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Friday, May 31, 2013

Your moment of zen

by digby

Russian scientists claim to have discovered blood in the carcass of a woolly mammoth, adding that the rare find could boost their chances of cloning the prehistoric animal.

An expedition led by Russian scientists earlier this month uncovered the well-preserved carcass of a female mammoth on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean.

Semyon Grigoryev, the head of the expedition, said the animal died at the age of around 60 some 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, and that it was the first time that an old female had been found.

But what was more surprising was that the carcass was so well preserved that it still had blood and muscle tissue.

"When we broke the ice beneath her stomach, the blood flowed out from there, it was very dark," Professor Grigoryev, who is a scientist at the Yakutsk-based Northeastern Federal University, said.

"This is the most astonishing case in my entire life. How was it possible for it to remain in liquid form? And the muscle tissue is also red, the colour of fresh meat," he added.

Prof Grigoryev said that the lower part of the carcass was very well preserved as it ended up in a pool of water that later froze over. The upper part of the body including the back and the head are believed to have been eaten by predators, he added.

"The forelegs and the stomach are well preserved, while the hind part has become a skeleton."

The discovery, Prof Grigoryev said, gives new hope to researchers in their quest to bring the woolly mammoth back to life.

"This find gives us a really good chance of finding live cells which can help us implement this project to clone a mammoth," he said.

Is that a good idea?

When "pro-life" means death for everyone

by digby

I suppose it's possible that anti-abortion activist Lila Rose believes this, but I doubt it:

"We can do better than pitting the life of a mother against her child," she told The Huffington Post in an interview on Friday. "Abortions are never medically necessary. Some doctors prescribe abortion as if it's a treatment for a disease or a problem, but that's not a solution a truly compassionate and just society should turn to."

You'll notice that she doesn't acknowledge that the "child" is missing its brain and will not live no matter what happens to this woman. That's kind of an important detail don't you think?

But then Lila Rose is a con artist who specializes in hoaxes designed to inflame simple-minded anti-abortion zealots and misogynists, so she is the last person on earth who would be interested in telling the truth about a complicated situation such as this.

Rose said the U.S. should look to Ireland as an example of a successful abortion ban. "Ireland is abortion free, and look at the way they've succeeded in protecting both the woman and the child," she said. "That's why Ireland has the lowest maternal mortality rate in the world."

Ireland's mortality rate may be among the lowest in the world, but the country experienced its own version of the Beatriz situation in late 2012. Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old woman who was 17 weeks pregnant at the time, died from an infection after doctors at a hospital in Galway refused to give her an abortion while she was experiencing severe pregnancy complications.

Rose said the consequences of abortion are worse than the consequences of requiring women to continue their pregnancies. "Think about what a late-term abortion does to a woman," she said. "We can do better than pitting the life of a mother against her child."

So, what this really comes down to is a depraved philosophy that would rather sentence both the mother and the child to death than allow an abortion. And the joke is that they call themselves "pro-life."


Oh look, Medicare's not going broke as fast after all

by David Atkins

Not only is the deficit shrinking to the great consternation of conservatives who want to use it as an excuse to slash social spending, it looks like Medicare is in better shape than previously thought as well:

The financial outlook for Medicare has improved because of a stronger economy and slower growth in health spending, and the financial condition of Social Security has not worsened, but is still unsustainable, the Obama administration said Friday.
And why?

“The projections in this year’s report for Social Security are essentially unchanged from last year, and those for Medicare have improved modestly,” said Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew.

The Medicare trustees — four federal officials and two public representatives — said “the modest improvement in the outlook” for Medicare’s long-term finances reflected lower projected spending for skilled nursing homes and private Medicare Advantage plans....

The administration says the outlook for the Medicare trust fund is brighter because of the 2010 health care law, which squeezed nearly $500 billion out of Medicare over 10 years. The law trimmed Medicare payments to many health care providers on the assumption that they would become more productive.
Imagine that. An improved economy and the defunding of the corporate welfare program that is Medicare "Advantage" are helping Medicare's long-term fiscal outlook.

This isn't to say that the program is sustainable in its current form. It probably isn't, for the obvious reason that an insurance pool covering the sickest and oldest Americans is always going to have challenges as healthcare costs rise. The answer to that is to either spend more money on it and make it a higher national priority, or better yet simply expand the Medicare pool to cover younger, healthier people.

You know, single-payer universal healthcare. like pretty much every other sane country on the planet.

Factoids 'o the day

by digby

Economic recovery, huzzah!

  1. Corporate profit margins just hit another all-time high. Companies are making more per dollar of sales than they ever have before.
  2. Wages as a percent of the economy just hit another all-time low. Why are corporate profits so high? One reason is that companies are paying employees less than they ever have as a share of GDP.
  3. Fewer Americans are working than at any time in the past three decades. The other reason corporations are so profitable is that they don't employ as many Americans as they used to. As a result, the employment-to-population ratio has collapsed

Happy Friday everybody.

(Click the links for charts!)


Unintended consequences

by digby

This would indicate that it was the national GOP that told Bachman it was time to go:

Democrat Jim Graves, who was expected to challenge U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann in the 6th District congressional race next year, dropped out of the race Friday following Bachmann's decision to not seek another term.

"After meeting with my closest family members, friends and supporters, we he have decided to suspend Jim Graves for Congress indefinitely," Graves said in a statement.

"This was never about Jim Graves; this was about challenging the ineffective leadership and extremist ideology of Michele Bachmann on behalf of those she represents. As of Wednesday, that goal was accomplished, and our supporters should be incredibly proud of that accomplishment."

That "goal" was Bachmann's decision, announced in a pre-dawn video on Wednesday, not to seek another term.

The decision was a disappointment to Minnesota Democratic leaders, who counted on Graves to run a strong race. They immediately began a search for a replacement in what is now a wide-open race.

Depending on who replaces Bachmann as the GOP candidate, her decision could make the race much harder for any Democrat because the 6th is considered a reliably Republican district.

If the goal was the desire to chase Bachman out of the race it was shortsighted. In these races where Democrats are running against lunatic Tea Party weirdos in safe GOP districts, the point should be to win the seat so the Democrat has a chance to gain the power of incumbency and deliver for the district so they'll see that a Democrat is a better representative.

For me, it matters little if Bachman is gone and replaced by a slightly less flamboyant wingnut who answers to the same moneyed interests and Republican extremists. It's highly doubtful that his or her voting record will be any better. I agree that there is some utility in beating a flamboyant wingnut, if only to prove that there is a price to pay for being that nutty. But in the end, a conservative replacing a conservative doesn't really change the dynamic much.

It's too bad she quit. We might have had a real Democrat in that seat.

A very manly meeting of the minds

by digby

Jonathan Schwarz points out that Erik Erickson is in very prestigious political company when it comes to understanding the natural roles of men and women. For instance:

He says the tank looks beautiful when its canon is pointing forward, and a man looks great when he fights while looking ahead and when he is truthful. Citing the example of sheep and chicken, [he] says that the male species has always been charged with fighting and protecting the female.

I'll let you click over to find out who it was.

Jonathan observes:

Erick left out the beautiful tank part, but I think it's implied.

Indeed. It think it's obvious that he loves a beautiful canon "pointing forward."

Update: Apparently right winger Megyn Kelly wasn't amused by Dobbs and Erickson's ranting:

Someone should alert her to the fact that conservatism and "traditional values" are based upon the ideas that Erik Erickson espouses. She is the very definition of a "useful idiot" (Not to be confused with a plain old idiot, which she is not.)

She should at least be just a little bit startled by the fact that these bozos still think it's perfectly ok to express these throwback views on national television in 2013. That says something.



Oh heck, it turns out the GOP IRS Commissioner wasn't plotting with the WH after all

by digby

When I read this piece in the Daily Caller yesterday, I have to admit I thought "oh hell." I assumed there was a good explanation for why the IRS commissioner had spent so much time in the White House (they aren't so dumb that they would openly plan an IRS jihad against the Tea Party right in the oval office) but I also knew this story would feed the scandal.

Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic cleared it all up this morning:
The latest twist in the conservative effort to tie the IRS tax-exempt targeting scandal to the president is to focus on public visitor records released by the White House, in which former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman's name appears 157 times between 2009 and 2012. Unfortunately, few of those pushing this line have bothered to read more than the topline of that public information. Bill O'Reilly on Thursday called them the "smoking gun" and demanded of Shulman, "You must explain under oath what you were doing at the White House on 157 separate occasions." His statement built on a Daily Caller story, "IRS's Shulman had more public White House visits than any Cabinet member." An Investors Business Daily story and slew of blog items repeated the charges.

"The alibi the White House has wedded itself to is that it had to work closely with the IRS to implement ObamaCare," the Investor's Business Daily has written -- as if that were not true.

And yet the public meeting schedules available for review to any media outlet show that very thing: Shulman was cleared primarily to meet with administration staffers involved in implementation of the health-care reform bill. He was cleared 40 times to meet with Obama's director of the Office of Health Reform, and a further 80 times for the biweekly health reform deputies meetings and others set up by aides involved with the health-care law implementation efforts. That's 76 percent of his planned White House visits just there, before you even add in all the meetings with Office of Management and Budget personnel also involved in health reform.

Complicating the picture is the fact that just because a meeting was scheduled and Shulman was cleared to attend it does not mean that he actually went. Routine events like the biweekly health-care deputies meeting would have had a standing list of people cleared to attend, people whose White House appointments would have been logged and forwarded to the check-in gate. But there is no time of arrival information in the records to confirm that Shulman actually signed in and went to these standing meetings.

Indeed, of the 157 events Shulman was cleared to attend, White House records only provide time of arrival information -- confirming that he actually went to them -- for 11 events over the 2009-2012 period, and time of departure information for only six appointments.

Read on  for the full documentation.

I recall this sort of exaggeration happening a lot during the Whitewater/Lewinsky imbroglios but this may be among the most sloppy. (Or perhaps the internet makes it more difficult for what used to be mostly talk radio gossip to stick.) Either way, this debunking of the story should put this mini-scandal to rest.

I said should. The right wing noise machine rarely lets the facts get in the way of a good scandal. The test will be how the major media deal with it and how much oxygen the right wing gasbags give it over the next few days. They tend not to care too much about facts when they think they've got a juicy scandal on the hook. We'll see. Remember, the idea here is to create an atmosphere of scandal.  Each scandal point is less important than the impression of "where there's smoke there's fire." Not that you don't have to knock this nonsense down.  But there is never any end to it, once the right gets it into their heads that they can completely cripple a president.

Everyone thinks trumped up scandals work against the right, but even if they lose in the short term it feeds their long term project. It's such a beautiful scam.  They are the greatest practitioners of that which they claim to loathe but the more they demonstrate their own dishonesty and decadence, the more they convince the general public of their central thesis that government is unresponsive to the people's needs, too big and essentially corrupt. And we know where that leads.

Update:  Greg Sargent illustrates one of the reasons the right finds scandal-mongering to be such a useful tactic in this post.  If all else fails they can claim that any presidential proposals they don't like are attempted "distractions" from the scandal.

14-year-old carrying puppy choked by police for the audacity of looking at them wrong

by David Atkins

Racism is dead in America, and if you're not doing anything wrong you have nothing to fear. Right?

Fourteen-year-old Tremaine McMillian didn't threaten police. He didn't attack them. He wasn't armed. All the black teenager did was appear threatening by shooting Miami-Dade police officers a few "dehumanizing stares," and that was apparently enough for the officers to decide to slam him against the ground and put him in a chokehold.

During Memorial Day weekend, McMillian was rough-housing with another teenager on the sand. Police approached the teen on an ATV and told him that wasn't acceptable behavior. They asked him where his parents were, but MicMillian attempted to walk away. The officer jumped off the ATV, and tried to physically restrain the teen. According to CBS Miami, police say the 14-year-old kid gave them "'dehumanizing stares,' clenched his fists and appeared threatening."

McMillian says he was carrying a six-week old puppy at the time and couldn't have been clenching his fists because he was feeding the dog with a bottle. He claims that during the confrontation the dog's front left paw was injured while officer forcibly separated him from the dog.

The officer then forced McMillian to the ground and put him in a choke hold.
There needs to be better psychological profiling of police officers in this country. While most officers are dedicated public servants who often put themselves in harm's way, it's all too obvious that many of these guys are joining up for entirely the wrong reasons and don't belong within a thousand feet of a badge.

We can do better than this as Americans.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

The NRA's spawn

by digby

Yikes. This is the ricin letter than was sent to Bloomberg:

(You have to love the fact that this loon believes he has a "constitutional God given right" to own firearms. Where does that show up in the Bible exactly?)

Apparently, someone sent a similar letter to the president.

The world is full of nuts and it's generally a mistake to assume that this is connected to anything but individual nuttiness. But this is bigger than that.

This article by Alec MacGillis reports that the NRA is dead and the gun-control movement is coming back aggressively.  I would imagine that has contributed to the paranoia.   But the fact is that there is no movement to take away this man's guns --- he's been persuaded of it by people with a political agenda. Those people are lying and should be held at least somewhat responsible for ginning up this paranoia.

The president was moved to take up this issue because of what happened in Newtown.  There had not been any proposals on gun proliferation in years up to that point.  He reacted like any decent human being to the horror of a school full of six year olds being gunned down by a lunatic who had easy access to deadly weapons. This isn't about politics to anyone but the NRA which needs to stoke this paranoia to stay relevant.

I guess those mother penguins are emasculating bitchez too

by digby

Here are a few wealthy, political TV celebrity guys talkin' bout babes and whatnot:

Media Matters excerpted it for us:

On his Fox business program, Dobbs described the Pew study as "showing that women have become the breadwinners in this country, and a lot of other concerning and troubling statistics." He went on to call the report suggestive of "society dissolv[ing] around us."

Fox contributor Juan Williams agreed, calling record female breadwinners indicative of "something going terribly wrong in American society":

What we're seeing with four out of 10 families, now the woman is the primary breadwinner. You're seeing the disintegration of marriage, you're seeing men who were hard hit by the economic recession in ways that women weren't. But you're seeing, I think, systemically, larger than the political stories that we follow every day, something going terribly wrong in American society, and it's hurting our children, and it's going to have impact for generations to come.

Erick Erickson, one of Fox's newest contributors, was troubled by female breadwinners and claimed that people who defend them are "anti-science." Erickson told viewers:

When you look at biology, look at the natural world, the roles of a male and female in society, and the other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it's not antithesis, or it's not competing, it's a complimentary role. We as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complimentary relationships in nuclear families, and it's tearing us apart.

Oh noes. Is the world going to hell in a handbasket again because the wimmins refuse to submit to the Real Men? I hate when that happens.

Erickson says today that feminists and liberals have their "panties in a wad" over this (which just proves what a macho, alpha-male he is) and which qualifies him to offer up his highly qualified scientific analysis. This is basically: women should get their biscuits in the oven and their buns in the bed.

I'd unpack this more but I'm tired. And anyway,Ed Kilgore, Steve Benen and Amanda Marcotte already did the honors. I especially enjoyed this from Amanda:
Erickson must have [learned] this nifty scientific "fact" by studying the animals in the well-known academic text, The Berenstain Bears, which clearly shows Papa Bear going out and earning the money while Mama Bear stays at home and cooks the food for the cubs. Of course, in the actual natural world, bears don’t make money -- plus there's a lot of diversity in how animals raise their young. (In case you're wondering, outside of the two weeks of maternity leave mothers take to nurse their babies, foxes embrace a fairly egalitarian approach to child rearing where both parents go out and get food for their young.) One thing, however, is certain: Other primates besides humans mostly shun the male-dominated monogamy that Erickson prefers, with most species living in large bands with lots of kinky partner swapping.
Oooh baby.

Also too, as she says, it's not about whether men or women are bringing home more of the bacon. Our problem is that neither men or women can bring home enough bacon because the 1% are hogging all the wealth.

But let's not talk about that --- look, over here dudes! Blacks ... oh wait, Mexicans ...oh wait, women are stealing your jobs and ruining everything.

Oh, and about those penguins:


Ted Cruz is a dangerous man

by David Atkins

Meet America's most dangerous demagogue:

"I think Mitt Romney's a good and decent man, and he ran a very hard campaign. But what I mean is the narrative of the last election. The narrative of the last election was, 'The 47 percent of Americans who are not paying income taxes, who in some way are dependent upon government. We don't have to worry about them.' That's what was communicated in the last election.

"I have to tell you, as a conservative, I cannot think of an idea more opposite to what we believe. I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent."

Cruz also pushed back against another Romney and party narrative: The line "you didn't build that," a reference to an off--the-cuff remark from President Barack Obama during a campaign speech.

Cruz said he thought Romney's twist on the line, "You did build that," was the campaign's "best" slogan.

"And yet, as good as it was, it could have been a lot better," Cruz said. "Because it was addressed to people who had already built their businesses. How much better would it have been if the Romney campaigned had said, 'You can build that'?"
Cruz clearly understands the core problem with the Republican message. He's got a good gut sense for politics and messaging.

It would be one thing if Cruz' understanding were related to a kinder, softer Republicanism that could bring the party back from its crazy extreme and create space for even halfway decent policy. But it's not. Cruz is one of the most ideologically outrageous hyperconservatives in the entire U.S. Congress. He opposes job creation, he favors cuts to Medicare and Social Security, he opposes immigration reform, etc.

Yet because of Republican incompetence in understanding the pain Americans are feeling, and because of Democratic incompetence in actually creating policies that serve the middle class and impoverished rather than market stockholders, Cruz has the space to talk a good game while doing his best to destroy the fabric of society.

That makes him very dangerous indeed.

"Things are pretty bad when we have to ask the pope to save a woman from abortion opponents"

by digby

Katha Pollit wrote today about the barbaric horror unfolding down in El Salvador and has helpfully included some links for us to use to try to avert this shameful tragedy.

She explains:
Ten weeks ago, when Beatriz was in the first trimester, the minister of health said she should be allowed to have an abortion. The country’s powerful Catholic Church and far right erupted. Despite stern calls from the office of the UN Commission for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Salvadoran president Mauricio Funes has dithered as Beatriz’s condition deteriorates and an abortion becomes more dangerous: she is now 24 weeks pregnant.

Since 1998, El Salvador has had a complete no-exceptions ban on abortion, promoted by the country’s powerful Catholic Church and passed with the votes of legislators from the former left-wing movement FMLN—because if there’s one thing right and left agree on, it’s that women’s lives are less important than achieving political power. (Daniel Ortega made the same move in Nicaragua in a successful bid for church support.)

Since the ban, the Central American Women’s network reports that over 600 Salvadoran women have been imprisoned for having abortions, including miscarriages and stillbirths suspected of being the result of abortion. A word to the wise: when US abortion opponents insist they would never put women on trial for terminating a pregnancy, be skeptical.

Indeed. This is where this idea of full personhood for fetuses inevitably leads.

And what Pollit says about the perfidy of leftist politicians is right on. When it comes to
sacrificing for the cause, it's always the right of women that are thrown on the alter. We've seen it time and again in our own politics, even in the past few years.
Sign the petition to Pope Francis urging him to step in and save Beatriz. (I know, I know: things are pretty bad when we have to ask the pope to save a woman from abortion opponents!) 
Donate to the fund to help Beatriz pay for her medical care. Any funds left over will go to Salvadoran organization Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto Ético, Terapéutico y Eugenésico, which is leading the legal fight to save Beatriz. 
Tweet to the President of El Salvador @mauriciofunesSV.

More here on this heartbreaking case.


The Prince of Darkness and his heirs

by digby

Predictably, much of the right wing is writing off Bob Dole as a senile old jerk for suggesting that the party has become a little bit looney. But the great thing about the ancient among us is that they really don't give a damn what people think and tend to speak the truth:

All true, you simply can't dispute it.

I do, however, think W. James Antle III at The American Conservative makes an excellent point. Dole isn't an innocent in all this. I watched him throughout my life, and at one point he was known as the GOP prince of darkness. The party certainly evolved far beyond him in abject meanness, but he cannot escape his role in shaping it:

Newt Gingrich, who became Dole’s partner in crime during the GOP Congress of 1995-96, is a good example of the party’s evolved brand. He led Republicans to their first House majority in 40 years, displaying a creativity that past Republican leaders conspicuously lacked. But he was undone by his excesses, cultivating an image of partisanship, over-the-top statements, and a penchant for unpopular crusades.

Today’s GOP is as much Gingrich’s party as Reagan’s or Nixon’s. Chest-beating often replaces prudence, the party frequently makes use of both libertarian and traditionalist themes without taking either of them very seriously.

The auther goes on to complain that none of these people are the one true conservative, as usual, but the point is correct, in my opinion. Dole previewed the nasty attitude that animates the right today. He may have been more of a legislative pragmatist, but his rhetoric was Gingrichian before Gingrich was cool.

Having said that, I must confess that I miss him. He was one of the funniest politicians in my lifetime. And I could really use some laughs.

QOTD: Mark Steyn

by digby

Michele Bachmann Could Have Been "America's Thatcher"

No really, he said it:

You can say a lot of things about Margaret Thatcher. She was a very tough, trail-blazing ultra-conservative. perhaps you could attribute some of that to Bachman as well. But margaret Thatcher wasn't an idiot or a crook, as far as I know. Bachman was quite obviously and openly the first --- and it looks as though the second may have chased her out of the congress.

Bachman was no worse than a lot of the Tea Partiers. Indeed, she represented them quite well. But she was very flamboyently foolish. And I hate to say it, but women have to be more careful. Louis Gohmert isn't going anywhere. Steve King may even ascend to higher office. And both of those guys are easily as nutty as Bachman.(I don't know about the corruption.)

In any case, this was my first memory of Michele Bachman and I knew she was going to be a gift to bloggers:

Newly-elected Congresswoman Michele Bachmann got quite a bit of face time with President Bush after his State of the Union Speech Tuesday night.

While the President was signing autographs for members of Congress after the speech, the sixth-district Republican put her hand on Bush's shoulder. However, it wasn't just a tap. After he signed an autograph for her, Bachmann grabbed the president and did not let go for almost 30 seconds.

After signing the autograph for Bachmann, the president turns away, but Bachmann doesn't let go. In fact, the video shows her reaching out to get a better grip on him.

Bush then leans over to kiss another congresswoman, but Bachmann is still holding on. Bachmann then gets more attention, a kiss and an embrace from the president. A few seconds later, Bachmann's hand finally comes off the presidential shoulder.

Someone at the time described her as "clinging to the president like a Tiberian Bat," which became my secret nickname for her. (She is batty ...)

But this is my favorite Michele Bachman moment. It happened at the beginning of that unctuous "faith" debate hosted by Frank Luntz (which Romney couldn't attend being a heathen Mormon and all.)

I kind of doubt that Maggie Thatcher doubled as a waitress during her parliamentary debates.

It's interesting to me that attractive, dim-bulb right wing female politicians like Palin and Bachman end up dropping out of politics under cloudy circumstances to pursue media careers. If I didn't know better, I'd think Roger Ailes had found a new recruiting tool.


Save the date: Human Chain against the Chained CPI

by digby

Ok, this is something that will require you to get out of your chair, but it will be worth it:

Human Chain Against Chained CPI

Save the date

July 2ND, 2013

Where: AZ, CA, CT, IA, IL, MD/DC, ME, MO, MT, NC, NH, NM, NV, OH, PA, RI, TX, VT, WA
What: National Day of Action to create a HUMAN CHAIN in front of target Congressional offices and key Federal Buildings
Contact: Michelle Campbell, Field Mobilization Support Administrator 202-637-5361 or mcampbell@retiredamericans.org

On Tuesday July 2nd, the Alliance will sponsor a National Day of Action in which we focus specifically on elevating grassroots voices in the battle to protect and enhance retirement security. We will work together to create a HUMAN CHAIN in front of target Congressional offices, key Federal buildings, and other strategic locations in states around the country. It would be a Human Chain against the Chained CPI. The National Alliance will host a media event in DC with a smaller chain to create powerful symbolism of what the States are doing, spotlighting the national day of action.

I'm going to guess this will mostly be retired folks, which is good since they tend to scare the hell out of politicians. But it would be good if some young people joined in. After all, they're the ones who will feel the brunt of this hideous policy.

You can go here for more information.

Lincoln Chafee to join the neoliberal party. Rhode Island Dems should reject him.

by David Atkins

Lincoln Chafee has finally decided to switch parties and become a Democrat. The short and simple analysis is that Chafee faced an uncomfortable three-way battle in which many Democrats declined to endorse their own fellow Democrat Frank Caprio in order to assure that a Republican didn't sneak into the Rhode Island governorship. Chafee's switch to the Democratic Party means that he can potentially avoid that situation if he runs for re-election.

A lazy progressive take on Chafee's switch is that Republicans have become so extreme that they've driven the likes of Chafee out of their party, that more sensible Republicans should switch away also, that the GOP is facing death throes as the Bachmanns are laughed out of Congress while the Chafees become Democrats. Yada yada. But I'm not going to do that, because it would be whistling past the graveyard.

The reality is that while Chafee is reliably liberal on social issues, he largely remains an economic conservative. That makes him wholly inadequate as a Democrat.

Now, if Rhode Island were a tough red state in which Chafee was a reliable winner against a bevy of hyperconservatives, that would be different. Ben Nelson, for instance, will always get a pass in Nebraska because there aren't good alternatives. But Rhode Island is not that. Good progressive Democrats with real progressive economic values can and should win in Rhode Island. Lincoln Chafee is not the best of a bad bargain. He's the worst of a good bargain.

Not surprisingly, then, the Neoliberal-in-Chief has wholeheartedly supported him even as it rankles the state Democratic establishment in Rhode Island:

Obama has returned the favor: he declined to endorse a Democrat for governor in 2010, when Chafee was running as an independent in a three-way race. And when Chafee ran TV ads featuring archival footage of the president praising him, Obama and his aides did not object.

In fact, despite being officially neutral in 2010, Obama was perceived as so Chafee-friendly that the Democratic nominee that year, Frank Caprio, told Rhode Island radio station WPRO that the president could “take his endorsement and really shove it.”

Chafee ultimately won with 36 percent of the vote, while Caprio fell into third place.

While Chafee’s party switch is likely to avert the possibility of another messy three-way race, it is unclear whether other national Democrats will embrace Chafee as ardently as Obama has.

Both Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and state Treasurer Gina Raimondo are likely candidates in a Democratic primary. The Democratic Governors Association is not expected to take sides in a competitive nomination fight; in a statement, DGA Chair Peter Shumlin said he’s “excited” about Chafee’s switch but that the DGA will support “whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee” in 2014.

Taveras reacted to the news of Chafee becoming a Democrat with a wry rejoinder: “I have been a Democrat and a Red Sox fan my whole life, and I don’t intend on changing either.”
As Democrats, we can do better than Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island, particularly now that he's saddled with bad approval ratings. We must do better.

And it must be the state party leadership in Rhode Island that stands up to the President and makes it clear that they expect and demand a real Democrat run for and win the governorship of the Ocean State.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The "natural" way

by digby

Maternal death:

After more than a month of delays, El Salvador’s Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday to deny a critically ill woman a lifesaving abortion. The 22-year-old woman, identified only as Beatriz, is 26 weeks pregnant with a nonviable, anencephalic fetus; her doctors have warned that, due to severe health complications related to Beatriz’s lupus, cardiovascular disease and kidney functioning, she may not survive the pregnancy.

Abortion is illegal under all circumstances in El Salvador, and the court’s ruling is final, according to her lawyers. “The only way now is to go to the international courts,” Victor Hugo Mata, one of Beatriz’s lawyers, told CBS News.

“[The Supreme Court is] saying Beatriz is not in danger and she must pursue the natural way of delivery and we must see what happens,” Mata told CBS. ”Everyday, the health of Beatriz is [getting] worse. If they wait another week or two weeks, she will be too feeble to endure the operation.”

This is absolutely barbaric. But it is consistent. If you believe that a fetus cannot be aborted under any circumstances because it is a person entitled to all the rights of any other person, including the woman in whose body it resides, then you logically cannot make the choice to save the mother even if the fetus will definitely die. Which it will:
Anencephaly is a cephalic disorder that results from a neural tube defect that occurs when the rostral (head) end of the neural tube fails to close, usually between the 23rd and 26th day of conception, resulting in the absence of a major portion of the brain, skull, and scalp.[Strictly speaking, the translation of the Greek term to English is "no brain" (that is, totally lacking), but it is accepted that children with this disorder are born without a telencephalon, the largest part of the brain consisting mainly of the cerebral hemispheres, including the neocortex, which is responsible for cognition. The remaining brain tissue is often exposed, i.e. not covered by bone or skin.

The prognosis is death.

That they will put that anencephalic fetus, already tragically doomed to die, on the same plane as a 22 year old women who can be saved, is moral depravity. There's just no other term for it.
To call it "natural" is to say that women are "naturally" less worthy of living than a fetus with no brain.

Holy Land in disrepair

by digby

I don't know what this symbolizes, but it must symbolize something:

Abandoned theme parks are always creepy, but there's something extra, super creepy about Holy Land USA, a decaying biblical-themed park in Connecticut which shuttered 30 years ago and is now being sold for the bargain basement price of $350,000. The park was once a hot-spot in the 1960s and '70s, but fell into disrepair after the owner passed away in 1986. To complete the horror movie cliche, it was the site of an actual murder in 2010, the Daily Mail reports.

But hey—$350,000 for 9,472 square feet! In addition to a "single family home," the lucky buyer will inherit crumbling "replicas" of Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and the Garden of Eden, and huge displays of bible verses.

Republican bubble rap

by digby

You can't say they lack chutzpah:

The National Republican Campaign Committee announced Tuesday that it will put versions of the billboard below on thousands of trucks in the districts of Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ), Ron Barber (D-AZ), Collin Peterson (D-MN) and John Barrow (D-GA).

"It's time that House Democrats are held accountable for their support of ObamaCare, especially now that the scandal-ridden IRS is in charge of enforcing the program," NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek told TPM.

Howie points out what a stupid strategy this is. Barrow and the others are being targeted for voting for Obamacare. But even if it were true -- it isn't, Barrow voted against the ACA --- the numbers show this isn't the way to take conservative Democrats out:

These are the Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act in November, 2009:

• John Adler (Blue Dog-NJ)- defeated
• Jason Altmire (Blue Dog/New Dem-PA)- defeated in primary
• Brian Baird (WA)- retired
• John Barrow (Blue Dog/New Dem-GA)
• John Boccieri (Blue Dog-OH)- defeated
• Dan Boren (Blue Dog-OK)- retired
• Rick Boucher (VA)- defeated
• Allen Boyd (Blue Dog-FL)- defeated
• Bobby Bright (Blue Dog-AL)- defeated
• Ben Chandler (Blue Dog-KY)- defeated
• Tavis Childers (Blue Dog-MS)- defeated
• Artur Davis (New Dem-AL)- defeated/ now a Republican
• Lincoln Davis (Blue Dog-TN)- defeated
• Chet Edwards (TX)
• Bart Gordon (Blue Dog-TN)- retired
• Parker Griffith (Blue Dog-AL)- switched parties, defeated anyway
• Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (Blue Dog-SD)- defeated
• Tim Holden (Blue Dog-PA)- defeated in primary
• Larry Kissell (Blue Dog-NC)- defeated
• Suzanne Kosmas (Blue Dog-FL)- defeated, sunk into alcoholism
• Frank Kratovil (Blue Dog-MD)- defeated
• Dennis Kucinich (OH)- defeated in primary; works for Fox News
• Betsy Markey (Blue Dog-CO)- defeated
• Jim Marshall (Blue Dog-GA)- defeated
• Eric Massa (NY)- retired
• Jim Matheson (Blue Dog-UT)
• Mike McIntyre (Blue Dog/New Dem- NC)
• Michael McMahon (Blue Dog-NY)- defeated
• Charlie Melancon (Blue Dog-LA)- defeated
• Walt Minnick (Blue Dog-ID)- defeated
• Scott Murphy (Blue Dog-NY)- defeated
• Glenn Nye (Blue Dog-VA)- defeated
• Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
• Mike Ross (Blue Dog-AR)- retired
• Heath Shuler (Blue Dog-NC)- retired
• Ike Skelton (MO)- defeated
• John Tanner (Blue Dog-TN), retired
• Harry Teague (Blue Dog-NM), defeated
• Gene Taylor (Blue Dog-MS)- defeated

All of these (mostly former) Members of Congress were either forced to resign or were defeated because they had lost the support of the Democratic base in their districts.

The four targeted Dems are all voting like Republicans. They would, therefore, seem to be vulnerable. But the fact remains that it's Democrats who elect them. They're not going to get anywhere by demagogueing Obamacare, even in conservative Democratic districts.

It makes no difference to me because all four of these Democrats might as well be Republicans 99% of the time. But it's interesting that the GOP is still so stuck in their little bubble that they are making the case for the likes of Barrow despite the fact that he could fairly easily be defeated if only his voters really knew how much the Republican Party depends on him.

Howie says:

So a little advice to the Republicans: instead of making up stories about John Barrow that stretch the imaginations of anyone other than a brain-dead Fox News fan (i.e.- a base Republican voter, who is likely to vote Republican anyway), go after him at his own base and get them to not vote by exposing the truth about him instead of lying about him. Forget about the right-wing crackpots in Columbia County and think about the voters in Richmond, Burke, Treutlen, Screven and Jenkins counties instead, Barrow strongholds where he needs strong turnout from yellowdog Democrats who won't turn out if they understand Barrow is as hideously against their interests as a Republican. You can do the same thing to Ann Kirkpatrick. Defeat her by telling the truth about her record in blue Apache and Coconino counties and she's out of a job again. Why is that so hard for Republican bozos to understand? Running billboards like the one up top-- even though Barrow voted against the Affordable Care Act-- will only inspire Democrats to turn out in bigger numbers. This isn't rocket science; if you guys were in any of my classes you'd be complaining to the dean that I gave you an F.

A moment of zen

by digby

The jokes just write themselves ...

Tough love for sick people

by digby

I wondered how this was going to work out:

One provision of President Obama's historic healthcare law, dubbed the Cadillac Tax, penalizes companies that offer extremely generous healthcare plans to their employees. If an employer offers a plan that costs more than $10,200 for an individual or $27,500 for a family, the employer will be forced to pay a 40 percent tax on the portion of the plan cost that exceeds those thresholds. The idea, as the Times reports, is to "encourage employers to move away from plans that insulate workers from the cost of care and often lead to excessive procedures and tests, and galvanize employers to try to control ever-increasing medical costs."

In order to avoid the Cadillac tax, which goes into effect in 2018, employers are already searching for ways to scale back on costs, including cutting health benefits and increasing plan prices. (Employers are also amping up spending on preventive care services, which is a good thing.) And as Bradley Herring, a health economist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the Times, these health plan changes will likely affect a lot of people, not just the well-off; up to 75 percent of plans could be affected by the tax over the next ten years. "The reality is it is going to hit more and more people over time," he says.

One of those people affected is Abbey Bruce, a nursing assistant in Washington state whose employer increased the costs of the plan that she and her husband, who has cystic fibrosis, rely on. The Times tells her story:
Starting this year, they have a combined deductible of $2,300, compared with just $500 before. And while she was eligible for a $1,400 hospital contribution to a savings account linked to the plan, the couple is now responsible for $6,600 a year in medical expenses, in contrast to a $3,000 limit on medical bills and $2,000 limit on pharmacy costs last year. She has had to drop out of school and take on additional jobs to pay for her husband's medicine.

The number of employers adjusting their plans because of the Cadillac tax has increased from 11 percent in 2011 to 17 percent this year, the Times reports. And the amount that employer plans require workers to pay as a deductible—the amount an insured person has to pay out of pocket for healthcare costs before the insurer will pay—has jumped. The number of workers in plans with deductibles of at least $2,000 doubled between 2009 and 2012 to 14 percent.

I suppose it's a good thing that we're trying to even out the levels of coverage a bit, but as usual this change will only negatively impact lower wage and middle class workers like the one above who had a "cadillac" plan and will feel the financial pinch. The executives who more typically had such employer benefits will simply have to cash in a stock option or something and won't even feel the difference. Indeed, they'll be spending as much on health care as they feel they need to --- as always.

I'm going to assume that this notion of people buying less expensive care if they are aware of how much things cost is born out by some empirical data. Otherwise, this is just another manifestation of the belief that "Americans are spoiled brats" and need some tough-love to force them to stop spending so much money on ... their lives. Let's say that it's very convenient that it lines up so nicely with the other elite calls for "self-sacrifice" and "skin in the game" we hear so often.

I doubt that the nursing assistant with the sick husband was "over-spending" on health care, but she's going to get a lesson in health care economics just the same. I'm sure it will be character building for both of them.

Liberal retreat

by digby

There's a lot of talk about MSNBC ratings being down accompanied by the usual gleeful triumphalism over on the right.  I don't pretend to fully understand the reason for this, but I must point out that it's not just MSNBC.  The online left has seen a steep decline in traffic since the election as well, which indicates to me that our audience in general is simply not interested in following politics at the moment. As Alex Pareene points out in this piece, politics is MSNBC's bread and butter.

It’s simplistic to say that viewers aren’t watching because the president’s having a bad news cycle. Bad news is often good for ratings. Liberals like to watch Republicans portrayed as big scary meanies when they’re not watching them be presented as inept nutso clowns. There was no such thing as liberal cable news during the Clinton impeachment, but if there had been I guarantee it would’ve been a hit. Maybe — maybe! — some viewers are tuning out because they’re not hearing enough of an unqualified defense of the president and his administration from some of MSNBC’s more left-leaning voices. But I’d guess that’s still not enough people to make a huge ratings difference. 
Perhaps there just isn’t a huge, permanent, year-round liberal audience for political news and discussion. Which is effectively all MSNBC does, because political discussion is cheap as hell, and gets good ratings when certain periods and certain personalities align. 
I don't think that's it. People aren't taking the scandals all that seriously (so far.)  And I'm with pareene that if the Republicans really get crazy, the audience will come back. Short of that (or something else catastrophic) my impression is that liberals are either bored or disillusioned right now for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that a liberal majority has been effectively obstructed and the president seems to be ineffectual.  (I realize that political scientists tell us that the presidency isn't very powerful, but most people don't believe that since we've extolled the office as the most powerful on earth for decades.)

We've been through a number of elections, crises, other ups and downs over the past decade but I've not seen anything like the drop in interest over the past few months.  If it was just me I'd attribute it to my little project having run its course but it's happening across the liberal media spectrum. I don't now what the answer is, but it isn't that there isn't a permanent audience. There was until very recently.  It's that the liberal audience is tuning out and one can only  assume it's because they don't like what they see in our politics.

It makes me a little bit more concerned for 2014/2016 than I otherwise would be.

Meanwhile, everyone should be sure to watch MSNBC, particularly Chris Hayes, who is doing fascinating work you should see.  You'll feel a little bit less disillusioned if you do:

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

Bye bye Bachmann

by David Atkins

Michele Bachmann is leaving Congress in order to avoid her upcoming re-election campaign defeat in order to concentrate on defending herself regarding fraud charges from her presidential campaign in order to spend more time with her family, apparently in order to spend even more time defending a word salad of conservative principles.

Normally one would be inclined to blow Bachmann off as a joke, a fortunate passing virus of outrageousness that has fortunately run its course.

But that isn't the case. The Republican Party has been overtaken by an army of Bachmann clones just as crazy as she is.

Nor will Bachmann likely disappear from the public stage. She'll simply pull off the Sarah Palin grift, moving effortlessly from elected office to some wingnut welfare sinecure on Fox News, The Blaze or elsewhere. That's the modern conservative movement in a nutshell: the Elmer Gantrys, the corporations that fund them, and the rabid aging flock of white wool sheep who follow them in the hope of repealing the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution and empathy in general. It little matters if the hucksters walk the halls of Congress, the conservative media, or the boardroom. It's all for one and one for all.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hypocrisy to the 10th Power

by digby

Wait, what?

Republican senators are fuming about President Barack Obama's attempt to fill empty seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, charging him with "court-packing" and alleging that his push to confirm nominees is all politics.

But not only is Obama not "court-packing" -- a term describing an attempt to add judges to a court with the goal of shifting the balance, not filling existing vacancies -- but Republicans' efforts to prevent Obama from appointing judges amount to their own attempt to tip the scales in their favor. What's more, some of the GOP senators trying to prevent his nominees from advancing previously voted to fill the court when there was a Republican in the White House.

As it stands, the powerful D.C. Circuit has 11 seats, three of which are vacant. Obama has signaled plans to put forward nominees for all three open slots as soon as this week. But Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and other Republicans are pushing legislation that would eliminate those seats and keep the court where it is: with eight judges, four of whom were appointed by Democrats and four of whom were appointed by Republicans.
I often say that Republicans have retired the concept of hypocrisy and people titter politely, but I suspect they think it's a sort of glib slogan and not a serious observation. But I mean it literally. It goes far beyond double standards or duplicity or bad faith. There's an aggression to it, a boldness, that dares people to bring up the bald and obvious fact that the person making the charge is herself a far worse perpetrator of the thing she is decrying. There's an intellectual violence in it.

In a world in which the conservatives weren't such post modern shape shifters, we could come to a consensus on certain issues in this country --- like privacy, for instance. We could agree that it's wrong for government employees to use private information for partisan purposes --- or for the media, including bloggers, to stalk and publish private information of anyone who dares speak out for a political cause. But we don't live in a world like that.

We live in a world where the right wing ruthlessly and without mercy degrades and attacks by any means necessary what they perceive as the enemy, and then uses the great principles of democracy and fair play when the same is done to them. They leave the rest of us standing on the sidelines looking like fools for ever caring about anything but winning.

It's not that I believe liberals are purely good and decent. We have many, many faults and are almost preternaturally talented at seizing defeat from the jaws of victory before we even get finished celebrating. But failing to truly grok just how pernicious this right wing rejection of hypocrisy really is and how much power it gives them is a foolish mistake.

Lesson for the day

by digby

Markets good? Not necessarily:

Most of us would agree that harming others on purpose and for no reason is immoral. Social scientists have long assumed that marketplaces are to blame for many a compromised moral. There’s no shortage of historical examples: take the slave trade, or buying indulgences from the church, for instance. Now science has weighed in to confirm this hunch: a marketplace degrades a person’s morals.

That was what German researchers found in an experimental set-up that put people’s morals up against money in a market.

The researchers split participants into three different groups that represented different market-type situations. In the first group, participants were presented with two options: A) receive 10 euros (about $13) for accepting the death of a lab mouse, or B) forgo the money and save the mouse’s life. (The mice in question were young and healthy but had failed to exhibit certain genetic traits, so they were no longer of use to the lab.)

Before making the decision, participants were shown a picture of a mouse and a video of the euthanizing process that would be used to kill the mouse. Of the 124 participants in this group, 46 percent said they would accept the mouse’s death in exchange for €10 or less.

A second group of 72 people participated in a bilateral market scenario, where one buyer and one seller interacted directly. The seller was given a mouse and told “the life of the mouse is entrusted to your care,” but he could sell it to the buyer, in which case the mouse would be killed. The buyer and seller could settle on a price of up to €20; the buyer got to keep the difference.

If they decided not to trade, neither person got any money and the mouse was allowed to live. In this second set-up, 72 percent of the sellers were willing to sacrifice the mouse for the money.

The third group was a multilateral market—seven buyers and nine sellers that could trade amongst themselves. As with the two-way market, 76 percent of sellers in this third group chose to accept the money (a mere €10 or less) despite the inevitable death of the mouse that would result.

Thus in a marketplace people on average valued the mouse’s life less than they did when individually asked. This is evidence, say the researchers, that market interaction lowers moral values as compared to individual actions.

This was confirmed when the experiments were run again but with coupons instead of mice (the side effect being losing the coupon instead of killing the mouse). With a non-living subject, market sellers gave up the coupons about as often as participants acting individually, indicating that the marketplace effects moral values but not neutral decisions. The results were published in Science last week.

The researchers have a few ideas about why markets may have such a negative effect on morality. In markets, since multiple people are interacting, the responsibility (and the resulting guilt) are shared and therefore lessened. The death is not wholly on any one person’s conscience. Markets are also a social endeavor, so social norms play a key role. Participants’ decisions may be swayed by how other participants act when determining what is appropriate. The third reason is simple distraction. When you’re so focused on the nitty gritty negotiation, you may not have the bandwidth to think about the moral implications of your decisions.

Whatever the reason, the researchers say the outcome is clear: markets make us more willing to fudge on our moral values.

Vulture capital versus the people of Argentina

by David Atkins

The vultures are circling over Argentina, and a major court case may determine the balance of power between nations of the world and the global parasitic tax-dodging financial sector that leeches off the world's productivity.

Argentina did the right thing in 2002 by defaulting on exorbitant debts accrued through predatory disaster capitalism. Most of that debt has been restructured, but a few vulture capital firms decided to buy up part of the debt and demand full repayment. The question is now before the courts:

That question now faces the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, which has become an unlikely referee in a high-stakes grudge match pitting Wall Street investors against Argentina.

At its heart, the case tests the power of U.S. courts to force other countries to honor their debts. The outcome could hinder the ability of other struggling nations — including Greece and Cyprus — to renegotiate their commitments, potentially saddling them with crushing obligations they can't escape.

In the button-down world of international finance, the proceedings have been nothing short of a barnburner. Each side has hired celebrity lawyers, traded insults and engaged in some bare-knuckle tactics, including the attempted seizure of an Argentine naval frigate by bondholders.

Now years of squabbling may be reaching a boiling point: A crucial ruling is expected as early as this week.

"The implications are huge," economist and Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz said. "This court is balancing the interests of very small groups of creditors against those of entire countries."
If the court rules against Argentina as it appears set to do, it will mean the total power of vulture capital over countries attempting to grow their economies in spite of exorbitant IMF demands and economic sabotage. It will constitute nothing less than a middle finger in the air of the world community by the pluocratic class, and a dare for the world to do something about it.

Perhaps the world should take them up on the dare.

QOTD: Congressional ineptitude

by digby

Journalist Robert Kaiser talks about his experience covering the financial reform package and makes an important observation:

“...It was upsetting to me as a citizen to realize how few members understood the issues they were dealing with,” Kaiser remarked. “These are, of course, extremely complicated financial matters, how banks work, how they’re regulated, so on.”

“Not everybody can know this, but at the end, I concluded that you could fit the number of experts in Congress on financial issues easily onto the roster of a Major League Baseball team,” he added. “That’s 25 people. I think that is the max.”

Perhaps this is part of the problem?

Deficit Hawks Down

by digby

My favorite story of the day
Senate Republicans who shared laughs with President Obama over dinner at the Jefferson Hotel in March are grumbling there has since been little follow-through from him on deficit talks.

They say the White House has not set up a process for negotiating controversial reforms to Social Security, healthcare programs and the tax code, and that absence of basic organization has stalled negotiations.

"We've made no progress. None," said a GOP senator who had dinner with President Obama earlier this year. "There's no process in place. Right now we just have 20 Republican senators meeting and talking to themselves."

The lawmaker said Obama needs to sit down regularly with about five or six GOP senators to begin making substantial progress toward a deficit-reduction deal.

A White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Some Republicans think the president has become distracted from the deficit by intensified public controversies over the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of Tea Party groups and the Justice Department’s investigation of the Associated Press.

"Those kinds of things can't help but turn the total focus of the deficit reduction away from the White House's perspective,” said Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who had dinner with Obama on March 6 and golfed with him earlier this month.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who helped organize the March 6 dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, said that the White House and GOP senators have not gotten to the point of exchanging paper outlining their competing proposals. 
“We’ve been talking about trying to define the problem. Can we all agree what the next 30 years holds in terms of deficits, cost of entitlement programs? How much we’re going to spend, how much revenue we can generate?” Graham added. “It’s nice if you can have a 30-year view of things.” 
That is nice. And if they can all see 30 years into the future I hope they'll share because it's probably a good time to buy some stock.
Clearly, they have lost their focus. It wasn't long ago that we were obsessed with the imminent collapse of Western civilization if we didn't cut government spending to the bone immediately. Now, they can't even define the problem and are looking for a "nice" 30 year projection. (Why 30, though? Why not take a 60 year view or a 100 year view --- it's just as useful...)

Unfortunately, the wind has gone out of the deficit fetishists sails:
Coburn agrees with colleagues who say there has been very little progress on deficit-reduction talks with Obama.

“I’d say that’s a fair assessment,” he said.

Obama told Republicans who had dinner with him on March 6 that a deficit deal would need to happen by August.

That timeline has now been pushed until the fall and may even slide to the end of the year.
“Maybe in January,” said Coburn.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew took some of the pressure off earlier this month by alerting Congress that the nation’s debt ceiling would not have to be raised until after Labor Day.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates the debt ceiling does not have to be lifted until October or November.

Democrats say one problem is that Obama has had difficulty finding Republicans with the authority to negotiate on behalf of their party.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and Republican Whip John Cornyn (Texas) face reelection in 2014. Although a credible conservative challenger has yet to emerge against either one, they remain cautious.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared at the beginning of the year that he was finished with negotiating one-on-one with Obama.

White House officials say the president made a good-faith offer toward compromise when he proposed adopting the chained consumer price index to curb the growth of Social Security benefits in his budget plan.

Hopes for a broad bipartisan deal to cut the deficit are waning.

Once again, saved by the GOP's idiotic inability to take yes for an answer. Huzzah.

I'm not sure we're out of the woods entirely, but it's looking much less likely. Still, vigilance is necessary. The Pete Petersons of the world will not rest. When you have as much money as they do you can play a very long game.

Constraints for thee but not for me

by digby

For nearly four years, the president had waged a relentless war from the skies against Al Qaeda and its allies, and he trusted that he had found what he considered a reasonable balance even if his critics did not see it that way. But now, he told his aides, he wanted to institutionalize what in effect had been an ad hoc war, effectively shaping the parameters for years to come “whether he was re-elected or somebody else became president,” as one aide said...

While part of the re-evaluation was aimed at the next president, it was also about Mr. Obama’s own legacy. What became an exercise lasting months, aides said, forced him to confront his deep conflicts as commander in chief: the Nobel Peace Prize winner with a “kill list,” the antiwar candidate turned war president, the avowed champion of transparency ordering operations over secret battlegrounds. He wanted to be known for healing the rift with the Muslim world, not raining down death from above.

Over the past year, aides said, Mr. Obama spent more time on the subject than on any other national security issue, including the civil war in Syria. The speech he would eventually deliver at the National Defense University became what one aide called “a window into the presidential mind” as Mr. Obama essentially thought out loud about the trade-offs he sees in confronting national security threats.

“Americans are deeply ambivalent about war,” the president said in his speech, and he seemed to be talking about himself as well. Mr. Obama said the seeming precision and remote nature of modern warfare can “lead a president and his team to view drone strikes as a cure-all for terrorism,” and it was not hard to imagine which president he had in mind.

“We must define the nature and scope of this struggle,” Mr. Obama said, “or else it will define us.”

In a sense, that had already happened to Mr. Obama. Somehow he had gone from the candidate who criticized what he saw as President George W. Bush’s excesses to the president who expanded the drone program his predecessor had left him. The killing he authorized in September 2011 of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen tied to terrorist attacks, brought home the disparity between how he had envisioned his presidency and what it had become. Suddenly, a liberal Democratic president was being criticized by his own political base for waging what some called an illegal war and asserting unchecked power.

"Somehow" he had gone from a candidate who criticized Bush's excesses to the president who expanded the drone program? I'm pretty sure it didn't happen by accident.  The problem, according to this article, is not that he believes he went too far or that it was a mistake, but rather that people will not remember him kindly for it. I think if he believes a change in direction at this late date can change his legacy on this, he's being naive.

When JFK came into office and signed off on the Bay of Pigs debacle, he re-evaluated the policy immediately and became skeptical of his advisers and the military. There is some evidence that this skepticism was leading him to a withdrawal in Vietnam and there's no doubt that it informed his decisions on the most important national security challenge of the nuclear age, the Cuban missile crisis. I don't get the sense from this article, or anywhere else, that this is what's at work with the Obama administration's re-evaluation. It's certainly possible that it is --- we don't know the whole story so perhaps the "leakers" of his thinking on the matter are not at liberty to share what he truly believes. But nothing in this article indicates that the president or his advisers have the least bit of regret for having taken this course.

As Spencer Ackerman writes above, he doesn't think he did anything wrong. But it's interesting that he does wish to constrain future presidents from doing as he has done. But we all know that's not how it works.  Just as he took the powers that George Bush had seized and ran with them, so too will his successors. Whatever constraints he now proposes may recapture his image as a peacemaker but he cannot change the history he's already made.


Peace in our time: the get-off-my-lawn strategy

Peace in our time: the get-off-my-lawn strategy

We can all relax now;

Republican Sen. John McCain has quietly slipped into Syria for a meeting with Syrian rebels.

Spokeswoman Rachael Dean confirms the Arizona Republican made the visit. She declined further comment about the trip.

The visit took place amid meetings in Paris involving efforts to secure participation of Syria’s fractured opposition in an international peace conference in Geneva.

Two years of violence in Syria has killed more than 70,000 people. President Barack Obama has demanded that Syrian President Bashar Assad leave power, while Russia has stood by Syria, its closest ally in the Arab world.

McCain has been a leading proponent of arming the rebels and other aggressive military steps against the Assad regime. He has criticized Obama administration policy there while stopping short of backing U.S. ground troops in Syria.

Yes, John McCain knows exactly what to do:

For all the national attention surrounding John McCain’s two highly anticipated, protest-ridden commencement speeches in New York last week, the Senator actually saved some of his best material for the crowd that gathered on Friday behind closed doors in the back of the Regency Hotel.

In a small, mirror-paneled room guarded by a Secret Service agent and packed with some of the city’s wealthiest and most influential political donors, Mr. McCain got right to the point.

"One of the things I would do if I were President would be to sit the Shiites and the Sunnis down and say, 'Stop the bullshit,'" said Mr. McCain, according to Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi, an invitee, and two other guests.

I'm sure he'll be able to fix this on up just as easily.

Stiglitz calls for an international tax avoidance regulatory system

by David Atkins

Continuing on a quietly growing theme, Joseph Stiglitz makes a clarion call for international regulations to bring multinational corporate tax dodgers to heel. The whole thing is superb, such that it pains me to excise any portion of it for fair use. Here's a taste, but do read the whole thing:

Apple, like Google, has benefited enormously from what the US and other western governments provide: highly educated workers trained in universities that are supported both directly by government and indirectly (through generous charitable deductions). The basic research on which their products rest was paid for by taxpayer-supported developments – the internet, without which they couldn't exist. Their prosperity depends in part on our legal system – including strong enforcement of intellectual property rights; they asked (and got) government to force countries around the world to adopt our standards, in some cases, at great costs to the lives and development of those in emerging markets and developing countries. Yes, they brought genius and organisational skills, for which they justly receive kudos. But while Newton was at least modest enough to note that he stood on the shoulders of giants, these titans of industry have no compunction about being free riders, taking generously from the benefits afforded by our system, but not willing to contribute commensurately. Without public support, the wellspring from which future innovation and growth will come will dry up – not to say what will happen to our increasingly divided society...

It is time the international community faced the reality: we have an unmanageable, unfair, distortionary global tax regime. It is a tax system that is pivotal in creating the increasing inequality that marks most advanced countries today – with America standing out in the forefront and the UK not far behind. It is the starving of the public sector which has been pivotal in America no longer being the land of opportunity – with a child's life prospects more dependent on the income and education of its parents than in other advanced countries.

Globalisation has made us increasingly interdependent. These international corporations are the big beneficiaries of globalisation – it is not, for instance, the average American worker and those in many other countries, who, partly under the pressure from globalisation, has seen his income fully adjusted for inflation, including the lowering of prices that globalisation has brought about, fall year after year, to the point where a fulltime male worker in the US has an income lower than four decades ago. Our multinationals have learned how to exploit globalisation in every sense of the term – including exploiting the tax loopholes that allow them to evade their global social responsibilities.
Stiglitz makes note of the same possible destination-based tax system I did before, but with the same caveat about potential damage to manufacturing nations. It would still be better than the current system.

More importantly, there is a serious need to economically punish those nations who would sink everyone to the bottom of the tax code rat race:

The problem of multinational corporate tax avoidance is deeper, and requires more profound reform, including dealing with tax havens that shelter money for tax-evaders and facilitate money-laundering. Google and Apple hire the most talented lawyers, who know how to avoid taxes staying within the law. But there should be no room in our system for countries that are complicitous in tax avoidance. Why should taxpayers in Germany help bail out citizens in a country whose business model was based on tax avoidance and a race to the bottom – and why should citizens in any country allow their companies to take advantage of these predatory countries?
Indeed. It's long past time for international trade agreements to focus on corralling the worst practices of multinational corporations rather than enabling. Globalization has worked out quite well for the jet setting plutocratic class. But it can just as easily work against them as well, with nowhere on the planet left to escape. They would do well to remember that.


Monday, May 27, 2013

The jolly joy of the miracle

by digby

A letter from Charles Bukowski to the editor who made it possible to quit his job at the post office and become a writer full time at the age of 50:


Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don't think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don't get it right. They call it "9 to 5." It's never 9 to 5, there's no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don't take lunch. Then there's OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there's another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, "Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors."

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don't want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can't believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: "Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don't you realize that?"

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn't want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

"I put in 35 years..."

"It ain't right..."

"I don't know what to do..."

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn't they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I'm here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I've found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: "I'll never be free!"

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I'm gone) how I've come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,


He's right about the wage slavery. Or at least that's how I felt. And I too feel the jolly joy of the miracle of not having to do it anymore. Thanks.



by digby

Obviously. There's nothing hateful about rape ...

Memorial Day

by digby


No Villagers, this is not a center-right country

by digby

CNN with the latest polling on Obamacare:

Fifty-four percent of Americans oppose President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, according to a CNN poll released Monday, while 43 percent support the law.

But, for once they asked the most relevant follow-up question:

Thirty-five percent of the country opposes the law because it’s too liberal, while 16 percent argues it isn’t liberal enough.

That's right. It is not a majority position against a national health care plan or "big gummint" or any other of the typical beltway signifiers of a "center right nation." It turns out that only 35% of the country has that attitude. The majority either support the plan or want more. I doubt that most people every understand that from the way the polls are presented.

And perhaps more significantly, it's highly doubtful that the 16% who think the plan isn't liberal enough would join with the Republicans to deny medicaid funding or refuse to create the exchanges or any of the other tactics that are being used to make implementation impossible. Those liberals are all for medicaid funding and undoubtedly would oppose any repeal of the significant advances in the plan short of a public consensus to switch to a single payer plan.

So, it would be nice if the media were clear on this. This is obviously a center-left country when it comes to health care reform and it's only the third of the population that hates everything the government does who is unhappy. As they always are.

Yes, those groups were cheating

by digby

The NYT has published an article about what some of the groups the IRS subjected to scrutiny actually did. And it is very informative. It would appear that many of these people were lying about their activities or "understood" their political activities to not be political. Seriously:

At least some of the conservative groups that are complaining about I.R.S. treatment were clearly involved in election activities on behalf of Republicans or against Democrats. When CVFC, the veterans’ group, first applied for I.R.S. recognition in early 2010, it stated that it did not plan to spend any money on politics. The group, whose full name in its application was CVFC 501(c)(4), listed an address shared with a political organization called Combat Veterans for Congress PAC. CVFC told the I.R.S. that it planned to e-mail veterans about ways in which they “may engage in government” and provide “social welfare programs to assist combat veterans to get involved in government.”

But later in 2010, as it awaited an I.R.S. ruling, the organization spent close to $8,000 on radio ads backing Michael Crimmins, a Republican and a former Marine, for a House seat in San Diego, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The spending is not detailed in the group’s tax return for 2010, raising questions about whether it properly accounted for the expense to the I.R.S. The group also checked off a box marked “No” when asked if it had engaged in direct or indirect political activities on behalf of a candidate for political office.

The group received two rounds of questions from the I.R.S. in 2012, according to its lawyer, Dan Backer. They included queries about the group’s donors and its exact relationship with Combat Veterans for Congress PAC. The agency also asked about CVFC’s activities, but the group neglected to bring up its radio ads in its follow-up responses.

Mr. Backer called the agency’s questions “sweepingly overbroad” and said the group had answered them appropriately.

In Alabama, the Wetumpka Tea Party organized a day of training for its members and other Tea Party activists across the region in the run-up to the 2012 election. The training was held under the auspices of the Adopt-a-State program, a nationwide effort that encouraged Tea Party groups in safely red or blue states to support Tea Party groups in battleground states working to get out the vote for Republicans.

Adopt-a-State was a key component of Code Red USA, a get-out-the-vote initiative organized by a conservative political action committee. The goal of Code Red USA was made clear in one of its fund-raising videos, which told supporters: “On Nov. 6, 2012, Code Red USA authorizes the defeat of President Barack Obama.”

Becky Gerritson, Wetumpka’s president, said in an e-mailed statement that her group engaged “mostly in education on all sorts of topics” and that the day of training was just one of a variety of events that it held for “educational purposes.”

Some groups appeared to be confused or misinformed about the I.R.S. rules applying to their activity.

Tom Zawistowski, president of the Ohio Liberty Coalition, another Tea Party group that has complained about the scrutiny it received from the I.R.S., sent out regular e-mails to members about Romney campaign events and organized protests around the state to “demand the truth about Benghazi” when Mr. Obama visited before the 2012 election. The coalition also canvassed neighborhoods, handing out Romney campaign “door hangers,” Mr. Zawistowski said.

The I.R.S. usually considers such activities to be partisan. But when Mr. Zawistowski consulted his group’s lawyers, he said, he came away understanding that the I.R.S. was most concerned with radio or television advertising. He said he believed that other activities, like distributing literature for the Romney campaign, would not raise concerns.

“It’s not political activity,” he said.

I don't think you need a lawyer to know whether passing out campaign literature for a candidate is political. If you do, it's probably best not to be involved in politics.

The article explains something I've been wondering about from the beginning: how does the IRS usually do this sort of thing? It turns out that they do a pretty thorough investigation:

But some former I.R.S. officials disputed several of Mr. George’s conclusions, including his assertion that it was inappropriate to ask groups about their donors, or whether their leaders had plans to run for public office. While unusual, the former officials said, such questions are not prohibited if relevant to an application under consideration.

“The I.G. was as careless with terminology as the Cincinnati office was,” said Marcus S. Owens, who headed the I.R.S.’s exempt organizations division until 2000. “Half of those questions have been found to be germane in court decisions.”

I.R.S. agents are obligated to determine whether a 501(c)(4) group is primarily promoting “social welfare.” While such groups are permitted some election involvement, it cannot be an organization’s primary activity. That judgment does not hinge strictly on the proportion of funds a group spends on campaign ads, but on an amorphous mix of facts and circumstances.

“If you have a thousand volunteer hours and only spend a dollar, but those volunteers are to help a particular candidate, that’s a problem,” Mr. Tobin said.

Agents may examine when and for how long a group advocates policy positions, in part to see whether those positions are associated with a specific candidate, which can be relevant to the group’s tax status, tax lawyers and former I.R.S. officials said.

Agents may look at what a group publishes in print or on a Web site, whether it provides funds to other organizations involved in elections or whether a group’s officers are also employed by political parties. They may also consider other public information, former officials and tax experts said, though they are required to ask the organization to provide those materials or comment on them before the information can be included in an application review.

“My experience has been that the agents immediately start Googling to see what the organization is doing outside of the application,” said Kevin J. Shortill, a former tax law specialist in the I.R.S.’s exempt organization division. “And that explains why you get these requests for information like, ‘Please print out your Web site and send it in.’ ”

I'm pretty sure that if I had a 501c4 I'd assume all that. But apparently, the expectation was that the IRS was going to rubber stamp their applications.

I would have assumed the IRS would be more politically sophisticated than to devise the crude screen they used during those cycles. But they did have an obligation to check. And this article showed they were right to be suspicious. A bunch of conservative 501c4 groups were directly involved in campaigning. And then they just played dumb ...