Friday, May 07, 2010

Friday Stuff

“Worst Persons” (Brittany Cantarella of Pittsfield, MA accidentally hits a 50-year-old pedestrian in her car whose legal name is Lord Jesus Christ; hey, at least she wasn’t texting…maybe; Lonesome Rhodes Beck gets the runner-up for another one of his nervous breakdowns on TV – almost too cringingly awful to watch; but Dick “Barney Fag” Armey gets it for using his Astroturf influence three years ago on behalf of BP to “Drill, Baby, Drill” in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans – also, this doesn’t have anything to do with Armey, but it’s a related cautionary note I should mention once again)…

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…and thank God the weekend is here; that black and tan is going to taste really good.

Friday Mashup (5/7/10)

(I also posted here – I know the times of these posts have been really screwed up, but I’m not able to do anything about that at the moment…sorry.)

  • Again, not a lot to highlight from last Sunday’s congressional writeup in the Inquirer here, except to point out that, in addition to every member of our local U.S. House delegation voting against a congressional pay raise, I give you the following…

    Puerto Rico status. Voting 223-169, the House passed a bill (HR 2499) authorizing Puerto Rico to hold a plebiscite on whether it wishes to remain a U.S. territory or seek independence or statehood. If the mandate is for change, a second vote would be held to determine the new status. However, only Congress could grant statehood.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Adler, Andrews, Brady, Castle, Dent, Fattah, Murphy, Schwartz, and Sestak.

    Voting no: Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Pitts, and Smith.

    English as official language. Voting 194-198, the House refused to stipulate English as Puerto Rico's official language if it were to choose statehood under HR 2499 (above). The motion also sought to affirm residents' Second Amendment rights if Puerto Rico becomes a state.

    A yes vote backed the motion.

    Voting yes: Adler, Castle, Dent, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Pitts, and Smith.

    Voting no: Andrews, Brady, Fattah, Murphy, Schwartz, and Sestak.
    Adler and Holden should be ashamed of themselves (and as of last week, the Senate still hadn’t reached 60 votes to begin debate on financial reform...this is a positive development, though).

  • Also (on a local note), the Bucks County Courier Times granted column space to Simon Campbell (here), recently-elected member of the Pennsbury School Board, from which Campbell could spew his invective towards his favorite targets (teachers and their pensions, individuals who actually dare to question him at meetings, and “liberal(s) whose head(s) cannot compute what their heart(s) (are) bleeding”)…

    …Suppose a teacher earns $80,000 today. For the 2009-2010 school year taxpayers, via school taxes and state taxes, are paying 4.78 percent of that $80,000 into the teacher's pension fund. By 2012-2013 state mandates will require taxpayers to contribute 29.22 percent of that $80,000 into the pension fund. In other words, it's a coming financial tsunami.

    But suppose the teacher's salary was not $80,000 in 2012. Suppose it was $100,000 because the Pennsbury school board agrees to salary increases, instead of freezing salaries. In this scenario, taxpayers would have to pay 29.22 percent of $100,000. In other words, raising a teacher's salary WORSENS the effects of an already pending pension disaster across an entire class of public employees.

    All of this multimillion-dollar defined-benefit pension funding is money that cannot be spent on children's educational programs. Not one nickel of this taxpayer-funded pension bailout will get spent inside a classroom. Meanwhile the Act 1 tax cap ensures that other labor costs compete with children's programs underneath an index.
    OK, I get it. Raising teacher salaries plus contributing to their pension obligations means that Pennsbury students will have to do without books and libraries (to say nothing of computers) while those baad liberal Democrats continue to inconvenience Campbell at school board meetings with their petty whining.

    (See what happens with people blow off local and mid-term elections? Individuals such as Campbell can sneak in and try to enforce their agendas.)

    And what exactly would that agenda be? Why, to force a strike, of course (and working with his teabagger pal “Self” Ciervo to eliminate publicly-funded teacher pensions altogether, as noted here).

    It should be stated at the outset that, as noted here, Campbell rose to notoriety in these parts by founding and engaging in his own particularly awful brand of confrontational behavior (funny to now hear him whine when parents of Pennsbury students ask him questions he doesn’t like given his own checkered history…also, the prior linked post points out the infrequency of teacher strikes in this state and their negligible impact on academic performance).

    And as Jim Sando wrote in a February Guest Opinion here…

    People in the private sector usually don't contribute anything to their pensions. Teachers, on average, contribute about 7.3 percent of their salaries into the pension fund. In other words, much of the money in the funds comes from the school employees.

    Public sector pension funds were designed to be funded by both the beneficiaries (like the educators who pay 7.3 percent of their salaries) and also by the employers. Yet, many local school boards have, for several years in the last decade, deposited very little (including a year where they contributed zero), into the funds. Yes, school boards and the state made a promise to school employees -"Together, we'll fund your pensions" -and then many of them sat back as employees continued to fund the system, only to renege on their own promise.

    Three states have already tried plans like the one proposed by the state school boards association or Mr. Campbell. They have found them to be more expensive than traditional pension funds. In fact, the National Institute on Retirement Security found in a 2008 study that "the cost (to employers) to deliver the same retirement income to a group of employees is 46 percent less in a defined benefit plan than in a defined contribution plan." In West Virginia, which changed to a defined contribution plan in 1991, the state has already realized their mistake and begun the very expensive process of re-converting to a traditional defined benefit plan to SAVE money.

    Public pension funds are a crucial source of investment capital for start-up companies and small businesses. In fact, almost 90 percent of all venture capital investments come from institutional investors such as defined benefit plans and endowment funds. Companies like Starbucks, Staples, and Federal Express all trace part of their success to capital investment by public pension funds. In other words, public pension funds are pools of capital that help create jobs.

    Simon Campbell was inconvenienced by the 2005 Pennsbury teachers strike; he had to reschedule his children's flights to see their grandparents in England! He refers to public school educators as his "servants." It will be a great pity if his opinions on the future pensions of hundreds of thousands of public school employees are taken seriously, since they are due almost entirely to his outrage at being inconvenienced by his "servants." One man's personal and misguided attempts to get revenge on all public employees should not become public policy.
    And as former Pennsbury teacher John McDonnell recently stated here in the Courier Times (here)…

    Prior to retirement in 2003 I taught in Pennsbury for 34 years, was devoted to my students, and loved every minute of my time in the teaching profession. Judging from the number of former students and parents who still keep in touch, it appears I had the privilege to have a lasting and positive effect on a number of young lives. Watching them succeed in life continues to give me great pleasure.

    During the same period I also served in various leadership roles in the Pennsbury Education Association. The former PEA union leadership team, of which I was but a part, presided over 30 years of labor peace. Through mutually respectful negotiations with the school board (sometimes difficult, sometimes easier, but always cognizant of the need to work together for the common good) we reached agreement on numerous contracts without the ugliness and ill will we have seen in recent years. These agreements not only provided Pennsbury teachers with compensation commensurate to similar professions and the economic times, but also established an atmosphere that allowed Pennsbury to become the outstanding district it still is.

    Campbell, on the other hand, is an "independent futures trader." In short, he's a professional gambler.

    Right now Campbell is gambling that those who value Pennsbury will remain content and silent until it is too late to stop him. Let's call his bet. Talk to your neighbors. Contact school board members. Attend meetings. Stop these destructive budget cuts.
    And it’s actually funny to hear Campbell say that he “mentally groan(s)” at Pennsbury school board meetings. That’s the same reaction I have to reading his Guest Opinions.

  • Finally, turning to national stuff, Peggy Noonan, she of the Ronnie Reagan hero worship, tells us the following in the Murdoch Street Journal today (here; with the recent unplesantness of Times Square in mind, she recounts the performance of perhaps Ronnie’s staunchest ally)…

    After he left office in 1974, former British prime minister Edward Heath was the target of two assassination attempts. The IRA bombed his London home while he was away—haplessness among terrorists did not start in Times Square—and tried to blow up his car. But in October 1984 they got close to killing a sitting prime minister. In Margaret Thatcher's memoir, "The Downing Street Years," she recounts with understatement and precision the bombing of the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

    She was up late working on a speech. "At 2:50 a.m. Robin Butler asked me to look at one last official paper—it was about the Liverpool Garden festival." Four minutes later "a loud thud shook the room. . . . I knew immediately that it was a bomb." It had been placed above her suite, which was now strewn with glass. She made her way, covered in plaster dust, out of the hotel, met with aides, slept in her clothes for an hour at a police facility, woke to the news reports—five dead, including a cabinet minister's wife—and turned to her remarks to the Tory party conference. "I was already determined that if it was physically possible to do so I would deliver my speech." Urged to return to No. 10 Downing, she said, "No: I am staying."

    "I knew that I could not afford to let my emotions get control of me. I had to be mentally and physically fit for the day ahead. I tried not to watch the harrowing pictures. But it did not do any good. I had to know each detail of what had happened—and every detail seemed worse than the last."

    Contemporary politicians, please note: In the rewrite of her speech, Mrs. Thatcher removed "most of the partisan sections." This "was not a time for Labour-bashing but for unity in defense of democracy."
    Admirable stuff, actually.

    So I assume “Nooners” would look for similar traits in a “leader” of this country, wouldn’t she?

    Well, as she said here in December 2008…

    When Republicans say, in coming years, "At least Bush kept us safe," Democrats will not want tacked onto the end of that sentence, "unlike Obama."

    Soo…did Number 43 ever realize there was a time not for bashing the opposition “in defense of democracy” (or, as Dubya so often referred to them “the Democrat Party”…the man possessed the working synapses of a dead tree stump)?

    Well, if this is any indication, I think we have our answer, as K.O. recounts for us here…

    The former Secretary of State, (Colin) Powell, had written, simply and candidly and without anger, that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

    This President's response included not merely what is apparently the Presidential equivalent of threatening to hold one's breath, but within it contained one particularly chilling phrase.

    "Mr. President, former Secretary of State Colin Powell says the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism," he was asked by a reporter. "If a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former secretary of state feels this way, don't you think that Americans and the rest of the world are beginning to wonder whether you're following a flawed strategy?"

    “If there's any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it's flawed logic,” Bush said. “It's just -- I simply can't accept that. It's unacceptable to think that there's any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.
    Of course it's acceptable to think that there's "any kind of comparison."

    And in this particular debate, it is not only acceptable, it is obviously necessary, even if Mr. Powell never made the comparison in his letter.
    And this is how Dubya acted towards a member of his own party.

    I will give Noonan some credit in her column today for at least acknowledging the anthrax attacks after 9/11. However, as you can read here, that still didn’t prevent her from stating that Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History was “part of a sickness” anyway.

    And in a related note, I learned here that washing your hands “can help ease niggling doubts about decisions.”

    Gee, I wonder if that explains the obsession noted here?
  • Thursday, May 06, 2010

    Thursday Stuff

    From last night's "Countdown" - the guy Keith talks to about the BP spill is Kieran Suckling, director of the Center for Biological Diversity (comes out against Ken Salazar, among others, and why does it figure that Halliburton was responsible for the concrete that didn't do the job here or in Australia?)...

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    ...and happy 65th birthday to Bob Seger; this is one of my faves, which "classic rock" never plays, of course, at least not when I'm listening; the fan vid gets a little repetitive, but it's still a nice little effort.

    Thursday Mashup (5/6/10)

  • And just how exactly did those “teabagger-endorsed” candidates do in elections on Tuesday?

    Well, as noted here…

    Indiana, Ohio, and North Carolina all held primaries yesterday, and they were all bad news for Tea Party candidates, as "establishment Republican" candidates won the day across the board. In Indiana, Dan Coats won a brutal three-way race against two Tea Party candidates (one of whom even had the endorsement of Ron Paul), but he did so with less than 40 percent of the vote. An established House Republican, Dan Burton, successfully fended off challengers in his primary, but won his race with less than 30 percent of the vote. In North Carolina, Senator Richard Burr easily won his primary, which is good news for him because Democrats may have a solid chance against him in the fall. In Ohio, Rob Portman won his primary as well. Meaning that none of the Tea Party challengers were able to wrest the GOP nomination away from establishment Republican candidates.
    Hmmm, wonder if these characters (Marco Rubio notwithstanding) may have peaked too early (and even Rubio winning the nomination doesn’t guarantee him a victory in the general election)?

    I’m asking this partly because of a Gallup poll cited here, telling us that Republican voter enthusiasm declined by half over the last month (wonder if this will get repeated as much as the polling on how unpopular the policies of President Obama supposedly are, usually with a “whopping” 51 percent majority opposed, not including a 3-point margin of error?).

    And just to prove that Just Plain Folks Sarah Palin Dontcha Know continues to play these characters with their obnoxious signs and funny hats, she officially bailed on the California gubernatorial “teabagger” candidate Chuck DeVore and endorsed Carly Fiorina instead here (hmmm, can a sequel to the dreaded “red sheep eyes” ad against fellow Repug Tom Campbell be far behind?).

  • Also, I give you Joke Line today at Time, in full-on concern troll mode (here)…

    But the sheer number of new programs to be managed, if the financial-reform package is added to the health care and stimulus initiatives, should give Democrats pause about trying to pass anything else this year — although Senator Graham, the lone Republican co-sponsor of the energy bill, makes a deft argument for passage: "If we don't pass it, strict EPA carbon regulations will kick in. Our legislative vision will create millions of green jobs, which is something regulators can't do." Absolutely right, but it will also create new taxes, which is something politicians can't do.
    Ugh – he really should read some people who actually know what they’re talking about on this subject, including Paul Krugman, who told us the following here (basically, there would be a cost passed along to energy consumers, but it would be negligible compared to that paid by the providers)…

    In practice there are a couple of important differences between cap and trade and a pollution tax. One is that the two systems produce different types of uncertainty. If the government imposes a pollution tax, polluters know what price they will have to pay, but the government does not know how much pollution they will generate. If the government imposes a cap, it knows the amount of pollution, but polluters do not know what the price of emissions will be. Another important difference has to do with government revenue. A pollution tax is, well, a tax, which imposes costs on the private sector while generating revenue for the government. Cap and trade is a bit more complicated. If the government simply auctions off licenses and collects the revenue, then it is just like a tax. Cap and trade, however, often involves handing out licenses to existing players, so the potential revenue goes to industry instead of the government.

    Politically speaking, doling out licenses to industry isn’t entirely bad, because it offers a way to partly compensate some of the groups whose interests would suffer if a serious climate-change policy were adopted. This can make passing legislation more feasible.

    These political considerations probably explain why the solution to the acid-rain predicament took the form of cap and trade and why licenses to pollute were distributed free to power companies. It’s also worth noting that the Waxman-Markey bill, a cap-and-trade setup for greenhouse gases that starts by giving out many licenses to industry but puts up a growing number for auction in later years, was actually passed by the House of Representatives last year; it’s hard to imagine a broad-based emissions tax doing the same for many years.

    That’s not to say that emission taxes are a complete nonstarter. Some senators have recently floated a proposal for a sort of hybrid solution, with cap and trade for some parts of the economy and carbon taxes for others — mainly oil and gas. The political logic seems to be that the oil industry thinks consumers won’t blame it for higher gas prices if those prices reflect an explicit tax.

    In any case, experience suggests that market-based emission controls work. Our recent history with acid rain shows as much. The Clean Air Act of 1990 introduced a cap-and-trade system in which power plants could buy and sell the right to emit sulfur dioxide, leaving it up to individual companies to manage their own business within the new limits. Sure enough, over time sulfur-dioxide emissions from power plants were cut almost in half, at a much lower cost than even optimists expected; electricity prices fell instead of rising. Acid rain did not disappear as a problem, but it was significantly mitigated. The results, it would seem, demonstrated that we can deal with environmental problems when we have to.
    As I’ve probably said more times than I realize, it’s a shame pundit wankery can never be converted for energy use. If we could, we would never need so much as a single drop of oil again.

  • Also, the soon-to-be-no-longer Moonie Times is back with the following allegations (here)…

    Covertly taken photos of CIA interrogators that were shown by defense attorneys to al Qaeda inmates at the Guantanamo Bay prison represent a more serious security breach than the 2003 outing of CIA officer Valerie Plame, the agency's former general counsel said Wednesday.

    John Rizzo, who was the agency's top attorney until December, said in an interview that he initially requested the Justice Department and CIA investigation into the compromise of CIA interrogators' identities after photographs of the officers were found in the cell of one al Qaeda terrorist in Cuba.

    "Well I think this is far more serious than Valerie Plame," Mr. Rizzo said after a breakfast speech. "That was clearly illegal, outing a covert officer. I am not downplaying that. But this is far more serious."
    My suspicion is that Rizzo is trying to pull any legal trick that he can to deflect attention from his own culpability; as Spencer Ackerman of TPM told us in 2007 here…

    When Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) asked Rizzo whether he thought in 2002 that the CIA's interrogation regime was "humane," Rizzo -- who was acting general counsel for much of the time, and took part in deliberations about the legality of that regime -- replied that "We believed then, and we believe throughout the process, that the CIA (interrogation) program as it was conceived -- that the procedures, and the criteria, when taken in toto, leads to the conclusion, justifies the conclusion, that it was from the outset, and (in its subsequent implementation) was conducted in a humane manner." Yet the CIA, based in part on legal guidance delivered by the general counsel's office, authorized its interrogators to force detainees to stand for up to 40 hours; chill their cells to 50 degrees while dousing their naked bodies with cold water; and to simulate drowning them. Whether Rizzo actually believes such practices are humane, he conceded that "there had been some concerns that were expressed" by CIA interrogators who feared prosecution for carrying out the authorized interrogations.
    And emptywheel tells us here of “the witch hunt launched against the John Adams project (in which detainee lawyers employed investigators to figure out the identity of detainees’ torturers, in response to which the CIA has been demanding the lawyers be charged with violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act),” which Rizzo considers to be worse than outing a spy who served our country with distinction.

    I should also point out, under the “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” category, that “the Obama Justice Department Omar Khadr’s military commission...start(ed) Wednesday (4/28), less than a day after lawyers in the case...received the thick manual laying out the rules for the newfangled military commissions.”

    Change you can believe in, my friends…

  • And finally, this tells us the following…

    A group of Republican lawmakers launched a task force on Thursday that seeks to reclaim the powers they say the federal government has unconstitutionally taken away from the 50 states.

    The 10th Amendment Task Force, a project of the Republican Study Committee, will develop and promote proposals that aim to usher in what supporters are calling a "New Era of Federalism."

    "When federalism is out of balance, people get hurt," Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, one of the group's 10 co-founding members, said at a news conference Thursday. "We want to empower state and local governments."
    Fine. The first thing the 10 members can do is work to pass a measure eliminating federal representation in the U.S. House for their congressional districts.

    Is it my imagination, or do I suddenly hear the sound of crickets?
  • Wednesday, May 05, 2010

    Wednesday Stuff

    Rachel Maddow takes a look at the reporting on the attempted Times Square car bombing, as well as Holy Joe Lieberman's ridiculous attempt to strip Americans of their citizenship as a result (as if he or anyone else should be able to decide that), with Prof. Jonathan Turley...

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    ...and yeah, I liked this one - don't know much about these guys or the tune; catchy, though.

    Wednesday Mashup (5/5/10)

    (Posting is questionable for tomorrow, by the way.)

  • In honor of “Cinco de Mayo,” I though it would be timely to look at the latest developments in the immigration back-and-forth in this country, particularly in Arizona (by the way, this day is called a “ridiculous” holiday by author Gustavo Arellano here - I have to admit that I don’t completely get it either, even though it is a holiday in Mexico, celebrating the Mexican army's unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.

    And despite the passage of Arizona’s positively revolting “illegal to be brown” law, I have to admit that perhaps an unintentional benefit is the mobilizing of religious and evangelical communities against it (always a good thing to see faith translated into social action).

    As noted here…

    When Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony heard about Arizona's new immigration-enforcement law, the Catholic leader reacted with some good old-fashioned righteous anger. Taking to his blog, Mahony blasted the measure as the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless anti-immigration law, comparing it to German Nazi and Russian communist techniques that forced individuals to turn one another in.

    Mahony is hardly the only religious leader outraged by Arizona's approach to immigration, which requires police to ask for papers from anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. The progressive Evangelical leader Jim Wallis has declared the state's new law a social and racial sin. The president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society declared that by passing the law, Arizona has taken itself out of the mainstream of American life. And Mahony's Catholic colleague the bishop of Tucson has suggested that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) join lawsuits challenging the law.
    And immigration may be one of the very few issues that a certain 43rd president actually got right during his term in office (with brother Jeb dutifully carrying on the fight here). However, I believe that was only because even he knew that the Repugs couldn’t survive by alienating the fastest growing voting bloc in this country (and as Media Matters tells us here, the flow of misinformation on this subject will likely continue far into the future, thus hindering the chances of desperately needed reform).

  • Also, before we get too wrapped up over the fact that the latest would-be bomber very nearly got away from us (here), let’s all just take a deep breath and give our law enforcement agencies the benefit of the doubt that they’ve detected some new holes they have to plug up in our tracking and detention of would-be terrorists (and understand that we’ve come a long way from what happened here).

  • And Charles Murray is at it again people (here)…

    So let’s not try to explain them away (poor standardized test scores, that is). Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another? This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.
    Really, I just wish Murray would come right out and tell us that he believes rich people from well-to-do backgrounds are just innately better than anyone of different complexions from poor neighborhoods and be done with it (yes, this is snark...and no, I'm not in love with standardized tests either, but how else is Murray proposing to measure performance?).

    Here, he complained that the book he co-authored, “The Bell Curve,” was dismissed as “racist pseudo-science.” However, it’s hard to take Murray’s griping seriously considering, as Kevin Drum tells us, Murray basically ignored gains in “Black cognitive ability” from about 1972 to 2002 in a study cited here.

    And let’s not think Murray’s own brand of elitism is restricted to race or class; here, he argued for abolishing B.A. programs at college universities, arguing that some kind of a certificate of expertise, or something, was more beneficial to a prospective employer instead (this no doubt warmed the cockles of J.D. Mullane’s coal-black heart, among others).

    Besides, Murray didn’t have a problem with IQ tests, as opposed to those of the standardized variety, when he arrived at the following conclusion (here)…

    In the April, 2007 issue of Commentary Magazine, Murray wrote on the disproportionate representation of Jews in the ranks of outstanding achievers and says that one of the reasons is that Jews "have been found to have an unusually high mean intelligence as measured by IQ tests since the first Jewish samples were tested." His article concludes with the assertion: "At this point, I take sanctuary in my remaining hypothesis, uniquely parsimonious and happily irrefutable. The Jews are God's chosen people.
    Yep, whoever decided to give Murray column space in the Times today was a meshugeneh, all right.

  • Finally, for some true hilarity, I cannot pass up Michael Gerson’s column today in the WaPo, in which he compares departing Minnesota Governor “Pawlenty of Nothing” to none other than – wait for it! – The Sainted Ronnie R himself…

    Pawlenty is the successful conservative governor of one of the most liberal states in the union -- as if Ronald Reagan had been elected in Sweden. One explanation is his disarming, beer-sharing niceness, which is among Minnesota's main exports to the nation (exception: the seething Sen. Al Franken).
    This tells us that, out of 100 U.S. senators, Al Franken was the only one who gave a damn enough about rape victim Jamie Leigh Jones, a former KBR employee, to ensure that she received her proverbial day in court. If that qualifies as “seething,” then we should have plenty more of it.

    Gerson continues (from the preceding paragraph)…

    If the problem is deficits, Pawlenty believes he is the solution. From 1960 to 2002, state spending in Minnesota increased by an average of 21 percent every two years. As governor, Pawlenty has held the growth of spending to just over 2 percent annually. Last year, he cut state spending in real terms -- the first time that has happened in 150 years. "We cut everything except public safety and K through 12 education," he says. "We changed the entitlement structure." All while moving Minnesota off the list of the top 10 most heavily taxed states.
    I can’t think of a word to describe how funny it is that Gerson utterly ignores the profligate fiscal waste of Reagan’s term in office when comparing Pawlenty to him, to the point where, after Reagan’s legendary 1981 tax cut, he raised taxes not once, but twice (here).

    Gerson also tells us the following (I know I’m going backwards in Gerson’s column, but there’s a method to my madness here)…

    "A few days ago," (Pawlenty) relates, "I was having breakfast with my wife, my 91-year-old mother-in-law and daughters, 17 and 13. On TV there was a news report about the financial situation in Greece. Out of the blue, my 13-year-old said, 'This is going to be us pretty soon.' I almost dropped my fork. This is an eighth-grader."

    It sounds a bit like Jimmy Carter in 1980, telling the much-mocked story of a discussion on nuclear proliferation with his 13-year-old daughter, Amy.
    Oh yeah, this tells us more about that moment from the 1980 Carter-Reagan debate. And as is just about always the case, it involves something Carter was indeed mocked for at the time, though he was proved to be prescient later (also, I’m ignoring Pawlenty’s comparison to Greece on purpose; he should brush up on Paul Krugman before he decides to open his mouth on that topic).

    For you see, Reagan eventually took up the cause of nuclear proliferation himself, to the point where, as noted here, he obtained “a scaled-back settlement involving the reduction of intermediate-range nuclear forces was reached in 1987” with Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev (I would argue that Reagan did this out of political expediency due to Iran-Contra fallout, but the point is that he did it all the same).

    And I don’t see why Pawlenty is considered to be so great, maybe because the Repugs have no one better to offer. As noted here, he was on John McCain’s “short list” to be veep in 2008 before a certain moose-hunting former Alaska governor got the nod instead. However, Pawlenty is a tried-and-true Repug in the sense that he vetoed all 34 bills from the state congress, controlled by the Democrats, including an increase in the gasoline tax to pay for bridge repairs after the I-35W collapse, and he refused to take Project Vote Smart’s National Political Awareness test, for what it’s worth.

    Oh, and who can forget this utterly charming moment from Pawlenty during the CPAC brown shirt gathering in which he told the assembled lemmings that they should act like Elin Woods and take a nine-iron and knock the window out of big government, or something?

    And before I let this go, I should bring you the following item, as long as I'm on the subject; perhaps in a tribute to the fiscal irresponsibility of its namesake, the Ronald Reagan building in California is now up for sale to help pay down the state’s indebtedness.

    Tee hee hee…
  • Tuesday, May 04, 2010

    Tuesday Stuff

    "Worst Persons" (Charles Krauthammer will probably say that there were no terror attacks under Dubya after 9/11 until the day he dies - whenever that may be, and I emphasize that I do not wish to hasten that - and he'll be wrong every time; James E. Glassman, senior economist at J.P. Morgan, insults the U.S. Senate over the Goldman Sachs hearings - Exhibit A of someone who should actually be forced to go out and earn a living like the rest of us; but George Will gets it for claiming that more birds will be killed on wind farms than as a result of BP's "spill, baby, spill"...yeah, that Google thingie sure is a problem for our warmongering former divinity student, isn't it?)...

    Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    ...and I think this is another neat tune (lyrics only with audio - no video).

    Tuesday Mashup (5/4/10)

    (And I also posted here.)

  • Gee, this didn’t take long (here)…

    According to CNN, the man arrested in connection with the failed car-bomb attack in Times Square, Faisal Shahzad, “will appear in a Manhattan federal courtroom Tuesday to face formal charges in the case.” While Attorney General Eric Holder did not address the question in his statement to the press last night, this would seem to indicate that Shahzad has been read his Miranda rights and given a lawyer.

    Just four months after its disastrous handling of the Christmas Day bomber in Detroit, is the Obama administration repeating its mistakes all over again? One would think that the administration would have learned its lesson and held off on reflexively reading this terrorist his Miranda rights.
    I realize that Marc Thiessen has been wrong on so many topics that it’s barely worth bothering to count any more, but the problem is that his ridiculous misinformation is being regurgitated all over the wingnutosphere and our corporate media.

    As Media Matters tells us here, this gives Thiessen and many, many others the opportunity to retell the fabrication that Christmas would-be “junk” bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was “Mirandized” before he provided actionable intelligence, a patently false assertion. In addition, Media Matters tells us that Bushco “Mirandized” would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, and nobody had a complaint at the time.

    As noted here, though (third bullet), and here (third item), this isn’t the first time that Thiessen has “brought on the stupid,” and I’m quite sure it won’t be the last.

  • Also, I just wanted to point out that NJ Governor Chris Christie has decided not to reappoint that state’s Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, reversing a half-century of legal precedent in the Garden State (here).

    Instead, Christie has decided to appoint product liability lawyer Anne Patterson; Blue Jersey tells us here of three decisions in which Patterson has represented corporate interests (Oh, and did I mention that Patterson has contributed about $23,680 to the Republican Party, as noted here? Not illegal I know, but it doesn’t pass the proverbial smell test either, people).

    Blue Jersey has a few posts on this story that I would recommend; silly for me to try and paraphrase their great work on this story when you can just go to their blog and read for yourself.

  • And just when you thought things were getting a bit dull, what with Moon Unit Bachmann not doing anything patently stupid for a little while now, along comes this item from The Hill…

    There have been rumblings from the Obama Administration regarding efforts to create "Guaranteed Retirement Accounts" and impose new government mandates which would undermine 401(k) retirement savings plans and jeopardize employers’ willingness to continue offering them to their workers.

    Human Events reports that Vice President Biden mentioned this idea in February as part of the White House's "Annual Report on the Middle Class." They also report that "in conjunction with the report’s release, the Obama administration jointly issued through the Departments of Labor and Treasury a 'Request for Information' regarding the 'annuitization' of 401(k) plans through 'Lifetime Income Options' in the form of a notice to the public of proposed issuance of rules and regulations."
    I hate to put a crease or two in Bachmann’s tin-foil hat with the reality point of view here, but somehow I think this is more of what the Obama White House had in mind (here, from last September)…

    President Barack Obama announced a series of policy changes Saturday aimed at making it easier for Americans to save money for retirement.

    Among the changes are expanded access to 401k plans, small tax policy changes and a pledge to let workers convert vacation days into retirement savings.

    The president framed the new policies as a response to the recession.

    "I’ve heard from so many who’ve had to put off retirement, or come out of retirement, to make ends meet," Obama said in his weekly address.

    But the president also suggested that the recession should be a wake-up call to structurally change the American economy.
    Also (from here)…

    I also think we need a whole new tier of retirement income, both for those people who have to rely solely on Social Security, and for those people who have 401(k) plans," (Alicia) Munnell (the director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College) says.

    She thinks it should be government-mandated savings, but she says it would likely need to be managed by the private sector to be politically palatable.

    "Her critique is absolutely right," says John Bogle, who founded the Vanguard Group, one of the nation's largest mutual fund companies.

    Bogle says the government would have to set the structure of any new program and ensure that the fees charged by fund managers are reasonable. Retirement money managers should have a fiduciary responsibility and a legal requirement to act in the investor's best interests, he says, adding that this is something in short supply today. Bogle also says that it shouldn't be easy to withdraw funds from retirement savings.
    And as Wikipedia tells us here…

    In 1978, Congress amended the Internal Revenue Code by adding section 401(k), whereby employees are not taxed on income they choose to receive as deferred compensation rather than direct compensation.[4] The law went into effect on January 1, 1980…[4]
    So basically, if it weren’t for the “government,” 401(k) plans wouldn’t even exist! And John Bogle has forgotten more about retirement funds than Bachmann will ever know.

    Besides, given this story of Bachmann’s office costs going up while she does less and less and misses more votes, I don’t think she has the right to preach to anyone about efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

  • And finally, under the heading of government malfeasance, I give you this New York Times story today…

    WASHINGTON — The Justice Department has decided not to file charges against Alphonso R. Jackson, the former secretary of housing and urban development in the Bush administration, over allegations that he improperly steered federal contracts to friends, his lawyers said Monday.

    Mr. Jackson’s lawyers said that Peter Koski, a lawyer at the Justice Department’s public integrity unit, informed them late last week that it was closing its investigation into Mr. Jackson, who resigned under pressure in 2008.

    “We presume that after a full, fair and comprehensive investigation that spanned over a three-year period, they came to the conclusion that their allegations were without support,” said one of the lawyers, Steve Cousins.
    Yes, I know the fact that charges won’t be filed is supposed to be a presumption of innocence. However, I will never buy that concerning Jackson.

    As noted here, he intervened in Philadelphia on behalf of his friend Kenny Gamble and Gamble’s company, Universal Community Homes. It seems that Gamble wanted the funds to develop 19 full-market-rate homes during what was then a housing boom, even though UCH had only built 80 of the 236 contracted homes. PHA director Carl Greene turned down Gamble’s request for $2 million to develop the 19 homes, so Gamble went to his pal ‘Zo Jackson; I’m sure you can guess what happened next.

    Also, Jackson allowed a housing project in Katrina-ravaged New Orleans to be executed by his Hilton Head, S.C. golf buddy (and the Times tells us today that Jackson professed to apologize for stating in a public speech about how he killed government contracts if the owners of the companies in question didn’t support President Bush...uh huh)

    And as georgia10 of The Daily Kos told us here, “HUD employee Richard W. Mallory was fired by Jackson for trying to expose the misuse of $1.8 million of federal funds by the San Francisco Housing Authority (in 2002).” And by the way, Mallory replaced another whistleblower on the job.

    As I read this, I got a sinking feeling that, like NSA spying and torture by our prior regime, this is just another example of the Obama administration not wanting to look backward for reasons of political expediency.

    And attorney General Holder once said this country was “a nation of cowards” for not confronting racism (here)?

    Cowardice comes in all kinds of shapes and forms, Mr. Attorney General. And I believe yours is vividly on display at this very moment.
  • Monday, May 03, 2010

    Monday Stuff

    Ummm, yeah, nice theory, "Brownie"...and if Obama is supposed to be all clever about the messaging, then how come this Dem wasn't "on board" (here)...

    ...and 50 years ago today, "The Fantasticks" opened off Broadway; here is the late, great Jerry Orbach of the original cast singing perhaps the show's most memorable tune (good advice for Brownie, of course).

    Monday Mashup Part Two (5/3/10)

    (Part One is over here.)

    1) This CNN story tells us the following…

    (CNN) – A leader of a national Tea Party organization said Monday that her organization has no patience for racists.

    "In Tea Party Patriots, we have no place for that," Jenny Beth Martin said on CNN's American Morning. "If we see somebody who's doing something racist, we tell them to leave our events. We're there for our core values. We want to reclaim our founding principles in this country."

    Ummm, OK. The problem, as noted here, is that there are other “teabaggers” out there besides the “Tea Party Patriots.”

    As Wikipedia tells us…

    The Tea Party movement is still without formal organization. Though several groups have emerged to try to capture the agenda, a majority agree on principles without formally aligning themselves with one or the other. The groups that have emerged to date each have slightly different approaches to their advocacy, and include:[66]

    · The Tea Party Patriots are a national organization that claims to have over 1000 local chapters, run with the help of Freedomworks, a conservative nonprofit led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.[67][68][69][70][71]

    · The Tea Party Express is a national bus tour run by Our Country Deserves Better PAC, a conservative Political Action Committee created by Sacramento-based GOP consulting firm Russo, Marsh, and Associates.[69][72][73][74]

    · Tea Party Nation held a National Convention February 4–6, 2010. The event featured Sarah Palin as keynote speaker, but was criticized for charging $549 per ticket,[75][76][77][78] as well as the fact that Palin was apparently paid $100,000 USD for her appearance.[79] In the face of criticism by Tea Party activists, Palin has said she plans to donate the fee to unspecified conservative causes.[80] Former Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo at the Tea Party convention in Nashville stated to applause, "People who could not even spell the word 'vote' or say it in English put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House..his name is Barack Hussein Obama."[81]

    · A new National Tea Party Federation was formed on April 8, 2010 by several players in the Tea Party movement to help spread its message and to respond to critics with a quick, unified response.[82]

    The Tea Party movement has also attracted some followers of fringe organizations such as the LaRouche Movement, the white separatist Council of Conservative Citizens, and the John Birch Society.[83]

    And as Mother Jones notes here

    "The gun lobby is once again embracing—and, equally important, validating—the anti-government rhetoric being offered by activists that range from Tea Party members, through pro-gun advocates, to members of the militia movement. And as was the case with Timothy McVeigh, the risk lies not so much with the organized members of these groups, but with the "lone wolves" who not only embrace their rhetoric, but are willing to act on it with violence."

    I was wondering why the NRA, supposedly an organization committed to gun safety, has remained silent while these teabaggin’ wingnuts have, at least, hinted at armed insurrection (and let us hope and pray that it never materializes). I think I now have my answer.

    And I’ll take Martin at her word that the “Tea Party Patriots” have moved beyond racism and intimidation. If so, then moments like this one with the Chicago chapter last November will never be repeated.

    Turning to the “Old Gray Lady,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Charlie Savage told us the following last Saturday (here – our “hopey, changey” president decided to lecture us again; I support the guy, but I wish he would stop peddling this crap)…

    WASHINGTON — In a seeming rejection of liberal orthodoxy, President Obama has spoken disparagingly about liberal victories before the Supreme Court in the 1960s and 1970s — suggesting that justices made the “error” of overstepping their bounds and trampling on the role of elected officials.

    Mr. Obama made his remarks Wednesday night against a backdrop of recent Supreme Court rulings in which conservative justices have struck down laws favored by liberals, most notably a January ruling that nullified restrictions on corporate spending to influence elections.

    “It used to be that the notion of an activist judge was somebody who ignored the will of Congress, ignored democratic processes, and tried to impose judicial solutions on problems instead of letting the process work itself through politically,” Mr. Obama said.

    “And in the ’60s and ’70s, the feeling was — is that liberals were guilty of that kind of approach. What you’re now seeing, I think, is a conservative jurisprudence that oftentimes makes the same error.”

    He added, “The concept of judicial restraint cuts both ways.”

    Thank you for unnecessarily validating a right-wing talking point, Mr. President.

    And this gives Stolberg/Savage an excuse to inflict the following…

    The White House declined to identify rulings that Mr. Obama believes relied on judicial activism. It also argued that his recent remarks were consistent with his history of separating himself from liberals in the Warren court mold. In his book, “The Audacity of Hope,” for example, Mr. Obama suggested that “in our reliance on the courts to vindicate not only our rights but also our values, progressives had lost too much faith in democracy.”

    The writers are correct, actually; that is a quote from the book. However, as you may expect, they leave out the following context (pgs. 82-84 in paperback, during a period when the “nuclear option” on judicial filibusters was being discussed)…

    To me, the threat to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominations was just one more example of Republicans changing the rules in the middle of the game. Moreover, a good argument could be made that a vote on judicial nominations was precisely the situation where the filibuster’s supermajority requirement made sense: Because federal judges receive lifetime appointments and often serve through the terms of multiple presidents, it behooves a president—and benefits our democracy—to find moderate nominees who can garner some measure of bipartisan support. Few of the Bush nominees in question fell into the “moderate” category; rather, they showed a pattern of hostility toward civil rights, privacy, and checks on executive power that put them to the right of even most Republican judges (one particularly troubling nominee had derisively called Social Security and other New Deal programs “the triumph of our own socialist revolution”).

    Still, I remember muffling a laugh the first time I heard the term “nuclear option.” It seemed to perfectly capture the loss of perspective that had come to characterize judicial confirmations, part of the spin-fest that permitted groups on the left to run ads featuring scenes of Jimmy Stewart’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington without any mention that Strom Thurmond and Jim Eastland had played Mr. Smith in real life; the shameless mythologizing that allowed Southern Republicans to rise on the Senate floor and somberly intone about the impropriety of filibusters, without even a peep of acknowledgment that it was the politicians from their states—their direct political forebears—who had perfected the art for a malicious cause.

    Not many of my fellow Democrats appreciated the irony. As the judicial confirmation process began heating up, I had a conversation with a friend in which I admitted concern with some of the strategies we were using to discredit and block nominees. I had no doubt of the damage that some of Bush’s judicial nominees might do; I would support the filibuster of some of these judges, if only to signal to the White House the need to moderate its next selections. But elections ultimately meant something, I told my friend. Instead of relying on Senate procedures, there was one way to ensure that judges on the bench reflected our values, and that was to win at the polls.

    My friend shook her head vehemently. “Do you really think that if the situations were reversed, Republicans would have any qualms about using the filibuster?” she asked.

    I didn’t. And yet I doubted that our use of the filibuster would dispel the image of Democrats always being on the defensive—a perception that we used the courts and lawyers and procedural tricks to avoid having to win over popular opinion. The perception wasn’t entirely fair: Republicans no less than Democrats often asked the courts to overturn democratic decisions (like campaign finance laws) that they didn’t like. Still, I wondered if, in our reliance on the courts to vindicate not only our rights but also our values, progressives had lost too much faith in democracy.

    Just as conservatives appeared to have lost any sense that democracy must be more than what the majority insists upon. I thought back to an afternoon several years earlier, when as a member of the Illinois legislature I had argued for an amendment to include a mother’s health exception in a Republican bill to ban partial-birth abortion. The amendment failed on a party line vote, and afterward, I stepped out into the hallway with one of my Republican colleagues. Without the amendment, I said, the law would be struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. He turned to me and said it didn’t matter what amendment was attached—judges would do whatever they wanted to do anyway.

    “It’s all politics,” he had said, turning to leave. “And right now we’ve got the votes.”

    So, as you can see, the larger discussion had to do with how both political parties tried to achieve what they wanted in the courts with their congressional majorities. It really didn’t have anything to do with criticizing liberals alone (which, as you can see, was a relatively mild chastisement compared to what Obama was saying about the Repugs).

    Also, on the matter of conservatives believing that the prior Supreme Courts noted in the story might have “overstepp(ed) their bounds,” it should be noted that Chief Justice Earl Warren was nominated by a Republican president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Warren Burger was nominated by another Republican president, Richard Nixon.

    Sounds like it’s not only Democrats that fail to “appreciate the irony.”

    3) Also, concerning the spill in the Gulf, Dem Senator Bill “Spaceman” Nelson of Florida recently said the following (here)…

    "What we see, going back two decades, is an oil industry that has had way too much sway with federal regulations. We are seeing our worst nightmare coming true."

    This tells us about the shenanigans in the Minerals Management Service under Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History, but this tells us the following under President Clinton, including the following…

    Management of the Outer Continental Shelf play a significant role in the nation's energy picture. Revenues collected by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) from royalties derived from the federal offshore oil and gas program supports President Clinton's Lands Legacy Initiative. The MMS Royalty Management Program collects over $4 billion annually. These funds are distributed to 38 states, 41 Indian tribes, 20,000 Indian mineral royalty owners, and to U.S. Treasury accounts.

    The FY 2000 budget for managing the nation's offshore mineral resources is $240.2 million, about $16.2 million above the 1999 level. The majority of the increases ($10 million) will go to updating the Service's computerized royalty management program to ensure continued effective royalty collections.

    "As we prepare to be stewards in the next millennium, this budget will enable the Department to develop new approaches and innovative solutions for managing, restoring and protecting America's natural resources," Babbitt said.

    The Department's FY 2000 budget request, subject to annual appropriations by the Congress, represents an increase of $832 million, or 10.6 percent over the 1999 appropriations.

    Based on what I’ve read and what I can recall during the 1990s, Bruce Babbitt was a great Secretary of the Interior (MMS fell under Babbitt’s purview). If Nelson has a gripe with anything during the Clinton years, he’ll have to make a better case than that.

    4) Finally, Brian Stelter of the Times tells us here that Bill Moyers recently concluded his program “Bill Moyers’ Journal”

    Mr. Moyers has long been a controversial figure. In a column in the May 10 issue of The Nation, the media columnist Eric Alterman called Mr. Moyers the “last unapologetic liberal anywhere in broadcast television.” Conservative critics have long accused Mr. Moyers and his programs of being one-sided.

    “To our critics,” he said on Friday’s finale, “I’m glad you paid attention; the second most important thing to journalists is to know we’re not being ignored.” (The only thing more important, he said, is independence.)

    And Stelter offers no proof to support the charge that Moyers is “controversial” and “one-sided” in his column.


    Which, to me, validates exactly why independent journalists, particularly Bill Moyers, are so important.

    Sunday, May 02, 2010

    Sunday Stuff

    I often forget how informative and enlightening Fix Noise’s programming truly is; here is another reminder…

    …and I featured a song by her on Friday as a response for quite rightly speaking out against Arizona’s “illegal to be brown” law (and Frank Rich had a good column on that here), but as far as I’m concerned, this song applies to BP also based on this (and what Media Matters sez here on that; by the way, FEMA has nothing to do with the spill, since this is a man-made environmental disaster – it’s a matter for the EPA and the Coast it my imagination, or does that crowd look really stoned?).