Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, October 31, 2013 10:25 pm

“12 Years a Slave” and the bankruptcy of original intent

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 10:25 pm
Tags: ,

David Simon, creator of the outstanding TV series “Homicide: Life on the Streets” and the excellent cable series “The Wire” and “Treme,” went to see the movie “12 Years a Slave” — twice.

He liked the movie on its own merits:

On first viewing, I was simply startled by how genuinely fair the storytelling had been with the subject matter.  Sadism and soullessness was balanced by moments of regret and conscience on the part of white characters.  Accomodation and supplication on the part of Southern slaves was punctuated by moments of desperate courage and dignity.

On second viewing — with me in a darkened theater with a big screen, looking for the rough seams and filmic dishonesties — I emerged thinking precisely the same about this remarkable work.  This film didn’t cheat our national history.  It didn’t allude to horror, nor did it revel in it.  It marks the first time in history that our entertainment industry, albeit with international creative input, has managed to stare directly at slavery and maintain that gaze.

Everyone who had anything to do with this film getting made —  from the producers, to director Steve McQueen, and the committed, talented cast — should sleep tonight and every night knowing that for once, the escapism, bluster and simple provocation that marks a good 95 percent of our film output has been somehow flanked, and subversively so.

But he also discerned a larger truth that is relevant not just for film buffs but for all Americans:

Anyone who acquires the narrative of 12 Years A Slave and finds it within his shrunken heart to continue any argument for the sanctity and perfection of our Founding Fathers, for the moral wisdom of their compromised document of national ideal that begins the American experience, or for their anachronistic or historically understandable tolerance of slavery — they are arguing from a desolate, amoral corner.

If original intent included the sadism and degradation of human slavery, then original intent is a legal and moral standard that can be consigned to the ash heap of human history.   Hardcore conservatives and libertarians who continue to parse the origins of the Constitutions under the guise of returning to a more perfect American union are on a fool’s journey to decay and dishonor. …

In the echo of this film, the continuing call for a strict construction of our national codes and a devotion to the precise, original ideas of the long-dead men who crafted those codes in another human age, rings hollow and sick and shameful.

“Desolate, amoral, hollow, sick and shameful” fit Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia like a bespoke suit, his occasional good work on behalf of the First Amendment notwithstanding.

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You want scary? Here’s scary: Congressional Democrats trying to help poor people.

Why are millions of Americans about to have their food stamps (SNAP) cut tomorrow? Because Congressional Democrats are the worst, most inept defenders of America’s most vulnerable in the history of, well, forever:

WASHINGTON — A group of nine Democratic members of the House of Representatives held a press conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday to demand Congress avert an automatic food stamp cut scheduled to take effect on Friday.

“The average family of four will see a $36 cut in their monthly benefits, bringing the average per-person benefit from $1.50 a meal to $1.40 a meal,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. “Shame on this Congress for allowing this to happen.”

But the cut, which will reduce monthly benefits for all 47 million Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by roughly 7 percent, is happening thanks mainly to Democratic votes that hastened the demise of a benefit increase from the 2009 stimulus bill. Each of the representatives at Tuesday’s presser voted with their party for a pair of 2010 spending bills that set the cuts in motion.

The first bill took money allocated for future food stamp use and used it instead to prevent states from laying off teachers. Democrats supported the bill grudgingly, lamenting that it would cause a food stamp cut in 2014. When it came time to support a second bill that raided future food stamp funds once again, pushing the cut to November 2013, they protested — at least at first.

“This is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and is a vote we do not take lightly,” more than 100 Democrats wrote in an August 2010 letter to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

But then President Barack Obama smoothed things over in a meeting at the White House, because the bill in question was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act — a priority of the first lady’s. The measure provided free lunches and updated nutrition standards for schools.

“I am very pleased we were able to work together with the president and his team to address concerns regarding cuts to the food stamp program that are included in the child nutrition bill,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a statement at the time. On Tuesday, Lee told HuffPost the president had pledged to support replacing the SNAP funds, a vow he fulfilled in subsequent budget blueprints that didn’t become law. Congress and the White House have been otherwise silent about the issue for the past three years.

Now, you may have heard that the GOP is seeking cuts — $40 billion over the next 10 years — in food stamps, while continuing to support the indefensible agricultural subsidies that, along with food stamps, are part and parcel of the same agriculture bill now under discussion. And you’re right; they are. But the cuts that are going into effect tomorrow are a separate issue and were aided and abetted by a nontrivial number of Democrats — and this was back in 2010, when Democrats still controlled the House. Democrats hope you won’t notice this.

Digby comments:

They are actually defending the fact that they were forced into choosing between vegetables and fruits for school lunches and food stamps for poor people. Our progressive representatives passively capitulated to the absurd notion that we could not do both. How many of these “deals” have Democrats made over the past few years?

Too damn many, is how many. On pretty much every issue of importance to the poor, the middle class, women, minorities, consumers — basically every constituency except rich white men and large corporations — Democrats have gotten rolled over and over and over again.

I sometimes get asked why, given how nutzo the party has gone in the past 20 years, I remain a Republican. My reasons are my own, but, swear to God, some days I feel like saying something stupid like, “Because at least they’re competent.”

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 7:57 pm

Obama lied about keeping your existing health-insurance policy … or DID he?

Actually, The Washington Post (among others) did the lying, as economist Dean Baker helpfully notes:

The Washington Post joined Republicans in hyping the fact that many individual insurance policies are being cancelled with insurers telling people that the reason is the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The second paragraph comments on this fact:

“The notices [of plan cancellation] appear to contradict President Obama’s promise that despite the changes resulting from the law, Americans can keep their health insurance if they like it.”

It would have been useful to point out that the plans that were in effect as of the passage of the ACA were grandfathered. This means that any insurers that cancel plans that were in effect prior to 2010 are being misleading if they tell their customers that the cancellation was due to the ACA. It was not a mandate of the ACA that led to the cancellation of the plan, but rather a decision of the insurer based on market conditions.

But Obama is black!

Also, if you really want to know what’s going on in the economy, just read Baker’s blog every day. It’s called Beat The Press, and that’s what it does. Pretty much the only thing he ever posts about is mistakes made by major news-media outlets in coverage of economics, and he never lacks for material, averaging about 3-4 posts per day. He also doesn’t have to go far afield for material: The major print, broadcast and cable outlets keep him supplied without his having to go beat up on a 22-year-old cub reporter in East Buttville to flesh out an item. I started reading him several years ago, and in less than a week, I arrived at the conclusion that where economics coverage is concerned, American news  media just ought to be ashamed, full stop. This matters not only in and of itself but also because the income and wealth of working people and the middle class are under siege right now by the 1%, who are counting on people’s economic ignorance to let them do what they want to do, which is rob us blind. Baker is our Thin Blue Line. Read him and support him.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013 9:59 pm

Watch Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP legislature get their asses kicked. By a teenage girl.

Filed under: That's gonna leave a mark — Lex @ 9:59 pm
Tags:

Meet the new generation of suffragettes. Warning to jackasses: My daughter will be able to vote in 2016, and if you think I don’t suffer fools gladly, well, she doesn’t even suffer them at gunpoint.

When we are ruled by barbarians, civility is vastly overrated …

… and that’s why this is a job for the Rude Pundit, who weighs in on both spying and drones:

Are we that crazed about our own precious safety that we simply don’t give a shit anymore about what other nations think when it comes to us “protecting” ourselves from “terrorists”? At this point, the United States views the world as one giant conspiracy out to destroy truth, justice, and high school football. We’re so … insane that Osama bin Laden must be laughing his crab-bitten ass off at the bottom of the ocean. …

The biggest allegation so far is that the NSA monitored the cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. A question about it to Press Secretary Jay Carney led to one of the all-time great weasel answers: “The President assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel.” Now, the Rude Pundit may not be a big city diplomat, but he is a professor, and he knows when the past tense is missing in a sentence. [That’s] so weaselly that actual weasels stood on their hind legs and applauded. …

And before anyone tries to say this is no big deal, much ado about nothing, metadata, or whatever self-deluding nonsense you wanna toss onto the shitpile, what’s more important, huh? Hearing Angela Merkel order take-out bratwurst or whatever … they do in Germany? Or assuring ongoing cooperation from our, you know, allies? ‘Cause those alleged allies are already thinking of telling the United States to [forget about] sharing spy information.

Of course, a little phone and email eavesdropping would be preferable for the people of Pakistan and Yemen, where Obama’s drone war is killing [many] civilians. Like, you know, the “18 laborers, including a 14-year-old boy, [who] were killed in multiple strikes on an impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to enjoy an evening meal at the end of a long day of work” in July 2012. The U.S. reported that as a successful terrorist murder operation, but Amnesty International discovered that it was, in fact, 18 laborers, including a 14-year old boy, who had [nothing] to do with terrorism. There’s lots more like that in both countries where we rain fiery death on the people.

What’s the game here? Is it that once Obama was shown the real threats to the United States, the [stuff] we’re all too stupid to be allowed to see, he lost his … mind and decided to go survivalist? Or is it that Obama is so concerned, like Democrats before him, to be seen as … tough … at home that he doesn’t really care what people overseas think about the spying and the drones missiles?

The Rude Pundit has a problem with all of this. He can’t just sweep it under the rug, say he trusts Obama, go about his daily life, and be glad that he’s not getting attacked. [Forget] that. He didn’t sign up for this. He’s not gonna pretend it’s okay because it’s not. And if it takes our European allies and the human rights organizations we have trusted for decades to smack us back into reality, then, please, slap away at our contorted faces.

I’m nobody’s idea of a national-security expert, but I would think that when our allies are threatening not to share intelligence with us anymore because of what we do and how we do it, we might want to rethink what we do and how we do it. And these two issues are far from the only problems I have with our president over national security.

Just-World Theory; or, Bad Things Don’t Happen to Good People! Really!

Ed at Gin & Tacos:

Post-1980 America is a land in which it is impossible to engage in a discussion about a System with college-aged people without inevitably and almost immediately devolving into mini-soliloquies on Good and Bad choices. Why have so many kids? Why did he start drinking? And they signed a contract without reading the whole thing! Everyone knows not to do that.

This is what I mean when I describe college students, when I’m forced to generalize, as extremely conservative. They aren’t necessarily hardcore political conservatives in the context of Washington politics, but they have thoroughly internalized the message that their parents and the media have been hammering them with since birth: everything that happens to you is your fault. There are no innocent victims of anything. This is a coping mechanism / cognitive bias called the Just World Phenomenon, wherein people victim-blame as a means of coping with the random cruelty of the world. Rather than accept that horrible things happen to good people – and, thus, that a horrible fate could befall them at any moment – people choose to retreat into the comforts of believing that everyone Had It Coming.

These are young adults who believe sincerely that since they have made Good Choices, nothing bad can happen to them for reasons beyond their control. The idea of being unemployed is literally incomprehensible to many of them – I’m in college and I even get decent grades, of course someone is going to hire me. This is where, as critics both liberal and conservative have often moaned, the constant self-esteem building of kids born in the 1990s shows its ugly side. Each student tends to believe that he or she is special and smart and the world, being a meritocracy, cannot fail to recognize this. Some of this simply is the normal naivety of youth that only life experience can erase. I honestly believe, strictly as a matter of opinion, that the hyper-individualism that dominates post-Carter politics is influential as well.

Yeah, how could bad things happen to people who make good choices when:

  • … right now 1.2 million students that attend public schools in America are homeless.  That number has risen by 72 percent since the start of the last recession. …
  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one out of every six Americans is now living in poverty.  The number of Americans living in poverty is now at a level not seen since the 1960s. …
  • The “working poor” is one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. population.  At this point, approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is living below the poverty line.
  • The stock market may be doing great (for the moment), but incomes for average Americans continue to decline.  In fact, median household income in the United States has fallen for five years in a row. …
  • The quality of the jobs in America has been steadily dropping for years.  At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less. …

Yeah, what could possibly go wrong and cause you any harm, kid?

Monday, October 28, 2013 8:38 pm

Econ 101, 2013 version

It’s so simple even Bill Maher gets it:

This is the question the Right has to answer. Do you want smaller government with less handouts or do you want do you want a low minimum wage because you cannot have both. If Coronel Sanders isn’t going to pay the lady behind the counter enough to live on, then Uncle Sam has to. And I for one is getting a little tired of helping highly profitable companies pay their workers.

And spare me the crap about how raising the minimum wage kills jobs because 1) it doesn’t, 2) CEO pay relative to worker pay is at an unprecedented height, and it ain’t because CEOs are, in general, competent at running providers of goods and services rather than gaming the system, and 3) corporate profits are at an all-time high.

Why Healthcare.gov problems shouldn’t be a surprise

Clay Johnson of the Sunlight Foundation and co-founder of Blue State Digital, the firm that built and managed Obama’s online 2008 campaign, on the rollout:

Well, government doesn’t have a lot of people to choose from when they’re looking for contractors to build this stuff. And I think part of the problem is that the same people that are building drones are building websites. When government is building a website like this, they have to use a system called procurement, which is about 1,800 pages’ worth of regulation that all but ensures that the people who are building this stuff are the people with the best lawyers, not the people with the best programmers. And so, you know, you have this sort of fundamental lack of talent amongst the contractor ecosystem that’s building this stuff, that it’s bound to be bad work—that, combined with the fact that in 1996 Congress lobotomized itself by getting rid of its technology think tank, called the Technology Assessment Office. So when they’re writing bills, they don’t understand the technology that they’re requiring in their laws. This is what you get when you have a Congress that is basically brainless on technology, and government who can only pick from a few old, stodgy contractors. You’re bound to have this result. And, in fact, the standings group came out earlier this week and pointed out that over—for all procurements over $10 million, 94 percent of them fail.

We can thank the Republicans for getting rid of the Technology Assessment Office, inasmuch as they controlled both houses of Congress at the time and facts are just so darned inconvenient.

Meanwhile, adding to the site’s problems, a data center built and run by Verizon went down Sunday, halting enrollment in all 50 states. I eagerly await Darrell Issa’s subpoena of Verizon’s CEO, and/or Issa’s call for the CEO to be fired.

I have no use for the Washington Times, but this is clearly unconstitutional

Apparently the Maryland State Police and the Department of Homeland Security need to be swatted on their noses with a rolled-up Constitution:

Maryland State Police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigative journalist for The Washington Times who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department’s Federal Air Marshals Service.

Reporter Audrey Hudson said the investigators, who included an agent for Homeland Security’s Coast Guard service, made a pre-dawn raid of her family home Aug. 6 and took her private notes and government documents that she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

 

The documents, some of which chronicled her sources and her work at The Times about problems inside the Homeland Security Department, were seized under a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a “potato gun” suspected of belonging to her husband, Paul Flanagan, a Coast Guard employee. Mr. Flanagan has not been charged with any wrongdoing since the raid.

The warrant, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, offered no specific permission to seize reporting notes or files.

The Times said it is preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.

“While we appreciate law enforcement’s right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter,” Times Editor John Solomon said. “This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter’s work.

“Homeland’s conduct in seizing privileged reporters’ notes and Freedom of Information Act documents raises serious Fourth Amendment issues, and our lawyers are preparing an appropriate legal response,” he said.

Oh, they didn’t say they were looking for reporters’ notes and records, but they took some anyway? Guess what, folks. That’s about as clear-cut a case of unconstitutional behavior as you can get. The Fourth Amendment reads, in its entirety: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and 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.” In other words, you can’t go in saying you’re looking for a gun and just seize a reporter’s notes and (legally obtained) records.

I’m not even going to start on how unlikely it is to be a coincidence that the same federal agency that has come off looking bad in this reporter’s work was the one undertaking the raid. I’m just going to stick with the facts. And the facts are that EVEN IF reporter Audrey Hudson’s husband, Paul Flanagan, had the gun in question (and he has not been charged wtih a crime, remember), officials had no basis in the world for confiscating anything relevant to her work.

I rag on the Washington Times for being a crappy news outlet because, well, it generally is. But crappy or not, no U.S. news outlet — indeed, no American — is supposed to be treated this way. It’s right there in the Fourth Amendment. Some Maryland state police and DHS officials need to be fired and prosecuted over this. Denial of civil rights under color of law is a crime, and this crap is going to keep happening until cops start going to prison. I’m delighted that the Times is suing, but it needs to pressure the hell out of both the county DA and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute the officials involved. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013 9:50 pm

Oh, I’M sorry, you were worried about the DEFICIT and not whether Americans had health care?

Read this and weep, you freakin’ sociopaths:

The Affordable Care Act is already working: Intense price competition among health plans in the marketplaces for individuals has lowered premiums below projected levels. As a result of these lower premiums, the federal government will save about $190 billion over the next 10 years, according to our estimates. These savings will boost the health law’s amount of deficit reduction by 174 percent and represent about 40 percent of the health care savings proposed by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform—commonly known as the Simpson-Bowles commission—in 2010.

Moreover, we estimate that lower premiums will lower the number of uninsured even further, by an additional 700,000 people, even as the number of individuals who receive tax credits will decline because insurance is more affordable.

In short, the Affordable Care Act is working even better than expected, producing more coverage for much less money.

And just because you’re evil and you suck, you should also read the whole damn report, while I make an adult beverage out of vodka and your bitter, bitter tears.

Friday, October 25, 2013 10:01 pm

“We’re in the post-antibiotic era.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:01 pm

Well, YOU can just rock me to sleep tonight:

There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.

Nice work, factory farmers.

The PBS show “Frontline” did an episode on this; you can see it here.

 

National Insecurity; or, Would-be anonymous-source and former superspy Michael Hayden gets outed like a 6-year-old

Filed under: I want my country back.,Journalism — Lex @ 9:32 pm
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So perhaps you have heard by now that former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden was on the train a coupla days ago and was talking to a reporter, criticizing the administration and insisting on being identified only as a “former senior administration official.” On an insecure line. In a passenger car (and here’s my favorite detail: it wasn’t even the “quiet” car, so he had to be speaking pretty loudly). On public transportation. And sitting within earshot of Hayden was a guy named Tom Mattzie, who 1) used to work with MoveOn.org and 2) has a Twitter account. And Mattzie live-tweeted about what he was hearing right there in public. (I particularly liked the line, “No rendition yet.”)

This incident addresses at least two of my long-running concerns — domestic wiretapping and sycophantic journalism.

It’s a delicious irony for Hayden, the architect of the fact that the fact that you’re reading this is known to the government, to be overheard and outed. But that surveillance is a serious — yea, unconstitutional — problem that no one in a position of responsibility in either party seems interested in solving.

And then there’s the part where DC journalists routinely grant anonymity to current and former government officials as a professional courtesy, rather than only in extreme circumstances, such as to protect whistleblowers. (Thoughtful essay here on this subject by an active-duty Army officer who has been on both sides of that particular arrangement — or, to be precise, refused to be.) As Charlie Pierce writes:

This episode also has the salubrious effect of rendering a mockery all those chin-stroking, thumb-sucking pieces by serious Washington journalists about how horrible it is that scurvy knaves who can’t get good tables at the Palm, or invites to Ben ‘n Sally’s, keep publishing Our National Secrets without regard to the opinions of the brave, but sadly all-too-human and error-prone, heroes of our intelligence community. Michael Hayden spent a lot of time slagging Edward Snowden — and once made a funny-ha-ha about putting Snowden on a “kill list” — and now he gets caught, gossiping like a high-school cheerleader on an open phone line on a public train. They serve very tasty ironies in the Club Car, I’m thinking.

Edward Snowden is one messed-up human being, but he has served the useful purpose of reminding us of, and prodding us hard to discuss, Problem One mentioned above. The same journalists taking Michael Hayden’s not-for-attribution phone calls ought to be reporting instead on the ongoing constitutional train wreck Hayden oversaw and which continues to rob us of our freedom. And Hayden ought to be in a cell.

But Obamacare will kill small businesses!

Not so much, says New Yorker business/economics writer James Surowiecki:

[T]he overwhelming majority of American businesses—ninety-six per cent—have fewer than fifty employees. The employer mandate doesn’t touch them. And more than ninety per cent of the companies above that threshold already offer health insurance. Only three per cent are in the zone (between forty and seventy-five employees) where the threshold will be an issue. Even if these firms get more cautious about hiring—and there’s little evidence that they will—the impact on the economy would be small.

Meanwhile, the likely benefits of Obamacare for small businesses are enormous. To begin with, it’ll make it easier for people to start their own companies—which has always been a risky proposition in the U.S., because you couldn’t be sure of finding affordable health insurance. As John Arensmeyer, who heads the advocacy group Small Business Majority, and is himself a former small-business owner, told me, “In the U.S., we pride ourselves on our entrepreneurial spirit, but we’ve had this bizarre disincentive in the system that’s kept people from starting new businesses.” Purely for the sake of health insurance, people stay in jobs they aren’t suited to—a phenomenon that economists call “job lock.” “With the new law, job lock goes away,” Arensmeyer said. “Anyone who wants to start a business can do so independent of the health-care costs.” Studies show that people who are freed from job lock (for instance, when they start qualifying for Medicare) are more likely to undertake something entrepreneurial, and one recent study projects that Obamacare could enable 1.5 million people to become self-employed.

Even more important, Obamacare will help small businesses with health-care costs, which have long been a source of anxiety. The fact that most Americans get their insurance through work is a historical accident: during the Second World War, wages were frozen, so companies began offering health insurance instead. After the war, attempts to create universal heath care were stymied by conservatives and doctors, and Congress gave corporations tax incentives to keep providing insurance. The system has worked well enough for big employers, since large workforces make possible the pooling of risk that any healthy insurance market requires. But small businesses often face so-called “experience rating”: a business with a lot of women or older workers faces high premiums, and even a single employee who runs up medical costs can be a disaster. A business that Arensmeyer represents recently saw premiums skyrocket because one employee has a child with diabetes. Insurance costs small companies as much as eighteen per cent more than it does large companies; worse, it’s also a crapshoot. Arensmeyer said, “Companies live in fear that if one or two employees get sick their whole cost structure will radically change.” No wonder that fewer than half the companies with under fifty employees insure their employees, and that half of uninsured workers work for small businesses or are self-employed. In fact, a full quarter of small-business owners are uninsured, too.

Obamacare changes all this. It provides tax credits to smaller businesses that want to insure their employees. And it requires “community rating” for small businesses, just as it does for individuals, sharply restricting insurers’ ability to charge a company more because it has employees with higher health costs. And small-business exchanges will in effect allow companies to pool their risks to get better rates. “You’re really taking the benefits that big companies enjoy, and letting small businesses tap into that,” Arensmeyer said. This may lower costs, and it will insure that small businesses can hire the best person for a job rather than worry about health issues.

The U.S. likes to think of itself as friendly to small businesses. But, as a 2009 study by the economists John Schmitt and Nathan Lane documented, our small-business sector is among the smallest in the developed world, and has one of the lowest rates of self-employment. One reason is that we’ve never had anything like national health insurance. In a saner world, changing this would be a reform that the “party of small business” would celebrate.

But we don’t live in a saner world, now, do we?

 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013 6:52 pm

Quote of the day, Healthcare.gov edition

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 6:52 pm
Tags: , ,

Matt Miller in the WaPo:

To listen to Republican laments about Healthcare.gov’s terrible launch, you’d think the GOP was deeply concerned that people who need affordable health insurance are being denied this essential protection thanks to the administration’s incompetence.

But of course nothing could be further from the truth. What conservative officials, pundits and advocates are screaming is closer to the following:

How dare you totally screw up something that we think shouldn’t exist!

How dare you make it hard for poor, uninsured workers to get health coverage we don’t want to subsidize them to purchase!

What did Kathleen Sebelius know and when did she know it, when it comes to the wreck of a train we’ve prayed would be a train wreck all along?

This is what the “logic” of a party of “no” sounds like — where the entire strategy is to create noise, not solutions.

To which I would add, “… and pray to God that you can’t tell the difference.” Because they’ve got nothin’ that America wants.

Friday, October 18, 2013 10:25 pm

Former vagina-bothering Kansas AG Phill Kline has law license suspended

Filed under: Evil,I want my country back. — Lex @ 10:25 pm
Tags: , , ,

The Kansas Supreme Court delivers an epic smackdown to a guy who’s lucky he’s not going to prison:

Citing “clear and convincing evidence” of professional misconduct, the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday indefinitely suspended the law license of former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline.

The court found that Kline violated 11 rules governing the professional conduct of attorneys during his tenure as the state’s highest law enforcement officer and while he served as Johnson County district attorney.

The disciplinary action that led to Friday’s order arose from Kline’s investigation of abortion clinics while he was attorney general, and from his handling of a grand jury proceeding while Johnson County’s district attorney.

In case you’d forgotten who Kline was and what kind of slimy crap he pulled:

As attorney general and later Johnson County district attorney, he presided over investigations of the late George Tiller’s abortion clinic in Wichita [Tiller was murdered, in case you don’t recall — Lex] and Planned Parenthood in Overland Park.

Kline had accused Planned Parenthood and Tiller of violating state abortion law and covering for pedophiles by not reporting pregnancies of underage girls. Kline said he sought medical records of former patients to prove his case.

The investigation of Planned Parenthood produced a 107-count criminal indictment. The case against the abortion provider was later dropped by current Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe.

The disciplinary proceedings against Kline began in January 2010 when complaints were filed by Tiller’s attorney and the forewoman of a Johnson County grand jury called to investigate Planned Parenthood. The complaint accused Kline of misleading judges and mishandling evidence as he investigated abortion clinics.

The next year, 12 days of evidence and testimony were presented at a hearing before three lawyers appointed by the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys. That panel found multiple incidents of misconduct and recommended indefinite suspension.

Kline’s objection to those findings triggered a review by the Supreme Court that led to Friday’s 154-page order.

The court found Friday that when he was attorney general, Kline committed misconduct by instructing members of his staff to attach sealed documents to a publicly filed document in violation of a Supreme Court order. He also told staff to file a court pleading that contained misleading information.

The court further found that as Johnson County district attorney, Kline failed to properly advise members of a grand jury about Kansas law and sought to enforce a grand jury subpoena against the grand jury’s wishes.

It also found that Kline gave false testimony to a judge and made “false and misleading” statements to the Supreme Court about the handling of patient records obtained during the criminal investigations. He also did not correct a misstatement to the state’s disciplinary administrator regarding the storage of patient records.

This case got to the state Supreme Court because Kline had disagreed with the recommendation of the Kansas Board for Discipline of Attorneys, which had sought his disbarment.

In a just world, Kline would have been permanently disbarred. In a just world, he’d have gone to prison for telling staff to file a court pleading that contained misleading information. Instead, he’s teaching future lawyers at Liberty University, the late Jerry Falwell’s joint. And he insists there was nothing wrong with what he did, so he’s no doubt fomenting in some future lawyers the belief that it’s OK to lie and cheat. So he gets to go on with his life, while Tiller is dead and some of his patients have suffered unconscionable violations of their privacy.

Of course, he and his lawyer continue to insist that he did nothing wrong. IANAL, but here’s a journalistic pro tip: When you’re a DA and your own grand jury’s forewoman tells the court you’re a crook, the odds are good that you’re a big damn crook.

 

Hey, Paul Cox of Leicester, NC — why did you go on Hannity’s show and lie about Obamacare?

Because you did, and you’ve been busted.

Thursday, October 17, 2013 8:39 pm

The center cannot hold because there isn’t one

A poll conducted by Esquire magazine and NBC purports to identify and take the measure of what it calls “The New American Center” among American voters.

I am not a polling expert, but I have enough polling experience and experience in both quantitative and qualitative research to grasp that this conceit is crap. (Thus no link.)

Americans are more culturally divided than they have been since the eve of the Civil War, and there’s a wealth of more rigorous polling at PollingReport.com to substantiate that claim. Moreover, rigorous polling on policy ideas that simply presents the ideas in context without labeling them as conservative or liberal, Republican or Democratic, shows that Americans actually prefer liberal policies in general, not moderate or conservative ones. They want to soak hell out of the rich, just for starters.

Since this garbage first appeared on Esquire’s politics blog, I’ve been awaiting the input of that blog’s primary writer, Charlie Pierce. I hoped that he wouldn’t be muzzled on this subject. And it seems, to my delight, either that he hasn’t been or that he doesn’t care:

There are three kinds of people who claim to be centrists in this country today. There are embarrassed Republicans. There are lazy people. And there are liars. There is no fourth alternative. We have seen vividly the intellectual exhaustion of self-proclaimed centrists in the laughable attempts to blame both sides for the reign of the morons. We have seen vividly the intellectual dishonesty of self-proclaimed centrists demonstrated by the No Labels and Fix The Debt scams, both of which involve little more than selling out the social safety-net. We even seen the intellectual vacuity of self-proclaimed centrists in the results of this poll, in which we see some vague mumbling about the deficit that will eat us in our beds, but a strong desire to raise taxes on the very wealthiest among us, which I guarantee you none of the people who proclaim their centrism the loudest believes is a centrist position.

So to the list of yellow lines and dead armadillos that you can find in the middle of the road, you may add embarrassed Republicans, lazy people and liars. That’s it, although I might soften Charlie’s position a bit and rephrase “lazy” as “low-information” people in some cases, because it takes time and effort to get informed. Some people don’t bother, and “lazy” fits them. But plenty of others are working multiple jobs, raising kids and just trying to get by and can’t get informed. Them, I don’t blame so much.

But I sure as hell blame the mainstream media that too often are their only sources of information. And while Esquire’s political reporting generally has been far better than this, NBC, perhaps with the exception of Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, has been as egregious an offender as exists out there. I’m sure David Gregory considers himself a centrist. He’s not. He’s a conservative moron.

Read more: Response To New American Center – I Hate Centrism – Esquire
Follow us: @Esquiremag on Twitter | Esquire on Facebook
Visit us at Esquire.com

Quote of the day, Tea Party debt-ceiling edition

“The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.” – Richard Hofstadter, 1954.

Chronicle of a death foretold, debt-ceiling edition

Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the Republican now running FreedomWorks and other detriments to American well-being, is an evil little turd, but he correctly called the outcome a week in advance:

I will predict this: When they agree on a spending bill, it will speak not at all to Obamacare and it will be at budgetary numbers higher than the sequestration level. And so in the end, the Republican conference will lose ground on the budget, they will lose ground on health care, they will lose ground politically, and they’ll be in a worse position than where Boehner had them going into this process. And they’ll all blame Boehner, bless his heart.

(h/t: Anne Laurie at Balloon Juice)

 

Monday, October 14, 2013 7:56 pm

JPMorgan Chase just posted its first quarterly loss in a decade.

Yes, the nation’s largest bank lost $388 million. Alex Pareene of Salon explains why that matters:

… in one important sense, this loss doesn’t really “count.” The loss didn’t happen because the things JPMorgan does to make money stopped making money, the loss happened because JPMorgan has spent a fortune — a truly staggering amount of money — defending itself against legal inquiries and paying fines for bad behavior. This quarterly loss is the result of the bank needing a couple billion dollars to spend on lawyers and fines and fees, with a few billion set aside this quarter as “part of a $23 billion pot the bank has set aside to cover mounting legal costs.” Take away those costs, and you have a bank that is making almost as much money as usual. “Excluding litigation expense and reserve release,” according to Reuters, “the company posted a profit of $5.82 billion, or $1.42 per share.”

As Felix Salmon has said, a fantastically profitable bank is a bank that is extracting rents from the economy. A bank that would be fantastically profitable if it weren’t for the expense of dealing with myriad investigations into its corrupt and criminal activities is a bank that would seem to have reached the limits of its rent-extraction strategy.

So crime is baked into JPMorgan Chase’s business model. The nation’s largest bank apparently is little more than a continuing criminal enterprise, as defined under the RICO act, if it has to put billions, with a “B,” aside in just one quarter for legal defense. But nothing bad will ever happen to JPMorgan Chase because Barack Obama’s Justice Department can’t be bothered to investigate world-historical swindles, and nothing will happen to CEO Jamie Dimon because CEOs aren’t responsible for the crimes of the corporations they are so handsomely rewarded to run. Ever.

Friday, October 11, 2013 7:57 pm

Read this and tell me again how the shutdown is the Democrats’ fault

The House GOP’s Little Rule Change:

Late on the night of Sept. 30, with the federal government just hours away from shutting down, House Republicans quietly made a small change to the House rules that blocked a potential avenue for ending the shutdown.

It went largely unnoticed at the time. But with the shutdown more than a week old and House Democrats searching for any legislative wiggle room to end it, the move looms large in retrospect in the minds of the minority party.

“What people don’t know is that they rigged the rules of the House to keep the government shut down,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), ranking member of the House Budget Committee, told TPM in an interview. “This is a blatant effort to make sure that the Senate bill did not come up for a vote.” …

Here’s the rule in question:

When the stage of disagreement has been reached on a bill or resolution with House or Senate amendments, a motion to dispose of any amendment shall be privileged.

In other words, if the House and Senate are gridlocked as they were on the eve of the shutdown, any motion from any member to end that gridlock should be allowed to proceed. Like, for example, a motion to vote on the Senate bill. That’s how House Democrats read it.

But the House Rules Committee voted the night of Sept. 30 to change that rule for this specific bill. They added language dictating that any motion “may be offered only by the majority Leader or his designee.”

So unless House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) wanted the Senate spending bill to come to the floor, it wasn’t going to happen. And it didn’t.

“I’ve never seen this rule used. I’m not even sure they were certain we would have found it,” a House Democratic aide told TPM. “This was an overabundance of caution on their part. ‘We’ve got to find every single crack in the dam that water can get through and plug it.'”

Congressional historians agreed that it was highly unusual for the House to reserve such power solely for the leadership.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that before,” Norm Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told TPM.

Thursday, October 10, 2013 8:00 pm

Quote of the Day, shutdown edition: On dealing with terrorists

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-WA, speaking to Dave Wiegel of Slate:

Dealing with terrorists has taught us some things. You can’t deal with ’em. This mess was created by the Republicans for one purpose, and they lost. People in my district are calling in for Obamacare—affordable health care—in large numbers. These guys have lost, and they can’t figure out how to admit it. … You can’t say, OK, you get half of Obamacare—this isn’t a Solomonic decision. So we sit here until they figure out they f—–g lost.”

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 7:41 pm

Pension systems for public workers are only unsustainable if …

Filed under: I want my money back.,Shooting the wounded — Lex @ 7:41 pm
Tags: ,

… politicians and bankers steal from them.

The government, via insurance and regulations, has some leverage over the banks. It should use it to recover the money the banks stole and return it to retired public workers.

Oh, and a unicorn.

Quote of the Day, shutdown/salmonella edition

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 7:14 pm

Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice:

… the dominant view within the modern Republican party is one that in essence denies the existence of society.  In the Tea Party view — the one shaping the entire party’s vision — the US is and must be a nation of individuals, atoms; there is no concept that we might act in concert to ends other than those we can address one by one.

From that perspective deciding we don’t need food safety inspectors makes sense.  It’s my job or yours to make sure we cook that chicken breast all the way through, that we sterilize our cutting boards, that we never forget to soap off our knives between cuts, that we never eat with friends less cautious than ourselves. (I’m following Maryn’s argument here, btw.)

One could choose to live that way.  Kids would die, from time to time, and maybe grandpa too, before he needed to go.  Such deaths would be the price of my freedom, a definition of liberty renders every other person around me a kind of ghost: there, but not so much so that I need act as if they are just as real as me.

That’s what’s at stake in the current impasse in Washington.  I don’t want to live with ghosts. I want friends, I want colleagues, I want a society — civilization.  Hell!  I want chicken inspectors, and it’s a privilege, not a burden, to live within a system that’s figured out how to  have them.

Yup. Much as the Teatards and Norquists of the world want to deny it, we’re in this together, and we are because, if we want certain nice things, we have to be.

Monday, October 7, 2013 7:31 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 7:31 am
Tags:

… to my best friend and a great American, Tony Plutonium!

Sunday, October 6, 2013 1:41 pm

How to restore confidence in the economy

Commenter Christobal Juanes in John Burns’s feed on Facebook:

Man, you know what would really help restore confidence in the economy? Investors not having to worry that the US is going to default on its obligations every couple of months because a political minority that can’t accomplish its myopic, selfish goals through the traditional, constitutionally-designed process holds the economy hostage.

Friday, October 4, 2013 7:04 pm

Quote of the Day, shutdown edition

Commenter Snarki, child of Loki, at Balloon Juice:

House Tea Partiers “have nailed their [penises] to the table, and are threatening to set the table on fire if they don’t get their way.”

 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013 9:56 pm

Judgment Day for the NFL on concussions

Filed under: Sad,Whocouldaknowed? — Lex @ 9:56 pm

I’ve posted several times in the past few years (here, here, here, here, and here) about the growing likelihood of a connection between playing pro football and a type of brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. But between work and school, I never did get around to writing about the recent $765 million settlement between the NFL and former players that was supposed to put to rest allegations that pro football caused debilitating brain injuries. I personally had reservations about any settlement that allowed the NFL to keep its records secret, and I always meant to  circle back to this but never did.

Just as well, because two ESPN investigative reporters are publishing a book that appears to have blown the lid off.  All the emphases in the excerpt are mine:

The National Football League conducted a two-decade campaign to deny a growing body of scientific research that showed a link between playing football and brain damage, according to a new book co-authored by a pair of ESPN investigative reporters.

The book, “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth,” reports that the NFL used its power and resources to discredit independent scientists and their work; that the league cited research data that minimized the dangers of concussions while emphasizing the league’s own flawed research; and that league executives employed an aggressive public relations strategy designed to keep the public unaware of what league executives really knew about the effects of playing the game. ESPN The Magazine and Sports Illustrated published book excerpts on Wednesday morning.

The NFL’s whitewash of the debilitating neurological effects of playing football suffered by players began under former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who left office in 2006, but continued under his successor, current commissioner Roger Goodell, according to the book written by ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru.

The book, which will be released Tuesday by Crown Archetype, compares the NFL’s two decades of actions on health and safety to that of Big Tobacco — the group of cigarette-making corporations whose executives for years covered up the fact their products contained dangerous, addictive, potentially deadly and cancer-causing chemicals.

“There are many differences,” the Fainaru brothers write in “League of Denial,” “but one is that football’s health crisis featured not millions of anonymous victims but very public figures whose grotesque demises seemed almost impossible to reconcile with their personas.”

NFL executives declined to cooperate with the authors on the book. On Wednesday morning, league spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment.

Among the major findings in “League of Denial,” which the Fainarus spent more than a year researching and writing:

• Two original members of a concussion committee established by Tagliabue disavowed the committee’s major findings, including the NFL’s assertion that concussions were minor injuries that never led to long-term brain injury.

• As far back as 1999, the NFL’s retirement board paid more than $2 million in disability payments to former players after concluding football gave them brain damage. But it would be nearly a decade before league executives would publicly acknowledge a link.

• Beginning in 2000, some of the country’s top neuroscientists warned the NFL that football led to higher rates of depression, memory loss, dementia and brain damage.

The league in 2005 tried unsuccessfully to have medical journals retract the published work of several independent concussion researchers.

Independent researchers directly warned Goodell about the connection between football and brain damage in 2007, but the commissioner waited nearly three years to acknowledge the link and to dismantle the league’s discredited concussion committee. In 2009, two other independent researchers delivered still more evidence that football caused brain damage during a private meeting at the NFL’s Park Avenue headquarters. Yet the league committee’s co-chairman, Dr. Ira Casson, mocked and challenged the researchers so aggressively that he offended others who were present, including a Columbia University suicide expert and a U.S. Army colonel who directed the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

• As the crisis escalated, the NFL tried desperately to regain control of the issue and contain damage to its brand. Before an October 2009 hearing on football and brain injuries conducted by the House Judiciary Committee, the NFL lobbied successfully to prevent Goodell from testifying on the same panel as the father of a high school quarterback who had died after sustaining a concussion.

• Dr. Ann McKee, the leading expert on football and brain damage, told the authors that she believes the incidences of neurodegenerative disease among NFL players will prove to be “shockingly high” and that “most NFL players are going to get this. It’s just a question of degree.” Since 2005, when the disease was first diagnosed in deceased NFL players, McKee has studied 54 brains harvested from deceased NFL players. All but two had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). “I’m really wondering where this stops,” she told the Fainarus. “I’m really wondering if every single football player doesn’t have this.”

I am particularly struck by the very apt comparison of league officials to tobacco executives. The sole significant difference at this point is that league officials, to my knowledge, have not stood up and lied to Congress about what they knew.

But they’ve run all these smarmy promo ads about how concerned they are about preventing and treating concussions and teaching young kids heads-up tackling and all the rest. Meanwhile, they were just as aware as I and many others of what the research is showing us, which includes the fact that you don’t have to get a concussion, let alone multiple concussions, to sustain brain injury. There’s no technological fix on the horizon for that, and no way to change the game and still have it be recognized as football. Tagliabue and Goodell are guilty of, at the least, negligent homicide

This won’t kill the NFL, of course. But over a generation or two, potential players will drift to other sports, and the audiences with money will, too.  The poor and desperate will be the only ones who play, and the NFL will fade into the shadows.

Unquestionably

So in an attempt to figure out why we’re in this government-shutdown mess, I went to the Magic 8-Ball and posed a question. The following dialogue ensued:

Q: Is John Boehner’s head in his descending colon, his transverse colon or his ascending colon?

A: Very doubtful.

Q: So is it up in his small bowel?

A: Very doubtful.

Q: So is it, um, up in his stomach?

A: No.

Q: Oh, wow. So it’s all the way up in his esophagus, you mean?

A: Yes.

Well, that would explain a lot.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 7:47 pm

Digby explains it all for you …

… in less than a paragraph:

Boehner’s caucus won’t do what he wants them to do! He can’t make a deal they don’t want him to make unless he’s willing to commit hara-kiri and pass a clean CR with Democratic votes. Does he think Obama will agree to defund Obamacare?

Now, by “commit hara-kiri,” Digby means that if Boehner agreed to pass a clean continuing resolution with Democratic votes, he’d be voted out as Speaker. And, frankly, with the full faith and credit of the United States on the line in just a little over two weeks, a guy who cared about serving the country would take that deal. But the weeping Cheeto wants to hold onto the speakership, even though he’s a bad Speaker of historic proportions, so he’s going to let the Crazy Caucus dictate the GOP’s position. And Obama won’t back off on the Affordable Care Act (nor should he, what with it having been approved by Congress, signed into law, pronounced constitutional by the Supreme Court and effectively ratified by voters nationwide in 2012 and all).

The Crazy Caucus is threatening to blow up the government. And it’s not just a tantrum, it’s something they’ve been planning since January. They need to be reminded of something:

The United States does not negotiate with terrorists.

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