Saturday, May 25, 2013

Death of a thousand cuts

I always know that when people start saying Obama gave a great speech, he said something awful. This is how Obama chose to address black graduates:
"I understand there's a common fraternity creed here at Morehouse: 'Excuses are tools of the incompetent used to build bridges to nowhere and monuments of nothingness.' Well, we've got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation have vanished entirely; they have not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there. It's just that in today's hyperconnected, hypercompetitive world, with millions of young people from China and India and Brazil - many of whom started with a whole lot less than all of you did - all of them entering the global workforce alongside you, nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned."
Or, as Stuart Zechman unpacked this: "It's not a global race to the wage-less, democracy-free bottom, young man, it's a chance to prove your individual competence through healthy competition with billions...I mean 'millions of young people'."

Although this message of hopelessness is one Obama has been delivering to all of us, he seems to take a special pleasure in making it to blacks, as if they are some especially spoiled bunch of greedy graspers who need to face the music and start putting their shoulders to the grindstone instead of lying on the sofa eating bon bons while someone else does all the work. You know, because blacks have all the cash and get all the luxuries.

Ta-Nehisi Coates didn't like it much, either:

Taking the full measure of the Obama presidency thus far, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this White House has one way of addressing the social ills that afflict black people -- and particularly black youth -- and another way of addressing everyone else. I would have a hard time imagining the president telling the women of Barnard that "there's no longer room for any excuses" -- as though they were in the business of making them. Barack Obama is, indeed, the president of "all America," but he also is singularly the scold of "black America."


But I also think that some day historians will pore over his many speeches to black audiences. They will see a president who sought to hold black people accountable for their communities, but was disdainful of those who looked at him and sought the same. They will match his rhetoric of individual responsibility, with the aggression the administration showed to bail out the banks, and the timidity they showed in addressing a foreclosure crisis which devastated black America (again.)They wil weigh the rhetoric against an administration whose efforts against housing segregation have been run of the mill. And they will match the talk of the importance of black fathers with the paradox of a president who smoked marijuana in his youth but continued a drug-war which daily wrecks the lives of black men and their families. In all of this, those historians will see a discomfiting pattern of convenient race-talk.

I think the president owes black people more than this. In the 2012 election, the black community voted at a higher rate than any other ethnic community in the country. Their vote went almost entirely to Barack Obama. They did this despite a concerted effort to keep them from voting, and they deserve more than a sermon. Perhaps they cannot practically receive targeted policy. But surely they have earned something more than targeted scorn.

Coates is kinder to the Obamas than I would be, but he still wants to be a believer.

Right now, all over the country, communities are getting together and working hard (as Michelle Obama advises) to improve their schools and their environment, and in every area they are met with intractable government officials who have made other plans, together with some very rich, very powerful people. Like Rahm Emanuel and his insistence on closing a lot of Chicago schools. What happens when communities get together to work for their betterment? Let's see what the headlines say.... Oh, yes, here we are: "Protests Fail to Deter Chicago From Shutting 49 Schools."

I can't help the feeling that the Obamas know very well they are making it harder for people, either individually or in groups, to do anything to improve their lives. Because people with good lives are a lot harder to lure into the pleasures of working as slave-laborors. We aren't likely to beg for bad jobs when we have better options, and then "we" won't be able to "compete" with China.

But when wages fall to subsistence for most people in the United States, remember: It will be all your fault for not picking yourself up by your bootstraps and "taking personal responsibility".

* * * * *

Dean Baker was the guest on this week's Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd.

Elizabeth Warren seems unconvinced that the Treasury Secretary is focusing on stopping banks from being too big to fail.

The New York Times finally has an editorial condemning the Obama administration's chilling effect on the press: "Obama administration officials often talk about the balance between protecting secrets and protecting the constitutional rights of a free press. Accusing a reporter of being a 'co-conspirator,' on top of other zealous and secretive investigations, shows a heavy tilt toward secrecy and insufficient concern about a free press. "
And in the WaPo, Downie himself actually complains about Obama's war on leaks. Although Pincus swears this one is different. But that doesn't make the administration any less guilty of playing a nasty game. They are happy to "leak" classified information when it makes them look "good" (macho), but what they have gone after, time and time again, is people who dissent from the propaganda. It's become too hard to trust them.

Ezra has a post up called, "Stop celebrating our falling deficits" which says, "It's time to stop celebrating last week's Congressional Budget Office report. Our deficits aren't dropping because we're doing something right. They're dropping because we're doing everything wrong." Which is true, leaving aside the fact that we haven't been celebrating and we aren't the ones doing everything wrong. But I couldn't help noticing that while he's talking about deficits, the graph he uses shows "Federal Debt Held by the Public", which is something else.

Obama Uncare:
"The "unbanked" are 27% of those eligible for ObamaCare, and may be denied coverage because they have no way to pay that insurance companies will accept."
"The calculators are broken because actuarial value is a crapshoot."
"Union members with multi-employer, Taft-Hartley plans thrown under the bus." Because: "Many UFCW members have what are known as multi-employer or Taft-Hartley plans. According to the administration's analysis of the Affordable Care Act, the law does not provide tax subsidies for the roughly 20 million people covered by the plans. Union officials argue that interpretation could force their members to change their insurance and accept more expensive and perhaps worse coverage in the state-run exchanges." So that thing about being able to keep the healthcare you had before? Um, not so much.

Bruce Schneier on why, though it leads to terrible policy, It's smart politics to exaggerate terrorist threats. (This dovetails nicely with Matthew Rothchild's article in The Progressive about Spying on Occupy Activists and the unholy alliance that actually makes it harder for us to be on the lookout for real terrorism.)
Bruce in the Guardian, "Will giving the internet eyes and ears mean the end of privacy?: Corporations and governments are turning the internet into a colossal, always-on surveillance tool. Once passive objects are able to report what's happening, where is the power balance?"

Senator David Vitter (R-Slime Mold) has introduced an amendment to the Farm Bill that would permanently ban anyone who has ever been convicted of a violent crime from SNAP eligibility. Because, like, people who already can't find employment won't turn to violent crime when they have no other way to get food. A little kicker in the story: "Democrats accepted it without trying to modify it to address its most ill-considered aspects."

Thanks to CMike for reminding me that Michael Kinsley hasn't been keeping up for a long, long time (scroll down).

The shadowy Gnome Liberation Front has successfully invaded the Chelsea Flower Show.

Neat clouds

This is cool. Now highlight between these quotation marks to see why it's even cooler:
"Alexandre Dumas hideaway on the grounds of Monte Cristo Castle in Marly le Roi, France"

Rufus Harley was a little different from other jazz musicians.

26 Discworld Quotes About Life, The Universe, And Everything

Eric Burdon & War (Full version,Beat club 1970)

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Strange days have tracked us down

Digby and McJoan were this week's panelists on Virtually Speaking, talking about prospects for the Grand Bargain and what the various scandals mean.

Why is Elijah Cummings the only MD representative to have signed the Grayson pledge? Has your representative signed it? Don't forget to say thanks if so. But if not, ask why.

Spocko asks, "Which DC Lobbying Firms are the Unemployed Hiring To Represent Them?" I'd like to see a million people march on Washington all carrying signs with that Ellisonian slogan Spocko suggests.

The whole point of PBS was supposed to be that money didn't control the content, because that was supplied by the public. But today, only 12% of funding comes from government, and the rest comes from big donors like the Koch brothers, one of whom is actually a trustee of PBS. How do you make films addressing the villains of the day when those villains fund the organization and sit on the board? Jane Mayer with "A Word from Our Sponsor".

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle discusses the plan to close Chicago schools. This isn't mind-bending stuff, but it's a teacher who wants good schools simply describing what's going on and why she doesn't like the way it's being done.
In related news, there's a reason Atrios named Rahm Emanuel as today's worst person in the world.

Robert Parry has noticed that lately Bob Woodward invokes the name of Watergate in ways that suggest he doesn't know much about Watergate.

Turns out our domestic "protectors" were unable to spot the Boston Bomber because they were too busy spying on peaceful activists. Sam Seder did a good interview with Matthew Rothschild on that subject on The Majority Report.
Sammy also spoke to Glenn Greenwald about the Bush-Obama war on the press, now escalated to the point where investigative journalism is being made into a crime. Glenn's article on the subject is here. Interestingly, the targeted journalist in the headlines these days is from Fox News.

"Protesters Demanding Prosecutions Of Wall Street Arrested Outside Department Of Justice."

Faux liberal Michael Kinsley decided to pick a fight with Paul Krugman, in defense of austerity, and Alex Pareene let him have it: "The best part of this sort of language about government spending - or, more accurately, about the government issuing bonds - is that it makes being working- and middle-class sound so much fun. Did you know it's been a party, these last few decades? And Paul Krugman, irresponsibly, wants everyone to continue partying. What is wrong with that? It's here that Kinsley reveals himself to be a member of the Scarborough school, the sorts of longtime Important Beltway Men who are simply pretty sure that austerity is superior to all alternatives because the government's been making it too easy and comfortable for the rabble over the last generation or so. And as we all know after a party you have to starve yourself to death to atone." Pareene is one of the few people who actually remembers that Paul Krugman has long been an advocate of globalization and could once safely have been categorized as conservative (which is just where I used to file him), so his (still too slow) evolution into something more liberal (but not liberal enough!) doesn't get swept under the carpet. When Krugman admits that Naomi Klein was right. it really does mean something. Oh, and Brad DeLong didn't think much of Kinsley's column, either.

Matt Taibbi, "Deja Vu on the Hill: Wall Street Lobbyists Roll Back Finance Reform, Again." Taibbi seems to think the Democrats simply don't have the stones to write a straightforward bill putting banks into the straightjackets they obviously need to wear. I think he gives them too much credit.
Dday is Naming Names in the Dodd Frank Mess, and an important name you don't know is Obama-appointee Mark Wetjen.

OK is too scary for me to talk about, but if you want to see pictures, they're here.

So much for your "affordable" health insurance package.

Arizona Republican Jim Kolbe gets gay married - will wedding bells break up that old gang in the GOP closet?

"Drowning it in the bathtub very slowly" - The real IRS scandal is that Norquist's plan to drown government in the bathtub has worked all too well to prevent the IRS from doing its job.

"Oklahoma's Own Mortgage Settlement Trumps National Pact's Payouts: The $25 billion National Mortgage Settlement was reached early last year between the five big banks and 49 state attorneys general, but it seems that the lone holdout - Oklahoma - is drawing bigger payouts for its victims of the same foreclosure abuses."

Popular Resistance Is Percolating Across the Country -- Inspiring Activism That the Corporate Media Always Ignores (via)

Wouldn't you know, the whole "IRS Targeted Conservatives" story is just another made-up story by James O'Keefe.

Why you can't trust the news - If you're not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product.
High school kids arrested for tossing water balloons. Jeez.
U.S. transforms Catholic pacifists into terrorists

You gotta wonder why New York doesn't fire cops like this.

Putting things in perspective: CEO pay, a graphic.

Rick Pearlstein refers to Commander George Stephen Morrison as the guy who helped the cover-up of the Gulf of Tonkin incident. That first paragraph is a kicker.

Drinkable art

I saw Iain Banks and hugged him one last time. He'd lost a lot of weight but he still looked pretty wonderful and acted just like him (but without all the climbing). Roz was there, too, and when she left, she wrote this poem.

Frank Zappa's acoustic jam with Shuggie Otis

RIP Ray Manzarek, 74.
NPR interview with Ray Manzarek, 1998
"Strange Days" (original video clip)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Under grey skies

Ian Welsh was this week's guest on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd, and he predicts a nightmare. (I think he's right about that, but I think he wastes a lot of time talking about generations. Lewis Powell was no baby-boomer.) It might be worthwhile to read what Ian says On Bangladesh's Textile Disasters, because this is a case where the people who run the business can't pretend it's not their fault and all some foreign government issue. (Ian's earlier appearance on VS with Jay is here.)

I've never thought much of Henry Waxman as a "great progressive" in Congress. It didn't seem to me that he was exactly keeping his eye on the ball. This week, one patriotic citizen, Kim Kaufman, asked him if he'd sign Grayson's pledge, and he said no, he'd support chained CPI for "things we want". People need to ask him who "we" are and what "we" want.

Matt Taibbi says, "Who Can Stop the Koch Brothers From Buying the Tribune Papers? Unions Can, and Should." Though, the Tribune papers already being pretty right-wing, I'm not entirely sure we'd know the difference if the Koch's did buy them.

Congratulations to Minnesota for becoming the 12th state to legalize gay marriage.

"Upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership Looks Like Corporate Takeover [...] The TPP process appears to be set up to push corporate interests over other interests. The TPP is being negotiated in secret, so what we know about it comes from leaked documents. Even our Congress is being kept out of the loop. But 600 corporate representatives are in the loop while representatives of groups that protect working people, human, political and civil rights and our environment are largely not in the loop."

Another reminder from Howie Klein that the worst Republicans are only in office because the Democratic leadership protects them.

Senator Al Franklin on banking reform.

"Low-income parents forced to skip work in order to be able to work at all [...] The Post's Brigid Schulte reports that, although subsidies are particularly low in Washington, studies have found that the difficulty of getting and keeping them is similar in most states. Nationwide, just one in six eligible children is covered by the subsidy program, leaving an awful lot of parents with that impossible predicament of needing a job to get childcare but needing childcare to get a job. Then of course there's the kicker - poor women who don't work are stigmatized as mooches or leeches, and poor women who are forced to leave their kids in bad situations while they go to work are stigmatized as bad mothers. America's rotten childcare system is a sign of a nation whose policymakers don't care much about either children's safety or women's ability to make a decent living."

Mike Flannigan wishes the Republicans really meant it about impeaching presidents who commit high crimes.

There's a long piece in the Guardian about Cornel West: "He and Obama, the first-time candidate, talked. And then West attended 65 events drumming up support. 'He talked about Martin Luther King over and over again as he ran. King died fighting not just against poverty but against carpet-bombing in Vietnam; the war crimes under Nixon and Kissinger. You can't just invoke Martin Luther King like that and not follow through on his priorities in some way. I knew he would have rightwing opposition, but he hasn't tried. When he came in, he brought in Wall Street-friendly people - Tim Geithner, Larry Summers - and made it clear he had no intention of bailing out homeowners, supporting trade unions. And he hasn't said a mumbling word about the institutions that have destroyed two generations of young black and brown youth, the new Jim Crow, the prison industrial complex. It's not about race. It is about commitment to justice. He should be able to say that in the last few years, with the shift from 300,000 inmates to 2.5 million today, there have been unjust polices and I intend to do all I can. Maybe he couldn't do that much. But at least tell the truth. I would rather have a white president fundamentally dedicated to eradicating poverty and enhancing the plight of working people than a black president tied to Wall Street and drones.' Unsurprisingly, he and team Obama no longer speak. 'They say I'm un-American.'" Since I don't have a link to the Newsnight interview that will play in the USA, have his Craig Ferguson interview, instead.

Bill Murray on the last time they saw Gilda Radner.

1927 London Shown in Moving Color (Thanks to Moshe for the tip.)

Great musical moments in television: John Cage's birthday surprise, on Ally McBeal.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

And the stars look very different today

Atrios says he was going to write about why we should give people free money, "but over the weekend everyone got there first."
Forbes: "Just Give People Money"
WaPo Wonkblog: "Thinking Utopian: How about a universal basic income?"
Business Insider: "There's A Way To Give Everyone In America An Income That Conservatives And Liberals Can Both Love: Here's an idea for stimulating the economy: Free money for everyone, all the time, with no exceptions or conditions."
But I think he should have used his column for it anyway. I mean, USA TODAY is a paper that normal people read.

"DOJ Secretly Obtains Months Of AP Phone Records; AP Calls It 'Unprecedented Intrusion' [...] In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies. "There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," Pruitt said.."

Sam Seder did a useful interview with Isabel Macdonald of The Nation about her recent article on "how the drug testing industry is a self-licking ice cream cone where Republicans and industry profiteers are targeting high school students, welfare applicants and the unemployed," on The Majority Report. (Also, last week's interviews included one on making universities free and one on Bidder Number 70: Tim DeChristopher's Climate Activism, a film about why DeChristopher bought a bunch of land he didn't have the money for to stop an illegal land sale and what he - and the government - did next.)

Jon Schwarz: "We Are So Disappointed With the Corrupt Afghan Government."

"The DCCC's Tighty Whities: This is a list of the closest House races from last November. We list the races where Democrats won first and then where Republicans won. The dollar figure next to each name is the amount put into outside spending by the DCCC and their SuperPAC, the House Majority PAC. " You know what this is about - how the DCCC lost races we could have won because they would rather have Republicans win than elect liberals.

Norman Solomon on "Obama in Plunderland: Down the Corporate Rabbit Hole" - Obama's choices to head the FCC and Commerce follow a pattern....

Bruce Schneier reminds us that "The television show Person of Interest is fiction, not fact."
Bruce also has a piece in The Atlantic, "Transparency and Accountability Don't Hurt Security - They're Crucial to It."

It's a funny thing about the "IRS scandal" the right-wing is all up in arms about. It seems the "Tea Party" groups the IRS investigated aren't regarded by grass-roots Tea Partiers as real Tea Party groups, being nothing more than GOP front groups meant to siphon off real Tea Party resources.

"A Parade of Vintage Trains, Unnoticed in the Harlem Night"

"Don't make fun of renowned Dan Brown." It's via Langford, go have some fun.

"The modern history of swearing: Where all the dirtiest words come from"

I was looking for something else, but here's Five Minutes With: Iain M Banks.

Deeply cool revised version of Bowie's "Space Oddity" recorded by Commander Chris Hadfield on board the International Space Station.

Saturday, May 11, 2013


This week's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays will be Stuart Zechman and David Dayen - definitely one to listen to.
Veteran Texas campaign strategist, journalist, and author Glenn W. Smith was the guest this week on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd, where they talked about the blueing of the state and the impact of Texas on the country. One gets the distinct feeling that Texas liberals are so demoralized that they don't realize they have a very good chance of beating the Republicans if they would just get out there and do the work.

Thanks to commenter ifthethunderdontgetya for point to Digby's "I guess this means we're winning? Huh. I wonder why the disparity? I don't suppose it might be because the Democrats have been consistently betraying their own values? No, of course not. I suppose they all figure that the Democrats have nowhere to go so to hell with them. But I'd be just a little bit cautious about that. There is an alternative. The gerrymandering didn't go just one way --- after all, if the Republicans have barricaded themselves into safe districts for the next decade, that also means that Democrats are in safe districts too. Which means that primaries become a distinct possibility for Democrats as well. They should be mindful of the possibility." If you're living in a "safe" district for one party, then the real battles are in the primaries, not the competition between the two parties. There is no point in putting up with bad Democrats and then waiting until election day to fight the Republicans. As long as those bad these bad actors are in the leadership, there is no fight against the Republicans. (But of course, it isn't a fight against "the Republicans" - millions of Republican voters agree with us where the big issues are concerned. What we need to fight is that kind of tribalism that keeps pitting us against each other instead of against the centers of power.)

Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone, "Everything Is Rigged: The Biggest Price-Fixing Scandal Ever: The Illuminati were amateurs. The second huge financial scandal of the year reveals the real international conspiracy: There's no price the big banks can't fix." Matt talked to Sam Seder on this subject on The Majority Report.

Don't forget - find out if your representative has signed the pledge, and thank them if they have - but if they haven't, ask them why the Hell not.

The Death of Truth by Chris Hedges (Interview with Julian Assange) (Thanks to commenter jcapan.)

"Hospital Prices No Longer Secret As New Data Reveals Bewildering System, Staggering Cost Differences: When a patient arrives at Bayonne Hospital Center in New Jersey requiring treatment for the respiratory ailment known as COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, she faces an official price tag of $99,690. Less than 30 miles away in the Bronx, N.Y., the Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center charges only $7,044 for the same treatment, according to a massive federal database of national health care costs made public on Wednesday."

"Wall Street Bills Clear Hurdle With Democrats Backing Deregulation: WASHINGTON -- Just one day after Treasury Secretary Jack Lew wrote a letter urging lawmakers to reject a slate of Wall Street deregulation measures, nearly two dozen Democrats joined Republicans to approve the package in the House Financial Services Committee. The legislation would repeal several sections of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law targeting derivatives, the complex financial transactions at the heart of the 2008 banking collapse. Similar measures have already cleared the House Agriculture Committee with broad bipartisan backing. The most controversial bill advanced on Tuesday would expand government backing for derivatives by allowing banks to sell them from their taxpayer-insured divisions. Dodd-Frank requires banks to "push out" many of these operations into units that do not receive deposit insurance from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC)" [Emphasis added.]

"Frack Corporate Personhood: A Pennsylvania judge has drawn a hard line against so-called corporate 'persons' [...] In fact, Judge O'Dell-Seneca spent roughly one-third of her 32-page decision forcefully articulating the reasons why corporations are not considered legal persons under the state's constitution, observing that, 'the constitutional rights that business entities may assert are not coterminous or homogeneous with the rights of human beings.' She continued, 'It is axiomatic that corporations, companies and partnerships have no ‘spiritual nature,' ‘feelings,' ‘intellect,' ‘beliefs,' ‘thoughts,' ‘emotions' or ‘sensations,' because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists.'"

"Sallie Mae Profit Boosts College Endowments And Pension Funds As Students Pay More: University endowments and teachers' pension funds are among big investors in Sallie Mae, the private lender that has been generating enormous profits thanks to soaring student debt and the climbing cost of education, a Huffington Post review of financial documents has revealed. The previously unreported investments mean that education professionals are able to profit twice off the same student: first by hiking the cost of tuition, then through dividends and higher valuations on their holdings in Sallie Mae, the largest student lender and loan servicer in the country, which profits by charging relatively high interest rates on its loans and not refinancing high-rate loans after students graduate and get well-paying jobs. Sallie Mae is a former government-sponsored enterprise that was fully privatized in 2004 and now trades publicly as SLM Corp."

First Joe Biden promised us there'd be no Social Security cuts, and now he's saying Obama won't approve the pipeline. Do we believe him? Why should we?

James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, on "ALEC's War on Workers: Funded in large part by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, ALEC is casting a wide net as it attempts to empower CEOs while undermining democracy. ALEC wants to make it harder for workers to contribute to political campaigns and causes. They want to alter telecommunications laws so that large phone companies can increase consumer costs while reducing consumer protections. They want gut public education by cutting student funding and implementing a voucher system. These are but a small sampling of ALEC's work across the country."

"U.S. Weighs Wider Wiretap Laws to Cover Online Activity: The Obama administration, resolving years of internal debate, is on the verge of backing a Federal Bureau of Investigation plan for a sweeping overhaul of surveillance laws that would make it easier to wiretap people who communicate using the Internet rather than by traditional phone services, according to officials familiar with the deliberations.." I think they already spy on everything, but they want more more more!
Glenn Greenwald: "Are all telephone calls recorded and accessible to the US government? A former FBI counterterrorism agent claims on CNN that this is the case."

Benghazi. Alternatively, what did that other guy do?

"Everyone else on earth is as annoyed with "purity" as I am, right?"

"Ray Harryhausen, visual effects master, dies aged 92."

Zachary Quinto vs. Leonard Nimoy: "The Challenge"

More cool photos on (sorry!) Facebook.

I spent the week celebrating Robert Johnson's birthday. (Lots more here.)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Stinkin' to high Heaven

Sam Seder interviewed Director of Strategy for Free Press activist Tim Karr (@TimKarr), and they talked about Obama's new pick for FCC Chair on The Majority Report.

David Dayen says, "Turns out much-hyped settlement still allows banks to steal homes [...] But new evidence reveals the nation's largest banks have apparently continued to fabricate documents, rip off customers and illegally kick people out of their homes, even after inking a series of settlements over the same abuses. And the worst part of it all is that the main settlement over foreclosure fraud was so weakly written that it actually allows such criminal conduct to occur, at least up to a certain threshold. Potentially hundreds of thousands of homes could be effectively stolen by the big banks without any sanctions."

Yves Smith on Obama's Patronage System: Pritzker Nomination for Commerce Department, Limp-Wristed Dodd Frank: "The consternation at the not-exactly-a-surprise nomination of billionaire Penny Pritzker to be Commerce Secretary, is sadly much less than is warranted. That suggests that the Forbes 400 member will survive her confirmation hearings. And in a telling bit of synchronicity, last week some fauxgressives set about amplifying an article in the Nation that big bank lobbying efforts were the reason Dodd Frank was amounting to very little. As we'll discuss, both reflect how much Obama supports the interests of the FIRE sector (finance, insurance, and real estate). Dodd Frank is failing because it was designed to fail; the banks getting to have as much influence over it as they have is a feature, not a bug."

"Texas plant that blew up carried $1M policy: Tyler lawyer Randy C. Roberts said he and other attorneys who have filed lawsuits against West Fertilizer's owners were told Thursday that the plant carried only $1 million in liability insurance. Brook Laskey, an attorney hired by the plant's insurer to represent West Fertilizer Co., confirmed the amount Saturday in an email to The Associated Press, after the Dallas Morning News first reported it. 'The bottom line is, this lack of insurance coverage is just consistent with the overall lack of responsibility we've seen from the fertilizer plant, starting from the fact that from day one they have yet to acknowledge responsibility,' Roberts said."

Howard Kurtz got fired from The Daily Beast, but he should never have been paid as a journalist. Robert Parry: "However, the more salient point is that Kurtz, who continues to host CNN's 'Reliable Sources' show, should never have achieved the level of influence in journalism that he did. Throughout his career, he has consistently - and unfairly - punished journalists who had the courage to ask tough questions and pursue truly important stories. When one looks at the mess that is modern journalism in the United States, a chief culprit has been Howard Kurtz. Yet, his downfall did not come because of his smearing of fellow journalists - like Gary Webb and Helen Thomas - but rather from a blog post that unfairly criticized basketball player Jason Collins after he revealed that he was gay."

Also from that fabulous stable of brilliant writers at The Daily Beast, Niall Ferguson had to walk-back his assertion that John Maynard Keynes didn't care about future generations because he was gay, a surmise that is unsupported by any facts. (Thanks to commenter CMike for reminding us of Keynes 1930 essay "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren" [.pdf].) His apologies that imply a momentary lapse or a lame off-the-cuff joke don't really wash when you know he has a long history of doing the same, and he sure didn't seem to be joking.

When Your Boss Steals Your Wages: The Invisible Epidemic That's Sweeping America - and yeah, they really are. So, first they steal our houses, and then....

Juan Cole on "The Incredible Shrinking Cost of Solar Energy".

The Grauniad has an interview with Krugman on the occasion of the publication of the second edition of his End This Depression Now. Random quote: "Some people say a fiscal stimulus will create a new housing bubble, but there haven't been many houses built in the last five years. They say workers have out-of-date skills. But history tells us that if you create jobs people will fill them." Fair enough, but the interviewer doesn't seem to get it (thinks Krugman's view lacks circumspection) and Krugman gives way too much credit to the forgetfulness of economists.

Dean Baker shows you why "technocracy" was always a stupid idea: "Larry Summers Says that Reinhart-Rogoff Type Mistakes Are "Distressingly Common" Then Goes on to Prove His Point."

"Enlisted sailors forced out while Navy has more admirals than ships: Norfolk, Va. - In World War II, there were 30 Navy ships for every admiral. Now, the Navy has more admirals than ships. That's a point not lost on Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner. 'I want to see the Pentagon cut back on some of this "brass creep" both in terms of numbers and some of these perks,' Warner said."

Maybe Obama just started out bad on economic issues and became bad on everything else as well, or maybe he was always as creepy as his policies have been, but I do agree that he is even weirder than Nixon.

Brian Cox is bigger on the outside.

Neat Alternative Limb Project photos.

Loudon Wainwright, live

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Dazed and confused

Tonight's guests on Virtually Speaking Sundays will be Avedon Carol and Gaius Publius. We may talk about garbage.

From Jon Walker at FDL, "Why Insurance Exchanges Won't Work: People Don't Like Choosing Insurance: One of the big reasons I'm so pessimistic about the new health insurance exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act is the principle behind them. The idea is that everyone will be well- informed dedicated shoppers who will know how to select the best plan to fit their needs, which will reduce cost for everyone. Aflac's 2013 WorkForces Report shows how deeply misguided this assumption is in reality." Via Corrente.

At Naked Capitalism, a warning that the new bank regulations that Sherrod Brown and David Vitter are co-sponsoring might not be as good as they seem: "There's been almost universal enthusiasm for Brown-Vitter, legislation proposed by Sherrod Brown and David Vitter to get tough with the too-big-to-fail banks. The legislation is sufficiently stringently written that if it were enacted (big if), it would force the banks to make changes to maintain anything remotely resembling their previous profit margins. Goldman and Morgan Stanley would probably drop their banking licenses and the other US systemically dangerous banks would presumably downsize by hiving off major operations. So what's not to like? The problem is that the enthusiasts haven't looked behind the curtain. This bill is being pushed, hard, by big insurers, who would be major winners."

"Science Nerd faces 15 years in Prison: You may have read about 16 year old Kiera Wilmot, a Florida student who mixed toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a small plastic bottle on school grounds. The chemical reaction from mixing these two items created a hydrogen gas which expanded and created a small explosion, releasing some gas and smoke. No one was injured." When I was a kid we learned about this stuff in high school, and yes, of course the science geeks tried it out. No one at my school had the cops called on them, but that was then.

I Am A Republican ... Can We Talk About A Single Payer System?

Jay Ackroyd: "This 'permission structure' business illuminates the centrist Democrats approach to revoking the New Deal. Bi-partisan commissions, historic presidencies, hostage-taking, tribalism are all tools for obtaining permission to violate core values that poll really, really well." Jay refers us to Digby, who says: "We used to call it 'validator marketing' as well. But never let anything as prosaic as marketing 101 get in the way of Obama campaign hagiography. They invented the wheel, we all know that. Anyway, the point of the article is that the White House is still determined to pursue their Grand Bargain and they've come up with a supposedly "new" plan to get Republicans on board (and apparently steamroll the Democrats into cutting their own throats.) But the legislative strategy is extremely complicated, as Beutler's post describes in dizzying detail, so even if they can get their "validators" to run with the Grand Bargain, getting it to a vote is a truly daunting task."

The Coming War Over Net Neutrality - With Obama's appointment of a venture capitalist and former top lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries who said he would have approved the AT&T and T-Mobile merger, it's gonna be a hot one.

"Suicides almost double among 50-somethings [...] More than 38,000 Americans killed themselves in 2010; that's more than double those who were killed in a homicide that same year, according to the CDC. In 2009, the number of deaths from suicide in the United States surpassed the number of deaths from motor vehicle crashes for the first time. [...] Suicide rates in this age group were highest among American Indians and Alaska Natives, according to the report. The next biggest increase was seen in whites. Among American Indians and Alaska Natives, the suicide rate for women jumped 81.4%; for men it was a 59.5% increase. [...] The 2007 recession affected middle-aged males more than any other demographic, he says. Job loss and other financial difficulties can lead to depression." Paging Dr. Durkheim....

Good for Maryland:
"Maryland Will Become 19th Medical Marijuana State/"
"Death Penalty Repeal Signed Into Law By Martin O'Malley."

Krugman acknowledges MMT, but confuses it with Dick Cheney.

What to do when the Westboro Baptists show up.

Marxist Yglesias: "In summary, I'm not a Marxist. But I worry that political conservatives are going to turn me into one. My view is that full employment and robust systems of redistribution from the more fortunate to the less fortunate are possible. I see real evidence for this in the world. The Obama administration has actually enacted a lot of redistribution programs, and the government of Australia has maintained consistent full employment policies for a long time now. But the collapse of the Soviet Union, a good thing on its own terms, has had the bad consequence of breeding massive complacency among the upper classes in the West. It used to seem important to people in the rich countries to prove that market economies not only could but in fact would lead to broadly rising living standards. But today we're living in a 401(k) world." Matt feels that Marx was wrong about a number of things he was right about, but he sure wishes the empirical evidence would line up with his feelings so he wouldn't have to worry about turning into a Marxist. *sigh*
Meanwhile, fallout from Big Media Matt's appalling article celebrating unsafe working conditions in Bangladesh has generated a "destruction salon" on Matthew Yglesias, and I can't really disagree with this: "He is a process acolyte, who never strays far from the orbit of Beltway centrist think-speak. His ideological bona fides extend to thinking that slightly-left people saying things identical to everyone else are slightly better than everyone else - all of whom are essentially right anyway, because why else would people agree? Ideas are less important than the formalism of tautologically explaining them, reiterating them, then deforming reality to accommodate them. His job is not to challenge them but hammer out a 500-word explainer detailing how wrong you are, while reassuring you that we're on the right track. Matthew Yglesias' voice is the same soothing one you use on your dog while the vet is euthanizing him." (Thanks to commenter ifthethunderdontgetya for the tip.)

Why Congress is so hilariously awful at its job

"I never voted for George W. Bush - or for any of his political opponents. I believed that voting was not particularly important. Our country, it seemed to me, was essentially on the right track.Whether Democrats or Republicans held the White House or the majorities in Congress made only the most marginal difference. I held views on some matters that could be defined as conservative, views on others that seemed liberal. But I firmly believed that our democratic system of government was sufficiently insulated from any real abuse, by our Constitution and by the checks and balances afforded by having three separate but equal branches of government. My primary political belief was that both parties were plagued by extremists who were equally dangerous and destructive, but that as long as neither extreme acquired real political power, our system would function smoothly and more or less tolerably. For that reason, although I always paid attention to political debates, I was never sufficiently moved to become engaged in the electoral process. I had great faith in the stability and resilience of the constitutional republic that the founders created. All that has changed. Completely. Over the past five years, a creeping extremism has taken hold of our federal government, and it is threatening to radically alter our system of government and who we are as a nation. This extremism is neither conservative nor liberal in nature, but is instead driven by theories of unlimited presidential power that are wholly alien, and antithetical, to the core political values that have governed this country since its founding."
-- Glenn Greenwald, from the preface of How Would a Patriot Act?

Actually, Jason Collins Isn't the First Openly Gay Man in a Major Pro Sport

If you can stand Facebook, there's a variety of neat photos here.

Yardbirds, 1968

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I think you'll understand

Tonight, Gaius Publius will be on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd.
Cliff Schecter and David Waldman (KagroX) were the panelists on last week's Virtually Speaking Sundays, and discussed the pushback against the NRA, the amazing sleaze and cowardice of the Senate, and the interesting reaction to the "study" that supposedly underpinned the "need" for austerity.
And I think I missed this one earlier though I meant to post last week's appearance of Daniel Marans of Social Security Works on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd.

Lots of people all over the world celebrated May day.

The administration floats stuff, people scream, they publicly back off - and then they do it anyway. "Report: Obama Officials Authorized New ‘Cybersecurity' Warrantless Surveillance Program, Fresh Immunity Given to ISPs."

"To keep the lights on, Oslo needs to import trash from the U.S.: Did you know that the city of Oslo is powered by garbage? Amazing and true. The Norwegian capital, home to about 650,000 residents, operates two enormous incinerators which supply the city with about 1.5 terawatt-hours of power." I've always wondered why nobody did this, and now it turns out that somebody is, but we're not hearing about it. I know why we're not hearing about it, of course - the energy industry we have is dependant on our not pursuing alternatives. That's why they work so hard to kill renewable projects like solar power. In fact, they recently released their own report (quietly - and the press didn't seem to notice) saying that they expect to be put out of business by renewables: "Just the other day, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers said, 'If the cost of solar panels keeps coming down, installation costs come down and if they combine solar with battery technology and a power management system, then we have someone just using [the grid] for backup.' What happens if a whole bunch of customers start generating their own power and using the grid merely as backup? The EEI report warns of 'irreparable damages to revenues and growth prospects' of utilities."

Bankers Explain How They Cannot Possibly Live On $1 Million Pay

John Kerry finally demands a hand re-count - in Venezuela. It's amazing how many people in the media and in government have suddenly discovered the importance of 100% hand counts of ballots. Long-time readers of The Sideshow will remember that we have always believed in hand-counts, for very good reasons, but that the press and party leadership somehow didn't feel this was important. Except in some other country that isn't doing what they want, of course.

Even in Politico, it's "Democrats ask: What debt crisis?"

"UK.Gov passes Instagram Act: All your pics belong to everyone now: Everyone = Silicon Valley ad platforms tech companies." It's really getting to the point where the individuals who create have no copyright - that copyright belongs to corporations, not creators.

Jeremy Scahill on Democracy NOW! about dirty wars and drones.

Dean Baker: "Robert Samuelson Tells the Middle Class and Poor that They Should Stop Expecting to Have Decent Lives Because His Rich Friends Want All the Money."

"Fix the Debt" CEOs Enjoy Taxpayer-Subsidized Pay.

Louis CK on gay marriage

Before there was the Interwebs, we had Science Fiction fanzines, like this one, which Norman Spinrad brought to our attention because he says it contains a good interview with him. It's a .pdf of what looks to be a mimeographed zine. Most of us didn't bother to break text up into three columns, though.

Bowie exhibit, "A Dame of Thrones".

"I Want to Hold Your Hand"