Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:28 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 10

Terrorists are winning the war on terror, primarily because, more than a decade after 9/11 and despite all the costly lessons we’ve learned since then, the U.S. persists in playing the terrorists’ game instead of its own.

Dean Smith‘s public memorial will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Smith Center. Which leads me to wonder: Where will they hold Billy Graham‘s, once he passes on? Bank of America Stadium? Charlotte Motor Speedway? The National Mall?

There’s just one teeny-weeny little problem with the four plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the case now before the Supreme Court that could, perhaps, lead to the Affordable Care Act’s being struck down: None of the four appears to have standing to be suing in the first place.

Could the hammer at long last be coming down on rogue Swiss(-ish) bank HSBC? I’ll believe it when/if it happens, but the Honorable Senator Professor Warren is on this like white on rice. (And just how rogue? Check this out.)

Jim Crow lynchings: significantly more common than previously reported.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but I could tell in 11th grade U.S. history that “right-to-work” was Orwellian doublespeak. Unfortunately, that ain’t all it is.

Debtors’ jail, ostensibly illegal in the U.S., apparently is alive and well in Ferguson, Missouri. A lawsuit seeks to change that.

“Trials” at Guantanamo: No, Casey, nobody here can play this game.

If you’ve never worked in newspapers, you probably thought newspaper executive editors couldn’t get any stupider, and that if they did, it wasn’t your fault as a reader. You were wrong, as Robert Price of the Bakersfield Californian is pleased to demonstrate:

Several weeks ago, [director of audience development] Louis [Amestoy] and I introduced a set of new expectations for reporters and editors. Chief among them was that reporters and editors shall write publishable content every single day. Not blow-out, eight-source 30-inchers (although they have their place), but quick-hit 4-inchers based on as few as a one source or even personal observation — “what I saw driving in to work” stories. So far I have seen almost none of these.

These are required and will be measured on your annual reviews (which are coming up). Please think about how you might start creating these. If you’re like me, you may think some stories (weather related, seen on a business marquee, etc) just don’t clear the bar of importance. Not true, in most cases. Readers gobble this stuff up. [emphasis added; along with the unmistakable sound of Our Lord and Savior weeping bitterly]

#StealAlltheGrammys According to Google, Annie Lennox, Kristen Wiig, Prince (“almost”), Kanye West, Sam Smith, Frank Ocean, and Pharrell Williams’s funky park ranger hat, among others, “stole the Grammys.” Thought you’d want to know.

 

 

Sunday, February 8, 2015 10:30 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 8

A Fox News guest, Jonathan Hoenig, tells viewers Saturday that mandatory vaccinations will lead to forced abortions. Host Eric Bolling says nothing (of course), leaving it to guest Nomiki Konst to say, “Oh, my God,” and inform Hoenig that 48 of 50 states mandate vaccinations for schoolchildren.

The biggest American labor strike in 34 years is widening. The United Steel Workers are striking, and their membership includes the work forces at some oil refineries, so this could hit you right smack in the wallet. What’s that, you say? First you’re hearing about it? Well, go figure; it’s labor news. Charlie Pierce offered some perspective a few days ago.

As Andrew “objectively pro-terrorist” Sullivan rides off into the blogging sunset to, sadly, sickening and near-universal applause, Driftglass does us all a favor by recalling for us a far worthier blogger who didn’t retire but died … and who never got his due.

I’ve little to say about the passing of Dean Smith, but only because you’ll find much more and much better stuff if you go look for it. While I think it’s all but certain that he either knew or should have known about the academic shenanigans that apparently were taking off as his career neared its end, his stand for integration at a time when his job might not have been the only thing at stake will secure his reputation.

Just my opinion, so no link, but: No way do the Carolina Panthers re-sign Greg Hardy, even if a jury exonerates him (which I also don’t think will happen). Someone will sign him, but not the Panthers. Their front office has moved on, and fans should, too.

RIP Joe B. Mauldin, bassist for Buddy Holly’s band, The Crickets. (h/t: Fred)

Friday, February 6, 2015 8:03 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 6

Climate change: It’s a matter of national security.

Obama might be a socialist, but the country just completed its best three-month period of job growth in 17 years, bitchez. Still a long way to go — unemployment actually went up in January as more people resumed looking for work — but it’s definitely looking better.

Boko Haram is opening a branch office in neighboring Niger. Bloodshed and misery follow. World does little.

The annual silliness known as the National Prayer Breakfast was this week. And this year we got more proof, were more needed, about just how impossible it is for Americans conservatives to have an honest conversation about race.

NBC’s Brian Williams lied about being in a helicopter that got shot down in Iraq (which is a firing offense where I’m concerned), but did he also lie about seeing a body floating outside his New Orleans hotel after Hurricane Katrina? Quite possibly not.

Relatedly, why is it such a bad thing for Brian Williams to lie when Fox News personnel do it day-in and day-out, constantly? That’s neither a rhetorical question nor an exaggeration of the network’s mendacity.

Hey, anti-vaxxers? When Autism Speaks says you should vaccinate your kids, you’ve pretty much lost the vaccination argument.

I love it when they throw each other under the bus. This time, it’s Bibi and Boehner, who both deserve all the tire tracks.

One would think that maternal health would be a human right. Sadly, the U.S. has not gotten the word.

Yes, health insurance premiums have gone up an average of $4,154 under Obama — but that’s less than half as fast as they went up under Bush.

Is police reform impossible? Could be.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea (the state university system should benefit the entire state), then got busted for it, then lied about it, then got busted for lying about it. Great start to your presidential campaign, there, goob.

If there’s no war on women, it ain’t for lack of trying.

Intuit’s TurboTax, though not hacked itself, may be being used by scammers to file fraudulently for tax refunds.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership might be the most dangerous, and depressing, trade agreement you’ve never heard of.

The oldest living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona has died at age 100.

The movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened today. Theater operators requested that patrons not dress up, or down, for the showings.

This is how the apocalypse will begin.

Or this, as a single penguin holds the entire crew of a Coast Guard vessel hostage. I, for one, welcome our new spheniscidaean overlords.

Y’all have a good weekend.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 8:34 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 4

The FCC comes out plainly in favor of ‘Net neutrality. That’s wonderful, but the devil will be in the details of the regulations, which have yet to be written.

Former Michigan attorney general Andrew Shirvell must pay $3.5 million in damages to a gay college student whom he stalked online and in real life. Dude, wouldn’t asking him out, getting shot down, and then moving on with your life have been  a lot cheaper?

A creationist theme park in Kentucky that wants both $18 million in state tax credits AND the right to discriminate on the basis of religion has sued the state, which is insisting on either/or. Guys, look up the Bob Jones University case, decided more than 30 years ago. Penguins will ice skate in Hell before you win this.

If you’re waiting on the Supreme Court to settle the question of mandatory vaccination, you can stop; it already did. In 1905.

Vermont’s new motto is in Latin. So what do conservatives do? Start bashing Latinos, obviously. Teh_Stoopid: It burns.

New York police commissioner Ray Kelly, whose fascistic tendencies already have gotten full display in cases of violence committed by his cops, now wants to be able to make resisting arrest by protesters a felony offense. Because there’s no way THAT would ever be abused.

Here in Greensboro, state Sen. Trudy Wade has introduced a bill to change the current city council election system (mayor and three other members elected at large, plus five district members, so that any one voter can vote for a majority of the council) to seven members, all elected from districts, plus a mayor, and to extend terms from two years to four, and other mischief. I’ll probably say more about that later, but the short version is that it’s a bad idea and Trudy should sit down and shut the hell up.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 7:41 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 3.

North Carolina’s junior senator, Republican Thom Tillis, says he’s just fine with NOT requiring food workers to wash up after visiting the restroom. Remind me never to shake his hand.

English majors, rejoice! Harper Lee will publish a sequel to her 1960 masterpiece, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” on July 14.

Standard & Poors, the investment ratings agency whose labeling of crap mortgage-backed securities as investment-grade helped blow up the economy a few years ago, will pay $1.38 billion to settle those allegations. But — say it with me, kids — once again, no criminal charges against anyone.

The New York Times asks an incredibly stupid question about how anti-vaxxers got so much influence. Athenae at First Draft delivers a righteous dopeslapping of an answer.

Y’all have a good evening.

Monday, February 2, 2015 7:51 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 2

So did the Seahawks call that slant pass to keep Marshawn Lynch from being the Super Bowl MVP? For the record, I don’t think so, but given Lynch’s treatment by the media, I can see why some people might.

So at least one prominent likely GOP presidential candidate, Chris Christie, has gone wobbly on vaccinations. His Iowa poll numbers are infinitesimal, and I’m thinking “Bring Out Your Dead!” as a campaign slogan won’t help.

Thanks to the lobbying of the kind and generous folks at Time Warner Cable, North Carolina state law bans municipalities from providing public Internet access. But the Federal Communications Commission  may get involved, arguing that such bans amount to an improper restraint of trade and hinder competition.

Bad as things get here in North Carolina, there’s always Texas. A school there has suspended a 9-year-old for bringing a ring to school because, after watching “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” with his family, he told his friends that the ring could make them invisible, which school officials interpreted as a threat.

Y’all watch out for the rakes in the yard.

Thursday, January 29, 2015 8:46 pm

Odds and ends for Jan. 29

The only thing worse than the GOP’s batshit insane right-wing id is the GOP’s hypocritical denial that it has a batshit insane right-wing id. Or the so-called liberal media’s taking part in this hypocritical denial that the GOP has a batshit insane right-wing id. You pick.

Almost as bad as the GOP’s batshit insane right-wing id, speaking of the GOP, is the habit that id has of falling in love with schmucks every four years. The GOP leaders who do this are the same GOP leaders who would have us believe that they are the grownups in the room.

Relatedly, for reasons surpassing understanding, once in a blue moon I look at the home page of the Daily Beast to see it has become relevant yet. Nope.

Jon Chait haz a sad. Belle Waring points out that he also haz a idiotic.

In other idiot news (Thank God! I was afraid we were running out!), memo to Mike Huckabee: When even Fox News’s village idiot, Megyn Kelly, thinks you’re an idiot, you’re probably an idiot.

Before you cheer too loudly about bigoted loon Bryan Fischer being ousted as spokesman for the conservative Christian group American Family Association (the group most famous in my long memory for having seen Spinal Tap’s “Christmas With the Devil” on “Saturday Night Live” and thinking it was real), be aware that Fischer remains a talk-radio host for the association. In other words, funny as it might seem to think that Fischer was too crazy even for the wackaloons of the AFA, the truth is they’re still actually pretty comfortable with him. They merely found his raving about “counterfeit” religions such as Judaism an inconvenient hindrance to their current, full-metal pursuit of Zionism as avenue to Middle Eastern apocalypse.

I’m reasonably sure the entire Santa Fe, N.M., Police Department isn’t a bunch of  mutts. But it sure seems to contain a lot of officers who, for whatever reason, won’t inform on the mutts. There’s a word for that, one y’all have no doubt heard before: accomplice.

I’m late to this, but Charlie Pierce at Esquire has weighed in on the firing of UNC President Tom Ross. There’s a reason Pierce keeps calling us “the newly insane state of North Carolina.”

Public service announcement: Debbie Hill of Greensboro sure says racist things. (h/t: Doug Copeland)

 

 

 

 

Sunday, January 25, 2015 11:03 am

Odds and ends for Jan. 25

I’ve had trouble finding time to blog at length about anything lately. (Working two jobs will do that to you.) So instead I’m going to return to the birdshot approach I’ve used under similar circumstances in the past. Blogging experts will tell you this is not how to maximize your audience, but blogging experts usually have only one job.

The News & Record’s Janice Carmac, a part-time employee to whom the paper wisely grants column space to from time to time, has a well-grounded, understated column today on the literally life-and-death importance of health insurance in general and the Affordable Care Act in particular, based on her family’s experience. Naturally, the paper didn’t put it online. UPDATE: It’s now online here.

Also in the N&R and of particular interest to Greensboro folks, columnist Susan Ladd righteously dopeslaps both Earl Jones and Mike Barber for their egregiously ill-intentioned dialogue over the International Civil Rights Museum and the larger issue of race in Greensboro. This is one of the few times where “both sides do it” really is accurate and contextual criticism.

My Davidson Wildcats beat George Mason on the road in OT last night to go 5-2 in the Atlantic 10 and win their second straight game (the first was against No. 22 Dayton) without their starting point guard. Someone remind me again how the ‘Cats were supposed to finish in the conference cellar this year.

If I were in charge of the Republican Party’s presidential-election efforts, I think I’d be doing everything short of human sacrifice to make sure that the first good look the nation got at my candidate pool wasn’t watching the richest of them suck up to two sociopathic billionaires right out of a James Bond film followed by watching the lot of them pile out of a clown car to genuflect in front of Iowa’s batshit insane religious-right GOP base.

Even as a final Supreme Court decision likely affirming the constitutionality of same-sex marriage approaches, some politicians — primarily Southern Republicans — continue to fight, pardon the expression, rear-guard actions against fairness and equality, as by threatening the state salaries of public officials who facilitate such marriages. The heathen rage for they know the end is near. And although I know that anecdotes are not equal to data, I must say that my own, different-sex marriage appears to have been remarkably unaffected by the advent of same-sex marriage here in North Carolina.

My Braves appears to have written off 2016, perhaps in hopes of fielding a strong team in 2017 when they move to a suburban stadium. No link; this is  just my (very disappointed) impression.

Politics 1, science and the future of humanity, 0: The U.S. Senate pretended not to be insane by voting 98-1 for a resolution stating the climate changes is real, then spoiled the effect by failing to approve (60 votes were necessary) a resolution saying that it is largely driven by human activity.

“Why do people in positions of power ask so many stupid questions?”

We’ve finally got teleporters. But still no jet packs. Grrr.

That’s all I’ve got. Time to work. A good week to all.

Monday, November 17, 2014 8:38 am

UNC System tuition: “A failure of liberal thought” … and much more than that

Mike Konczal at the Roosevelt Institute writes:

“There was a quiet revolution in the University of North Carolina higher education system in August, one that shows an important limit of current liberal thought. … The UNC System Board of Governors voted unanimously to cap the amount of tuition that may be used for financial aid for need-based students at no more than 15 percent. With tuition going up rapidly at public universities as the result of public disinvestment, administrators have recently begun using general tuition to supplement their ability to provide aid. This cross-subsidization has been heralded as a solution to the problem of high college costs. Sticker price is high, but the net price for poorer students will be low.

“This system works as long as there is sufficient middle-class buy-in, but it’s now capped at UNC. As a board member told the local press, the burden of providing need-based aid “has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians,” and this new policy helps prevent that. …

“The problem for liberals isn’t just that there’s no way for them to win this argument with middle-class wages stagnating, though that is a problem. The far bigger issue for liberals is that this is a false choice, a real class antagonism that has been created entirely by the process of state disinvestment, privatization, cost-shifting of tuitions away from general revenues to individual, and the subsequent explosion in student debt. As long as liberals continue to play this game, they’ll be undermining their chances.”

I get that it’s Konczal’s job to write about the strengths and limits of liberal thought, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we focus only on the thought, we overlook the real-world consequences, which are: In a state in which the constitution requires UNC System tuition to be as nearly free as is practicable, we’re making it harder and harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education just so that we can keep the tax burden on the wealthy low.

That’s both immoral and, from a purely practical standpoint, very shortsighted. For 220 years, UNC has been the greatest economic driver North Carolina has. The education the system has provided has immeasurably enriched every sector of the state’s economy — agriculture, industry, medicine, tourism, you name it. The shortest way out of the problem of stagnating wages that Konczal describes is to invest in human capital. When we make it harder for the state’s citizens to get a university education, we are, economically speaking, cutting our own throats. That’s not just wrong, it’s asinine.

Unfortunately for the state, however, the GOP controls state government and the UNC System board, meaning that asininity, shortsightedness and greed are just the currency of the culture.

Monday, October 20, 2014 9:04 pm

They made their bed. Now let them damned well lie in it.

Driftglass on the insane Both-Siderism that keeps the American public from grasping just who’s really at fault:

The short history of modern American politics is as follows:

Conservatives poison the public well with paranoia, bigotry and plain bugfuck insanity while sabotaging the government on purpose to gain political and economic advantage.

Liberals point out that poisoning the public well and sabotaging the government are, y’know. bad things.

Centrists clutch their pearls until their palms bleed, and then blame their stigmata on both sides being equally unreasonable and mean.

All of this was on lurid display in this fascinating article in Esquire — “Help, We’re in a Living Hell and Don’t Know How to Get Out” — in which the author talks to 90 members of Congress and concludes that our the legislative branch is, well, this:

If you fastfood the article, the impression you would probably come away with is, Jebus, what a bunch of dysfunctional whinyass tittybabies.  [Bleep] ‘em all.

In other words, the GOP long-range plan to sow ruin and despair is working flawlessly.

The author of the article to which Driftglass links asks us to believe two things for which there are no facts in evidence: 1) that there are Republican congresscritters who are really disturbed about what their party has become, and 2) that the same forces of immoderation and insanity that fuel the GOP fuel, in mirror image, the more radical Democrats. He does the latter despite the fact that Democrats manifestly are NOT being primaried, with the help of enormous, shadowy money groups, because they were insufficiently fervent in their advocacy of single-payer, abortion rights, gun control, climate-change amelioration, or other items on the Left’s wish list. Far from it; it’s hard for those issues even to get a respectful hearing on the Democratic side of the aisle.

So, no, it’s not both sides. And Driftglass makes that case most eloquently even if the people in the national media who most need to see it never will.

Monday, October 13, 2014 9:11 pm

The U.S. media normalize batshit. They have done so for years. And The Washington Post finally notices. Hallelujah.

Recently, I took my local daily — the same local daily at which I toiled for 22 years — to task for, in Pat Moynihan’s deathless phrase, defining deviancy down among Republican political candidates. This is a theme I have written about numerous times, though usually with respect to national media, not local.

Now comes Paul Waldman at The Washington Post’s Plum Line blog to say that, hey, this is a thing:

… these judgments by reporters end up being self-fulfilling prophecies: if they decide that a “gaffe” is going to have serious political effects, they give it lots of attention, which creates serious political effects.

And in the last few years, there’s a baseline of crazy from the right that the press has simply come to expect and accept, so the latest conspiracy theorizing or far-out idea from a candidate no longer strikes them as exceptional. …

But during this cycle, Republican crazy just hasn’t broken through at all. It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right. At this point so many prominent Republicans have said insane things that after a while they go by with barely a notice. This is an era when a prominent Republican governor who wants to be president can muse about the possibility that his state might secede from the union, when the most popular radio host in the country suggests that liberals like Barack Obama want Ebola to come to America to punish us for slavery, and when the President of the United States had to show his birth certificate to prove that he isn’t a foreigner.

So ideological extremism and insane conspiracy theories from the right have been normalized. Which means that when another Republican candidate says something deranged, as long as it doesn’t offend a key swing constituency, reporters don’t think it’s disqualifying. And so it isn’t.

It’s good to see one of America’s most influential news organizations taking note of this phenomenon. Except … well, I’ll let Driftglass spell it out:

Having written about this phenomenon literally thousands of times practically since the day I started blogging and having talked and thought and read about it since long before that, let me say that this “looking with alarm” recognition that the media routinely enables Conservative madness and depravity is so far too little and so far too late as to be darkly amusing.
Yes, I appreciate Mr. Waldeman’s work in The American Prospect.  And, yes, on one level  I get a tiny, childish surge of satisfaction at seeing this in a Major Murrica Newspaper .  But the sad upshot is this: in 2014, one person in one column has caught up to what Liberal bloggers have been writing about for over a decade and what pre-blogging Dirty Hippies have been screaming about all during the political metastasization of the Moral Majority…and death of the Fairness Doctrine…the rise of Hate Radio and Fox News…the relentless Right Wing conspiracies against the Clintons…the impeachment of Bill Clinton over trivia…and so forth.
So it is indeed a fine thing to read It’s almost as if the national press has just come to accept as normal the degree to which the GOP has moved dramatically to the right” in the Washington Post.   But to read it in 2014 feels a lot like reading a headline asking “Is American Facing An Economic  Depression?” in a major American newspaper … in 1938.
So far too little and so far too late as to be bleakly hilarious.
Although a nontrivial number of us stopped laughing a long time ago.
This phenomenon is merely one of the more toxic parts of an incredibly toxic tendency of American political journalism: the tendency to look at everything, everything, through the frame of “How will it affect a candidate’s polling?” without also, and first, examining issues and behavior on their merits or lack thereof. It’s more horse-race journalism, which is the last thing we need: It’s all speculative, and there is never any penalty for being wrong.
Examining issues on their merits would require real journalism be performed. And whether or not the reporter is correct would become far more obvious, with reportorial failure becoming far more difficult to ignore. So reporters avoid it and editors let them, if they don’t actively encourage them to do so.
And so our political discourse grows more and more meaningless, and more and more batshit people have the opportunity to create real trouble.

 

Sunday, September 28, 2014 12:55 pm

The News & Record and batshit Mark Walker, redux

After I took the News & Record to task for normalizing the grossly abnormal candidacy of Mark Walker for the 6th Congressional District seat in the U.S. House, reporter Joe Killian wrote a column today on Walker, saying, among other things, “I’ve seen him in a lot of different situations. I’d tell you if he was crazy. He’s not.”

Killian, who’s covering the 6th District race, summarizes:

Crazy people may be crazy, but they generally believe the crazy things that they’re saying.

Mark Walker does not think Barack Obama may declare martial or Sharia law. He does not really believe the president has been spending billions of dollars — with a B! — on family vacations. He doesn’t actually have no qualms about bombings at the border that could start a war with Mexico.

But he still says these things. Why?

Because there’s something in him that wants to please a crowd, be it a Tea Party rally or a small clutch of cynical journalists. He can’t help himself. He gets carried away. And that makes for some great performances — but it doesn’t help you understand who he really is, what he really thinks.

Being a United States congressman shouldn’t be like being a stripper. You do not want your representative in Washington driven by the excitement of the crowd, the adrenaline rush of approval. You don’t want him doing the policy equivalent of a fevered bump and grind routine to Motley Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” while lobbyists, corporations and political action committees shove sweaty fists full of dollars into his campaign G-string.

Metaphorically.

I still think Walker is batshit. But Joe has spent more face time with Walker than I have, so I’m not dismissing his take out of hand.

But whether he is or isn’t crazy, the larger fact remains: He is manifestly unfit to be my next congresscritter, but he almost certainly is going to be anyway. FML.

 

Saturday, September 27, 2014 6:40 pm

How Koch Industries could blow up financial markets again

If you liked 2008, you’ll love what could happen next:

Koch is also reaping the benefits from Dodd-Frank’s impacts on Wall Street. The so-called Volcker Rule, implemented at the end of last year, bans investment banks from “proprietary trading” – investing on their own behalf in securities and derivatives. As a result, many Wall Street banks are unloading their commodities-trading units. But Volcker does not apply to nonbank traders like Koch. They’re now able to pick up clients who might previously have traded with JPMorgan. In its marketing materials for its trading operations, Koch boasts to potential clients that it can provide “physical and financial market liquidity at times when others pull back.” Koch also likely benefits from loopholes that exempt the company from posting collateral for derivatives trades and allow it to continue trading swaps without posting the transactions to a transparent electronic exchange. Though competitors like BP and Cargill have registered with the CFTC as swaps dealers – subjecting their trades to tightened regulation – Koch conspicuously has not.

So, basically, Koch can now do to the nation’s and the world’s commodities markets what it has done to our air and water. And Congress, its morals and environmental concerns lubed by tens of millions in Koch lobbying money, is letting the company go right ahead and do that. And it will do it; the company’s regulatory and criminal record is one of almost unrelieved violations, punctuated only by fines that, while perhaps big in historical terms, are no more than a minor annoyance to the company’s balance sheet. More than enough evidence exists to level a RICO charge against CEO Charles Koch.

That a massive company with such a troubling record as Koch Industries remains unfettered by financial regulation should strike fear in the heart of anyone with a stake in the health of the American economy. Though Koch has cultivated a reputation as an economically conservative company, it has long flirted with danger. And that it has not suffered a catastrophic loss in the past 15 years would seem to be as much about luck as about skillful management.

What Congress does not seem to grasp is that luck and hope are not plans. Meanwhile, Koch Industries is doing its own planning:

In “the science of success,” Charles Koch highlights the problems created when property owners “don’t benefit from all the value they create and don’t bear the full cost from whatever value they destroy.” He is particularly concerned about the “tragedy of the commons,” in which shared resources are abused because there’s no individual accountability. “The biggest problems in society,” he writes, “have occurred in those areas thought to be best controlled in common: the atmosphere, bodies of water, air. . . .”

But in the real world, Koch Industries has used its political might to beat back the very market-based mechanisms – including a cap-and-trade market for carbon pollution – needed to create the ownership rights for pollution that Charles says would improve the functioning of capitalism.

In fact, it appears the very essence of the Koch business model is to exploit breakdowns in the free market. Koch has profited precisely by dumping billions of pounds of pollutants into our waters and skies – essentially for free. It racks up enormous profits from speculative trades lacking economic value that drive up costs for consumers and create risks for our economy.

That is a business model for whose banning we have more than sufficient justification. Koch Industries is the industrial and financial equivalent of a serial killer. It has killed many times, and left unimpeded, it is certain to kill again many more times.

Friday, August 8, 2014 7:15 pm

Even if the White House door HAD hit him on the ass on the way out, it would have been too late.

Forty years ago today, and far too late, Richard Milhous Nixon resigned from the presidency of the United States. He became the first president to do so, and he did so because House Republican leaders had come to tell him that articles of  impeachment were likely to be approved by the House. Even then, Nixon worked the angles: If he were convicted and impeached, he’d lose all his tax-paid federal benefits. If he resigned, he could spend the rest of his life on the taxpayer’s tit. So he resigned.

It is tempting for people who weren’t there, which is a majority of the country, and for people who were there but are dishonest, to say that Nixon wasn’t that bad, especially in comparison with who came later. That argument is wrong on its face — Nixon was stone evil, driven by resentment and paranoia to become America’s most thug-like president. Yeah, some nice domestic things like the EPA happened on his watch, but he himself had never given a rat’s ass about domestic policy. He basically told aides handling domestic policy to do as they liked as long as it didn’t hurt him politically, and unlike today, people were still ready, willing, and able to vote against polluters.

That argument also is wrong in that it is difficult to imagine the evil that would come after Nixon having happened had Nixon himself not happened. Had Humphrey taken him (and it was very close, remember), or, dear God, if Robert Kennedy had lived to claim the Democratic nomination (he’d have destroyed Nixon in the general), a whole different group of people with a very different mindset would have been in government then, both in leadership positions at the time or in junior positions that would have qualified them for leadership positions in subsequent administrations.

The Vietnam War would have ended much more quickly and there would have been no Ford pardon of Nixon — two things that hugely increased bipartisan cynicism and distrust of government. The Southern Strategy might have worked in the South, but not so much anywhere else. Reagan is inconceivable as a politician without Nixon, and Jesse Helms, with all the evil appertaining unto him, is almost as unimaginable. And Reagan’s minions foisted the Bush dynasty, with all its corruption and lies and crimes, upon us as well.

Still, Nixon was quite as evil in his own right as anyone who has come before or since. He was a racist, an anti-Semite, a proto-fascist (and quite willing to help real fascists, as with Pinochet in Chile, even at the cost of thousands of innocent lives).

And he didn’t engage in all this evil in service of some larger issue, however infernal. No, Richard Nixon did what he did for Richard Nixon and for Richard Nixon alone.

I’ve said it before here, but it bears repeating: It is impossible to understand Nixon in both the breadth of his complexity and the depth of his immorality without having read Hunter S. Thompson’s writings on Nixon. The worst in Nixon brought out the best in Thompson, a writer I love but who, even I must admit, was capable of inconsistent performance on other subjects. Here is Thompson’s piece on the occasion of Nixon’s death 20 years ago, which still gleams like a newly cut and polished diamond. But an arguably better Thompson epitaph appeared in Rolling Stone just weeks before before Nixon’s re-election and almost two years before Nixon would be driven in disgrace from Washington:

If the current polls are reliable … Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam. The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states … This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes … understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose … Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?

Thompson’s question was rhetorical, but we have gotten real-life answers, consistently bad and consistently worsening, in the 40 years since Nixon’s resignation. That evil, too, must be laid at his putrid, cloven feet.

 

 

When all your problems are First World problems …

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 6:56 pm

… how do you strike a balance between narcissism and sainthood? One of my favorite pseudonymous bloggers has some thoughts:

One of my favorite TV miniseries is Simon Schama’s A History of Britain. I’ve always loved Britain’s creativity, intellectualism and orderliness — three sure traits of a great civilization. Then you watch Schama’s history and see how much Britain suffered — horribly violent and negligent rulers, terrible plagues, devastating fires, attacks from overseas, and everything else imaginable. There’s a reason Marsellus Wallace warns he’s about to get medieval on someone’s ass.

Somehow, Britain persevered. It even thrived, producing great works of literature and science. Today, it’s a peaceful and prosperous land — not without its problems, but with so much to offer its residents and the rest of the world.

So perhaps the lesson is that those of us who have the good fortune to live in peaceful places must do exactly that. Live. Take advantage of what you have.

“Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it,” Gandhi said.

So I give to charities and, on very rare occasions, to political candidates who aren’t total sociopaths. There’s some stuff I won’t buy because the companies that make or serve it are egregiously sociopathic. (All corporations are sociopathic by definition, but not all of them choose to be dicks about it.) There are a few other things I do.

Does what I do make a big difference? Of course not. But if everybody does a few things that don’t make a big difference, maybe the ride to Hell will be a little longer, and maybe the extra time we buy can be used to alter the outcome.

And any resemblance to hope in that previous sentence is purely intentional.

 

Monday, June 23, 2014 6:31 pm

N.C. seeks to immunize pension-fund managers, banks from criminal liability

Really, that’s about the only way you can read this:

In the last few months, there has been increasingpressure on public officials to stop hiding the basic terms of the investment agreements being cemented between governments and Wall Street’s “alternative investment” industry.

That pressure has been intensified, in part, by twosets of recent leaks showing how these alternative investment companies (private equity, hedge funds, venture capital, etc.) are using the secret deals to make hundreds of millions of dollars off taxpayers. It is also in response to the Securities and Exchange Commission recently declaring that many of the stealth schemes may be illegal.

And yet, as the demands for transparency grow louder, a potentially precedent-setting push for even more secrecy is emerging. Pando has learned that legislators in North Carolina — whose $86 billion public pension fund is the 7th largest in America – are proposing to statutorily bar the public from seeing details of the state’s Wall Street transactions for at least a decade. That time frame is significant: according to experts, it would conceal the terms of the investment agreements for longer than the statute of limitations of various securities laws.

In other words, the legislation – which could serve as a model in state legislatures everywhere – would bar the disclosure of the state’s financial transactions until many existing securities laws against financial fraud become unenforceable.

A growing scandal in North Carolina

If the North Carolina Retirement System and its sole trustee, Treasurer Janet Cowell (D), seem familiar to tech readers, that is because the NC system is one of the lead plaintiffs in the class action suit surrounding Facebook’s initial public offering. Additionally, as part of her career in the financial sector, Cowell was the marketing director for the tech-focused VC firm, SJF Ventures.

Like other states, North Carolina has been redacting and/or refusing to release the contractual terms of its pension fund’s massive Wall Street investments, even though the contracts involve public money and a public agency.* In recent months, that practice exploded into a full-fledged political scandal when the State Employees Association of North Carolina released a 147-page report from former SEC investigator Ted Siedle.

The report asserted that under Cowell, up to $30 billion of state money is now being managed by high-risk, high-fee Wall Street firms, and that the state could soon be paying $1 billion a year in fees to those firms. The report also noted that the investment strategy “has underperformed the average public plan by $6.8 billion” and it alleged that Cowell has misled the public about how where exactly she is investing taxpayer dollars. The union has called for a federal investigation, while Cowell has publicly denied the allegations.

Note that it’s state employees, a majority of whom are presumably Democrats, calling for a federal investigation of a Democratic state official.

I don’t know whether the state’s Republicans just haven’t had this issue on their radar, or whether they see a payoff in insulating investment banks and other financial institutions with which the state does business from criminal liability. But either way, their silence is puzzling. And since banks are about as popular with Americans right now as strychnine, this down-low approach by the GOP doesn’t even make political sense.

*This practice appears to this layperson to be a clear violation of North Carolina’s Open Records Law. No exception recognized in the statute to the presumption that a record is public applies to this information. This practice appears to be the equivalent of your stockbroker refusing to tell you where and how he has invested your money: Would you find that arrangement acceptable?

Additional, deeply scary and infuriating background via Yves Smith at Naked Capitalism:

North Carolina’s investment performance in alternative investments is terrible. Of 23 reporting public pension funds, it ranked 21 in real estate and 23 in private equity. Whether due to corruption or incompetence, it is clear the state would have done better and at lower cost buying a mix of index funds. So the notion that these persistent bad results are due to payola is worth taking seriously.

However, the overwhelming majority of abuses Siedle cites [in the report linked above — Lex], such as charging of dubious fees, pervasive broker-dealer violations, pension fund consultant conflicts of interest, various securities and tax law violations, also take place with investors who have no potential for pay to play to be operating, such as private pension funds, life insurers, and endowments like Harvard that also invest in private equity. We’ve written about many of these bad practices in earlier posts, and have had to stress the degree to which limited partners have deeply internalized the idea that they can get better returns from private equity than from other investment strategies, and therefore they can’t cavil about the terms, since otherwise they won’t be allowed into this club. In keeping, the SEC has said, with uncharacteristic bluntness, that supposedly sophisticated limited partners have entered into agreements which are vague on far too many key terms and weak on investor protections.

Disclosure: Never having worked as a public employee in North Carolina or anywhere else, I have no direct interest in the state’s pension fund; nor, so far as I know, do I have any indirect interest beyond being a North Carolina taxpayer.

Thursday, May 15, 2014 12:18 pm

Stressing the country out; or, Tim Geithner should have been fired about umpty-‘leven years ago

Tim Geithner, the guy President Obama inexplicably put in charge of the bank bailouts, has a new book out called “Stress Test.” (The term derives from the laughably phony “tests” endangered large banks were put through to see whether they had so many crap assets on their books that they needed to be liquidated; the fix was in, so not one large bank was broken apart of liquidated. Instead, we gave them bazillions of taxpayers’ dollars which they spent on bonuses for themselves instead of lending money to businesses to create jobs.)

The consensus seems to be — unsurprisingly, to me — that it sucks. Particularly, it’s incoherent where it’s not downright dishonest. The Washington Center for Equitable Growth rounds up some of the responses:

Glenn Hubbard:

About housing… I must say I split my side in laughter because Tim Geithner personally and actively opposed mortgage refinancing…. And now he’s claiming this would be a great idea…

David Dayen:

The guy who handed hundreds of billions of dollars over to banks with basically no strings attached [was] suddenly worried about fairness when homeowners get a break on their mortgage payments…. Even as he says in the book “I wish we had expanded our housing programs earlier,” he completely contradicts that to Andrew Ross Sorkin, saying [that his own] statement is “unicorny”…

Amir Sufi and Atif Mian:

Multiplying $700 billion by 0.18 gives us a spending boost to the economy in 2009 of $126 billion, which is 1.3% of PCE, 10 times larger than the estimate Secretary Geithner asserted in his book. So Mr. Geithner is off by an order of magnitude…

Economist Brad DeLong concludes:

In the “real world” Geithner did have full control over the GSEs and the FHA–because Paulson nationalized them in the summer of 2008.

In the “real world” Geithner submits his recommendation that Glenn Hubbard be nominated as head of the FHFA to President Obama on January 21, 2009, it is approved by the senate in February 2009, and thereafter there are no constraints on technocratic use of FHFA and the GSEs to rebalance the housing sector and aggregate demand.

Geithner should not say “I wanted the FHFA to act but I did not have the authority to get the FHFA to act” and at the same time say “having the FHFA act would have made no difference”; Geithner should to say “you cannot blame me because of the constraints” when we know that it was his own actions and inactions made those constraints.

Look: Tim Geithner did much better as a 2009-2010 finance minister than any of his peers. Look: the stress tests worked, and worked very well. (I disagree — Lex.) Look: Christina Romer and company say that if you need a bank rescued in 48 hours, Tim Geithner is your man. But the purpose of Stress Test is to explain to us what Tim Geithner thought and why he thought it, and thus why he did what he did.

And in Stress Test, on housing policy, he doesn’t.

Saturday, May 10, 2014 10:46 pm

An even more special kind of stupid

SpecialKindOfStupid

It takes a very special kind of stupid to inherit peace, prosperity and a budget surplus and explode the deficit, allow a horrific terrorist attack, launch a war both illegal and unnecessary (killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in the process), order Americans to carry out exactly the same kind of torture for which we hanged Germans and Japanese after World War II AND push policies that allowed the worst economic crisis in three-quarters of a century.

But it takes an even more special kind of stupid to say, on the subject of George W. Bush, to intelligent Americans, “Who ya gonna believe, me or your lyin’ eyes?” Naturally, these days we do not lack for that very special kind of stupid; we need only turn to Matt Bai, formerly of the Times Almighty and now with Yahoo, to find it:

A graphic this week on FiveThirtyEight.com showed how fewer and fewer Americans blame Bush for the country’s economic morass, even though his successor, Barack Obama, won two presidential campaigns based on precisely that premise.

Bush’s critics will argue that this is testament to how quickly we forget the past. But it has more to do, really, with how we distort the present.

The truth is that Bush was never anything close to the ogre or the imbecile his most fevered detractors insisted he was. Read “Days of Fire,” the excellent and exhaustive book on Bush’s presidency by Peter Baker, my former colleague at the New York Times. Bush comes off there as compassionate and well-intentioned — a man who came into office underprepared and overly reliant on his wily vice president and who found his footing only after making some tragically bad decisions. Baker’s Bush is a flawed character you find yourself rooting for, even as you wince at his judgment.

Not just no, Matt, but hell, no.

I don’t need to read your buddy’s slobbery hagiography: I know what I saw and heard, out of the man’s own mouth, for eight long, painful, and disastrous years. For sheer incompetence, only Buchanan comes close, and in terms of the consequences of his stupidity, he is without peer or even parallel. America is vastly poorer, dumber, less free and yet more vulnerable today than it was in 2000, and the blame for that can be laid squarely at the feet of Li’l Boots McDrydrunk and the monsters he hired. I heard the man talk, so I know for a fact that he is an imbecile. I heard him admit on ABC News that he ordered torture, so I know for a fact that he is an ogre. And you, sir, can go straight to hell with him.

The only thing I’m rooting for where Bush is concerned is a seat in the dock at The Hague. And while oral sex is no longer a crime, public oral sex still is, so, Matt, buddy, next time you sit down to write about Bush 43, I’d look around for cops first.

 

The problem with the “new economy” — and how the media make it worse

Ed at Gin and Tacos:

Things like airbnb and Uber (a car sharing service, for those of us who don’t live in a city large enough to make the prospect of paying a stranger to drive you somewhere viable) are “building trust” among Americans, bringing them together and facilitating economic activity. Plus, they make the economy more efficient, partially eliminating the dead airtime in daily life. Why leave your house empty when you can get someone else to pay you to stay in it? Why sit around watching TV all evening when you could make money driving people around?

It all sounds great, at least according to the fawning sycophants who provide all of us out here in the provinces with such worshipful coverage of the amazing achievements of the Techno-Demigods. And it is great as long as you don’t bother to ask (or care) why people are suddenly employing themselves as improvised innkeepers and taxi drivers. After all, does anyone really want to let some strangers stay in their home for a few bucks? To drive some trust fund asshole to the airport on Saturday after a 45 hour week? I doubt it. People turn to the “Trust Economy” because they’re somewhere between financially stressed and desperate. They don’t make enough or they’re without any steady source of income at all. They do it for the same reason that people go to work at a temp agency or loiter in a Home Depot parking lot to do day labor: because they have no better options.

The tech media work hand in hand with the mainstream media to put the brightest and prettiest coats of paint on economic developments of this kind, but who really benefits from this kind of arrangement? Hold on to your hats, kids, but it isn’t you. The beneficiary is the guy who can get people like you to perform for pennies on the dollar all of the tasks that a driver, personal secretary, and butler would do. It’s remarkable how many of the recent Big Developments from the omniscient men of the Valley have managed to make the lives of the well-off easier without actually creating any jobs that pay a livable salary or have benefits. Oh, and they convince the media to cover these breakthroughs in a way that makes it sound like they’re doing you a favor. You’re free at last, free at last. Say goodbye to the chains of full time employment and hello to the boundless freedom of working piecemeal, making phone calls on Mechanical Turk for a quarter and driving Damon the Junior Content Developer to the airport so he can spend the weekend in Cozumel with his frat bros.

The problem with the fact that the economy created a robust 288,000 jobs in April is that it needs to keep doing that for many, many more months to begin to undo the damage wrought by the Crash of ’08. And in the meantime, people are doing whatever they have to do to get by. Ignore it if you like, sociopaths of the world, but for God’s sake do not try to romanticize it. There is some shit even Americans won’t eat.

The future is here, and it blows.

 

Thursday, May 1, 2014 8:30 pm

War, huh! Good God, y’all. What is it good for? Gun sellers’ bottom lines.

Well, that and right-wing seditionists.

At its convention in 1977, the NRA rejected its history as a club for hunters and marksmen and embraced activism on behalf Second Amendment absolutism. Rejecting background checks and allowing “convicted violent felons, mentally deranged people, violently addicted to narcotics” easier access to guns was, said the executive vice president that year, “a price we pay for freedom.” In 2014, 500 days after Newtown and after a year of repeated legislative and judicial victories, the NRA has explicitly expanded its scope to the culture at large.

The NRA is no longer concerned with merely protecting the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms – the gun lobby wants to use those arms on its fellow citizens. Or, as the NRA thinks of them: “the bad guys”.

It is useless to argue that the NRA is only targeting criminals with that line, because the NRA has defined “good guys” so narrowly as to only include the NRA itself. What does that make everyone else?

I’m actually a gun guy. Grew up with long guns, did target shooting. Carried concealed earlier in my career when I was covering some people I was worried were serious bad guys, and I still support the right of law-abiding citizens to carry concealed — if they’ve been properly trained in the use of a firearm. Problem is, a serious percentage of gun-holding Americans either have not or have decided not to care what they were taught; as several years of covering the Knife & Gun Club for various newspapers taught me quite well, the American public is in no way, shape or form a well-regulated militia.

Now, that position puts me well to the right of pretty much all my liberal/Democratic friends and not even on the absolute left fringe of the pro-gun crowd. (Some people support gun ownership but want strict limits on concealed carry, for example.) But to Wayne LaPierre and his minions, it makes me the enemy, someone they’re trying desperately to find a way to shoot legally — not me personally, understand, but people like me, anyone who disagrees with them.

You can call that Second Amendment absolutism. You can call it fanaticism. You can call it irrationality. I call it batshit freaking insane, flirting with treason. And if you want to know why police chiefs historically have favored gun control, it’s because they have to clean up after the messes that the Wayne LaPierre disciples of the world, whether or not they are, in fact, NRA members, tend to create.

LaPierre has decided to use this nightmare apocalyptic vision he outlined in his speech at the convention to get people to buy more guns, grow more paranoid, be prepared to see any reversal as an existential threat, to be met with deadly force, even in the teeth of the lowest homicide rate in decades. This is the behavior of a man who is neither sane nor law-abiding, and more innocent Americans are going to die because of it.

One rookie-of-the-year teacher walks away

My friend Robert Bell once worked with me at the News & Record before becoming a middle-school teacher. He was, and remains, one hell of a writer. But he’s no longer a teacher. He posted on Facebook to that effect earlier today, and with his gracious permission I’m republishing his post in its entirety. I’ll add nothing except to say that when a teacher of this caliber walks away, our children lose, and too many teachers of this caliber — some of whom teach or have taught  my own kids — are walking away.

* * *

It is odd, surrounded by all this quiet. Oh sure, if you listen – I mean really listen – there’s noise. The hum of the air conditioner, the muted taps of a keyboard outside my office, the distant laugh down the hall. But for the most part there is nothing but quiet, and that is new to me.

There is no Elijah in my face, laughing so hard milk explodes from his nose. There is no Destiny or Tyra to ask me what a boy likes in a girl. I haven’t seen Ben or Brooke in three days. Who will I tell to pull up his drooping pants if there is no Wade? Where is Kevin to politely remind him to keep his feet to himself?

I resigned from my middle school job last month. Looking back, the only thing more difficult than leaving my students was the job itself. On my first day of teaching – an exhilarating, uplifting nine-hour whirlwind of joy – I wondered where this job had been all my life. On my last day, I sat fell into my chair wondering how I lasted so long.

This is not a rant against how teachers are treated like lepers by our governor. His actions and inactions speak for themselves. This is not a screed against our legislators. They are perfectly capable of explaining how, in one session, they cut funding to our children’s education and gave precious tax money to for-profit charter schools while my students are using science textbooks that claim Pluto as the ninth planet.

Instead, this is an elegy to the folks I left behind, the hardest working and least understood professionals I know – your child’s teacher.

Like most jobs, teaching has two versions: The chestnut Hollywood portrays and reality. I fell hard for the Hollywood version. You know, the one where the teacher walks in and instantly a hush falls over the classroom. This is followed by students dutifully pulling out their notebooks and, pencils in hand, wait for those pearls to tumble from my mouth.

Oh, the places we’ll go! The stories we’ll read. There will be lively discussions of Whitman and O. Henry and Poe. Hands will shimmy in the air, their owners eager to share their own wisdom and connections.

Then there’s the other version of teaching I like to call reality. On my first day at my middle school, a father choked his son for leaving his lunch at home. Another student whispered to me she wasn’t wearing any underwear – and that she didn’t have any for the new school year. A third raised his hand and asked me to pronounce the word on the whiteboard: Welcome!

Welcome, indeed. After that first day I realize Whitman and his friends might want to come back in a few months.

Someone a lot smarter than me once described teaching better than I ever could. Imagine a lawyer (or banker or accountant or doctor) showing up for work one morning and finding 32 clients in need of their services. Each client had a different problem and was unable to articulate it. Some were angry they had to be there. Others were thrilled to get away from their homes if only for eight hours a day. Some were quick to explain their needs and desires, but became frustrated when it took so long to get to them. Others were easily distracted. Ready? Learn!

Don’t get me wrong, teaching is not an impossible job, just an incredibly difficult one. I’ve worked with many wonderful teachers who meet the needs of their students every day. And while the high test scores and rookie-of-the-year award were nice, my heart told me I wasn’t one of those teachers.

I dreaded telling my students I was leaving. At the start of the school year I brought in a cake and candles for each class. We closed the blinds and turned off the lights and made a pact around the flickering candles: For better or worse, we were in this school year together. I told them some might grasp the lesson that day and were welcome to move forward. I told them others might need more time – and that was fine, too. But one thing was certain: We were in this together. Nobody was being left behind.

After hearing that I was leaving, Elijah tearfully told me I was breaking up our secret club. I told him he was right. I told him I was sorry. I told him the only reason I would ever leave him was for Kate (a fixture during my after-school tutoring) and the rest of my family.

At the end of the day, Rion scribbled a note and put it on my desk before hurrying out the door to her bus: “Please don’t go, Mr. Bell. I know this letter is not fancy, but it was made with care. You were once like my white father to me. Now you’re like my father. I wish my mom had met you.”

CJ, who never met a lesson that couldn’t be put on pause so he could sketch, drew me a comic strip. I am swinging an oversized pencil at a dragon named Stupid. By the end, Stupid is sprawled out on the ground. Mr. Bell and his full head of hair are smiling and the children are cheering. “Do you get it? Do you get it? Mr. Bell! Met-a-phooor!”

I’m staring at his metaphor right now. It is in my office, my incredibly quiet office, next to the picture of the two of us at a school dance. CJ was nervous about going to the dance. He said the only way he would go was if I went with him. He clung by my side the first 15 minutes. Never saw him the rest of the night.

I knew I would miss CJ and the rest of the kids. I just didn’t think I would miss them this much.

When people asked me what I did for a living I gave them what they wanted to hear: “I’m a teacher,” I’d say.

What I wanted to say is, “What do I do for a living? Every day I walk into a classroom and discover worlds I never knew existed.”

Like CJ’s world, in which his mother keeps him home whenever she’s feeling lonely and depressed. Like Remy’s world, in which he came to this country after watching a warlord shoot his father to death back in Africa. Like Tyra’s world, in which she writes letters every week in class to her father in jail. She’s still waiting on him to write back. Like Angel’s world, in which he has a perfect attendance and regularly stays after school for tutoring – if only to escape going home to Mom and Dad’s arguing. Like Justin’s world, in which he and his two brothers and cousin take turns sleeping on a single bed each night.

A teacher is more than just someone who fills your child with knowledge and makes them “globally competitive,” whatever in the hell that means. They make many of their students happy, well-adjusted human beings and instill in them the audacity to believe they can be more then what they ever dreamed they could be.

Maya Angelou, whose stories we read in class this year, once wrote “of all the needs a lonely child has … the one that must be satisfied, if there is going to be hope and a hope of wholeness, is the unshaking need for an unshakable God.”

I’ll count those 19 months in a classroom a success if just one of my students thought I was their Kingdom Come.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014 7:09 pm

If you’re having trouble understanding why Citizens United and McCutcheon were such bad decisions, it’s because Nixon would have loved them.

Chief Justice John Roberts, author of the majority opinion in McCutcheon, and Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in McCutcheon, live in a fantasy world, Ian Millhiser explains:

In 1974, a Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities chaired by Sen. Sam Ervin (D-NC) revealed activities that nearly anyone other than the five justices who signed on to Roberts’ decision in McCutcheon v. FEC would unreservedly describe as corruption. In the early 1970s, for example, the dairy industry desired increased price supports from the federal government, but Secretary of Agriculture Clifford Hardin has decided not to give these price supports to the milk producers. In response, various dairy industry organizations pledged $2 million to Nixon’s reelection campaign — and then developed a complicated scheme to launder the money through various small donations to “hundreds of committees in various states which could then hold the money for the President’s reelection campaign, so as to permit the producers to meet independent reporting requirements without disclosure.”

President Nixon later agreed to a meeting with industry representatives, and he decided to overrule his Agriculture Secretary. The milk producers got their price supports.

The Ervin report “identified over $1.8 million in Presidential campaign contributions as ascribable, in whole or in part, to 31 persons holding ambassadorial appointments from President Nixon, and stated that six other large contributors, accounting for $3 million, appear to have been actively seeking such appointment at the time of their contributions.” Outside of the White House, the report uncovered “lavish contributions” to members of Congress from both political parties. The chairman of one oil company testified that executives perceived campaign donations as a “calling card” that would “get us in the door and make our point of view heard.” American Airlines’ former chair testified that many companies funneled money to politicians “in response to pressure for fear of a competitive disadvantage that might result” if they did not buy off lawmakers. In essence, businesses feared that if they did not give money to elected officials, but their competitors did, then their competition could use their enhanced access to politicians in order to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

And yet, according to Chief Justice Roberts and his fellow conservative justices, hardly any of this activity amounts to “corruption.”

Even the Court’s 1976 ruling in Buckley v. Valeo, which famously created the law that money = speech (but also largely upheld post-Watergate campaign-finance reforms), conceded that Congress could regulate campaign contributions to prevent corruption or its appearance. But Kennedy and Roberts have gone much, much farther than that:*

Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon, however, defines the word “corruption” so narrowly that it is practically meaningless. In order to survive constitutional review, Roberts writes, a campaign finance regulation must “target what we have called “quid pro quo” corruption or its appearance. That Latin phrase captures the notion of a direct exchange of an official act for money.” Thus, unless a donor offers “dollars for political favors,” no corruption exists.

Lest there be any doubt, this narrow understanding of the word “corruption” does not capture cases where a donor pays off a politician in order to buy access. To the contrary, as the conservative justices held in Citizens United v. FEC, “[t]he fact that speakers may have influence over or access to elected officials does not mean that these officials are corrupt” (The word “speakers,” in this context, is used to refer to what most people describe as “donors”). Indeed, Citizens United goes much further than simply claiming that dollars-for-access arrangements must be tolerated. At one point, it seems to view them as an objective good:

Favoritism and influence are not . . . avoidable in representative politics. It is in the nature of an elected representative to favor certain policies, and, by necessary corollary, to favor the voters and contributors who support those policies. It is well understood that a substantial and legitimate reason, if not the only reason, to cast a vote for, or to make a contribution to, one candidate over another is that the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors. Democracy is premised on responsiveness.

Democracy certainly is premised on responsiveness. Though it is a strange definition of democracy that offers enhanced responsiveness to those who can afford to pay for it.

Under Roberts’ definition of “corruption” most of the corrupt activities of the Nixon era would be viewed as completely benign. Though an isolated incident, where a Nixon fundraiser promised that the president would make a donor Ambassador to Trinidad in return for $100,000, would qualify as an explicit “dollars for political favors,” arrangement, politicians who give greater access to their donors are not “corrupt” under McCutcheon and Citizens United unless they offer to exchange votes or similar favors in return for campaign donations. Indeed, even the dairy industry’s $2 million bid for a meeting with President Nixon may not qualify as “corruption,” as Roberts understands the word, because there is some uncertainty as to whether the $2 million donation was “conditioned upon or ‘linked’ to” the President agreeing to make specific changes to the administration’s policies. According to Roberts’ opinion in McCutcheon,

Spending large sums of money in connection with elections, but not in connection with an effort to control the exercise of an officeholder’s official duties, does not give rise to such quid pro quo corruption. Nor does the possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner “influence over or access to” elected officials or political parties. And because the Government’s interest in preventing the appearance of corruption is equally confined to the appearance of of quid pro quo corruption, the Government may not seek to limit the appearance of mere influence or access.

So what Nixon likely would have gone to prison for in the 1970s had he attempted to stay in office is now the law of the land, per five Republican justices who no doubt also believe they are Tsars of All the Russias, to borrow a phrase from Charlie Pierce.

And the American people know it, Millhiser concludes:

Very few Americans agree with Roberts’ view of what constitutes corruption. Indeed, a 2012 poll determined that 69 percent of Americans believed that the rule emerging from cases likeCitizens United allowing “corporations, unions and people give unlimited money to Super PACs will lead to corruption.” Just 15 percent disagreed.

To put that number in perspective, another poll found that fully 19 percent of Americans believe in “spells or witchcraft” — a full four percentage points more …

Myself, I’m wondering, given how many presumably sensible Americans have, since 2000, been willing to give away so many of their own rights and to refuse to hold accountable a generation of the most corrupt and wicked pols and business leaders since the Harding administration, whether more Americans ought to believe in witchcraft.

*I’m “conservatives oppose judicial activism” years old.

 

Thursday, April 3, 2014 7:21 pm

The Supreme Court’s McCutcheon ruling: Of the money, by the money, for the money.

In a sane country, the Supreme Court would recognize that the right of the people to a government free of undue influence by a tiny minority of the wealthy elite dramatically outweighs the right of one person to spend as much as he damn well pleases supporting political candidates, particularly when the spending creates at least the appearance, and almost definitely the certainty, of corruption: corruption in which the donor’s interest outweighs the public’s and the candidate, once elected, votes accordingly.

But we do not live in a sane country.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the Citizens United ruling, 2010: “We now conclude that independent expenditures, including those made by corporations, do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” 

Chief Justice John Roberts, in the McCutcheon ruling, just this week: “The aggregate limits do not further the permissible governmental interest in preventing quid pro quo corruption or its appearance.

To both gentlemen: Are you farking blind?

Of course independent expenditures give rise to the appearance of corruption — and to the real thing. Of course aggregate limits would make it harder for apparent or actual corruption to occur. If it ain’t the money that’s causing it, gentlemen, then, pray tell, what is?

You morons have just declared as a matter of both fact and law that water is dry, that the sky is chartreuse with emerald-polka dots, and that the country and the public interest are but offal to be fed to the nation’s honeybadgers. Because honeybadgers don’t … well, you know:

UPDATE: Actually, this metaphor might do a disservice to honeybadgers, which at least do useful things like killing and eating cobras. I thought about substituting jackals, but then, generally, they only eat the dead, while our nation’s sociopath elite are at least metaphorically feasting upon the living as we speak. I don’t know what the appropriate animal would be for this metaphor, but I know what it does: It feeds on the living, particularly the poor, brown, female, and otherwise vulnerable, and it pees fracking chemicals and defecates coal ash.

Sunday, March 23, 2014 9:09 pm

America, land of free markets. … Oh. Wait.

It would appear that up to several dozen tech companies have been conspiring to artificially suppress wages for their employees. In other words, they’ve been stealing from their employees, although because they used email instead of a knife or gun no one will go to prison. At first it was just Apple, Google and Intel that we knew of; now, well …:

Confidential internal Google and Apple memos, buried within piles of court dockets and reviewed by PandoDaily, clearly show that what began as a secret cartel agreement between Apple’s Steve Jobs and Google’s Eric Schmidt to illegally fix the labor market for hi-tech workers, expanded within a few years to include companies ranging from Dell, IBM, eBay and Microsoft, to Comcast, Clear Channel, Dreamworks, and London-based public relations behemoth WPP. All told, the combined workforces of the companies involved totals well over a million employees.

At the link you can also find embedded court documents bearing out the claims.

This is money that went to a very few officers and directors at these companies. It is money that was taken from hard-working employees and will never be returned. And do not kid yourself that tech is the only sector in which this is happening. One reason the government has been so easygoing on monopolies and near-monopolies the past 30 years is that they make this kind of thing easier. In other words, if you’re a CEO, this is a delightfully profitable feature, not a bug.

Worse, this conspiracy to suppress wages likely is going on in every major sector of American private industry. I can’t prove it, but I’m certain of it right now, because if there’s one thing I learned from investigative reporting, it’s that corrupt organizations are almost never just a little bit corrupt. Indeed, I would not be surprised to find that this phenomenon, along with daisy chains of CEOs sitting on each other’s board compensation committees, is a significant driver behind the fact that the overwhelming majority of profits from productivity gains are going to the top 1 or 2 percent of earners in the work force.

The CEOs involved knew that what they were doing was wrong, that it involved the permanent, unlawful taking of the property of others. They should be doing at least as much time as your run-of-the-mill bank robber, in facilities no more luxurious. But they won’t. And that’s why we can’t have nice things.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 8:35 pm

Today’s prayer of gratitude …

… courtesy of Esquire’s Charlie Pierce:

… thank you again, Anthony Kennedy, for telling us that “independent expenditures do not lead to, or create the appearance of, quid pro quo corruption,” a statement that should rank with Roger Taney’s disquistion on the rights of black folk as the leading examples of what abject meatheads Supreme Court justices can be.

This is just one example of how, in Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United, the Supremes’ insistence that black is white and up is down keeps bumping up against inconvenient truths. Our government is thoroughly corrupted at the federal and state levels by corporate campaign contributions, a fact that might send Mr. Justice Kennedy to his fainting couch but is fact nonetheless. (And if you liked how that worked out, you’ll no doubt love how it works out at the county and municipal levels, too.)

Thursday, March 6, 2014 7:45 pm

Do you want N.C.’s economic recruiters spending your tax money at Yankee Stadium?

Because if the state GOP’s plans to make the state’s economic-development efforts a public-private “partnership,” we may well have that and other shenanigans to look forward to. It certainly didn’t work out well for the taxpayer in Florida:

CBS 12 News spent hours reviewing 20 months worth of spending at Enterprise Florida and uncovered thousands of dollars spent on sky boxes, steakhouses and at fancy hotels.

Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on credit cards. We weren’t provided the detail on what was purchased.

Our investigation found leaders at Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development machine, spent more than $21,000 at Yankee Stadium in New York.

They also paid a visit to Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX where they dropped more than $7,100. The stadium tour also stopped off in Atlanta, GA for a cost of $4,400. …

Enterprise Florida is tasked with handing out tax dollars to recruit multi-national and global corporations to our area.

A CBS 12 News investigation last November found hundreds of millions of dollars spent by Enterprise Florida since its inception created less than half of the 200,000 jobs initially promised.

State data we reviewed also found millions of dollars in incentives handed over to companies who have employees that sit on the board of directors.

And it turns out, this public private partnership is more of a publicly funded partnership. …

Our review of the records found more than half-a-million dollars charged on American Express and thousands of dollars spent at steak houses, seafood restaurants and lavish hotels.

The “partnership” Gov. Pat McCrory wants is nothing more or less than a license to steal from the poor and the middle class. And I am confident that if our arrangement looks anything like Florida’s, we’ll get the same result Florida did.

(h/t: Billy)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 8:11 pm

“State secrets” and the erosion of the Bill of Rights

Time after time, in case after case in the So-Called War on Terror, we have seen the government invoke “state secrets,” as a means of denying defendants access to potentially exculpatory information in the government’s possession or as a means of denying civil plaintiffs access to information that would strengthen their own case at the government’s expense. As a result, some potentially innocent people have remained in custody for years, in many cases without trial or even charge. As a result, some meritorious lawsuits against government overreach have been tossed.

As a result, the country has both weakened and betrayed its own values. That’s bad enough.

But now? We come to find that for seven years, the government has been invoking “state secrets” to cover up a simple, understandable, and easy-to-fix paperwork error, albeit one with significant consequences. That error, compounded by the massive cover-up on the part of high-ranking officials in both the Bush 43 and Obama administrations, particularly Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder, kept an innocent woman named Rahinah Ibrahim on the U.S. government’s no-fly list for that period. For much of that period, the defense was invoked merely to prevent her from learning whether she was even on the list, let alone being able to do something about it.

Holder went so far as to tell the judge presiding over the case that this assertion of the state secrets privilege was fully in keeping with Obama’s much-ballyhooed 2009 executive branch reforms of the privilege, which stated the administration would invoke state secrets sparingly.

“Under this policy, the Department of Justice will defend an assertion of the state secrets privilege in litigation, and seek dismissal of a claim on that basis, only when necessary to protect against the risk of significant harm to national security,” reads an April signed declaration from the attorney general to U.S. District Judge William Alsup, who presided over the Ibrahim litigation in San Francisco.

The state secrets privilege was first upheld by the Supreme Court in a McCarthy-era case and generally requires judges to dismiss lawsuits against the United States when the government asserts a trial threatens national security.

In his declaration, Holder assured Judge Alsup that the government would not be claiming national security to conceal “administrative error” or to “prevent embarrassment” — an assertion that is now nearly impossible to square with the facts.

Way I read that, “now nearly impossible to square with the facts” means “a stone lie.”

Finally, her case was allowed to come to trial, a month before which the presiding judge, during a pretrial conference, told lawyers, “I feel like I have been had by the government.”

Time was, lawyers who intentionally misled judges suffered serious consequences to their cases, if not to themselves personally. As it was, after a five-day nonjury trial, the judge ruled for Ibrahim.

Here’s my question: If the government would illegally invoke “state secrets” for seven years, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, to cover up a bloody paperwork error, what else is it covering up under the “state secrets” defense? Prosecution and/or punishment of innocent people? Ongoing torture? Extrajudicial assassinations? Massive waste, fraud and abuse in the national intelligence apparatus? At this point you’d have to be an idiot to bet on anything except all these and more.

Classification of material to cover up evidence of a crime is, itself, a federal crime. And it’s one with which not nearly enough people have been charged. But beyond that, judges who get played by the government this way should, when they figure out what’s going on, bring the gavel down on the government officials and lawyers involved so viciously that a century from now such officials and lawyers will speak of it only behind closed doors, with hushed voices, in the dark of night, the elderly cautioning the young.

Monday, January 27, 2014 10:19 pm

The price of experience

Today is observed internationally as Holocaust Remembrance Day (it’s the anniversary of the day Soviet troops liberated the Auschwitz death camp in 1945). Earlier this evening, I attended a screening of the movie “Jakob the Liar,” about the lives of Jews in Poland’s Lodz ghetto in 1944, followed by recitations of the Male HaRachamim and the Kaddish.

The event also included a reading of a meditation, “The Price of Experience,” written by Adrian Mitchell and Kate Westbrook. Two lines in particular struck me:

It is an easy thing to talk of patience to the afflicted/To speak the laws of prudence to the homeless wanderer

It must be, because we do so much of it in America today. We have one major party (and, frankly, some members of the other) actively working against universal access to  health care. We accuse the poor of deserving to be poor because of moral flaws or failure to exert sufficient effort to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, never mind the fact that increasing numbers of Americans have no boots and no immediate prospects of being able to find a job that pays well enough to buy them.

What is going on in America today is by no means, of course, morally equivalent to the Holocaust, and I do not mean to imply otherwise. But it is bad nonetheless: For more than 30 years the wealthy have waged war on the middle class, and that war has only accelerated with and since the Crash of ’08. Meanwhile, the hyperwealthy who attend Davos moan about the bad things the less fortunate say about them. One moron, venture capitalist Tom Perkins, writing in The Wall Street Journal — and you can’t make this crap up — even compared complaints about the wealthy to attitudes of Nazi Germany toward Jews. On a slightly less offensive level, neither Congress nor the Beltway media talk much about this problem, let alone consult with some of the people who know how to fix it. One can only assume that things are this way because the wealthy and powerful want them this way. That’s bad enough. But the victim blaming is a sign of advanced moral rot. And when moral rot in a society’s leadership expands to this point, perhaps a Holocaust is not inevitable. But a French Revolution certainly isn’t out of the question — nor should it be.   

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 7:31 pm

Quote of the Day, shooting-a-guy-in-a-movie-theater-for-texting-during-the-previews edition

David Eggert in a comments section at Esquire.com:

We are ruled by a gun-society minority. We are not free as long as our security depends on the goodwill and peace of mind of the self-selected persons among us who feel a need, due to their own insecurities, to walk among us carrying lethal weapons.

Amen.

I believe in gun rights. I grew up with guns. I once carried one on the job. I am perfectly OK with concealed carry even today.

But.

It is still far, far too easy for guns to get into the hands of criminals and the mentally disturbed. It is still far too easy for people who have no business possessing firearms to have them. And it is still far too easy for people who make money off guns, and their shills in the NRA, to shout down such reasonable proposals as background checks and mandatory training for gun owners, or limits on sales of large-magazine semiautomatic weapons, whose only purpose is to kill other human beings.

Any cops reporter in America can vouch for the fact that the American public is not in any way, shape, or form a well-regulated militia, especially on Saturday nights and long holiday weekends. And there are more guns in this country than ever even as fewer people own guns. A shrill and irrational minority is actively making the rest of us less safe. And we need to stop that. We have enough real dangers to face without also being forced to confront the imaginary fears of the elderly, the paranoid, and the people who have questions about their own masculinity.

 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 9:13 pm

The problem with Republicans is that they want to make the whole country like Texas.

And how’s that working out?

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that a group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water, it relied on tests conducted by the driller itself.

Now, independent tests from Duke University researchers have found combustible levels of methane in some of the wells, and homeowners want the EPA to re-open the case.

The previously undisclosed Duke testing illustrate the complaints of critics who say the agency is reluctant to sanction a booming industry that has pushed down energy prices for consumers, created thousands of jobs and buoyed the economy.

“I don’t understand why they would let the company that was accused of doing the wrongdoing conduct the tests,” said Shelly Perdue, who lives near the two wells in Weatherford, 60 miles (97 kilometers) west of Dallas. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Obviously Shelly Perdue is not fit material to run for office as a Republican.

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