“I’m the longest sizzler in the flutes.”
Wednesday, September 30, 2009 9:08 pm
Quick comments on some stuff bubbling up:
- Apparently the president is “open” to the idea of some sort of tax break for newspapers that convert to nonprofits. Very bad idea — the government help, that is, not necessarily that type of conversion. For one thing, we can’t afford it. For another, it would be subsidizing an industry that has steadfastly refused to change its business model to adapt to changing market conditions. (Econ 101 was a long time ago, but I believe the technical term for such an expenditure is “throwing good money after bad.”) And news media need to maintain an arm’s-length relationship with the government if they are to do their jobs effectively. Converting to nonprofit status might or might not be a good idea (and some newspapers, such as the St. Petersburg Times, are owned by nonprofits already), but taking government money or tax breaks is bad for the industry and bad for the taxpayer.
- Speaking of old media, Zero Hedge delivers the worst flaying of old media since the centurion scourged Jesus in “The Passion of the Christ.” (Caution: that video link is beyond graphic)
- It is way beyond time to stop talking about the economy in terms of the Dow and start talking about it in terms of jobs. (That said, this blogger seems not to grasp that we’re already having a class war, and as Warren Buffett has famously observed, the rich are winning.)
… MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan exposes some, to put it tactfully, market flaws:
Why is health insurance the only business that has an exemption from the Sherman Anti-Trust Act other than Major League Baseball? If the delivery of taxpayer trillions by our politicians to the banks to support their fraudulently paid bonuses hasn’t shown you what our current government’s values are, check this link out:
[This blockquote added by Lex:] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is keeping a brutal fight with the insurance industry out of the broader healthcare debate, mindful that including it could sink President Barack Obama’s signature domestic priority.
Reid (D-Nev.), who will play a key role crafting the final Senate healthcare overhaul in the next few weeks, is excluding a proposal to repeal a loophole that exempts health insurance companies from federal antitrust laws.
Although the proposal is very popular with Democrats and liberal groups, Reid has concerns that attaching it to the healthcare legislation risks damaging prospects for an effort already facing significant hurdles.
Republicans say Reid is being calculated in a different manner, dangling the standalone bill as a way of intimidating the companies into making concessions on Obama’s broader healthcare objective. But they will have to overcome recent testimony from former Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, who backed a broader effort to lift the exemption for the entire industry. [End added blockquote]
Through the governmental negligence that we as voters allowed, a health care system was created in which a single health care company controls at least 30 percent of the insurance market in 95% of the country, including states like the following:
Maine, where Wellpoint controls 71% of the market.
North Dakota, where Blue Cross controls 90% of the market.
Arkansas, where Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 75% of the market.
Alabama, where Blue Cross Blue Shield controls 83% of the market.
I don’t know what’s worse: that most Republicans seem to be against ending this unfair legal protection for an entrenched industry that is ruining our country with their non-competitive practices, or that most Democrats seem to be threatening this arrangement only as a bargaining chip to push for a meaningless public option that wouldn’t be accessible to almost 85% of the population?
Instead of improving our country, through creating and enforcing free and fair markets, our politicians are currently engaging in backroom deals, most of which protect the very companies who profit the most from these disastrous outdated systems — industries like health insurance and big Pharma.
While we clearly have the ability as a group of 305 million to update the system that is American Health Care and move our country into the 21st century in the process, it’s becoming clear that we may not have the leaders to do it.
Hell, I don’t even think Major League Baseball should have an antitrust exemption, let alone health-care insurers. Let’s face it, when even Trent Lott thinks someone needs to take the Sherman Act to your behind, you have indeed grown too big for your britches.
The Senate Finance Committee, not totally surprisingly, voted down a public option for health insurance yesterday.
Carl Cameron of Fox News, the “We report, you decide” people, said it was the first time time there had been a vote on the public option and that it had gotten beaten.
He was one-fifth of one-half right: It did get beaten. But one other Senate committee (Health, Education, Labor and Pensions) has approved a plan with a public option, as have all three House committees that have voted on a plan.
Betsy McCaughey appears in the news/cable arena a fair bit, typically as a health-care “expert.” Her qualification for this gig consists primarily of the fact that she published a piece called “No Exit” in The New Republic in 1994 that was a takendown of the Clinton healthcare-reform plan. Only here’s the thing: “No Exit”? Both wrong and the spawn of cigarette maker Philip Morris:
For the archenemies of Obamacare, however, [GOP pollster Frank] Luntz’s anti-Washington script didn’t go nearly far enough. To amp up the panic, they decided to spin the “takeover” fear to its most extreme conclusion: Washington bureaucrats plan to institute “death panels” that would deny life-sustaining care to the elderly. That portion of the script was drafted by Betsy McCaughey, the former lieutenant governor of New York, who insists that her expertise as a constitutional historian enables her to decipher the 1,017 pages of legalese that comprise the House health care bill.
McCaughey first unveiled her “findings” on July 16th, during an appearance on the radio show of former GOP presidential candidate Fred Thompson. “I have just finished reading the House bill,” McCaughey declared. “I hope that people listening will protect their parents from what’s intended under this bill.” Citing page 425 of HR 3200 — a section that outlines the same kind of optional, end-of-life counseling that Republicans have voted for in the past — McCaughey uncorked a terrifying lie. “Congress,” she said, “would make it mandatory — absolutely require that every five years, people in Medicare have a required counseling session that will tell them how to end their life sooner.” The Obama plan, she added, is financed by “shortening your mother or father’s life.”
McCaughey has run this con before. During the debate over Clinton’s health care overhaul in the early 1990s, McCaughey — then an academic at the right-wing Manhattan Institute — wrote an article for The New Republic called “No Exit,” in which she claimed that Hillarycare would prevent even wealthy Americans from “going outside the system to purchase basic health coverage you think is better.” Even though the bill plainly stated that “nothing in this Act” would prohibit consumers from purchasing additional care, McCaughey’s claim was echoed endlessly in the press, with each repetition pounding a stake further into the heart of the reform effort.
McCaughey’s lies were later debunked in a 1995 post-mortem in The Atlantic, and The New Republic recanted the piece in 2006. But what has not been reported until now is that McCaughey’s writing was influenced by Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, as part of a secret campaign to scuttle Clinton’s health care reform. (The measure would have been funded by a huge increase in tobacco taxes.) In an internal company memo from March 1994, the tobacco giant detailed its strategy to derail Hillarycare through an alliance with conservative think tanks, front groups and media outlets. Integral to the company’s strategy, the memo observed, was an effort to “work on the development of favorable pieces” with “friendly contacts in the media.” The memo, prepared by a Philip Morris executive, mentions only one author by name:
“Worked off-the-record with Manhattan and writer Betsy McCaughey as part of the input to the three-part exposé in The New Republic on what the Clinton plan means to you. The first part detailed specifics of the plan.”
This is the kind of “expert” who gets given a platform to discuss the key issues of our time. So talk to me again about the liberal media.
UPDATE: Yet another example of how McCaughey’s lying — and there’s really no other word for it — contaminates public discourse. Can we please let the people who know what they’re talking about and aren’t corporate shills have a turn discussing key issues now? Thank you.
The Republicans in the Senate Intelligence Committee having taken to their fainting couches because the attorney general is apparently going to at least pretend to, you know, uphold the law and stuff:
Republicans on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said Friday that they will no longer participate in an investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation policies, arguing that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s decision to reexamine allegations of detainee abuse by the CIA would hobble any inquiry.
The intelligence committee launched a review in March of CIA interrogations of high-value detainees such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who describes himself as the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Senate staffers are poring over hundreds of thousands of classified documents to probe the history and effectiveness of the CIA program, as well as congressional oversight of agency practices.
Last month, Holder appointed a career prosecutor to review allegations of detainee abuse by CIA operatives, but he stressed that neither the review nor any full investigation, should it follow, means that criminal charges are inevitable.
“Had Mr. Holder honored the pledge made by the President to look forward, not backwards, we would still be active participants in the Committee’s review,” the ranking Republican on the intelligence panel, Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, said in a statement. “What current or former CIA employee would be willing to gamble his freedom by answering the Committee’s questions? Indeed, forcing these terror fighters to make this choice is neither fair nor just.”
Kit, I’m a lot less worried about current or former CIA employees gambling their freedom by answering Senate questions than I am about their gambling their freedom by, well, torturing people and all. And here’s a clue: You should be, too, nitwit.
Shorter Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation: We’re broke.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 8:08 pm
Long have I spoken here of how I love map-geekitudeiness. So how is it that never, until today, have I stumbled upon The Strange Maps Blog? I do not know. But stumbled upon it I have, and now, if you’ll excuse me, there are, as of this moment, 413 maps I must go revel in.
… televangelist Jim Bakker got 45 years in federal prison* for personally stealing $3.7 million, which is less than 1/1000th of what appears to have been stolen from investors in the BofA/Merrill buyout.
*The sentence later was reduced by a federal appeals court because the sentencing judge had the unmitigated gall to suggest that some real Christians might be upset at the notion of theft by a fake one. I’m sure there’s a basis in case law for a ruling like that, but if there is I ain’t ever come across it.
I admit it: I know next to nothing about economics and finance. So I have a couple of questions about a new round of debt being offered by Developers Diversified Realty, which owns a lot of commercial real estate … which, you may have heard, ain’t doing so hot.
First, when your aforementioned primary assets ain’t doing so hot, why would you pay a bank $5 million-plus in underwriting fees to refinance what you owe it, on which you’re currently paying 1.5%, for debt on which you’ll be paying 9.625%?
Second, is that even legal?
Third, even if there’s a good reason for it and it’s legal, why would your stockholders not want your head on a stick?
Fourth, even given the benefit to Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, why are they taking $5 million in fees on this rather than the customary 3%, which would be more like $9 million? Particularly when BofA soon may need quite a bit of cash just to pay the lawyers?
Attention, Tufts students: No more having sex in your room when your roommate is present.
Except, one presumes, when you are having sex with your roommate. Although that is not spelled out.
Where this is concerned, my sophomore roommate and I had the perfect arrangement: He studied in the library every night until it closed at 1 a.m. (and I mean EVERY night; I was in awe of his discipline), and I … well, was asleep, more or less, every night by 1 a.m. unless I was at work.
No muss, no fuss, no involvement by the Office of Residential Life. Everyone’s a winner.
Well, OK, some muss. But still.
I heard somewhere on the radio today that General Electric might sell NBC. Which raises the question: How much are they going to have to offer someone to take CNBC off their hands?
Would someone please go drag Bill Cowher out of bed RIGHT NOW, drive him to Bank of America Stadium and install him in John Fox’s office before the team flight gets in from Dallas?
Monday, September 28, 2009 6:02 am
Quote of the day, from Nancy Nall, on the subprime-mortgage scandal: “When you open a store giving away free crack if you sign here and here and initial there, and if anyone expresses reservations you say, ‘Don’t worry, this is the special non-addictive crack we’re giving away’ — when that happens, you really can’t complain that the neighborhood is suddenly full of crackheads.”
And she’s right. You can’t.
Saturday, September 26, 2009 8:31 am
It’s Banned Books Week, today through Oct. 3. Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom and the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book. It’s smackdown time for small-minded ninnies, an annual festival for driving Teh Stoopid into the darkest recesses of our culture.
I’m kind of a fan. Perhaps it shows. And I could go on about this, but I’ll leave you with just a couple of thoughts:
Books won’t stay banned. They won’t burn. Ideas won’t go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.
– Alfred Whitney Griswold, New York Times, 24 February 1959
I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.
— Jorge Luis Borges
Friday, September 25, 2009 10:45 pm
(Original author unknown; passed on to me via my mother from a guy she taught in high school in the late 1950s.)
I think it’s entirely possible that I’m having WAY too much fun blogging this month.
One of my favorite songs, covered live by one of my favorite artists:
And here’s one of his own, one that, if the anti-abortion movement knew it existed and adopted it, probably would have led the U.S. to ban abortion two decades ago:
And Sen. Alan Grayson is ’bout ready to give ‘em one:
My favorite part:
Alan Grayson: Do you mind if we have a GAO [Government Accountability Office, the nonpartisan investigating arm of Congress] audit to see if there has been front-running or insider trading by [dealers through which the Fed executes its trades]? Do you mind? Is that OK with you?
Scott Alvarez: I am not sure if I have that authority…
Yo, Scott: It ain’t your call, bro.
UPDATE: Matt Taibbi recalls his own close encounter with Alan Grayson:
In his capacity as an attorney he once basically threatened to have me dismembered and have my body parts dumped in a tin canister and fired into the center of a burning supernova. And that’s actually underselling the real language he used. We were having a disagreement about the use of information given to me by a certain source in a story about military contracting, and in the middle of what had been a normal contentious argument between two sane adults, dude suddenly assumed this crazy monster-voice and just went medieval on me. He was roaring into the telephone about how he was going to crush me, how I was going to wish I had never messed with him, how I didn’t know who the hell I was dealing with, and so on. It came totally out of the blue and it was like being on the telephone with a metamorphosing werewolf — the whole performance genuinely freaked me out. I may even have peed a little, I can’t remember.
When I heard Alan Grayson was running for Congress, I remember thinking to myself, That Alan Grayson? The lunatic? It can’t be, I thought. I kept imagining trails of half-eaten sheep leading to his campaign appearances. But it turned out to be true. …
And now every time I see Alan Grayson, he’s tearing some freaked-out bureaucrat a new [orifice] in the middle of some empty conference room in the Capitol somewhere. I see the looks on the faces of these poor souls and I know exactly what they’re going through. Which is just hilarious, frankly.
Werewolves, half-eaten sheep and mutilated bureaucrats — Taibbi hits the My Favorite Things trifecta.
Two episodes during Hooper’s reading-comprehension homework this week have led me to think he might not be the poster child for No Child Left Behind-approved standardized testing.
In the first episode, he read a segment about how the ancient Norse celebrated some festival or other having to do with elves they believed lived in the forest. The question, intended to make the reader regurgitate a sentence from the selection, read, “If you were [a member of this group], how would you celebrate [this festival]?” Hooper wrote, “I would thank God and dance with the elves.” The teacher marked it wrong, and I felt compelled to write on the paper, “Well, it DID ask how HE would celebrate it … ”
In the second episode, he read a passage in the form of a letter ostensibly written from a girl at summer camp to her parents back home, listing the things she had done. The question was: What was the author’s purpose? Hooper wrote, “To tech [sic] you how to undrstand [sic] what you read.”
I said, “Buddy, that means the author of this section, the girl. What is HER purpose?” And he said, “NO, Daddy, she’s not the REAL author. The REAL author wrote the page. The REAL author is trying to teach you about reading.”
So at the age of 8, he’s already going meta on me. And unfortunately for Hooper’s teacher, I’m finding it harder to argue with him about this than she probably cares for.
“It’s been actually quite scary working on this material to be in the presence of greatness.”
— Kevin Leahy, an archaeologist cataloguing a hoard of golden objects and other artifacts of Anglo-Saxon origin, found this summer by an amateur with a metal detector in Staffordshire, England; dating to around the turn of the 8th century; and valued in the millions.
Thursday, September 24, 2009 8:43 pm
The mayor of Memphis explains. And after reading his explanation, I have no problem with it.
The “Hello, Dalai,” however, I could’ve done without. I’m pretty sure His Holiness has never heard that before, too.
Some good news to report on the pro-Constitution front.
There appears, finally, to be some strong sentiment in Congress against the overreach of the USA Patriot Act. And one of the leaders of that sentiment is Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota. Now, a lot of folks assumed that because Al Franken played a clown on TV, he’d act like one as a senator. I wondered, myself. But so far? Agree with his positions or not, he has acted quite senatorial. Yesterday, he gave a Constitutional dressing-down to administration lackey assistant attorney general David Kris, who was arguing in favor of reauthorizing the act, by reading the Fourth Amendment to him:
Franken, who opened by acknowledging that unlike most of his colleagues in the Senate, he’s not a lawyer, but according to his research “most Americans aren’t lawyers” either, said he’d also done research on the Patriot Act and in particular, the “roving wiretap” provision that allows the FBI to get a warrant to wiretap an unnamed target and his or her various and changing cell phones, computers and other communication devices.
Noting that he received a copy of the Constitution when he was sworn in as a senator, he proceeded to read it to Kris, emphasizing this part: “no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
“That’s pretty explicit language,” noted Franken, asking Kris how the “roving wiretap” provision of the Patriot Act can meet that requirement if it doesn’t require the government to name its target.
Kris looked flustered and mumbled that “this is surreal,” apparently referring to having to respond to Franken’s question.
No, it’s school, suckah, and class is in session. What’s surreal is that so many ostensibly intelligent people in positions of responsibility just one day decided to act as if the Fourth Amendment doesn’t say what it says.
Kris also took it in the teeth from Sen. Russ Feingold, who is a bit unhappy that the provision allowing for searches of suspects’ homes without their knowledge or permission — the so-called “sneak-and-peek” provision — has wandered well afield of its ostensible purpose:
Only three of the 763 “sneak-and-peek” requests in fiscal year 2008 involved terrorism cases, according to a July 2009 report from the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Sixty-five percent were drug cases.
Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) quizzed Assistant Attorney General David Kris about the discrepancy at a hearing on the PATRIOT Act Wednesday. One might expect Kris to argue that there is a connection between drug trafficking and terrorism or that the administration is otherwise justified to use the authority by virtue of some other connection to terrorism.
He didn’t even try. “This authority here on the sneak-and-peek side, on the criminal side, is not meant for intelligence. It’s for criminal cases. So I guess it’s not surprising to me that it applies in drug cases,” Kris said.
“As I recall it was in something called the USA PATRIOT Act,” Feingold quipped, “which was passed in a rush after an attack on 9/11 that had to do with terrorism — it didn’t have to do with regular, run-of-the-mill criminal cases. Let me tell you why I’m concerned about these numbers: That’s not how this was sold to the American people. It was sold as stated on DoJ’s website in 2005 as being necessary – quote – to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists.”
Kris responded by saying that some courts had already granted the Justice Department authority to conduct sneak-and-peeks. But Feingold countered that the PATRIOT Act codified and expanded that authority — all under the guise of the war on terror.
Feingold, the lone vote against the PATRIOT Act when it was first passed, is introducing an amendment to curb its reach.
If authority can be misused, it will be. And when the misuse is tolerated, it only gets worse.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 10:42 pm
Maybe it was the pretty pictures.
But whatever it was, the SEC has finally awakened to at least some of the most egregious crime going on in the financial markets, filing an insider-trading lawsuit in Dell’s takeover of Perot systems.
Maybe, at long last, this is the start of something good. It couldn’t come at a better time — retail investors are about to get left holding big bags with designer labels on the outside and lots of something warm and brown on the inside.
I remarked a little while back about the fact that the liberal group ACORN was losing its government contract on grounds of fraud, which it should, while Xe, nee Blackwater, was keeping its contract despite indiscriminate killing, which it shouldn’t.
That’s one problem. But it gets more interesting. Congress, as it is wont to do, overreacted in its legislation regarding cutting off ACORN. But, unlike most cases in which Congress overreacts, in this case, it may have overreacted to the benefit of the public:
Going after ACORN may be like shooting fish in a barrel lately — but jumpy lawmakers used a bazooka to do it last week and may have blown up some of their longtime allies in the process.
The congressional legislation intended to defund ACORN, passed with broad bipartisan support, is written so broadly that it applies to “any organization” that has been charged with breaking federal or state election laws, lobbying disclosure laws, campaign finance laws or filing fraudulent paperwork with any federal or state agency. It also applies to any of the employees, contractors or other folks affiliated with a group charged with any of those things.
In other words, the bill could plausibly defund the entire military-industrial complex. Whoops.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) picked up on the legislative overreach and asked the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) to sift through its database to find which contractors might be caught in the ACORN net.
Lockheed Martin and Northrop Gumman both popped up quickly, with 20 fraud cases between them, and the longer list is a Who’s Who of weapons manufacturers and defense contractors.
The language was written by the GOP and filed as a “motion to recommit” in the House, where it passed 345-75.
POGO is reaching out to its members to identify other companies who have engaged in the type of misconduct that would make them ineligible for federal funds.
Grayson then intends to file that list in the legislative history that goes along with the bill so that judges can reference it when determining whether a company should be denied federal funds.
The Florida freshman is asking for direct assistance. He has set up a Google spreadsheet where people can suggest contractors who have been charged with violations and include a link to a media or government report documenting the alleged transgression.
Folks, it’s an open-source partnership between government and the public to get swindlers off our payroll, open season on leeches on the body politic. Lock and load! This could be fun.
UPDATE: It’s fun already. Louisiana Democrats have created an online petition calling for Republican Sen. David “Diapers” Vitter to be “defunded” by Congress because of his past dalliance with prostitutes.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009 9:31 pm
In the comments to this post, a commenter and I kind of got into it a little over the notion of race as a factor in opposition to Obama’s policies. (To recap, I think it’s behind some but by no means all that opposition. The commenter claimed that people were claiming ALL opposition to Obama was prompted by racism, something neither I nor anyone else I know of has claimed.)
Jimmy Carter also said race is behind some of the opposition, too. Now, two researchers are saying it’s actually worse than that:
Our research favors Carter’s interpretation and adds some hard data to the debate. In fact, the partisan divide today is even more troubling than if it was driven by race alone.
Americans’ views of political issues and their partisan attachments are being increasingly shaped by gut-level worldviews. On one side of many issues are those who see the world in terms of hierarchy, think about problems in black and white terms, and struggle to tolerate difference. On the other are those who favor independence over hierarchy, shades of gray over black-white distinctions, and diversity over sameness.
We call this dividing line an authoritarian one, and we find that what side of the line people fall on explains their positions on a wide ranging set of issues, including race, immigration, gay rights, civil liberties, and terrorism. This is because what lies behind these preferences is a larger difference in worldview, where people understand reality in starkly different ways. This, in turn, leads to rancorous and irreconcilable-seeming political conflicts.
As evidence of the link between health care and racial attitudes, we analyzed survey data gathered in late 2008. The survey asked people whether they favored a government run health insurance plan, a system like we have now, or something in between. It also asked four questions about how people feel about blacks.
Taken together the four items form a measure of what scholars call racial resentment. We find an extraordinarily strong correlation between racial resentment of blacks and opposition to health care reform.
Among whites with above average racial resentment, only 19 percent favored fundamental health care reforms and 57 percent favored the present system. Among those who have below average racial resentment, more than twice as many (45 percent) favored government run health care and less than half as many (25 percent) favored the status quo.
No such relationship between racial attitudes and opinions on health care existed in the mid-1990s during the Clinton effort.
Comments dday over at Digby’s place:
What these professors are really probing is the lizard brain, the tribal identifiers that often bubble to the surface, in unguarded moments, as racism. It’s almost too neat and simple to simply call it racial in intent. It goes much deeper to a visceral resentment, a put-upon persecution complex, this constant paranoia that someone else is getting a better deal, and that such inequity can form the basis of all the nation’s problems. It’s purely an emotional release to explain whatever personal failings or lack of compassion already exists. That this frequently codes racially is a symptom of the relationship between race and class, as well as the other longtime signifiers of identity that have been hard-wired into our brains for centuries.
And as we know, anything hard-wired into our brains is quite easy to overcome. Just ask the abstinence movement.
So, while there certainly are a lot of people who oppose current health-care reform on what they may feel, and what actually may be, a rational basis (and I have problems with it myself), there also are a lot who reflexively oppose it because they reflexively oppose giving … well, anything to anybody who’s not them or like them.