Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, December 31, 2009 11:06 pm

Friday Random 10, New Year’s Eve edition

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:06 pm
Tags: ,

Combination — Aerosmith
Wonderful World — Sam Cooke
Bearing Witness — Dreams So Real
Don’t Wait Too Long — Solomon Burke
Get Off My Cloud — Rolling Stones
TV Set — Cramps
Disco Inferno — Trammps
Good Times — Chic
Wild Night — Van Morrison
Room With a View — Blondie

lagniappe: Hit Somebody! (The Hockey Song) — Warren Zevon

UPDATE: Man, Winamp loves it some Rollin’ Stones tonight.

Odds and ends for 12/31

Enough already: GMAC wants another $3-4 billion from the taxpayers. Just. Say. No.

Our arrogant national culture is letting our soldiers/marines die unnecessarily: “Indeed, off-the-shelf solutions [to military problems in Iraq and Afghanistan] were there for the asking within Coalition partner states, but no one asked.”

Some good news for a change:Q: Obama says America will go bankrupt if Congress doesn’t pass the health care bill. A: Well, it’s going to go bankrupt if they do pass the health care bill, too, but at least he’s thinking about it.” So we’ve got that going for us.

A question: If the guy accused of being the pants-on-fire would-be terrorist on Flight 253 is “cooperating” with investigators, as investigators say, then why are people calling for him to be tortured?

News flash: U.S. corporate governance sucks, at least at publicly held companies.

Another news flash: Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., send the president a letter asking him not to release six Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. Just one problem: too late. A big deal? Of course not. But imagine how this would have been played if three Democratic senators had done this with George W. Bush still in the White House.

The Washington Post’s Steven Pearlstein, unlike McCain, Graham and Lieberman, is NOT too late. Not that it helps: Indeed, he warned us a year ago that Obama’s choice of Mary Schapiro to run the SEC would suck. And it has come to pass as it was foretold.

Well, at least we’re going to have a national election contested on a clear issue: Newt Gingrich has been calling on Republican Congressional candidates in 2010 to pledge to repeal health-care reform (should it finally pass) if elected. Now the White House is double-dog-daring them to do it, too.

How to keep your recently deregulated, greedy, rapacious, out-of-control industry from being intelligently re-regulated: First, get the majority party to assign a bunch of politically vulnerable rookies, who will therefore be desperate for lots and lots of re-election campaign cash, to the committee that oversees you.

Worst financial footnote of the year: By the time this post sees the Interwebz, results should be posted.

Dennis Kucinich may see flying saucers, but he also sees some incredibly bad policy (if not actual crime) and is calling it out.

From the banksters’ own fingers: Some internal AIG e-mails are finally being made public. We need many, many more, and we need many, many people to go through them looking for evidence of crime.

Sigh. More Calvinball*. Better journalists, please.

Newt’s getting predictable.

Memo to Andrew Sullivan: There’s a difference between accountability and kabuki, and John Cole, being smarter than you, explains the difference. Pay attention; this will be on the exam.

*Term explained here.

Your tax dollars at work. Sigh.

As previously noted, for all that $8 billion a year we’re spending on the Transportation Security Administration, the only two things we’ve done since 9/11 that have made flying markedly safer from hijacking are securing cockpit doors and instructing passengers to fight back. Everything else is just shoveling tax money out the back door to about three private-sector companies.

Which, naturally, didn’t stop the TSA from coming with a whole new top-secret list of super-duper security procedures, which a couple of travel bloggers, Steven Frischling and Christopher Elliott, immediately published.

Now, I suppose one can argue that the bloggers shouldn’t have done it, and I will.

But the TSA’s first response — subpoenaing the bloggers to try to find their source — suggests that the TSA is far more about protecting somebody’s federally financed joyride than it is about balancing the complex issues involved with protecting air travelers in a free country from hijackers.

And that, my friends, is a part of the larger issue of classified records that has cropped up as the president has pledged to accelerate declassification of a lot of government records that either should have been declassified a long time ago or else never should have been classified in the first place. (Coincidentally, I got into an argument tonight on this very subject on Facebook.)

It is hard for people who don’t work a lot with public records to grasp just how widespread is the practice of withholding records from the public just because making them public would embarrass one or more government officials. (Dick Cheney, I’m talking to your Daily-Show-defense-offering self.) I did this stuff day in and day out for 25 years with records from all levels of government, from the city of Greensboro right on up to the Army, FAA and FBI. It was staggering 1) how many government officials don’t even know the open-records laws that are supposed to guide their work (I should’ve moonlighted as a compliance consultant for the governments I covered; I could’ve gotten rich. Kidding.); 2) how many of those who do know just don’t give a damn; and 3) how many of the illegally withheld records we eventually got, only to find that there clearly was no justification, from a national security standpoint or otherwise, for their having been withheld in the first place.

What’s even more entertaining is that classifying a federal document to try to cover up evidence of a crime is itself a crime. Despite the long litany of crimes committed by the government over the past decade, many involving records that were at one point classified [**COUGH** John Yoo **COUGH**], when’s the last time you heard of anyone being prosecuted for that? Yeah, I thought so.

Because here’s the thing. In a free country, the people, not the government, need to be the ones to decide what stays secret. And in this country’s history, the people have actually done a pretty good job.

Even journalists, whom the Rush Limbaughs of the world like to portray as unpatriotic, don’t want U.S. service members to get hurt unnecessarily. Toward that end, they sit on sensitive information all the time, and not just at the national level or in other countries, either. For example, here in Greensboro during the first Gulf War, the N&R learned that a key component of the Patriot anti-missile system was being manufactured by a local company but did not publish that information until being assured that publication would not jeopardize anyone.

I hope the ACLU takes the bloggers’ case, countersues the crap out of the TSA for abuse of process and wins a ton of money, because, dammit, somebody, somewhere has to stand up for common sense and I’m not going to be the one stupid enough to argue that a pair of bloggers have more of an obligation in this regard than does the federal government.

UPDATE: The TSA subpoenas have been dropped, although a number of other troubling questions about the agency’s behavior toward the two bloggers remain. Quasi-relatedly, Republican congresscritters need to remember that the biggest threat to national security isn’t journalists. Sometimes it’s … Republican congresscritters. Republican congresscritters who are the senior Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, in fact.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009 11:34 pm

Chart of the Day

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 11:34 pm
Tags:

The End of Newspapers:

The Rude Pundit wants/your haikus on the New Year/to flesh out his blog

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:27 pm
Tags: ,

Info here (note that he doesn’t call himself “rude” for nothing). So far I’ve contributed these:

  • It’s the banksters’ world,/We just live in it, thanks to/Barack Obama.
  • Jail war criminals,/Starting with Bush. Don’t forget/Barack Obama.
  • Where is all that change/we can believe in? I think/I want my vote back.
  • Note to Barack fans:/”Better than worst prez ever”/is too low a bar.
  • ’bout January/and the Panthers once again/are done for the year.
  • No beer or junk food/to hold my attention so/I write poems for y’all.

And now, a word about spending like a drunken sailor, from an authoritative source

Filed under: Fun,You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 11:01 pm
Tags: ,

My longtime friend and neighbor Fred e-mails:

I’ve been a sailor. I have been drunk. I have spent money as a sailor, while being drunk. I have extensive experience spending like a drunken sailor. I could qualify as an expert court witness in “spending like a drunken sailor.”

As an expert in this field (O.K., I qualified myself, but I feel it is justified), I am offended by those that say Bernanke, Obama, and Pelosi are spending like drunken sailors.

Drunken sailors STOP SPENDING WHEN THEY RUN OUT OF MONEY.

This conservative attack must END!

I blame George W. Bush and global warming for the spending.

Bonus documentary evidence of our source’s authority:

How not to wet your pants

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 5:28 pm
Tags:

The White House blog shows how it’s (not) done:

[War criminal Dick Cheney] makes the clearly untrue claim that the President – who is this nation’s Commander-in-Chief – needs to realize we are at War. I don’t think anyone realizes this very hard reality more than President Obama. In his inaugural, the President said “our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.” In a recent speech, Assistant to the President for Terrorism and Homeland Security John Brennan said “Instead, as the president has made clear, we are at war with al-Qaida, which attacked us on 9/11 and killed 3,000 people. We are at war with its violent extremist allies who seek to carry on al-Qaida’s murderous agenda. These are the terrorists we will destroy; these are the extremists we will defeat.” At West Point, the President told the nation why it was “in our vital national interest” to send an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to fight the war in Afghanistan, adding that as Commander in Chief, “I see firsthand the terrible wages of war.” And at Oslo, in accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, the President said, “We are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land.”

There are numerous other such public statements that explicitly state we are at war. The difference is this: President Obama doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it, and – unlike the last Administration – we are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible: al Qaeda and its violent extremist allies. And we will prosecute that war as long as the American people are endangered.

More like this, please — from everybody: politicians, pundits, people on the street.

`

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 11:50 pm

Odds and ends for 12/29

Gettin’ back at ‘em: Wall Street’s 10 Greatest Lies of 2009 and 10 Ways to Screw Over the Corporate Jackals Who’ve Been Screwing You. For informational purposes only; no endorsement implied. IANAL. Void where prohibited. Etc.

Waykewl pitchers: Time’s “The Year in Pictures 2009,” National Geographic’s “Top Ten Space Pictures of 2009.”

Denzel in the house: Denzel Washington came to the Davidson-Penn game last night to watch his son’s team lose to the Wildcats. (Malcolm Washington converted a 3-point play for the Quakers’ final points of the game.)

Connecting the dots: Fecund Stench does an excellent, if scary, job of it.

I’m sure the Right-Wing Noise Machine will apologize to the Dixie Chicks right after it excoriates Ted Nugent.

Following in the footsteps of the other death merchants: Like the tobacco industry before them, the health-care industry, not satisfied to mess things up at the national level, is now also messing things up at the state level.

Attention, deficit hawks: Despite what you may have learned in Right-Wing Math Class, a $900 billion health-care program that’s paid for is NOT as big a problem as a $9 trillion unfunded liability.

Chase and Citibank are dropping out of the FDIC 4K program. Uh, what does that mean, you ask? Basically, they’ve found a way to do more gambling with your money.

Two Panthers are going to the Pro Bowl, RB DeAngelo Williams and DE Julius Peppers. RB Jonathan Stewart’s final stats may outshine Williams’s. Peppers, on the other hand, is tied for 305th in the league in tackles through Week 16, with 39; ranks tenth overall, and sixth among defensive ends (fifth among DEs in the NFC), in sacks; tied for 177th in passes defended (eighth among DEs), with five. In his defense, he is tied for third in the league with five forced fumbles and is among only four DEs in the league who have returned an interception for a touchdown.

Carbon gap: All the blather about a carbon/environment/clean-energy bill is overshadowing an ominous fact: China is going to eat our lunch in this arena … if we let it.

Quote of the day, from Bruce Schneier: “Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.” So let’s 1) stop wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year on equipment and people that don’t do what they’re supposed to do and 2) stop making flying commercial any more of a miserable experience than it absolutely has to be. Thank you.

Another quote of the day, from Osama bin Laden, which we really ought to look at again before rushing off to start new wars in Yemen and Somalia: “All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies.”

John Dugan owes us trillions, and if he can’t pay, I say we have the Mafia (who pay sales taxes, if nothing else) break his legs.

Pat Buchanan: Still crazy.

Speaking of crazy: It’s time to stop giving Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., air time. He handles it worse than I handled Jell-O shots, which is pretty bad.

I wouldn’t call it a “fix,” but it’d definitely be an improvement: NYU online-journalism guru Jay Rosen suggests the Sunday talk shows start fact-checking their guests. Unlike Jay, however, I wouldn’t wait ’til Wednesday to post the corrections. That ought to be happening in real time, online and with live screen crawls.

Speaking of fixes, if we want to fix the terrorism problem, we have to start with the engineers. They’re dangerous, I tell you. Including my brother.

Mashup du jour: This is genius.

Attention, police: You can’t Taser people just because they don’t do what you want them to do anymore. Not that all that many of you were doing that to begin with, just as almost none of you hit people over the head with your batons just for the hell of it. But those few of you who have been doing this are now on legal notice that you need to stop.

Elections have consequences, and the biggest consequence of the 2008 election so far is that the people who worked hardest to elect Barack Obama president have been serially and collectively screwed.

Reasons to freak out: Number of Americans who’ve died this year for lack of health insurance: about 45,000. Number who’ve died from salmonella: about 600. Number who’ve died from terrorism, including all those at Fort Hood: 16. Let’s keep this in mind before we soil ourselves, shall we?

Parker Griffith didn’t just take a congressional seat with him, he also took some of the Alabama Democratic Party’s voter-registration data. His primary is June 1, so get your popcorn early.

And I’ll bet you thought the story of Orly Taitz and the birthers couldn’t get any weirder: BZZZT! Wrong!

OK, maybe the world really WILL end in 2012, because it sure can’t keep going like this: DougJ at Balloon Juice for the win: “Let’s be frank: at this point, there is no real difference between Michelle Malkin and the Washington Post editorial page, none between Marc Ambinder and Matt Drudge, none between the Republican Congressional delegation and RedState. We have Jim DeMint holding up the confirmation of the head of the TSA while simultaneously acting as the point man for Republican criticism of the TSA … and he’s getting a lot of traction in the very liberal media. Maybe there is no value in saying this over and over again, but our public dialog really, really sucks.”

And, finally, just because it’s cool and you deserve a reward for reading this far:

If Howard Kurtz gets any stupider, the universe is going to implode

The Washington Post’s media “critic” says that in the 2000s, “The media scorecard wasn’t all bad. … Newspapers exposed George W. Bush’s domestic surveillance program.”

Yeah, the New York Times wrote about it … after sitting on the completed story for more than a year, a period that included Bush’s 2004 re-election.

And then it did screwall to follow up, let alone push for a proper criminal investigation and indictments, even though damning evidence was all over the public record, including Bush’s own “Yeah, I did it, and I’m going to keep doing it and I dare you to stop me” radio address in December 2005.

Because of Howie the Putz, somewhere an honest journalist’s kids are going hungry.

UPDATE: It would appear that CNN’s Candy Crowley and MSNBC’s Chris Matthews also are threats to the continued existence of the universe. I’m sure someone on Fox is, too, but I’m too old and short of brain cells to be able to afford to check and identify the individuals.

Monday, December 28, 2009 11:14 pm

In baseball, a .375 career might land you in the Hall of Fame

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 11:14 pm
Tags: ,

But John Fox has the misfortune to work in the NFL, where, as head coach of the Carolina Panthers, he has taken his team to the playoffs just three times in eight years, never two years in a row. So the news today that he still has a job for 2010 if he wants it (ditto general manager Marty Hurney) needs to be understood as the good news/bad news it is.

The good news, for Fox, is that he still has a job. Earlier in the season, when a team that had been expected to compete for the Super Bowl went winless in preseason, lost its first three in the regular season and then hit 5-8 without ever reaching .500, a lot of people, including me, were calling for his head. And the fact that Bill Cowher, who won multiple Super Bowl titles in Pittsburgh, is currently out of football and living just down the road in Raleigh, was positively tantalizing.

The bad news for Fox is that although he has only one year left on his contract, owner Jerry Richardson apparently hasn’t said a word about negotiating an extension. If Fox’s job were truly secure, that extension likely already would have been inked.

Fox had a near-death experience with Richardson after the disappointing 2007 season, and he and the team responded in ’08 by going 12-4 and winning the NFC South and a first-round bye. But QB Jake Delhomme gave the divisional playoff game against Arizona away in a flood of turnovers, and his turnover problems continued until he broke a finger in this season’s Miami game, ending his season and quite possibly his Panthers career.

No one knows how differently things might have turned out this year if Fox had benched Delhomme sooner. But the fact that Fox still has a job indicates that Richardson believes this team’s problems didn’t start or stop with Fox and Delhomme.

From the outside looking in, I’d have to say that’s true. All the money tied up in making Julius Peppers the franchise player for ’09 left the team little room under the salary cap to address problems in the return game, the lack of a second wideout fast enough to free Steve Smith from double-teams, and depth issues — particularly on the D-line, where the Panthers scrambled for healthy players well into midseason after putting four defensive tackles on injured reserve.

And the fact is that of Carolina’s eight losses so far, only one, the season opener, was an embarrassment (38-10 to the Eagles) and only one other, to the Cowboys in Week 3, was by more than 10 points. Since Matt Moore took over for Delhomme, the team has gone 3-2. The defense had played well for most of the year, but since the Miami game it has stepped up, allowing an average of only 7.6 points a game. The offense, which had struggled all year, finally started to gel, running up big numbers against heavily favored Minnesota and New York in the past two weeks. The offensive line, so often a problem in this team’s history, has delivered outstanding play despite the loss of both starting tackles, one of them a Pro Bowler.

Whether the Panthers beat New Orleans this Sunday or not probably won’t decide anyone’s future, nor should it. Steve Smith broke his arm against the Giants and won’t play. A solid performance by Moore probably makes him the starter going into the ’10 minicamps. I don’t recall enough about the details of Delhomme’s contract (if in fact I ever knew enough of them) to know whether Carolina would do better under the salary cap by keeping him or cutting him, but I do know that the new contract he signed last year is paying him starter’s money at a time when he probably ain’t the starter anymore.

The rest of the offense? Steve Smith and his healed arm should be back and fine by minicamp. The offensive line should be fine for next year if — always a crapshoot — it can avoid injuries. In particular, if he stays healthy, look for Jon Otah to make his first Pro Bowl. In Dante Rosario and Jeff King, the Panthers have the best pair of tight ends in the league: Neither is a Tony Gonzalez, but both, particularly Rosario, are dangerous targets. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the best pair of RBs in the league and are capably backed by Tyrell Sutton (5.7 ypa, 10.3 ypc in limited action). Brad Hoover remains one of the league’s better blocking fullbacks as well as a pass-catching threat. The ageless Muhsin Muhammad is still a capable possession receiver and one of the league’s best blocking wideouts — a factor in big gains by Williams and Stewart. All that remains, as has been the case for several years now, is a wideout credible enough as a deep threat to take the double-teams off Steve Smith.

On the defense, the biggest question, for the second straight year, is Julius Peppers. After playing part of the season with a broken hand, he has still amassed 10.5 sacks (his best is 14.5, in ’08) and has forced five fumbles, tying his season best, despite frequent double-teams. He so dominated Minnesota’s offense on national TV Dec. 20 that Vikings coach Brad Childress apparently tried to take QB Brett Favre out of the game for his own protection in the third quarter, while the Vikings were still winning 7-6. But this past year has made clear that Peppers’ inconsistency — the longtime knock on him — isn’t going to bring him the megadeal he apparently seeks, particularly from one of the few teams that use the kind of scheme he wants to play in. Carolina can put the franchise tag on him again in 2010, but doing so would mean paying him about $20 million, which it simply cannot afford. Peppers either takes a huge pay cut or he’s gone, and I hope the front office won’t agonize long over this because it simply has too much else to do.

Elsewhere on the defense, it’ll be a huge boost if Kemoeatu is able to return, but hope is not a plan and putting four DTs on IR in one year should already have gotten the front office’s attention. The linebackers lost starter Thomas Davis and his replacement, Landon Johnson, to injury, but both should return. All six corners have played well. Strong safety Chris Harris continues to impress, and at free safety, rookie Quinton Teal played well enough in relief of the injured Charles Godfrey to make a lot of people, including me, wonder whether he shouldn’t have gotten the starting job permanently. At any rate, I don’t think the Panthers need to be in the DB market this year with so many other pressing needs.

The players themselves are saying publicly that Richardson shouldn’t clean house. And I don’t think he intends to. But for this team to have a shot at the Super Bowl, Matt Moore has to be the quarterback he has appeared to be for the past two weeks — a guy who can manage a running offense efficiently and use play-action deep passes opportunistically. In addition, one way or another (or both), the team is going to have to clear enough salary room to firm up the D-line, provide depth, find a second deep threat at last and improve its patchy kick and punt coverage. That list is formidable, but the team can do it — if it shows Jake and Julius the door. After that, I think Fox either takes the team to the conference championship game, at the least, or he’s gone. I see no way Jerry Richardson — who, remember, fired both his sons this year — gives Fox a third stay of execution.

Odds and ends for 12/27

Hmm, what else can we screw up in a way that screws poor people worst? Hey, I know! The estate tax!

John Fox can have another year if he wants: So say the Panthers, although they’re not talking any kind of contract extension with him now (he has a year left). I have mixed feelings about this, upon which I’ll elaborate in a separate post.

Utterly un-self-aware: Jonah Goldberg presumes to pass judgment on someone else’s competence.

Utterly un-self-aware, cont.: Before Republicans criticize Democrats on national-security issues, they need to take a few history lessons, starting with the 9/11 commission report.

Related memo to Joe Lieberman, on the off-chance that he can read: How ’bout before we start a third war, let’s take a minute and figure out how this would-be airplane bomber got a visa? (Newsweek offers the strong beginning of an explanation.) Because the purview of the Senate Homeland Security Committee you chair does not extend to foreign policy or strategic (let alone tactical) military planning. You ass.

At least one legitimate criticism can be leveled at the Department of Homeland Security, and John Cole levels it.

One thing liberals applaud Obama on: Tightening restrictions not only on lobbying, but also on when and how ex-industry officials can go to work for the government, so that agencies aren’t “captured” by the companies they’re supposed to regulate. Watch that change get undone the second a Republican retakes the White House.

Which is fine, except that I haven’t heard them come up with an alternative solution to the problem: Blue Dogs Bayh, Landrieu and Conrad say cap ‘n’ trade is DOA. Relatedly, chemicals from power plants in their states are killing trees in the mountains of mine.

Your tax dollars at work: Despite the recent removal of caps on taxpayer assistance to Fannie and Freddie, which already totals $111 billion, they’re resuming foreclosures next week. You’re welcome, guys.

Not just no, but, hell, no: Not content to throw women’s rights under the health-care bus, the evangelistas are now trying to get the failed policy of abstinence-only sex education incorporated into health-care reform. Guys, we tried your flavor of Teh Stoopid once already and got a big jump in unwed pregnancy to show for it. Go. Away.

Tremors: The last time Iran got this shaky, the Shah was ousted. That may or may not mean the current regime will fall. But it almost certainly means blood in the streets, much of it likely innocent. Great.

Antiterrorism 101, which means most current and former government officials probably haven’t read it: Spencer Ackerman: “It’s never sufficient just to observe that a terrorist group has a presence in Country X. We have to ask ourselves: what are the conditions that allowed for said terrorist group to take root? If we don’t, we simply can’t devise an effective strategy against the terrorist group; and we come close to guaranteeing that we’ll flail and make the situation worse.”

An appeal to the wisdom of crowds, subcategory Hulu downloads

Filed under: Geek-related issues — Lex @ 11:41 am
Tags: ,

I’m trying to find freeware that will download video from Hulu. So far I have tried, and been disappointed by:

  • Hulu Video Downloader
  • Moyea YouTube FLV Downloader
  • The FV Downloader add-on for Firefox
  • Flash and Video Download 0.1 add-on for Firefox
  • Flash Video Downloader add-on for Firefox
  • FlashGot add-on for Firefox
  • DownloadHelper add-on for Firefox

(The DVDVideoSoft suite works perfectly on YouTube but does not work on Hulu.)

The closest any of these has come to working is downloading the commercial that runs before a video segment, but not the segment itself.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Thanks!

Saturday, December 26, 2009 10:24 pm

Take my money — please!

That’s basically what President Obama has decided to say to the banking industry, although, strictly speaking, the money in question isn’t his. It’s yours and mine.

Item the first: the CEOs of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are going to be getting between $4 million and $6 million apiece, with tens of millions going to a few other senior executives at both places. This is happening even though both agencies, ostensibly independent, are now, as the result of a combined $111 billion in federal bailout, essentially owned by taxpayers.

In other words, these guys are getting these millions despite being, for all intents and purposes, federal employees. The highest-paid federal employee, the president, makes $400,000, and the incumbent president arguably had a much better year in 2009 than did the CEOs of Fannie and Freddie … even accounting for the fact that he decided it was OK to give millions to the heads of Fannie and Freddie.

The government, to justify this ridiculous scheme, has trotted out the old notion that they need to pay these guys this much to keep them from leaving. To which I respond: Unemployment is over 10 percent, the banking industry has been hard hit, and you’re telling me you couldn’t find people to run these agencies even at the base salary level of $900,000? [insert Belushi Bluto fake sneeze here, which I would do myself if I had the time to scroll through the movie looking for that bit of audio]

Item the second: Up until Thursday, Fannie and Freddie had been operating under caps of $200 billion in federal assistance each. But the administration has removed the caps for at least the next three years.

That’s right. Between now and the end of 2012, Fannie and Freddie can lose as much money as they like, and you, the taxpayer, will be on the hook for every dime of it.

Why would the government do that?

Well, as you know, 1) private banks still have a lot of “nonperforming” home mortgages on their books, and 2) sooner or later, those mortgages are going to have to be entered at their real market value, i.e., zero. If the mortgage is still on the bank’s books when that happens, the bank’s stockholders and bondholders take the hit. But if the bank has somehow managed to sell that mortgage to Fannie or Freddie at some price greater than zero, then the bank’s owners don’t take the hit. You do.

Why would the government do this now? Two reasons.

First, because after Dec. 31, congressional permission would have been required to raise the funding caps. And even this Congress wouldn’t approve eliminating funding caps for Fannie and Freddie. In fact, it’s questionable whether even this Congress would have approved one more dime for Fannie and Freddie.

Second, because, conveniently, Fannie and Freddie currently have no Inspector General, the guy/gal who’s supposed to keep an eye out for — and, we taxpayers hope, prevent — waste, fraud and abuse.

Well, why don’t they have an inspector general?

Glad you asked. They had an acting inspector general, Ed Kelly. But he got pushed out of that job earlier this year under the terms of a law that was pushed through the Congress by then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill. That’d be the same Rahm Emanuel who left the House to become Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Which he still is.

But why did Kelly get pushed out?

I don’t have the first idea. But both liberal blogger Jane Hamsher and conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist believe it’s because Kelly was getting too close to some things that happened while Emanuel, before getting elected to Congress, did while sitting on Freddie’s board in 2000-01. Specifically, they believe Emanuel conspired with other board members to misstate Freddie’s earnings to make sure they got paid their bonuses for hitting Freddie’s earnings target. That’s a crime, and if a grand jury isn’t empaneled to investigate it sometime before the 10th anniversary of the related illegal acts — those anniversaries fall in 2010 and 2011 — Emanuel and the others will never be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.

On its face, what the Obama administration is doing is bad policy. It also looks, to this nonlawyer, a lot like obstruction of justice, fraud and conspiracy, among other crimes.

But it also is incredibly bad politics for the Democrats, for a couple of reasons.

First, people are already mad at the banksters and mad at Obama and his allies (and rightly so) for enabling the banksters. This is only going to make that sentiment worse.

Second, although it’s a fact that Fannie and Freddie have far less to do with the current economic mess than does deregulation, Republicans have been doing their best to blame the mess on F&F. What the Democrats are doing now just plays right into the Republicans’ hands. Not only that, it distracts attention from the facts that 1) Democrats are trying to undo the problems caused by deregulation and 2)  the Republicans have unanimously opposed that effort.

Other than protecting his friends, I don’t know what Obama is trying to do here. But if the Democrats want to hang on to the White House and Congress in 2012, they need to do something about this right now. And if the Republicans aren’t able to make political hay of this without muddying the issue with lying, then they need serious PR help.

Odds and ends for 12/26

Wheat from chaff, signal from noise, pick your phrase: Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., catches a lot of grief over a lot of subjects. Some of it, but only some, is undeserved. Zero Hedge offers a more-or-less complete, more-or-less accurate summary of the rest.

Welcome to today’s edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions: Today, Salon’s David Sirota asks, “Are we making the same mistakes with the banks that we did leading up to war in Iraq?” Answer: Yes. This has been another edition of Simple Answers to Simple Questions.

Interesting take on democracy: Sarah Palin schedules a book-signing at a public arena in her hometown — and has security bar some past critics from entering, just like Bush 43 used to do at campaign events. Even McCain didn’t, to my recollection, do anything that stupid. Although, to Caribou Barbie, that would be a bug, not a feature.

When the SEC won’t do its job, you want a New York City DA who will kick ass and take names. The retiring Robert Morgenthau has done that admirably for 35 years. Unless the SEC tomorrow is affilicted by sudden attacks of initiative, ethics, competence and honor, his successor is going to have to do even better.

The tsunami of ’04: Digby recalls: “This was one of the most hideous catastrophes of a decade of hideous catastrophes. But the consensus is that they’ve managed to come back fairly smartly. I recall watching the footage on the days after Christmas back in 2004 and then seeing the global response and feeling that the post-9/11 paranoia might be starting to lift a little bit. Global cooperation was in, at least for a little while. US soldiers were deployed to help, not make war. It was horrible and life affirming at the same time. Nine months later came Katrina.”

Obama supports gay rights, except when he opposes them. The Obama administration’s Office of Personnel Managment is withholding benefits to dependents of gay federal employees in a part of the country, the 9th Circuit, more sensitive to gay rights than any other in the country. So far, two members of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals — one a liberal Carter appointee, one a very conservative Reagan appointee — have called the administration out at the administrative level. If this turns into litigation, it seems almost inevitable that Obama, who once pledged to be a “fierce advocate” of gay rights, will lose and gays will win. For a lot of folks, including, on this issue, me, that would be sweeping a double-header.

Want to reduce the deficit? Hey, so do I. Here’s one way: Stop using private contractors.

Home, sweet home, even 80 years on: When people were losing their homes almost 80 years ago, the government didn’t throw a bunch of money at rich bankers. It actually made places for people to live, and it did it so well that whole communities that sprang from this project remain viable today. Traces of others remain, including one here in N.C., that offer insights perhaps useful even today.

ACORN caught red-handed doing … uh, well, nothing, actually. Nobody tell Andrew Breitbart, though; he’s having fun and it IS a holiday, after all.

Dogs, fleas: The 2010 Conservative Political Action Committee convention will be co-sponsored by the John Birch Society, which is not horribly unlike letting the Klan co-sponsor the Republican National Convention. Why do conservatives hate America?

Killing health-care reform: Jason Linkins argues that there is, in fact, a rational liberal case for doing so. See what you think.

“Later, I ran them down his back and made a Christmas Stegosaurus like the one Jesus rode“: TBogg has some Christmas fun with Beckham the bassett:

Wednesday, December 23, 2009 11:07 pm

Odds and ends for 12/23

Psych! That $45 million in bonuses that AIG executives promised earlier this year to return? Ain’t happening.

Climate-change treaty murder mystery solved: It was China in Copenhagen with an attitude, but at least one witness survived. China’s playing a dangerous game: The average elevation of Shanghai (pop. 20 million) is only 13 feet above sea level.

House to Senate: Oh, no, you di’nt!: Three House Democratic leaders, including the Rules Committee chairwoman, who gets to decide what does and does not constitute an acceptable conference bill, are saying they won’t sign off on anything without a public option. Wellnow. This is about to get interesting.

Republicans are still riding the crazy train: Now they’re complaining that the health-care bill’s death panels can’t be abolished even if the rest of the bill is repealed. There’s a flaw in that logic, but I can’t quite put my finger on it….

Republicans are still riding the crazy train, cont.: Not content to lie, Sarah Palin is now lying about her lie.

Out of the frying pan …: Rep. Parker Griffith of Alabama’s 5th Congressional District switched parties from Democrat to Republican this week. I speculated on Facebook and elsewhere that he’d get primaried by a more-conservative-than-thou candidate next year, not realizing that there already are three other Republicans in that race. That oughta be entertaining. For those of you keeping score at home, the primary is 6/1/10 and a runoff, if needed, will be 7/13/10.

This is not a trick question: What could bring liberal Firedoglake blogger Jane Hamsher and drown-government-in-a-bathtub conservative Grover Norquist together? The idea that Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, during his service on the Freddie Mac board in 2000-01, may have violated his fiduciary obligations, then used his subsequent election to Congress and current role to prevent any investigation. They want Emanuel to quit, they want a criminal investigation before the 10-year statute of limitation kicks, and they want to prevent the showering of almost $1 trillion on Freddie, which currently lacks an inspector general and other appropriate oversight. Presented with that information, so do I. Here’s a petition you can sign.

A multi-voice oral history of Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of Dow Jones, produced by GQ, comes off as more circular firing squad. Nobody, but nobody, ends up looking good, and only former managing editor Marcus Brauchli comes close.

God help us

Media Matters has identified what it sees as a media-related issue.

That issue is this: The right-wing Web site WorldNewsDaily, affectionately known to those of us in the reality-based community as Wingnut Daily, is complaining. It is complaining because an Army major wrote an exhaustively documented monograph for his work at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

That paper is titled “Strategic Implications of American Millennialism.” It talks about the prevalence and influence in the American military elite of dispensational pre-millennialism. This is a strand of Christian belief that holds that believing Christians will ascend bodily into heaven, immediately after which the world will be plunged into seven years of all manner of trouble, after which Jesus returns to Earth to reign for a thousand years (a millennium, whence the name).

Wingnut Daily’s Bob Unruh* is criticizing this Army major for suggesting that way too many people are setting actual military policy according to this belief.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Media Matters is right to criticize Wingnut Daily for complaining about this. But I also think Media Matters is missing the real problem here, which is that way too many people are setting actual military policy according to this belief.

As an amateur student of military history, I cannot stress enough how bad this is. I can point you to army after army after empire after empire that has decided that some sort of intangible, God-given quality was going to lead them to a military victory they otherwise had no chance of winning — and then gone and gotten slaughtered. Everyone laughs when the guy in “Gone With the Wind” brags that one Southerner can whip 10 Yankees, but when the French found out in World War I that red trousers and elán alone weren’t going to beat the Kaiser’s troops, all of a sudden it wasn’t so damn funny.

I am open to the possibility that God could come down to Earth tomorrow, hand a trumpet to David Petraeus and then we could all stand around and watch as al-Qaeda’s walls came tumbling down. Call me crazy.

But let me be clear here: Unless/until this actually happens, letting dispensational pre-millennarianism guide our military and foreign policy is dangerous magical thinking that is likely to get a lot of good people killed unnecessarily, military and civilian alike. As I type this, unlike the Hebrews of the Old Testament, we have no real indication that our commander in chief is anyone other than that tall, skinny guy currently living in the White House. And I pray to God that our military’s training, simulations, planning, logistics and everything else are structured accordingly.

*I wrote Bob Unruh, and here’s what I said: “Dear Bob: Is Joshua now a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army? Has God recently come down and personally handed a trumpet to Gen. David Petraeus, the blowing of which has caused al-Qaeda’s walls to come tumbling down? No? Then get off Maj. Brian L. Stuckert’s back. Leaving aside for the moment your gross misinterpretations of his work — I will, for the moment, give you the benefit of the doubt and not claim that you’re intentionally misrepresenting what he wrote — you need to understand that letting dispensational premillennarianism guide our military and foreign policy probably is only going to get a lot of good people — American and otherwise, soldiers and civilians alike — killed. I know you don’t want that. So, unless/until God actually shows up and hands Gen. Petraeus the aforementioned trumpet, how about you shut the hell up, mmkay? Thanks very much. Oh, tell me — how much do you get paid to make Christians look like total idiots? I hope it’s a lot. I’d hate to think your kids were going hungry while I resented you. Best, Lex”

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 11:21 pm

Odds and ends for 12/22

All that, plus the sense God gave a billy goat: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty: anti-science and anti-gay, and therefore a viable GOP candidate for president in 2012.

Countdown: Scott Roeder, accused murderer of Dr. George Tiller, goes on trial Jan. 11, and he’s not going to be allowed to claim that it was legal to kill Tiller to protect innocent lives. Whoever shoots down an unarmed doctor in the middle of his church, without reason or provocation, should get the spike, period.

¡Brava, Ciudad de Mexico!: Mexico City legalizes gay marriage before New York City does. Of course, that’s because the New York State Senate is run by guys I would call bucketheads except that honest walruses everywhere would take exception.

Probably crap: That’s my assessment of Reuters’ claim that its article by Matthew Goldstein on hedge-fund trader Steven Cohen was killed on “journalistic grounds.” You don’t create an investigative team, put someone like Matthew Goldstein on it, assign it a story, nurse that story through the reporting and writing and editing, all the way through the lawyering, and THEN kill it on “journalistic grounds.” Yeah, sure, anything is possible, but by far the likeliest explanation is that something else is going on here that reflects quite poorly on Reuters.

When stupidity becomes a public-health issue: Anyone who would pay Michael Steele a dime to give a speech needs to be quarantined for the public’s good.

Revisionist history: Obama claims he never campaigned on the public option. Unfortunately for him, he did. I guess pointing this out makes me a hater. Oh, well, feel the hate, peeps.

Ten worst things about the 2000s, from Juan Cole. Hint: They all had to do with George Bush.

Three of the ten worst things about this week, captured by Digby in a single post.

The best argument I’ve seen for a public option: The retiring CEO of Cigna, Ed Hanway, is getting $73.2 million. And all he had to do for it was deny a little girl a liver transplant. Forget sick people; will no one think of the poor stockholders here? You can e-mail him your best wishes at H.Edward.Hanway@CIGNA.com. Seriously. I just tried it a few minutes ago, and it worked.*

Requiring people to buy private health insurance: constitutional or not?: Some bona-fide legal scholars have it out on that issue here.

This will be fun. This will be shooting fish in a barrel, with dynamite. But I repeat myself. Andrew Breitbart, who has a long history of not being able to find a fact with both hands and a flashlight, plans to start a media fact-checking Web site soon, thus providing conclusive evidence for my hypothesis that Andrew Breitbart is a liberal plot to make conservatives look stupid.

On the other hand, Digby hates America, or at least American pundits, although given the offense she identifies here, I have to say I hate them, too: “There seems to be an unfortunate requirement in American politics that when pundits and numbers crunchers read the tea leaves and determine to their satisfaction that the contest is over, those they’ve decided are going to lose are required to immediately capitulate, admit they were wrong and join in the celebration of the winner — even if the votes haven’t been cast or the cases haven’t been decided.”

Jiujitsu: Newt Gingrich has been urging Republicans to campaign next year on a pledge to repeal HCR in 2011 if it’s enacted. But Democrats are seeing that as a bad thing for Republicans and are urging their challengers for 2010 to get the GOP incumbents on the record about whether they intend to try to repeal HCR. Interesting.

I think it is time to conclude that the people who are running the SEC are not just incompetent but are actively hostile to the agency’s mission.

For the win: Balloon Juice is having a contest tonight: Name the ten worst Washington Post columnists of the past decade. As it happens, I stumbled my personal No. 1, Charles Krauthammer, on TV earlier tonight. Sick bastard was  complaining because we hadn’t gone to war against Iran already. That’s not just stupid, that’s Evil, the kind of Evil that deserves for its paralyzed ass to wake up in a foxhole surrounded by corpses with no weapon, no comrades in sight, no way to move and the enemy advancing with bayonets fixed. If Krauthammer wants blood that badly, let him drink his own.

Colbert, also for the win: “Folks, there are some things that everybody knows, but nobody says,” one being that the health-care industry is buying the legislation it wants. (Doubt me? Hey, you don’t have to believe me. Believe the stock market.)

Michele Bachmann hates Teh Soshulizm. Sort of: Unfortunately for Michele, evidence has been uncovered that actually she’s quite the welfare queen.

Quote of the day, from Attackerman: “After all, systemic dysfunction doesn’t come from nowhere, and it usually has a constituency.” I don’t know that I’d call that a rule of investigative reporting, but it’s definitely worth remembering.

*I bet you’re wondering what I wrote. Well, I’ll tell you what I wrote. It was this: “Dear Ed: Best wishes on your retirement. I hope it’s a long one. You’re going to need a long one to think up an argument that St. Peter will buy. Love, Lex.” Really.

More bell-ringing

I blogged two months ago about Malcolm Gladwell’s New Yorker article on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), brain damage among NFL players who have suffered concussions. Since that article, the co-chairs of the league’s committee on brain injuries have resigned (read: “resigned”) after players said they’d lost faith in the committee’s objectivity.

The committee has been in denial on this, a fact the New Yorker article touched on. That fact is examined in more detail in this article by Jeanne Marie Laskas in GQ (h/t: DivaGeek, via e-mail). As with Gladwell’s article, it’s a bit lengthy but well worth your time … and likely to prompt some serious reflection from fans about what our sports heroes endure for our entertainment.

Of special note to Panthers fans is the brief mention of former Panthers center Curtis Whitley, “just 39 when he was found facedown in the bathroom of a rented trailer in West Texas, shirtless, shoeless, wearing blue warm-up pants. [Dr. Bennet]  Omalu got his brain, examined it, and found CTE.” Whitley’s case was the 17th Dr. Omalu had identified, an incredibly high number compared with what one would expect to find in a similarly sized random sample of the population at large. Whitley’s mom shows up in the article comments and leaves he e-mail address for those who’d like to pass on their condolences.

GQ emphasizes more heavily than the New Yorker the possible contribution of steroids to the problem, but neither article claims evidence of a definitive link.

Both articles also make relatively clear that if this problem is to be solved, equipment will not be the answer. The problem is not necessarily how hard your head hits something, it’s how hard your brain hits the inside of your skull and whether there is any sideways motion that can lead to tearing.

A reckoning is coming, for the NFL and perhaps for all of football, down to youth leagues. Players, their parents and fans likely will soon have some significant, and grim, new information to incorporate into their calculations of and tolerance for risk. I love this game, but not so much that I want to see people die or suffer brain damage to the point of dementia for my entertainment.

Monday, December 21, 2009 10:40 pm

Odds and ends for 12/21

Let God sort ‘em out: A new book makes both Bill Clinton and the FBI that went after him look bad.

Release the e-mails: There’s more to know about AIG before we let it off the taxpayers’ hook, and the taxpayers deserve to know it. (More interestting but depressing details here.)

Relatedly: How ’bout we claw back some of that taxpayer money that went through AIG to Goldman Sachs at 100 cents on the dollar, thankyouverymuch?? Goldman was pretty much the only bank in such dire straits at the time that didn’t end up settling for 10 to 13 cents on the dollar from AIG, and now it wants to take that tax money and pay it out in employee bonuses. Homey don’ play dat.

Another banking shock: What determines how suitable a bank is for a federal bailout? Size? Nature of its business? Try … wait for it … political ties to the Federal Reserve. Yup, and there’s gambling going on in this casino, too. So can we just audit the damn thing already?

Decade of (self-) deception: Farewell to the ’00s, in which we begged to be suckered and found no shortage of those eager to accommodate us, from “compassionate conservatism” and Enron to Goldman Sachs and Tiger Woods. One other parallel: None of the hucksters, besides maybe Ken Lay, has been held accountable.

Democrats throwing women under the bus. Again: Tbogg on Twitter, for the win: “Bart Stupak will not be happy until he has had a close personal relationship with more vaginas than Tiger Woods.”

Boulevard of broken dreams promises: Jon Walker walks us past the mileposts of broken Obama campaign promises that constitute the current Senate version of health-care reform.

He just can’t quit you: Jon Walker, who apparently has no commitments in life besides health care reform, offers 35 ways to fix the current Senate bill. I’d say it’s unlikely at best that more than one or two will happen, and quite possibly none of them will. But if nothing else, this is a good road map of the kind of crappy legislation that comes out of unified GOP opposition and an undemocratic Senate hidebound by the filibuster.

Speaking of the filibuster, here’s some interesting background on how its use has grown of late. Memo to the mainstream media: Guilt is not equitably distributable.

Ask and ye shall receive: LA Times blogger Andrew Malcolm wants a caption for this picture. OK, here’s mine: “Andrew Malcolm is such an idiot that I could grab his head and smash it into this table like this and the experience would actually make him smarter.”

Memo to Ceci Connolly: Defining being “smart” in Washington as “disagreeing with what two-thirds of the country wants” doesn’t make you look, well, smart.

Related: Time was, and not all that long ago, a David Broder column, whether you agreed with it or not, would be undergirded by some reporting. Now, not so much. (Besides which, on the substance, what appears to be surprising him is that Congressional Democrats are opposing something that Obama himself opposed. This is wrong, or surprising, or even news, how, exactly?)

John McCain fought Teh Stoopid and Teh Stoopid won: He goes on the teevee to claim, laughably, that Ted Kennedy wouldn’t have liked that health-care reform passed on a partisan vote. He crowns that particularly serving of Teh Stoopid topped with whipped Teh Stoopid with this maraschino Teh Stoopid: “There has never been a major reform accomplished in the history of this country that wasn’t bipartisan.” Uh, John, that’s because there has never before been a major reform that one party unanimously rejected purely on partisan grounds.

Top 10 reasons to kill the Senate health-care bill, from Firedoglake, with background links on each. I don’t know whether the bill should be killed, but I do know there are a lot of things about it I absolutely do not like. (One “bug,” starting the taxes before the benefits take effect, could be sold as a way of reducing the deficit. But I’m unsure of the exact math over the long haul, and whether you choose to look at that item as a bug or a feature, I don’t think it makes much difference in the big picture.)

How I would decide on whether or not to pass the health-care bill (Senate version), if I had a vote: Which saves more lives, passing it or killing it? And by killing it, I mean, “killing it,” not, “killing it and immediately passing some fantasy better version that in the real world may or may not ever happen within my lifetime.” Anyone with a documentable answer to this question is welcome to weigh in.

Conservative of the year: Human Events picks Dick Cheney, although, as more than one pundit has pointed out, the actual, substantial policy differences between Cheney and, say, Barack Obama on foreign-policy and civil-liberties issues are much less than meets the eye.

Kentucky legislator wants to prosecute mothers of alcohol- and drug-addicted newborns: Because treating addicts like criminals instead of people with health problems has done so much to reduce addiction over the years.

Gathering storm: The “shadow pool,” the nation’s pool of homes that haven’t yet gone on the market but are about to because of delinquency/foreclosure, has increased more than 50% in just one year, to about 1.7 million. A lot of those homes are or will be vacant, which spells trouble for their neighbors, too.

Some good news for a change: Obama signed the military appropriations bill, which is good because it contained Al Franken’s amendment barring contractors from forcing employees into arbitration when they get raped. Which, in turn, is good not only for those employees but also because it gives candidates who give a damn about rape victims, be they competing in the GOP primary or in the general election, a big ol’ hammer with which to hit the 40 current incumbent Republican senators over the head.

And more good news: The signed consolidated appropriations bill DIDN’T ban federal funding for needle-exchange programs, the first such bill since 1988. Now that a smidgen of common sense has crept into the War on Some Drugs, expect the end of the world before lunchtime tomorrow.

I don’t know who Drew Westen is, and I don’t know if he’s right. But I do know that his perceptions are remarkably similar to mine.

Thumbsucker: Long journalism pieces that raise lots of Big, Serious Questions — often without offering answers, sometimes because no answers can be found — are known in the journalism biz as “thumbsuckers.” In the era of dying print and shorter attention spans, thumbsuckers are a dying breed, in part because the form is attempted far more often than it is mastered. But here’s a good one, asking whether the GOP has any relevant ideas to contribute to discussion of some of the biggest issues that face us. (My short answer: Yes, but to find them you’ll have to listen to the party members who, right now, aren’t doing most of the talking the public hears.)

Quote of the day, by Jonathan Chait of The New Republic in the thumbsucker linked above: “If government intervention appears to be the answer, [Republicans] must change the question.”

Abortion and health-care reform

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 2:14 pm
Tags: , , ,

If I understand correctly — and I might not, or I might have at one point but then the bill changed — the version of the health-care bill now pending in the Senate says that you can’t use public money to pay for abortion. So if you’re getting any kind of federal subsidy on private health insurance, you have to set up a segregated account, paid for with your own money, for coverage of any abortion you or your dependent(s) might need.

This strikes me as legally/constitutionally problematic. I think it might be both a violation of the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment and a back-door way of circumventing Roe v. Wade. (I also think it creates a paper trail for the government on who has had, or thinks she might need to have, an abortion, which, from a legal standpoint, ought to be none of the government’s damn business where private insurance is concerned.) Which means it may become, intentionally or not, a vehicle for another Supreme Court challenge to Roe.

And with the current makeup of SCOTUS, I have no doubt that, all the rhetoric about “judicial restraint” notwithstanding, the conservative majority is even more eager to overturn Roe than they are to overturn the ban on corporate political contributions.

And since they basically ordered lawyers at gunpoint to bring them a vehicle for overturning that ban, I’m guessing that given the opportunity, they’d vote to overturn Roe without even hearing oral arguments if one of their number suggested that approach out loud. (I’ll bet at least three of them already have written their opinions.) It’s not like anyone could, or even would, do anything but yell.

Sunday, December 20, 2009 11:36 pm

Panthers 26, Vikings 7

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:36 pm
Tags:

1 bag Nacho Cheese Doritos: $4.49
1/2 bag Double-Stuffed Oreos: $2.21
4 oz. extra sharp cheddar cheese: $1.02
1 can Spaghetti-Os with meatballs: $.99
3 bottles Samuel Adams Winter Lager: $3.24
Spending a cold winter’s night enjoying beer and junk food as the Panthers salvage a little bit of pride: almost priceless.

Odds and ends for 12/20

How do you surge?: McClatchy’s Nancy Youssef talks about some of the logistics issues, primarily the strain being put on facilities at Bagram and Kandahar that were never meant to handle as much as they’re handling now, let alone what they’ll be asked to handle as the surge begins. One issue among many: sewage. Ew.

Poetry corner: “Joezymandias”

Worst ideas of the decade, per the WaPo. Ed adds Invading Iraq without a Plan, Market Worship, and Vampire Saturation. I think Vampire Saturation wasn’t an idea so much as something that just sort of happened. However, I think a Zombie Apocalypse is a fabulous idea, and I’ll keep you posted as to my progress in that regard.

Best U.S. political analysis by someone too young to remember Nixon and too drunk to make sense, from commenter R-Jud at Balloon Juice: “To answer the question, ‘Were people this stupid before Nixon?': of course. They just didn’t have a huge, completely subservient, instantaneous multimedia complex capable of giving them airspace or feeding them the latest catchphrases. Another thought: you could say that the people cynically manipulating the crazies, as Nixon did, have died off or faded away over the last 40 years, and in their place we’ve been electing a bunch of the true-believing crazies, who’ve grown up on the Republican groupthink their entire lives. The crazy just keeps boiling down and down to its pure essence.”

Oh, is THAT all?: I blogged on the day it happened that the Supremes had refused to grant cert in Rasul et al. v. Myers et al., in which some Guantanamo detainees had sued Donald Rumsfeld and 10 military officials for having been tortured. At the time, I was hoping that SCOTUSblog, usually the go-to source for interpretation and analysis of high-court decisions, would fill in the contextual gap. As of this writing, that hasn’t happened. But the detainees’ attorneys — who, to state the obvious, have an interest — and Empire Burlesque say the Supremes, agreeing with the Obama Justice Department, which, unconscionably, agreed with the Bush Justice Department before it, have effectively decided that military detainees abroad “are not persons” and therefore “have no right not to be tortured.” Now, aren’t you glad you voted for change?

Before you praise Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., as a “fiscal conservative,” note this.

“I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier”: Way-cool video from Airventure 2009, to the tune of The Killers’ “All These Things I’ve Done” (h/t: Fred):

Caveat pater

So when Hooper asked if I’d give him some money to get the snow off my car, I said OK.

As it turns out, I should have asked him what he was going to get the snow off the car WITH.

Saturday, December 19, 2009 3:56 pm

Memo to the ex-Nazi running the Roman Catholic Church

If you don’t want people hammering on your Nazi past, stop acting like a Nazi by putting a war criminal and an enabler/protector of child abusers on the fast track to sainthood. (Originally typed “stainthood,” which might be even more appropriate.)

Odds and ends for 12/19

The GOP’s 2010 narrative, courtesy of non-GOP Eli at Firedoglake: “Look, we were the ones who voted against giving Wall Street hundreds of billions of dollars, who voted against that tool at the Fed who doesn’t care about your job, who voted against forcing you to spend your hard-earned money on junk insurance you can’t afford to use.  Obama and the Democrats are screwing you over to funnel money to corporate fatcats, and we’re trying to stop them.” I bet it works, too.

Global-warming conspiracy theoristsat the Pentagon.

The health of the commercial banking industry, as summarized by Peterr: If you’re the FDIC putting your budget together for 2010, “you don’t double your receivership budget if you think bank failures are slowing down.” Fun fact: The figure being doubled was itself almost doubled in mid-year 2009 from what it was set at at the beginning of the year, because of the growth in bank failures.

Glenn Beck, cracked: When I was a kid, Cracked was the less nuanced competitor to Mad magazine. But in the Internet age, Cracked has found its footing. Consider this unpacking of the Glenn Beck phenomenon, which includes this gem: “The difference between a Glenn Beck conspiracy and the coronation scene in Carrie is Carrie didn’t overreact as hysterically.”

Different standards: Can you imagine the media hissy fit if Democrats were to try to filibuster an Iraq-Afghanistan spending bill just to delay some other legislation that was part of the GOP agenda? But when Republicans do it to try to delay health-care legislation, it’s perfectly OK, or at least unremarkable.

Blech: I started off my Christmas break with sinuses stuffy AND running AND hurting, and a lot of chest congestion. I’ve hit the Neilmed bottle twice, and it has helped a little but not as much as I had hoped.  Rather than playing in the snow with Hooper and Victoria, which is what I wanted to do, I’ve spent most of the day in bed. On the bright side, the streets appear navigable, so I should be able to run to the store tomorrow for the appropriate junk food to consume during Panthers/Vikings.

Speaking of which, I am probably deriving far more amusement than I should from the thought that the teams will be playing tomorrow night on the frozen tundra of Bank of America Stadium because the Vikes are now an indoor team. But I’m not under any illusions about who’s going to win, just as I hope John Fox is not under any illusions that Jerry Richardson is going to keep him on.

Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:36 pm

Odds and ends for 12/17

All your drones are belong to us: A readily available, $26 piece of software has allowed Iraqi insurgents to intercept video from U.S. Predator drones. The government has known about this flaw since the weapons’ use in the Balkans in the 1990s but never did anything about it because it “assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it.” As Attackerman (h/t) comments, “Arrogance like this gets people killed.”

All our money are belong to the devil, so send us yours: Televangelist Rod Parsley’s Web site sets a Dec. 31 deadline for contributions and urges, “Will you help take back what the devil stole?” The ministry is in financial trouble primarily because it had to pay a $3.1 million judgment to the parents of a 2-year-old whom a teacher at the ministry severely beat.

Bill Gates sez, “Go ahead, make my day tax my estate!”: The Microsoft founder says we shouldn’t let the estate tax expire. I agree with him. Raise the cap, sure. Index for inflation, of course. But scrap? Nuh-uh.

Relatedly, if you have both money and heirs (Hi, Mom!), you might not sleep very well next year.

Wall Street is killing health care: That’s what taking your company public will do. (Previously.) Just ask the newspaper industry.

Odd couple: Sens. John McCain and Maria Cantwell have jointly introduced legislation to reimpose Glass-Steagall standards on banks. Comments HuffPo’s Jason Linkins: “Give McCain and Cantwell a big round of applause for their effort, because in Washington, this seemingly obvious response to the financial crisis is considered the domain of wild-eyed hippies (and Paul Volcker).”

Which raises a damn good question: Why, in Washington, has the obvious become the domain only of wild-eyed hippies and Paul Volcker, and not of the “serious” politicians/bureaucrats/journalists?

Worthwhile related point: Byron Dorgan warned us at the time that within 10 years we’d be sorry we repealed Glass-Steagall. BZZZT! Wrong! We were sorry within nine years.

Speaking of banksters, looks like Ben Bernanke is going to get reconfirmed. Which would be fine if, like a large majority of the American public, he gave the first damn about putting people back to work. But he doesn’t. Memo to Congressional Democrats: You can steal this issue from the Tea Party, or you can let the Tea Party steal your Congressional seats from you. Your call.

On the bright side, for Democrats and the jobless: A $154 billion economic-stimulus bill passed the House … without a single Republican vote. I’m a longtime deficit hawk, but part of the reason that I am is that I understand that there are times when only fiscal policy can jump-start the economy. So you have to balance the budget or run a surplus in good times to be in position to spend in bad times. And as I’ve said before, the biggest problem of the earlier stimulus package was that even at $787 billion, it was only about half as big as it needed to be (second biggest problem was it relied too heavily on tax cuts, not enough on direct spending).

Here are three more questions to be asked about health-care reform, based on public pledges Obama has made in the past. No one who wanted reform in any form or fashion is going to like the answers. Actually, this piece was so good that I’m going to deviate from standard Odds & Ends formatting and quote from it at some length:

I’ll be evaluating the bill according to three principles:

1. When this plan goes into effect, will it bring an end to the battles that health insurance consumers must wage to retain their coverage, or will the practice of rescission continue?

2. When this plan goes into effect, will it bring an end to the long-term, intractable debt that millions of hard-working Americans incur, simply because they get sick, get injured and grow old?

3. When this bill is signed into law, will Obama truly be in the position to say he’ll be the last president to “take up the cause,” or will it be obvious that we’ve only kicked the can down the road, and that more needs to be done?

In truth, the way I see things shaping up, I don’t believe that the eventual reform legislation will achieve any of these things. At the same time, I think that if it makes it to Obama’s desk, he’s going to sign it. But, pursuant to the cause of Not Kidding Ourselves, he’d better not call it a victory.

Sounds about right.

Is the Senate health-care bill comparable to the (successful) Dutch health-care system?: No, not really.

Republicans are crawling back toward sanity: Yesterday, Laura Ingraham was likening health-care reform to the Holocaust. Today, Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour is saying it’s only as bad as Jonestown. Whew. I was really afraid they were going off the deep end.


Steve and Bob get religion

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:15 pm
Tags:

Text by DivaGeek

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 10:56 pm

Odds and ends for 12/16

Like Willie Sutton said, you rob banks because that’s where the money is: And if you want to cut the deficit, you also go where the money is:

Health-care reform: Nate Silver has 20 questions for people who want to kill the health-care bill, and Jon Walker has 20 answers. Go read this. Seriously, right now. I’ll wait. Because this might be the best combination of comprehensive and clear that you’ll find on whether or not the current Senate bill deserves to live. Kudos to both bloggers.

Glenn Greenwald says Obama is getting the health-care bill he really wanted. I find it hard to disagree.

But it isn’t the health-care bill WE wanted: 63% of Americans say they wanted Medicare expanded to cover 55- to 64-year-olds; only 33% disagree.

It isn’t the health-care bill doctors wanted, either: UC-San Francisco physicians explain, among other things, why the patents-forever provision is such as bad idea.

Indeed, health-care reform is JUST LIKE the Holocaust: Hey, if Laura Ingraham says it, it must be true, right?

Matthew Yglesias on Time magazine’s choice of Fed chairman Ben Bernanke as Person of the Year, for the win: “[I]t demonstrates a very specific class skew — extraordinary intervention into the market place just long enough to fix the situation from the point of view of asset-owners while leaving wage-earners holding the bag. But the owners and managers and editors of Time Magazine and the companies that advertise in it probably don’t care so much about that.”

What could possibly go wrong?: Western military leaders are seeking additional support in Afghanistan from … wait for it … Russia.

But … but … but … Republicans believe global warming is a myth!: A poll by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life finds Democrats significantly more likely than Republicans to have visited a fortuneteller or to claim to have seen ghosts or talked to the dead. (Interestingly, whites, blacks and Hispanics all reported having seen ghosts at about the same rate.)

“One more such victory and we are ruined”: The Pentagon actually wins a Gitmo detainee’s habeas-corpus case … but comes out looking like dirt.

And the fun doesn’t stop with health care: John Cole of Balloon Juice observes, “The best thing about health care reform is that it is a primer for Banking and Financial Regulation. We get to look forward to watching the House bill get neutered down by the conservadems, the GOP will be aligned in unison with industry against, and then when the final bill is not up to Howard Dean’s standards, the progressives can sink it because it isn’t good enough, and noted liberals like Tom Harkin, Ron Wyden, and Russ Feingold will be labeled sellouts to the cause just like they were with health care. Also, I’m sure this will all be Rahm’s fault.”

John Cole was right: Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., indeed is getting ready to screw us over some more on bank bailouts. His 2010 re-election already is in serious jeopardy. Good.

How American public discourse works

Filed under: Listening to the people who were right — Lex @ 9:45 pm
Tags:

Jason Linkins at HuffPo:

“Howard Dean and similar-minded policymakers get treated as a passionate activists, but not as “serious” experts. … Similarly, being an activist means never receiving credit for being on the right side of an issue. By contrast, as we’ve seen time and again, being considered an “expert” allows you the opportunity to be wrong and wrong and wrong again and yet remain the more credible party in how the debate takes place on America’s op-ed pages.

I’m trying to think of a single major issue in the past decade, from fighting terrorism to torture to running the economy to health care, where the people who have been right were the ones who actually got to make policy — or, for that matter, even got consistent, prominent play in U.S. mainstream media …

… and I’m coming up dry.

Who lives, who dies?

Filed under: Sad,We're so screwed — Lex @ 1:12 am
Tags: ,

Under our current system, by every objective standard the worst in the industrialized world, roughly 45,000 Americans die every year as a direct result of lack of health insurance. Will the current bill, flawed though it might be, save enough of them to make it worth supporting?

I haven’t been watching the Senate debate on health-care reform tonight, so I may put a bunch of energy into this post only for it to be overtaken by events by the time I wake up in the morning. But I think Congress and we the people have arrived in the past day or so at a point we’re going to look back at 30 years from now and recognize for better or worse — quite likely worse — as historic.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, who won re-election in his last race as an independent after getting beaten in the Democratic primary, has managed to strip out of the bill the things its most fervent backers wanted most, primarily a public option and, as a fallback from that, expansion of Medicare to include some (paying) people between the ages of 55 and 64. Keep in mind that as recently as September, Lieberman was publicly supporting the Medicare expansion.

As it now stands — and, again, I realize, this could change at any time — the bill gives the powers that be in the current health-care status quo a lot of goodies. And it doesn’t come anywhere close to achieving universal health-insurance coverage.

There are other specifics I’ll get into in a second, but right now, things boil down to this: Under our current system, by every objective standard the worst in the industrialized world, roughly 45,000 Americans die every year as a direct result of lack of health insurance. Will the current bill, flawed though it might be, save enough of them to make it worth supporting? Or, put another way, how many people does it need to save before all the goodies, both up front and over time, that private health insurers and pharmaceutical companies will be getting are justified?

I don’t think there’s a right answer. For damn sure, there’s no good answer.

* * *

Just how bad has Joe Lieberman crapped all over the whole debate on health-care reform? Bad enough that right now, I think it’s time he not only gets no health care, it’s time he gets intestinal cancer in a part of the world where morphine is as yet undiscovered. I mean, really, what kind of sociopath do you have to be to disregard those 45,000 annual deaths and singlehandedly chop up a bill to create something that:

  • Mandates that every American buy expensive insurance from private companies without the choice of a public option and lets the IRS fine you if you don’t
  • Severely taxes middle-class health care plans, rather than wealthy individuals
  • Increases insurance premiums about $1,000 a year
  • Increases health care costs
  • Continues to exempt health-insurance companies from antitrust laws, inhibiting competition
  • Provides a sweet deal for pharmaceutical manufacturers while denying the government the ability to negotiate for lower drug prices for Medicare, something Democrats actually promised three years ago.
  • Apparently won’t let the government import drugs from cheaper foreign sources. I’m told my own junior senator, Kay Hagan, was arguing tonight that this was a “safety” issue, which must come as a surprise to the dozens of other countries that do this every day.
  • Grants monopolies on new biologic drugs so they will never become generics
  • Offers NO public option
  • Offers NO Medicare expansion, even in return for payment, for 55- to 64-year-olds.
  • Limits insurance-company payouts, contrary to President Obama’s promise in September
  • Raises taxes in January while not beginning benefits until 2014.

It’s as if private insurers, Big Pharma and their water-carriers on Capitol Hill are trying to see how bad they can make the bill and still get “reform” supporters to vote for it. As I noted in an earlier post, Ezra Klein of The Washington Post has suggested (and there is some evidence for this view) that Joe Lieberman has done all this simply to piss off progressives. Well, congratulations, Joe — you’ve not only pissed off progressives, you’ve also pissed off me.

It’s also as if Republicans got together and created a bill that they wanted Democrats to run on in 2010 because they knew it would do little or no good while also pissing off people all across the political spectrum, from angry defenders of the status quo to people who wanted far, far more change than this bill can offer.

But it’s Democrats, not Republicans, who are doing this. Republicans, having pledged to oppose any Democratic bill unanimously and lacking the numbers to defeat a bill on their own, have become irrelevant to the debate. This is happening because of the seriously undemocratic structure and operating rules of the Senate and because of conscious choices on the part of Lieberman and other prominent Democrats who ought to know better and whose motives must therefore be called into question. And it’s happening with the approval, if not at the order, of Barack Obama, who has been lying pretty shamelessly about what the bill will and will not do.

* * *

In addition to screwing tens, if not hundreds, of millions of Americans on the substance, this situation also creates an interesting political dilemma for Democrats. Enough progressive House Democrats have pledged to oppose any health-care reform that lacks a public option that anything that can get 60 votes in the Senate, needed to overcome a filibuster, will not pass the House if all those now on record as demanding a public option hold firm.

So it’s not just people who need health care who must choose between a crappy bill and no bill. It’s Congressional Democrats, a bunch of whom must run for re-election next year with whatever happens to this bill as the most important backdrop besides jobs and national security (two other areas where Democrats aren’t exactly shooting out the lights). What makes it really interesting is that if health-care reform is either seen as inadequate or fails entirely, the most vulnerable incumbents aren’t going to be the ones who pushed for far more sweeping changes. It’s going to be the Blue Dogs who are hewing close to Lieberman.

I don’t see 2010 being as bad for Democrats as 1994 was. But I bet the Republicans take back the Senate.

* * *

As you might imagine, there’s a significant split among people who’ve been following this issue over whether this bill is better than nothing. And generally speaking, the policy wonks argue that this bill, while bad, is better than nothing, while the political activists say this thing needs to be killed.

Blogger Jane Hamsher argues that it’s worse than nothing:

Instead [of reducing costs by allowing importation], the “bend” [a reference to the need to slow the growth of health-care costs, often called "bending the cost curve" -- Lex] comes from taxing middle class insurance benefits, which makes them worse. According to the CSM report released last week:

In reaction to the tax, many employers would reduce the scope of their health benefits. The resulting reductions in covered services and/or increases in employee cost-sharing requirements would induce workers to use fewer services. Because plan benefit values would generally increase faster than the threshold amounts for defining high-cost plans (which are indexed by the CPI plus 1 percent), over time additional plans would become subject to the excise tax, prompting those employers to scale back coverage.

The cost curve gets “bent” by making the insurance you have through your employer worse. Remember Harry and Louise? They killed health care reform during the Clinton administration by making this claim. Well, now it’s actually going to be true.

Howard Dean, the physician and former governor and presidential candidate, also says this bill must be killed. Digby agrees, saying that the bottom line is that this bill isn’t going to save any lives:

Nobody’s “getting covered” here. After all, people are already “free” to buy private insurance and one must assume they have reasons for not doing it already. Whether those reasons are good or bad won’t make a difference when they are suddenly forced to write big checks to Aetna or Blue Cross that they previously had decided they couldn’t or didn’t want to write. Indeed, it actually looks like the worst caricature of liberals: taking people’s money against their will, saying it’s for their own good. …

What this huge electoral mandate and congressional majority have gotten us, then, is basically a deal with the insurance industry to accept 30 million coerced customers in exchange for ending their practice of failing to cover their customers when they get sick — unless they go beyond a “reasonable cap,” of course. (And profits go up!)

Emptywheel calls it “neo-feudalism”, and my only argument is that she’s being too kind. This is nothing more or less than using government as a mechanism to transfer wealth from the middle class to corporations just as feudal peasants had to pay to the nobles — and the peasants actually got a promise of protection in return, while these corporations, which supposedly will protect us from medical bankruptcy in return, aren’t even legally required to do that:

Consider a family of four making $66,150–a family at 300% of the poverty level and therefore, hypothetically, at least, “subsidized.” That family would be expected to pay $6482.70 (in today’s dollars) for premiums–or $540 a month. But that family could be required to pay $7973 out of pocket for copays and so on. So if that family had a significant– but not catastrophic — medical event, it would be asked to pay its insurer almost 22% of its income to cover health care. Several months ago, I showed why this was a recipe for continued medical bankruptcy (though the numbers have changed somewhat). But here’s another way to think about it. Senate Democrats are requiring middle class families to give the proceeds of over a month of their work to a private corporation — one allowed to make 15% or maybe even 25% profit on the proceeds of their labor.

It’s one thing to require a citizen to pay taxes — to pay into the commons. It’s another thing to require taxpayers to pay a private corporation, and to have up to 25% of that go to paying for luxuries like private jets and gyms for the company CEOs.

Forget whether this will actually make health care cheaper or more available. How is this even constitutional?

I’m no closer now to knowing what we ought to do, or even what I would do were I in the Senate, than I was when I started this piece almost three hours ago. I just know that after all this time and effort, tens of millions of Americans are still going to be uninsured, and tens of thousands will still die next year because of it. And the fact that tens of millions of other Americans think this is acceptable makes me tremble for my country.

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