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Friday, September 30, 2011

Pain and Punishment

by digby

Krugman wrote another post today featuring some people who are getting increasingly confused --- and frantic --- about the bizarre, contrarian policy failure of elites all over the world. He writes:

I don’t fully understand it. But a large part of it, it seems obvious, is the intense desire to see economics as a morality play of sin and punishment, where the sinners are, of course, workers and governments, not the bankers. Pain is not an unfortunate consequence of policies, it’s what is supposed to happen.

Read the whole post. He cites an Uncle Alan Greenspan post that's a real doozy.

It called to mind this post by Matt Yglesias on the rather puerile Micheal Kinsley piece today about Chris Chritie's allegedly disqualifying girth. Matt wrote:

A further nuance here, though, is that not only did Michael Kinsley’s piece on this draw a spurious connection between Christie’s appearance his personal virtue, it does so in order to make a second bad moral panic. After acknowledging that Christie “makes all the right noises about fiscal discipline,” he says that “perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first.” This not only misunderstands obesity, it misunderstands fiscal policy. The sentiment here is that small budget deficits are a sign of self-control and personal virtue, and that large deficits are to be deplored as the reverse. There’s just no reason to think that any of that is true. The question to ask about fiscal policy is whether it’s appropriate to try to advance full employment in the short-term and capacity growth in the long-term. You have to ask what’s really going on, what the situation is, and what the impact of the policy choices will be. On Yom Kippur, you fast as an act of self-abnegation as part of a process for atoning for one’s sins. A person with out-of-control appetites will have a difficult time doing it. Fiscal policy is nothing like that.

I think all these elites believe they are wealthy and secure due to their superior morality and work ethic. Therefore, it's important to make sure the plebes feel some pain for their excesses so they'll adopt the higher standards of their betters. Just as Michael Kinsley believes that Chris Christie's obesity reveals a slothful character, the Central Bankers are apparently all convinced that sovereign debt is due to the character flaws of slothful citizens who have failed to become wealthy. Neither belief is relevant to fiscal policy. Or even true.

We've been mulling this over for some time and I still don't have adequate answer to the problem. But I think I might be edging toward some insight in reading Corey Robin's The Reactionary Mind. I'll keep you posted.


MOR Mitt

by digby

Here's the temperate, middle of the road statesman, Mitt Romney:

I haven't seen anything quite like that in a presidential primary since Pat Buchanan memorably shouted "Jose, we ain't gonna let you in again!"

I'll be looking forward to the Frito Bandito ad series. Should be good.

Privates and Property
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

What Glenn Reynolds says about Elizabeth Warren is ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of things. So it's almost painful to waste more pixels talking about the Right's latest sexist outrage. On its face, it merits little more than a dismissive sneer of disgust at the sort of mind that would create such tripe, and even more revulsion at the sort of person that would find it funny.

So why write about it? Because beyond the disturbing psychology behind the sort of mind that finds humor in government-sponsored rape, what passes for an intellectual argument here is even more troubling.

What the rightwing is essentially saying here is that paying taxes is equivalent to rape. That a person's money and private property are, in essence, just as inviolable as their actual privates, and that any attempt by the government to ensure equality of opportunity and shared prosperity for its citizens is equivalent to forced sexual slavery.

It's hard to overstate how foreign to normal American sensibilities that sort of Objectivist ethic is, yet it is central to the modern conservative spirit.

Normal Americans understand that if Sally's rich mommy gives her 1,000 pieces of candy to take to school with her, it would be appropriate for the teacher to strongly suggest that Sally share some of her candies with the rest of the class. Only a psychotic parent would come to a PTA meeting and scream that Sally's teacher might as well have told her to lift her skirt for the class. But that's who Glenn Reynolds and his band of jackals are: psychos who think there's no difference between sharing a small part of one's private property for the general welfare, and sharing one's privates.

The ultimate irony here, too, is that most of these same conservatives are the very ones who are most adamantly against decriminalizing prostitution, and in favor of banning pornography in as many places as possible. In the conservative mind, asking Warren Buffett to pay the same tax rate on financial transactions as his secretary is equivalent to forcing his secretary to have sex with Warren Buffett. But stopping people from having sex as an economic transaction is an appropriate use of government power. The Constitution's provision for "general welfare" doesn't exist for them in terms of enforcing an economic social contract, but it does exist in terms of enforcing a paternalistic moral social contract.

It takes a really warped mind to be this sort of conservative. No matter how hard I try, as a small business owner I just can't see an increased percentage of end-of-year profit going to help pay for the roads we all drive on and an undocumented immigrant's vaccinations to be as personally violating as forcible rape.

Seeing balance sheets and private property as socially equivalent to private parts is not a normal American perspective. It's a psychosexual hangup, and it's more than repulsive. It's deviant, weird and unAmerican.

But these are the sorts of people who are acting as standardbearers for the American Right. These are not normal times, and this is not politics as usual.

“The commander in chief as covert operator”

by digby

On this day of national celebration for assassinating an American citizen without a trial, I was reminded of this David Ignatius column in the Washington Post from a couple of weeks ago:

It’s an interesting anomaly of Barack Obama’s presidency that this liberal Democrat, known before the 2008 election for his antiwar views, has been so comfortable running America’s secret wars.

Obama’s leadership style — and the continuity of his national security policies with those of his predecessor, George W. Bush — has left friends and foes scratching their heads. What has become of the “change we can believe in” style he showed as a candidate? The answer may be that he has disappeared into the secret world of the post-Sept. 11 presidency.
Obama is the commander in chief as covert operator. The flag-waving “mission accomplished” speeches of his predecessor aren’t Obama’s thing; even his public reaction to the death of bin Laden was relatively subdued. Watching Obama, the reticent, elusive man whose dual identity is chronicled in “Dreams From My Father,” you can’t help wondering if he has an affinity for the secret world. He is opaque, sometimes maddeningly so, in the way of an intelligence agent.

Intelligence is certainly an area where the president appears confident and bold. James Clapper, the director of national intelligence who has been running spy agencies for more than 20 years, regards Obama as “a phenomenal user and understander of intelligence.” When Clapper briefs the president each morning, he brings along extra material to feed the president’s hunger for information.

This is a president, too, who prizes his authority to conduct covert action. Clapper’s predecessor, Adm. Dennis Blair, lost favor in part because he sought to interpose himself in the chain of covert action. That encroached on Obama, who aides say sees it as a unique partnership with the CIA...

Perhaps Obama’s comfort level with his intelligence role helps explain why he has done other parts of the job less well. He likes making decisions in private, where he has the undiluted authority of the commander in chief. He likes information, as raw and pertinent as possible, and he gets impatient listening to windy political debates. He likes action, especially when he doesn’t leave fingerprints.

He did stoutly assert in his campaign that he wasn't a "70's love in" anti military type, and he was always pretty firmly in the "whatever works" school of foreign policy, but I think people can be forgiven for seeing this as a serious departure for a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was seen (perhaps too idealistically) as someone who valued the soft power of diplomacy far more than this spooky, high tech "world of action." Perhaps he should have been content to become Director of the CIA instead of president which requires an entirely different set of skills --- and ideally, principles.

If that portrait is correct (and I obviously have no idea if it is) we are dealing with a hard core security state president. As hard core as Dick Cheney in most respects and right up there with Reagan and Nixon. Assassinating suspected terrorists who happen to be US citizens would hardly be seen as beyond the pale. Indeed, I'm guessing that if this is true there's a whole lot of black ops stuff that we don't know about.

Aside from finding of this deeply and inherently undemocratic, on a purely practical level, I have to wonder if the president has developed better judgment in finding the right advisors in this realm than he has in the economic sector. Since most of it is clandestine, I suppose we'll never know. At least not until the inevitable blow back sometime down the road.

Sexist performance art

by digby

Via Thers over at Eschaton, here's Glenn Reynolds being totally incoherent:

FROM FACEBOOK, BEST ELIZABETH WARREN PARODY/RESPONSE YET: This was posted by Ashtad Bin Sayyif, but I’m not sure if he’s the original author or just reposting. Anyway, it goes to the core problem. Are you the state’s property, or not?

That goes to the core problem, but I don't think it's the one Glenn Reynolds think it is.

Maybe today's a good day to contribute to Elizabeth Warren's campaign. You can do so at Blue America's Senate 2012 page.

God I'm tired of this crap. Every time a woman runs for office a thousand sexist little jerks get their rocks off performing this pathetic little dance for one another.

Richie Rich and the Buffet Rule

by digby

Apparently Rich Lowry makes more than a quarter of a million dollars every year. And like so many of his poor, working class neighbors, he's just barely scraping by. Via Harold Pollack here's Lowry on a recent blogginheads:

He [Buffett] should give all his wealth away. . . . come move to Westchester County. Move to McLean, Virginia. Move to the suburbs of San Francisco with his wife. Adopt a couple of young kids, so he has a young family again. Make arrangements so that he only makes $250,000 every year. And then let's see how he likes being lumped in with millionaires and billionaires, as the President does.

And see how he feels about seeing his taxes increased, when he actually has to worry about expenses!

Brad DeLong explains why Richie Rich is dumb:

If you increase the marginal tax rate on incomes above $250,000 by five percentage point, then you would increase Warren Buffett's taxes in this scenario by… wait for it… wait for it… zero.

People I have surveyed so far have voted 12 for the proposition that Rich Lowry does not know how tax brackets work and 2 for the proposition that he does know but is trying to mislead and confuse his audience.

National Review: embarrassing thoughtful conservatives for 56 years…

(Count me with the 12. The innumeracy among the wealthy on this topic is mind boggling.)

Now I will explain why Richie Rich is a putz:

Indeed, he's such a putz that Richie Rich doesn't even know he's rich. In fact,he thinks he just regular middle class guy trying to make expenses. And having trouble doing it! Indeed, he is the very embodiment of the average American. Well except for the fact that he has a whole lot more money.

This is the primary Village conceit, my friends. Recall:

This is the permanent DC ruling class who have managed to convince themselves that they are simple, puritanical, bourgeois burghers and farmers, even though they are actually celebrity millionaires influencing the most powerful government on earth.

It's about their phoniness, their pretense of speaking for "average Americans" when it's clear they haven't the vaguest clue even about the average Americans who work in their local Starbucks or drive their cabs. (Think Tim Russert, good old boy from Buffalo, lately of Nantucket.)It's about their intolerable sanctimony and hypocritical provincialism, pretending to be shocked about things they all do, creating social rules for others which they themselves ignore.

The village is really "the village" an ersatz small town like something you'd see in Disneyland. And to those who argue that Versailles is the far better metaphor, I would just say that it is Versailles --- a very particular part:

A Picturesque Little Village

Part of the grounds near the Trianon were chosen by Marie-Antoinette as the site of a lakeside village, a crucial feature of picturesque landscape gardens then so fashionable among Europe's aristocracy. In 1783, Richard Mique built this amusement village where the queen played at being a shepherdess.

In 1784, Marie-Antoinette had a farm built, where she installed a farming couple from the Touraine region, along with their two children. They were charged with supplying the queen with eggs, butter, cream and cheese, for which they disposed of cows, goats, farmyard animals.

The Village is a metaphor for the faux "middle class values" the wealthy, insular, privileged, hypocritical political celebrities (and their hangers-on and wannabes) present to the nation

Now evidence that this delusion exists in the upper 3% all across the nation. But "journalists" are the only ones charged specifically with disseminating the facts, so this misconception of their economic status is particularly problematic in a democracy. If anyone in society needs to have some grasp of economic reality it should be journalists --- and politicians.

Pollack has a good idea about how Rich Lowry could fix this problem:

Rich Lowry should give his money away, move beyond the Washington beltway. He should make arrangements so that he is a laid-off teacher with a young family trying to make his mortgage payments, or he is a factory worker whose COBRA benefits have just run out. Maybe he should make arrangements so that he's one of the many, many sick and uninsured Americans who rely upon safety-net providers and public hospitals. Maybe he should arrange to be a disabled person whose Medicaid benefits, because of the recession, no longer cover dental fillings or hospice care. Maybe he should arrange to be a working-class parent whose local school cut back on enrichment programs and shrank the school year.

And see how he feels about having to watch painful cuts to public employment, social services, and education when he actually has to worry about expenses!

Like that could ever happen to someone like Lowry ...

Labor to join the protest fray
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Last Sunday I said that the only way the Occupy Wall Street protests would gain traction is if the organizational left in and around New York City decided to stiffen their spines and get involved.

Well buckle up, folks. We're going for a ride:

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests, now entering their third week, are poised to get a whole lot bigger than its core of 200 to 300 people, potentially even exceeding the protesters original goals of 20,000 demonstrators, thanks to recent pledges of support from some of New York City’s largest labor unions and community groups.

On Tuesday, over 700 uniformed pilots, members of the Air Line Pilots Association, took to the streets outside of Wall Street demanding better pay.

On Wednesday night, the executive board of the New York Transit Workers Union (TWU Local 100), which represents the city’s all-important train and bus workers, voted unanimously to support Occupy Wall Street. TWU Local 100 counts 38,000 active members and covers 26,000 retirees, according to its website.

The Union on Thursday used Twitter to urge members to take part in a massive march and rally on Wednesday, Oct. 5. That effort is being co-sponsored by another eight labor and community outreach organizations...

The other eight organizations expected to join in the October 5 rally, based on its Facebook page, are United NY, Strong Economy for All Coalition, Working Families Party, VOCAL-NY, Community Voices Heard, Alliance for Quality Education, New York Communities for Change, Coalition for the Homeless, which have a collective membership of over 1 million.

As Jon Kest, the executive director of New York Communities for Change, told Crain’s New York Business: “It’s a responsibility for the progressive organizations in town to show their support and connect Occupy Wall Street to some of the struggles that are real in the city today. They’re speaking about issues we’re trying to speak about.”

I don't know why it took so long, but better late than never. Still, it's going to take a lot more than one massive day of protest. The old "let's stage a big rally and then go home" right afterwards model of activism is pretty much dead. The new model is Wisconsin and Tahrir. There is nothing the champagne-sipping financiers would love better than to head home to the Hamptons on October 5th and come back on the 6th to find everything had returned to normal.

These organizations are going to have to be determined and help grow the occupation of Wall Street with a long-term presence. It's also going to be incumbent on them to plan out some sort of end game and clear goals, even if the original protesters themselves don't see a reason to do so. It will be tough to ask people to stay out in the New York City winter without some sort of strategy in mind, and some way of credibly declaring victory at some point.

As for the protesters currently on the ground?

Most of those in Zuccotti Park, though, don't see the need for a change in tactics. At least not yet.

"There isn't a consolidated message, and I don't think there needs to be," said Andrew Lynn, 34, who drove the three hours from his home in Troy, N.Y., to help the demonstrators' media team.

On Wednesday, he hunched over a laptop sheltered from the clammy air by an umbrella. A generator rumbled beside him, ensuring the group's activities continued to stream live to audiences.

Added Kobi Skolnick, a young Israeli American who by Wednesday was in his ninth day of participating in the protest: "I think the main thing we're doing is knocking on the walls of ignorance in this country so people wake up."

Funny thing is, though, the people are aware of how badly they're getting screwed by Wall St. I just conducted an array of pro bono focus groups with independent voters on behalf of a progressive organization; when the subject of Wall Street came up, there was near universal fury, with respondent answers ranging from aggrieved to downright violent.

The problem doesn't lie with the American people, ironically enough. The problem is that the American people don't know what to do about it, and neither the Democratic Party nor many left-aligned groups are offering a lot of answers. Merely increasingly the marginal tax rates on the wealthy, already treated as an apocalyptic battle in Washington, is only the beginning of the work that needs to be done to remove the economy from the clutches of the financial vampire squid.

Contra the spirit of the current protests, goals and strategy are necessary, even if it's as simple as a single unified demand. It doesn't have to be complicated, but there has to be something central for people to cling onto. In Wisconsin it was opposition to Governor Walker's legislation. In the Arab Spring, it's getting rid of the national dictator.

But even so, if it weren't for the brave ragtag folks in the park leading the way, we wouldn't even have the opportunity to talk about a long-term protest strategy. Now is the time for Democrats in New York and across the nation to prove that they're worth their salt and help these people come up with a coherent plan to truly defend the middle class, rather than simply pay it lip service.

In the meantime, if you're not in New York or can't make it there, you help out the protesters with food and donations here.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Marie Antoinette and the Masters of the Universe

by digby

It's hard to believe it's real, but here is video evidence of Wall Streeters drinking champagne from a balcony as they watch the protesters walk by:

You cannot make this stuff up.

Wall Street has been like this from the very beginning of the financial crisis, going out of their way to scoff at average people in trouble in this economy. ("We're doing God's work!")I guess they just don't see any need to keep a low profile and ride this out without inflaming the polloi. These "winners" want to rub their noses in it.

They just keep proving over and over again, in so many different ways, that they aren't as smart as they think they are.

"Smell Test" Scandals 101

by digby

I was watching that Daily Show clip with Bill O'Reilly and realized that it was probably important to remind everyone about how these things work. Clearly the wingnuts think they have something and if things go according to their plan, they might be right.

Here's a little primer I wrote sometime back about "smell test" scandals:

These are patented Whitewater-style "smell test" stories. They are based on complicated details that make the casual reader's eyes glaze over and about which the subject has to issue long confusing explanations in return. They feature colorful and unsavory political characters in some way. They often happened in the past and they tend to be written in such a way as to say that even if they aren't illegal they "look bad." The underlying theme is hypocrisy because the subjects are portrayed as making a dishonest buck while pretending to represent the average working man. Oh, and they always feature a Democrat. Republicans are not subject to such scrutiny because a craven, opportunistic Republican isn't "news." (Neat trick huh?)

No single story will bring down a candidate because they have no substance to them. It's the combined effect they are looking for to build a sense overall sleaziness. "Where there's smoke there's fire" right?

The major media has never copped to their role in the tabloid sideshow that politics in the 90's became. They have never copped to their part in elevating Bush to the status of demigod and running beside him like a bunch of eunuchs waving palm fronds during the lead-up to the war. Even today we see them pooh-poohing the significance of a federal trial that exposes them for whores to Republican power.

(That last was about the Plame scandal.)

I think the character of this one is broader than a character attack against President Obama. People like him personally and there isn't a lot to work with there. What to do with this scandal is advance the idea that government spending is inherently corrupt. It's a neat trick after their years of cronyism but they understand the press very well and know this is exactly the kind of "fleecing of America" story they can pull off the shelf and run with without having to think too much. Before long it will just be a shorthand for "Obama scandal" and they'll be off.

And it fits in quite well with this newer tactic:

No government shutdown. No workers forced to take unpaid furlough. No additional blow to our struggling economy. Another crisis averted. Right?
Not quite.
Congressional Republicans may not be replicating the disastrous shutdown strategy of their Newt Gingrich-led predecessors from two decades ago, but they are slyly executing the next worst thing: forcing our government to lurch from one near-crisis to the next.

The summer debt limit deal only kept our government open until the end of this month. Today's deal only keeps the doors open until November.

The only thing uncertain about what will happen in November is what penny-ante excuse will Republicans come up with to make the next compromise take as long as possible and rattle as many nerves as possible.

Why do congressional Republicans bother with this charade?

Because instead of getting blamed for brazenly provoking completely dysfunctional government, the GOP is betting that subtly creating barely functioning government will frustrate the public while deflecting the blame towards the President.
Congressional Republicans know that taking the government to the brink of shutdown every few months will do nothing for the people but keep the lights on, at a time when the public is demanding bold action to solve the jobs crisis.

Making government look impotent and silly serves the anti-government agenda of the modern Republican quite nicely.

These are the same Republicans that cried "Uncertainty!" every time that the last Democratic Congress tried to solve a tough problem that weighed down our economy, like rising health care costs or reckless banker behavior.

Yet now they actively try to sow uncertainty whether our government will be able to pay its debt obligations or keep its doors open.

The more they make the government look like a hopeless, corrupt clown show, the better off they are. I'm not sure how you fight that. I expect it would be a bit easier if the Village media weren't so anxious to jump on every manufactured tid-bit from the right wing noise machine, but I've pretty much given up on them. They are addicted to phony corruption scandals. (The real ones, not so much.)

Financial institutions: anachronistic parasites
by David Atkins

It's easy for those who obsess over daily news cycles to lose perspective about our place in history. As much as we believe that the economic institutions and modes of governance we've established are the result of centuries of fine tuning, the reality is that our modern world is a very new creation. Modern democracy is only a couple of centuries old, and only very recently has it been applied to all citizens in most democracies worldwide. The modern social welfare state is only about 60-70 years old. The industrialized world only abandoned the gold standard a mere 40 years ago. The rise and fall of communism as a serious challenge to capitalism only occurred in the last century, and the battle was only truly decided 20 years ago. Humanity is still very much in its infancy stages, experiencing rapid growth and evolution not only in terms of technological advancement, but the advancement of social and economic systems as well.

So inasmuch as the modern world takes massive private banks and credit card companies for granted as part of the established order of things, the reality is that these are new phenomena. Lenders and lending institutions have been around for millennia, of course, but most societies throughout history have held tight controls, either through religious or secular lawmaking, on usury. Moreover, governments and societies have seen fit to control the predations of financial institutions by simply seizing assets, or declaring jubilees. The inordinate power of lending institutions over governments and consumers that we are seeing today is a very recent phenomenon in span of human civilization. It is not the norm, it is not necessary, and it is hard to imagine that it will continue for long as humanity gropes its way forward in search of a better future.

It's important to remind ourselves of this fact when we see stories like this:

Starting Saturday, big banks must comply with a new regulation that caps the fees they can charge merchants for processing debit card purchases. But some consumers are already seeing the impact of the change, in the form of higher fees charged on their checking accounts, as banks seek to recoup lost revenue.

Bank of America is the latest bank to say it will begin charging a monthly fee for checking accounts that use debit cards. Starting early next year, the bank will charge $5 a month, in any month that the customer uses a debit card to make a purchase. (If customers have a debit card, but don’t use it, they won’t incur the fee.) The fee won’t apply to A.T.M. transactions, and it won’t be charged to customers with certain premium accounts, a bank spokeswoman, Betty Riess, said. “The economics of offering a debit card have changed with recent regulations,” she said.

Bank of America joins banks including SunTrust and Regions in charging the fees. Other institutions, like Wells Fargo and Chase, are testing them, too. And over all, bank fees have crept up to record levels, a recent survey found.

The added fees have come even though the limit on the merchant fees wasn’t as low as banks initially had feared. (The Federal Reserve originally considered a cap of 12 cents, or half of what it finally set.)

While consumers are seeing the impact of the change in their bank accounts, any potential savings benefit at stores is likely to be muted. “I don’t expect there to be any visible effects at the cash register,” said Aaron McPherson, practice director for payments at IDC Financial Insights. When similar caps were put in place in Australia, he said, merchants there didn’t pass along savings, so it’s unlikely that will happen here either.

That’s because, retail groups say, stores aren’t going to benefit as much as they had originally hoped under the new cap, and some merchants may actually pay higher fees.

Essentially, what happened here is that banks have been gouging retailers big and small for the convenience of allowing a customer to use a debit card. They and the credit card companies have also been gouging retailers for allowing them to use credit cards, too, for no good reason. But that's another story.

The Federal Reserve, in a long overdue move, told the banks that they couldn't gouge retailers so much anymore. So now the banks are going to charge consumers for using their own debit cards. Meanwhile, the retailers are predictably not passing along the savings from fees to consumers--first, because the notion that retailers ever really pass on savings to consumers is something of a joke, and second because the fees themselves really didn't come very much, especially on the sorts of small transactions for which the debit card swipe would be most useful.

Now let's be clear about what this means. When you put money in a bank, it's your money. The bank uses that money to lend out to others, and make more money itself off interest. The bank hands you a little card that allows you to pull out your own money. The bank isn't lending you the money; it's simply allowing you to use the money in your account. The card simply facilitates the process, and costs the bank nothing. No need to use a bank's ATM or visit a teller to pull out cash. The cost to the bank in using this system is minimal. The bank makes its money off debit card users in the form of overdraft charges and other fees. Charging a fee for using the bank's debit card to access your own money is an amazing insult--especially when considering how many banks offer "free" checking accounts on condition that consumers--you guessed it--use their debit cards at least once a month.

When you go to your local coffee shop and use a debit or credit card, the retailer is getting gouged by the bank/credit card company for allowing you to use that card. And if the consumer carries interest on the credit card or happen to overdraft on the debit card, the bank/credit card company gouges the consumer for using the card as well. And now the banks are tripling the gouge: in order to "make up" the lost revenue on fees that have actually increased for the most useful small debit transactions, they are gouging consumers for even daring to use a debit card.

Does the world need to perpetuate this system? No, it does not. Mobile payment systems are increasingly taking hold in the marketplace, allowing for customers and retailers to carry their own tabs with the retailer directly, essentially bypassing the lending institution and their debit/credit cards. Starbucks already has an app to do just that, which has the banks and the credit card companies running scared, and for good reason.

And, of course, the debit card situation is merely analogous to the parasitic behavior the lending institutions have been perpetuating on governments around the world for decades.

There will come a day when these institutions are brought to heel. Credit is important to keeping the engine of the world economy humming, but not at the cost the lending institutions are demanding. As I've said before:
the economy is like a engine. Demand fuels it. A strong middle class is the best way to ensure that the fuel level stays high. Credit via lending is a lubricant, sort of like motor oil. In exchange for providing that lubricant, financiers are allowed to skim off the top and make out like bandits even in times of relative equality. Lately, however, the financiers have been playing radical games to suck economy-killing amounts out of the tank, while the economy sputters to a stop due to lack of demand. In this situation, it would seem that government would be best suited to shunt the vampire financiers off to the side, provide a fuel injection of demand and oil up the engine itself on behalf of the people. The only problem is that the vampire financiers have too tight a control on government policy through corruption, and aren't about to be pushed aside. It really isn't much more complicated than that.

But pushed aside they must be, and pushed aside they will be, one way or another. If it is not allowed to happen peacefully under the rubric of political and legal reform, the revolution will take a decidedly more unseemly turn. Humanity has always found a way to remove tyrannies that limit its potential one way or another.

The financial sector currently represents the greatest threat to human happiness and freedom. Corralling the financial sector, bypassing it when possible and shrinking it down to manageable size are simply the next logical steps in the evolution of human society.

Something's happening here

by digby

I wonder if the white shirts are going to spray these guys in the face with pepper spray?

photo by Dan Nguyen @ New York City

Evidently 500 of these guys showed up to protest on Wall Street today earlier this week. They've been getting screwed on their pensions for years and these mergers are killing them.

By the way, a vast number of airline pilots are veterans.


Gotta hit the greedy geezers

by digby

Don't you love it when rabid right wing partisans who pretend to be bipartisan attack Democrats for partisanship? I know I do.

Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the White House fiscal commission, isn’t a fan of President Barack Obama’s deficit-reduction plan or his new feisty tone.

The decision to shield Social Security from changes “is an abrogation of leadership, a vacancy of leadership,” Simpson told POLITICO Wednesday.

The harsh appraisal is notable even from the outspoken Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming whom Obama tapped last year to lead his bipartisan fiscal commission. Simpson is often blunt, but he has generally avoided direct criticism of the president, even when Obama declined to embrace the commission report and waited months to push a comprehensive plan.

Simpson said he is “saddened” and “tired of watching” the president talk up bipartisanship in public while bashing Republicans at private fundraisers. And by treading lightly on entitlements, Obama’s proposal fails to live up to the principle of shared sacrifice, he said.

Right. The "greedy geezers" need to stop sucking on the national teat. Which translates into the destruction of social security and the fulfillment of his goal, although Simpson won't admit it.

After all, if he really gave a damn about the deficit, he would have spent a little bit more energy working on his own party and its presidents:

But then, why should he when he has the Politico doing his work for him:

Simpson and his Democratic co-chair, Erskine Bowles, recommended raising the Social Security retirement age to 68 by 2050, along with other changes, to shore up the system that is projected to go broke by 2037.

I'm guessing everyone reading this blog knows that is total bullshit: the SS system is projected to have a slight shortfall in 2037. It's certainly not going broke.

And hey, if Simpson has his way, they can kill off a whole lot of baby boomers by destroying Medicare before that happens, so I doubt there will even be a shortfall at all.

Even jerks have a right to free speech

by digby

NEW ORLEANS -- There are several political signs attracting all kinds of attention in one Uptown neighborhood.

On Wednesday, crowds gathered at the corner of Calhoun and Coralie streets, looking at several signs depicting President Barack Obama as either a dunce, a puppet or a crying baby in a diaper.

"It disrespects the nation -- and President Barack Obama represents our nation," said Skip Alexander, as he looked at one of the signs. "He represents everybody, not some people."

Dozens of protesters came by the house in the 1500 block of Calhoun throughout the day, demanding the sign come down.

"He wouldn't do that to [President] Bush, I'm sure. It's just insulting. It's insulting," said C.C. Campbell-Rock. "He's going to have to take them down."

"This is nothing put pure racism," said Raymond Rock. "This is a disgrace."

The home is owned by Timothy Reily, who declined to be interviewed about the signs. Former Mayor Ray Nagin showed up at the house and went inside to speak with Reily. He emerged later and would not comment on what they discussed.

Some neighbors tell Eyewitness News that Reily has been putting the signs up for months. Some of the protesters learned about the signs through a local radio station on Wednesday morning.

"He can put up a sign if he wants to. It doesn't bother me," said Harold Gagnet, a neighbor.

"I think it's fine. It's on his property," said Katherine deMontluzin. "He can say whatever he wants."

The signs have created such a firestorm of controversy, though, that police came to the scene-- called in by City Council Member Susan Guidry. She represents the district where the home is located. Guidry said she was concerned about public safety and was trying to figure out if the sign was even legal. She also said she spoke to Reily, but didn't get far.

Of course it's legal. It's explicitly political and that's the most protected speech of all. The idea that any elected official would try to stop him is disturbing.

I don't care for his message, obviously, and the guy is clearly a jerk. But this sort of political illustration is about as traditional All American as it gets:

That's Thomas Nast in 1861, skewering Lincoln.

Here's another one depicting Andrew Jackson hanging John Quincy Adams:

*Obviously, I cannot speak authoritatively as to whether this man's signs are racist, but I honestly don't see it in that poster or the other ones shown at the link. Hugely insulting yes, but it doesn't seem to me that he's used explicitly racist imagery, or anything that wasn't used liberally against many other politicians over the years. Of course, I could be wrong about that.

Update: Apparently I am wrong about that. I'm told that this is a "synthesis of anti-semitism and racism." It's such a mishmash of rightwing shibboleths that I guess I just didn't see the various strands. Soros, of course, is a widely derided figure on the right as both a "jewish money man" and a Nazi. And I guess that Obama being seen as his puppet is an incompetent puppet plays into longstanding racist tropes as well.


Bill O'Reilly shows off the GOP's Achilles Heel
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Close watchers of the news cycle may recall Bill O'Reilly's recent threat to quit his TV show should the fantastical event occur that his tax rate reach 50%. Well, Mr. O'Reilly made the mistake of going on Jon Stewart yesterday. Stewart predictably went after O'Reilly; but it was O'Reilly's response that should make some news. Here's the segment:

Part 1:
The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Bill O'Reilly Extended Interview Pt. 1
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Part 2:

What's noteworthy about this interview is that O'Reilly didn't and couldn't stick to his guns on the claim that doing his show would no longer be worth it. O'Reilly admitted that he had been...exaggerating, to put it kindly.

Even more remarkably, when mocked by Stewart for his selfishness, the Loofah man didn't even attempt to defend the principle of "low taxes on job creators" in principle. He knew he couldn't do it with a straight face.

Instead, he said something amazing: that he would in fact by willing to pay 50% in taxes if government would stop "wasting" his money, and proceeded to raise the issue of the Solyndra non-story, as well as the $16 muffin myth. If I know Jon Stewart, he'll use Monday's show to rip O'Reilly apart for perpetuating a story that is known to be a fraud--and even if true, would represent an insignificant amount of money in the federal budget.

But O'Reilly's excuses are almost beside the point. The newsworthy item from the interview is that the Fox News host not only backtracked from his previous statement, but did not even attempt to defend his position from an ideological basis. He knows that the "job creators shouldn't pay significant taxes" meme is garbage, and couldn't stick to it in a mano a mano quasi-debate with Stewart. Instead he agreed in principle with the idea of paying a 50% tax rate, so long as the government could prove it wasn't wasting his money.

Now, when it comes to government waste and taxes, this is where a progressive naturally shifts to a discussion of billions, if not trillions, wasted on Halliburton and Wall St.. Which is, to be fair, exactly where Jon Stewart went and an important conversation to have. But the discussion of which Party wastes money and which does not isn't so fascinating here.

What is fascinating is that when push comes to shove, conservatives cannot defend their ideological ground with a straight face when forced to have a real conversation, rather than wage talking point battles before a pseudo-objective media. This is their Achilles' Heel. When cornered, they either look terrible and lose the debate, or are forced to admit that their ideological stance is garbage, leaning back on the "waste in government" canard.

But that itself is an admission of defeat. At that point, to paraphrase the old joke, we already know what kind of man O'Reilly is and we know he knows what the right thing to do is. Now we're just haggling over the price.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A taste of the good stuff

by digby

Atrios takes a little trip down memory lane to remind us just how nuts the beltway press can be when the the right wing gives them a tasty scandal morsel to suck on --- no matter how dishonest, no matter how irrelevant it is.

So, following up on David's post below, it's a good idea to keep an eye on the Village media's reaction to this Solyndra pseudo-scandal. It isn't on the level of the Whitewater circus of course and it's nothing compared to Monica Madness, but when you read articles like this one, you know they've had a taste of the good stuff and they're hoping for more:

The Energy Department on Wednesday approved two loan guarantees worth more than $1 billion for solar energy projects in Nevada and Arizona, two days before the expiration date of a program that has become a rallying cry for Republican critics of the Obama administration’s green energy program.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said the department has completed a $737 million loan guarantee to Tonopah Solar Energy for a 110 megawatt solar tower on federal land near Tonopah, Nev., and a $337 million guarantee for Mesquite Solar 1 to develop a 150 megawatt solar plant near Phoenix.

The article doesn't indicate that there's anything wrong with either of the companies or that there's any reason why they shouldn't be approved for the loan guarantees. Neither does it spell out that the Solyndra pseudo-scandal is utter crap ginned up by Republicans for partisan gain.

Instead, they just invoke Cokie's Law, implying that because it's "out there" it's news, regardless of whether there's any truth in it.

Some things never change.

Solyndra in a teapot
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

David Roberts at Grist has a great overview today of the Solyndra nontroversy, based partly on recent polling and focus groups. The upshot? Support for solar energy remains strong even among conservatives, and the non-scandal "scandal" is basically confined to the Fox News nuts:

I just received an interesting memo from a couple of polling firms that have done recent surveys to test the impact of the Solyndra faux-scandal -- a statewide survey in Ohio and some focus groups in California. The work was done by Public Opinion Strategies (a well-known Republican firm) and Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates (a well-known Democratic firm).

The top-line result: Knowledge of the faux-scandal is mostly confined to news junkies, and public support for clean energy broadly, and solar power specifically, remains deep and strong.

In other words, Republicans have not yet succeeded in Climategate-ing Solyndra. Not that they've stopped trying!

Some interesting tidbits from the memo:

People who had heard a "great deal" about Solyndra were "overwhelmingly conservative, male and older." Hm, that's the same demographic that watches Fox News and listens to talk radio! Surely a coincidence.

David then quotes the memo demonstrating that even Republican male swing voters have a highly positive view of solar energy and its future. Worth a read. In sum:

The conservative argument, which tries to use Solyndra to tarnish the whole idea of public investments in clean energy, is failing. Ohio voters were presented with two arguments: One cast Solyndra as emblematic of clean energy investment and the other cast it as an anomaly that shouldn't dim enthusiasm for such investments. They favored the latter 62 to 31 percent.

Opposition to clean energy investment is confined almost entirely to Tea Party voters. Republican women and non-TPers fall more in line with the rest of the public -- they support continued investment by 63 percent, whereas Tea Partiers do by only 36 percent.

Insofar as Solyndra poses a problem for future public investments, it has little to do with clean energy or solar power specifically and everything to do with general skepticism toward public investment.

Just as with LGBT rights, the battle over alternative energy is one our side is winning--far too slowly, of course, but we're winning nonetheless.

It's the economic argument that we're gradually losing, largely because no one who is taken seriously by the press and the big money establishment is making it. In this case, the Republicans are waging a war on alternative energy funding by way of a war on the value of government investment. And while the latter seems to be taking a hit yet again, the former is coming out unscathed despite the all-out assault of the conservative Wurlitzer.

That's good news for solar energy and the environment, and I suppose we should celebrate our victories where we can get them.

The Ryan Express Rolls On

by digby

So Paul Ryan is going to reintroduce some of his most toxic plans to destroy whatever is currently working in the health care system and replace it with vouchers and tax credits. (If he succeeds, look for them to be called "tax expenditures" in about 20 years with centrists and conservatives both clamoring to "reform" the system by cutting them.)It's the usual nonsense, insisting that people should "shop around" for the cheapest coverage in order to lower costs. And for all of you who haven't had the fun and privilege of doing that already, he wants to end employer coverage too. Feel the magic.

Dave Weigel reported that Ryan has an unusual interpretation of recent events --- apparently he believes his plan is working for them. Weigel writes:

Hm. This isn't how I remember NY-26. Jane Corwin, the Republican candidate, was very clear: She supported the Ryan plan, and blind opposition to the plan was the same as rooting for Medicare to collapse. "It's not like you're given a certain of money to go out and you have to shop around," she told me at the time. "The plans are defined. And how much gets paid is based on your wealth and your wellness, so if you're sick or you're lower income you receive more than someone who's wealthy." The non-"courageous" thing, maybe, was attacking Democrat Kathy Hochul for Medicare cuts, when the Ryan budget also assumes the cuts. I don't think that's what Ryan is talking about.

But once we learned that lesson and started to get our message out… well, a funny thing happened: People listened. They learned that our plan did not affect those in or near retirement; that it guaranteed coverage options like the ones members of Congress enjoy; and that choice and competition would drive costs down and quality up. They also learned more about the Democrats’ plans for Medicare, and they didn’t like what they heard.

And the scare tactics stopped working.

Look at what just happened earlier this month in the recent special elections next door in Nevada and out in New York. The Democrats threw every scare tactic they could think of at the Republican candidates running in two special elections for vacant House seats. But the attacks failed to connect with voters hungry for solutions. The Republican candidates prevailed.

Is that what happened? In Nevada, sure. Democrat Kate Marshall tried to make Republican Mark Amodei suffer for the Ryan plan ... in New York, Republican Bob Turner didn't actually support the Ryan plan. Turner's backers accused Democrats of lying about the candidate because, hey, even theyadmitted that Medicare would be changed somehow. The Ryan plan was neutralized as an issue. This isn't great evidence for Ryan's point that starting to privatize Medicare will no longer hurt Republicans.

Democrats certainly don't agree with Ryan. According to Greg Sargent, in spite of the President's foolish unforced error in mentioning Medicare cuts in his jobs speech, they are going after Ryan hard:

The DCCC is going out in the districts of 50 House Republicans with a press release designed to get local media to pressure them to say whether they will — again — support Ryan’s controversial health care vision.

“Ryan acknowledged his new plan doubles down on his earlier controversial budget proposal to end Medicare that Bucshon supported,” reads the release going out in GOP Rep. Larry Buschon’s district. “Will Representative Bucshon go along again, with Ryan’s latest radical scheme to end employer health care at the expense of the middle class? ”

Sargent writes:

Dems are now hoping that Ryan has given them fresh ammo to remind voters just how serious Republicans are about fundamentally transforming the health care system — and profoundly altering aspects of it that remain very popular — in the months and years ahead.

From the defensiveness of the NRCC response to Sargent's report, they haven't exactly signed on to Ryan's double down:

“The only healthcare plan Americans are familiar with is President Obama’s massive government healthcare takeover that is destroying jobs and forcing middle-class families to pay thousands more in premiums when they can afford it the least. ObamaCare’s disastrous effect on America’s weak economy will continue to haunt Democrats at the ballot box in 2012.”

It doesn't sound to me as if they are entirely confident that proposing that everyone, including those currently covered by their employers and Medicare, should be thrown into the private insurance market to find the cheapest coverage they can is a big winner. But hey, live by the law of the jungle, die by the law of the jungle.

Snippy Tuck

by digby

The Daily Caller must insist that all of its employees channel Tucker Carlson's puerile snottiness or lose their jobs. Even when they are are caught outright botching a story so badly that they look like total blithering idiots, here's the response of the "Executive Editor":

"The EPA is well-known for expanding its reach, especially regarding greenhouse gas emissions. What's 'comically wrong' is the idea that half of Washington won't admit it. The EPA's own court filing speaks volumes," Martosko said in an email.

"What's more likely: that the Obama administration's EPA wants to limit its own power, or that it's interested in dramatically increasing its reach and budget? Anyone who has spent more than a few months in Washington knows the answer," he added. "The suggestion that the EPA — this EPA in particular — is going to court to limit its own growth is the funniest thing I've seen since Nancy Grace's nipple-slip."

The truth is that it is (it's a legal case, click the link to read the explanation), the Daily Caller has been shown to be pathetic fools --- and Tucker Carlson and his minions, like the petulant children they are, refuse to admit they were wrong.

Recall this sad little episode back in the day when Carlson would pollute the airwaves on a regular basis. That anecdote was almost certainly a total lie from beginning to end.

Rigid Politics

by digby

Somebody's dishing (sort of) about David Plouffe:

Often considered a cold, calm cyborgian number-cruncher who reflects his cold, calm cyborgian boss, Plouffe, 44, is in fact deeply passionate man, enamored with the success of the 2008 campaign that cast Obama as a transformational candidate who would change Washington from above. It was an insurgent strategy that bested Hillary Clinton, but it has failed Obama as an incumbent. While Plouffe appears to be pushing Obama toward a more partisan approach, doubts linger over whether he has sufficiently gotten over the last election to win the next one.

Yes, this is a rather snide Washington Post profile, but I have to say that observation about the 2008 campaign really rings true. I have written here many times about the continuing insistence on the campaign as a governing model, despite the fact that it is almost completely irrelevant --- and vastly overrated to begin with. After all, the Party was almost evenly divided in the primaries (but they were all Democrats who came together because they were more or less on the same side) and his opposition in the general was a doddering old man and a lunatic. Plus the country was in the ditch, Republicans had something like a 23% approval rating and virtually everyone hated the outgoing GOP president. I know the campaign was inspirational to a lot of people but it wasn't exactly the apotheosis of political strategy. Nonetheless, they all seem to have believed their own hype and governed from that experience.

And is wasn't just Plouffe. The President still refers to running the campaign as if it is a meaningful comparison to actually being president. He does say in the Suskind book that he learned from the campaign that you have to make people switch gears when things aren't working, which I find somewhat ironic, since it apparently has taken Plouffe nearly three years to do so.
Plouffe’s defenders inside the White House argue that until recently he calculated that aggression against Republicans would hurt the economy and the president’s political standing with independents. Fighting might make liberal groups feel good, White House officials said privately, but it isn’t reasonable.And Barack Obama is a reasonable man.

There is also a less-sanctioned sense within the White House that Plouffe’s above-the-fray path was safe for the naturally cautious president. The problem, according to people in and close to the administration, was the lack of a strong voice to counter Plouffe, who had absorbed many of the roles formerly played by Obama’s hands-on-everything manager, Rahm Emanuel.

But now, the famously panic-proof strategist appears to have answered the appeals of his party and finally set the president on a more partisan — and unPlouffian — course.

Some might call it rigid and stubborn, but YMMV.

Plouffe’s defenders in the White House argue that he has been moving this way all along and that the pursuit of compromises has removed the paralyzing threat of default and put the president on firmer ground: Yes, the public’s discontent with Washington wounded the president, but it hurt Congress more. And now, Republicans will have to compromise on Democratic terms, as happened in this week’s avoidance of a government shutdown. Republicans, the thinking goes, will help the president to help themselves.

“Plouffe sees the whole game,” said Stephanie Cutter, Plouffe’s deputy, who is leaving the White House to work on the 2012 campaign. “Not just the individual plays.”

To the wider Democratic universe, this strategy constituted a year of magical thinking.

Indeed. If failing to push for policies that could have made the economy better and convince the people that he's on their side for the first three years of an monumental economic crisis is part of their long term strategy then I suppose it's a big success. The more obvious explanation is that the control freak Plouffe was so convinced of his brilliance in executing the "no drama Obama" presidential campaign that he failed to switch gears --- and his boss, being of similar temperament, didn't see that this 2009 "plan" going into the White House wasn't working.

I have always thought they all assumed that the economic crisis was no biggie and that the best strategy was for the president was to keep his head down and pursue his plan for a transpartisan Grand Bargain, settling our difference for all time and ushering in a new era of good feeling and comity. (Just like they did during the campaign ....) Voila: Morning In America Part II.

And in a different country, at a different time, under different circumstances that might even have worked. Here in America, right now, it was indeed magical thinking, which I would guess is the last thing anyone would ever think the no-drama team would ever indulge in. I'm afraid they were blinded by premature hagiography.


Playing hard to get

by digby

This is how a constituency that has clout gets the job done:

JP Morgan honcho Jamie Dimon, once a “fat cat” ally of President Obama, seems to have strayed to Republican contender Mitt Romney.

Dimon, a lifelong Democrat who was rumored to be on Obama’s short list for treasury secretary before he settled on Tim Geithner, met privately with Romney on Tuesday morning before a fund-raiser at Brasserie 8¹/2 hosted by Highbridge Capital, a JPMorgan-owned hedge fund.

Dimon, who was spotted “in a discreet one-on-one” discussion with Romney, cannot publicly endorse a candidate because he sits on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. But he donated to Democratic candidates in 2008 and privately supported Obama.

While Dimon’s spokesperson declined to comment, a JP Morgan insider tells us that Dimon has not attended an Obama fund-raiser and has not made any contributions to his campaign during this election cycle. And Dimon has met privately with many of the Republican presidential candidates.

Political insiders are buzzing that a defection would signal further Wall Street hostility toward Obama, who famously called them “fat cat” bankers in 2009. Dimon responded, “I don’t think the president of the United States should paint everyone with the same brush.”

One insider said, “There is not a person on Wall Street, with the exception of the genetic Democrats, who would get anywhere near supporting Obama. The hostility to the administration is huge. Dimon will continue to look bipartisan, then work behind the scenes to get a Republican elected.”

I'm sure that's true. But these fat cats have so much money they can buy candidates of both parties and make them all dance to their tune.

There's a lot of speculation about why the administration and the congress have been easy on Wall Street, from psychological reasons to ideological sympathy. But the easiest and most likely explanation is that it's just about the money. Politicians want it and Wall Street's got it. This is how they do their mating dance.

Faith-based policy and American exceptionalism
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

As the Republican presidential candidates fall all over themselves to outdo the other in pushing reckless anti-government, anti-tax ideology, there is one progressive response that I've always been particularly fond of but is far too seldom used: the fact that never in the history of the modern nation state has an economy successfully operated along the lines the Tea Party envisions for America. Bill Clinton of all people made this point just recently in a meeting with bloggers:

You know, there’s not a single solitary example on the planet, not one, of a country that is succesful because the economy has triumphed over the government and choked it off and driven the tax rates to zero, driven the regulations to nonexistent and abolished all government programs, except for defense, so people in my income group never have to pay a nickel to see a cow jump over the moon. There is no example of a succesful country that looks like that.

This is one of the reasons that conservatives are so desperate to hold onto the notion of American exceptionalism: liberals have a wide of range of models from Japan to Scandinavia to prove the efficacy of various progressive solutions to America's problems. No country is perfect, of course, and solutions that work elsewhere may not work here. But as a general rule, progressives have effective examples worldwide to prove the value of our approach, whether it be in medicine, criminal justice, labor or otherwise.

Conservative approaches by contrast are a failure wherever and whenever they are tried. Theocracy inevitably leads to tyranny and despotism, whether it be the Christian theocracies of the Middle Ages or the modern theocracies of the Islamic world. Weapons-happy libertarianism ultimately ends in the sort of anarchic despotism we see in Somalia. Conservative approaches to finance, taxation and regulation lead inevitably to economic collapse, as seen in the history of basically every single country that ever even temporarily earned the "tiger" moniker from Austrian economists seeking to validate their theories.

So it's crucial for conservatives to insist that America never learn from anyone else's positive example, and that every problem in America be seen as sui generis. Faith-based policy making can only exist in an informational vacuum where real-world examples are never considered.

Progressives often lament that the conservative rhetorical construct is nearly impossible to demolish. But that's actually not true. Republican rhetoric, built as it is on a foundation of lies, is incredibly rickety when challenged in the right places. Destroy one pillar, and much of the rest of it comes tumbling down. But doing so would require taking on some taboo subjects that have been so vigorously protected by the conservative establishment as to have become sacred cows.

American exceptionalism is one of those sacred cows. It is what allows faith-based policy to exist. The notion, accepted by so much of the Democratic establishment, that we cannot even rhetorically challenge the idea that love of America means never looking abroad for ways we can improve, has to go by the wayside if we want to have a chance of taking this country back.

Of course, doing that won't happen overnight. But an easy way to lead into the argument would be to provide the negative counterexample: maybe we're not yet in a position where independent voters will pay attention to examples of solutions from around the world. But they should at least be open to the argument that Republican policies have never worked here or elsewhere, not least because it's true.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Protest pics

by digby

Photojournalist Alan Chin of BagNews Notes is documenting the Wall Street protests.

A young woman fields phone calls in the “media cluster” of laptops constantly live-streaming video, Twitter, Facebook, and other feeds.

Click over to see more, and read Chin's commentary which is also interesting.

Many pundits have thus noted that the lack of greater protest is an interesting, if not surprising, aspect of our current moment. They would be well served by visiting the encampment in Lower Manhattan. The park is kept spotlessly clean, the disparate demonstrators field skeptical inquiries from hecklers and passerby with humor and patience, and their low numbers are steadily supplemented by people that join them for an hour or two at a time.

Fear of their lowest common denominator

by digby

President Obama took an unusual public stand against the behavior of Republican rank and file this week-end when he condemned their behavior at the debates:

“Some of you here may be folks who actually used to be Republicans but are puzzled by what’s happened to that party, are puzzled by what’s happening to that party. I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change,” he said, to applause. “It’s true. You’ve got audiences cheering at the prospect of somebody dying because they don’t have health care and booing a service member in Iraq because they’re gay.” “That’s not reflective of who we are,” he added. “This is a choice about the fundamental direction of our country. 2008 was an important direction. 2012 is a more important election.”
I think it's perfectly fair to condemn these people who do this --- and those who fail to speak up against these attitudes. It's a fundamental clash of values and it's worth fighting about.

In 2008, John McCain (to his rare credit in that race) took people to task when they behaved like cretins. And both Huntsman and Johnson did that with respect to the booing of the soldier, as did Santorum belatedly. But neither of the frontrunners or Ron Paul or Tea Party favorite Michelle Bachman have spoken out.

I suppose that's par for the course on the issue of letting the uninsured die and executions of the innocent.We have seen evidence of this attitude over and over and over again. I'm honestly not sure why anyone is surprised after seeing things like this:

These aren't exactly compassionate people. (Even the kids. And certainly not their most powerful voices.)

But booing soldiers, gay or not, is slaying one of their sacred cows in a way that exposes the hollowness of their own rhetoric about what defines conservatism. These are people after all, who claimed that you couldn't criticize an Army general in public, even when he was playing a blatantly partisan role. (Indeed, some people were making the argument this past week that Democrats criticizing Bush as Commander in Chief was equivalent to booing an active duty soldier in Iraq....)

It's a free country and people can boo whomever they want without legal sanction. But these people have made a fetish of support for the military to point where one cannot even make mild jokes about it, much less criticize it on anything substantive. But they have shown what really matters to them with this one. And it isn't the troops.


Healthcare Solutions
by David Atkins ("thereisnospoon")

Health insurance companies are sticking it to Americans more than ever:

The cost of health insurance for many Americans this year climbed more sharply than in previous years, outstripping any growth in workers’ wages and adding more uncertainty about the pace of rising medical costs.

A new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit research group that tracks employer-sponsored health insurance on a yearly basis, shows that the average annual premium for family coverage through an employer reached $15,073 in 2011, an increase of 9 percent over the previous year.

“The open question is whether that’s a one-time spike or the start of a period of higher increases,” said Drew Altman, the chief executive of the Kaiser foundation.

The steep increase in rates is particularly unwelcome at a time when the economy is still sputtering and unemployment continues to hover at about 9 percent. Many businesses cite the high cost of coverage as a factor in their decision not to hire, and health insurance has become increasingly unaffordable for more Americans. Over all, the cost of family coverage has about doubled since 2001, when premiums averaged $7,061, compared with a 34 percent gain in wages over the same period.

Any policy analyst with half a brain knows that some form of single-payer or modified single-payer system is the only solution for this mess. Now isn't the time to rehash old battles over the public option and the ACA debate. More could certainly have been done to create a better outcome from the grand healthcare fight.

But ultimately, the corruption in Washington, particularly in the Senate, is such that no coherent answer to this mess is likely to come at a federal level, nor would it have been possible for President Obama to finagle a single-payer system out of this Congress.

And while much of what the ACA does is dramatically helpful to a vast number of people, especially those between 18-26 (many more of whom now have health insurance) and those previously denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions (many of whom are being helped in other ways by the Administration as well), the political picture is muddled at best:

How much the new federal health care law pushed by President Obama is affecting insurance rates remains a point of debate, with some analysts suggesting that insurers have raised prices in anticipation of new rules that would, in 2012, require them to justify any increase of more than 10 percent.

In addition to increases caused by insurers getting ahead of potential costs, some of the law’s provisions that are already in effect -- like coverage for adult children up to 26 years of age and prevention services like mammogram screening -- have contributed to higher expenses for some employers.

No doubt there's a little of both: insurance companies are using the ACA as an excuse for more profiteering at the expense of sick and injured Americans. But it also stands to reason that as the burden of cost shifts more to employers, employers are pushing back. Beyond the greedy megacorps, there are a lot of struggling small and medium-sized businesses out there for whom the ACA does legitimately cause a significant burden. In this complex political morass, Democrats won't get a lot of public relations traction for a law that is mildly beneficial for certain slices of the country, and that bends the cost curve in some places while allowing excuses for cost increases in others.

Ultimately, providing healthcare should neither be on the backs of employers nor at the mercy of greedy insurance companies. Good access to quality healthcare (including preventive care) is a basic human right. That should be the Democratic message. Period.

And since Washington looks like it won't be providing answers any time soon, the answers are going to have to come at the state level. In that context, state and local races are vastly important, but are often overlooked as everyone concentrates their time and attention on the giant disco ball that is federal politics.

Affordable access to healthcare remains a crisis in this country, and it's one that only your state senators and assemblymembers are going to be able to solve. At this point, the often overlooked battle for statehouses and governorships is on a par with federal politics when it comes to solving the nation's problems.

"Conceived in rape" forced pregnancy tour

by digby

So Mississippi is going to have one of those "blatocysts are people too" initiatives on the ballot, which would outlaw not only all abortions but certain forms of birth control and will likely lead to negligent homicide charges against women who miscarry for reasons the state thinks could have been prevented. It's been tried in Colorado twice and failed, but Mississippi is a different kettle of fish.

It's all horrific, but this latest tack by the anti-abortion forces (used in Mississippi and elsewhere) is truly reprehensible. From Robin Marty:

Personhood amendments are constitutional amendments that declare that human life begins at conception, no matter what the circumstances. This human life — no matter what stage of development, including a zygote — has constitutional rights. Terminating the development of a fertilized human egg is akin to murder under personhood amendments. Generally, under personhood amendments, the circumstances of the pregnant women are irrelevant because the fertilized egg has a constitutional right to life.

Under personhood amendments, a woman will not be able to terminate a pregnancy caused by rape.

Proposed personhood amendments failed in Colorado two times. Mississippi will be voting on its own personhood amendment this year. In an effort to promote its cause, Personhood Mississippi has started a "Conceived in Rape" tour featuring Rebecca Kiessling, who says she was conceived by rape and was slated for abortion. Kiessling states on her website,

Have you ever considered how really insulting it is to say to someone, "I think your mother should have been able to abort you."? It's like saying, "If I had my way, you'd be dead right now." And that is the reality with which I live every time someone says they are pro-choice or pro-life "except in cases of rape" because I absolutely would have been aborted if it had been legal in Michigan when I was an unborn child, and I can tell you that it hurts. But I know that most people don't put a face to this issue — for them abortion is just a concept — with a quick cliche, they sweep it under the rug and forget about it. I do hope that, as a child conceived in rape, I can help to put a face, a voice, and a story to this issue.

In reply, some have said to me, "So does that mean you're pro-rape?" Though ludicrous, I'll address it because I understand that they aren't thinking things through. There is a huge moral difference because I did exist, and my life would have been ended because I would have been killed by a brutal abortion. You can only be killed and your life can only be devalued once you exist. Being thankful that my life was protected in no way makes me pro-rape.


Evidently, this person can't conceive of how awful it is for some people to have to bear their rapists offspring, reminded every day of their pregnancy (and perhaps their whole lives) of the violent event. Or how about giving birth to your own sister? No biggie? Apparently, being insulted at the mere prospect that one might not have come to exist in this world is worse than rape victims being violated and traumatized by rape and forced childbirth. Interesting priorities there.

According to these people fetuses are the only things in this world that deserve protection. Once you're born you're on their own.

The radicalism of Edmund Burke?

by digby

I admit that I haven't read him for many a moon (but should have done) and so have likely absorbed much of my interpretation of his philosophy from the evocations of him by conservatives I do read. Imagine my surprise to read this piece by Corey Robin which makes the case that contrary to popular myth, the modern conservative movement didn't become radical and betray Burke's true philosophy. According to him, it was always radical.

I won't excerpt any of it here. Just read the piece, if you're interested. But from my point of view, it rings very true, mostly because it captures the essence of what I think of as visceral envy on the right --- a belief that the other side is just living more fully in the moment, with more commitment and joie de vivre. Indeed, I have long made the case that all these conservative middle aged baby boomers of the Tea Party are just finally having their "woodstock" --- which you'll recall, they literally proclaimed about dozens of their early rallies.The radicals have all the fun.

There's much more substance to it, of course which Robin's piece goes into. (There is a fair smattering of fear, for instance, that the Jacobins had nothing to lose so they would do anything, something that Burke believed was a huge strength.) In any case, it's a fascinating piece that's worth thinking about as we watch these right wingers fulfill the radical dreams(?) of Edmund Burke.

Update: Everyone's saying that Robin's new book on this very subject, The Reactionary Mind is awesome.
Wall Street Hippies

by digby

Keith Olbermann had a good segment last night on the police brutality at Occupy Wall Street.

On Monday, the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents United pilots, sued the company in federal court, alleging that "revised operating procedures" in relation to the merger are "inadequate to maintain the levels of safety" United passengers expect. The union is asking to postpone the airline's implementation of its latest phase of postmerger training.

United said the suit is an attempt by the pilots union to tilt current negotiations for a new contract toward the aviators' interest, according to internal correspondence between the company and the union. It said the complaint "is entirely without merit."

The suit "is a shameful effort to influence negotiations for a joint collective bargaining agreement, under a false guise of safety," the company said. Pilots from United and Continental, which both are represented by separate branches of the ALPA, are scheduled Tuesday to protest what they see as the slow pace of labor negotiations. Safety concerns aren't expected to be voiced in that venue. The pilots are planning a rally outside the New York Stock Exchange to send a message that some of the merger synergies investors want to see won't be realized until the carriers' work forces are combined.

I wonder if the police will pepper spray these guys?

Update: This is worth watching too:

h/t to AJC and SM