Blog on the Run: Reloaded

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.

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.

Monday, October 29, 2012 7:12 pm

Pierce on Sandy and who we are as a nation

As I write, I imagine that all kinds of hell is breaking loose in the Northeast, the kinds of hell that, among other things, make it difficult to report in real time on what kinds of hell are breaking loose. I’ve covered hurricanes before, and believe me when I tell you that it is No Damn Fun, from getting sandblasted by what used to be that dune over there to living on Lance Toastchees and bottled water from your trunk for four days while wearing the same clothes and being unable to bathe to trying to navigate a car that don’t float when half or more of the bridges are underwater. People, including myself, joke about the Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore as the Angel of Death, but I’ve done Cantore’s job (albeit for a different news outlet), and I would have to think very, very hard before doing it again, for love or money.

It’s bad enough in any one location. But when all hell breaks loose in a huge region, and when that region is the most heavily populated of its size in the country … well, we have no precedent for this. And when it happens a week before a presidential election, the potential for feces to hit the fan is shattering the glass on every meter in the boiler room.

And yet there also is likely to be an enormous point of clarity coming out of this event, as Charlie Pierce explains:

However, as to the campaign itself, and taking as axiomatic that almost anything can “impact” an election as close as this one apparently is shaping up to be, there’s absolutely no telling what the effect of massive four-day weather event in the middle of this week will have on the events of the middle of next week. Certainly, in situations like this, the president has several trump cards he can play simply by virtue of being the incumbent. He can act as president. He can engage FEMA and the rest of the federal disaster apparatus to help those governors, Republican and Democratic, who are in the path of the storm. (He just might be in more pictures with Chris Christie over the next week than with Joe Biden.) He can demonstrate, top to bottom, by example, why “leaving it to the states” and, worse, “the private sector can do it better” are empty platitudes. The storm is hitting 12 states. This is something we need to do as one country. …

The problem, of course, is that a good piece of the political opposition doesn’t recognize this president as president when the sun’s shining. The people who will tell you that disaster relief is best left to the states, or to the private sector, are going be howling at the White House if some cat isn’t brought down from a tree in Cape May in less than five minutes. There are a thousand things that can go unavoidably wrong in a situation like this. It is the most fertile environment imaginable for unpredictability. The good news for the president is that he’s in charge. The bad news for the president is that he’s in charge, and the opposition is still truthless, and demented.

(Pardon this interruption from your host for this illustration of just how demented that opposition is:)

(We now return you to Pierce:)

Here’s the last thing that I’d like to throw out there before we all go 1856 all over for a while. This entire campaign has been fought out over the issue of whether or not we are all members of a viable political commonwealth with implicit mutual obligations to act through our government — a self-government that is, or ought to be, the purest creative project of that commonwealth — for the common good, or whether that government is some sort of alien entity repressing our fundamental entrepreneurial energy. Over the next few days, I believe, we are going to see that argument brought to the sharpest point possible. If you want to see how this event will “impact the election,” look to what answer to that question emerges from the storm. It will tell us a lot about the election, and about ourselves.

When the Framers put the phrase “general welfare” into the preamble to the Constitution, things like Sandy were what they had in mind. And whether we remember that fact over the next week and more will determine whether we keep, and whether we deserve to keep, the “Republic, if you can keep it” that Benjamin Franklin and his compatriots bestowed upon us when that document was signed.

Buyer’s remorse, Zombie Election edition

To probably no one’s surprise, I voted for Obama. But this ad from film director Joss Whedon makes me think maybe that wasn’t such a hot idea.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012 7:32 pm

Syria, weapons, Romney and Obama: no easy answers

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 7:32 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Freelance journalist Benjamin Hall in this guest post for Esquire:

I have just returned from Aleppo, the northwestern Syrian city with some of the most bloody fighting (at least 20 dead today) and some of the most striking examples of just how factious the rebellion has become.

I watched as one FSA brigade fired a 50-caliber machine gun as cover fire for another to retrieve a dead body, only for the same two groups to scream at each other later and refuse to help in fighting the next day.

I watched (and ducked) as rebel groups fought over a new weapons influx and shot over each others’ heads, and I wondered: If they’re shooting arms at each other, how do we decide who to better shoot at Assad’s army?

I watched (and listened) as FSA members told me they prefer to enter into Aleppo illegally, rather than crossing through an FSA gate held by the Islamic Asft Alshmal brigade, saying, “They’re not our guys — they’re bad and they take bribes from refugees.”

I watched (and worried) as Salafi jihadis entered into the conflict here, voicing their opposition to Western values — and their aim to impose Sharia law — and I wondered: “Partners”? What partners?”

Obama seems to be indicating (correctly) that it is impossible to know where U.S.-backed weapons will end up and who will get them — that it could then become irresponsible to arm any factions at all. “We are making sure that that those we help are those who will be friends of ours in the long term,” he said on Monday — in a seemingly rationale (if cautious) approach.

Romney believes (correctly) that weapons are getting to the wrong people already, and that is irresponsible for the West not to try and flow weapons to more moderate groups — that it is not impossible. “We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria,” he said at the debate, “making sure that the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties.”

The president shot back that the U.S. is, in fact, “playing the leadership role,” but therein lies the Catch-22: If the U.S. doesn’t actively arm rebels, fundamentalists might get more weapons anyway; if the U.S. goes far enough, as Romney has suggested, to arm FSA partners with rockets and surface-to-air missiles, Sunni insurgents can’t be far behind in tracking down that kind of heavy artillery in the crossfire. And we all know how that turned out in Iraq.

 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012 12:34 am

Quote of the Day, Aftermath of the Second Presidential Debate edition

Commenter Frank Armstrong at Charlie Pierce’s place:  “I think tonight Barack’s name was Inigo Montoya, and Willard did something bad to his father.”

Saturday, August 18, 2012 11:33 pm

Media criticism

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 11:33 pm
Tags: , , ,

Sarah, Proud and Tall, on Peggy Noonan,

Our Lady of the Pickled Dolphins

:

Peggy thinks that the Joe Soptic Super PAC ad is an appalling personal attack that makes Obama “look perfidious and weak” and so he should disavow any such combative behaviour, but she also seems to think that Mitt should stop being so nice, take his gloves off and start fighting back. This seems a little inconsistent, but it’s hard to type and make a coherent argument at the same time, especially when you have your pearls clutched in one hand and a mason jar of gin in the other.

Friday, August 10, 2012 8:40 pm

You didn’t build that, Thomas (“Common Sense”) Paine edition

Tom Paine was a Marxist libtard:

“Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.

“Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist, the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man’s own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilisation, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.”

So, all you Randian sociopaths, who’s more American?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012 8:06 pm

We already know what Mitt Romney’s problems are. Now let’s talk about Bain Capital’s.

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:06 pm
Tags: , ,

It is a truism that the duty of a corporation’s directors is to maximize shareholder value. However, different directors and corporations and, yes, takeover artists and “turnaround specialists” define that duty in different ways. To offer an example that is simple bordering on crude, does that mean maximize next quarter’s dividend, or does that mean maximize earnings over the long haul while remaining financially healthy and competitive? Because, although they need not, these two definitions often clash.

And because they do, “turnaround specialist” can be someone who actually does return a troubled company to financial health — or someone who wrecks a company’s long-term stability for the sake of short-term profit, which may or may not actually go to shareholders, or to all shareholders in proportion to their holdings.

Guest poster Bernard Finel at Balloon Juice explains:

“Troubled” companies have a particular meaning on Wall Street. Sure, sometimes they refer to companies that are just muddled, have over-expanded, and are badly managed. But more often, what they are talking about is companies that do not seem to providing a large enough return to shareholders—a stagnating stock price in particular. But that does not mean a company is “troubled.” It can be quite profitable, have productive and loyal employees, have satisfied customers, and cash on hand.

What players like Bain do is enforce a Wall Street preference. There is a bias against companies that seek a “quiet life.” They are shunned by institutional investors, which depresses stock prices and makes these companies “troubled” in the first place. It isn’t that they are not profitable, but rather than institutional investors don’t like them, and as a result they trade at dramatically lower P/E ratios. Indeed, it isn’t even clear that takeover targets do have weaker stock performance if you lookat total returns, including dividends.

Once a company goes public, it is essentially subject to “disciplinary” takeovers if it fails to act in accordance with financial sector preferences. This is often phrased as “poorly performing managers,” but what does that really mean? That is really just about enforcing a certain conventional wisdom about what a company ought to do. But these preferences are socially problematic. Consider some of the things that seem to contribute to being a takeover target: slow growth, stable revenues, cash on hand rather than debt, generous employee compensation, conservatively-funded pension or insurance plans. (Again caveats abound. There is no simply model of predicting takeover targets.)

So, in a sense, Bain, and other buyout specialists, serve to enforce a particular type of corporate behavior that focus on expansion at the expense of predictability, risk acceptance in terms of contractual obligations to employees, and a ruthless focus on cost controls at the expense of employee loyalty and stability.

As a practical matter, it is not clear that this sort of approach is conducive to more rapid economic growth. Certainly the rise of this consensus and expansion of “disciplinary” takeovers since the 1980s has not resulted in any noticeable improvement in U.S. macroeconomic performance. And furthermore, the evidence on whether takeover targets overperform or underperform after being bought is mixed.

But what has happened is that as firms accept these practices, they become more dependent on the financial sector. They borrow more, become more active in raising money through equity sales, they run leaner by hedging through derivatives, and so on. In each case, they pay a cut to financial firms. The result has been that the financial sector’s share of corporate profits has risen dramaticallysince the 1980s.

Some of these companies will now be more successful, but many that move toward debt-fueled expansion will crash and burn. The financial sector wins either way. But it isn’t clear to me that corporate America in general win, and certainly workers whose pensions gets looted, and unions busted, and ride the boom and bust cycles of overtime and layoff do quite poorly.

I’m sure this is something of a problem with privately held companies as well. But the publicly traded ones are out there where everyone can see them. The example with which I’m most familiar is the newspaper industry. During the latter half of the 20th century, most privately held U.S. papers were bought by publicly traded chains (e.g., Gannett, Knight Ridder, Media General, Tribune, etc.). The cash from selling stock was useful for expansion, but it was a devil’s bargain: With it came short-term bottom line pressure. Perhaps the best example was Eugene Roberts, who took over as executive editor of Knight Ridder’s  money-losing Philadelphia Inquirer in 1972 and led it to both profitability and excellence in local, national and global journalism, including 17 Pulitzer Prizes in 18 years. Roberts was forced out in 1990 for  resisting budget cuts. At the time, the paper’s profit margin was around 8 percent — low for newspapers in that local-monopoly, pre-Internet era but a margin a lot of businesses would kill for, then and now.

I am not going to argue, particularly in light of Knight Ridder’s ultimate fate, that the Inquirer would be healthier today with Roberts at the helm. But I will argue that the biggest flaw in this scenario is not Roberts or the Inquirer or Knight Ridder management or even the whole newspaper industry’s lethal slowness to understand what the Internet was going to do to it. No, the biggest flaw, one merely illustrated by Romney’s exploits at Bain Capital, is that our current ethos of governance for publicly traded companies in any industry doesn’t just make it somewhere between difficult and impossible for even creative companies to survive long-term (which the odds are against in any business regardless of governance). In fact, that ethos, in many cases, is functionally indistinguishable from putting a loaded gun to your head and pulling the trigger. People call it “vulture capitalism,” but that’s an insult to vultures, which typically neither attack healthy animals nor redefine “healthy” to justify their predatory scavenging.

UPDATE: Just today, economist Dean Baker makes a related and very important point: Running a private-equity firm is much more about profiting from tax dodges than it is about making companies more efficient.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012 10:38 pm

Odds and ends, school break edition

I’m really enjoying not having to study, but I haven’t been hit by the inspiration for anything lengthy. So here’s what’s going on:

* * *

Pretty much everybody thinks Rupert Murdoch isn’t fit to run a media company. And, hell, we know that. But when Parliament thinks Rupert Murdoch isn’t fit to run a media company, well, that could have real-life, tangible, bottom-line consequences. Because the UK doesn’t let just any old thieving, lying, wiretapping raper of the hopes of the parents of kidnapped children own a media company the way the U.S. does. No, News Corp. could have to actually divest itself of its 40% share of BSkyB. Ouch.

* * *

So on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, Obama shows up in Afghanistan and commits this country to spend, at the current rate of $2 billion a week, one and a quarter trillion dollars over the next dozen years in that country. One and a quarter trillion dollars, I hasten to add, that the United States cannot spare. I mean no disrespect to the victims of 9/11, and a great deal of respect to the Americans who have had to fight the resulting military campaigns, when I ask: Tell me again who won the war on terror? and/or, Have you people never heard of Pyrrhus?

* * *

I see that not only do the Republicans want to wage war on women, they insist that only straight men can join the fight.

* * *

Finally, Fec reflects on MLK’s call for a national guaranteed minimum income, varieties of which have been endorsed by such wild-eyed liberals as Milton Friedman (who called it a “negative income tax”):

Consider, if you will, that the oligarchy, by virtue of access to the Fed’s ZIRP [zero interest rate policy -- free loans to banks], has already achieved the status of guaranteed income. Was MLK in reflection so terribly wrong? As we contemplate the end of unemployment benefits for 700k of our citizens, and underemployment for many more, do not the ravages of outsourcing and global corporatism render a circumstance where the least of us is just as entitled to at least a wage of existence as the bankster supping at the .25% discount window, especially as the proceeds are immediately fed into a gamed engine of guaranteed profit?

If we are bailing out the Europeans for their folly, is it nor more just to provide subsistence wages to our own whose only fault is absence of opportunity, particularly by design of the corporatists who enjoy the very same protections manifold?

Are we not finally at the point where Bernanke‘s famous helicopter drops cash upon the least of us, as it has surely rained bountifully upon our most fortunate?

I assure you that the poor have no wish for anarchy or the imposition of some stringent biblical reconstruction. They merely wish to enjoy those essential things we all aspire to: a full belly, a comfortable home and freedom from financial worry.

To those cretins who proclaim such an idea is socialism, I reply they are too late. Socialism is rife among the fortunate; it is merely those left out who have yet to commit this supposed sin. Is not the greatest act of fairness to now include everyone with income, given that the most criminal among us have already lined their pockets to the point of embarrassment?

If we are headed toward a great conflagration of currency devaluation and hyperinflation, is it not right that the poor finally be allowed to join the bacchanal before its end?

Actually, of this much I am sure: No matter exactly how this country goes down, it will go down never once having given any serious policy thought to the true needs of the least among us. That just isn’t how we roll.

(Also, although I am somewhat sympathetic to my friend’s view of the Occupy movement as it manifested itself today on what was supposed to be a big, national show of strength, I also am somewhat sympathetic to Charlie Pierce’s take: “From the start, I said that the best thing about the Occupy movement was that at least they were yelling at the right buildings. … What I do know is that, if it weren’t for the people in the streets last autumn, the Obama people would be running a very different campaign and Willard Romney wouldn’t look half as ridiculous as he does.”

Friday, April 27, 2012 11:59 pm

I’m starting to think that Obama might not actually have to run a campaign

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 11:59 pm
Tags: ,

I say that because one of the first rules of politics is that when the other guy is destroying himself, don’t interrupt him. And Mitt Romney? Is destroying himself:

Yeah, all you folks who lost your jobs, got bankrupted by your medical bills, whatever, just do what this guy did and borrow twenty thousand bucks from your parents and start a fast food chain.

(And why am I not surprised that the chain in question, Jimmy John’s (at which, by the way, I will never eat again), got busted for illegally firing workers for union activity?)

I thought we’d seen it all when Bush 41 went speedboating in 1990 while U.S. troops were packing up to head for the Middle East and gas prices were shooting up. Then I thought we’d seen it all when Bush 43 ignored New Orleans and told the guy who was trying to warn him about al-Qaeda, “OK, you’ve covered your ass.” But holy crow. It’s not just that R-money doesn’t have a clue. It’s that he doesn’t have a clue which universe to find one in.

(h/t: Angry Black Lady)

Thursday, February 23, 2012 8:00 pm

Religion enters the Republican primaries

Filed under: I want my religion back.,Sad — Lex @ 8:00 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

By Jeff Danziger

The late, great Doug Marlette, a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist who started his career at The Charlotte Observer, once submitted a cartoon for Easter Sunday showing Christ in his crown of thorns,  lugging an electric chair on his back toward Golgotha. It was rejected, of course, but every year thereafter he would re-submit it and every year thereafter it would be rejected. Though this isn’t quite as graphic, it’s every bit as pointed. I don’t know who’s the best editorial cartoonist working today, but Danziger has to be a contender.

Friday, December 23, 2011 7:54 pm

Why SteveM at Balloon Juice, whom you’ve probably never heard of, is a better political analyst than Tom Friedman

Because he says stuff like this:

In all likelihood, we’ve got 2000 all over again. Romney now, like Bush then, hasn’t always spoken like a flaming wingnut throughout his political career (and didn’t fully behave like one in the governor’s office)—which means that Romney now, like Bush then, is going to be called a “moderate” during the general election campaign no matter what he says in his speeches. Romney’s Massachusetts past, like Bush’s cooperation with Texas Democrats and prattle about “compassionate conservatism,” is going to give him carte blanche to say anything without the mainstream press grasping the fact that if he’s talking wingnut, it means he intends to govern as a wingnut.

Some beat reporter from 2000—I think it was Adam Clymer—said after Bush took office that his right-wing leanings were obvious all through the campaign if you just bothered to read his policy proposals and listen to him on the stump. This stuff was hiding in plain sight. Everyone just ignored it. And they’re probably going to ignore it again.

I cannot and will not predict at this point who will get the GOP nomination. But I’m confident that if Romney is the nominee, this is exactly how it will go down: The mainstream media will ignore what’s in plain sight.

UPDATE: Also at BJ, John Cole deftly eviscerates Rich Lowry and National Review Online, and by extension the entire GOP establishment, which apparently are freaking right the fark out at the prospect that racist anti-Semite Chomskyite goldbug Ron Paul might actually get somewhere in the Iowa GOP caucus:

Basically, Rich Lowry wants you to believe that Ron Paul is too racist to be President, but just racist enough to be a Republican in the House for several decades.

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