Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Driven Snow, Pure As



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Hell Freezes Over



I agree with Sarah Palin. Damn me, it's true. She doesn't think much of the White House Correspondents' Dinner, and neither do I. Well, of course she has to add her particular brand of self-important and martyred invective, sort of negating the point she's making (when was the last time she "worked her ass off?"). But still...


"Yuk it up media and pols," Palin wrote on her Facebook page. "While America is buried in taxes and a fight for our rights, the permanent political class in DC dresses up and has a prom to make fun of themselves. No need for that, we get the real joke."
The former half-term governor of Alaska saved some of her invective for a tweet she fired off after the dinner.


I do agree that, although, as usual, President Obama was pretty funny (and appropriately serious), the whole concept is revelatory of what our press has become: would-be celebrities with overblown sense of their personalities, and underblown commitment to what their real job is.

On the other hand, who really cares? I sure don't as much as the embittered sufferette from Alaska and way beyond does. Even some conservatives find her reaction a bit much, and an embarrassment. So go ahead, Beelzebub. You can turn up the burners again.

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Oh Well



Not like it mattered, though...


It was Bush v. Gore, which ended the Florida recount and decided the 2000 presidential election. 
Looking back, O'Connor said, she isn't sure the high court should have taken the case. "It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue," O'Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'" 
The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation." 
"Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision," she said. "It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn't done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day."
Hey, everyone makes mistakes. No biggie, Sandy.

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Choose Life




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Friday, April 26, 2013

Exel-aint







Why should I spend my valuable time on that flawed economic study that is the basis for failing austerity measures across the globe and the touchstone for teabagging Congressfolk at home, when Stephen Colbert has done it for us all?


This Week In Republican Bullshit



Republicans are outraged -- outraged, I tell you! -- that the sequester they forced on us is causing problems. Politics -- politics, they tell you! -- are being played by that Kenyan Nazi in the White House:

That's why it's hard not be be at least somewhat amused by the mock congressional Republican outrage over the problems that started to be felt this week by airline passengers because of the sequester-related furloughs and other personnel changes at the Federal Aviation Administration. 
It's amusing because the air traffic control slowdowns were totally predictable. At least 70 percent of FAA's expenses are personnel-related so it was inevitable that the 5.1 percent across-the-board sequester cut would be felt in everything the agency does including -- or especially -- in its primary function: managing air traffic. When you set up a system like sequestration that requires an agency or department to cut every program, project, and activity by the same percentage, and when an agency's spending is mostly for salaries and other compensation-related expenses, it's not hard to see from the start that there has to be an impact on the number of people doing that agency's work. 
No amount of outraged statements from Senate and House Republicans changes that budget reality.
We are in the thrall of assholes.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bravery Among Politicians. Who Knew?

Oh, man, are we ever screwed.

Suggestions



I stole this excellent list from here. It's suggestions for items to be included in the just-opened George W. Bush presidential library.


  • The 'Mission Accomplished' banner and the codpiece he wore ten years ago when he declared that major combat operations had ended in Iraq even though they continued for the rest of his presidency.
• The chair in which he sat, frozen, at Booker Elementary School on 9/11 after he was told "America is under attack." Also his dog-eared copy of "The Pet Goat."
• A bag of pretzels, of course.
• On a continuous loop in the lobby: a recording of the push-poll question his campaign used to destroy John McCain in 2000…
"Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?"
...just to show visiting school kids what a classy guy Bush is.



• A piece of the birthday cake he shared with John McCain in Phoenix as the levees were busting open in New Orleans.
• The golf club he swung immediately after vowing to "stop these terrorist killers."
• The 2005 "Can I go pee?" note he scribbled to Condi Rice at the United Nations.
• The Segway he fell off of in 2003.
• A credit card bill forwarded from the White House to "The People of the United States of America" with a balance of $10 trillion.
• The August 6, 2001 PDB: Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside US.
• Some aluminum tubes.
• The vial of baby powder Colin Powell used to scare us to death at the United Nations.
• The best of FEMA Director Michael Brown's Katrina emails, including "I am a fashion god" and "Can I quit now? Can I go home?"
• A photo collage of the U.S. soldiers who died during the Iraq war underneath a sign that says, "Oops!"
• The shoes that were thrown at him by a journalist during his last visit to Iraq.
• The shirt Bill Clinton was wearing in Haiti when Bush used it as a rag to wipe a commoner's cooties off his hand in 2010.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Torture



Lost in the news from Boston and West was the release of a 577 page document produced by a nonpartisan task force, addressing the matter of torture used by our government in the aftermath of 9/11. Its conclusions are clear: despite the bald-faced lying of such luminaries as de-facto president Dick Cheney, and his tools Bush and Rice, the US engaged in widespread and pervasive... TORTURE. And it did us only harm.


...“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says. The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” 
The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.
Lest you think this is some lefty project, one of the two leaders of the investigation was Asa Hutchinson, whom I remember as one of the House prosecutors of the Clinton impeachment.

Once again, Cheney et al., skate free, as the country barely takes notice. Kinda makes you wonder, right? ...

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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Columny



One of my recent Sunday newspaper columns got quite a reaction. So, this past Sunday I posted a followup:


Boy howdy, and slap me upside the head! My column about the South sure caused a fuss; and although the emails I got ran heavily favorable, people who took offense did so with, let’s call it, vigor. My favorite, in part, read, sic and sick, “We’ll keep all the Gas and Oil we produce and distribute Cargo from our Docks to only Southern States! We’ll Gladly send you all our Black that Y’all wanted to be free! We think that You and your kind should support Them and all of their unwed chilling and supply them with endless food stamps. I could go on and on but seriously YOU are not worth the Powder to Blow you to HELL!!! 
Hey, “our” North Dakota just passed “our” Alaska as the number two oil producing state; and danged if I didn’t propose trade agreements with them there y’allers. But okay: points for creative capitalization, and kudos for choking down a certain word. I tried communicating with the man, but never heard back. Same for nearly all the similarly-toned outreach I receive: so invested are they in hearing what they believe that any clarification or documentation I send their way falls silently, like the proverbial bear in the forest. (My “made-up history” comment, for the record, was about expurgating Thomas Jefferson from Texas textbooks; not a reference to the Bible, as one letter-writer concluded.) 
The feedback did make me wish I’d pointed out that the South is a net taker of federal tax money, while we liberal states are net givers. And I should have mentioned that it’s those same southern states who lined up like lemmings after our president’s reelection to demand secession, long before I reckoned taking them up on it. Funny things, those. 
It’s my fault. I can’t resist snarkiness, and love it when readers tell me I gave them a good laugh. That everything I reported about southerly shenanigans is true doesn’t seem to matter, especially when I hand critics an opening by sneaking in what I like to consider a witticism. People who take umbrage rarely address the actual points I make. Maybe I should run an experiment: forgo attempts at humor, make my message crystal clear and restate it a couple of ways, hypopolysyllabically. See if anyone on the other side is willing to have an old-fashioned back and forth. 
Somehow I doubt it. Nothing provokes silence like responding with a factual accounting and an entreaty to address it. Having done a little opinion writing before this gig, I’m well aware there’s no changing of most minds. I’ve tried to engage my detractors, and have generally responded to their emails respectfully. (Took me two tries, that one up there.) I have this silly liberal idea that enlightened conversation is possible with everyone, and that, presented with factual clarity, people who miss my point can at least be made to understand it, if not agree. 
But it’s not. It’s some weird game of catch: I arc an apple, the receiver pitches a potato. I lob a lymon, get back a tossed tomato. I separate lemon and lime and roll them back with a furtive wave and a tentative smile, comes another tomato, or nothing at all. And yet I manage to feel bad. I tell myself if I were more eloquent I could make that person see what I’m saying. Get them to agree? Not likely; though I confess to thinking it could happen, with enough time. Take climate change, for example: if ever there were a phenomenon for which the proof is overwhelming, that’s it. But the conversation goes like this: “You liberals think you can change the weather.” (Actual quote.) Then impenetrable silence. 
In med school, flexing our newly acquired vocabulary, we used to say, “Dyspareunia is better than no pareunia.” I guess getting flamed is better than being ignored. But I wish at least one person who disagrees would address the points I make and present a relevant counterargument. And if the arguments were convincing, I’d be delighted to say so in a following column. Meanwhile, a nice thing about columnists is that no one makes you read them. And when “The Herald” runs Charles Krauthammer (to whom the very existence of Barack Obama is so infuriating I worry he’s gonna pop a vessel somewhere) and Debra Saunders and Kathleen Parker, I don’t demand that the paper stop printing their stuff. In some circles, that’s called fair and balanced.
 
I guess not everyone agrees. The above appeared next to a letter to the editor that read, in part,

... Sid disparages the South as having an especially virulent strain of conservatism. For example, he broadly accuses southern Republican legislators of wanting a theocratic government that will prevent blacks from voting. The proof? None. He cites no real evidence, and obviously deems it unnecessary to do so. I guess that they are "southern" and "Republican" and likely disagree with him regarding religious freedom and race issues suffices to slander them as bigots. 
The underlying narrative is that conservative ideas neither require nor deserve fair or considerate treatment because conservatives are clearly ignorant and intolerant. The definitions of "ignorant" and "intolerant" are, conveniently, whatever liberals say they are ... which, apparently, do not include being openly ignorant or intolerant of conservative viewpoints. When conservatives subject liberal policies to empirical analysis -- such as asking why more racial equality hasn't resulted from 50 years of liberal "solutions" to inequality -- liberals dodge the question by casting aspersions on conservative motives and character. "Who cares if they're technically correct? They're mean!" 
Liberalism's claim to having a monopoly on the "facts" is supported only by its refusal to acknowledge contrary evidence.
What I find particularly instructive about the letter is the writer's claim that I provide no evidence; when, in fact, the whole point of the first column was the specifically mentioned action by the N.C. legislature to consider declaring a state religion. And although the format of newsprint isn't easily amenable to links, the reference to voting discrimination was based on actual quotes from southern state legislators, admitting -- no, bragging -- that their voter ID rules would make it harder for blacks to vote.

And I've written, both here and in the column, that I long for a truly conservative party. If the writer of the letter considers voter suppression and theocracy and science denial and rewriting history to conform to untruths "conservative ideas," he's a teabagger, not a conservative.

People hear what they want to hear, see what they want to see. I rant, yes, I do. But it's absolutely reality-based. And there's the problem, I guess.

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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Too Depressing For Commentary



I don't think I'll have anything momentous to say about the Boston bombings, other than these two things: 24/7 news coverage is atrocious; and both sides have tried, even with such a horror, to score political points. I'd say the comments from such as Ann Coulter and Nate Bell and others of their ilk are worse than the things said from the left, like Nick Kristof, who immediately took his back. Still, as depressing as it is to think there are people in the world capable of murdering innocents, including not only bystanders at a marathon but abortion doctors and gays, to fulfill what they see as religious obligations, it's nearly as depressing to witness the venal and putrid spewing from self-important commentators and elected officials, using the occasions to reveal their disgusting stupidity for all to see.

(On the other hand, and not to be ignored, is the amazing work of government and law enforcement working to identify and find the Boston perpetrators. I could insert a comment about getting our money's worth from our taxes, but I won't.)

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Friday, April 19, 2013

When Government Works



As usual, Charles P. Pierce nails it. Beginning with an excellent pro-government-spending statement by Barney Frank, he goes on to the pre-bomb comments of Georgia R, Jack Kingston, who used the Boston Marathon as a whipping boy to conjure the usual smug idolatry of wing nuts who see Boston and Massachusetts as everything wrong with liberalism, he goes on to say, in part, this (read the whole thing: it's perfect):


I can speak for a great number of people up here when I tell you that we're just a little tired of being used as a heavy-bag workout for every third-rate radio gasbag, every shoeless Bible-banging preacher, and every pecker-wood politician from hell to breakfast just because we have good public schools, decent public parks, and places we all can walk for free in the woods or by the sea, and a semblance of a decent health-care system. (Thanks again, Mitt!)  We are tired of apologizing for having public servants and first-responders who make a decent wage and who work for us, and not for Fire Departments, Inc. in Tennessee. Not only that, but Michael Dukakis is a good and decent man and the country would be better off if it listened to him about high-speed rail. 
We will not be embarrassed that we share these things in common just because, elsewhere, governors let children starve, and the sick get sicker, and preach of self-reliance while cashing checks from faceless millionnaires. We will not be shamed by the yahoo creationism of the Louisiana public schools, or the cruel neglect of health-care in Texas, or the corporate chop-shop that is being created out of the state of Wisconsin these days. ... 
... the essential point is that even the corruption and waste in our government belongs to us because the government belongs to us. We won't give it away, or sell it off wholesale, or exchange it for a bag of magic beans proffered by the political hucksters fronting for oligarchical money power. There is corruption and waste in Scott Walker's Wisconsin, and in "Bobby" Jindal's Louisiana. But you can't see it. It's the product of backroom deals and corporate brigandage beyond the reach of democratic accountability. That has been the great triumph of the conservative political revolution — it has managed to privatize political corruption. 
... there are limits to grief and there are limits to mourning. We will go back to being what we were before. We will return to our good public schools and our decent public parks. We will walk again for free in the woods and along the sea. We will place ourselves in the care of our decent health-care system. (Thanks again, Mitt!) We will pay again for our public servants and our first-responders, and some of them will game our systems, and we'll raise a great howl, and mock the suckers who got caught, but we will not be conned by the grifters who are trying to make a Mississippi of us all. 
We are not what they think we are. We are not the myths they've made of us. We are what we are, the Commonwealth Of Massachusetts, God save it, goddammit.

It's worth reading the piece for Barney's comments, too: I'm sure RWS™ are already calling it politicization (yeah, like they're not doing it), but it's a point worth considering. We need good government. All the raging about takers and makers and Nazi Muslim atheist Kenyan capitalism haters doesn't change that.

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Down Under There's Light



While our democracy gives way to the purulent and the narrow-minded, the fearful and the hate-filled, the runners-and-hiders from simple truths, in a better part of the planet, reason remains. (The measure passed, after which the legislators stood up and cheered, and the audience serenaded them. Can you imagine?)

Thursday, April 18, 2013

He's Pissed. And Well He Should Be


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


It's simply incomprehensible. Lying and cowardice rule. Our president is right: the only way it will change is if people elect non-idiots, non-cowards, non-liars, non-deniers to Congress. But the deck is stacked in favor of those sorts. (Fox "news" was the only network not to cover the speech.)

America. Fuck yeah.

Time For A Change

Our Brave Representatives



Around 90% of Americans favor strengthening background checks for gun purchasers. I mean, really, what sane, non-paranoid-conspiracy-blinded human being wouldn't? It's the least we can do; and the  least is exactly the most we can expect. Except that now, even that is dead in Congress, that sanctum of servile sucking-up to big spenders like the NRA; that place where the weak, the stupid, the sanctimonious and self-important, the pigheaded and dishonest have disproportionate power. In the United States of America, fear reigns. Fear of standing up for what's right, of speaking out, of taking on those who see demons lurking everywhere, who live to hate, who love to hate and to cower in it.

What finer example is there that Congress is no longer capable of, or, in most cases, even concerned about, acting in the the best interest of our citizens? Background checks. Measly, mild, non-confiscatory background checks. To keep a gun or two out of the hands of criminals, like people on the terrorist watch list, or killers, or criminally insane. Nope. Can't do it. And this is how Mitch McConnell feels about flying in the face of the American citizenry, about torpedoing legislation that would have extended to gun shows and online buying, rules already extent for purchasing guns at gun shops. No more, no less. To, you know, maybe prevent a couple of guns from falling into the wrong hands. Maybe. Have I mentioned he's an asshole?

Despite a 54 - 46 favorable vote in the Senate, because Republicans have turned the filibuster into a blunt object for the purpose of unprecedented obstruction, the motion for cloture "failed." Our democracy, such as it once might have been, is beyond redemption. Res ipsa loquitur.



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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Rest Of The Story



Read this account of the guy I mentioned previously, the immigrant hero who saved a life or two in Boston. Pretty amazing.

[Image from many sources, including the above link]

World's Biggest Asshole Produces Assholery Like An Asshole



I'm willing to believe that some of the people in today's Republican party can be excused, to some extent, for their stupidity. Michele Bachmann comes to mind; Louis Gohmert, Virginia Foxx. There's nothing about them that suggests even a modicum of intelligence; lacking even the most basic tools for evaluating the world, they may even believe their wild-eyed claims. But Mitch McConnell, who ranks, in my view, among the most awful of politicians we have, isn't likely to be totally stupid. He just is lacking in even a scintilla of morality; to him, there's no claim, no maneuver, no act of cynical dishonesty that is off limits. He's just a smug and amoral toad.


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday commemorating the Boston Marathon attacks said that some Americans have become complacent about terrorism in such a way that is reminiscent to the time before the 9/11 attacks:
MCCONNELL: On 9/11 we forever disabused of the notion that attacks, like the one that rocked Boston yesterday ,only happen on the field of battle or in distant countries. With the passage of time, however, and the vigilant efforts of our military, intelligence and law enforcement professionals, I think it’s safe to say that for many, the complacency that prevailed prior to September 11th has actually returned. And so we are newly reminded that serious threats to our way of life remain. And today again we recommit ourselves to the fight against terrorism at home and abroad.
Far as I can tell, no one had the basic reportorial skills to ask the man what, exactly, he meant by that. On what evidence he makes his claim. To which Americans was he referring, and on what basis? What measures he believes should have been taken in (I assume he means) the last five years that haven't been. And, assuming he could enumerate them (I'm guessing not), how his teabagging cohorts would recommend paying for them.

Tell me how this claim is anything but pure assholery. He's the very symbol of the worst of what politics in this country has become, as manifested with particular clarity by today's Republicans.

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Austerity. Bogus?



This is interesting: a major foundation of the argument for the economic austerity which is touted by conservatives around the world and which is dragging Europe back into recession, and which is now pretty much the course on which the US, thanks to teabagging congress folk, is headed, is a paper written a while back by a couple of economists. Turns out, they sort of fudged some stuff.


In a new paper, "Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff," Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst successfully replicate the results. After trying to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results and failing, they reached out to Reinhart and Rogoff and they were willing to share their data spreadhseet. This allowed Herndon et al. to see how how Reinhart and Rogoff's data was constructed.
They find that three main issues stand out. First, Reinhart and Rogoff selectively exclude years of high debt and average growth. Second, they use a debatable method to weight the countries. Third, there also appears to be a coding error that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. All three bias in favor of their result, and without them you don't get their controversial result. Let's investigate further:
They go on to do so.

Whenever I write about such things I make no claims to economic expertise. But it's always seemed logical and persuasive to me that in times of fiscal downturn, where no other has or is willing to put money to work, government is the only source to which to look for infusions thereof; and that the time for governmental austerity, if there is one, is during good times, not bad.

[Image originally from NYT, by way of here]


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston



Until more is known, there's really nothing to say except that, on both sides, people are jumping the gun, seeking blame. To me, the worst, and most representative of where were are nowadays, are those claiming the government is behind it, for reasons running the gamut from excusing more intrusive surveillance to "false flag" actions against right-wing crazies.

It might also be worth noting that one of the heroes of the day is obviously an immigrant; particularly in view of this despicable reaction by one of worst p.o.s. in Congress.

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Hey White Guys




There's a guy I used to know who could use a look at this. He wouldn't get it, though.




Monday, April 15, 2013

Friday, April 12, 2013

Ecological Disaster



I had no idea.


Grownups



Nice to know how things work in "The World's Greatest Deliberative Body."
Four senators may have signed on to a gun background check deal Wednesday, but only two showed up for the news conference — in part because Pennsylvania GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey’s public support for the bill hinged on not having to stand next to Democratic Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Every Day Is Hump Day



Well, this can't be good:


PARIS — As if President Fran├žois Hollande of France did not have enough trouble with a stagnant economy and a scandal over his former budget minister’s secret overseas bank accounts, now his camel has been eaten. 
Grateful Malian authorities gave the baby camel to Mr. Hollande during a triumphant visit to Mali in early February, after French troops intervened to drive back Islamist rebels who had seized the north of the country. 
The French president, who was traveling with his defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, joked then that he could use the camel in Paris to get around traffic jams. But the animal screeched constantly, and did not seem to enjoy the president’s attempt to pat it on the head. In the end, Mr. Hollande left his camel in the care of a family in Timbuktu. 
The family, evidently misunderstanding the purpose of the custody arrangement, proceeded to slaughter the camel and feast on it. According to local reports, it was fashioned into a tasty tagine, a regional type of slow-simmered stew.
Or maybe it was. I've never had camel.

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How We're Screwed



Here's a link to an impressively comprehensive (and very long) disquisition on the insanely dysfunctional way in which laws are made in our country. Or, rather, how they're unmade. Here's a taste. For those with the time and inclination, the entire article is really worth a read.


“The public interest groups get the headline, but if you look at the details, the industry group has actually won. There’s an order of magnitude between the public interest groups’ and the industry groups’ attention to detail.” When I spoke to an industry lobbyist in mid-January, he put that another way. “We can’t kill it, but we can try to keep it from doing any damage,” he said... 
...Jeff Connaughton, a lobbyist turned crusader for financial reform, said that the “ubiquitous presence of Wall Street” goes beyond meetings and legalese in comment letters. In his book The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins, he describes the tight-knit relationships between industry lobbyists and proxies and government officials as the “Blob,” which, in his experience, “oozed through the halls of government and immobilized the legislative and regulatory apparatus, thereby preserving the status quo.” Many in the Blob are married to one another and move fluidly from industry to government and back again, he told me. For example, CFTC Commissioner Jill Sommers, who recently announced her resignation, is married to Speaker of the House John Boehner’s top aide... 
... Another swinging mace in this stage of the rule-making gauntlet is what Kelleher, the head of Better Markets, calls the “Wall Street Fog Machine.” “They come at you with this jargon,” he said. “They want to make you feel like it’s too complicated for you to understand. You’re stupid, and they’re the only ones who get it—that’s the end game.” This is particularly true when it comes to financial products, like customized swaps, which traders on Wall Street have spent the last decade designing precisely in order to swindle their clients.
“That’s how you make money. You make it so complicated the clients don’t understand what it is they’re buying and selling, or how much risk they’re taking on,” said Alexis Goldstein, who worked in cash equity and equity derivatives on Wall Street for several years, first at Merrill Lynch and then at Deutsche Bank, before joining the reform movement. The more complex the product, the higher the commission you can charge, and the less likely it is that there will be copycats driving down your profit margins with increased competition, she explained. In other words, complexity “isn’t a side effect of the system—it’s how the system was designed.”



It also covers the role of the (conservative) judiciary:

In one section, for instance, the judges ask why the SEC would have dismissed public comments suggesting that proxy access could exact a significant economic cost to corporations. Judge Ginsburg writes, “One commenter, for example, submitted an empirical study showing that ‘when dissident directors win board seats, those firms underperform peers by 19 to 40% over the two years following the proxy contest.’ ” But hold the phone. Or, better yet: WTF? Ginsburg fails to note here that the “one commenter” in question is one of the plaintiffs, the Business Roundtable. And as for that “empirical study”? It was conducted by an economic consulting group hired by that same plaintiff... 

...The most profound weapon the Business Roundtable decision introduced into the regulatory gauntlet is stupefying uncertainty. “It has been paralyzing for the agencies,” the former CFTC rule maker told me. How extensive must their cost-benefit analyses be? What kind of costs must be measured? And costs to whom—the industry or the investors? What were the criteria? “It’s like going into a class and not having any idea how your professor grades,” he said. “Everyone is trying to figure out how to move forward without getting sued.”

And, of course, the perversions by politicians:



Lawmakers, and particularly those who voted against Dodd-Frank to begin with, have a number of tools up their sleeves, which they’ve been using consistently since 2010 in an attempt to retroactively weaken the act. One way has been to go after the regulators personally, lambasting them publically, smearing their reputations, and wasting their time. ... 
...In the two and a half years since Dodd-Frank passed, lawmakers have introduced dozens of other such bills, so-called “technical amendments,” that purport to change or clarify certain sections of Dodd-Frank but would actually gut, defang, or kill the act entirely. Because the bills are presented as mere tweaks to an existing law, and because industry cash is the only way many of these congressmen will get reelected, the bills are often voted on quickly, sometimes even coming up for a voice vote—a procedure usually reserved for uncontroversial issues...

The article ends with a whistle through the graveyard: how public pressure can help. I'm unconvinced. The deck is way too stacked, with too much money in play, and too little fortitude (or concern) on the part of our legislators.

[Image source]


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Uh Oh, Teabaggers Ain't Gonna Like This



Those damn evidence-based bleeding-heart reality-testers are at it again:


Worried that public schools are failing to prepare students for a complex and changing world, educators unveiled new guidelines Tuesday that call for sweeping changes in the way science is taught in the United States, emphasizing hands-on learning and critical scrutiny of scientific evidence.
Among many other changes, the guidelines call for introducing climate science into the curriculum starting in middle school, and teaching high school students in detail about the effects of human activity on climate.
The guidelines also take a firm stand that children must learn about evolution, the central organizing idea in the biological sciences for more than a century, but one that has rallied state lawmakers and some religious conservatives to insist that alternative notions like intelligent design be taught. 
Though they could become a focus of political controversy, the climate and evolution standards are just two aspects of a set of guidelines containing hundreds of new ideas...
That sound you hear is multiple heads exploding all through the South, in one Congressional district in Minnesota, in Wasilla, and throughout the lesser halls of Congress.

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Spokesman For Sanity



Yes, funding needs a fix; but placing it in the deficit argument makes no sense. When even Ronnie, who didn't understand much, gets it, it's time for the subject to change. To raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax; not to diminishing benefits for those who need them the most.

All together now: let's hold our breath.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Lester Is More




This is a truth, so you'd think, that people of all political sensibilities could get behind. It's a bipartisan failing that it is the way it is. I'm not sure I share the professor's optimism, though, because, as the Tea Party teaches us, it's way too easy for the powers that be to bamboozle people into acting against their own interests by waving red flags of distraction in front of them. To get it right, people would have to elect representatives willing to take it on; and in enough numbers to make it happen. But unless the country follows my fanciful suggestion, it'll never happen; because the aggregation of the paranoid and mindless in just a few states is enough to ensure that nothing will change.

Bad as it already is, it'll only get worse.




Monday, April 8, 2013

Tom Tomorrow


Full cartoon here.

Beyond Repair



I'll assume President Obama would rather not have suggested the chained CPI fix for Social Security if he thought the more obvious solution would pass. I hope so, anyway. Because given the two ways to maintain solvency for that program on which so many needy Americans depend, it seems pretty obvious that the better option would have been to remove the limit on income subjected to Social Security taxes. Take the necessary money, in other words, from those who can afford it as opposed to those who most need it.

But that's not the way things work with today's Republican party. Reasonable isn't a word in their vocabulary. So what we get is a president, like an abused child who still thinks she can make daddy love her, offering compromise after compromise, pissing off his own party, raising the possibility that any Democrat who votes for his budget will get primaried, and that Rs will increase their majority in the House. Wanna bet: they'll also run against the very Social Security cuts that Obama gave them, because of their stonewalling. Rs aren't about governing; they're just about power plays and maintaining the status quo which works to the advantage of themselves and their backers.

The system no longer works. I don't know if it's because its intelligent designers never anticipated such recklessness by a major party and therefore the Constitution needs changing (which won't happen) or because the Republican party is irreparably broken (which won't change.) Either way, we're screwed. By the time things get bad enough that even teabaggers recognize their folly (a theoretical only) (the recognition part, not the bad part) it'll be far past too late.

[Image source]

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Sinner





(For a chuckle, watch to the end...)

He has several videos. This one (not the above) challenged me some, because I've always made a point of saying that for most people sexual orientation is not a choice: it's inborn. My claim, in addition to being based on science, is a response to those that insist homosexuality is a sin: since it is (I believe) an inborn preference and not a choice, if it's a sin, and if god has a plan, then god is pretty much a sicko, creating people to boil in hell. Of course, he does that to everyone who ends up there, right? Or isn't he the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving cat people say he is?


Sunday Column



Here's my latest column in our local newspaper. Timely.


My wife and I have been to New Orleans several times, and have always loved it. We spent three months in San Antonio before I shipped out to Vietnam, and, despite the ominous clouds, we had a great time there. Don’t know what the heck Florida is, but we’ve been there, too, and had fun. I have friends who are born Southerners; went to college with a bunch of them as well. Nice people. Decent, generous, smart. But dang! If we don’t cut the South loose, we’re not gonna survive as a country. Give ‘em a pat on the head, sign a couple of trade agreements, a treaty here and there for this and that. But get them the heck out of our country and its politics. Let them think it was their idea. Invite our folks who agree with them down there. Bring here the ones from there that don’t. Pay their fares, each way. Seriously. It’s manifest destiny. 
Sure, we have our share of nutjobs of all political stripes around here; and if Idaho had pontoons, I’d float it down there next to Texas. California probably deserves its reputation for creating its own reality. But I don’t think our legislatures would ever do what North Carolina’s just did: put forth a bill to create a state religion, effectively declaring the Constitution null and void. Yep, that’s what they did. 
Not coincidentally, I’ve just written about that: in our politics there are two different ways of looking at things (for one side, it’s more like ignoring than looking at), and there’s getting to be no path to reconciliation. The South will keep electing people like Louie Gohmert and Virginia Foxx and Paul Broun and Ted Cruz. And because our founders, despite misgivings about the masses, didn’t foresee such wanton disregard for reality, such rejection of the very foundations of democracy including education and an inquisitive press, our constitution gives to those people the power to gum up the works, no matter how few of them there are. 
Throughout the South, state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, of the type that want a bible-based theocracy; that see public education as a threat; that, while claiming distrust of government, believe it should peer into bedrooms, prevent voting by minorities, and decide whether science is allowed to be taught. Texas, for reasons I don’t entirely understand, has some sort of stranglehold on textbooks for the rest of the country. We need all the smart kids we can get; and refusing to let them learn about science, and teaching them made-up and made-down history is hardly the best way to achieve that. We can’t prevent Texas and Georgia from producing all the endumbed reactionaries they want: kids who’ll watch Fox “news” and be unable to separate truth from fiction, even if they wanted to, which they won’t. But that’s the kind of representatives they’re sending to Washington D.C. lately, and it’s killing us. 
It’s important to have steely-eyed and energetic discussions, disagreements over the best policies. But when the people elected from the South to engage in such matters are simply lunatics who, by their own descriptions, believe science is the work of the devil, that gay marriage will lead to bestiality and (not kidding here) gun control, how can there be any progress? When a Georgia Republican leader, following in the footsteps of Ronald Reagan (who frequently confused movie plots with reality) claims straight people will fake gay marriage to get benefits (it was an Adam Sandler movie), how can you expect rational lawmaking from there? When their favored “news” source wastes precious information minutes every day on the Obama kids’ Spring break plans, and viewers rise up in outrage, on what basis is there to feel optimistic about our future? 
Based on the feedback this column gets (most of which is positive, I’m happy to say), it’s clear that impediments to reality-testing don’t end at the south side of the Mason-Dixon line. I accept that there’ll never be universal agreement on anything; nor should there be. But in these parts there seems to be at least a plurality of people able to start their minds in the morning with a certain level of rational thinking. Our southerly brethren and sistern? They live in another universe, where crazy congregates, and confusion collects like earwax. Surely they’d be happier without our influence on their worldview. It works both ways.
[Image source]


Saturday, April 6, 2013

Proof Positive




Long-time reader and occasional valued commenter PT took some umbrage over my recent post about brain differences between liberals and conservatives. I post the above with certainty that it'll set him straight.


Friday, April 5, 2013

I Really Hate These People...



I don't like hearing myself write that title, but how much crap from Congressional Rs do we have to take? Doing just what Rs demand of him, President Obama, royally pissing off liberals, has proposed cuts to Medicare and Social Security. And their response? In the mouth of their tobacco-stained supposed leader? Derision. The opposite of engagement, of even the slightest acknowledgment of movement. He, and all of them in Congress from that sad excuse for a political party (and their mendacious mouthpieces on their propaganda network) are simply assholes. Truly. No kidding. By definition. They have no more concern for the country they claim to love than Mitt Romney did for the 47%. To them it's all a game of ego and self-aggrandizement. Governance is a swear word.

It's beyond disgusting. In their naked partisanship, their desire to besmirch Barack Obama at all costs, they reveal themselves to be the worst of American political reality. In a rational world, the very sight of   it would be so repulsive to any thinking voter that they'd have no chance of being reelected. In such a world there'd be bidets next to their toilets because even toilet paper would refuse to get near them. This is putrefactive scumbaggery at its most destructive. They stink up the place like my exam room when I drained pilonidal abscesses and cleaned up myself so my assistant didn't have to come in.

In my case, at least, we could open a window and leave the room vacant for an hour or so. In the case of Congress, Rs crowd in to inhale the odor and wallow in it.

I really hate these people, and it's too fucking bad.

[Image source]


How Bills Are Made



In the world's (supposedly) greatest (supposedly) democracy, this is how legislation is done. What words are there? How have we sunk so low?

And, as surely as night follows day in the dictionary, it'll never change.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cake. Taken.



Here's why we're doomed. It doesn't matter how many people in northern states remain connected to reality: there'll always be the south. And they'll always elect people bent on dragging the country down, in the name of the bible. The way our country was designed, by founders who clearly didn't trust "the people" all that much but in no way foresaw how stupid, frightened, and regressive they'd become, such states have the power of prevention. As in sensible legislation. Qualified appointees. Effective budgets.

People who think this is right will do anything:

A bill filed by Republican lawmakers would allow North Carolina to declare an official religion, in violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Bill of Rights, and seeks to nullify any federal ruling against Christian prayer by public bodies statewide.
The legislation grew out of a dispute between the American Civil Liberties Union and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. In a federal lawsuit filed last month, the ACLU says the board has opened 97 percent of its meetings since 2007 with explicitly Christian prayers.
Overtly Christian prayers at government meetings are not rare in North Carolina. Since the Republican takeover in 2011, the state Senate chaplain has offered an explicitly Christian invocation virtually every day of session, despite the fact that some senators are not Christian.
Clearly, we need to cut those states loose. Invite the people from around here who like them to join them. Pay their fare. Establish trade, have a couple of treaties for this and that, but get them the hell out of our politics. Seriously. Until we do, we'll never get anywhere. And since we won't, we won't.

[Image source]

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Well, Sometimes These Things Happen...



Can't come soon enough, ask me...

(It's a soundless animation of the next few billion years, as predicted by some cosmologists. Best to stay indoors.)




Monday, April 1, 2013

It's Gonna Be Hard



It occurs to me that today will be particularly difficult for news junkies. Because nowadays it's become nearly impossible to tell a real news story from a joke. Especially when reading about teabagger Republicans and their representatives in Congress. Or in states.

[Image source]

Debtbacle



For those who object when people claim George W. Bush is responsible for the major portion of our country's economic problems and debt going forward:


The final cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will be between $4 and $6 trillion — and most of those costs have yet to be paid, according to a new study out of Harvard University. 
The report from Harvard Kennedy School professor Linda Bilmes finds the Iraq and Afghanistan wars together will be the most expensive in U.S. history when long-term medical and disability costs for service members are factored in.
“The legacy of decisions taken during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will dominate future federal budgets for decades to come,” Bilmes wrote.
 
The study says that the United States has already spent nearly $2 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But that bill is only “a fraction” of the total war costs, Bilmes wrote.

[Image source]

Budget Goodness

My upcoming newspaper column: Reading their budget and health care solutions has changed my mind about Donald Trump and the people in c...