31 October 2013

Feel sick and dirty, more dead than alive

We saw this seasonal beer at the pub last week. Too hoppy for my tastes but with a lot of nice flavor, anyway.

Digby and Stuart Zechman were this week's guests on Virtually Speaking Sundays, and discussed the austerity zombie, this time in response to Gene Sperling's remarks about the "necessity" of "entitlement" cuts. Stuart also provided some insight into large software development projects involving multiple participants referring and why the PPACA is such a pig of a project.

Just learned that Robert Silverberg had a heart attack here in London, but he seems to be okay. Nothing on File 770 or Locus yet, but Pat Cadigan is on the scene and John Clute confirms on Twitter.

Good on Atrios for being one of the very few people who all along has been saying that inflation can be too low - and it is.

Ian Welsh's recent post "A brief note on why the progressive blog movement failed" generated some lively discussion among members of the early liberal blogosphere, including a post from MyDD founder Jerome Armstrong that Ian promoted as a separate post, "Jerome Armstrong on the Failure of the Netroots". I'm not sure how Jerome sees a coalition with Libertarians (or the libertarian right) doing any good (assuming it can happen in any substantive way at all), but I don't think it's wise for liberals to automatically discount any action in concert with them when our interests coincide. Alan Grayson and Ron Paul got the Fed audited, which is a very good thing, regardless of how many crackpot ideas Paul may have. I think liberals make a grave mistake when they sneer at Jane Hamsher because she once co-signed a letter with Grover Norquist - a letter calling for Rahm Emanuel's resignation. Is there really any liberal who doesn't think getting Emanuel and people like him out of government is a good idea?

Glenn Greenwald schools Bill Keller: "So yes: along with new privacy-enhancing technologies, I do think that brave, innovative whistle-blowers like Manning and Snowden are crucial to opening up some of this darkness and providing some sunlight. It shouldn't take extreme courage and a willingness to go to prison for decades or even life to blow the whistle on bad government acts done in secret. But it does. And that is an immense problem for democracy, one that all journalists should be united in fighting. Reclaiming basic press freedoms in the U.S. is an important impetus for our new venture." And Keller tries to defend David Brooks.

"The Strange Silence [...] It is pointless to tell these 'fans' [of Obama] that there is nothing wrong with criticizing the president and his policies. It doesn't make you the grand master of the local KKK or mean that you've failed Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, I might even go out on a limb to suggest that the reason Bill Clinton gets so much negative attention from these 'fans', in spite of the fact that his record is more liberal than Obama's, is because these 'fans' are projecting their pent up frustration on a legitimate white target as a proxy. They simply cannot overcome their fear of ostracism if they criticize the president in the strong terms they would like to use. Just thinking about it makes them feel uncomfortable and oogy. This is ridiculous but it appears to be useless to point out that if people on the left don't get over this conditioned Pavlovian response (courtesy of Obama's campaign strategists) they are condemning their side to complete and utter fecklessness and continued perceptions of ineptitude. But I might suggest that this is exactly what the bad guys want. If you don't raise a fuss, no effective regulation gets implemented and ideas that benefit most of the people in America never see the light of day and are considered politically impractical by the savvy people."

Michael Lind is an idiot if he really believes this nonsense about the Tea party. The Tea Party, like the rest of the Republican Party and like the Democratic Party, has two tiers, one led and funded by crackpot billionaires, and the other made up of all of the other people who probably would kill their own leaders in their beds if they ever tumbled to what they are really up to. There is no great distinction in the leaderships (all three of which are in some part funded by the same crackpot billionaires), and the distinctions in the rank and file are trivial compared to their areas of agreement. One group is not distinctly richer or poorer or crazier or saner or better educated or less educated, despite whatever fudging of trivial percentages Lind tries to fan into significance. Right-wing populists believe that "the government" is the problem, while liberal populists believe that the people leading the government (and the rich creeps who bribe them) are the problem, but there is remarkable agreement between most Tea Partiers and most liberals that the government should serve the people, that Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid should not be cut, and that a lot of elite creeps are wrecking our country. Lind's piece is just another sample of Let's-you-and-him-fight crap meant to buttress tribalistic hatreds between the two groups. This is not the antebellum south, and if people don't stop buying this nonsense, trust me, liberals are being just as hateful and unreality-based as their counterparts on the right.

Delicious: "Activist Tweets Former NSA Chief's ‘Off Record' Phone Call On Train." Sometimes, when I'm on a train and some creep in a suit is talking too loud on his phone, I have a little fantasy that he's about to spill some corporate secret in my hearing. This one is even better - Michael Hayden bragging about torture and rendition in the hearing of a guy from MoveOn.org.

CMike says: "Ordinarily I don't have much patience for prescription-less rants but I listened to this one to the end and then I listened to it again." Jeremy Paxman interviews Russell Brand and proves that Paxman is as fatuous and trivial as ever, but Russell Brand is not. Christopher Goodfellow sees real potential in Brand, and provided the highest praise: "The comedian's appearance before a home affairs select committee about drugs last year was also worthwhile. Amid the humorous comments about chairman Keith Vaz were lucid and informative statements on an issue he takes seriously. It all adds up to a level of engagement by a political satirist/stand up comedian that not even Bill Hicks ever reached."

A bunch of Dems introduced a bill [...] "The proposed law holds the Supreme Court to the same standards required of judges in the federal court system. Currently, Justices on the Supreme Court decide for themselves if they should recuse themselves from cases in which they may have a personal stake or in Thomas' case, his wife has a political or financial stake as a holy roller in the Tea Party." Well, that's closing the barn door after the horses are gone, innit?

David Dayen in The Pacific Standard: "How a Frustrated Blogger Made Expanding Social Security a Respectable Idea: Thanks to decades of stagnant wages and the Great Recession, more than half of American working-class households are at risk of being unable to sustain their standard of living past retirement. Duncan Black is trying to change that."

America: The Best at Being Worst

I sure wish there were a DVD set available of all of the episodes of Steve Allen's Meeting of Minds.

Lion cubs being lion cubs

That neat Honda ad and how they did it

This picture is strangely funny and yet disturbing.

19th Century .gifs

Google Street View and some nice views of Tower Bridge (aka "the one that everyone thinks is London Bridge, but isn't").

"Sunday Morning", live.
And this is the album that we heard from across the hall the night I lost my virginity.

Roz wrote a poem for the occasion, and I knew from the first line when I first saw it sans title what it was about:
"He watched them dance their lives."

"I'm Waiting For the Man"

24 October 2013

You'll see my smile looks out of place

Tonight's guest on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd is Stephanie Kelton, Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, who joins Jay "to discuss Modern Monetary Theory and how the MMT policy recommendations compare to those of Keynesians, Monetarists and Real Business Cycle advocates. Stephanie appeared on Up with Chris last January, ostensibly to talk about the trillion dollar coin, but didn't really get a chance to explain why it's actually not a crazy idea."
This week's episode of Virtually Speaking Sundays featured Dave Johnson and Cliff Schecter on the return of the austerity and grand bargain narratives, including the appointment of New Democrats Chris Van Hollen, James Clyburn and Nita Lowey to the budget negotiation committee; GOP in disarray - Are the Teahadists chastened, or emboldened by the loss? PPACA, particularly the tension between identifying problems and defending it from attack; plus satirical commentary from Culture of Truth. Homework for the show: "'A Leninist Strategy" for Social Security, Decades in the Making" and The Powell Memo.

Sam Seder did a great interview with Max Blumenthal about what Israel has become, on The Majority Report. Highly recommended.

As I've been saying all along, what's been keeping the Republican Party insanity beating is not the Republican Party or even its crackpot billionaire friends, it's the Democratic leadership: "During his brief run for President five years ago, Joe Biden said something alarming. While on the campaign trail, he said to a Republican audience that the GOP, which had suffered a stinging defeat in the '06 midterms and were about to get their asses kicked back to Jebus Land again, needed to get back up and fight for what they believed in. Here's the darker side of my Fight Club metaphor, the road far less traveled by our useless mainstream media: The Democratic Party's unfailing penchant for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. [...] And we're seeing it again now. Now we're hearing about otherwise reliably-Democratic guys like Dick Durbin, Ron Wyden and Patty Murray dangling little strips of red meat to the GOP in order to coax them up off their shiny pants suit bottoms and those little pieces of red meat are "reforms" to entitlement programs that has nothing whatsoever to do with ObamaCare or the debt ceiling, the debt, deficit or anything else the GOP had almost single-handedly fucked up or tried to. And then the Democrats wonder who encourages the Republican Party to take hostages every few months until they can get their way."

"What Kind of Problem is the ACA Rollout for Liberalism?" - As usual, the only problem for liberalism is that it's being called a "liberal" problem. But the policies that are creating these issues aren't liberal policies, they are "centrist" or "neoliberal" policies that introduce vast inefficiencies into what could have been a simple program to get medical care (not just commercial junk insurance) to everyone who needs it - and more cheaply than our current system(s) (with or without Obamacare) ever could.

Bill Black, "Justice Department Misrepresents JP Morgan Settlement [...] The settlement is not $13 billion, although it's being portrayed as that. It is at best $9 billion. And that's because the other $4 billion represents what we call loan workouts. Loan workouts are something that you do as a bank because if you try to insist on the original deal, the borrower can't repay, it goes to foreclosure, there are lots of losses. So in a loan workout you reduce the payments. And you do this not because of the goodness of your heart, but because the bank minimizes its losses by loan workouts. So what the Justice Department is agreeing is that JPMorgan can count all these loan workouts that it would have done anyway to minimize its losses as if they were part of a settlement. So disregard the $4 billion entirely. That leaves us with $9 billion. But that $9 billion, unless there's something not being reported again, will be reduced substantially, probably by about one-third, because these fraud expenses will be taxed deductible. In other words, the United States of America will pay a third of this supposed fine from the JPMorgan frauds to the United States of America."

Joan Walsh seems to be one of those people who've never heard of constructive criticism, or at least they forget the whole idea when it comes to things the Obama administration is up to. Look, it's obvious that our "technocratic elite" bollixed things up, and if the right-wingers say so, well, sure, the website is probably the result of a lot of profit-driven outsourcing instead of, say, civil servants with expertise dedicated to making the project work. But it's pretty clear from what Brian Beutler says the administration has been telling him that they don't really have a handle on what they are doing, and if we don't step up and demand that it be fixed, that's just gonna be the right-wing pointing out the obvious and pretending it's all because of "socialism" rather than the overweening confidence of people who think they can make big decisions about stuff they don't understand because they are so much smarter than the rest of us. If they are too dumb to know the basics of how systems work - and I'm not even talking about the tech end of things, but systems in general - then they'd better be listening to our criticisms.

Texas disenfranchises most married women (and anyone else who has ever changed their name): "Supporters of these new laws insist that requiring voters to have an ID that matches their birth certificate is a reasonable requirement. As Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has repeatedly said, 'Almost every single person either has a valid photo ID - or it is very easy to get one.' What they don't say, however, is that the people who don't are largely married women who have taken their husband's name." (via)

I've never liked the name of the group Strengthen Social Security because it fits too neatly into the meme that Social Security is weak, and of course the stories we hear about how weak it is all come from the shop that wants to make it even weaker. But, anyway, they've got this video, and I'm still trying to decide how I feel about it. It certainly contains some good elements, but it hinges on a pretty big If: "If the president is standing with the majority of Americans against all cuts to Social Security... then let's stand with him." And that If is downplayed enough that I worry that too many people will read that not as an if/then statement but as a declarative - without the If. And then it turns into just another "Trust our president to do the right thing" thing. Except that I'm not sure this ad is actually aimed at the public at large, but rather at the politicians.

Storify has a pretty good collection of tweets from the Fix the Debt trollfest (and thanks to commenter ifthethunderdontgetya for giving us that link), but as Chris Hayes noted, The Washington Post somehow omitted all of Sam Seder's best material.

Ryan Cooper has a decent piece on why Social Security cuts are exactly the wrong way to go, "Washington is still stuck in the wrong conversation," over at The Plum Line. I'm still not sure why raising taxes on the Malefactors of Great Wealth is supposed to take such a big bite out of aggregate demand, though, given that the immorally rich are just hoarding their wealth at this point. You have 18 families who could stand to lose literally billions and would still be rich enough to pay everyone they are currently paying (maids, gardeners, chauffeurs, lobbyists, right-wing "centrist" spin-tanks, blog trolls, etc.) without noticing it, and reducing their power would vastly improve our system. Wealth confiscation at the top was good for our country when it was first founded, and confiscatory taxes on the rich helped drag us out of the Great Depression and keep our economy stable and productive for over a generation. Redistribute the money you take away from rich people to people who need to spend it (e.g., all those poor and unemployed people), and you'll have plenty of aggregate demand. If the Filthy Rich suddenly become the Merely Slightly Soiled Rich and can't afford to buy the government anymore, there will be plenty of honest jobs available for all the people who suddenly find themselves unfunded by the Great Grift machines. After all, we have an entire government to rebuild. (via)

Yves on Thomas Friedman: "Who Should Young People Throw Under the Bus: Granny or Billionaire Hedgie Stan Druckenmiller?"

Black Agenda Report, "Obamacare VS Single Payer - Top 10 Things the ACA Gave Us VS the Top 10 We Gave Up

Robert Kuttner, "A Letter From the GOP to Itself: Why We Will Come Out Ahead [...] On domestic discretionary spending, the current spending budget that Obama has accepted is already below the level of the Paul Ryan budget!"

"Ilargi: Winter In America Gets Colder - Why We Choose Poverty" - I have a problem with the use of the pronoun "we" in this piece, but anyway... .

Marcy Wheeler on "CIA and the President: The Warm Embrace of Mutual Incrimination [...] Again, I think this is the way Presidential Findings are supposed to work: to implicate the President deeply enough to ensure he'll protect the CIA for the crimes he asks it to commit. But it's not the way a democracy is supposed to work."

"Anti-Establishment Journalist Has Spent 400 Days in Jail [...] His name is Barrett Brown, the founder of Project PM, and he also spent some time as an activist embedded with Anonymous, which no doubt earned him the attention of the authorities."

"Wall Street Journal Reporters Sabotaged By Bosses On News Corp Phone Hacking Story"

"The real reason that 500,000 people died in Iraq" - There's a reason why Atrios periodically re-posts the clip of Thomas Friedman explaining that we had to invade Iraq to tell 'em to "Suck on this" - it really does sum it up, and the astonishing thing is that Friedman actually thinks this is not something to be ashamed of. But even Washington insiders admit that this is really the reason we "had to" invade Iraq. Via Atrios, who had a few words to say about it.

Richard Cohen admits he was wrong about Snowden.

Is Tory MP Julian Smith trying to have the Guardian arrested?

Tom Tomorrow: "Security Trek: The Next Generation"

RIP Noel Harrison. Contrary to the obits, the song I remember him for is "A Young Girl".
"Maxine Powell, head of Motown Finishing School, dies at 98 [...] Her Artists Development Department - known as Motown's Finishing School - was considered as important to its operations as any singer or producer. Some of its training included teaching Marvin Gaye to sing with his eyes open and the proper way to exit a limousine."

I don't know what you're seeing on those sidebar adstrips in the US, but I've really been enjoying them since they all started advertising The Halloween Corset Sale! I can't begin to tell you how much of an improvement this is over what I usually see there.

"It took four miles of yarn to turn this tree into a knit squid."

A Lobbyist And A Senator Walk Into A Restaurant ...

MAP: Christian Kendrick called it "The rise and fall of the Jennifer Empire" - six decades of girls' names.

MAP: What each country leads the world in. I think they left a few things out, but I wonder if this map might have made Ricardo think.

"Whoever painted this church mural really didn't think it through did they?" [Link]

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

19 October 2013

Well, I just had to laugh

Anthropologist Karen Ho talked about Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street, based on interviews with employees of Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and other firms, on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd.
If you haven't listened to this week's Virtually Speaking Sundays with McJoan and Stuart yet, here's the homework:
Joan McCarter, "How House Republicans guaranteed a shutdown: by changing the rules"
Rules Chair admits changing rule to prevent vote to fund govt
Jay Rosen, "The production of innocence and the reporting of American politics"

David Dayen, "Right-wing nuts nab new way to sabotage Obamacare: Remember how the shutdown deal only gave the GOP "small" concessions? One low-profile component could prove costly."

Benjamin Wittes, "The Debt Ceiling as a National Security Issue: If a body other than the Congress of the United States were actively contemplating a step that would, by the accounts of virtually all economists, tank the U.S. economy, cause interest rates to shoot up, and trigger a financial crisis, we would talk about that body as threat to national security. At a minimum, we would talk about the step it is contemplating in national security terms. A government shutdown, after all, can invite a national security event, but by itself it isn't one. It's a game of Russian Roulette. A default, by contrast, is a national security event, the loss of one of this country's great international and domestic assets: Its undoubted creditworthiness. It is an asset on which much of this country's prosperity and power rests."

"Glenn Greenwald Exits 'The Guardian' to Help Launch New Media Outlet [...] But who was the moneyman behind the new venture? A short while later Reuters was the first to report this scoop on the man behind the offer: 'Glenn Greenwald, who has made headlines around the world with his reporting on U.S. electronic surveillance programs, is leaving the Guardian newspaper to join a new media venture funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, according to people familiar with the matter.'"
"The extraordinary promise of the new Greenwald-Omidyar venture [...] By hiring Greenwald & Co., Omidyar is making a clear statement that he's the billionaire exception. A little more than a year ago, Greenwald was writing for Salon.com, which (somehow) has a market cap of $3.5 million. Six years ago he was still typing away on his own blog. It's like Izzy Stone running into a civic-minded plastics billionaire determined to take I.F. Stone's Weekly large back in the day. It does sound exciting. And this is interesting: "NYU's Jay Rosen interviewed Omidyar and breaks the news that he was one of the few people approached about purchasing the Washington Post. That process led Omidyar to 'ask himself what could be done with the same investment if you decided to build something from the ground up,' Rosen writes. Wait... did he say 'same investment'? As in $250 million-ish? Yes he did."

Sirota: "Hostage-Taking In The Classroom [...] 'Experimenting with new methods' is Wall Street Journal-ese for anti-union aristocrats like Bloomberg using children as pawns in an ideological scheme to turn more of the public school system into union-free - and failing - charter schools." And that's just one little thing.

We're having a resurgence of 'Evil Old People Are Eating Their Kids' from the media, again as an argument for cutting Social Security. You really have to wonder how these people got the idea that old people are magically going to take care of themselves if they lose SS, as if everyone didn't know that one great selling point of the program is that it helps prevent old people from being a burden to their children. Your choice isn't just between "the government" taking care of granny and granny magically being kept on longer at the company she has been working for or finding a new job, it's between granny having no job and granny having no job but receiving Social Security. Which means the real choice is between granny maybe being able to afford to stay in her own home and pay for her own groceries, or granny moving in with the kids and grandkids and being another mouth to feed (one who doesn't have a few extra bucks to send to the grandchildren at Christmas). Not to mention the fact that if granny and grandpa can't afford to retire and can manage to stay in the jobs longer, that means no one below them is moving up and no new jobs are opening up at the bottom for younger people to get onto the jobs ladder. This is all so obvious that it's embarrassing to feel the need to re-state it. Digby, "The moustache of (mis)understanding strikes again: I know there is no more trite phrase in America, but Lord, this Thomas Friedman column is bad is bad. It's so bad you have to read the whole thing to experience the full horror of it. In fact, I'm not even sure he wrote it himself. It reads more like something the messaging shop at Fix the Debt put together to sound like Thomas Friedman."
I rather enjoyed Michael Brooks' response to David Gregory's claim that "entitlements" are "cannibalizing the budget".

"Pete Peterson Exposed: The 'Grand Bargain' Hoax"

"Miami attorney to challenge criminal asset seizures in Supreme Court case" - The forfeiture process is meant to reduce the possibility that "organized crime" earnings will be spent on legal defense rather than be available to be spent by the government. What it really means is that the cops take your money and then you can't defend yourself. And, interestingly, no one seizes the assets of bankers who visibly acquired their ill-gotten gains by breaking the law. It will be interesting to see what Scalia says in this case.

I generally avoid the Republican Crazy Train, but I'll make an exception for this story on John Bolton and his place in history: "But Mr. Bustani and some senior officials, both in Brazil and the United States, say Washington acted because it believed that the organization under Mr. Bustani threatened to become an obstacle to the administration's plans to invade Iraq. As justification, Washington was claiming that Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, possessed chemical weapons, but Mr. Bustani said his own experts had told him that those weapons were destroyed in the 1990s, after the Persian Gulf war. 'Everybody knew there weren't any,' he said. 'An inspection would make it obvious there were no weapons to destroy. This would completely nullify the decision to invade.' Mr. Bolton disputed that account. 'He made that argument after we invaded,' he said. Twice during the interview, Mr. Bolton said, 'The kind of person who believes that argument is the kind who puts tin foil on his ears to ward off cosmic waves.'" Since everyone saw this happening in real-time, you'd have to be a moron to believe anything John Bolton says.

Beating the DCCC's protection of Republicans, one district at a time.

Ted Rall, "My Fake French Birthplace and the NSA: Why the Best Way to Keep Big Data Safe is Not to Have Any [...] After the war, the French realized that data collected for innocent purposes during the 1930s under a leftist government headed by a Jewish president had facilitated the murder of thousands of people who might otherwise have escaped or stayed hidden."

Glenn Greenwald, "The perfect epitaph for establishment journalism: "'If MI5 warns that this is not in the public interest who am I to disbelieve them?', says the former editor of The Independent."

This bit in Bill Moyers' "Let's Call The Shutdown What It Is: Secession By Another Means" bothers me: "Despite what they say, Obamacare is only one of their targets. Before they will allow the government to reopen, they demand employers be enabled to deny birth control coverage to female employees; they demand Obama cave on the Keystone pipeline; they demand the watchdogs over corporate pollution be muzzled and the big bad regulators of Wall Street sent home. Their ransom list goes on and on. The debt ceiling is next. They would have the government default on its obligations and responsibilities. " I am befuddled by his including of "caving" on the Keystone pipeline. Is he implying that Obama opposes Keystone? Or that Keystone is a good thing? I don't get that at all, because everything else on this list (excerpted, he tells us, from a much longer list that "goes on and on"), is something every good liberal opposes, right? Something Obama (at least publicly) opposes. But Obama doesn't oppose Keystone, and from all reports he seems to be the guy who is keeping it alive. Does Moyers believe this is not the case? I can't believe he actually supports it himself, so....

How the Obama administration is killing black colleges

Ten myths and facts about the death penalty

Russell Brand on all kinds of revolution

Lee Camp on gun rights

Benedict Cumberbatch wrote a letter to Julian Assange asking if they could meet. Here's Assange's reply.

Well, fancy that - CMike tips me off that Sanjay Gupta has finally admitted that marijuana has medical value and actually has a documentary about it.

One of the most stunning things I ever saw anyone say on the internet was back in the old Usenet days when a libertarian opined that what made Dilbert so funny is that it was so unrealistic, no one had those experiences. Which I guess explains why he was a libertarian, at least. Anyway, here's a post called "How 'Dilbert' Practically Wrote Itself."

"Gamers solve decade old HIV puzzle in ten days."


"A Day in the Life"

13 October 2013

It's a rich man's game, no matter what they call it

This week's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays are Joan McCarter and Stuart Zechman. This should really be interesting. I kind of fell down when I was on with Joan last time because she seemed to keep heading toward what's good for Democratic Party candidates, and Jay seemed to be going there with her, and I kept feeling like I'd just walked into a brick wall. I don't think Stuart will let them get away with that.

You know what would be a good deal? A good deal would be if Obama agreed to delay the individual mandate for a year (or forever) if the Republicans agree to get rid of the debt ceiling. Really. Look who thinks so: the old Barack Obama. Note his main point: The reason people don't buy health insurance is because they can't afford it. What he doesn't say is that they especially can't afford to pay for an overpriced product that doesn't do what they're paying for.

Ted Rall checked the website, and he's not finding any affordable options: "New York State's healthcare plans range from Fidelis Care's 'Bronze' plan at $810.84 per month to $2554.71 per month for something I didn't bother to look up because if I had $2500+ a month to spend on doctors, I'd buy a doctor and have him/her live with me and dole out pills like I was Michael Jackson. The deductibles - the amount you pay out of pocket every year before you the insurer has to give you anything at all - are outrageously high. Fidelis Care Bronze has a $3000/year deductible per person. I'm in pretty good health; it's a rare year I spend that much on doctors. After the $3000/year deductible, they pay 50% of your bills. So if you rack up $5000/year in medical bills, you pay $4000 and they pay $1000. Pretty damned crappy." That doesn't even qualify as insurance, it's just extortion.

"Obama: We're Willing To Fund Government With Republican Priorities [...] 'The bill that is being presented to end the government shutdown reflects Republican priorities,' Obama said, addressing federal employees at FEMA in Washington. 'It's the Republican budget. The funding levels of this short-term funding bill, called the CR, is far lower than what Democrats think it should be.'" Gosh, I wonder how we ended up there? That headline, by the way, is at Talking Points Memo, where I guess it's supposed to prove how amicable dear old Barack is, contrary to Republican charges. Which would be great if we had wanted a Democratic president so that he could give the Republicans whatever they want.

"The Obama Administration and the Press [...] 'I think we have a real problem,' said New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane. 'Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They're scared to death. There's a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It's having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.'"

"Judge recants own decision on GOP polling place photo id law later upheld by SCOTUS: This is nothing less than remarkable. The 7th circuit court judge who wrote the majority opinion in the landmark Crawford v. Marion County Election Board case, has now admitted he got it wrong! 'I think we did not have enough information,' Judge Richard Posner said in remarks today. 'If the lawyers had provided us with a lot of information about the abuse of voter identification laws, this case would have been decided differently.'" Richard Posner! That's twice this year that Posner has shown signs of being more than just a right-wing operative. I can't help but wonder where this sudden respect for liberal government came from.

"Edward Snowden says NSA surveillance programmes 'hurt our country': Video clips posted to WikiLeaks website show former NSA analyst speaking for the first time since July asylum plea. In short video clips posted by the WikiLeaks website on Friday, Snowden said that the NSA's mass surveillance, which he disclosed before fleeing to Russia, 'puts us at risk of coming into conflict with our own government'. [...] 'They hurt our economy. They hurt our country. They limit our ability to speak and think and live and be creative, to have relationships and to associate freely,' Snowden said."

"Swiss to Vote on Guaranteed $2800 Monthly Income for All Adults: The Swiss really know how to kick us when we're down - while our congress is busy shutting itself down because it's run by soulless opportunists, the Swiss people have gathered enough signatures to force a referendum on whether they should guarantee $2800 in monthly income for all adults." You know, we should be doing this. (via)

"Vets and Seniors Are Ending the Drug War [...] Pollsters are finally accepting (though scratching their heads over the fact) that older Americans are the fastest growing segment of the population to support the Drug Peace era. The reason is pretty simple: in a pill-popping society, any plant that will, with negligible side-effects, reduce the number of capsules in the weekly pill box is welcome. [...] So that explains seniors. Guess what? The reasons the second 'surprising' group to support the end of the war on cannabis - military veterans returning from combat in harm's way - also feel so strongly, are nearly identical to those expressed by seniors across the nation. They are eager to be free of addictive or otherwise harmful pharmaceuticals after their service has ended."

"Democracy Alliance, Network Of Rich Liberal Donors, Signals Shift Away From Partisan Political Activity." Took their damned time.

@ggreenwald: "At some point, things like this [Edward Snowden should be put on kill list, joke US intelligence chiefs] - become a pathology, not a "joke" [Obama threatens Jonas Brothers with drone strikes] - [Time correspondent under fire for tweet suggesting Assange be killed in drone strike]"

I actually couldn't believe my radio Saturday morning. I'd managed not to pay much attention to the news Friday but it turns out the war on a free press is taking a giant step over here with the government's proposal that newspapers should have a royal charter. Then I just watched the previous night's Have I Got News For You and Ian Hislop was explaining that this law includes a provision that says that if someone sues your unchartered newspaper and you win, you still have to pay their costs. So if you run an unchartered newspaper, it's open season on you for nuisance suits.

In case you forgot, I'm a big supporter of being a big supporter of organizations that genuinely do good, and if you're going to pay for mobile phone service in the US, you could do a lot of good by signing up with CREDO - and that includes supporting Sam Seder by signing up through his site at that link. You might also want to get the free Majority Report app, which everyone says is really great. I can't tell you anything about any of it, because I don't live there and I hardly ever use my phone at all, so I have a dumb phone that, y'know, does a few rare phone calls and text messages and is pay-as-you-go so it costs me almost nothing every month. I listen to Sam's show at home on my computer. And, speaking of Sam, he did some great shows recently that included interviews with Digby, Becky Bond, and Guy Lawson of Rolling Stone (recommended).

100 years ago, America met modern art.

The Picture Book Lab

The history of movie popcorn

Freudian slip A; Freudian slip B

First Look at Game of Bones, the X-Rated Version of Westeros [SFW!]

"This anamorphic optical illusion is the most mind-bending thing you'll see today" - I think they should have added a pipe just so you could say - well, you know.

Telekineses seen in coffee shop.

Dolly Parton et alia

06 October 2013

'Cause how could anything ever go wrong?

This photo of Janis on her (formerly oyster white) 1965 Porsche 356c Cabriolet that Dave Richards repainted with what he called "the history of the universe" was stolen from Bartcop.com.

Tonight's panelists on Virtually Speaking Sundays will be Marcy Wheeler and David Dayen, which should be really good - two of the best reporters anywhere if you want to know what's really going on. (And well, well, our very own Marcy Wheeler has been profiled in Newsweek: "Wheeler, known to her Twitter followers and readers as emptywheel, pores over government memos, transcripts and court opinions in an upstairs room in her home in Grand Rapids. Bookshelves hold the thousands of pages she's read over the years and often returns to when piecing together her investigations.")
Bruce Schneier was last week's guest on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd, and he talked about just how much the NSA has damaged the internet - among other things. It's about power, as Bruce also said in his TED talk.
Last Sunday, Cliff Schechter talked with David Neiwert on Virtually Speaking.

I can't recommend Aimai's "The Punishers Want To Run The Country or We Are All Tipped Waitstaff Now" enough. In it, she draws a pretty direct line between the conservative antipathy toward federal workers and the practice of tipping as a means to reward or punish (that doesn't actually work). What she left out is the magic word "aristocracy", here represented as a belief that money should buy you superiority over people you are in a position to punish, and the desire to be in that position. "The Restaurant customer, and I'd argue many Americans, don't respect work or workers and see situations in which they are served by a worker as a kind of passion play in which the served get to experience the power of the purse, the power of the john vis a vis the prostitute, the power to coerce service and specifically the power to punish one person for disappointment or bad service or really anything the tipper wants to punish that person for. More than that: Americans see tipping as an occasion to right the wrongs of a situation and to restore a balance--a balance that is upset when one person (the client) expects something good and gets something they didn't want" (via)

"Plutocrats at Work: How Big Philanthropy Undermines Democracy [...] One hundred years later, big philanthropy still aims to solve the world's problems - with foundation trustees deciding what is a problem and how to fix it. They may act with good intentions, but they define 'good.' The arrangement remains thoroughly plutocratic: it is the exercise of wealth-derived power in the public sphere with minimal democratic controls and civic obligations. Controls and obligations include filing an annual IRS form and (since 1969) paying an annual excise tax of up to 2 percent on net investment income. There are regulations against self-dealing, lobbying (although 'educating' lawmakers is legal), and supporting candidates for public office. In reality, the limits on political activity barely function now: loopholes, indirect support for groups that do political work, and scant resources for regulators have crippled oversight. Because they are mostly free to do what they want, mega-foundations threaten democratic governance and civil society (defined as the associational life of people outside the market and independent of the state). When a foundation project fails - when, say, high-yield seeds end up forcing farmers off the land or privately operated charter schools displace and then underperform traditional public schools - the subjects of the experiment suffer, as does the general public. Yet the do-gooders can simply move on to their next project. Without countervailing forces, wealth in capitalist societies already translates into political power; big philanthropy reinforces this tendency. [...] Despite scores of studies, the relationship of charitable giving to tax incentives remains unclear. Too many different factors determine giving: religiosity, innate altruism, family tradition, social attitudes, community ties, alumni loyalty, fluctuations in income. But other patterns of giving are well known. Less than 10 percent of all charity in the United States addresses basic human needs. The wealthiest donors devote an even tinier portion of their giving to these needs. Most major donations go to universities and colleges, hospitals, and cultural institutions, often for highly visible building projects carrying the donor's name."

"Yes, for the Millionth Time: You Can Be Fired for This [...] Regardless of what buttons are being set off by this guy, the story just confirms a point some of us have been making over and over again: the American workplace is one of the most coercive institutions around. It's a place where, whatever the niceties and pieties of our allegedly tolerant culture may be, bosses and supervisors get to act out - and on - their most regressive anxieties and fears. It's a playground of cultural and political recidivism, where men and women (but more often men) are given the tools to inflict and enforce their beliefs, their style, their values upon their employees."

"One Nation Under Shutdown: Here's How Congress Is Hurting Your State." I actually don't even want to talk about this. It's an outrage that it's happening, but it's an outrage that Obama could put a stop to if he wanted to. He doesn't want to.

"Will the Affordable Care Act Make Health Care More Affordable?" - What's important about this article isn't what it's saying, but that Rand is saying it, which means it's what a lot of people are listening to.

"How a Purse Snatching Led to the Legal Justification for NSA Domestic Spying"

It's the same story over here - The anti-sex people get professorships, government funding, and awards from the Queen. "In it for the money? The smart investment is in an anti-sex worker career."

Elliot K. Shorter (1939-2013).

"Everything You've Been Told About How to Eat Is Wrong."

Little did I know there was a Space Opera Society...

Don't look down.

"Over 100 long-lost Doctor Who episodes found by dedicated fans - in Ethiopia."
And:Bigger on the inside

You knew that Steve Brust wrote a Firefly novel that you can download free here, right?

It's been a long time since I saw The Wizard of Speed and Time, but it's still pretty damned impressive. Made on film.

"My Baby"

02 October 2013

Some rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen

Dear Kevin and Atrios,

Yes, there's always been an element of right-wing craziness in America and in the Republican Party, but that used to be contained by the Democratic Party, which was more likely to respond to the majority of the country - and the needs of the American people.

That's no longer true. The Democratic leadership today agrees with the policy goals of the crazy right wing, they just don't foam at the mouth when they explain themselves, thus lulling people into thinking they believe something else.

It is not hard to hate this Democratic leadership, as long as you don't feel a tribal loyalty to being a Democrat or a "liberal". On television, you rarely see the identified Democrat or "liberal" make substantive arguments against Republicans, so it's not as if they are holding up a standard that might make self-identified "conservatives" or Republicans open their eyes. In fact, they generally confirm whatever the Republicans said while nit-picking, thus making the Republicans sound even more correct.

So, just as a start, you have the so-called "liberals" and "moderates" and "centrists" of the elite enabling the craziest behavior by the Republicans.

How do these crazy Republicans get to be leaders in their party? It's pretty simple, really - they have no opposition party to compete with. The gerrymandering that gives them a disproportionate percentage of seats in Congress has in large part been agreed to by Democrats, often creating safe Republican seats where there should be none. (I mean, New York? How can that happen in New York?)

But it's worse than that - there are beatable crazy Republicans in the leadership of their party who the Democratic leadership has deliberately refused to oppose. Dems could easily have beaten people like Paul Ryan, for example, if they had simply agreed to put some money behind the Democratic candidate.

And while all this madness goes on, as we watch the most mean-hearted and bullying creeps in the country living high on the hog, we are constantly being told - by Democrats! - that WE have to sacrifice "for the good of the country". Billionaires openly steal our homes and no one even forces them to make restitution, let alone put them in jail where they belong, and WE should be the ones to sacrifice? Really?

We've already sacrificed quite a good deal. We've sacrificed a country where we could afford to pay our medical bills and prescriptions out of pocket, where there were decent jobs (with decent protections) for almost anyone who wanted one, where we had schools that were mostly good and slowly improving, where the fat of the land was available to most and being slowly extended to all. Because suddenly it went into reverse and we have a country with high unemployment, unceasing debt, where only one party to a contract has to worry about defaulting (because the stronger signee can just do what it wants), where vital resources are becoming unaffordable, where things we've bought and paid for can be stolen out from under us on the whim of some rich creep who wants to be even richer (and wants to make us poorer), where no one says, "It's a free country," anymore, because it isn't. The land of the free is now a police state, the home of the brave is now cowering in fear of imaginary Caliphates in Kansas. We are the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free - and there is no one to welcome us but the grave. So there'd better be a Heaven.

And Democrats are telling us that we have to give up what little we have left. That's not how Democrats used to talk. So if Republicans sound crazy, the Democrats who keep telling us the Republicans have a point, that the Republicans are reasonable men who can come to reasonable agreements sound even crazier.

Seriously, if you are not angry, there is something wrong with you.

* * * * *

Matt Taibbi, "Looting the Pension Funds: All across America, Wall Street is grabbing money meant for public workers [...] Nor did anyone know that part of Raimondo's strategy for saving money involved handing more than $1 billion - 14 percent of the state fund - to hedge funds, including a trio of well-known New York-based funds: Dan Loeb's Third Point Capital was given $66 million, Ken Garschina's Mason Capital got $64 million and $70 million went to Paul Singer's Elliott Management. The funds now stood collectively to be paid tens of millions in fees every single year by the already overburdened taxpayers of her ostensibly flat-broke state. Felicitously, Loeb, Garschina and Singer serve on the board of the Manhattan Institute, a prominent conservative think tank with a history of supporting benefit-slashing reforms. The institute named Raimondo its 2011 "Urban Innovator" of the year. [...] Here's what this game comes down to. Politicians run for office, promising to deliver law and order, safe and clean streets, and good schools. Then they get elected, and instead of paying for the cops, garbagemen, teachers and firefighters they only just 10 minutes ago promised voters, they intercept taxpayer money allocated for those workers and blow it on other stuff. It's the governmental equivalent of stealing from your kids' college fund to buy lap dances. [...] So even if Pew's numbers were right, the "unfunded liability" crisis had nothing to do with the systemic unsustainability of public pensions. Thanks to a deadly combination of unscrupulous states illegally borrowing from their pensioners, and unscrupulous banks whose mass sales of fraudulent toxic subprime products crashed the market, these funds were out some $930 billion. Yet the public was being told that the problem was state workers' benefits were simply too expensive." This isn't just about pensions, though - Taibbi's story is a crash course on how our owners have been stealing our country out from under us and using fantasy math and a truckload of lies to bamboozle us all.
Sam Seder did a good interview with Taibbi following up on this story, on The Majority Report.

Alex Pareene, "How I botched it on CNBC" - I was actually a little surprised that when he was asked what shady practices JP Morgan Chase had been up to, Pareene didn't point out that the entire segment was about the fact that they'd been investigated and fined for those shady practices.

"Larry Summers: Goldman Sacked: Joseph Stiglitz couldn't believe his ears. Here they were in the White House, with President Bill Clinton asking the chiefs of the US Treasury for guidance on the life and death of America's economy, when the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Larry Summers turns to his boss, Secretary Robert Rubin, and says, "What would Goldman think of that?" Huh? Then, at another meeting, Summers said it again: What would Goldman think? A shocked Stiglitz, then Chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisors, told me he'd turned to Summers, and asked if Summers thought it appropriate to decide US economic policy based on "what Goldman thought." As opposed to say, the facts, or say, the needs of the American public, you know, all that stuff that we heard in Cabinet meetings on The West Wing. Summers looked at Stiglitz like Stiglitz was some kind of naive fool who'd read too many civics books."

"Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media [..] The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him. 'It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],' he declares in an interview with the Guardian." And I see Susie has video of Hersh's excellent recent speech to go with that - .well worth watching the whole 90 minutes of the man himself explaining what he got and how he got it, journalism, and ethics.

This is fun - Tweety kicks Congressman off a show after "cheap shot".
"Why conservatives should re-read Milton Friedman"

Expand Social Security.

"How Thor Power Hammered Publishing" - The 1979 Supreme Court decision in Thor Power Tool Company v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue made it more expensive for publishers to maintain inventory for older books.

A short Wonder Woman fan film

I missed this lovely little Google doodle they did for Claude Debussy's 151st birthday. (The Roswell one is kinda cute, too.)