Friday, July 01, 2011

Friday Stuff

Good grief (and by the way, in an unrelated story, this tells us that the National Association of Free Clinics will sponsor an event in New Orleans on August 29th)...

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

...and best wishes for an enjoyable holiday weekend.

Friday Mashup (7/1/11)

  • This story from The Hill tells us that, in light of President Obama’s thoroughly justified criticism of “Orange Man” and his pals in charge of the U.S. House for taking a vacation while they continue to dawdle over raising the debt limit, the “loyal opposition” is now making fun of Number 44 for his own time off.

    This tells us that our current chief executive took less time off during his first year as president than all of his Republican predecessors (I have no information on time off during his second year).

    Every time I think the ruinous 112th Congress can’t possibly sink any lower, they manage to do so.

  • Next, wingnut Larry Elder tells us that The Sainted Ronnie R supposedly gets no credit for the economy, while Obama gets no blame here (the premise itself is almost too hilarious for words)…
    "The secret of the long climb after 1982 was the economic plunge that preceded it. By the end of 1982 the U.S. economy was deeply depressed, with the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression. So there was plenty of room to grow before the economy returned to anything like full employment," said left-wing economist, Nobel laureate and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in 2004. Oh.

    An economy that is "deeply depressed," Krugman insists, or at least he did seven years ago, naturally comes back strong. To what principal factor did Krugman point to in calling the 1982 economy "deeply depressed"? Unemployment. It peaked in the early '80s at 10.8 percent, even higher than during "The Great Recession" (aka the economy "inherited" by President Barack Obama). In 2010, the unemployment rate hit 10.2 percent, which means the early '80s still holds the record for the "worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression."
    It would have been nice if Elder had bothered to include the paragraph from Krugman’s column that preceded his excerpt above, which is as follows…
    …according to a recent article in The Washington Times, Ronald Reagan ''crushed inflation along with left-wing Keynesian economics and launched the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.'' Actually, the 1982-90 economic expansion ranks third, after 1991-2001 and 1961-69 -- but even that comparison overstates the degree of real economic success.
    And Krugman also tells us the following from 2004…
    Inflation did come down sharply on Mr. Reagan's watch: it was running at 12 percent when he took office, but was only 4.5 percent when he left. But this victory came at a heavy price. For much of the Reagan era, the economy suffered from very high unemployment. Despite the rapid growth of 1983 and 1984, over the whole of the Reagan administration the unemployment rate averaged a very uncomfortable 7.5 percent.

    In other words, it all played out just as ''left-wing Keynesian economics'' predicted.
    Elder also says, when Obama was elected, “Out went policies like reductions in income taxes,” ignoring once more that the “stim” contained the largest middle class tax cut in history (here).

    And as noted from here…
    Investors made out during the 1980s, while workers lost out. After seeing their investments lose value during the 1970s, shareholders enjoyed real returns (i.e., adjusted for inflation) in the 1980s that rivaled those of the next decade's stock market bubble and far outdistanced the returns of the 1960s. Real weekly wages for nonsupervisory workers, on the other hand, took a beating, declining even more quickly than they had during the 1970s. Today, the average real earnings of nonsupervisory workers remain far below those of 30 years ago, despite healthy wage gains in the second half of the 1990s expansion, when unemployment rates dropped toward 4%.

    Nor did Reagan era growth do much to alleviate poverty. The poverty rate in 1989 at the end of Reagan's two terms was still 12.8%. That was just one percentage point lower than at beginning of his administration. In contrast, the 1990s boom knocked three percentage points off the nation's poverty rate, while the 1960s boom nearly cut it in half.

    Reagan administration economic policies did not result in a 1960s-style prosperity, when workers' real wages went up in tandem with the value of stock holdings-just the opposite. Since 1980, the gains from U.S. economic growth have gone overwhelmingly to the well-to-do, and economic inequality has steadily worsened. By 2000, the ratio of the family income of the top 5% to that of the bottom 20% stood at 19.1, a dramatic rise over the 1979 ratio of 11.4. Reagan's economic policies ushered in the return of levels of inequality unseen since the eve of the Great Depression.
    Also, Elder’s line about Obama being responsible for “billions of dollars” in regulation is pretty funny when you consider this.

  • Further, I give you last week’s Area Votes in Congress (here)…

    Libya funds cutoff. Voting 180-238, the House Friday defeated a bill (H.R. 2278) to cut off funding for the direct military aspects of U.S. involvement in the NATO-led air war over Libya. The resolution sought to permit continued U.S. participation in the international coalition providing support for Libyan rebels against Moammar Gadhafi's regime, but would limit the involvement to search-and-rescue operations, aerial refueling, operational planning and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities.

    A yes vote was to cut off military funding.

    Voting yes: John Carney (D., Del.), Michael Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.), Frank A. LoBiondo (R., N.J.), Pat Meehan (R., Pa.), and Jon Runyan (R., N.J.).

    Voting no: Robert E. Andrews (D., N.J.), Robert A. Brady (D., Pa.), Charles W. Dent (R., Pa.), Chaka Fattah (D., Pa.), Tim Holden (D., Pa.), Joseph R. Pitts (R., Pa.), Allyson Y. Schwartz (D., Pa.), and Christopher H. Smith (R., N.J.).

    Libya war authorization. Voting 123-295, the House Friday defeated a resolution (H.J. Res 68) under which Congress would formally authorize for one year U.S. participation in the NATO-led coalition providing support to rebel forces in Libya's civil war. The measure barred deployment of U.S. ground forces except if necessary to rescue U.S. diplomatic personnel or troops from other countries in the NATO coalition.

    A yes vote was to authorize the Libyan action for one year.

    Voting yes: Brady, Dent, Fattah, Holden, and Schwartz.

    Voting no: Andrews, Carney, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, LoBiondo, Meehan, Pitts, Runyan, and Smith.
    On the one hand, common sense congressional oversight of whatever it is exactly that we’re doing in Libya is a good thing. However, the phrase “common sense” really doesn’t apply to much of anything that goes on in the U.S. House these days with the Repugs in charge, does it (more like, “let’s find new ways to tie the hands of that Kenyan Marxist socialist in charge”).
    Patent-law overhaul. Voting 304-117, the House Thursday approved the first overhaul of U.S. patent law since 1952, a bill (H.R. 1249) that would help the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reduce its backlog of 700,000 applications. The bill switches from a "first to invent" to a "first to file" rule for giving priority to competing patent applications. The bill must now be reconciled with a similar measure passed by the Senate.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Carney, Dent, Fattah, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, LoBiondo, Meehan, Runyan, Schwartz, and Smith.

    Voting no: Andrews and Brady.

    Not voting: Holden and Pitts.
    This article from 2004 tells us of the issues faced by the U.S. Patent Office, including outdated (or lack of) technology, lack of examiners, and the following…
    In 1991, the financial burden of granting patents was shifted from taxpayers to patent applicants through the establishment of so-called user fees. But over time, those fees became a politically attractive source of funds to help balance the federal budget without raising taxes. So Congress began raiding the patent office piggy bank; as of last year, more than $650 million had been siphoned off to pay bills for other government functions.

    Meanwhile, the volume of patent applications mushroomed. At the patent office, they call it “technology creep” — the explosion of new technologies, many of which didn’t exist 20 years ago, when most patent applications were evenly divided among electrical, chemical and mechanical inventions. Today, far more complex fields like semiconductors, biotechnology and, increasingly, entirely new areas like nanotechnology make up a much a bigger share of the agency’s workload. And the number of new applications continues to set records every year.

    “The fact of the matter is that innovation is increasing,” said Harry Roman, an inventor who for many years ran the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame.
    And that story is seven years old. Imagine the problems that have gone unaddressed since then, including the following (some of which predate the prior story)…
    In 2001 President George W. Bush appointed James Rogan, who had no experience in patents, trademarks or intellectual property in general. As a congressman, he had been one of 13 U.S. House managers in President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, and in the 2000 elections, his Los Angeles County constituency showed their disapproval at the polls. Bush picked him up.

    After a little more than two years, Rogan resigned and went into private practice. He now is a California state court judge. He was succeeded by Dudas, who also came from Capitol Hill in 2002 to be the agency’s No. 2 appointee. Dudas had worked on intellectual property matters as a congressional staffer, but otherwise had no background in patent or trademark law.

    In 2007, a San Francisco lawyer and patent activist, Gregory Aharonian, along with several others, sued for the removal of a political appointee in a high-level position at the PTO, saying she was not qualified under the provisions of the 1999 statute. The suit claimed Margaret Peterlin’s only qualification was that she’d served as a senior aide to House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., who resigned in late 2007 not long after her appointment.

    Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed the case in December 2007, finding no congressional intent for a private cause of action. But in his opinion, Robertson wrote that even if he couldn’t order it, it would be good if Peterlin acknowledged her deficiencies and asked various PTO constituencies for help.

    “Besides holding out the prospect of actually addressing the real problems besetting the office,” he wrote, “any such behavior from Ms. Peterlin would be a refreshing change from the hostility and adversarial stance taken in recent times by patent office management.”

    The point was made. Peterlin resigned eight months later, in August 2008.
    Once more, thank you, Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History.
    Election Assistance Commission. Voting 235-187, the House Wednesday failed to garner a two-thirds majority needed to pass a bill (H.R. 672) abolishing the Election Assistance Commission. Congress established the commission in 2002 in response to vote-counting debacles in the 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election. It is charged with helping states and localities adopt modern technology and other "best practices" for running elections.

    A yes vote was to abolish the commission.

    Voting yes: Dent, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, LoBiondo, Meehan, Pitts, Runyan, and Smith.

    Voting no: Andrews, Brady, Carney, Fattah, Holden, and Schwartz.
    I responded earlier to the stupidity of this vote here (second bullet).
    Arctic-drilling environmental rules. Voting 253-166, the House Wednesday passed a bill (H.R. 2021) making it easier for energy companies to obtain permits for exploratory drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf off Alaska. It requires the Environmental Protection Agency to act within six months on applications for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. It removes the Environmental Appeals Board from the permitting process. The bill is aimed primarily at advancing a long-stalled Shell Oil Co. project in the Arctic.

    A yes vote was to pass the bill.

    Voting yes: Dent, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, Holden, LoBiondo, Meehan, Pitts, Runyan, and Smith.

    Voting no: Andrews, Brady, Carney, Fattah, and Schwartz.
    As noted here, “current response capabilities aren’t adequate to contain and clean up a major spill in the area,” aside from the fact that it would probably take 10 years to set up the wells and 20 years before they reached capacity, and all the while making pretty much no difference concerning the pump price (here).
    Oil-industry subsidies. Voting 183-238, the House Wednesday defeated an amendment to H.R. 2021 (above) requiring that oil and gas companies seeking federal offshore-drilling permits publicly disclose in their applications detailed information on the taxpayer subsidies they receive.

    A yes vote backed the amendment.

    Voting yes: Andrews, Brady, Carney, Fattah, Holden, LoBiondo, Schwartz, and Smith.

    Voting no: Dent, Fitzpatrick, Gerlach, Meehan, Pitts, and Runyan.
    Just remember this vote the next time you hear a Repug complaining about how the Dems are the only ones who do sleazy backroom deals out of view of taxpayers (and kudos to LoBiondo and Smith for doing the right thing).

    Executive branch czars. Voting 47-51, the Senate Thursday defeated an amendment to block funding of any "czar" positions that presidents establish to circumvent the advice and consent of the Senate. The amendment was proposed to a bill (S 679), still in debate, that would reduce by nearly 20 percent the number of presidential appointees subject to Senate confirmation.

    A yes vote backed the amendment.

    Voting yes: Pat Toomey (R., Pa.).

    Voting no: Thomas Carper (D., Del.), Bob Casey (D., Pa.), Chris Coons (D., Del.), Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), and Robert Menendez (D., N.J.).
    Oh, and on the subject of Obama and “czars,” I give you this.
    Economic-development dispute. Voting 49-51, the Senate Tuesday refused to take up a bill (S 782) to reauthorize the Economic Development Administration through 2015 at funding levels of up to $500 million a year. Established in 1965, the EDA provides grants and loans to boost economic development in distressed urban and rural areas.
    A yes vote was to advance the bill.

    Voting yes: Carper, Casey, Coons, Lautenberg, and Menendez.

    Voting no: Toomey.
    I thought Chris Coons had some good stuff to say about this ridiculous development here (and Pat Toomey remains an utter joke with both of these awful votes to add to his notorious collection – I keep recalling how the Bucks County Courier Times supported him over Admiral Joe because the latter was supposedly long-winded, or something).
    Panetta confirmation. Voting 100-0, the Senate Tuesday confirmed CIA Director Leon E. Panetta as the nation's 23d secretary of defense. Panetta served from California in the U.S. House from 1977 to 1993, was federal budget director from 1993 to 1995, and was chief of staff to President Bill Clinton from 1995 to 1997.

    A yes vote was to confirm Panetta.

    All Philadelphia-area senators voted yes.
    And with that, the House decided to call it a day, while the Senate stayed in session.

  • Finally, some numbskull from The Hoover Institute is worried that this country is failing civics (here)…
    The New York Times headline from May could not have been more compelling: "Failing grades on civics exam called a 'crisis.'" The accompanying story reported bleak news from the latest National Assessment of Student Progress (widely known as the "nation's report card"). Among our present crop of high school seniors, only one in four scored at least "proficient" in knowledge of U. S. citizenship. Of all the academic subjects tested, civics and the closely linked subject of history came in last: "a smaller proportion of fourth and eighth graders demonstrated proficiency in civics than in any other subject the federal government has tested since 2005, except history, American students' worst subject."

    What else do you expect when conservatives spend decades waging an ideological war against “liberal academia” and calling for budget cuts in favor of math and science (yes, the latter two fields are crucial, but a well-rounded background in the arts is important also).

    This tells us about the budget trouble the “We The People” program in Bakersfield, CA faced (and if you’ll note, the program was supported by Dem U.S. House Rep Jim Costa, while Repug Rep Kevin McCarthy remained on the proverbial fence…no word if he eventually supported program funding or not). Also, this tells us how the Rhode Island legislature decided to terminate the only civics education specialist in the entire state.

    Also, what else do you expect when our 40th president manufactures an entire career out of claiming that government is supposedly the problem instead of the solution (and I think this post goes a long way towards explaining this country’s natural antipathy to studying government also, an abominable ignorance that we cultivate at our peril).

    And by the way, speaking of civics, government and history, I thought I’d offer the following excerpt from here as a timely reminder for the upcoming holiday…
    John Adams, founding father and second president of the U.S., wrote many letters to his wife. He wrote about his work, politics, gossip, their farm, and much more. Adams even wrote directions for celebrating Independence Day. If you're looking for the best way to celebrate the Fourth this summer, follow John Adams' direction for an authentic Fourth of July.

    Adams had strong feelings about Independence Day, as well he might. He and the others who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776 risked everything to do it; in the words of the Declaration, they pledged to each other "... our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." They became traitors, risking death itself, to create a new nation, governed by laws, not kings. And we all enjoy the fruits of their sacrifice today. Why not honor them by celebrating their way?

    Here's what John Adams thought we ought to do on Independence Day: "...It ought to be commemorated as a day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bell, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."

    So line up the kids and get ready to party like a founding father. First, teach them that the 4th of July is Independence Day. Sometimes that fact gets lost in the shuffle. Tell them the story about the colonists, about their desire to be free of the king and their wild notion that everyone, not just one guy, had rights. Then follow John Adams' directions…
    Sounds like we have our marching orders, people :-).
  • Thursday, June 30, 2011

    Thursday Stuff

    Finally, a "corporate citizen" who is actually honest (here)...

    ...and happy 60th birthday to Philly native Stanley Clarke.

    Thursday Mashup (6/30/11)

  • Gosh, didn’t Little Tommy Friedman just tell us the other day that “China had a peaceful internal transformation from Maoist Communism to capitalism”? If so, then please explain this (here)…
    China has boomed during three decades of economic reform, and has in many respects tried to distance itself from the Mao era, when tens of millions died from deprivation and state-directed violence. But Communist Party leaders still promote the myths and icons of that time to instill patriotism and loyalty in the population.

    The latest iteration, started by the ambitious party chief of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, is centered on singing Communist classics, and has been copied by central leaders for a nationwide mobilization to celebrate the 90th anniversary.

    Party officials have told schools, state-owned companies and neighborhood committees to organize choirs to sing red songs and stage musical numbers, celebrating Maoist classics like “The East is Red” and “Without the Communist Party There Would be No New China.” In Chongqing, even prisons are holding singalongs, and one psychiatric hospital has prescribed it for patients.

    The revival has moved well beyond just red songs in this municipal area of 31 million, whose urban core is built on foggy hills overlooking the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers. In initiatives reminiscent of the Mao era, the government has ordered each cadre to live with a family in the countryside for a month, transmitted Maoist slogans to residents via text message, and told Chongqing Satellite Television to fill prime-time hours with educational red programming and cut all commercial advertising.
    I wonder if this supposedly benevolent world economic power will remind its people of the following (here)…
    Within the first two decades of communist China’s existence, upwards of 60–70 million people died. They died from purges, murder, malnutrition, starvation, the collectivization of agriculture and an overall complete transformation of society through totalitarian communism. This happened primarily under the Great Leap Forward (1957–60) and the Cultural Revolution (1966–69).

    An entire nation and its people were forcibly molded into one gigantic social laboratory. Private possessions were eliminated, from clothes and hygiene products, to pots and pans, to the most basic liberties, from speech to press to conscience. “Private fires” for cooking food were banned, with the only permissible smoke being that which emanated from collective kitchens.
    And yes, I know who and what Paul Kengor is, but if anyone has proof that he’s wrong, please let me know.

  • And in other news, a certain V.D. Hanson is still an idiot (here)…
    …one thing seems unclear: How does an attack on private jet travel square with (Obama’s) present efforts to wow Wall Street fat cats and the junkets to Vail, Martha’s Vineyard, and Costa del Sol? Or for that matter with the once tax-exempt Kerry yacht, the private-jet networking of green capitalist Al Gore, and Nancy Pelosi’s government-paid-for jet flights back to the Bay Area?
    As I remarked to a friend recently, sometimes when I write these posts, I feel like a hotel maid or something like that, as in, “I just cleaned up one mess, and here you go making another!”

    As noted here…
    (The supposed Pelosi plane controversy is) just as dumb today as it was in February of 2007. That's when frustrated Republicans, aided by the press, completely manufactured the claim that the new Speaker of the House was going all diva on the Pentagon and demanding use of huge military planes to fly her and her pals around the country.

    Virtually none of the allegations were true. In fact, the line of attack became so irresponsible that even the Bush White House stepped in to wave the GOP and the press off the "silly" story.
    The Media Matters post also tells us that Pelosi supposedly demanded a 42-seat Air Force carrier.

    Uh, no.

  • Update: And yes, I realize Hanson was trying to attack Obama about the corporate jet tax loophole - here is a response.

  • Continuing, I really should tend to the latest corporate media garbage; as noted here, Mark Halperin called President Obama a “dick” because Number 44 had what Halperin considered the gall, I suppose, to criticize Congress on not raising the debt ceiling yet, with remarks along the lines of “Sasha and Malia (the first daughters) get their homework done a day early,” or something (and yes, Halperin apologized).

    As noted here…
  • Halperin was typically wrong on the supposed “grand bargain” of deficit reduction (here).

  • He said Obama didn’t have an alternative to Paul Ryan’s budget (remember that one?), even though Number 44 presented his budget in February (here).

  • Halperin told us Obama gave an economic “soliloquy” here (see, other “regular guy” politicians just talk to us, but effete Kenyan Marxist former community organizers who are too busy killing bin Laden to show us his Hawaiian birth certificate give “soliloquies” – sure).

  • He called financial reform “typically ignorant” Washington overreach here.

  • Halperin said Obama was more “polarizing” than Dubya or Bill Clinton here, as if it’s somehow Obama’s fault that the ratio between Dem approval and Repug disapproval is higher because the Repugs are often so irrational with their cases of Obama Derangement Syndrome.

  • He said Obama hasn’t installed an “economics commander in chief,” or something, which I’m sure would be news to Tim Geithner, whether you like the guy or not (here).

  • Halperin resurrected one of the all-time zombie lies here, saying the former PA Governor Bob Casey, Sr. was denied the opportunity to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because he was pro-life (Actually, it’s because he didn’t endorse the Clinton-Gore ticket – at least one other pro-life Dem was given the opportunity to speak…I will research this further if anyone compels me to do so, but I know this is correct).

  • And how can we forget this little “Photoshop” number from Halperin involving Sen. “There’s Something About Mary” Landrieu?
  • Also, I thought this Atrios post today was particularly timely (time for another blogger ethics panel, I guess).

    I’m in total agreement with kos on this (big surprise, I guess). MSNBC or any other corporate media outlet shouldn’t can Halperin because he was uncivil; they should do it because he doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about.

    Oh, and here is another interesting postscript, IMHO, concerning the original matter that Halperin so stupidly commented on (Heaven forbid that actual work would get in the way of "Orange Man" and his tee time, to say nothing of the other flotsam currently in charge of the U.S. House).

  • Further (local stuff coming up), it’s been awhile since I checked on our PA-31 State House Rep Steve Santarsiero; here is the latest…
    HARRISBURG, June 28 – State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, this week voted against a bill that would strip away victims' right to be fully compensated for their injuries and instead protect those responsible for those injuries – including corporate wrongdoers who harm innocent victims.

    Santarsiero said the legislation (S.B. 1131) would repeal "joint and several liability" in Pennsylvania, a legal concept that ensures injured parties in civil cases receive full compensation even if some parties responsible for the injury are unable or unwilling to pay.

    Santarsiero said under current law, a victim who has been injured or harmed by more than one wrongdoer is permitted to recover 100 percent of his/her damages from any one of the wrongdoers who are found legally liable. Under this proposed legislation, wrongdoers would only be responsible for the percentage of damage they are found liable for. If one party doesn’t have money to pay their share of the damage, the victim would not be able to recover that amount.

    "Repealing the joint and several liability law would significantly erode an injured person's ability to be made whole," Santarsiero said. "Victims of wrongdoing need and deserve protection under Pennsylvania law."
    HARRISBURG, June 29 – State Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero, D-Bucks, today released the following statement after the House of Representatives approved a $27.149 billion state budget bill for the 2011-12 fiscal year:

    "I voted 'no' on the state budget because it puts a disproportionate burden on students in Pennsylvania, while at the same time letting big corporations and big oil and natural gas companies off the hook from having to pay their fair share of taxes.

    "This budget slashes funding to our public schools by nearly $1 billion – an unprecedented attack on public education that will hurt our kids and cause school districts to raise local taxes in order to make up for the loss in revenue.

    "Both of our local schools will feel the pain of this budget, receiving significant decreases in total education funding for 2011-12. Council Rock will receive $904,824 less in total education funding, while Pennsbury will see a $1.706 million decrease.

    "The Pennsylvania Constitution requires that the General Assembly provide for 'the maintenance of a thorough and efficient public education' for the children of our Commonwealth. This budget, and some of the other legislation that the Republican majority is trying to pass, would not maintain public education. On the contrary, they would dismantle public education.

    "With its devastating cuts to higher education – $200 million – this budget shows an incredible lack of foresight into the best interests of Pennsylvania's future and a shocking misplacement of priorities.

    "What makes this budget especially harsh is the fact that we have at least $700 million in surpluses that could be used to restore many of these painful cuts. In addition, we are sitting on a great economic boon with our rich supply of Marcellus Shale natural gas, yet Republicans are choosing to ignore this potential revenue source.

    "I would understand if there were not other sources of revenue available, but those things are there and yet Republicans have not proposed to take advantage of either.

    "This budget is NOT a no-tax budget, as Republicans are claiming. It is a TAX-SHIFT budget, with middle-class homeowners and seniors being forced to pick up the tab through higher local property tax hikes.
    And speaking of the person primarily responsible for this atrocity, this article from Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Daily News yesterday tells us more about the often-cozy ties between one Governor Tom “Space Cadet” Corbett and the natural gas industry, dating back to Corbett’s election as PA Attorney General in 2004.

    Just another day in the life of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, virtually a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican Party; heckuva job, voters (and to contact Steve, click here).

  • Finally, today is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling that the New York Times and the Washington Post could publish the “Pentagon Papers”; as noted here, they were recently declassified and publicly released (with Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan as the primary individuals behind the story...more here).

    In the matter of the Wikileaks case (which I and a whole lot of other people consider to be today’s equivalent of the Pentagon Papers case), Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor said here that she believed a case involving Wikileaks would one day be heard before the High Court, which I suppose is inevitable (and to me, the only reason why “Scalito” and company wouldn’t be deferential to the executive branch of our government would be in the event that it was still headed by a Democrat).

    And speaking of both Number 44 and Wikileaks, this tells us what we can do on behalf of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged “Wikileaker,” if you will, to Julian Assange (the last I checked, the whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing still applied, didn’t it, Mr. “Constitutional Scholar” President?).
  • Wednesday, June 29, 2011

    Wednesday Stuff

    Gosh, look what the right-wing's supposed economic genius is up to. Wonder if the bloom is off the rose for our Beltway media's fair-haired boy?...

    ...and I would have put down Laura Meckler of the Murdoch Street Journal a little less politely, but the net effect is the same; good job, Mr. President (and leave it to the AP to come up with this total non-story...I'll trade a "gaffe" like this for the almost-weekly pratfalls of Former President Highest Disapproval Rating In Gallup Poll History)...

    ...and more like this...a lot more...

    ...and this is a video that's probably more appropriate for the fall or winter, but don't expect me to be able to remember it for that long.

    Tuesday, June 28, 2011

    Tuesday Stuff

    (Not sure about posting tomorrow, by the way...)

    Happy 85th birthday to the one and only Mel Brooks; I can't think of anyone else who could have come up with this clip (from "History of the World Part 1")...

    ...and maybe the question is too obvious, but I'm keen to ask it anyway; what kind of "religious values" does Governor Bully seriously think he's imparting to his kids by blowing off a constituent, but sucking up to Joe Scar when both ask just about the very same question (here)...

    ...and I give you the human gaffe factory known as Moon Unit Bachmann (and I would say this is a bit of untidy business - Stephanopoulos might as well be arguing with a table lamp)...

    ...and I guess these videos have been a bit edgy lately - so is this one :-).

    Tuesday Mashup (6/28/11)

  • I read over this item today on the supposed “negotiations” on the debt limit, and I had some thoughts (I put negotiations in quotes because we’re dealing with the nativist political bunch that is only interested in “moving the goalposts” on this and just about every other issue).

    To begin, I don’t believe it should be necessary for the president of the United States to involve himself (or herself, one day) in negotiations over raising the debt limit, which, as noted here, should be automatic. However, the Repugs and their noise machine (along with our utterly pliant corporate media) have, as usual, allowed demagoguery to reign in place of common sense to the point where it is necessary for President Obama to do just that (witness the utterly ridiculous decision to cave on Dubya’s stinking tax cuts, which generate absolutely nothing but wealth for people who definitely don’t need it – more on that here, as if we need it).

    I thought Atrios had some good stuff on this, as noted here. Also (and you’re not going to believe this), but I thought David Brooks of the New York Times actually made sense on this also as follows (here)…
    (Obama) has not educated the country about the debt challenge. He has not laid out a plan, aside from one vague, hyperpoliticized speech.
    I’ve heard about Obama supposedly looking towards The Sainted Ronnie R as a political “guiding light” of sorts, and I took that to mean that Number 44 seeks to imitate the delivery of a “message” that The Gipper honed through years of Hollywood acting and serving as the puppet of General Electric Corporation. Well, our “hopey changey” chief executive could do a better job, I think, of explaining (in a White House prime time address to the nation) exactly why we need to get rid of the Bush tax cuts and how we need to make smart financial decisions to help our economy to recover for real (some graphical stuff might be a good idea too, pictures generally being better than words and all that...and reminding about this can't hurt either).

    (By the way, I’ll have more to say about BoBo later.)

  • Next, Juan Williams of Fix Noise bloviates as follows (here, on the subject of marriage equality and the recent vote in New York state)...
    “[I]n the black community, people just can’t understand Obama on this issue because there just is not the strength of support for any form of gay union, gay marriage, civil [unions],” Williams said. “That’s what happened in California if you recall in terms of that referendum that sunk this effort in California. I don’t think the black community is going to walk away from President Obama on this but it is a fascinating dynamic to sit down with black ministers, black social leaders and talk about this. I mean they are back in the ‘50s on this subject.”
    I have a feeling that Williams (who I consider to be a wingnut in liberal disguise, let’s not forget) is definitely overplaying his hand on the whole “blacks-don’t-like-gay-marriage-because-of-black-clergy-and-social-leaders” thing, particularly when, as noted here, African Americans now support marriage equality by 51 to 48 percent (a small margin to be sure, but progress).

  • At least Williams hasn’t calling for “profiling” of gays (as if that’s possible anyway), unlike here.

  • Further, I must tell you that I’m having a hard time with a recent decision by Hangin’ Judge JR and The Supremes (not the Arizona campaign finance decision that invalidates a key part of that state’s law that triggered state payments of matching funds for publicly financed candidates whenever their privately funded opponents outspent them, bad though that decision is, as noted here).

    What I’m having a particularly hard time with is the recent decision that struck down a California law that banned the sale of video games to minors, as noted here.

    Including this rationale…
    “No doubt a State possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm, but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed,” (Justice Antonin) Scalia wrote, noting that even fairy tales such as “Snow White” and “Cinderella” feature graphic descriptions of violence.

    The court reiterated that the basic principles of free speech do not vary by medium and called the law’s attempt to restrict children’s access to depictions of violence “unprecedented and mistaken.”

    “This country has no tradition of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence,” the court stated. far as The Supremes are concerned, when the young one hunts Nazi zombies in “Call of Duty” as well as other creatures in “Left For Dead,” or these “zealot” things in “Halo Reach” (all X-Box games for the benefit of the uninitiated)…that’s the same as watching the witch turn into the dragon in “Sleeping Beauty”? Or watching Edmund Dantes exact his revenge in “The Count of Monte Cristo”?

    I think that is seriously whacked, people.

    And get a load of this from Hangin’ Judge JR hisself (along with “Strip Search Sammy”)…
    “Although the California statute is well-intentioned, its terms are not framed with the precision that the Constitution demands, and I therefore agree with the court that this particular law cannot be sustained,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts.
    Gee, somehow I don’t think this decision was “framed with the precision that the Constitution demands” either.

    I cannot believe that I’m actually in the same camp with Silent Clarence Thomas on this, but I am…
    In a dissenting opinion, Thomas argued the freedom of speech doesn’t include the right for minors to access content without going through parents or guardians. He argued the nation’s Founders intended speech to minors that bypasses their parents to be excluded from the First Amendment.

    “The historical evidence shows that the founding generation believed parents had absolute authority over their minor children and expected parents to use that authority to direct the proper development of their children,” Thomas wrote.
    A little heavy handed, but I think he’s on the right track here.

    However, I believe Justice Stephen Breyer (who, as far as I’m concerned, should be in charge of this bunch) got it right (he also dissented with Thomas)…
    “But what sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?” Breyer said.

    “What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman — bound, gagged, tortured and killed — is also topless?”
    Nail. Hammer. Head.

    Listen, if the video game sellers think the fine for selling M-rated games to minors is too high (I think it’s $1,100 in CA), or if they’re seeking some other type of a sanction as a penalty, I have no issue with that.

    However, this ruling also states that video game labeling is “unconstitutional.” Really?

    Then tell me where this “slippery slope” ends, Justices Scalia, Alito, Kennedy, Roberts, Kagan, Ginsburg and Sotomayor (and I’m surprised that the last three joined in this decision). Does this mean that, if a particular case is brought before the Court, they would be disposed to do away with the motion picture rating system also?

    Call me any name you want if you don’t think I’m really a liberal for opposing this, but it’s a funny thing – your perspective on this stuff definitely changes when you become a parent. And I don’t see where having to deal with an “M” label on a video game that is particularly violent or filled with sexual content is too big of a price to pay.

    (And given some of the atrocious rulings of the Roberts court, why do I have a sick feeling that the challenge to this monstrosity from Ohio will be the death knell for Roe v. Wade? Love to be wrong, though…)

  • Finally, I simply must return to David Brooks because, in a column today criticizing Obama once again, he came up with this lulu…
    In 1961, John F. Kennedy gave an Inaugural Address that did enormous damage to the country. It defined the modern president as an elevated, heroic leader who issues clarion calls in the manner of Henry V at Agincourt. Ever since that speech, presidents have felt compelled to live up to that grandiose image, and they have done enormous damage to themselves and the nation. That speech gave a generation an unrealistic, immature vision of the power of the presidency.
    I felt like my jaw dropped about a foot the first time I read that, so I had to read it again. I actually thought it was a goof…but no, we’re talking about BoBo here, so he was definitely serious.

    Gee, I wonder what kind of “enormous damage” BoBo is talking about?

    Only an utterly vain, jaded, well-kept and self-centered right-wing corporate media shill like Brooks could concoct something like that.

    Reading that paragraph reminded me once more of how grateful I am that I have a historical frame of reference that extends prior to the year 1980 or so. I can vividly recall when this country embarked on great goals to improve the quality of life in this country and our competitiveness among other industrialized nations (encouraged in JFK’s inaugural address)…and succeeded at those goals (cleaning up our environment, mobilizing our industrial might during wartime to defeat the Axis powers, building the interstate highway system, etc.). We didn’t spend weeks and months arguing about whether or not trying to achieve those goals was the supposedly “proper” role of the federal government and whether or not the states were supposed to take ownership of these projects instead (or, as former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert once put it, more or less, “we once landed a man on the moon, and now we can’t even build a tunnel to New York City,” a reference to this).

    I don’t know how many of you recall the film “Born on the Fourth of July” starring Tom Cruise and directed by Oliver Stone, based on the book by Ron Kovic (he served in Vietnam before he became paralyzed due to a spinal cord injury suffered in combat). The movie begins with Kovic and his family watching Kennedy’s inaugural address in rapt attention, hanging on every word uttered by our 35th president. That scene was replayed across the nation that day.

    Here is more on the speech as well as recollections from Ted Sorenson (who had an awful lot to do with it) here; as Sorensen noted, the intent of the speech was to accomplish multiple objectives, one of which was to assure other elderly world leaders (particularly Harold Macmillan, Charles De Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer) that the U.S. intended to continue honoring its international obligations.

    Yes, with the passage of time and 20-20 hindsight, we can look back on the Bay of Pigs fiasco and other Kennedy missteps as the product of inexperience and a certain degree of hubris which, I’m sure, everyone who holds that office possesses to one degree or another. However, Kennedy’s inaugural address was (and remains) a stirring vision of what America once was and could be one day again (to say nothing of the rest of the world as well).

    And of all the memorable quotes from the speech noted in the Wikipedia article and the Sorenson story, this is one of the ones that has stuck with me the longest over all these years…
    - If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
    No wonder BoBo hated it.
  • Monday, June 27, 2011

    Monday Mashup (6/27/2011)

  • I had an item left over from last week that I guess I didn’t feel like getting to, so I’ll give it a shot now here…
    …the greatest responsibility for the collapse of the housing market and the near "Armageddon" of the American economy belongs to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and to the politicians who created and protected them. With a couple of prominent exceptions, the politicians were Democrats claiming to do good for the poor. Along the way, they enriched themselves and their friends, stuffed their campaign coffers, and resisted all attempts to enforce market discipline. When the inevitable collapse arrived, the entire economy suffered, but no one more than the poor.
    Yeah, I know this is about what you would expect from Mona Charen of; yet another zombie lie about how Fannie and Freddie supposedly are primarily to blame for the near-cratering of our economy.

    In response, I give you the following (here)…
    Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did not, by themselves, cause the subprime mortgage crisis. Legislative attempts to rapidly wind down Fannie and Freddie will not prevent another recession. Worse yet, it could further harm the housing market.

    It was the preponderance of exotic loans in addition to subprime borrowers that made Fannie and Freddie's loan acquisitions so toxic.

    It is critical to understand, however, that because of regulations, they took on less of these loans than most banks. According to several analysts, they increased their acquisition of these loans to maintain market share in what had become a very competitive market.

    As GSEs, Fannie and Freddie weren't required to offset the size of their loan portfolio with enough capital from stock sales to cover it. This was a result of both their lobbying efforts and the fact that their loans were insured, so they felt they didn't need to. Instead, they used derivatives to hedge the interest-rate risk of their portfolios. When the value of the derivatives fell, so did their ability to insure loans. (Source: NYT, Fannie, Freddie and You, July 14, 2008).

    This exposure to derivatives proved their downfall, as it did for most banks. As housing prices fell, even qualified borrowers ended up owing more than the home was worth. If they needed to sell the house for any reason, there would lose less money by allowing the bank to foreclose. Borrowers in negative amortization and interest-only loans were in even worse shape. Even though subprime and Alt-A loans only made up 17% of Fannie and Freddie's portfolio, they were responsible for over half of their losses in 2007.

    Elimination of Fannie and Freddie will dramatically reduce the availability of mortgages and increase the cost. Banks have not, and would not, step in to guarantee mortgages. Studies have shown that, without Fannie and Freddie, mortgage interest rates could go as high as 9-10%. This would damage the housing market before it's had any chance to recover.
    As noted here, though, misinforming about the root causes of our current economic crisis is something that comes naturally for Charen (Fannie and Freddie are hardly perfect, but they were trying to hold onto their market share threatened by those primary market offenders and TARP beneficiaries who, of course, utterly escape blame in Charen’s column).

  • Also, this CNN story tells us that our dreaded 112th Congress, while it decried federal spending, paid out $6.1 million in bonuses to congressional staffers.

    I don’t have a problem with fair compensation for a hard day’s work, but I do have a problem when one of the most extreme offenders was elected by the racist-sign-and-funny-hat crowd but will still claim to burnish his tea party “bona fides.” As the story tells us…
    Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Florida, held a hearing on the subject in March, opening with a strong statement, "Our taxpayers can no longer be asked to foot the bill for these federal employees while watching their own salaries remain flat and their benefits erode."

    But as he criticized federal workers as being overpaid, Ross reported $8,750 in what looks like bonuses to his personal office staff. His office did not respond to a request for clarification and comment.
    Oh, and Ross also came up with the idea of selling off 70 percent of Utah that is federally owned (here); why he is interested in such a potential sale on the other side of the country, far away from his constituency, is something I cannot imagine.

  • In addition, I’ve noticed a great deal of wingnut harrumphing out on those Internet tubes over a segment on the Pledge of Allegiance during NBC’s recent coverage of the U.S. Open golf tournament (leading to this charming moment by Repug U.S. House Rep Todd Akin of Missouri). Apparently, the source of the outrage is the network’s omission of the phrase “under God” when reciting the Pledge, for which the network has apologized.

    I wonder if those who are complaining are aware of the fact that the “under God” phrase was only added to the Pledge in 1953 (and I also wonder if they’re aware of the “Bellamy salute” that used to be practiced when reciting the Pledge, which looked suspiciously like the salute given to a certain Nazi Germany Fuhrer, as noted here)?

  • Finally, The Moustache of Understanding was in rare form yesterday in the New York Times (here)…
    The most important truth about the Middle East: It only puts a smile on your face when it starts with them. If it doesn’t start with them, if they don’t have ownership of a new peace initiative, a battle or a struggle for good governance, no amount of U.S. troops kick-starting, cajoling or doling out money can make it work. And if it does start with them, they really don’t need or want us around for very long.
    I can’t think of a word to describe my astonishment upon reading that paragraph, considering that it also came from the person responsible for this.

    As for how the cold war ended, that’s easy. It ended when the two governments — the Soviet Union and Maoist China, which provided the funding and ideology propelling our enemies — collapsed. China had a peaceful internal transformation from Maoist Communism to capitalism, and the Soviet Union had a messy move from Marxism to capitalism. End of cold war.
    I realize that Friedman absolutely has a huge man crush on the country that is fast becoming the world’s premier economic power (aided in no small part by our stupidity in aiding that process particularly in the IT industry, at the expense of workers in this country), but I don’t sense much of anything that is “peaceful” about that nation (this provides the context Friedman chooses to ignore).

    Since then, we have increasingly found ourselves at war with another global movement: radical jihadist Islam. It is fed by money and ideology coming out of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran. The attack of 9/11 was basically a joint operation by Saudi and Pakistani nationals. The Marine and American Embassy bombings in Lebanon were believed to have been the work of Iranian agents. Yet we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, because Saudi Arabia had oil, Pakistan had nukes and Iran was too big. We hoped that this war-by-bank-shot would lead to changes in all three countries. So far, it has not.
    Gosh, Mr. “The Mall Is Flat,” from what I recall, the most vocal media cheerleader for Dubya’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure In Iraq (his “war by bank shot” if you will) was one person…YOU!!!!

    As noted here, Friedman once said (infamously) that Democrats voted “with their noses plugged” for Al Gore and John Kerry when both ran for the White House.

    I wonder if he wrote this column in the same posture?
  • Sunday, June 26, 2011

    Sunday Stuff

    Yes, it is indeed awesome that same-sex marriage rights won in New York on Friday (here), but lest we forget about Silent Clarence Thomas and his would you put it?..."influence" issue, Rachel Maddow and Ian Millhiser remind us here (just because we don't have Anthony Weiner to kick around any more doesn't mean that the Thomas thing has gone away)...

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

    ...and by the way, here's a mellow little tune about obsession :-).