Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 7:54 pm

I’ve looked at clods from both sides, now …

Pretty much every single professional journalist in Washington, and a lot of regular Americans, think there are virtues to be had in balance, moderation and centrism. Perhaps as an extension of that belief — for it certainly is not on the basis of even moderately complicated economics, or, for that matter, mathematics — they believe that both the rich and the poor must give something up to address the nation’s budget issues.

(I refuse to call them budget problems, let alone crises; they are issues in the way that we say that sociopaths have issues in that they are the perfectly predictable, and pretty well predicted, results of predictably sociopathic decisions made by known sociopaths.)

So a lot of people who either ought to know better, or who do know better but stand to profit from pretending otherwise, are out there arguing that we need to screw the rich a tiny bit and the middle class and poor a lot to “fix” the deficit (which is fixing itself pretty nicely at the moment, plunging dramatically as a percentage of GDP, but never mind that) and that if both sides are angry, as they are about the nonexistent Simpson-Bowles “report,”  then we must be doing the right thing. The problem, of course, is that not all anger is justified, valid, moral or even sane, as Charlie Pierce reminds us:

Can we please have an honest assessment of credibility here? If billionaires are angry because they might have to chip in some boutonniere money on April 15, and a middle-class family is angry because their 82-year old grandmother with Alzheimer’s is lying in her own filth in a substandard nursing home because of Medicare “reforms,” are we honestly saying that the anger of both sides is equally justified? Has anyone even asked that question?

To the best of my knowledge, no one in the DC media has asked this question, and my friend Doug Clark at the N&R, who’s usually much more sensible, doesn’t seem to be concerned with it, and, hey, I’ve got a blog, so I thought I’d raise it here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012 7:33 pm

Tom Ricks gives Fox News a vicious left cross to the chin

Filed under: Journalism,That's gonna leave a mark — Lex @ 7:33 pm
Tags: , ,

Fox News invites Tom Ricks, who sometimes but not always errs on the side of the Establishment, on to discuss the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi Sept. 11 that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead. The interview doesn’t go quite as Fox had planned.

For the record, in addition to the contractors to whom Ricks refers, between 9/11 and the end of the Bush 43 presidency, dozens of Americans were killed in dozens of attacks on U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. And don’t even get me started on that administration’s ignoring warnings about 9/11 and stonewalling an investigation afterward.

Ricks was right: This wasn’t about four dead Americans, tragic as their deaths were. This was about an election, an election in which Fox was pushing a candidate and Fox’s candidate lost badly. If President Obama decides to nominate U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who wasn’t responsible for the consulate and whose contested original account of what happened was based on early and incomplete reports vetted for her by the U.S. intelligence community, to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, then Rice will be confirmed. And whether that ends up being a good thing or a bad thing, Roger Ailes and Fox News, for all their lies, can’t do a thing to stop it.

UPDATE: Fox claims Ricks later apologized.

UPDATE: Ricks says he didn’t apologize for jack and that Fox is, once again, lying.

 

(h/t: Mom; DougJ at Balloon Juice)

“I’ve got $3 in my wallet and it feels like a million.”

My friend and fellow blogger Billy Jones has been through a rough few years. He just had an experience most of us who are more comfortable would describe as somewhere between bad and awful. And yet, in a message to me, he calls it a small victory.

I’ll let you decide just how small.

I am not Pamela C. Marsh

… and it’s a damn good thing for some high-ranking Florida Republicans that I am not. For Pamela C. Marsh is the United States Attorney for the Northern Judicial District of Florida. And were I she, I would have begun convening a grand jury in Tallahassee this morning before my second cup of coffee:

A new Florida law that contributed to long voter lines and caused some to abandon voting altogether was intentionally designed by Florida GOP staff and consultants to inhibit Democratic voters, former GOP officials and current GOP consultants have told The Palm Beach Post.

Republican leaders said in proposing the law that it was meant to save money and fight voter fraud. But a former GOP chairman and former Gov. Charlie Crist, both of whom have been ousted from the party, now say that fraud concerns were advanced only as subterfuge for the law’s main purpose: GOP victory.

Former Republican Party of Florida Chairman Jim Greer says he attended various meetings, beginning in 2009, at which party staffers and consultants pushed for reductions in early voting days and hours.

“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.

“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”

Greer is now under indictment, accused of stealing $200,000 from the party through a phony campaign fundraising operation. He, in turn, has sued the party, saying GOP leaders knew what he was doing and voiced no objection.

“Jim Greer has been accused of criminal acts against this organization and anything he says has to be considered in that light,” says Brian Burgess, Florida GOP spokesman since September.

But Greer’s statements about the motivations for the party’s legislative efforts, implemented by a GOP-majority House and Senate in Tallahassee in 2011, are backed by Crist — also now on the outs with the party — and two veteran GOP campaign consultants.

Wayne Bertsch, who handles local and legislative races for Republicans, said he knew targeting Democrats was the goal.

“In the races I was involved in in 2008, when we started seeing the increase of turnout and the turnout operations that the Democrats were doing in early voting, it certainly sent a chill down our spines. And in 2008, it didn’t have the impact that we were afraid of. It got close, but it wasn’t the impact that they had this election cycle,” Bertsch said, referring to the fact that Democrats picked up seven legislative seats in Florida in 2012 despite the early voting limitations.

Another GOP consultant, who did not want to be named, also confirmed that influential consultants to the Republican Party of Florida were intent on beating back Democratic turnout in early voting after 2008.

In 2008 Democrats, especially African-Americans, turned out in unprecedented numbers for President Barack Obama, many of them casting ballots during 14 early voting days. In Palm Beach County, 61.2 percent of all early voting ballots were cast by Democrats that year, compared with 18.7 percent by Republicans.

(Memo to the Florida Republicans: Jim Greer might well be willing to say anything at all to keep his own butt of prison, assuming the charges against him are legitimate, which is by no means certain at this point. But your main beef with Charlie Crist seems to be that he’s not batshit enough for you. IANAL, but I think you’re gonna need more than that to impeach his testimony when you cross-examine him. And not only does Wayne Bertsch not appear to have an ax to grind, he appears to be writing off a lot of future business by coming forward.)

What would be at issue in this grand jury investigation? Well, its formal title would be Title 18, Part 1, Chapter 13, subsections 241 and 242 of the United States Code:

UNITED STATES CODE
TITLE 18 – CRIMES AND CRIMINAL PROCEDURE
PART I – CRIMES
CHAPTER 13 – CIVIL RIGHTS

§ 241. Conspiracy against rights

If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or

If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured -

They shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results, they shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life.
§ 242. Deprivation of rights under color of law

Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any inhabitant of any State, Territory, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such inhabitant being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than one year, or both; and if bodily injury results shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; and if death results shall be subject to imprisonment for any term of years or for life.

Within my lifetime, people of all races and creeds have died in the United States seeking, or trying to protect, the right to vote, and these smart-ass Republican white boys think it’s all a goddamn game. Of course, to them it is all a game. And it will stay that way until they spend a year or 10 in prison and cough up five-figure fines and six-figure legal fees.

As I’ve said before, the evidence strongly suggests that the death penalty is not a deterrent to homicide, even though the likelihood of being caught and punished is pretty high, because homicide is a crime frequently committed in the heat of the moment. But this? This is planned, rational, willful, intentional and cold-blooded. And that is exactly the kind of behavior that harsh penalties combined with the likelihood of being caught and punished will deter.

So were I Pamela C. Marsh, U.S. Attorney for the Northern Judicial District of Florida, I would not wait around for my worthless boss, Eric Holder, to get his thumbs out of his rear end and give me the OK or shoot an email to the Civil Rights Division. I’d do my job prosecuting conspiracies against civil rights in northern Florida and dare Holder, an African American, and his boss, the president, also an African American, to do anything about it. Holder might; after all, Karl Rove did something very similar and was never charged. But my guess is that once that investigation started, even Holder wouldn’t be idiotic enough to try to stop it. And the U.S. would be a tiny step farther down the still-very-long road toward the equal protection under the law that we wrote into the Constitution a century and a half ago.

Sunday, November 25, 2012 7:40 pm

Spain dances with the devil, and the newspaper El País’s CEO leads

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:40 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

If you’ve followed the European economy much, you probably know the following things:

  • Spain has been particularly hard hit by the 2008 crash and its aftermath, with official unemployment at 25% and youth unemployment at 52%.
  • Spain’s problems were almost all caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. Before that, the country was running a surplus.
  • Nonetheless, the EC (read: German bankers who don’t want their bonds to take it in the teeth) are forcing austerity measures onto Spain that are making a horrific situation worse.

And here’s something you might not know: A newspaper editor who once helped fight off a military coup against a fragile new democracy is now a newspaper CEO who has joined the rapine:

“When you look at it from here, it doesn’t seem like there’s a crisis on,” observed one of the striking El País journalists I spoke to later that evening, gesturing at Madrid’s central shopping district, lights and logos glistening in the rain. But he said it wearily – he was above the cut-off age of 50, specifically earmarked by El País chief executive Juan Luis Cebrián as too old to be needed. A week before the high profile general strike, the newspaper’s employees were on strike over the “ere,” a kind of mass lay-off with next to no severance pay that had been enabled by the new labor reforms. El País will sack 139 journalists from a workforce of 450, a plan implemented by a chief executive who, they despaired, had once been a brave, campaigning editor, using his newspaper to fight the attempted military coup in 1981 with passion and integrity, and helping to establish a new pluralistic, democratic ethos in a febrile country still feeling its way into the light after 40 years of dictatorship.

Cebrián, who takes home 13m euros a year, told his striking journalists “we can’t keep living so well.”

For those of you keeping score at home, at the current exchange rate of $1.2975 to the euro, that’s close to $17 million. So if Cebrián could satisfy himself with making a ton of money instead of a shit-ton of money, he could pay the laid-off workers an average of more than $86,300 a year and still have $5 million left over for himself.

We can’t keep living so well?

WE?

¿Quién, hijo de puta, es este de quien hablas “nosotros”? Who, you son of a bitch, is this “we” of whom you speak?

 

Saturday, November 24, 2012 5:16 pm

Health alert: generic Lipitor recall

If you take generic Lipitor (atorvastatin), STOP RIGHT NOW. The generic version has been recalled because it might have bits of ground glass in it.

Do I have your attention now? Good. More info here.

OK. As you were.

Friday, November 23, 2012 11:44 am

Your homework assignment: I haz it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 11:44 am

I realize that November, National Novel Writing Month, is almost over. Makes me no never-mind; I am not much of a fiction writer and never have been. I have been blessed to know a few, some of whom even have ventured gracefully into the literary precincts of “science fiction” (or “fantasy” or “speculative fiction” and related terms/categories) and emerged not just unharmed but enhanced, embraced and emboldened. (Yeah, Andy Duncan, I’m talkin’ ’bout you.)

But here’s the thing, and by “thing” I mean “really cool premise, which is actually happening, for a short story or novel”:

The universe is apparently well past its prime in terms of making stars, and what new ones are being made now across the cosmos will never amount to more than a few percent on top of the numbers already come and gone.

This is the rather disquieting conclusion of a new and significant study of the rate at which stars have been produced through cosmic time.

[Astrophysicist David] Sobral and colleagues recently published the results of a series of ‘snapshots’ made of galaxies busily making stars at different epochs, from about 4 billion years ago (around the time of Earth’s formation) all the way back to nearly 11 billion years ago. This is no simple task, some of the world’s largest and most sensitive telescopes had to be employed.

By observing light at very specific frequencies (corresponding to emission from warm hydrogen atoms – see the note below) they are able to gauge the actual rate at which new stars are condensing out of thick nebular material in a few thousand galactic systems. This yields some very robust statistics on the global changes in the numbers of new stars being made as the universe ages.

The main conclusions come in two parts. First, 95% of all the stars we see around us today were formed during the past 11 billion years, and about half of these were formed between roughly 11 and 8 billion years ago in a flurry of activity. But the real shocker is that the rate at which new stars are being produced in galaxies today is barely 3% of the rate back 11 billion years ago, and declining. This indicates that unless our universe finds a second wind (which is unlikely) it will only ever manage to produce about 5% more stars than exist at this very moment.

This is, quite literally, the beginning of the end.

Let’s suppose we set this work on a planet supporting intelligent life, orbiting the last known star in the universe, albeit one not believed to be going away anytime soon. Let us further suppose that interstellar travel, though by no means simple or routine, is  common enough (within certain time/space limits) that this planet has become the repository of all knowledge and creativity that has survived the death of all other stars (and their planets) in its accessible portion of the universe, if not the whole universe.

What would the personal and global conversations be about? What would the personal priorities be, and those of the body politic? Would these beings succumb to fin-du-monde anarchy, or would they conclude that when the fall is all that’s left, the fall matters? (Maybe they harbor the hope,  however remote, that they will be discovered by a previously unknown form of intelligent life that, even if it chose to make hors d’oeuvres of them, might also be interested in their work?

What lives, what dies, and what matters most in the interstices between them? And how do you render the pondering of these questions, if not the ultimate answers, in language that a reasonably sentient carbon-based life form can understand?

That’s your assignment. I’m feeling generous, so you’ve got until March 31.

Go.

 

Thursday, November 22, 2012 6:36 am

Christmas has “A Christmas Story” and Thanksgiving has “WKRP” …

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:36 am
Tags: , , , ,

… and I might be going to hell for saying this, but this scene is funnier than anything that Andy Griffith and Don Knotts EVER did.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012 6:42 pm

American IP law: Where ingenuity goes to die, RSC edition

A sensible solution to a vexing and expensive intellectual-property problem? By God, we can’t have that!

For a brief moment last week, a House Republican group that serves as an idea shop for the party was on record proposing a remarkably far-reaching reform of American copyright law. The memo (PDF), written by a young staffer named Derek Khanna, was released Friday afternoon by the Republican Study Committee and noticed by The American Conservative’s Jordan Bloom.

Khanna’s memo begins by laying out the original constitutional purpose of copyright protection and how the current legal landscape has strayed from it. It then proceeds to challenge several widely-held beliefs about copyright law, including the claims that it promotes the greatest possible levels of productivity and innovation and that it represents free market ideals at work:

[A]ccording to the Constitution, the overriding purpose of the copyright system is to “promote the progress of science and useful arts.” In today’s terminology we may say that the purpose is to lead to maximum productivity and innovation.

This is a major distinction, because most legislative discussions on this topic, particularly during the extension of the copyright term, are not premised upon what is in the public good or what will promote the most productivity and innovation, but rather what the content creators “deserve” or are “entitled to” by virtue of their creation. This lexicon is appropriate in the realm of taxation and sometimes in the realm of trade protection, but it is inappropriate in the realm of patents and copyrights. […]

Today’s legal regime of copyright law is seen by many as a form of corporate welfare that hurts innovation and hurts the consumer. It is a system that picks winners and losers, and the losers are new industries that could generate new wealth and added value. We frankly may have no idea how it actually hurts innovation, because we don’t know what isn’t able to be produced as a result of our current system.

But by Saturday afternoon the RSC had pulled the memo, citing an inadequate review process and apologizing for the “oversight.” …

The memo lists several specific examples of the damage done by copyright law: Stifling the DJ and remix markets in the United States, making the creation of public libraries — and in particular Project Gutenberg — more difficult, and penalizing legitimate investigative journalism. It concludes with suggestions for reform such as significantly shortening the length of copyright claims, expanding “fair use” doctrine, and reforming statutory damages. (Those damages can currently rise as high $150,000 per infringement.)

The email announcing the removal came from RSC executive director Paul Teller, who said the memo “was published without adequate review within the RSC.” …

However, a source “with knowledge of the RSC’s operations” told Tim Lee at Ars Technia that content industry lobbyists had brought pressure to bear on the RSC’s leadership to disavow the memo.

Among the many manifestations of genius in the United States Constitution is its provision for ““promot[ing] the progress of science and useful arts” by giving an innovator a fair early share of the benefits of his creation, but then later allowing others to build on that innovation without prohibitive legal or financial obstacles. It’s that second part that has come under attack, primarily via industry lobbying (so much so that not that long ago Greensboro’s Rep. Howard Coble’s political affiliation was being mocked in some quarters as “R-Disney,” after one of the primary offenders).

This is both bad public policy and, if you’re a Republican, bad politics. Coble sits on the Judiciary subcommittee that oversees intellectual-property law and chairs the subcommittee that oversees commercial and administrative law (as well as the courts).  Peeps in the 6th District might want to drop him a line on this subject.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012 7:31 pm

Will the presidency stand in Scott Walker’s posterity? Uh, quite possibly not.

Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all,
As the weird women promised, and I fear
Thou played’st most foully for ’t.
Banquo, “Macbeth,” Act III, Scene 1
Scott Walker won the governorship of Wisconsin, turned on some of the very working people who helped get him elected, and then, when they turned on him in kind, fended them off in a recall election whose outcome was narrow but clear.
Now Scott Walker is being talked about among the GOP White House contenders for 2016. And why not? He won an election and a recall, he’s enough of a hippie-puncher to satisfy all but the most rabid of the right-wing nutjobs, and unlike, say, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, if you Google him, you might immediately find offensive things, depending on your political persuasion, but not outright ridiculous things.
But just as Macbeth reached the throne of Scotland by climbing over the corpses he’d killed, Walker — who, even if nothing else goes wrong, still would face a tough fight for the GOP nomination with the White House open — may yet be shown to have played almost as foully, by 21st-century standards, as Macbeth did a millennium ago in Shakespeare’s play.
Consider:

Gov. Scott Walker and his top campaign and Milwaukee County aides were named Monday as part of a team that routinely commingled political and official county business.

The disclosures came during the sentencing of a former aide to Walker during his last year as Milwaukee County executive. Kelly M. Rindfleisch, 44, was sentenced by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge David Hansher to six months in jail and three years of probation on a single felony count of misconduct in office. The judge stayed the sentence pending Rindfleisch’s appeal to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court.

In a lengthy presentation during Rindfleisch’s sentencing, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf displayed numerous emails between Rindfleisch and key members of Walker’s campaign staff in which they discussed how to manage county government in 2010, while Walker was a candidate for governor.

Repeatedly, Landgraf argued that Rindfleisch knowingly broke the law by doing campaign work at the courthouse. In a new development, the prosecutor made clear – without saying it was illegal – that top Walker campaign officials influenced, even directed, county strategy.

“You guys are in the driver’s seat,” Rindfleisch wrote in one message to Keith Gilkes, Walker’s then-campaign chief of staff.

At another point, Rindfleisch said in an email regarding an effort by the campaign to plant stories about problems at the state Mendota Mental Health Institute: “This needs to be done covertly so it’s not tied to Scott or the campaign in any way.”

Landgraf said “The Campaign Group” included Walker, Gilkes, campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader and campaign adviser R.J. Johnson. It also included several top county aides to Walker: Cindy Archer, who was county administration director; county chief of staff Tom Nardelli; spokeswoman Fran McLaughlin; housing director Timothy Russell; and Rindfleisch.

Rindfleisch served as Walker’s policy adviser and later his deputy chief of staff at the county.

Five members of the group spoke by phone daily at 8 a.m. to make sure the county executive’s office was “in sync” with the “image” the campaign was advancing of Walker in his Republican race for governor against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, according to an email Landgraf presented in court …

A bit of background for you non-cheeseheads: Wisconsin has a long history of what political wonks call “good government,” a term of art and culture dating to the early 20th-century Progressive movement  that means not just that the roads get paved but also that conflicts of interest and corruption are just not done. By any party. And part and parcel of that culture is that governing — paving the roads, running the firehouses, building the schools — and campaigning are kept separate, not only by custom but also by criminal law.

Before being elected governor, Walker was the Milwaukee County executive and Kelly Reindfleisch was an aide to him in that job. Officially she worked for the taxpayers of Milwaukee County alone. In real life, she was coordinating between Milwaukee County government staff and Walker’s gubernatorial campaign staff, and barring a win on appeal, she’s going to prison for six months for it. Not only that, members of Walker’s campaign team, Reindfleisch’s prosecutor said in court, were dictating county government policy, apparently in an effort to benefit Walker’s campaign.

Reindflesch isn’t the first former Walker aide to be headed to the hoosegow. One former aide, Kevin Kavanaugh, is headed to prison for stealing $51,000 from a veterans’ service organization, for crying out loud. Although Walker himself was not implicated in that case (at least so far as I can tell), the so-called John Doe (whistleblower) grand jury investigation that grew from it has expanded into issues, including Reindflesch’s role, that do threaten Walker.

And it ain’t over, Esquire’s Charlie Pierce notes:

It is that most dangerous of all grand-jury investigations — patient, thorough, and damned near leakproof. (I was in Milwaukee last week and, while there was some chatter downtown about something big breaking in the case, nobody really knew what it was.) This case has been built slowly and methodically, and it is beginning to produce results in the way the most dangerous grand juries do – a little at a time, in a fashion whereby people higher up the food chain first become collateral damage in other cases, and then wind up in hip-deep in the fudge themselves.

Rindfleisch was the first real domino to drop. She widely was believed to be the liaison between Walker’s campaign staff and the members of his campaign team, who were not supposed to be in contact at all. (This kind of thing may seem penny-ante to people in Louisiana …  but Wisconsin takes good-government principles very seriously, having invented most of them. The penalties for breaking those statutes are relatively draconian.) The e-mails presented by the prosecutors at her sentencing make her function pretty clear. …

This is not going to come to a quick and easy end. Rindfleisch is the fourth person to be convicted in connection with Walker’s days as Milwaukee county commissioner. … It’s plain at this point that the office was a snake pit of quasi-legal chicanery, and fully illegal machinations. The investigation continues, still thorough, still patient, still silent. Some day in the future, Scott Walker is going to wake up and wish very much that he were back in New Hampshire, listening to the cheers of strangers.

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” villainous as he was, was fictional. But Walker is a real-life character, and in real life it’s beginning to look as though he may never make that trip to New Hampshire to hear the cheers of strangers, let alone climb Dunsinane Hill to the White House. Instead, Birnam Wood may be trudging, slowly and methodically, patient and silent, toward Madison, the camouflaging branches of a secret grand jury investigation concealing certain doom.

Monday, November 19, 2012 6:15 am

Freedom came from Uranus; or, Eastern D-Day

Berkeley economist and World War II student J. Bradford DeLong:

And so, 70 years ago [today], the million-soldier reserve of the Red Army was transferred to General Nikolai Vatutin’s Southwestern Front, Marshal Konstantin Rokossovsky’s Don Front, and Marshal Andrei Yeremenko’s Stalingrad Front. They went on to spring the trap of Operation Uranus, the code name for the planned encirclement and annihilation of the German Sixth Army and Fourth Panzer Army. They would fight, die, win, and thus destroy the Nazi hope of dominating Eurasia for even one more year – let alone of establishing Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich.

Together, these 1.2 million Red Army soldiers, the workers who armed them, and the peasants who fed them turned the Battle of Stalingrad into the fight that, of any battle in human history, has made the greatest positive difference for humanity.

The Allies probably would have eventually won World War II even had the Nazis conquered Stalingrad, redistributed their spearhead forces as mobile reserves, repelled the Red Army’s subsequent winter 1942 offensive, and seized the Caucasus oil fields, thus depriving the Red Army of 90% of its motor fuel. But any Allied victory would have required the large-scale use of nuclear weapons, and a death toll in Europe that would most likely have been twice the actual World War II death toll of perhaps 40 million.

May there never be another such battle. May we never need another one.

The battle had been engaged a month previously, when 200,000 Red Army soldiers crossed the Volga River at Stalingrad under heavy artillery and aircraft attack (a scene rendered quite faithfully in the movie “Enemy at the Gate”) and met the Wehrmacht head-on. Of those initial 200,000, more than 80 percent died. (In fact, of the roughly 40 million who died in the European theater during World War II, 20 million were Soviet. For comparison, perhaps 450,000 U.S. service members were killed in action in all theaters in the entire war.) The fighting wasn’t just house-to-house, it was room-to-room, with houses and rooms frequently changing hands multiple times. One Soviet regimental commander, finding his unit surrounded by the Germans, fought until his unit ran out of ammunition, then called in artillery fire on his own position.

From the standpoint of today, knowing as we do what transpired in the Soviet Union under 70 years of Communist rule and knowing as we do (thanks in part to my sister-in-law) what transpired on the Eastern Front during World War II, it is easy to say there were no good guys. But much of the good we and millions of other people on every continent of the world enjoy today was made possible by some of the bad guys at Stalingrad. Such are the ironies of history.

Sunday, November 18, 2012 9:24 pm

A short explanation of why Samuel Alito is too farking stupid to be on the Supreme Court

He doesn’t understand the difference between creating speech and buying an audience:

Alito said the real issue is whether free speech rights “should be limited to certain preferred corporations, namely those media organizations.” And with the proliferation of the Internet and social media, the line is getting more blurry between individuals and media, he said.

Give Sam credit: No conservative has ever gone broke bashing the media, particularly in front of audiences like the Federalist Society. Nonetheless, I’ll try to help Sam out here.

My local newspaper or USA Today or the Huffington Post or whoever does not have a monopoly on free-speech rights. Nowhere in this dimension are free speeech rights “limited to certain preferred corporations, namely those media organizations.” Any corporation except for certain tax-exempt ones can create a website, buy or rent hosting, and endorse or attack any candidate it chooses, just as media organizations do. (And if the tax-exempt corporations decide they want to, then they should just give up their tax exemptions and go buck-wild. Yeah, Roman Catholic church, I’m looking at you.)

What Alito’s vote in the Citizens United case made it possible for corporations to do, and what “media organizations” as he defined them do NOT do, is to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the creation and dissemination of advertising for or against candidates. (It also made it possible for corporations to try to tell their employees how to vote; fortunately, most Americans still don’t negotiate with terrorists.) That’s a pretty simple and very obvious distinction, not to mention a clear and present danger to continuing our form of representative government.

OK, I take it back. Maybe Alito isn’t stupid. Maybe he just thinks you and I are.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012 7:12 pm

Also, if you don’t want to repeat after me, kids, repeat after economist Dean Baker: The deficit problem is not an entitlements problem.

Listen to the man before you go giving away your — and my — Social Security and Medicare:

The gang for gutting Social Security and Medicare (aka “The Campaign to Fix the Debt”) are running in high gear. During the long election campaign they gathered dollars, corporate CEOs and washed up politicians for a full-fledged push in the final months of the year. They are hoping that the hype around the budget standoff (aka “fiscal cliff”) can be used for a grand bargain that eviscerates the country’s two most important social programs, Social Security and Medicare.

They made a point of keeping this plan out of election year politics because they know it is a huge loser with the electorate. People across the political and ideological spectrums strongly support these programs and are opposed to cuts. Politicians who advocated cuts would have been likely losers on Election Day. But now that the voters are out of the way, the Wall Street gang and the CEOs see their opportunity.

It is especially important that they act now, because one of the pillars of their deficit horror story could be collapsing. Due to a sharp slowing in the rise of health care costs over the last four years, the assumption that exploding health care costs would lead to unfathomable deficits may no longer be plausible even to people in high level policy positions.

As we all know, the large budget deficits of the last four years are entirely due to the economic downturn caused by the collapse of the housing bubble. The budget deficit was slightly over 1.0 percent of GDP in 2007 and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projections showed it remaining low for the near-term future. The origin of the large deficits of the last few years is not a debatable point among serious people, even though talk of “trillion dollar deficits, with a ‘t’” is very good for scaring the children.

However, the big stick for the deficit hawks was their story of huge deficits in the longer term. They attributed these to the rising cost of “entitlements,” which are known to the rest of us as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

While they like to push the notion that the aging of the population threatened to impose an unbearable burden on future generations, the reality is that most of the horror story of huge deficits was driven by projections of exploding private sector health care costs. Since Medicare and Medicaid mostly pay for private sector health care, an explosion in private sector health care costs would eventually make these programs unaffordable.

As some of us have long pointedout, there are serious grounds for questioning the plausibility of projections that the health care sector would rise to 30 or 40 percent of GDP over the rest of the century. Recently a paper from the Federal Reserve Boarddocumented this argument in considerable detail.

Even more important than the professional argument over health care cost projections is the recent trend in health care costs. While the CBO projections assume that age-adjusted health care costs rise considerably more rapidly than per capita income, in the last four years they have been roughly keeping pace with per capita income.

In fact, in the last year nominal spending on health care services, the sector that comprises almost two-thirds of health care costs, rose by just 1.7 percent. This is far below the rate of nominal GDP growth over this period, which was more than 4.0 percent. While at least some of this slowing in health care costs is undoubtedly due to the downturn, it is hard to believe that it is not at least partially attributable to a slower underlying rate of health care cost growth.

CBO and other budget forecasters can ignore economic reality for a period of time (they ignored the housing bubble until after its collapse wrecked the economy), but if it continues, at some point they will have to incorporate the trend of slower health care cost growth into their projections. When this happens, the really scary long-term deficit numbers will disappear.

A projection that assumes that health care costs will only rise as a result of the aging of the population, and otherwise move in step with per capita income, will lop tens of trillions of dollars off the most commonly cited long-term deficit projections. It would cost some deficit hawks, like National Public Radio, more than $100 trillion of their long-term deficit story. This would be a real disaster for the deficit hawk industry.

This is why the Campaign to Fix the Debt and the rest of the deficit hawk industry will be operating at full speed at least until a budget deal is reached over the current impasse. If CBO adjusts its long-term health care cost projections downward then their whole rationale for gutting Social Security and Medicare will disappear. Now that is really a crisis.

And in light of today’s horrid front-page News & Record article on the so-called fiscal cliff, here’s a question for Greensboro peeps: Would it really be too much trouble to get Jeff Gauger and his crew at the N&R to introduce some fact-based economic coverage? The voters last week seemed to indicate a taste for that kind of thing.

OK, if you don’t want to repeat after me, kids, repeat after Kevin Drum: There. Is. No. Fiscal. Cliff.

The former Calpundit and Political Animal econowonk, now with Mother Jones, explains it all for you:

Which part has the worst effect: the spending cuts or the tax increases?

That’s tricky! CBO estimates that the effect per dollar is greater for spending cuts than tax increases: roughly a dollar of GDP for every dollar of spending cuts versus about half a dollar of GDP per dollar of tax increases.

However, the absolute size of the tax increases is much larger than the absolute size of the spending cuts. Overall, CBO estimates that the spending cuts will reduce GDP by about 0.8 percentage points; the end of the payroll tax holiday will reduce GDP about 0.7 percent; and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will reduce GDP by 1.4 percentage points.

But wait a second. There are two parts to the Bush tax cuts: the middle-class cuts and the cuts for the rich.

Right. And here’s the thing: CBO figures that letting the middle-class tax cuts expire would shrink GDP about 1.3 percentage points.

But that’s almost the entire effect of letting the Bush tax cuts expire.

Right. And everyone agrees we should extend the middle-class tax cuts. So if we did that, but let the tax cuts on the rich expire, it would have virtually no impact on growth.

So that would make a ton of sense. Are we going to do that?

Good question! Republicans are dead set against it, so it’s going to be a big fight.

What about the payroll tax holiday?

Everyone seems willing to let that end, so that’s not really very controversial.

Why is that? It has a pretty big effect.

Beats me. It would make a lot more sense to extend the payroll tax holiday than to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich, but Republicans are opposed to the tax holiday and Democrats have already caved in on this. Mostly it’s because they’re worried that extending it would set a precedent for keeping payroll taxes lower forever, and that would hurt Social Security’s finances.

Conversely, Republicans care a lot about tax cuts for the rich. At the moment, they claim they’ll kill any deal to avoid the fiscal cliff unless they get to keep them.

Are they serious?

Yep.

There’s more, but that’s the gist. Having just been told by voters not to blow up the economy any more, the GOP is dead set on doing and the Dems are less than fully dead set on stopping them. Sigh.

There is some good news, though. President Obama has been asking the Republicans for $1.6 trillion over 10 years in tax increases ever since the Great Debt Ceiling Joke of 2011. He campaigned for a year on that very proposal. And on Nov. 6, he won by a — what’s that word, again? Oh, yeah, landslide. So, Mitch the Turtle and the Weeping Cheeto can just take that.

Oh, and Kevin also says, for the love of God, stop talking about raising the retirement age.

Monday, November 12, 2012 7:21 pm

Repeat after me, kids: There. Is. No. Fiscal. Cliff.

The Washington Post continues to lie, and economist Dean Baker, bless him, continues to call them out on it. Logic having failed, he now turns to mockery:

The Washington Post is throwing all journalistic norms aside in its drive to cut Social Security and Medicare. It continues to hype the budget standoff as an ominous “fiscal cliff” and tells readers on the front page of its web site that it could provide a “magic moment” in which Social Security and Medicare can be cut. The piece begins by telling readers:

“Two years ago this month, the leaders of a presidential commission rolled out a startling plan to dig the nation out of debt. After decades of stagnating incomes, they said, Washington must tell people to work longer, pay higher taxes and expect less in retirement.”

Okay I tricked you, this is the Washington Post which doesn’t acknowledge economic realities like stagnating income. The piece actually began:

“Two years ago this month, the leaders of a presidential commission rolled out a startling plan to dig the nation out of debt. After decades of profligacy, they said, Washington must tell people to work longer, pay higher taxes and expect less in retirement (emphasis added).”

This departure from reality gives you the gist of the story. The piece continues:

“Lawmakers recoiled from the blunt prescriptions of Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan K. Simpson. But their plan has since been heralded by both parties as a model of clear-eyed sacrifice, and policymakers say the moment has come to live up to its promise.”

Well, yes people have praised their plan. They have also ridiculed it. For example it proposes immediate cuts in Social Security benefits that would be a larger share of the income of the typical beneficiary than President Obama’s proposed tax increases on the top 2 percent would be for most of the affected taxpayers. It also proposes increasing the age for Medicare eligibility, even though this would add tens of billions to the country’s health care costs over the next decade. And, it proposed a minimum Social Security benefit for low wage earners that few low wage earners would actually qualify for due to the number of working years required to qualify.

You  know what the worst thing will be to happen immediately if we don’t have a new deal by Jan. 1? Very rich people will start having to pay a little more in income taxes. Quelle horror.

Also, everyone just needs to shut up about Erskine Bowles being some kind of selfless patriot and/or competent leader. As White House chief of staff, he made Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky possible (not that Clinton wasn’t a Grade A horndog, but you don’t give people like that lots of free time if you expect them to lead the nation without embarrassment). The guy’s an investment banker. He personally will profit a great deal from any kind of austerity deal, as will the investment bank on whose board he sits. Also? Obama is expected to get 60 votes in the Senate to get anything done, a situation the Framers never intended, and Bowles couldn’t even get 14 votes for his own plan from a committee that was named after him. I think that tells you just about all you need to know.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 5:08 am

Heroes

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 5:08 am
Tags:

It’s Veteran’s Day, and I’m outsourcing my comment for today to Ginmar, who is a veteran and a hero and who has some deep insight into the nature of heroism:

The military is a creature of the most extreme factors one can find. In peacetime, it offers discipline and training. In war, it offers bravery. Always, it offers its service, and it is eternally at the mercy of those with the power to mobilize its forces. There’s bad, good, shining gallantry, and horrible evil in the military, all at once. The best seems impossible to believe; the worst shocks the conscience. In the military, we must confront the simple fact that they are us, that they are who we are at our best and worst, and that great good and great evil often exist in one person. Their evils spring from the seeds our society planted in their souls, and their achievements are a reflection of what we would aspire to do and to become.

People are basically good. Some people are not content without something more, though. Some people wish to serve. They want to cast away the cares of their own daily drama and petty concerns, assume the camouflage not just of uniformity but of duty and discipline, and become an actor in larger, greater things. They hunger for the ability to become greater, not for themselves, but for the good of all.

The military has been used wrongly and savagely, but the very strength it gives its soldiers produces the kind of heroism that does not depend on bullets: Hugh Thompson , Glenn Andreotta, and Lawrence Colburn fought not just against the enemy on the other side, but against the worst foe of all; they opposed their own, and they were outnumbered. Many civilians never attain that courage; wrongs go unchecked daily where only words are involved, and soldiers like Thompson and his crew faced evenly-matched opponents in their actions. The unarmed peasants he and his crew saved represented were no risk to he or his crew. In saving them, he, to my mind, achieved one of the greatest acts of heroism the military of any country has seen. He rejected the unlawful order that had set US soldiers against innocent civilians. There was no fog of war for Thompson, and sadly, there was not nearly enough recognition either. We want our heroes to be pure, shiny, clean, and untouched by reminders of what we ourselves are capable of, both good and bad. We want the enemy to be alien, remote, non-human, but in seeking that comfort we dehumanize not just them but ourselves and make more wars and conflicts inevitable.

People forget that soldiers formed the backbone of the resistance to the Viet Nam war. They were forced to serve and they were forced to obey. Who better to speak of an unjust war than those who fought in it, often unwillingly? There was a wide anti-war movement within the active duty military that many people don’t know anything about. People forget that, perhaps deliberately. The desire to simplify the enemy finds its twin in the same desire to simplify our heroes. Pure gallantry—-such a good word—-as Thompson’s often takes years to be appreciated. It’s also a reminder of just how much good one person—or in this case, three honest, and honorable people—-can do. Evil is weak at the same time it is powerful, but it’s power is negative. Evil is destructive. It builds no hospitals, treats no sick, shelters no homeless. In the aftermath, good is hard work and sweat and unglamourous labor. When people recognize only battlefield heroism, as worthy as it is, they also bury moral heroism. They also make heroism look clean and pure and pretty. If you go in believing that, the reality of it can be horribly shocking.

You can always recognize that kind of heroism by its quietness. It serves, it works, it speaks quietly, it rebuilds, it heals, it soothes, it refuses to stand down. It is attainable not by special training or extraordinary acts, but by every day people. The weakest of children can be a greater hero than the strongest of soldiers. It is based on the premise that when one sees something horrible, one cannot then turn away. One is now responsible to act. Legally, that is not the standard, but morally, it is. To be aware is to be responsible. This is why so many people seek out lies and embrace them.

Most of all, true courage does not result in acclaim and medals and ceremonies. Often, it is punished. People can simultaneously desire to know themselves, and yet at the same time, flinch from it. The military requires that first of all, one must take that long deep look into one’s soul and see if what is there can and is worthy of being changed and molded. Often time, there is no external enemy that poses more of a challenge than one’s own weakness. The military confronts weakness and forges it into strength. People who claim or coyly hint at heroic virtues maintained by deprivation rather than challenge and effort don’t impress me. Only the tempted know what temptation is. For every person who felt the freeze of terror and yet still did the right thing, for every person who felt the burn of physical injury and still got up and kept going, for every person who did a kindness and then walked quietly away without praise or recognition, the only recognition is often the brief sensation of having helped another selflessly.

Want to honor our veterans today? Go be a hero for someone.

Want to honor our veterans every day? Go be a hero for someone.

 

 

Saturday, November 10, 2012 1:33 pm

The utter failure* of Occupy Wall Street

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 1:33 pm

*If, by “failure,” you mean the complete conversion of our national dialogue.

Charlie Pierce, FTW:

Occupy changed the national dialogue. Willard Romney’s surreptitiously taped comments about “the 47 percent” would not have had the resonance they did had the Occupy movement not gotten the country talking about the 99 percent and the one percent. It created a new rhetorical paradigm that simply would not have been there had it not been originally shouted at the correct buildings. And it was that new paradigm that triumphed Tuesday night.

In Massachusetts, Scott Brown thought highlighting Elizabeth Warren’s links to Occupy was a kill shot. Scott Brown is now a lame duck. In Wisconsin, the movement that arose against Governor Scott Walker’s union-bashing, which was no more distant than a first-cousin to Occupy, undoubtedly was the ongoing energy behind the candidacy of Tammy Baldwin who, among her other progressive bona fides, voted against the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, the Clinton-era blunder that made the whole Wall Street crisis inevitable. Tammy Baldwin is now a senator-elect. In Ohio, the movement that arose against local union-bashing — and that was no more distant than a first-cousin to Occupy, and which was fueled by a revival of trade-union power that was fired by the success of the auto bailout — undoubtedly was pivotal not only to re-electing Sherrod Brown to the Senate, but also to delivering Ohio into the president’s column. Occupy completely routed, at all levels of the national campaign, the economic balderdash spouted by the Tea Party and its billionaire sugar daddies. For a movement that allegedly had “no concrete goals,” those are some pretty concrete results right there.

 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012 7:49 pm

I don’t usually gloat …

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 7:49 pm
Tags: , , , ,

… but sometimes the levels of Stoopid demonstrated by people who REALLY OUGHT TO KNOW BETTER are just so off the charts that mockery is the only sane response.

Exhibit A: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you former “Saturday Night Live” cast member and current irrelevance Victoria Jackson, whose behavior in recent years has been so off the charts that I even briefly suspected that it was the most sophisticated satire in history …

… joined by another fictional irrelevance, Star Wars’ Emperor Palpatine:

But wait! You say that’s not enough Republican butthurt? You say you want MORE?? Well, let Salon.com oblige you with “The 20 Biggest Sore Losers” from last night. And if you’re a real glutton for conservative punishment, you can always don hazmat gear and go wading through the miasma of FreeRepublic.com. (No, I ain’t linking there.)

One other thing: I’m seeing some cautionary communications from conservatives suggesting that Obama has no mandate to do anything. Hmm, well, let’s see. George Bush electoral votes, 2000: 271. George Bush electoral votes 2004: 286. Obama, 2012: 332.

I’d say that at the very least, Obama has a mandate to ignore the wingnut right’s bullshit, press an agenda of jobs, infrastructure investment (including global warming and related environmental issues) and health-care reform, and unleash hell on the obstructionists. That doesn’t come anywhere near the “shred the Constitution” mandate upon which Bush the Lesser embarked in his first term, but, gosh, Obama only got 16% more electoral votes. Inasmuch as he’s black and all, he’d’ve needed at least 600 electoral votes to claim that kind of mandate.

No consequences

Some of the biggest names of political punditry spent the days leading up to yesterday predicting not just a Romney win, but a Romney landslide. Now they’re hoping you’ll forget that so that they can keep their overpaid sinecures (or, as they were called in “Blazing Saddles,” their phony-baloney jobs). But even though I seldom make predictions (more on which in a minute), I knew these people were full of crap, and I wanted to memorialize their fecal fullness so that perhaps voters, if not current and potential future employers, would have some idea just how seriously to take not only their powers of prognistication, which can fail anyone at any tmie, but also their grip on current reality, which, for most people, can be allowed little or no down time without serious consequences.

Fortunately, The Blaze has compiled a handy list of some of our most prominent prognosticators and their predictions:

  • CNBC Anchor Larry Kudlow: ” ”I am now predicting a 330 vote electoral landslide.”
  • MSNBC host Joe Scarborough: “But my gut tells me there are two likely scenarios: (1) President Obama will squeak out a narrow Electoral College victory or (2) Mitt Romney will carry Ohio and be swept into office by a comfortable margin. After practicing politics for 20 years, I suppose I would rather be in Mitt Romney’s shoes than Barack Obama’s. Incumbents who are under 50 percent two weeks out usually go down to defeat.”
  • Addled GOP whore Karl Rove: ““In addition to the data, the anecdotal and intangible evidence–from crowd sizes to each side’s closing arguments–give the sense that the odds favor Mr. Romney. They do. My prediction: Sometime after the cock crows on the morning of Nov. 7, Mitt Romney will be declared America’s 45th president. Let’s call it 51%-48%, with Mr. Romney carrying at least 279 Electoral College votes, probably more.”
  • Addled Washington Post whore George Will: “George Will outlined a huge Romney Election Day in an interview on ABC’s ‘This Week,’ predicting a 321-217 landslide that included nearly every swing state including Minnesota.”
  • Toe-sucking whore (or sucker of whores’ toes; I can never keep that straight) and Faux News contributor Dick Morris: “Reasonable voters saw that the voice of hope and optimism and positivism was Romney while the president was only a nitpicking, quarrelsome, negative figure. The contrast does not work in Obama’s favor. His erosion began shortly after the conventions when Indiana (10 votes) and North Carolina (15) moved to Romney (in addition to the 179 votes that states that McCain carried cast this year). Then, in October, Obama lost the Southern swing states of Florida (29) and Virginia (13). He also lost Colorado (10), bringing his total to 255 votes.And now, he faces the erosion of the northern swing states: Ohio (18), New Hampshire (4) and Iowa (6). Only in the union-anchored state of Nevada (9) does Obama still cling to a lead. In the next few days, the battle will move to Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (15), Wisconsin (10) and Minnesota (16). Ahead in Pennsylvania, tied in Michigan and Wisconsin, and slightly behind in Minnesota, these new swing states look to be the battleground. … The most likely outcome [in the Senate]? Eight GOP takeaways and two giveaways for a net gain of six. A 53-47 Senate, just like we have now, only opposite. Barack Obama’s parting gift to the Democratic Party.”
  • Washington Examiner and Almanac of American Politics editor Michael Barone — the one guy among these clowns, in other words, who is even reputed to do actual reporting: “Bottom line: Romney 315, Obama 223. That sounds high for Romney. But he could drop Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and still win the election. Fundamentals.”

Keep in mind, please, that the only reason these people have jobs is that they are supposed to know something about this stuff. (Not that I want their jobs, but I did better than all of them.) But the emperors have no clothes; their bare bums glistened this morning in the (here in Greensboro, anyway) bright autumn sun. They. Don’t. Know. Shit.

But you know who did? Nate Silver. The numbers guy. The nerd. The reporter. (He correctly called the Tea Party surge in 2010, too, in case you think he’s just a partisan who got lucky.) He stuck to his numbers even on his Twitter feed; this appears to have been the closest he ever came to gloating:

Note the time: 9:29 p.m. Eastern last night. Polls in a lot of states hadn’t even closed yet. And what had Nate done to that point? Only correctly predicted 30 states out of 30 that had been called to that point. More specifically, he had correctly predicted them in June.

Credit where due: Dean Chambers, the guy who ran the “Unskewed Polls” site, which a lot of Republicans were using before the election to try to convince themselves and others that Nate Silver’s poll sampling was overly weighted toward Democrats, told Business Insider today, “Nate Silver was right and I was wrong.” Not only that, he also called some other conservative pollsters out by name, particularly Scott Rasmussen, saying, “He has lost a lot of credibility as far as I’m concerned.”

UPDATE: Earlier today, Sarah, Proud and Tall at Balloon Juice had the following to say about the foregoing hacks:

In a fair and just society, political pundits who got things this [expletive] wrong would never be listened to again. When their names were mentioned, people would mutter embarrassedly and try to change the subject. If they ever tried again to appear on television or write a column about politics, people would point and laugh at their cluelessness until stuff came out their noses. Children would throw turds at them in the street and pin “Kick Me” signs to their backs. The sheer shame engendered by their own stupidity would trap them at home forever, dressed in the tattered rags of their reputations, wearing only one shoe and constantly revisiting the rotted ruins of a table laid with celebratory cake and Romney/Ryan How to Vote cards.

Upon reflection, and upon reminding myself that both of Obama’s victories have had as much to do with America’s evolving demographics as anything else, I’m inclined to go a little less harshly on these folks than is Sarah, but only for this reason: Sarah seems to think that the point of political pundits is to get things right. After a night and day of reflection, I’ve come to a slightly different conclusion, which is that their point isn’t to get things right, it’s to provide entertainment and psychological sustenance for the aging, dying cohort that is the Fox/GOP base right now. It’s about telling an audience what they want to hear, not what they need to know. And among the corporate entities that employ the above-named miscreants, Fox, at least, hasn’t always been completely dishonest about what it was trying to do.

‘NOTHER UPDATE: Besides Silver, two other people nailed this year’s EV count, although I don’t know as much about their methods as I do Silver’s (and I don’t know all that much about Silver’s except that it doesn’t involve his gut): Democratic strategist Chris Lehane and Josh Putnam, who professes political science at my alma mater, Davidson. (h/t commenter Scott Denham.) It’s worth clicking through to that chart and noting that of the prognosticators with a political affiliation, only one Democrat, CNBC’s Jim Cramer, scored worse than the best-scoring GOP pundit, Ross Douthat of the New York Times. Douthat predicted a 271-267 Obama victory and was the only one on his side to predict an Obama win at all.

I wouldn’t take financial advice from Cramer, either.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 6:30 am

Go annoy someone today

The polls are open, so if you haven’t already, go vote. It annoys the bastards.

Monday, November 5, 2012 10:38 pm

Summing up

Outsourced to Pierce:

It is vitally important that the Republican party be kept away from as much power as possible until the party regains its senses again. It is not just important to the advance of progressive goals, though it is. It is not just important to maintain the modicum of social justice that it has taken eighty years to build into the institutions of our government, though it is. It is important, too, that that you vote for one of these men based on whom else, exactly, he owes. Who is it that’s going to come with the fiddler to collect when you get what you’ve bargained for?

Barack Obama owes more than I’d like him to owe to the Wall Street crowd. He probably at this point owes a little more than I’d like him to owe to the military. The rest he owes to the millions of people who elected him in 2008 — especially to those people whose enthusiasm I neither shared nor really understood — and he will owe them even more if they come out and pull his chestnuts out of the fire for him this time around. He may sell them out — and, yes, I understand if you wanted to add “again” to that statement — but they are not likely to revenge themselves against the country if he does and, even if they decided to, they don’t have the power to do much but yell at the right buildings.

On the other hand, Willard Romney owes even more to the Wall Street crowd, and he owes even more to the military, but he also owes everything he is politically to the snake-handlers and the Bible-bangers, to the Creationist morons and to the people who stalk doctors and glue their heads to the clinic doors, to the reckless plutocrats and to the vote-suppressors, to the Randian fantasts and libertarian fakers, to the closeted and not-so-closeted racists who have been so empowered by the party that has given them a home, to the enemies of science and to the enemies of reason, to the devil’s bargain of obvious tactical deceit and to the devil’s honoraria of dark, anonymous money, and, ultimately, to those shadowy places in himself wherein Romney sold out who he might actually be to his overweening ambition. It is a fearsome bill to come due for any man, let alone one as mendaciously malleable as the Republican nominee. Obama owes the disgruntled. Romney owes the crazy. And that makes all the difference.

I expect Pat McCrory to be elected governor tomorrow and for his coattails to bring this state’s electoral votes back into the red column. And I expect McCrory to spend the next four years signing every damn-fool piece of lunacy the teabaggers in the General Assembly send his way, because that’s the GOP base in this state now, and McCrory has ambitions. And the damage from this dynamic will be significant. Make no mistake. If we’re not careful, by 2016 we’ll be well on the way to making Mississippi look good.

But, if honest ballots are counted honestly, Barack Obama will win re-election with a minimum of 300 electoral votes. And given issues ranging from Iran to global warming, that might be the difference between life and death, both here and abroad, to millions of people. Me? I’ve already voted. I am disgruntled, very much so. But I am not crazy.

A final word to my friends in deep-blue states who aren’t totally happy with Obama’s record and are thinking about casting a protest vote for Jill Stein or Roger Rabbit or whomever: I hear you. But know this: Those crazy folks I mentioned above intend, if Obama wins the electoral vote but not the popular vote, to claim that Obama is not a “legitimate” president. They will go through every hare-brained legal exercise they can find to try to prevent him from returning to the White House, and there are at least four Supreme Court justices who will nod and smile at any damn-fool argument these crazy people try to make. Yes, yes, George Bush lost the popular vote in 2000.  But expecting logical consistency from crazy people, although not necessarily crazy itself, is a fool’s errand. Let’s just erase this contingency by giving Obama a popular-vote margin not even well-organized, well-funded crazy people can steal.

Quote of the day, wingnut invective edition

Today’s quote of the day comes from Athenae, who, as do I, has a little experience with having her intelligence, patriotism and sexuality questioned by people who are dumber than a box of rocks, would sell nukes to al-Qaeda if the price were right and would screw a snake if they could get someone to hold its head and, as do I, has lost all patience with professional journalists who see this invective as a reason not to report, you know, facts:

“There are worse things than a bunch of wingnuts calling you an asshole. I know they’re annoying and I know they’re loud right now, but if all it takes is loud and annoying to make editors and news directors do what you want them to do why hasn’t Matt Lauer been fired and forced to stand in Times Square covered in bees?”

Quote of the Day, One Week After Sandy Edition

“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

– Theoretical physicist Richard Feynman, a member of the commission that investigated the cause of the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, in his appendix to the commission report.

Saturday, November 3, 2012 7:43 pm

Memo to Mitt and the GOP

I honestly don’t know who’s going to win the presidential election on Tuesday. The New York Times’s much-praised and much maligned Nate Silver gives Obama something like an 80 percent chance, but as Silver himself will tell you, that’s probability only and the other  20 percent — i.e., Romney’s chances — is not trivial.

But I think that the Republicans think they know who’s going to win on Tuesday, and they’re acting like they’re pretty sure it’s not their guy. Consider:

  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott — who, in a nation governed by the rule of law, would have gone to prison for defrauding the government during his previous life as CEO of a for-profit health concern — has tried as hard as he can to limit and harass early voting in Florida. I’m sure the fact that early voters there — as in most of the rest of the country — are predominantly Democratic has nothing to do with it.
  • Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, who already has gotten in trouble with the federal courts over his messing around with voting, has imposed new rules that essentially require the voter to act as his own elections official or else his vote won’t count. Voting rights activists sued last name night, claiming that Husted’s action violates a previous court order, statements by Husted’s own attorneys and Ohio state law as well. Were I the judge in the previous case, I’d have had his ass in jail on a 6-month contempt-of-court sentence before the sun set today, because this is exactly the kind of behavior that contempt-of-court citations — and impeachments — were created to address.

And that’s just government. Here in the Republican-exalted private sector, things are even peachier for representative democracy:

WASHINGTON — The Mitt Romney campaign and its business allies are driving home a final message unlike one we’ve seen in past presidential campaigns: Vote Romney, or you’re fired.

The pressure on workers in swing states to toe the GOP line hasn’t been restricted to any particular industry. Corporate apparel makers in Ohio, truck stop attendants in Ohio and Virginia, casino employees in Nevada, construction workers in Florida, gift-card purveyors in Colorado and Florida, car-parts makers in Michigan, software technicians in Florida and Colorado, coal miners in Ohio, dock manufacturers in Wisconsin, frozen-food packers in Michigan, resort staff in Florida, Virginia and Nevada, and people all over the country who work — or used to work — for Koch Industries or another Koch-owned company have all been given notice by their boss that an Obama victory could lead to layoffs or otherwise harm the company and its workers.

Even workers who’d already been laid off by the Kochs were mailed letters urging them to vote Republican or else “suffer the consequences” of Obama policies that would harm the company.

Romney himself urged conservative business leaders this June to “make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job and their future in the upcoming elections.”

Before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Citizens United decision, it would have been illegal for a boss to tell an employee that “their job and their future” was on the ballot on Election Day. But the court now considers such electoral pressure an expression of free speech.

A few observations and opinions:

As I said earlier, this is not the behavior of a party that expects to win on the merits.

More particularly, if you have to engage in conspiracy to deny American voters their civil rights — which carries up to 10 years and a $10,000 fine, Rick Scott and Jon Husted — you’re not only acting like you don’t expect to win, you’re acting like you don’t want to be an American anymore. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out, because keeping legal voters from voting is about as un-American as it gets.

Americans let the GOP steal the election in 2000, and by a large majority, they think we got the worst president in modern times out of that deal. I doubt they’ll be so willing to let it happen again, particularly when, as is the case this time, it’s so blatant and out in the open.

And finally, for the moron CEOs who are threatening their employees if they don’t vote for Romney — despite the fact that under Obama they’ve posted record profits, amassed record cash reserves, watched the Dow double since this president took office, avoided any punishment for blowing up the whole economy in 2008 AND enjoyed the lowest top marginal income tax rates and corporate income tax rates since the Korean freakin’ War and the greatest income inequality since the days of Jay and Daisy — here’s our response to you:

  • We already had the feudalism-vs.-democracy argument. In 1776. Your side lost. Get the hell over it.
  • The U.S. abolished peonage a long time ago. Get the hell over it.
  • WE ARE AMERICANS. WE DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS.

Friday, November 2, 2012 5:56 pm

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” our kids, monsters, and writing in blood

Just a little too late (and, boy, there’s both a pattern and a metaphor) for Banned Books Week, a woman named Lisa Reid has arisen here in Greensboro to complain that students at Grimsley High School shouldn’t be allowed to reid Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” She’s afraid high-school-age students will be harmed by the book, and she claimed that the Guilford County Schools have no standards for determining appropriate reading material for children.

Well, I take second place to no one in my hatred for the disorganization and clutter of the GCS website, whose search algorithm seems to have been written by developmentally disabled chipmunks, but, that hatred notwithstanding, I found such standards in less than 30 seconds. If Reid wants to argue that the standards are inadequate, we can have that conversation, as long as she’s willing to discuss what an objectively quantifiable definition of “adequate” might look like. But, sorry, she doesn’t get to lie.

Over at the collection of right-wing nut jobs playing journalist at the Greensboro Guardian, Joe Guarino, who, as a book critic, makes a pretty good physician, claims that the book “has numerous sexual references and graphic passages.  It repeatedly depicts promiscuity and multiple partner sexuality.  It contains cultural messages regarding sexuality and relationships that are potentially harmful to adolescents during their formative years. The book also glorifies drug use and dwells on suicide.  There is considerable profanity found throughout the book– which also contains unfavorable depictions of Christianity.”

Well, no. It doesn’t contain “unfavorable depictions of Christianity.” It contains the things he mentions as hallmarks of the kind of patriarchal, authoritarian crushing of liberty that Jesus Christ himself explicitly condemned. That condemnation  notwithstanding, that’s precisely the kind of religion to which Guarino adheres. He’s free to do so, but he’s not free to try to use the power of government to impose his beliefs on the rest of us, which is what he endorses.

I won’t go over the whole plot of the book here, but the conservative critics’ main problem with Atwood’s book is that although she wrote it as a cautionary tale about a dystopian future,  they want to use it as a freakin’ government instruction manual, as guys like Todd Akin, Joe Walsh and Richard Mourdock, and every single GOP national platform since 1980, already have demonstrated.

And with all due respect to Lisa Reid, if her own children are fine and healthy and unmolested, she’s blessed, but many of their peers, even at a “good” school like Grimsley, aren’t so lucky. As Sherman Alexie, author of the young-adult book  “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” writes:

 I can’t speak for other writers, but I think I wrote my YA [young-adult] novel as a way of speaking to my younger, irredeemable self.

Of course, all during my childhood, would-be saviors tried to rescue my fellow tribal members. They wanted to rescue me. But, even then, I could only laugh at their platitudes. In those days, the cultural conservatives thought that KISS and Black Sabbath were going to impede my moral development. They wanted to protect me from sex when I had already been raped. They wanted to protect me from evil though a future serial killer had already abused me. They wanted me to profess my love for God without considering that I was the child and grandchild of men and women who’d been sexually and physically abused by generations of clergy.

What was my immature, childish response to those would-be saviors?

“Wow, you are way, way too late.”

My daughter, who, by the way, also attends Grimsley, is 14. She doesn’t know it, I don’t think, but for one of her good friends, the Lisa Reids of the world are already “way, way too late” — and, by the way, banning “The Handmaid’s Tale” wouldn’t have saved her. And that’s just the one I know about; statistically speaking, there almost certainly are others. For Reid to be worrying about this at this late date … well, that, in the immortal words of Charlie Pierce, “is a horse that has left the barn, run over the hill, sired twelve A-level stakes-race winners, and is now buried with honors on the backstretch at Keeneland.”

Moreover, one of the many outstanding characteristics of the kind of free country we imagine ourselves to be is that we do not let the most rigid pecksniffs dictate how everyone else gets to live, particularly when those pecksniffs have demonstrated an abiding inability to distinguish between “glorify” and “mention in any way, shape or form, even to caution against.”

We live in a country in which our high-school freshmen may be 18 months  from being sent to fight and die in Afghanistan or Iran or God knows where else. You want to argue that it’s not time to talk with them about life and death, in all their blood and suffering and glory and redemption and passion and reality? Good luck with that. That’s the kind of thinking that’s standing around this week wondering why the New York subway tunnels, dry these last 104 years, are now flooded, and it’s not just stupid, it’s an existential threat to itself and all the rest of us. I’ll give Alexie the last word:

Teenagers read millions of books every year. They read for entertainment and for education. They read because of school assignments and pop culture fads.

And there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books-especially the dark and dangerous ones-will save them.

As a child, I read because books–violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not–were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life. I read widely, and loved plenty of the classics so, yes, I recognized the domestic terrors faced by Louisa May Alcott’s March sisters. But I became the kid chased by werewolves, vampires, and evil clowns in Stephen King’s books. I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.

And now I write books for teenagers because I vividly remember what it felt like to be a teen facing everyday and epic dangers. I don’t write to protect them. It’s far too late for that. I write to give them weapons -– in the form of words and ideas — that will help them fight their monsters. I write in blood because I remember what it felt like to bleed.

 

Thursday, November 1, 2012 6:09 pm

Hallefreakinlujah in Happy Valley

Maybe, just maybe, we’re going to see something we haven’t seen in America in a long time – institutional justice as well as personal punishment:

Graham B. Spanier, the former president of Penn State, was charged Thursday with helping to cover up the child abuse allegations involving Jerry Sandusky that have roiled the university and its famed football program over the past year.

During a news conference, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Linda Kelly, said Spanier faced five charges: perjury, obstruction of justice, endangering the welfare of children, criminal conspiracy and failure to report suspected child abuse. She also said that two other former university officials — Gary Schultz, the former university vice president, and Tim Curley, the former athletic director — would face the same five charges.

Schultz and Curley were already scheduled to stand trial in January on charges of perjury and failing to report child sexual abuse. Kelly specifically mentioned incidents in 1998 and 2001 when Spanier, Schultz and Curley spoke about allegations that Sandusky had abused boys on campus but did not take measures to stop him.

See, Justice Department? That wasn’t so hard. If a state attorney general can do it, how ’bout the feds go after the child-molesting priests and their enabling bishops and Pope? You know, seek … um, what’s it called again? Oh, yeah, justice.

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