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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Death rattle of the MOUS

by digby

I have no idea if this piece in New York Magazine about the Master of the Universe finally being brought down to earth is true (or temporarily true) but it's a fun, fun read, nonetheless:

With all the major banks unable to wager their own funds on big bets, there’s a growing sense that the money that was being made during the Bush boom won’t be back. “The government has strangled the financial system,” banking analyst Dick Bove told me recently. “We’ve basically castrated these companies. They can’t borrow as much as they used to borrow.”

Of course, described a little less colorfully, reducing the risk in the system at a cost of a certain amount of the banks’ profits was precisely what the government was striving for. All this has meant that Wall Street’s traders have found themselves on the wrong end of the market—a predicament that many of them have never seen before. Before the crash, when compensation slid, the banks risked seeing their top talent run for the doors to rival firms or hedge funds. Now, with a glut of hedge funds and an industrywide belt-tightening, bank chiefs are calling their star traders’ bluffs. “If you’re really unhappy, just leave,” Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman bluntly told Bloomberg TV a few days after his bank announced its meager bonus numbers.

The article features lots and lots of boo-hooing about how hard they work and threats to move to Silicon Valley and be the next Zuckerberg. But this article makes the case that Wall Street itself is in a very serious retrenchment the likes of which have never been seen before. The insane compensation structure is over and the industry is facing the unpleasant task of figuring out how to make money legitimately again. Part of it stems from Dodd-Frank, which everyone knows was inadequate, but is potent enough to have made the banks change their structure in anticipation of the presumed effects. But the bigger factor is that it finally dawned on these guys that their model was unsustainable --- they were basically selling air. To each other.

And they don't really have anywhere to go:
Just a couple of years ago, traders faced with hardships like this would simply have jumped over to a hedge fund, and made more money with less hassle. In the boom years, banks had to keep star traders happy or they’d bolt to make even bigger money at a fund.
But recently, hedge funds have fared just as poorly as the banks. The bad economy plays a role in this, of course. But just as important is the fact the hedge-fund industry is almost as overbuilt as the housing and credit markets that drove its profits. In 1990, there were 610 hedge funds in the world. In 2000, there were 3,873; in 2011, there were 9,553, according to a report by Hedge Fund Research. All these funds are chasing fewer surefire trades. “When markets are panicked and there’s global risk fear, the markets move in the same direction,” one analyst at a Manhattan hedge fund says. “It’s just a lot harder to make money.” The easy, obvious plays are oversubscribed, which shrinks margins.

The rising tide of the real-estate and credit markets lifted all boats. But nowadays, while some hedge funds will still make ridiculous money, just as many will lose. One Leon Cooperman fund was down 12 percent over the first three quarters of last year, while a Bill Ackman fund was off 16 percent—not the kind of returns investors pay the hedge-fund premium for.

And as the world becomes deleveraged, money has been pouring out. In October 2011 alone, hedge funds saw $9 billion go out the door. The London-based Man Group, the largest publicly traded hedge fund in the world, saw its stock dive 25 percent over the course of one day in September, when it shocked the market by announcing that $2.6 billion had been redeemed by clients over a three-month span.

“We used to rely on the public making dumb investing decisions,” one well-known Manhattan hedge-fund manager told me. “but with the advent of the public leaving the market, it’s just hedge funds trading against hedge funds. At the end of the day, it’s a zero-sum game.” Based on these numbers—too many funds with fewer dollars chasing too few trades—many have predicted a hedge-fund shakeout, and it seems to have started. Over 1,000 funds have closed in the past year and a half.

Sounds like the party's over. And it rings true to me that the great howls of outrage at the alleged injustice of the nation treating these banksters with disdain were the screams of a dying breed. It never made sense to me. These were smart guys. Hugely successful, vastly wealthy. If they thought their scam had any life left in it they would have done a few mea culpas and laid low.

People will still get rich on Wall Street and before too long we'll see some fancy new financial tricks being brought into the market. They'll regroup. But not every frat boy with an Ivy league diploma will be getting a high six figure bonus for a while. And maybe they've figured out that treating the financial system like the Belaggio casino might not be the smartest move:
“Since 2008, what the financial community has done is kick the can down the road,” the senior banker added.“ ‘Let’s just buy us one more quarter and hope it gets better.’ Well, we’re now seeing cracks in that ability to continue operating with the structures that had been built up.”

Reality bites, even on Wall Street.


Compromising with the Borgias

by digby

Oh hell. I should have known better than to be even momentarily happy about something in politics:

A key White House adviser on faith issues said Tuesday that several organizations with ties to the administration have approached President Obama’s aides about finding a resolution to fast-growing controversy over a new rule requiring many Catholic institutions to offer birth control and other contraception services as part of employees’ health care coverage.

“There are conversations right now to arrange a meeting to talk with folks about how this policy can be nuanced,” said Pastor Joel C. Hunter, a Florida megachurch pastor who has grown personally close to Obama and advised his White House on religious issues. “This is so fixable, and we just want to get into the conversation.”

Hunter’s comments followed a statement by David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Obama’s reelection campaign, who indicated on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday that the White House might be open to a compromise on the matter.

“We certainly don’t want to abridge anyone’s religious freedoms, so we’re going to look for a way to move forward that both provides women with the preventive care that they need and respects the prerogatives of religious institutions,” he said.

Oh well. Maybe the "compromise" won't be anything too substantial. But whatever it is, backtracking means social conservatives will have successfully opened another front in the War on Women. There will be ongoing battles over birth control as long nobody with any power in the political system thinks women's issues are important enough to fight for. It's daft. You can't placate these people. You give them an inch and they'll knock you down and run all over you. Isn't it obvious?

This whole flap is surreal. Except for the priests and the nuns, most of the people who are arguing with the administration to give the Church an exemption are using birth control themselves. I guess they are so attached to their own hypocrisy --- and some kind of faux religious pride --- that they've become incoherent: "please let me keep pretending that I'm not using birth control by allowing the church to deny it to someone else." Whatever gets you through the night, I guess.

The forces of bigotry lose again

by David Atkins

As you no doubt know by now, the 9th Circuit has ruled against California's Proposition 8:

In a 2-1 decision, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit announced its long-awaited ruling that Prop 8, approved by voters in 2008, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Judge Stephen Reinhardt, in the court’s 128-page opinion, wrote that “although the Constitution permits communities to enact most laws they believe to be desirable, it requires that there be at least a legitimate reason for the passage of a law that treats different classes of people differently. There was no such reason that Proposition 8 could have been enacted.”

“All that Proposition 8 accomplished was to take away from same-sex couples the right to be granted marriage licenses and thus legally to use the designation of ‘marriage,’ which symbolizes state legitimization and societal recognition of their committed relationships,” Reinhardt wrote. “Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples. The Constitution simply does not allow for ‘laws of this sort.’”

The panel also rejected arguments by Prop 8 proponents that the purpose of the initiative was “to promote child rearing by biological parents, to encourage responsible procreation, to proceed with caution in social change, to protect religious liberty, or to control the education of schoolchildren.”

“Simply taking away the designation of ‘marriage,’ while leaving in place all the substantive rights and responsibilities of same-sex partners, did not do any of the things Proponents now suggest were its purposes,” the opinion says. “Proposition 8 ‘is so far removed from these particular justifications that we find it impossible to credit them.’”

Now would be a good time to remind freaked out conservatives that if it had been up to the voters to decide these sorts of civil rights issues, anti-miscegenation laws would still be on the books in many parts of the South.

Maybe Ron Paul thinks that's a good idea, but decent people don't. There's still an effort to get Prop 8 repealed by will of the voters, an act that may be necessary if the case goes to the Supreme Court and Proposition 8 is upheld. It would also be sweet to win this battle in the court of public opinion, not just the court of law.

Still, any victory against the forces of bigotry is a good one.

Heckuva job Wyden

by digby

Brian Beutler reports:

[Paul] Ryan’s signaling he’ll swap out his old Medicare plan with a new one — one that he actually co-wrote with a Democratic Senator. That’s what Democrats think he’s going to do, and if they’re right, it will allow him and members of his party to claim they’ve moved significantly in the Democrats’ direction.

Here are all the details of the so-called Ryan-Wyden plan. There are two key differences between this plan and the original Ryan plan. The first is that Ryan-Wyden would preserve a Medicare-like public option as a competitor to private plans in its insurance exchange, and allow seniors to buy into it. The second is that it would leave the rate at which the program’s costs are allowed to grow exactly where it is in current law — forcing seniors to pay less out of pocket than would the original Ryan plan.

So substantively it is, indeed, a step or two left for the GOP. But here’s the key: it ultimately hands Medicare’s benefit guarantee over to a whimsical market, instead of keeping it in government hands, where it’s been for nearly 50 years. It would constitute a massive policy shift to the right. And that’s why Democrats abandoned Ron Wyden en masse the day the plan was unveiled.

Beutler characterizes this as a huge problem for Republicans and he may be right --- assuming the Democrats are willing to play hardball and let Wyden twist in the wind alone. Unfortunately, even that won't be good enough if the Villagers decide that this means a bipartisan accord that Medicare must be privatized and the Dems let it happen with their usual lame ducking and shirking. Before we know it, they will be breaking off and rushing to prove that they aren't being obstructionists.

Paul Ryan's a good politician. And a dangerous one. This might be a good year for the Democrats to try to defeat him. Of course, one would have thought that any year would be a good year to try to defeat him but for some reason they never seem to try.

You can donate to his opponent Rob Zerban, here. It's doable.

Borgia Catholics

by digby

Uhm. I hate to bring this up, but it seems to be relevant:

October 1, 2007

The U.S. Supreme Court today turned down a request by Catholic Charities of New York to review a state court decision requiring insurance companies to include contraceptive coverage in drug benefit packages. The Court's refusal to hear the case leaves in place a law that promotes women's health and addresses gender discrimination while appropriately protecting religious freedom.

"Religiously affiliated organizations, such as Catholic Charities, that employ and serve people of diverse beliefs should not be able to discriminate against their female employees by refusing to cover basic health services," said Louise Melling, Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project. "Religiously affiliated organizations that provide nonreligious services to the public must play by public rules."

The law at issue, the Women's Health and Wellness Act, requires insurance companies to cover women's preventive health care, including mandating that insurance plans that cover prescription drugs do not exclude contraceptives from that coverage. The law exempts religious employers such as churches, mosques, and temples, whose main purpose is to promote a particular religious faith and who primarily employ and serve people who share their religious beliefs.

"This law ended the practice of treating birth control, which only women use, differently than other commonly used prescription drugs — a practice that contributed to disproportionately high health costs for women," said Galen Sherwin, Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Rights Project. "The Supreme Court's decision not to review the case ensures that the state of New York can continue to protect women from this form of discrimination."

Catholic Charities appealed a 2006 decision by the Court of Appeals for the State of New York, New York's highest court, that concluded that the Women's Health and Wellness Act was a neutral law designed to advance both women's health and the equal treatment of men and women. That court also held that "when a religious organization chooses to hire non-believers it must, at least to some degree, be prepared to accept neutral regulations imposed to protect those employees' legitimate interests in doing what their own beliefs permit."

Ten religiously affiliated organizations brought the challenge against the Women's Health and Wellness Act. The organizations included Catholic Charities of Albany and Ogdensburg and other Catholic and Baptist social service organizations. The ACLU and the NYCLU filed friend-of-the-court briefs at every step of the state court proceedings in support of the Act.

In October 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a request by Catholic Charities to review a similar law, the California Women's Contraceptive Equity Act. The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in that case, Catholic Charities v. Superior Court, as well.

Catholic institutions all over the country have been providing birth control coverage and the Supreme Court declined to hear their objections. Repeatedly. Maybe that will change now that it's federal, but the fact is that Catholic organizations are already providing birth control coverage to their employees and have been for years:

Twenty-eight states already require organizations that offer prescription insurance to cover contraception and since 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, many Catholic institutions offer the benefit to their employees. For instance, a Georgetown University spokesperson told ThinkProgress yesterday that employees “have access to health insurance plans offered and designed by national providers to a national pool. These plans include coverage for birth control.”

Similarly, an informal survey conducted by Our Sunday Visitor found that many Catholic colleges have purchased insurance plans that provide contraception benefits:

University of Scranton, for example, appears to specifically cover contraception. The University of San Francisco offers employees two health plans, both of which cover abortion, contraception and sterilization…Also problematic is the Jesuit University of Scranton. One of its health insurance plans, the First Priority HMO, lists a benefit of “contraceptives when used for the purpose of birth control.”

DePaul University in Chicago covers birth control in both its fully insured HMO plan and its self-insured PPO plan and excludes “elective abortion,” said spokesman John Holden, adding that the 1,800 employee-university responded to a complaint from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission several years ago and added artificial contraception as a benefit to its Blue Cross PPO.

Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn., offers employee health insurance via the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, a consortium of Christian Bible and other private college and universities. Its plan excludes abortion, but probably covers artificial contraception as a prescription drug, said C. Gregg Conroy, the executive director of the TICUA Benefit Consortium.

Boston College, the six former Caritas Christi Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts, and other Catholic organizations that are located in one of the 28 states that already require employers to provide contraception benefits could have self-insured or stopped offering prescription drug coverage to avoid the mandate — but didn’t do so. Instead, they — like many Catholic hospitals and health care insurers around the country — chose to meet the needs of the overwhelming majority of Catholic women and offer these much needed services.

What this proves is that this is yet another partisan political move on the part of the very partisan Catholic Bishops. We saw how they tried to derail the health care bill on behalf of the Republicans --- using Catholic Democrats in congress to do it. Similarly, they are trumping up this controversy on behalf of the GOP. Otherwise, we would have seen a similar rending of garments across the land over these 28 states making the same requirements. And the threats of closing Universities and hospitals rather than violate the "Church's conscience" are obviously phony. If they were going to do that, they already would have.

No, this is not about conscience. It's about the Bishops doing a solid for their Republican allies in an election year. It's not about religion or morality either. It's about politics.

Update: I should amend that to also say that the War on Birth Control is very real and heating up and the Catholic Bishops would love to make it a political hot potato like abortion. It gives them more political power. Here's how they explain it:

"I don't want to overstate or understate our level of concern," said McQuade, the Catholic bishops' spokesperson. "We consider [birth control] an elective drug. Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn't make you sick."

Considering the Church's history with celibacy and sexual deviancy, they may want to rethink that argument.

Update II: Good Lord:

Catholic leaders are furious and determined to harness the voting power of the nation’s 70 million Catholic voters to stop a provision of President Barack Obama’s new heath car reform bill that will force Catholic schools, hospitals and charities to buy birth control pills, abortion-producing drugs and sterilization coverage for their employees.

“Never before, unprecedented in American history, for the federal government to line up against the Roman Catholic Church,” said Catholic League head Bill Donohue.

Already Archbishop Timothy Dolan has spoken out against the law and priests around the country have mobilized, reading letters from the pulpit. Donohue said Catholic officials will stop at nothing to put a stop to it.

“This is going to be fought out with lawsuits, with court decisions, and, dare I say it, maybe even in the streets,” Donohue said.

I'll let Tbogg take this one:

But how will this war be fought, besides Donohue being invited onto gasbag shows where we will bluster and saber-rattle against the godless heathens who would defile his religion with the condoms and NuvaRings of Satan?

Sources told Kramer that American bishops are contemplating a massive march on Washington, using people and school kids bused in from all over to protest the law.

Bus loads full of school kids handed over to the tender ministrations of Catholic Bishops. What could possibly go wrong?

Blue America Chat: Cecil Bothwell, giant slayer

by digby

From Howie:

Today we're kicking off a new day for our Blue America chats. Same time as always-- 11am (PT) but on Tuesday's from now on. And what better way than to start with a populist icon whose grassroots congressional just paid off with gigantic dividends a few days ago. Cecil Bothwell will be joining us over at Crooks and Liars at 2pm (ET). Last week, his classic grassroots organizing and door-to-door activist campaign astounded the political establishment with polling results that showed him knocking off entrenched conservative incumbent, Blue Dog Heath Shuler in the upcoming May 8th primary. Shuler saw the same results and beat a hasty retreat to, suddenly, "spend more time with my family." He actually said that. The 11th CD will never be the same.

Cecil is the Asheville City Council Member who "everyone" said was "too radical" to be elected. But when the at-large primary came around he wasn't just elected-- he got more votes than anyone else in the race. He seemed buoyed when we talked with him after Shuler-- who just months ago tried to rally reactionary Democrats against Nancy Pelosi in a race for House Democratic leader-- hoisted the white flag. "We were confident that we were going to win the primary, based on informal polling across the District. We learned from recipients that someone hired a firm in Raleigh to poll voters here, so my bet is that he was seeing the same results. Now it appears that he has tapped another Blue Dog, his Legislative Director Hayden Rogers, to step into the race. So game on!" Rogers isn't well known in the district but he is on K Street and Inside-the-Beltway. The DCCC would love to talk him into running. Cecil feels confident he could beat him just as he always predicted he would beat his boss.

Cecil is a decidedly progressive Democrat-- a movement progressive-- who has staked out populist positions in favor of federal job creation, single-payer health care and protection of the social safety net, as well as strong support for education. A participant in October's Rebuild the American Dream conference, he endorses "Jobs, Not Cuts!" as a battle cry for middle- and working-class citizens who have been hammered by the Bush recession. Coming from a career in sustainable building and environmental journalism, with more than 20 years spent in a photovoltaic-powered home, he knows the coming green economy from the inside out, and he was one of the thousands of activists who surrounded the White House in November to protest the KeystoneXL pipeline. Although North Carolina is a right-to-work state, he is a member of the National Writer's Union (AFL-CIO) and is unafraid to tell his constituents that unions are essential to introduce democracy into the work place. He is a strong advocate for fair trade instead of our current badly concocted free trade rules, and believes we need to get tough with China over its currency manipulation. Because he believes that black markets always create systemic problems in society he demands immigration reform that facilitates work-permits and a clear path to citizenship, and opposes the catastrophic failure known as the "war on drugs." He has endorsed the Move to Amend and believes that we need to adopt public financing for all elections ASAP.

"We can do better," he tells voters. "And you deserve better. I aim to represent the real people of this District, and I won't take a penny from corporations or corporate PACs." Blue America could hardly hope for a better candidate to back, anywhere. Please consider contributing to a people-to-people campaign that is already paying dividends for progressives in North Carolina. You can do that here at the Blue America ActBlue page.

Bothwell is an interesting candidate. He's one of those Russ Feingold types, who people like for his convictions even if they disagree with him. He's in a tough district, but if there's a progressive who can cut against the grain, it's him.

He's running a hardcore grassroots campaign that others around the country should take a look at. He's working very, very hard and has assembled a cadre of devoted followers who are breaking their backs for him. It's one of the most intriguing progressive campaigns in the country.


Santorum surge

by digby


On Monday night, PPP released final data on new automated, recorded-voice surveys showing former Sen. Santorum (R-Pa.) leading in Minnesota and Missouri and running second to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Colorado.

Tim Pawlenty must be on IV Valium by this point. These Republicans really, really, really don't like Mitt Romney.

Here's the flavor of the week (uhm ... )being all compassionate and caring like the good Christian he supposedly is:

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

GOP contender Rick Santorum had a heated exchange with a mother and her sick young son Wednesday, arguing that drug companies were entitled to charge whatever the market demanded for life-saving therapies.

Santorum, himself the father of a child with a rare genetic disorder, compared buying drugs to buying an iPad, and said demand would determine the cost of medical therapies.

“People have no problem paying $900 for an iPad,” Santorum said, “but paying $900 for a drug they have a problem with — it keeps you alive. Why? Because you’ve been conditioned to think health care is something you can get without having to pay for it.”

The mother said the boy was on the drug Abilify, used to treat schizophrenia, and that, on paper, its costs would exceed $1 million each year.

Santorum said drugs take years to develop and cost millions of dollars to produce, and manufacturers need to turn a profit or they would stop developing new drugs.
“You have that drug, and maybe you’re alive today because people have a profit motive to make that drug,” Santorum said. “There are many people sick today who, 10 years from now, are going to be alive because of some drug invented in the next 10 years. If we say: ‘You drug companies are greedy and bad, you can’t make a return on your money,’ then we will freeze innovation.”

Santorum told a large Tea Party crowd here that he sympathized with the boy’s case, but he also believed in the marketplace.

“He’s alive today because drug companies provide care,” Santorum said. “And if they didn’t think they could make money providing that drug, that drug wouldn’t be here. I sympathize with these compassionate cases. … I want your son to stay alive on much-needed drugs. Fact is, we need companies to have incentives to make drugs. If they don’t have incentives, they won’t make those drugs. We either believe in markets or we don’t.”

If a drug costs a million dollars a year, the only people who aren't "compassionate cases" are multi-millionaires. But then that's how fellows like Santorum think it should be. Maybe one of them will wake up one morning and feel generous and help this little boy out with some charity. If not, well them's the breaks.

I think Santorum has a wee problem, however, with his religion. Worshipping "markets" isn't in the Bible. I'm not sure where it fits with Catholic teachings. but it seems just a bit of a conflict. I guess being "faith-based" isn't confined to the Church these days.

It's a brave new world. Will the media take note?

by David Atkins

Dave Dayen at FDL:

I didn’t think we had reached the point in America where providing free contraception would be seen as a risky political maneuver, but here we are.

Brian Beutler at TPM:

It’s shaping up to be spring 2011 redux. Just under a year ago, Republicans — euphoric after a midterm election landslide, and overzealous in their interpretation of their mandate — passed a budget that called for phasing out Medicare over the coming years and replacing it with a subsidized private insurance system for newly eligible seniors.

The backlash was ugly. But Republicans seem to have forgotten how poisonous that vote really was, and remains…because they’re poised to do it again. This time they’re signaling they’ll move ahead, with a modified plan — one that, though less radical, would still fundamentally remake and roll back one of the country’s most popular and enduring safety net programs.

Joan McCarter at DKos:

Still itching for a fight, some congressional Republicans want to take the December debacle of their resistance to middle class tax cuts, and anything that might help the economy and thus President Obama's reelection, well into this year, while others recognize the PR disaster that would mean for them.

Forget all the other insanity this year and simply focus on this: Republicans are poised to take a stand this year against contraception, Medicare, and middle class tax cuts. If that doesn't seem bizarre to you, step back, and focus your lens out to the past 40 years of American politics. Try to picture those stances being taken openly by a majority of Republicans during, say, the first Bush Administration in 1989. It's hard to fathom. That Republican Party was alive and well only 20 years ago.

And yet the only people seeming to ring major alarm bells about it are dirty hippie liberal bloggers unworthy of even the basest journalistic cocktail party.

The sole arbiter of seriousness in mainstream journalism today is lack of opposition to the neoliberal/neoconservative global dominance of free-flowing capital and its biggest holders. Threatening to end Medicare, middle-class tax cuts and contraception? No problem--that's just politics as usual. But threatening even mild forms of protectionism, or even the slightest corrections to the behavior of out-of-control capital markets? That's scary crazy talk, whether it's coming from Tea Partiers or Occupiers.

This perhaps more than anything else is the most destructive legacy of the dominance of the neoliberal paradigm: there is no right-wing extremism that will cause the press to even bat an eye unless it threatens the ability of the holders of capital to do whatever they please with it on a global scale. The occasional sex scandal or tabloid sensationalism will still sell well enough to hound a few Anthony Weiners out of office. But beyond that, anything goes.

As long as no one gets in the way of the almighty bond markets, the Very Serious People couldn't care less. It's not like they're middle class, need Medicare, or can't get their contraceptives from overseas. So why worry?


Monday, February 06, 2012

Trigger lock

by digby

So the argument over the triggers has begun:
In light of Congressional Republicans’ abandonment of a key part of the debt limit agreement, two senior administration officials briefing reporters at the White House Monday said automatic, across the board cuts to defense programs will happen as scheduled unless Republicans relent on their refusal to raise revenues.
The officials conducted the briefing under the condition that they not be quoted directly, but their position was unambiguous — the White House will not support any effort to swap out scheduled cuts to defense programs (and other automatic cuts) unless Congress passes a balanced package of deficit reducing legislation of equal or greater measure. That means new tax revenue from wealthy Americans and corporate interests, which Republicans have routinely refused to consider.
I guess we're supposed to be happy about this. But I don't know why. The best case scenario for a deal is that we get large defense cuts and large cuts in domestic spending. The second best case scenario is that we get millionaire tax increases in exchange for the defense cuts and large cuts in domestic spending. In other words, we're getting large cuts in domestic spending no matter what.

We knew something like this was going to happen. But it was not previously characterized this way. This is what Ezra wrote about it back in November:
Increasingly, no one fears the trigger. If it is activated, Republicans have spoken openly about undoing the defense cuts — and the White House and congressional Democrats would happily sign on. But the White House won’t allow the defense cuts to be lifted if the other side of the trigger — domestic cuts — isn’t also defused. So it’s simple to imagine the coalition that will disarm the trigger.
So trigger negotiations were supposed to be defense cuts vs domestic spending cuts. Now it's defense cuts vs tax increases. Can you say bait and switch?

Having millionaires pay for wars is better than nothing I suppose, but how about we just cut back on the wars and have the millionaires pay for the important services that make this country liveable. From Brad Plumer:

[T]hese cuts to domestic spending — totaling $294 billion over 10 years, starting with a 7.8 percent cut in 2013, and coming on top of the spending caps in August’s debt-ceiling deal — could have even harsher consequences, both for everyday Americans and for the ability of the United States to maintain a thriving, competitive economy in the years ahead.

“This isn’t just a bunch of bureaucrats in Washington who are going to have fewer jobs,” says Isabel Sawhill, a former associate director of the Office of Management and Budget now at Brookings, of the cuts. “This is going to affect public safety, it’s going to affect low-income people, it’s going to affect veterans’ health care. We can’t just wave our arms and pretend it won’t have an impact on people’s lives.”

First, let’s define terms. “Non-defense discretionary spending” has been known to glaze over eyes and induce snores whenever it’s thrown around. Which is part of why politicians like to cut it. Everyone knows what Social Security is. Everyone knows what Medicare does. But what about domestic discretionary spending? Well, it’s anything that falls into Congress’s appropriations budgets each year. It’s the Veterans Health Administration. It’s medical research at the National Institutes for Health. It’s low-income housing assistance. It’s the Coast Guard. It’s highway spending. It’s EPA clean-air enforcement.
Why is slashing the hell out of necessary government services the one area where we have bipartisan agreement? Here's what they've agreed to, per Plumer:
Now, it’s hard to know what specific programs will get cut. Future congressional appropriators will have to thrash that out. But just to illustrate the scale here, Third Way has provided examples of what would happen if the the trigger’s 7.8 percent cuts were spread evenly, across the board, in 2013. We’d have 608 fewer food-safety inspectors, which would likely lead to some 49,000 more cases of Salmonella, E. coli, and other food-related diseases. We’d have 1,200 fewer FAA air-traffic controllers, which could lead to an estimated 205,527 more flight delays. There’d be 2,326 fewer IRS agents, which would likely lead to $4.5 billion less in tax revenue collected.
Indeed, the IRS example illustrates why many observers (see David Leonhardt here) think that cutting domestic spending is so short-sighted — and could, in some cases, worsen our deficit problems down the way. It’s more expensive to replace a highway later than it is to repair it now. Less scientific research could mean lower growth in the future, making it harder to muscle out of our debt burden. Gutting the IRS makes tax evasion easier, which means less revenue coming in.
Right. Turning us into a third world nation might just be counterproductive. Who knew? But not to worry --- wages and living standards will be lower too. Maybe we can sneak across the border and work in Mexico.

I'm all for taxing millionaires. Even in this depressed economy, they have so much money they are throwing it away on Newt Gingrich. Clearly, they have more than they need. But I don't honestly think the answer to income inequality is to have millionaires kick in more to finance our wars and obsolete weapons programs while sacrificing the Center for Disease Control and the VA.

The sad thing is that over the course of the debt ceiling talks and the grand bargain talks and the Super Committee, I can't think of one domestic program the administration hasn't offered up in the negotiations. Thank God for the lunatics in the Republican Party who refuse to take yes for an answer. If things go as they have in the past, we'll see another punt. Let's hope so anyway. Go Tea Party!


DIY Activism: Courage Campaign Freewayblogging

by digby

Building awareness one commute at a time. Check it out:

This morning at 8 freeway overpass locations all over California volunteers held giant signs touting the Millionaires Tax of 2012. This included Richmond (seen above) through which hundreds of thousands of commuters pass on their way into San Francisco.

Media from all over the state, including ABC News, has covered the banners and the powerful message behind them: Our tax code needs to reflect the interests of middle-class Californians, not the special interests of corporate CEOs and their lobbyists. Now is the time to revamp our tax code here in California so it's fair to the 99% of us who play by the rules, not just the 1% who lobby hard and re-write the rules.

Banners were held for 2-3 hours in Los Angeles, Costa Mesa, Davis, Santa Cruz, San Diego, Oakland, Richmond, and San Diego. During the afternoon rush hour, a banner will fly in Fresno. All together, it's safe to say we've helped educate hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions about the Millionaires Tax of 2012. Not bad for a day's work!

Not bad at all. Freewayblogger would be proud.

If you'd like to learn more about the millionaires tax campaign, you can sign up here.

Thinking Ahead

by David Atkins

Adam Liptak at The New York Times has a brave article about the declining influence of the U.S. Constitution as a model overseas. I'm sure he'll catch huge grief for it on both sides of the political spectrum, but his point is an important one:

In 1987, on the Constitution’s bicentennial, Time magazine calculated that “of the 170 countries that exist today, more than 160 have written charters modeled directly or indirectly on the U.S. version.”

A quarter-century later, the picture looks very different. “The U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere,” according to a new study by David S. Law of Washington University in St. Louis and Mila Versteeg of the University of Virginia.

The study, to be published in June in The New York University Law Review, bristles with data. Its authors coded and analyzed the provisions of 729 constitutions adopted by 188 countries from 1946 to 2006, and they considered 237 variables regarding various rights and ways to enforce them.

“Among the world’s democracies,” Professors Law and Versteeg concluded, “constitutional similarity to the United States has clearly gone into free fall. Over the 1960s and 1970s, democratic constitutions as a whole became more similar to the U.S. Constitution, only to reverse course in the 1980s and 1990s.

“The turn of the twenty-first century, however, saw the beginning of a steep plunge that continues through the most recent years for which we have data, to the point that the constitutions of the world’s democracies are, on average, less similar to the U.S. Constitution now than they were at the end of World War II.”

There are lots of possible reasons. Our Constitution is terse and old, and it guarantees relatively few rights. The commitment of some members of the Supreme Court to interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning in the 18th century may send the signal that it is of little current use to, say, a new African nation. And the Constitution’s waning influence may be part of a general decline in American power and prestige.

In an interview, Professor Law identified a central reason for the trend: the availability of newer, sexier and more powerful operating systems in the constitutional marketplace. “Nobody wants to copy Windows 3.1,” he said.

In a television interview during a visit to Egypt last week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg seemed to agree. “I would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012,” she said. She recommended, instead, the South African Constitution, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the European Convention on Human Rights.

The rights guaranteed by our Constitution are parsimonious by international standards, and they are frozen in amber. As Sanford Levinson wrote in 2006 in “Our Undemocratic Constitution,” “the U.S. Constitution is the most difficult to amend of any constitution currently existing in the world today.” (Yugoslavia used to hold that title, but Yugoslavia did not work out.)

That's one way to look at it. Another way is to point out that most other nations around the world have parliamentary systems, much stronger political parties, unicameral legislatures, and much softer divisions between legislative and executive branches. When America and NATO set out to rebuild nations after invading them, they don't design the new governments on the American model, but on a parliamentary one.

In short, for all the unfair accusations that other social democracies receive for having sclerotic economies, what they don't have is America's immovable political system.

Don't get me wrong: the Constitution is a brilliant and extraordinary document, the first to guarantee many rights, and an amazing effort at solving the institutional governmental problems that had vexed other civilizations for literally millennia. But it's also a good idea to ask ourselves what is working, what is not working, what makes sense in a more globalized world, and what we might be able to learn from the success of others.

The anti-birth control faction gets down to business

by digby


Monday, February 6, 2012

RSC Update: ObamaCare’s Attack on Religious Freedom

From the Chairman

If the CLASS Act is a microcosm of the gimmicks and dishonesty involved in creating ObamaCare, one recently imposed regulation is the clearest expression yet of how government-run health care will trample on Americans’ constitutional rights.

Most people commonly associate the First Amendment with freedom of speech, but its first words are actually to guarantee us freedom of religion. Yet, under an ideological new rule handed down by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, many organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church will be required to provide free contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs in their employees’ health insurance plans.

Forcing Catholic hospitals, schools, and charities to subsidize contraception and abortion is a blatant attack on the freedom of religion that Americans have valued since the days of the Pilgrims. People of all faiths and political views should be able to agree that this action is unacceptable.

Conservatives in the House and Senate will fight this violation of religious freedom. With a groundswell of support from you and other concerned Americans, I know we can win.

Please spread the word.

God Bless,

Congressman Jim Jordan

Chairman, Republican Study Committee

So, who are these people? The usual suspects:
The Republican Study Committee [RSC] is a caucus of over 170 conservative members of the Republican Party in the United States House of Representatives. Though the primary functions of the Republican Study Committee vary from year to year, it has always pushed for significant cuts in non-defense spending, advocated socially conservative legislation, and supported the right to keep and bear arms...
It was founded in 1973 by Paul Weyrich and other conservative activists to keep a watch on the House Republican leadership, which they saw at the time as too moderate...

The organization has long had ties to outside groups closely allied with the most conservative elements of the Republican Party, such as theNational Rifle Association, The Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, Concerned Women for America and the conservative magazineNational Review, as well as the libertarian Cato Institute.

A subgroup of the committee, the Values Action Team, coordinates legislation with religious organizations, including the Christian right. It has been headed by Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania since its formation in 1997.

They're not going to let this go. But as you can see, it's only the true believer wingnuts who are on this thing --- Democrats will not benefit one bit from caving. And if the Komen flap taught them anything at all, it should be that there is a large contingent of Americans who are unsympathetic to these anti-choice zealots. Sometimes you have to make a choice.

Clearly, this is going to be an ongoing battle. The argument is no longer about abortion. It's also about birth control. This is no surprise to those of us who've been following this closely for a while. But the fog is starting to lift among the more mainstream observers. The question now is whether or not the right can succeed in making birth control one of those "controversial" icky issues that everyone is anxious to quickly find "common ground" on so we can turn to the "real" issues.

One would think that since birth control is something virtually everyone uses at some time in their lives, there wouldn't be much of a question. But seeing what's happened in other parts of the world where women's rights are regressing with alarming speed I'm not all that sanguine. It's only female trouble, after all. It's not like it's important.


Precious Bodily Fluids

by digby

Yeah, they've changed so much since then:

Across the country, activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities.

They are showing up at planning meetings to denounce bike lanes on public streets and smart meters on home appliances — efforts they equate to a big-government blueprint against individual rights.

“Down the road, this data will be used against you,” warned one speaker at a recent Roanoke County, Va., Board of Supervisors meeting who turned out with dozens of people opposed to the county’s paying $1,200 in dues to a nonprofit that consults on sustainability issues.

Local officials say they would dismiss such notions except that the growing and often heated protests are having an effect.

In Maine, the Tea Party-backed Republican governor canceled a project to ease congestion along the Route 1 corridor after protesters complained it was part of the United Nations plot. Similar opposition helped doom a high-speed train line in Florida. And more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions.

“It sounds a little on the weird side, but we’ve found we ignore it at our own peril,” said George Homewood, a vice president of the American Planning Association’s chapter in Virginia.

The protests date to 1992 when the United Nations passed a sweeping, but nonbinding, 100-plus-page resolution called Agenda 21 that was designed to encourage nations to use fewer resources and conserve open land by steering development to already dense areas. They have gained momentum in the past two years because of the emergence of the Tea Party movement, harnessing its suspicion about government power and belief that man-made global warming is a hoax

Lest you think these are just crackpots on the fringe:

In January, the Republican Party adopted its own resolution against what it called “the destructive and insidious nature” of Agenda 21. And Newt Gingrich took aim at it during a Republican debate in November.
Fox News has also helped spread the message. In June, after President Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Rural Council to “enhance federal engagement with rural communities,” Fox programs linked the order to Agenda 21. A Fox commentator, Eric Bolling, said the council sounded “eerily similar to a U.N. plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one world order.”

This is the paranoid strain at work. I suppose it wouldn't be so harmful if the stakes weren't so high. But this is more than an annoyance. The wingnut faction managed to get every GOP presidential candidate on the record as not believing in global warming.(Only 19% of Republicans believe that climate change is caused by human activity!) They may be crackpots but they have a controlling voice in one of the two major parties

And what about this local lunacy? This is the world envisioned by those who want to do away with the federal government. I'm guessing our water would have more than fluoride in it --- probably typhoid, cholera and botulism for starters.

I'm not looking forward to our confederacy of dunces running things.

Update: And then there's this:


Dirty Harry is a Commie

by digby

There was a time when this message would be uncontroversial --- just straight up All American patriotic commercialism. Now the wingnuts say it's commie propaganda for the Kenyan usurper.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Republicans are taking to their rooms and having a good old fashioned cry:

“I was, frankly, offended by it,” said Karl Rove on Fox News Monday. “I'm a huge fan of Clint Eastwood, I thought it was an extremely well-done ad, but it is a sign of what happens when you have Chicago-style politics, and the president of the United States and his political minions are, in essence, using our tax dollars to buy corporate advertising.”

Yeah whatever. Make my day, Aunt Pittypat.

More liberty for the aliens

by digby

Howie has a great post up about the Alabama immigration law and "self-deportation." (I'm not sure why it isn't simply called ethnic cleansing, since that's what it is.) He talks about the obvious historical echoes in this sort of thing and highlights a long piece about this from This American Life. Here's an excerpt:

Jack Hitt:The law is so comprehensive that some officials seem to be overreaching, just to be on the safe side. An attorney told me about one guy being denied a jailhouse phone call, since use of the phone was considered a business transaction, and about a victim of domestic violence who was told by a judge that if she wanted a protective order, she might open herself up for deportation.

But what I found most surprising was that amid the chaos, regular Alabamians, here and there, were taking the law to heart, pursuing ad hoc immigration justice on their own. I met a young Costa Rican woman named Carolina who long ago overstayed her visa. She told me about a recent time at a grocery store checkout. She and her husband tried to pay for their food with a credit card and valid ID. The cashier refused them, saying they'd first have to show that they were here legally.

Carolina: I swear, they don't want to sell us the groceries.

Jack Hitt: Carolina had just had a birthday when we met. And her mother back home had wired her some money to buy a gift, a money gram she could pick up at Walmart, not a government office, but a private business. So no problem. She'd done this many, many times in the nearly seven years she's lived in Alabama. Before the law, all she had to do was show ID and type in the secret PIN number her mother had sent her. But this time...

Carolina: They did not give me the money. They just refused to give me the money, because I cannot prove to the girl that I was legal. And I don't know why I have to prove her that.

Jack Hitt: Again, this is not part of the law.

The program also interviewed the GOP mastermind behind all these draconian anti-immigration laws around the country, Kris Kobach, Mitt Romney's new bff. I thought this was particularly interesting in light of the above:

Jack Hitt: Kobach has been working on illegal immigration since 2001. His big insight came right after 9/11, when he was working for the Justice Department.

Kris Kobach: It was an a-ha moment when I realized that five of the 19 hijackers were in the country illegally. Four of those five had traffic violations while they were illegally in the country. And if the police officer had had that information at his fingertips, he could have made an arrest.

Jack Hitt: But cops don't check for immigration status. Immigration agents do. The problem was, there were only a few thousand of them. Kobach realized what we need is what war planners call a force multiplier. What if we enlisted the more than 700,000 state and local law enforcement officers across the country into the fight against illegal immigration?

The simplicity of Kobach's argument is what's so appealing. He isn't creating new policy at all. He's simply empowering states to enforce what is already in the federal statutes.

Kris Kobach: And from the alien's perspective, it's better, too. He can depart the United States on his own, freely, without ever being in custody. And so there's more liberty for him. And there's less cost for the United States.

Jack Hitt: There's less cost, because if someone self-deports, there's no arrest. There's no detention or immigration hearing. Attrition through enforcement sounds so rational, so clean, when Kobach explains it, like it'll happen automatically. You don't have to do much. They'll just go.

But of course, the reality of self-deportation is much messier than that. You're threatening to separate parents and kids, drive them from their homes. It's completely primal, the things that terrify us most. And that is the actual plan, to scare them.

I asked Kobach, point by point, about the unintended consequences of the Alabama bill. He disputed everything. Did it hurt business? Did it create chaos in the schools? All overstated, he said. Finally, I asked him if it unearthed long-sequestered racial attitudes aimed at Latinos.

Kris Kobach: I think it's really an argument of last resort. And that is, well, if you start enforcing immigration laws more aggressively, that's going to become a racially charged issue. And my answer is, no, it's not. I don't buy it. And frankly, that hasn't happened.

Cashiers asking for papers from people who are trying to buy groceries has no racial component. Sure it doesn't.

The most interesting part of the piece is a GOP legislator who was confronted by a good Christian who runs a soup kitchen complaining that he was being asked to turn away people who were hungry and he just couldn't do it. The legislator finally admitted that this probably wasn't something Jesus would countenance. Imagine that.

Of course, Kris Kobach believes that by harassing people, separating families, driving them from their homes, he's giving them more liberty. After all, he could be locking them up and throwing away the key. They must see how lucky they are to have him.

Gibberish Man

by David Atkins

Newt continues to go rogue:

Newt Gingrich said Sunday that an “age of austerity” is the wrong solution for the economy and would “punish” the American people. He said he prefers “pro-growth” policies instead. The comments appear to pour cold water on the modern Republican belief that austerity and growth go hand in hand.

The 2012 Republican presidential candidate was asked by NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet The Press” whether his hopes for a U.S. colony on the moon fly in the face of the GOP’s fiscal responsibility mantra. Gingrich responded with some choice words about austerity itself before defending his lunar ambitions.

“First of all, David, I don’t think you’ll ever find me talking about an age of austerity. I don’t think that’s the right solution,” Gingrich said. “I am a pro-growth Republican. I’m a pro-growth conservative. I think the answer is to grow the economy, not to punish the American people with austerity.”

I don't even think Newt knows what he's talking about at this point. His campaign has always been something of an ego-powered confidence game. Newt poses as a pseudo-intellectual, but there's no substance behind it. He's basically running ad hoc at this point, hoping he can outrun the last thing to come out of his mouth with sheer chutzpah.

It would be awesome to see a journalist follow up with Gingrich to see exactly what he means by these "pro-growth policies" without "austerity." To a rational person, that means growing demand through increasing public investment, paid for in part by a tax system that forces the insanely wealthy to contribute their fair share while fixing the economy to reduce base inequality in the first place.

But I have no idea what it means for Gingrich. It could be very interesting for his "conservative" base to find out.


Sunday, February 05, 2012

At least we know we're free (well sometimes)

by digby

Well, this sure makes me proud to be an American:

In a stunning break with First Amendment policy, House Republicans directed Capitol Hill police to detain a highly regarded documentary crew that was attempting to film a Wednesday hearing on a controversial natural gas procurement practice. Initial reports from sources suggested that an ABC News camera was also prevented from taping the hearing; ABC has since denied that they sent a crew to the hearing.

Josh Fox, director of the Academy Award-nominated documentary "Gasland" was taken into custody by Capitol Hill police this morning, along with his crew, after Republicans objected to their presence, according to Democratic sources present at the hearing. The meeting of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment had been taking place in room 2318 of the Rayburn building.

HuffPost has obtained exclusive video of the arrest of Josh Fox. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.), the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, can be heard at the end of the clip asking Republican Chairman Andy Harris (R-Md.) to halt the arrest and permit Fox to film the public hearing. Harris denies Miller's request as Fox is escorted out of the hearing in handcuffs.
Here's Congressman Jerry Nadler:
“I have served in the House of Representatives since 1992, and I had the privilege of chairing the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. In all that time, I cannot recall a chair of any committee or subcommittee having ever ordered the removal of a person who was filming a committee proceeding and not being disruptive, whether or not that person was accredited. It is a matter of routine that all sorts of people photograph and record our proceedings. Most of them are not accredited. I cannot recall anyone questioning their right to be there."

Hey fellow froggies -- does this water feel like it's getting hotter to you?

Komen in self-destruct mode

by David Atkins

This is nuts:

Yesterday, ThinkProgress exclusively reported Ari Fleischer’s involvement — dating back at least to December — with the Komen Foundation, including issues related to Planned Parenthood. Tonight, the Washington Post reports that Komen is now publicly confirming that Fleischer, a prominent right-wing pundit and former press secretary for George W. Bush, will help “on crisis communications” related to Planned Parenthood. Komen stressed that Fleischer, who is a long-time critic of Planned Parenthood, “had nothing to do with the funding decision.”

Ari Fleischer sounds like a great choice, since Phyllis Schlafly and Pat Robertson were apparently unavailable.

The Big Game

by digby

Cynical fan @pourmecoffee says:

The Puppy PRO Bowl is awful. None of them even try and they're just in it for the treats.
I refuse to believe it.

Puppy Bowl starting line-up.

Kitten halftime show:

Highlights from last year's bowl:

Enjoy the game everyone. Don't tell John Amato but I'm rooting for the Patriots. Shhhhh.

The Super-Proper Bowl

by digby

If only life were like that.

Yapping Ladies and young male dolts

by digby

One reason you know that sexist stereotypes are still alive and well (and barely changed since the days of Ralph and Alice Cramden) is the casual way in which this adorable little fella just drops one into the conversation:

This is a young guy, not some old codger who hasn't kept up with the times. It's still so common that he doesn't even skip a beat --- and neither does the woman who's sitting there with him.

I have to say that this is one of the more surprising revelations to me in the past few years. I really thought that we'd at least gotten to the point at which younger men had an instinctive inkling that this sort of thing was not quite right. But I've been schooled --- and realized that it's not even a matter of ideology or traditional values. It pops out even among liberals who are very enlightened in other ways -- especially when they're on the defensive about something.

I'm told that we shouldn't "hector" or "scold" men on this because it just makes them mad and then they'll just reject feminism completely. Better to try to get them to understand that we're all in this together and that our fight is their fight. You know, a gentle persuasion, you get more flies with honey kinda deal. But I don't think that's working out. At some point, you just get tired of putting up with this shit.

Pole dancing

by digby

Why liberals are frustrated:

Our findings here echo those discussed in a prior post that Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats to the left in the contemporary period. Indeed, as seen below, President Obama is the most moderate Democratic president since the end of World War II, while President George W. Bush was the most conservative president in the post-war era.

The good news is that while our politics have become more conservative our culture has become more liberal. It's an interesting dichotomy, but I think we're going to see a lot more tension now that cultural identity is becoming bound up more closely with economics. It's all changing and who knows where it's going?

Still, it's always nice to know that you aren't completely nuts. The fact is that Barack Obama is most conservative Democratic president of the modern era. And George W. Bush was the most conservative Republican. And there's a significant distance between those two conservative poles. It is what it is. Just as it seemed. And it's not good news for liberals.


Honest rape

by digby

Yeah, I want this guy running the world. Because he's so principled:

I don't even begin to understand the moral position he's taking. But I think his definition of "honest rape" probably tracks with this:
LAZARO: Napoli says most abortions are performed for what he calls "convenience." He insists that exceptions can be made for rape or incest under the provision that protects the mother's life. I asked him for a scenario in which an exception may be invoked.
BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

I called this the The Sodomized Virgin Exception, which kindly men like Bill Napoli and Ron Paul will generously allow on occasion. But the fresh faced young virgin had better wander into the emergency room with blood trickling down her legs and bruises all over her body or she's going to be suspect. Lotsa lying bitches out there trying to get away with having sex and then getting themselves pregnant. You've got to draw the line somewhere.

Via Raw Story

Newt Gingrich's Epic Flameout

by David Atkins

If you missed Gingrich's bizarre, rambling press conference-in-lieu-of-concession-speech last night, here's your chance at redemption.

Just a few comments here.

1) Romney has really gotten under Gingrich's skin. It's almost endearing to hear Gingrich fly off the cuff about the awfulness of the American political system and how Romney is basically able to buy his way to victory while telling lies with a straight face even as the Press largely fails to call him on it.

Sorry, Newt. You and your Republican pals made this bed for your corporate fat cat contributors. Now Romney, the pinnacle masterwork of corporatist machine politics, is using the world Reagan and Newt created to buy himself a nomination with lots of money, coiffed sideburns, lots of cash, packaged lies, lots of money, a complacent stenographic media, lots of corporate moolah, and a gleaming smile. Oh, and did I mention the corporate cash? Well, now Newt and Reagan's moaning ghost get to lie in that resplendently furnished bed.

2) Gingrich keeps hammering on about the Obama Administration's "anti-religious bigotry" for daring to insist that Catholic hospitals receiving federal tax money have to provide contraceptive services. Gingrich views this as discriminatory against conscience of faith.

But one wonders how Gingrich and his followers would feel about Muslim hospitals getting tax money while adhering solely to the practices of Sharia law. One thinks they wouldn't appreciate it too much. These people don't really have ethical principles outside of "my tribe good, your tribe bad." They know that that doesn't play well with normal voters, so they goose it up in pretty language and thinly veiled situational ethics. But it really comes down to the idea that straight white Christians should be able to do whatever they want, and everyone else can put up with it or get out of "their" country. It's that ugly. And no, there's no reasoning with them, nor any decent rationale for giving their opinion even the scantest respect.

3) It's going to be very difficult for Gingrich to walk this feud with Romney back. Some have compared this press conference to Howard Dean's famous scream. But the difference is that when Dean screamed, he didn't give the Republicans a boatload of ammunition to use against John Kerry. Newt Gingrich is so incensed at Romney's transparent phoniness that he isn't mincing words about the GOP frontrunner. Usually politicians will couch and soften their negative statements about one another in a primary, because they know that when push comes to shove, one of them will have to support the other when the primary is over. But it's hard to see Newt endorsing and campaigning for Romney after this. It's pretty late in the game to be saying that there's no difference and "no choice" between one's primary opponent and the opposition candidate. Those are strong words.

If Newt keeps throwing these bombs for the next several months, makes a play to win Texas and tries to cause a brokered convention, and if Ron Paul goes for a 3rd party run, then November 2012 could turn into a landslide of dramatic proportions.

Unfortunately, that will only lead to five more years of crazy as the red-blooded conservatives insist that their disastrous fortune can be blamed on an inadequately aggressive, intransigent conservative opposition to President Obama.

Should be good times.


Saturday, February 04, 2012

Saturday Night At The Movies

Pre-game movie marathon

By Dennis Hartley

This being Super Bowl weekend and all, I figured this would be as good a time as any to trot out my Top 10 Favorite Sports Films (and some alternatives). As per usual, my list is arranged alphabetically, not in ranking order. So, ladies and gentlemen-start your DVDs!

Bend It Like BeckhamDirector/co-writer Gurinder Chadha whips up a cross-cultural masala that mixes the time-tested “cheering the underdog” sports film formula with Bollywood-style flourishes. Her story centers around a headstrong young woman (Parminder Nagra) who is upsetting her traditional Sikh parents by pursuing her “silly” dream to follow in the footsteps of her idol, David Beckham and become an English soccer star. Chadha also weaves in a subtle subtext on the difficulties that South Asian immigrants face assimilating into British culture. Great support is on hand from Juliet Stevenson, Keira Knightley and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (as a likable character, for once).

Breaking Away This beautifully realized slice of middle-Americana (filmed in Bloomington, Indiana) from director Peter Yates and writer Steve Tesich (an Oscar-winning screenplay) is a perfect film on every level. More than just a sports movie, it’s a genuinely touching coming of age story and insightful rumination about the simple joys and surprisingly complex social fabric of small town life. Dennis Christopher is outstanding as a 19 year-old obsessed with bicycle racing, a pretty coed and anything Italian. He and his pals (Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley) are all on the cusp of adulthood and trying to figure out what to do with their lives. Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley give warm and funny performances as Christopher’s blue-collar parents.

Bull Durham - Writer-director Ron Shelton really knocked one out of the park with this very funny, intelligently written and splendidly acted rumination on life, love, and oh yeah-baseball. Kevin Costner gives one of his better performances as a seasoned, world-weary minor league catcher who reluctantly plays mentor to a somewhat dim hotshot rookie pitcher (Tim Robbins). Susan Sarandon is a poetry-spouting baseball groupie who selects one player every season to take under her wing and do some, er, special mentoring of her own. A complex love triangle ensues. It’s sort of Jules and Jim meets The Natural. I miss whip-smart, “adult” comedies like this-they are sadly MIA these days.

Downhill RacerThis frequently overlooked 1969 film from director Michael Ritchie examines the tightly-knit and highly competitive world of Olympic downhill skiing. Robert Redford is cast against type, and consequently delivers one of his more interesting performances as a talented, but arrogant athlete who joins up with the U.S. Olympic ski team. Gene Hackman is outstanding (as always) as the coach who finds himself at frequent loggerheads with Redford’s contrarian demeanor (he’s never played a more unlikeable fellow). The film has a cinema verite feel that gives the story a realistic edge.

Fat City - This 1972 character study is one of John Huston’s lesser-known works, but IMHO it is one of his finest. Stacey Keach is outstanding as an alcoholic, down-and-out prizefighter who becomes a mentor for a neophyte (Jeff Bridges). Susan Tyrrell is a standout as Keach’s love interest (she deservedly received a Best Supporting Actress nomination). If you prefer Rocky-style boxing yarns, you’ll find no sentimentality or audience pandering here. The song “Help Me Make it Through the Night” haunts the film, and has never sounded so bittersweet. A bit of a downer…but well worth your time.

Hoop Dreams One of the most universally praised documentaries ever, with good reason. Ostensibly “about” basketball, it is at its heart about perseverance, love, and family-which is why it struck a chord with audiences as well as critics. Director Steve James follows the lives of two young men from the inner city as they pursue their dreams of becoming professional basketball players over a five year period. Just when you think you have the narrative pigeonholed, it goes off in some unexpected directions, resulting in a riveting tale that you really couldn’t make up. This film is a winner, in every respect.

North Dallas Forty - Nick Nolte and Mac Davis lead a fantastic ensemble cast in this locker room peek at the lifestyles of pro football players and the machinations of team owners. Some of the antics are allegedly based on the real-life hijinx of the Dallas Cowboys, replete with wild parties and other assorted off-field debaucheries. Charles Durning (who scored a career achievement award from the Screen Actor’s Guild back in 2008) is perfect as an assistant coach. Peter Gent adapted the screenplay from his original novel. This film is so entertaining that I can almost forgive director Ted Kotcheff for foisting Rambo: First Blood and Weekend at Bernie’s on us a little later in his career…

Personal Best- When this film was first released, there was so much fuss made over a couple of brief (and tastefully done) love scenes between Mariel Hemingway and co-star Patrice Donnelly that many failed to notice that it was one of the most realistic, non-condescending portraits of female athletes to ever reach movie screens. Writer-director Robert Towne did his homework; his pre-production research included spending some time closely observing Olympic track stars at work and at play. The women in his story are shown to be every bit as tough and competitive as their male counterparts; Hemingway and (real-life pentathlete) Donnelly deserve credit for not sugar-coating their characterizations in any way. Scott Glenn is excellent as the women’s hard driving coach.

Slap Shot -Paul Newman skates away with his role as the coach of a slumping minor league hockey team in this classic, directed by George Roy Hill. When Newman learns about a possible sale of the franchise, he decides to pull out all the stops and start playing "dirty" hockey. The entire ensemble is outstanding, and screenwriter Nancy Dowd’s riotously profane locker room dialogue will have you rolling. Newman’s Cool Hand Luke co-star Strother Martin (as the team’s manager) handily steals all of his scenes. Lindsey Crouse (in a rare comedic role) is memorable as a sexually frustrated "sports wife". Michael Ontkean does the funniest male striptease in film history, and the endearingly sociopathic Hanson brothers have to be seen to be believed. A puckish satire.

This Sporting Life (1963) - This movie was part of the string of “angry young man” dramas that stormed out of the U.K. in the late 50s/early 60s. Films like Look Back in Anger, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner were steeped in “kitchen sink” realism and English working class angst. This Sporting Life was an important watermark for both its director (Lindsay Anderson) and star (Richard Harris). A Brando-esque young Harris tears up the screen as a thuggish, egotistical rugby player who has a gift for the game and becomes an overnight sports star.

Part 2: That’s like, your opinion, man: Top 10 Most Off-the-Wall Sports Films

Okay, so maybe you’re not particularly in the mood for the inspirational locker room speech, the decisive last minute rally or to cheer for the underdog. Perhaps your tastes lean more towards the cultish and the offbeat? No worries, I’ve got all your, um, bases covered this evening. Here are my picks for the Top 10 Most Off-the-Wall Sports Films:

All The MarblesA droll sleeper with Peter Falk as the manager of a female wrestling tag team. This was director Robert Aldrich’s final film (Kiss Me Deadly, The Dirty Dozen).

The Big Lebowski - I will admit that I am not quite as enamored as the cultish devotees, but this is THE sports film for those who sure as shit do not fucking roll on Shabbos.

Bite the Bullet-Out of his myriad films, Gene Hackman has declared this unique western about a long-distance horse race to be his personal favorite. Who am I to say neigh?

Caddyshack-Jesus, I know a lot of people who worship this movie. A tad overrated, IMHO, but Bill Murray, Rodney Dangerfield, Chevy Chase and Ted Knight are all aces.

Cockfighter-Regretfully, I cannot guarantee that no roosters were harmed in the making of this film, but it features a career-best performance by the late, great Warren Oates.

Death Race 2000 (1975)-God, I miss Paul Bartel. Avoid the 2008 remake at all costs.

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters-An amazing documentary about some very obsessed video game competitors. You truly could not make these characters up. See it.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome -You know the rules. Two men enter…

The Seventh Seal-Don’t give me that look…I did say, “offbeat”. Chess counts as a sport.

Shaolin Soccer-Shaolin monks apply their martial arts prowess on the soccer field. This could only come from the mind of Stephen Chow (Kung Fu Hustle). It’s tons o’ fun!

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