity gains."

Long-time Republican Bob Woodward, who refused to tell the truth about Bush's phony war until long after it was too late, instead choosing to try to make Bush look like a hero in his real-time reporting, decided not to do the same for Obama and the "sequestration" crises he invented, thus creating an interesting reaction from the right. You see, they are confused about Woodward's credentials since, a long, long time ago, Woodward worked with another reporter on articles that helped bring down Richard M. Nixon's presidency. His co-author, a guy called Carl Bernstein, was the one who pushed Woodward into doing the story, as people who followed the Watergate investigation probably already know - but like so much else, it is forgotten history. The fact that Woodward eventually released a book about Bush that told a more realistic story about Bush's White House and push for war has helped burnish (in the eyes of right-wingers) Woodward's supposedly "liberal" standing. And yet, to their utter surprise and delight, this member of our "liberal media" has spilled the beans on Obama. But anyway, despite the "defense" of Obama that flutters around in the comment thread at Politico, the simple fact remains, as Glen Ford points out, that we should "Remember: Sequestration was Obama's Idea." (But it is never a good idea to forget what Woodward really is - and he hasn't stopped reminding us.)

Don't kid yourself that Jonathan Alter's pernicious twaddle isn't precisely in line with what the White House wants to hear. The whole pre-K offer is just more hostage taking - you're not gonna let granny eat steak and deprive little kids of pre-K, are you? If these people were actually serious about improving things for kids and for the economy, they'd be talking about lowering the retirement age, not cutting benefits.

Does Mitch McConnell work for the Chinese?

Dean Baker: "This is the reason that we saw White House spokesman Jay Carney tell a press conference last week that Barack Obama is a macho man. He told the reporters that President Obama is still willing to cut Social Security benefits by using the Chained CPI as the basis for the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). This willingness to cut the benefits of retirees establishes President Obama as a serious person in elite Washington circles."

"Deficit Is Falling Dramatically, But Only 6% Know That."

In my experience, when Michael Moore gets called a liar by a "professional" journalist, it's not Michael Moore who is lying. (More here from MM.) It's not just racial profiling, though - journalists and artists have been getting a hostile reception from TSA for years, now, even if they're lily-white.

C. Everett Koop, Forceful U.S. Surgeon General, Dies at 96 - Believe it or not, he got a positive name-check from me in one of my books because he rather bravely admitted there was no support for certain Meese Commission claims about pornography. And I don't mean just any claims - I mean claims that even most pro-porn people assume to be true. Because he actually did the research - which, of course, was buried. (You'll notice there is no mention of pornography or the Meese Commission in his Wikipedia entry.)

Remember when Richard Nixon ignored the protests and watched a football game? Somehow, this feels even worse.

Watch Obey: Film Based on Chris Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class

It's amazing how much this simple phototoon says about what's happened to democracy in the "free world".

Our founding fathers never dreamed that a member of Congress would be "representing" hundreds of thousands of constituents. George Washington reckoned it should be no more than 30,000. That would make sense - you might just be able to speak at enough block parties and picnics and town hall meetings to reach them all without buying ads on TV. You might even have time to personally meet with the ones who really want to talk to you (what real "lobbying" is supposed to be about). It's amazing to me that people spend more time talking about the Senate and the Electoral College and Citizens United than they do about this. The House is supposed to be where the real action is, where representation is assured. Well, it isn't. It isn't even close. Not when you have 700,000 constituents and you have to raise millions or even billions of dollars to have a prayer of talking to enough people in your own district to even know what's going on in it.

Inside The Hostess Bakery The Movie

Dylan Ryan: "How I Became A Feminist Porn Star"

"The One Where A Creationist Picks A Fight And Loses To A Priest"

Plato and Aristotle in three minutes

One baby band

Fun: Evolution
Smashing! Sirius and Orion over Brecon Beacons, Wales