Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 6:27 pm

Robert Klippstein of Greensboro, you, sir, are a goddamned idiot (and I’m not real happy with my former employer, either)

I don’t know Robert Klippstein of Greensboro. But today, in a letter to the editor of the News & Record supporting the requirement of a photo ID for voters, he writes, “Voting is a privilege, not a right.”

Leaving aside for a moment any discussion of the constitutional, legal or practical merits of requiring photo ID to vote, oh, screw it, Jesus H. Christ, why is this man not locked up in a room somewhere where he can drool on himself without the rest of us having to be bothered?

Voting isn’t a right? What about “taxation without representation”? What about the civil-rights marchers, some of whom were beaten by police for pursuing — say it with me, kids — the right to vote? What about — oh, screw it. Just. Screw. It.

Oh, and News & Record? As I’ve already told editorial-page editor Allen Johnson privately, I of all people realize that running a Letters to the Editor column means presiding over a wretched hive of scum and villainy (and not in a FUN way, like, say, running Fark.com) and giving writers wide latitude. But at some point, if you’re going to run a public forum, you have to institute some level of quality control. You wouldn’t let a letter-writer claim, with respect to an important public issue, that 2 + 2 = 22 or that gravity is “only a theory” as if that meant you could step off the roof of the Lincoln Financial building with impunity. So why would you let someone assert as a fact something this stupid and dangerous? Allen, to his credit, copped a plea, but as Roch Smith has documented, this has not been an isolated problem.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011 8:11 pm

Just the facts, ma’am.

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 8:11 pm
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More Americans have died in weather events in the past 10 years than in terror attacks (including 9/11).

Monday, August 29, 2011 8:05 pm

Quote of the day

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:05 pm
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Doghouse Riley edition (via Balloon Juice):

There may be more damning indictments of Republican “intellectualism” than the fact that these guys ["moderate" Republicans such as David Brooks and Mitch Daniels] have spent the last thirty years inventing excuses for utter crackpotism, first with the idea of eternally harvesting its votes, now in the hopes that the ‘conservative’ welfare spigot will stay on, but you have to google “William F. Buckley” and “Civil Rights Movement” to find ‘em.

 

Sunday, August 28, 2011 11:36 pm

Friday Random 10, Late Sunday night new-laptop edition

Filed under: Friday Random 10 — Lex @ 11:36 pm

A Tribe Called Quest – Oh My God
Replacements – Darlin’ One
Fugazi – Version
Stornoway – Zorbing
Nazareth – Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman/Hair of the Dog
Cramps – Garbageman
Lipps Inc. – Funkytown
R.E.M. – West of the Fields
Dorothy Williams – Closer to My Baby
Tame Impala – Solitude Is Bliss

lagniappe: Dreams So Real – Red Lights (Merry Christmas)

Saturday, August 27, 2011 1:30 pm

You know you’re screwed …

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 1:30 pm
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… when things have gotten so bad in Florida, ” a test tube environment in which national pathologies grow in virulence,” that not even Carl Hiaasen can laugh at them anymore.

Thursday, August 25, 2011 8:16 pm

Remember how climatologist Michael Mann was fabricating climate-change research?

Not so much, it turns out:

An investigation by the National Science Foundation has found no evidence of wrongdoing or misconduct by Penn State climate-change researcher Michael Mann.

Mann, Penn State professor of meteorology, was the target of accusations from climate-change skeptics after thousands of e-mails exchanged between climate-change researchers were hacked from the University of East Anglia and made public.

Critics pointed to the e-mails as evidence that Mann and other scientists had hidden and manipulated data to bolster the argument for global warming.

The university was swamped with e-mails and calls criticizing Mann. Although no formal allegations were made, the university formed a panel of five faculty members to investigate the Mann’s conduct.

The panel found no evidence of research misconduct in three of the four areas it examined, including falsifying data and misusing confidential information.  But it concluded that further investigation was needed into whether Mann did anything not in keeping with accepted practices for proposing, conducting or reporting research.

University Vice President for Research Henry C. Foley said the Office of Inspector General then reviewed both the allegations of research misconduct against Mann and the university’s inquiry.

“We appreciate the Inspector General’s careful assessment of the facts involved in this case,” Foley said in a news release issued Tuesday by Penn State. “The report clearly exonerates Professor Mann from any professional improprieties in his research, and adds credibility to the university’s own process of inquiry, which the OIG findings essentially upheld.”

A closeout memorandum by the Inspector General’s office on the case states that “as part of our investigation, we again fully reviewed all the reports and documentation the University provided to us, as well as a substantial amount of publically available documentation concerning both (Mann’s) research and parallel research conducted by his collaborators and other scientists in that particular field of research.”

The review notes “the research in question was originally completed over 10 years ago. Although the subject’s data is still available and still the focus of significant critical examination, no direct evidence has been presented that indicates the subject fabricated the raw data he used for his research or falsified his results.”.

I’m quite sure this will shut all the denialists up.

How to choose a president

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 7:58 pm
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Steve Benen offers something important for Americans to think about that too many Americans don’t think about:

The president, no matter who he or she is, has an enormous amount of responsibilities, but writing public school science curricula isn’t on the list.

But I think this misses the point. Put it this way: what are a president’s principal tasks in office? Aside from setting agendas, giving speeches, attending countless meetings, ceremonial responsibilities, fundraising, etc., a president is tasked with making a lot of decisions. Invariably, they’re tough calls — they have to be, since easier decisions are made elsewhere in the executive branch bureaucracy.

In order to make these tough calls, a president will be presented with a fair amount of information. If we’ve elected a capable person, he or she will evaluate that information well, exercise good judgment, and make a wise choice.

What does this have to do with science? Everything. Rick Perry is aware of the scientific consensus on modern biology, but he rejects it. He realizes what climate scientists have concluded about global warming, but he rejects them, too. What this tell us is that Perry, whatever his strengths may be, isn’t especially good at evaluating evidence. On the contrary, by choosing to believe nonsense after being confronted with reality, he’s apparently lousy at it.

And since most of what a president does all day is evaluate evidence and (hopefully) reach sensible conclusions, Perry’s hostility towards reason and facts offers a hint about what kind of leader he’d be if elected.

Consider another example. Perry was fielding questions from a Texas journalist who asked why Texas has abstinence-only education, despite the fact that the state has the third-highest teen-pregnancy rate in the country. Perry replied, “Abstinence works.” The journalist, perhaps wondering if Perry misunderstood the question, tried again, saying abstinence-only “doesn’t seem to be working.” The governor replied, “It — it works.”

This isn’t akin to flubbing a pop quiz on the basics of modern science. I don’t much care if a political figure has never seen a periodic table or struggles to understand how tides work. The point here is that Rick Perry seems unable to think empirically and weigh the value of evidence before reaching a conclusion.

Are these qualities relevant to a presidential candidate? I believe they are.

First, do no harm. Elections are about politics, but they also are about what politicians do once elected. The United States as a more or less free, democratic republic faces existential challenges in the forms of (to name but a few) global climate change; long-term, severe unemployment; dwindling energy resources; a government culture of excessive surveillance; and rampant lawlessness at the highest levels of society. I do not realistically expect a politician to solve all those problems. But I do expect him to be smart and attentive enough to avoid decisions that would make those problems worse.

That ain’t Rick Perry. That ain’t Michele Bachmann. On at least some issues, it ain’t Mitt Romney. And on economic issues, government surveillance and rampant high-level lawlessness, it ain’t Barack Obama.

People wonder why I hate politics. I don’t, but I do hate me some stupid.

 

Just when you were feeling good about surviving the earthquake …

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 5:29 pm
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MisterMix at Balloon Juice has to poop in the punchbowl:

It’s probably just my freedom-denying, government-loving, wet blanket liberalism talking, but this is bullshit:

“The laws of physics are at work here. People naturally, when they see a situation like this will get on the phone and make heavy volumes of calls, and there can be congestion, and that’s what we’re experiencing here,” said Mark Siegel, AT&T’s executive director of media relations.

We have no idea what kind of excess capacity the wireless carriers have, we don’t know if they test their networks regularly to check whether they meet their capacity standards, we don’t know exactly how many calls were dropped yesterday, and we don’t know if those carriers are going to change anything based on yesterday’s experience of a surge of call volume on their undamaged networks. All we know is that yesterday proved once again that the device that we have in our hands on the day a disaster strikes—a device that is the only form of communication for a hell of a lot of people—almost certainly won’t work during a disaster. And we’ve convinced ourselves that regulating that device and the enormously profitable oligopoly that runs it would make Adam Smith’s ghost cry salty tears.

 
And not to poop in the punchbowl myself, but as I type this, there’s a hurricane coming. Just saying.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 8:17 pm

What happens when you don’t let too-big-to-fail banks fail

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:17 pm
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Barry Ritholtz explains:

Consider what was actually done in 2008-09, and you will understand why none of the underlying problems have been repaired:

• Bank holdings: Remain stuffed with declining assets, primarily in Housing and Derivative holdings. Another leg down in Housing could be nearly fatal.

• Transparency: Balance sheets are unnecessarily Opaque; Eliminating Fair value accounting via FASB 157 did not fix balance sheet problems, but instead allowed banks to hide them.

• Capitalization:  Remains too thin; leverage should be mandated back to the pre-2005 rule change of no more than 12 to 1; As we have learned, management does not keep adequate capital unless mandated to do so (sufficient capital reserves cuts into profits);

• Misaligned Incentives: Compensation and bonus schemes were not significantly changed after bailouts, except during loan repayments. Thus, management and traders still have the same upside to roll the dice, but do not have the downside risks, which remains on shareholders and taxpayers.

Ritholtz believes there’s good reason to think that the only way some of our biggest banks — Citi and Bank of America, particularly — will survive another housing downtown is with another government bailout. (And the news has not been good lately on the housing front.)

Whoopee. May I see the hands of everyone in the room who cares what the hell happens to Bank of America and Citi?

*crickets*

OK, then. What should we do? Well, Ritholtz helpfully imagines what things might look like today if we had done the right thing a couple of years ago:

Let’s use a counter-factual, a simple thought experiment of what would have been had we gone Swedish on banks like Citi and B of A, placing them into a prepackaged reorganization (that’s a polite phrase for “bankruptcy”).

The easy stuff: Senior management all gets fired. More than just the CEO — nearly the entire top floor at the bank, including the Board of Directors, gets canned. Equity shareholders get wiped out. Whatever is left over after all is said and done goes to the bondholders, typically, at about 25-50 cents on the dollar. (Note that in Sweden, bondholders got 100 cents on the Kroner, but that currency was significantly devalued — so the bondholders were not made whole, they lost between 50-75%).

Temporary nationalization is the play: Uncle Sam provides debtor-in-possession financing to keep operating. All of the bad holdings, mortgages, derivatives and other liabilities are pulled out, and auctioned off. This includes the REOs, the CDS/CDO book, defaulted mortgage obligations. Remember, there is no such thing as toxic assets, only toxic prices. At some valuation, these are worthwhile investments — just not 100 cents on the dollar. Let healthy buyers pay 15-30 cents.And anything that is worthless is written down to zero.

We recapitalize the parent bank, and spin off each division: IPO Merrill Lynch for $20 billion, spin out a clean  Countrywide at $8 billion, sell of all of the non depository bank pieces. What you have left over is a well capitalized bank, owned by Taxpayers, with well capitalized former divisions as stand-alone companies. All of the above have transparent balance sheets (No FASB 157 required to hide the garbage investments). Eventually, everything is spun out back to the public markets. Uncle Sam is repaid, and what is left over goes to the bondholders.

This would have created a transparent, unleveraged, adequately capitalized banking system that would be contributing to, rather than detracting from, the US economy.

But all that was a missed opportunity — for W and O alike. What we have today instead is an over concentrated set of banking behemoths, barely off life support. Many of these remain mortally wounded by the holdings — holdings that they would have to shed through a healthy reorg.

The recent downturn in the banking sector? I suspect it amounts to nothing more than a credible bet that these banks are not in any condition to withstand the next recession. (No, it was not Henry Blodget’s Fault). A rise in unemployment and another next leg down in Housing could very well be fatal.

If the banks come crawling back to Uncle Sam for another bailout, it will be proof that “rescuing” failing financial institutions that blow themselves up is the exact wrong strategy.

Real Capitalists know failure is part of the process. I suspect we may have another chance at a banking reorg. Let’s hope we do it correctly this time . . .

I have friends at Bank of America. I do not wish the company as a whole ill, although I choose not to do business with it because of the behavior of its officers and directors. That said, the bank is insolvent and needs to be treated as such. Regulatory capture so far has prevented the government from doing what needs to be done. How much more pain will taxpayers, bank employees outside the C-suite and the American economy in general have to suffer before the right people finally do the right thing?

Quite a lot, I suspect.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 8:42 pm

The West Memphis Three are free. So, party time, right?

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 8:42 pm
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Uh, wrong, says former federal prosecutor bmaz:

Yes, it is good, and truly heartwarming, to see “The Three” in sunshine. That said, justice and the rule of law are a little more dead for the effort if they are truly innocent. And the facts, including the key absence, indeed exclusion, of DNA evidence, now known – almost unequivocally – militate to a conclusion of innocence. While people should be happy, no thrilled, they are out of custody, I cannot believe there is not concurrent shrieking at the highest levels as to how exactly that has transpired.

Let’s be honest, no prosecutor in his right mind walks these three men out the front door of the courthouse if he truly believes they are guilty and there is even the slightest chance in hell he can make the charges stand up in a retrial. And no prosecutor lets them do it through Alford pleas. I do not care what kind of happy pablum they spew to the television cameras and press, it is really just that simple.

So, what we have here is nothing but a reaffirmation, ratification and craven ass covering of the original miscarriage of justice that railroaded the West Memphis Three. There will be no words of commendation here for the prosecutors, nor for Judge David Laser for giving the court’s imprimatur of propriety to this; in fact, they should all be questioned as to their ethics and morals.

This is nothing short of Mike Nifong making the Duke lacrosse players take misdemeanor pleas and register as sex offenders in order to save his precious reputation and job, and stop civil damage suits. Nifong did not get away with such depravity in Durham, and the prosecutors in Jonesboro, Arkansas, should not either.

Convicting innocent defendants on the basis of flimsy cases ought to be impossible. Even in the imperfect world in which we live, such behavior could carry serious, even career-ending, consequences — if we chose to make justice a priority.

Back in the mid-1980s in Iredell County, an inexperienced assistant district attorney lost a death-by-motor-vehicle case because he didn’t ask the questions of his witnesses that would have elicited the answer he needed to get a conviction: He didn’t get a witness to identify the defendant as the person who had driven the car in question. It wasn’t that the witness couldn’t have testified to that effect; the prosecutor simply forgot to ask the question. And then he rested his case.

And the defense attorney, having noticed the omission, promptly asked the judge for a directed verdict for acquittal, which was the legally correct thing for him to do, and the judge granted the acquittal, which was the legally correct thing for him to do.

That prosecutor lost his job.

The people who put three innocent young men behind bars (and one of them on Death Row) for 18 years have suffered no consequences for their actions beyond a brief bit of media criticism mostly swamped by the good feelings that properly accompany the liberation of the innocent. But this was a far grosser miscarriage of justice.

We’re so screwed, J. Bradford DeLong edition

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:11 pm
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Brad DeLong is an economist who firmly believes that to put people back to work, we need to be doing things we’re not doing now. And he is very concerned about the near- and medium-term future:

Back at the end of 2008, our questions (at least my questions) were: “What if the downturn is bigger than we currently think it will be? What if worries about a jobless recovery and the absence of labor-market mean-reversion turn out to be true? What if–as has happened in the past–this financial crisis turns into sovereign crises and the world economy gets hit by additional shocks? Then your polices will not be bold enough. What is Plan B?” And the answers were all along the lines of:

  1. You are a pessimist. We are already doing unprecedented things to stabilize the economy–and odds are that in a year we will be worrying about inflation and unwinding the stimulus rather than about unemployment.
  2. Obama is genuinely post-partisan, and won’t have anything like the trouble Clinton had negotiating with Republicans: our policies will evolve as the situation evolves.

Back in the late summer of 2009, our questions (or at least my questions) were: “You aren’t getting any cooperation from Republicans–they appear to have doubled down on the Gingrich-Dole strategy that you win the next election by making the Democratic President a failure. The economy really needs more stimulus. What are you going to do? Isn’t it time to use the President’s powers more aggressively–to use Fed appointment powers and the Treasury’s TARP authority and Reconciliation to do major stimulus?” And the answers were:

  1. We are doing all that we can.
  2. This is really hard.
  3. Things will probably still work out all right.
  4. If worst comes to worst, we will trade long-run budget balance via a spending cut-heavy package of long-run spending cuts and tax increases for short-term stimulus to get us out of the short-term unemployment mess.
  5. Hippie punching.

By the late summer of 2010, our questions (or at least my questions) were: “You are in a total war with the Republican Party. They aren’t giving you anything. It is time to seriously push the envelope of executive authority to put policies in place that will reduce unemployment.” And the answers were:

  1. The best policy is to achieve long-run fiscal discipline so that the confidence fairy will show up.
  2. Hippie punching.

And now it is the late summer of 2011. Our big question still is: how is Obama going to use executive branch authority to reduce unemployment? There are lots of options: adjourn congress and do some recess appointments to get the Federal Reserve more engaged in actually pursuing its dual mandate, quantitative easing via the Treasury Department, shifting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from their do-nothing position by giving them a microeconomic stabilization mission, talking about how a weak dollar is in America’s interest.

And this time what I am hearing back is only:

  1. Hippie punching.

It is difficult to read this in any way but as a group of people inside a bunker who (1) have been wrong about the situation, (2) are scared to use the powers they have to try to make things better, and (3) really do not like being reminded that they were wrong about the situation.

That seems to me to mean that the Obama administration right now has one and only one macroeconomic policy idea: hope that the country gets lucky.

As I’ve mentioned, there’s been some back-and-forth on the left about whether what Obama is doing is the right thing to do (and why he’s doing/failing to do what he’s doing/failing to do). This discussion, as have most of our discussions about politics and government during the past 30 years or so, has tended to focus more on tactics than on substance: Obama is doing all he can do in this environment vs. Obama should be using the bully pulpit to call out recalcitrant Republicans who are supposedly keeping him from doing the right thing.

My own suspicion is that Obama, for reasons I cannot fathom, has decided that the suffering of millions of un- and under-employed Americans here and now matters less than arriving at some kind of grand bargain on federal spending that may or may not make us better off in the future. I find this approach problematic for a number of reasons, not least the likelihood that nontrivial numbers of Americans will die prematurely as a direct consequence of Obama’s inaction on jobs.

Earthquake

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 8:00 pm
Tags:

Everyone else has been blogging and twittering about the earthquake today, so I guess I will, too.

Not that there was much to it. I was in my office and felt a little rumble. A train goes by the spur line on the eastern edge of campus a couple of times a month, taking supplies to a concrete plant northwest of downtown, and I just figured that’s what it was. The pictures on my wall didn’t rattle, the lights didn’t blink, the floor didn’t sway.

The last such I can recall feeling was eight years ago. No big deal then, either.

Thursday, August 18, 2011 8:50 pm

Standard & Poor’s. Again.

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:50 pm
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I suggested last week that Yves Smith might be onto something in suggesting that Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. debt might have been more political payback than anything having to do with the actual ability, or even the willingness, of the government to pay interest on its debt. As hypotheses go its only mildly conspiratorial by today’s standards, and it also comports with the behavior of the markets in the aftermath of the rating downgrade: People bought more Treasuries, driving the interest rate on them down.

Turns out that once again, we were, if anything, not paranoid enough:

The Justice Department is investigating whether the nation’s largest credit ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s, improperly rated dozens of mortgage securities in the years leading up to the financial crisis, according to two people interviewed by the government and another briefed on such interviews.

The investigation began before Standard & Poor’s cut the United States’ AAA credit rating this month, but it is likely to add fuel to the political firestorm that has surrounded that action. Lawmakers and some administration officials have since questioned the agency’s secretive process, its credibility and the competence of its analysts, claiming to have found an error in its debt calculations.

In the mortgage inquiry, the Justice Department has been asking about instances in which the company’s analysts wanted to award lower ratings on mortgage bonds but may have been overruled by other S.& P. business managers, according to the people with knowledge of the interviews. If the government finds enough evidence to support such a case, which is likely to be a civil case, it could undercut S.& P.’s longstanding claim that its analysts act independently from business concerns.

My guess now? S&P knew word of this investigation was going to get out and so downgraded U.S. debt to try to make this news look like payback for the downgrade. Heck, if I worked for S&P I might well be able to put some insinuations about “Chicago-style machine politics” to good use.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011 10:43 pm

Postlegal America; or, This isn’t just regulatory capture, it’s regulatory summary execution

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 10:43 pm
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Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone:

For the past two decades, according to a whistle-blower at the SEC who recently came forward to Congress, the agency has been systematically destroying records of its preliminary investigations once they are closed. By whitewashing the files of some of the nation’s worst financial criminals, the SEC has kept an entire generation of federal investigators in the dark about past inquiries into insider trading, fraud and market manipulation against companies like Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and AIG. With a few strokes of the keyboard, the evidence gathered during thousands of investigations – “18,000 … including Madoff,” as one high-ranking SEC official put it during a panicked meeting about the destruction – has apparently disappeared forever into the wormhole of history.

Under a deal the SEC worked out with the National Archives and Records Administration, all of the agency’s records – “including case files relating to preliminary investigations” – are supposed to be maintained for at least 25 years. But the SEC, using history-altering practices that for once actually deserve the overused and usually hysterical term “Orwellian,” devised an elaborate and possibly illegal system under which staffers were directed to dispose of the documents from any preliminary inquiry that did not receive approval from senior staff to become a full-blown, formal investigation. Amazingly, the wholesale destruction of the cases – known as MUIs, or “Matters Under Inquiry” – was not something done on the sly, in secret. The enforcement division of the SEC even spelled out the procedure in writing, on the commission’s internal website. “After you have closed a MUI that has not become an investigation,” the site advised staffers, “you should dispose of any documents obtained in connection with the MUI.”

Many of the destroyed files involved companies and individuals who would later play prominent roles in the economic meltdown of 2008. Two MUIs involving con artist Bernie Madoff vanished. So did a 2002 inquiry into financial fraud at Lehman Brothers, as well as a 2005 case of insider trading at the same soon-to-be-bankrupt bank. A 2009 preliminary investigation of insider trading by Goldman Sachs was deleted, along with records for at least three cases involving the infamous hedge fund SAC Capital.

The widespread destruction of records was brought to the attention of Congress in July, when an SEC attorney named Darcy Flynn decided to blow the whistle. According to Flynn, who was responsible for helping to manage the commission’s records, the SEC has been destroying records of preliminary investigations since at least 1993. After he alerted NARA to the problem, Flynn reports, senior staff at the SEC scrambled to hide the commission’s improprieties.

That’s right: To add farce to this tragedy, they’re trying to cover up a cover-up.

It’s a good thing Rick Perry is running for president on a platform of less regulation, or we’d be really screwed.

 

Rant of the day …

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 10:11 pm
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… from Athenae at First Draft:

I cannot describe to you the Libertarian Shrug that says some people just have to die, okay, that I get from people these days. Some people just have to die so that a private company can have this contract. Some people just have to die so that I don’t have to think about their systemic disadvantage, poverty and want. Some people just have to die so that we don’t have to get it together as a society and suck it up and realize that [expletive]s who game the system don’t matter and we need to take care of everybody else. Some people just have to die.

If they wanted to live, they should have been fortunate enough to have rich relatives or friends with free time who could drive them to every single doctor’s appointment, because that’s something you can totally guarantee in your life at all times.

But never me. Never mine. Never anyone I know and never anyone I love. That’s an outrage. That’s a crime. That’s the entire [expletive] [expletive] blue POINT: It’s always someone you love. It’s always someone that somebody loves. It’s always you. Our fate is your fate.

Living in a society brings with it many benefits. (And if you doubt me, you just go ahead and take your God-given Galtian gifts and decamp to someplace in north-central Alaska in January and start creating jobs. Go on. I’ll wait.)

But it also brings with it a number of obligations, explicit and implicit. The explicit ones are all on the Internet, and everyone fortunate enough not to have been born in a barn or raised in a war zone has had the implicit ones inculcated into them from birth, even if they sometimes choose to act otherwise.

You can believe in God or not, but whether you do or not, it is an empirical fact and not just, say, the teaching of Christ that we are all in this together. A vanishingly small number of us can use our money and our selfishness to build little fortresses within which to try to deny reality, maybe even leave the country (Oh, and, um, Peter Thiel, you don’t have to build an island paradise with lots of guns and no rules. There’s already one out there. It’s called Haiti.), but ultimately you’ve got no place you can run and hide. Your climate is changing just the same as everyone else’s and your air is getting just as dirty as everyone else’s. The monsters will come for you, too; it just might take them a little longer to get you. And know that if you die before they get you, your children will not escape them.

It is true that we lack the logistics, and maybe even the money, to save the entire world. But America, whether blessed by God or just the winner of the cosmic lottery, does have the money and logistics to save its own people and many others besides. Maybe we can’t save everyone, but we can save a helluva lot more than we’re saving now without seriously inconveniencing anyone (and that doesn’t even get into the thorny moral question of whether, just maybe, WE OUGHT TO BE SERIOUSLY INCONVENIENCED). It’s not a money problem, it’s an attitude problem and a cultural problem: We have a culture that has decided that IGMFY is admirable. And you don’t have to read the Bible to know where that leads. History will suffice.

“On everything but the size of government, Tea Party supporters are increasingly out of step with most Americans, even many Republicans.”

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 9:06 pm
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Those pointy-headed academics, always messing the narrative up with their pesky facts:

Polls show that disapproval of the Tea Party is climbing. In April 2010, a New York Times/CBS News survey found that 18 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of it, 21 percent had a favorable opinion and 46 percent had not heard enough. Now, 14 months later, Tea Party supporters have slipped to 20 percent, while their opponents have more than doubled, to 40 percent.

Of course, politicians of all stripes are not faring well among the public these days. But in data we have recently collected, the Tea Party ranks lower than any of the 23 other groups we asked about — lower than both Republicans and Democrats. It is even less popular than much maligned groups like “atheists” and “Muslims.” Interestingly, one group that approaches it in unpopularity is the Christian Right. …

Beginning in 2006 we interviewed a representative sample of 3,000 Americans as part of our continuing research into national political attitudes, and we returned to interview many of the same people again this summer. As a result, we can look at what people told us, long before there was a Tea Party, to predict who would become a Tea Party supporter five years later. We can also account for multiple influences simultaneously — isolating the impact of one factor while holding others constant. …

So what do Tea Partiers have in common? They are overwhelmingly white, but even compared to other white Republicans, they had a low regard for immigrants and blacks long before Barack Obama was president, and they still do.

More important, they were disproportionately social conservatives in 2006 — opposing abortion, for example — and still are today. Next to being a Republican, the strongest predictor of being a Tea Party supporter today was a desire, back in 2006, to see religion play a prominent role in politics. And Tea Partiers continue to hold these views: they seek “deeply religious” elected officials, approve of religious leaders’ engaging in politics and want religion brought into political debates. The Tea Party’s generals may say their overriding concern is a smaller government, but not their rank and file, who are more concerned about putting God in government.

This inclination among the Tea Party faithful to mix religion and politics explains their support for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. Their appeal to Tea Partiers lies less in what they say about the budget or taxes, and more in their overt use of religious language and imagery, including Mrs. Bachmann’s lengthy prayers at campaign stops and Mr. Perry’s prayer rally in Houston.

Yet it is precisely this infusion of religion into politics that most Americans increasingly oppose. While over the last five years Americans have become slightly more conservative economically, they have swung even further in opposition to mingling religion and politics. It thus makes sense that the Tea Party ranks alongside the Christian Right in unpopularity.

Obviously, not every self-identified Tea Partier fits this profile. But this research is long, wide and deep — and it strongly suggests that federal officials without large, self-identified Tea Party segments in their electorate are vulnerable.

Read the whole piece. It also strongly suggests that those of us who have dismissed the Tea Party as an artificial phenomenon, equal parts big-money GOP artifice and stupefying levels of Teh_Stoopid, were correct. Yeah, I’m gloating. Suck it.

 

Interesting hypothesis

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 8:44 pm

… offered by DougJ at Balloon Juice, although I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it elsewhere:

Never lose sight of the fact that conservatives are mostly motivated by the desire to piss off liberals. It explains almost everything they do.

Sweeping generalities alert:

Obviously, not all conservatives believe what they believe and do what they do specifically to piss off liberals, and vice versa. But I think it’s true of some conservatives (and liberals), and of proportionately more conservatives than liberals.

That’s only a guess. But I think it’s a fair one because, in general, liberals tend to worry about what’s fair and what works more than conservatives do.  That happens, I think, for a number of different reasons that stem from both theological (God of Law vs. God of Love) and secular roots and from the fact that conservatives tend to be more authoritarian in nature and more willing to accept authority (often favoring scriptural “authority” over, say, science) than liberals.

That notion of fairness also helps explain, I think, that to the extent sociopaths and the malicious have any political philosophy, they tend to show up more often among conservatives than among liberals. Liberals might not mind that achieving a policy objective pisses off conservatives, and some of them may even celebrate that fact. But they tend to see pissing conservatives off more as an incidental benefit than as a motivation, whereas conservatives really do sometimes seem to get into pissing liberals off. Maybe it has something to do with wanting to make the heathen rage because they think that if they do that, then God is smiling down from Heaven. Or maybe they’re just jackasses. Either way, it’s not real attractive.

It’s also wrong if anyone does it, but wrongness has levels and shadings. For someone with privilege and power to treat the less fortunate this way is orders of magnitude worse than the other way ’round, just as humor flows, and satire races, uphill.

Corporations are people

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:33 pm
Tags: ,

It’s legally true, as Mitt Romney famously reminded us recently. But in a number of ways, corporations are actually better than people (from a corporation’s standpoint), by which I mean they have all the privileges (no, they can’t vote, but they can buy politicians, which you can’t) and, increasingly, none of the obligations.

The latest upstanding person to argue that this is, in fact, the way things ought to be is ExxonMobil, which is arguing in court right now that it cannot be sued for torture:

Lawyers for Exxon Mobil Corp. have asked the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to reject a panel decision that exposed the oil giant to corporate liability for alleged atrocities in Indonesia.

Exxon’s lawyers, including Sri Srinivasan of O’Melveny & Myers, said in a petition (PDF) that the three-judge panel got it wrong when it found Exxon can be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute.

The 2-1 panel decision “vastly expanded” the statute to find that corporations can be liable for violent acts committed abroad, Srinivasan said.

Srinivasan, chair of O’Melveny’s appellate and Supreme Court practice, said the panel decision, if it is not overturned, “threatens to unleash a flood of litigation in U.S. court for actions lacking any salient connection to the United States.”

Exxon’s lawyers said the D.C. Circuit decision conflicts with a ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Srinivasan argued in Exxon’s petition that under customary international law only individuals, not corporations, can be held accountable for human rights violations.

“There is a strong presumption in American law that statutes do not apply extraterritorially, even where an express cause of action exists,” Srinivasan said. “There is nothing in the text or statutory history of the ATS sufficient to trump this strong presumption.”

The attorneys for Exxon urged the appeals court to “reject the notion that the ATS can be used as a vehicle to bring suit in U.S. courts for alleged misconduct that occurred abroad.”

Please note what the company is not doing here.

  • It is not arguing that it didn’t torture.
  • It is not arguing that it didn’t maliciously, recklessly or negligently allow torture.

No, it is arguing that it cannot even be sued over the possibility that it might have. It is arguing that no one should even have the right to make an allegation, marshal his evidence and let a judge or jury decide based on the facts and the law.

Spare me the technical legal argument. That technical legal argument — that the law allows only individuals, not corporations, to be so sued — is precisely my point. We are allowing corporations to commit crimes, including what would be capital offenses if committed by identifiable, individual humans, with impunity.

This choice — and it is a conscious choice, not just something that happened — is a choice we must renounce, or else we have lost the right to call ourselves civilized.

That silence you hear is the sound of exploding health-care costs not exploding anymore

Filed under: More fact-based arguing, please — Lex @ 8:09 pm
Tags: ,

and the media not covering the fact.

While our elected representatives wrangle over slicing entitlements, virtually no one seems to be paying attention to an eye-popping fact: Medicare reimbursements are no longer accelerating at a breakneck pace. The new numbers should be factored into any discussion about healthcare spending:  From 2000 through 2009, Medicare’s outlays climbed by an average of 9.7 percent a year. By contrast, since the beginning of 2010, Medicare spending has been rising by less than 4 percent a year. On this,  both Standard Poor’s Index Committee and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) agree. (S&P tracks healthcare spending with the help of Milliman Inc., an independent actuarial and consulting firm.)

What explains the 18-month slow-down?  No one is entirely certain. But at the end of July David Blitzer, the chairman of Standard &Poor’s Index Committee, told me: “I’m hesitant to say that this is a clear long-term trend.  But it’s more than a blip on the screen.” …

In the S&P report on healthcare spending released on July 21, [Blitzer] wrote: “many participants [in the healthcare system] have indicated that providers are trying to address health care reform and are looking for ways to control costs. If true, this combination certainly would be a contributory factor to the moderation in cost we have witnessed since early 2010.”

Zeke Emanuel, an oncologist and former special adviser for health policy to White House Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, is certain that this is what is happening.  When I spoke to him last week, Emanuel, said:  “This is not mere chance: this is directly related to the initiation of health care reform.”  It is  not the result of reform, Emmanuel emphasized.  The reform measures that will rein in Medicare inflation have not yet been implemented.  But, he explained, providers are “anticipating the Affordable Care Act kicking in.”  They can’t wait until the end of 2013: “They have to act today.  Everywhere I go,” Emanuel, added, “medical schools and hospitals are asking me, ‘How can we cut our costs by 10 to 15 percent?’

“This is doable, since there is so much fat in the system” said Emanuel,  a doctor who is well aware of just how often unnecessary tests and procedures hike medical bills, while exposing patients to needless risks.  It is worth noting that Emanuel is far from cavalier about cutting Medicare benefits that could help patients.  A medical ethicist, he has recently been chosen to lead the medical ethics department at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. But Emanuel understands that patients do not benefit from waste, and that today, our medical culture encourages health care providers to “do more,” without always considering whether medical evidence justifies another test or treatment.

A couple of points to ponder here:

  • The mechanisms of the Affordable Care Act that most directly limit growth in health-care costs haven’t even kicked in yet. So we don’t know how much the act has saved or is likely to save. But the early, not-directly-probative evidence is that those savings are likely to be substantial — at least enough that the act pays for itself (which means, among other things, insuring 30 million previously uninsured Americans).
  • If, in fact, this slowing in the growth rate continues, then all of a sudden, one of the most widely used arguments for draconian cuts in federal spending gets a leg knocked out from under it. Given Washington Republicans’ imperviousness to fact in a wide range of public-policy issues, I do not expect this outcome to change the tone or substance of what they say. But, if this info gets a wider hearing, it might well change the way in which voters respond to what they say.

  

 

An undisguised threat to Abercrombie & Fitch

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 5:56 am
Tags: ,

Here’s the deal, beehortches: I will do untold damage to your brand by wearing it unless you pay me not to. I’m quite serious about this.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011 8:07 pm

What News Corp. knew, and when it knew it

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:07 pm
Tags: , , ,

I think the legal term for this kind of disclosure is “Oops”:

LONDON (Reuters) – Phone hacking was widely known about at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, according to a reporter blamed as the sole culprit, contradicting repeated denials by senior executives and dragging Britain’s prime minister back into the scandal.

In a letter written four years ago in an appeal against his dismissal from the tabloid, former royal reporter Clive Goodman said the practice of hacking was openly discussed until the then editor Andy Coulson banned any reference to it.

Coulson, who has repeatedly denied all knowledge of the practice, went on to become the official spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron, a move which took the affair into the political arena and forced the government to turn on Rupert Murdoch after years of courting his favor.

“This practice was widely discussed in the daily editorial conference, until explicit reference to it was banned by the Editor,” the Goodman letter said, published as part of a parliamentary investigation into hacking. “Other members of staff were carrying out the same illegal procedures.”

Goodman, who was jailed in 2007 along with private detective Glenn Mulcaire, said he had been told he could keep his job if he agreed not to implicate the newspaper — but was fired nonetheless after being sentenced to prison.

The committee investigating the hacking scandal said on Tuesday it would probably recall James Murdoch to give further evidence after receiving the Goodman letter and statements from other parties which contradicted his previous testimony.

Unlike our government, the Brits are perfectly happy to look back rather than (or in addition to) forward. Accordingly, I think Murdoch fils had better have a very good lawyer, because he appears to have lied to Parliament, and right now you couldn’t swing a dead cat in London without hitting an MP who wants the Murdochs gutted like trout.

And again I ask: Is it even barely possible that this kind of practice could have been widespread in Murdoch’s UK properties but nonexistent on this side of the pond? Cuz I don’t think so.

 

 

Quote of the day …

Filed under: Quote Of The Day,We're so screwed — Lex @ 6:39 am
Tags:

… from Fecund Stench, that puts our current political situation into perspective:

 

Reasonable people tend to agree that the benefits of an apocalypse are overrated.

Shorter Fec: We’re so screwed.

Monday, August 15, 2011 8:51 pm

Clean energy vs. the storage question

The problem with the cleanest forms of energy, solar and wind-generated electricity, is that some of that energy has to be stored against times when there is no wind and no solar energy (e.g., nights). So how would we do that, using what we now know about energy-storage technology (i.e., batteries)?

Tom Murphy, a physicist at UC-San Diego, explains in engaging, understandable fashion.

And you thought we were finally rid of Harry Potter

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 8:50 pm
Tags: ,

Think again, Muggle:

 

At last, the long war against Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters has been brought to a responsible end. A short time ago, just a small band of brave witches and wizards at Hogwarts School stood between the dark forces and their ascension to power. Now their evil leader is dead, his armies are scattered, and the wizarding world can begin to recover from the terror they inflicted.

At such a moment of deliverance, it is natural to feel elation and closure — to allow ourselves the brief comfort of imagining that the drama, so meticulously documented by J.K. Rowling, is over. But if history teaches us anything (consider the bitter legacy still lingering from the 17th-century Goblin Wars or the recent experience of American Muggles in Iraq and Afghanistan), it is that the defeat of Voldemort by Harry Potter may have been the easy part. Indeed, one might even say it was child’s play. The hard work of postwar stabilization still lies ahead.

Former U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre and retired Gen. Gordon Sullivan have described four pillars of post-conflict reconstruction: security, governance and participation, urgent social and economic needs, and justice and reconciliation. Of these pillars, the magical world can currently afford to feel complacent about only one — social and economic needs. After all, with the proper application of scouring, mending, and engorgement charms, much of the physical damage wrought by the war can be repaired, and food can be multiplied to meet the needs of the population.* But with respect to the other imperatives, critical challenges remain.

*I’m not actually certain this last assertion is consistent with the canon — Lex.

(h/t: Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice)

“The goal isn’t to stay above zero. It’s to grow fast enough to put people back to work.”

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 8:41 pm

Jared Bernstein on why we shouldn’t think avoiding a double-dip recession is good enough.

This can’t be said often enough: Job 1 needs to be jobs. (But don’t take my word for it. Take the word of such well-known liberals as Hank Paulson and Martin Feldstein.) If we put a lot of people back to work, even if we have to run larger deficits* temporarily to do it, most of our other problems suddenly become a whole lot more manageable. In addition, we’d be alleviating a ton of human suffering, which, despite what our socioeconomic betters and the Beltway media tell us, would not be inconsequential.

*If you’re that worried about the deficit — and most of you who claim to be were nowhere to be found when George Bush the Lesser put us back into them — well, federal taxation, particularly on corporations and the very wealthy, is at its lowest level in more than half a century, so we have some room to maneuver.

Today in medical research news …

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 8:29 pm
Tags:

… because what could possibly go wrong?

Fire on the left

Filed under: Odds 'n' ends — Lex @ 8:19 pm
Tags: , ,

There’s a bit of a dispute going on right now among Democratic bloggers. I’m drawing a very broad outline here so I’m probably overlooking some nuances, but in general, those involved divide into two groups: those who think it’s proper and effective to criticize President Obama from the left and those who think Obama has done as well as any Democrat could under the circumstances and that any fire should be concentrated on Republicans. The former group is led, or at least exemplified (“leading” Democratic bloggers is even more meaningless than herding cats), by Jane Hamsher, founder and principal blogger at FireDogLake. Prominent members of the other camp include John Cole, principal blogger at Balloon Juice, and the pseudonymous blogger/Twitterer Shoq.

Inasmuch as I think Obama, for better or (mostly) worse, is doing exactly what he has chosen to be doing on most policy issues, I’m not sure this dispute, whether either side wins, will have much effect on policy outcomes. And, just to complicate things, 1) I’m a Republican and 2) I’ve already called for Obama to be impeached for ordering the extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen, even as I grant that a lot of good stuff has happened under him that would not have happened under John McCain, so it’s not like I’m the world’s most objective observer.

My best guess is that an excess of Obama criticism, without an accompanying, workable solution, will just lead to a lot of Democratic (or anti-Republican) voters staying home in 2012, as happened in 2010. And if that happens, given the GOP field, I see no way disaster does not befall the country.

But David Atkins, who blogs as “thereisnospoon” over at Digby’s place, cites a report by Dave Dayen at FDL to offer an intriguing suggestion of what the Obama critics on the Left might be able to accomplish … based on what they already have accomplished. You may have heard over the weekend that GOP hopeful Mitt Romney defended corporations by saying, “Corporations are people” — a claim that is legally accurate but, in this economy, incredibly tone-deaf. It was an unforced error, and while I doubt it will hurt Romney’s quest for the nomination (which already faces signficant obstacles), if he does get the nomination it could kill him in the general election campaign.

Turns out that the group that prompted that error was one of those that criticizes Obama from the left:

In fact, the exchange with Romney started when an Iowa CCI member asked why shouldn’t we lift the payroll tax cap to bring long-term balance to Social Security. “The only position we have is no cuts, scrap the cap,” said Goodner.

Goodner acknowledged that the Supreme Court takes an attitude on corporations being people that is very similar to Mitt Romney. Goodner referenced a tweet by Ezra Klein, which said that Romney was right in the eyes of the law. “I don’t think the average Iowan is going to be sympathetic to that view,” Goodner added, however. “It shows how out of touch Romney is. From what he said, he stands on the side of big money corporations on Wall Street against everyday people.” Similarly, George Goehl, the Director of National People’s Action, a leader in the New Bottom Line project, said in a statement, “The corporations Mr. Romney believes are filling people’s pockets are the ones who crashed our economy and hijacked our democracy.”

Goodner and his group were not pleased with Romney’s full answer, where he touted so-called “progressive price indexing” (which would have to cut benefits well into the middle class to generate any savings) and raising the retirement age. “He’s talking about benefit cuts that are going to hurt seniors, the elderly, the poor and the disabled,” said Goodner. “And ask for nothing from the wealthiest Americans, and the companies on Wall Street.”

This sounds similar to what President Obama has been saying recently in support of a balanced deficit solution. But Iowa CCI isn’t exactly enthralled with his performance of late either. “Our members are very upset and angry at Obama,” Goodner said. “He was the one who put Social Security and Medicare on the table. We delivered a letter to his campaign office in Des Moines, telling him to back off, to take this off the table.” As it turns out, Obama will be in Peosta, Iowa next week, as part of a Rural Economic Forum. Iowa CCI has members there, but it’s not a public town hall meeting, so they are still strategizing about how to reach the President with their message. In the meantime, they are speaking to their representatives in Iowa (all of whom, Democratic or Republican, voted against the debt limit bill), or any other Democratic representatives, telling them to deliver their message to the President. It turns out that DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz is at the Iowa State Fair today, so we’ll see if anything transpires.

And they are adamant on this point. “Anytime a candidate or the President comes to Iowa, we’re going to bird-dog them,” Goodner said. “We put principles above party. They’re all going to hear from us.”

Atkins asserts:

These are the sorts of activists who are persistent and get things done. They’re the sorts of activists who will be there on behalf of Democratic principles come rain or shine, come Republican or Democratic Administrations. All the Democratic Party needs to do is have their back, and they can make magic happen. Iowa CCI just did more for the Obama re-election campaign than $50 million of advertising dollars could ever hope to do, against the candidate whom all the polls show would likely be Obama’s most formidable opponent in the general election.

I question whether activists of this type get as much done as Atkins seems to be claiming in terms of policy outcomes, but he’s quite right that the party needs these folks for electoral success

The Coles and Shoqs of the blogosphere (both of whom I read and admire, I should point out) dismiss people like this as “Firebaggers” and PUMAs, which stands for Party Unity, My Ass. (The phrase arose during the epic combat between Obama and Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.) I don’t know who’s right, but I think their position might be a little simplistic: As long as you still turn out to support your party’s nominee, whoever it might be (given what’s likely going to be offered by the other side), why not pressure your party’s candidates, including the incumbent, during the primary season to hew to your view on the issues you care most about?

In fact, if not then, when? Once the nomination is sewed up, your ability to affect the framing of the issues is going to be diminished as long as candidates hew to the conventional wisdom that you win a general election by moving to the middle. (The merits of that conventional wisdom are questionable, given the current make-up of the electorate, but that’s a post for another time).

Tea Party congresscritter: I can’t repay a loan, but it’s the bank’s fault

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 8:10 pm
Tags: ,

You can’t make this stuff up:

CALHOUN — While U.S. Rep. Tom Graves was calling for fiscal responsibility in Washington his attorney was arguing in a lawsuit that a North Georgia bank is at fault for issuing Graves a $2.2 million loan the bank knew he could not repay.

Graves was fighting a lawsuit along with business partner Chip Rogers, the state Senate majority leader. The two Republicans, through a limited-liability company, used the loan to purchase and renovate a Calhoun motel that quickly went under.

The bank sued, alleging the two defaulted on the loan. The politicians filed counterclaims against the bank. … Both parties dismissed their claims Wednesday. …

Meanwhile, tens of thousand of dollars in back real estate taxes, penalties and interest are owed on the property. The man Graves and Rogers say they transferred ownership to – John Edens – has closed the motel and moved on. Calhoun officials say the gutted building is now a “nuisance” and a safety concern. They are considering tearing it down at taxpayer expense.

Graves, a tea party favorite who has been outspoken about his vote this month against raising the debt-ceiling, said he had not read his attorney’s court filings claiming the bank is at fault for loaning him money it knew he couldn’t repay.

On the one hand, I don’t doubt for a second that what Graves said happened could have happened. The housing bubble whose collapse has thrown so many Americans out of work was built in significant part on loans that never should have been originated because they had no chance of being repaid.

You’d just like to think that a congresscritter, particularly one who campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility, would have had some notion of how much debt he could repay and wouldn’t have sought out a loan he couldn’t repay. You’d also like to think that a congresscritter above whose name sworn court pleadings are filed would have read those pleadings before filing them.

You’d like to think that. But that would mean, in the 21st century, that you are a rube, a naїf, an idiot.

Which still makes you at least twice as smart as the current holder of the U.S. House seat from Georgia’s 9th Congressional District.

Warren Buffett, masochist; or, supply-side BS unmasked

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:08 pm
Tags: , ,

Raising taxes on the wealthy doesn’t scare off investment and doesn’t hurt job creation, says Warren Buffett:

 

Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.

I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation. …

Job one for the 12 [members of Congress who will be defining deficit-reduction details] is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.

But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.

My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.

Buffett, in simple language, explains just how rigged the system is in favor not only of the wealthy but also in favor of those whose income is derived from investments rather than labor.

Town-hall meetings we won’t be seeing camera crews at

People are more pissed off at Congress than they have ever been. And yet, in contrast to 2010, when corporate money ginned up an Astroturf “revolt” that got national media coverage, you won’t be seeing stories on the TV nooz about angry constituents confronting their congresscritters over their inaction on the economy, even though it is seen as far and away the country’s most pressing problem.

Fortunately, there’s YouTube …

… and other social-media sites.

Let’s see which MSM reporters are clever, or crazy, enough to cover a real story.

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