Friday, November 30, 2012

Obama Stops Doing the Republicans' Job

Timothy Geithner delivered Obama's plan for the fiscal cliff to congressional Republicans yesterday, and they don't like it:

“If the president is going to lead on this critical issue, he has to propose a plan that can actually pass,” said Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri. “This is simply not a serious proposal.”
The real problem the Republicans have is that Obama is now negotiating exactly the same way they do: he's only proposing tax cuts and stimulus, and is totally ignoring Republican demands. Since Republicans seem to think cutting the budget is so easy, he's going to let them propose those cuts.

In the past Obama has tried take Republicans requirements under consideration and work them into his legislation. That's why he abandoned single-payer health care and adopted Romneycare as the basis for health care reform. He naively hoped that would coax some Republicans to vote for it. But they rejected the plan anyway as a basic tactic to deny him any victories whatsoever, and continue to whine about it to this day.

Again and again Obama has crafted proposals to meet Republicans half way even before he started talking to them. Naturally, Republicans turn Obama's already-compromised proposals into starting points, and demand even more concessions.

Obama has finally learned his lesson. He has proposed only those things that he thinks are important: extending tax cuts for everyone but the top 2% and eliminating the idiotic debt limit authorization process. The latter will prevent Congress from blackmailing the president (be he Democrat or Republican) every time it becomes necessary to increase the debt limit.

So instead of negotiating with himself trying to figure out what Republicans want, Obama is laying his requirements on the table. Now it's up to Republicans to propose the budget cuts and entitlement "reforms" they want to make up the rest of the budget balancing act.

Yes, Obama is going to let Republicans take all the heat from Social Security and Medicare recipients by forcing John Boehner to propose the cuts he wants. If Republicans want to keep taxing Mitt Romney at at one-half to one-third the rate middle-income Americans pay, Obama is going to make them propose that. If Republicans want to keep bloated weapons procurement programs afloat, Obama is going to make them propose cuts to veterans' programs, NASA, highway construction, farm subsidies, education, and programs that people need to feed their children.

Instead of constantly negotiating with himself beforehand, Obama is finally making Republicans do their job. It's up to Republicans to stop stalling and calling for Obama to "lead." He's done so. Now it's the Republicans' turn.

The Factory is Closing

The overall birthrate decreased by 8 percent between 2007 and 2010, with a much bigger drop of 14 percent among foreign-born women. The overall birthrate is at its lowest since 1920, the earliest year with reliable records. The 2011 figures don’t have breakdowns for immigrants yet, but the preliminary findings indicate that they will follow the same trend.
This has raised some concerns that there won't be enough young people to support the aging population. We've been depending on immigrants (who have a higher birthrate than native Americans) to prop up Social Security to keep the population growing.

For most of this time of steep decline Republicans have been on an anti-immigrant tirade. The primary claim has been that Mexicans come here to have "anchor babies" so that they can enjoy the fabulous welfare and medical benefits America has to offer. In response states like Arizona passed laws of questionable constitutionality in response to this fear mongering. The reality is different:
But after 2007, as the worst recession in decades dried up jobs and economic prospects across the nation, the birthrate for immigrant women plunged. One of the most dramatic drops was among Mexican immigrants — 23 percent.
At the peak of anti-immigrant hysteria the exact thing that Republicans were decrying was declining. But since Mitt Romney's devastating loss to President Obama Republicans have been doing a total 180 on immigration. Now they want to make nice with Hispanics.

The truth is, the recession hit the poorest people — including immigrants — the hardest. Immigrants don't come to this country to bear their children, they come here to get jobs that pay more than they can make at home. The fact is, health care in Mexico is free. Many Americans have gone to Mexico to take advantage of this. So there's little incentive for pregnant women to leave their extended families and free health care in Mexico to come to the United States where they're in constant danger of being deported and they have to register with the government to obtain welfare benefits.

Republicans have always tried to frame the immigration debate in terms of illegal aliens coming to this country to steal our jobs (or steal our welfare, they can never decide which). But the real problem has always been that employers created an attractive nuisance by hiring illegal aliens for more than they can make in their home countries, while paying wages lower than native Americans can afford to accept. The proof is in the pudding: when the recession made those jobs dry up, illegal immigration declined.

But the other side of this is that when people move to America they become Americans:
Latino immigrants who have been here longer tend to adopt U.S. attitudes and behavior, including having smaller families, Suro said. He added that the decline in the birthrate among Mexican immigrants is probably so sharp because the rate was so high that there was more room for it to fall.
As a Salvadoran said while pregnant with her third child:
“To have more babies, it costs more,” she said as her 2-year-old son Emanuel played nearby.

Pointing to her belly, she said she plans to have her tubes tied after giving birth. “The factory is closing,” she said with a smile.

Hey, Check Out The New Sidebar!

I've made some changes to the sidebar and brought the site more in line with the 21st century. Scroll down and you will see the latest political news, world news, business news, US news and (for my local homies) Minnesota news.  A little further down is a list of the tags (finally) on the front page. Click on any tag (US Debt, US Deficit, for example) and you can see all my posts on said subject.

One other note...since the election, we've doubled our traffic here at Markadelphia and get between 400 and 500 page loads a day with over 7,000 page views in the last month. Mega!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Where is the Sense?

Peter Bergen's recent piece pretty much jibes with what I have been saying all along regarding the GOP mental meltdown over Benghazi. Mr. Bergen is CNN's national security analyst and the author of "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden -- From 9/11 to Abbottabad."

What is the Republican theory of the case against Rice? It appears to boil down to the idea that leading Democrats covered up the involvement of terrorists in some way connected to al Qaeda in the Benghazi attack during the run-up to the close presidential election because President Obama and others in his administration had for some time said that al Qaeda was close to strategic defeat.

I guess that's it but, again, I have to wonder...where was the outrage after 9-11? Then we had 3000 civilians killed on our home soil in the worst attack in US History. This was an attack in a massively destabilized country on a CIA listening station (not an embassy or consulate as is commonly thought) with a US Ambassador, who knew the risks, two CIA contractors and a Navy seal losing their lives. To the Right, this means that all of our women and children were raped/tortured/killed by Islamists whilst they were shitting on the flag.

Anyway, Bergen raises an interesting question, which I put to all of you..

Does this case make sense? First, you would have to accept that Obama, Rice and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton all knowingly deceived the American public about what had happened at the Benghazi consulate.

Second, it was the intelligence community, not officials at the White House or State Department, that eliminated from the talking points used by Rice after the Benghazi attack the suspected involvement of the Libyan jihadist group, Ansar al-Sharia.

That's right. How do we know this?

According to accounts of former CIA director David Petraeus' closed door testimony about Benghazi to congressional intelligence committees earlier this month, the intelligence community eliminated references to Ansar al-Sharia in the talking points so as not to tip off members of the terrorist group that the CIA believed that they were responsible for the attack.

The conspiracy therefore was not to mislead the American public but to mislead America's enemies.

Hmmm...sounds familiar, eh?

If Rice had gone beyond her unclassified talking points and said that Ansar al-Sharia was suspected to be behind the Benghazi attacks, no doubt she would now be being hounded for the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.


Bergen also raises a third point that isn't discussed enough.

Third, it is worth recalling that whenever there is a news event in a chaotic country on the other side of the world, first accounts about the event are often wrong. Remember the erroneous reports about another big news event last year; the death of Osama bin Laden. Initially, it was portrayed by the Obama administration that bin Laden had died during a firefight with U.S. forces in Pakistan and had used his wife as a human shield. As more accurate information subsequently came in from the field, administration officials clarified that bin Laden put up no resistance and had not used his wife as a shield. This is not conspiracy; this is the fog of war.

If the Obama administration had said, "We don't know what happened" how would that have honestly looked? McCain and his little band of pants squirters know this and they are just playing politics.

Some more great points...

It is also worth recalling that the situation in Benghazi was so chaotic and dangerous that it took three weeks for the FBI to get in to the city to investigate what had happened at the consulate. And it took even more time for the facts to emerge that the Benghazi mission wasn't really a consulate in any conventional sense, but was more of a CIA listening station and that two of the four Americans who had died in the attack weren't diplomats as initially portrayed but were, in fact, CIA contractors.

Facts, folks, are stubborn things.

I have no doubt that the witch hunt is going to continue and accusations will be flying around about cover-ups and the suffix "gate" is going to be attached to all of this. But I predict that right around that time or maybe a little after, we're going to catch some of the guys that were responsible for the attack and then the truth will come out.

And that's when McCain and the others are going to realize why the GOP keeps losing elections.

Let Warren Unburden Them

Warren Buffett's recent opinion piece seen in many papers and online over the last few days is a fine example of how completely ridiculous the Right is in regards to federal government tax policy. He begins with an anecdote.

Suppose that an investor you admire and trust comes to you with an investment idea. "This is a good one," he says enthusiastically. "I'm in it, and I think you should be, too." Would your reply possibly be this? "Well, it all depends on what my tax rate will be on the gain you're saying we're going to make. If the taxes are too high, I would rather leave the money in my savings account, earning a quarter of 1 percent." Only in Grover Norquist's imagination does such a response exist. 

Only in all their imaginations does such a response exist. I can say with near certainty that anyone on the Right that says they do this or has known people to act in this fashion is lying. As Mr. Buffett has said many times previously, people invest to make money. Government tax policy doesn't enter into it.

And facts are facts...

Between 1951 and 1954, when the capital gains rate was 25 percent and marginal rates on dividends reached 91 percent in extreme cases, I sold securities and did pretty well. In the years from 1956 to 1969, the top marginal rate fell modestly, but was still a lofty 70 percent -- and the tax rate on capital gains inched up to 27.5 percent. I was managing funds for investors then. 

Never did anyone mention taxes as a reason to forgo an investment opportunity I offered. Under those burdensome rates, moreover, both employment and the gross domestic product (a measure of the nation's economic output) increased at a rapid clip. The middle class and the rich alike gained ground. 

They both gained ground because there was less inequality. The money that was used from the higher tax revenues paid for investments in infrastructure and education (the GI Bill, for example). This, in turn, led to a higher skilled labor force and an economy that was robust and innovative. This is not the case today.

The group's average income in 2009 was $202 million -- which works out to a "wage" of $97,000 per hour, based on a 40-hour workweek. (I'm assuming they're paid during lunch hours.) Yet more than a quarter of these ultrawealthy paid less than 15 percent of their take in combined federal income and payroll taxes. Half of this crew paid less than 20 percent. And -- brace yourself -- a few actually paid nothing. 

This is how money has been transferred upwards as Stiglitz mentions in "The Price of Inequality."

So what does Warren think should be done about this?

We need Congress, right now, to enact a minimum tax on high incomes. I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that. A plain and simple rule like that will block the efforts of lobbyists, lawyers and contribution-hungry legislators to keep the ultrarich paying rates well below those incurred by people with income just a tiny fraction of ours. Only a minimum tax on very high incomes will prevent the stated tax rate from being eviscerated by these warriors for the wealthy. 

And what will the result be?

Our government's goal should be to bring in revenues of 18.5 percent of GDP and spend about 21 percent of GDP -- levels that have been attained over extended periods in the past and can clearly be reached again. As the math makes clear, this won't stem our budget deficits; in fact, it will continue them. But assuming even conservative projections about inflation and economic growth, this ratio of revenue to spending will keep America's debt stable in relation to the country's economic output. 

I agree and, as Warren notes, this will involve major concessions by the Right and the Left. All sides in this debate have signaled a willingness to bend so I do have some hope.

And what about that figment of the Right's imagination who is overly obsessed with "uncertainty?"

In the meantime, maybe you'll run into someone with a terrific investment idea, who won't go forward with it because of the tax he would owe when it succeeds. Send him my way. Let me unburden him. 

 Maybe I should send ol' DJ from TSM to Mr. Buffett...hee hee...:)

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vampire Capitalists Drain Life from Hostess

Everyone is lamenting the death of the Twinkie now that Hostess is declaring bankruptcy. The right is blaming the unions for staking their favorite snack food in the heart. However, the untold story is that greedy CEOs, hedge funds, and a private equity firm not unlike Bain Capital all had a hand in the demise of Hostess.

But like a zombie in The Walking Dead, Hostess will rise from the grave and start producing deathless Twinkies once again. How do I know? We've seen this horror show once before.

An article in Fortune from last July goes into detail on the current fiasco and its genesis. The last time Hostess declared bankruptcy was in 2004. A private equity firm, Ripplewood Holdings, bought up the assets:
Hostess was able to exit bankruptcy in 2009 for three reasons. The first was Ripplewood's equity infusion of $130 million in return for control of the company (it currently owns about two-thirds of the equity). The second reason: substantial concessions by the two big unions. Annual labor cost savings to the company were about $110 million; thousands of union members lost their jobs. The third reason: Lenders agreed to stay in the game rather than drive Hostess into liquidation and take whatever pieces were left. The key lenders were Silver Point and Monarch. Both are hedge funds that specialize in investing in distressed companies -- whether you call them saviors or vultures depends on whether you're getting fed or getting eaten.
The unions already took a big hit at Hostess, so the current dilemma is not all their fault: we can also blame the vulture capitalists and greedy CEOs, of which Hostess had six over eight years:
[Brian] Driscoll, the CEO, departed suddenly and without explanation in March. It may have been that the Teamsters no longer felt it could trust him. In early February, Hostess had asked the bankruptcy judge to approve a sweet new employment deal for Driscoll. Its terms guaranteed him a base annual salary of $1.5 million, plus cash incentives and "long-term incentive" compensation of up to $2 million. If Hostess liquidated or Driscoll were fired without cause, he'd still get severance pay of $1.95 million as long as he honored a noncompete agreement.
When the Teamsters saw the court motion, Ken Hall, the union's secretary-treasurer and No. 2 man, was irate. So much, he thought, for what he described as Driscoll's "happy talk" about "shared sacrifice." Hall says he tracked Driscoll down by phone and told him, "If you don't withdraw this motion, these negotiations are done." Hostess withdrew the motion a few weeks later when Driscoll left -- the same Driscoll who, Hostess told the court in its motion, was "key" to "reestablishing" Hostess's "competitive position going forward."
The unions are not blameless either, as is clear from their demands for featherbedding (different drivers must be used to deliver different products). But you can certainly see why they're so intransigent in the face of such blatant incompetence and greed in management, after giving up so much the last time.

Thus, there's a whole host of reasons why Hostess is in trouble. Not the least of which is that demand is down for its products because they're simply bad for your health.

But bankruptcy doesn't mean the end of the Hostess brands, just like the last time. In bankruptcy the recipes, trademarks and facilities of Hostess will be liquidated. Which means private equity firms and hedge funds—maybe even run by the same guys—will be able to buy them for pennies on the dollar. And go right back into business, but this time with a much bigger hammer to smash the unions with.

And that's really the point here. These days the balance of power between unions and management is heavily weighted toward management. In the past labor staged strikes, but that's increasingly rare. Now we hear almost exclusively about lockouts. From Hostess, to tire factories, to sugar beet processing plants, to operas and symphony orchestras, to national basketball, football and hockey leagues, management doesn't care if they drive their organizations into the ground with lockouts, as long as they can break the unions.

Despite what Mitt Romney says, corporations, private equity firms and hedge funds are not people. Like vampires, they can die and be resurrected from the dead only to suck the life out of the people who work for and invest in them.

The entire purpose of corporations is to insulate management from personal financial responsibility for their decisions. Hedge funds and private equity firms use other people's money to engineer takeovers. Corporate bankruptcy laws encourage the hedge fund managers to destroy the company in order to start over with a clean slate. All the while these ghouls pay the ridiculously low 15% capital gains tax rates on their salaries because of a loophole in the tax code.

These vampire capitalists drain the life out of companies like Hostess, yet always increase their own wealth, without ever having to risk their own financial well-being. They can then dissolve into corporate bankruptcy, only to reform in their crypts under a new corporate logo.

Those of you who thought you had staked the last vampire capitalist when Mitt Romney lost the election were wrong. Go get your garlic, holy water and crucifixes. There's more work to do.

Florida Republicans Admit Voter Suppression

An article in the Palm Beach Post reveals that Republican efforts in Florida to change election laws to restrict early voting were intended to suppress the votes of Democrats and minorities:
“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” [former Florida Republican Party chairman Jim] Greer told The Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only. … ‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us,’ ” Greer said he was told by those staffers and consultants.

“They never came in to see me and tell me we had a (voter) fraud issue,” Greer said. “It’s all a marketing ploy.”
Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist concurs:
Crist said party leaders approached him during his 2007-2011 gubernatorial term about changing early voting, in an effort to suppress Democrat turnout. Crist is now at odds with the GOP, since abandoning the party to run for U.S. Senate as an independent in 2010. He is rumored to be planning another run for governor, as a Democrat.

Crist said in a telephone interview this month that he did not recall conversations about early voting specifically targeting black voters “but it looked to me like that was what was being suggested. And I didn’t want them to go there at all.”
On the bright side, it's not necessarily about racism: “The sad thing about that is yes, there is prejudice and racism in the [Republican] party but the real prevailing thought is that they don’t think minorities will ever vote Republican,” Greer said.
But a GOP consultant who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution said black voters were a concern.

“I know that the cutting out of the Sunday before Election Day was one of their targets only because that’s a big day when the black churches organize themselves,” he said.
According to the article, other former Republican campaign consultants confirm the accusations of voter suppression, which the Florida Republican Party denies. Instead they're attacking the men who ratted on them. They've indicted Greer for taking money from the party, which he admits is true but says they knew about it. And Crist became a persona non-grata when he ran as an independent for Senate.

The simple fact is, more people in this country are inclined to vote Democratic than Republican. Two-thirds of Americans self-identify as liberal or moderate, which means they're much more likely to be Democrats given the stridently radical stands of the current Republican Party.

Minority voters tend to be on the lower end of the economic scale, which means they have a harder time getting to the polls on election day. Things that make it easier for them to register and vote make it harder for Republicans to win. So Republicans want to make it harder for them to vote by restricting registration and taking away early voting.

Come on, now. Was that really so hard to admit?

Tom Ricks Pokes The Bubble

I guess this is what happens when you bring reality into the have a 90 second interview!

I still don't get the anaphylaxis over Benghazi. The Right bitches about letting our enemies know too much information (pulling out of Irag, Afghanistand timelines) and then they turn around and bitch when we don't say enough (Susan Rice's comments following the attack). Which is it?

That's I LFMAO when I read stuff like this. What is John McCain "significantly troubled" about? The fact that he's attempting to still be politically relevant? Susan Rice was going on the intel she had at the time from the CIA (the public story). Or she deliberately made misleading statements in order to deflect attention away from the investigation that is going on behind the scenes. I'm predicting that when we catch these guys, we're going to find out and Sens McCain, Graham, and Ayotte are going to look pretty fucking dumb.

Of course, we all know what this is really about...a deflection away from the American Taliban who make the GOP look bad when they release moronic and highly bigoted videos. All that bluster makes for good theater!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Guess The Answer Is Yes

The other say I asked if we were seeing the beginning of the end of Grover Norquist. I think it's safe to say now that the answer is yes.

Elections have consequences and the main one that we seem to be seeing so far is a return to sanity. While there has not been any sort of deal yet on avoiding the so called "fiscal cliff," the signals from many Republican leaders say that they are willing to be flexible. That's a good thing.

Right up until the election, I was pretty pessimistic at the thought of there possibly being a day when we no longer had to manage the fantasies of the Right. Now, there is indeed a glimmer of light. Sure, there will still be people like Bill Whittle running around and making money off of his merry band of followers but they won't have any effect on elections.

And that is a very, very good thing!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Uh Oh

Is this the beginning of the end for Grover?

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rewarding Bad Behavior

Israel and Hamas have agreed to yet another truce after the Hamas terrorists who run Gaza unleashed a barrage of missiles on Israel and Israel retaliated with targeted assassinations of Hamas leaders and bombings of terrorists who hide their missile launchers among Palestinian civilians. The toll after this latest skirmish was 161 Palestinians and five Israelis.

The ostensible reason Hamas started this conflict, which would be Rocky XLII if we numbered them like movie sequels, is the five-year blockade of Gaza. The blockade has left residents of the tiny strip of land starving and without any means to generate income. Israel imposed the blockade to prevent terrorists bringing missiles into Gaza. But as the daily rain of missiles upon Tel Aviv proved, the blockade is an abject failure.

Ironically, this outburst of terrorism has empowered Hamas, raising their status among Palestinians, and has opened the door to ending the blockade.

Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority, which controls the West Bank, has been trying peaceful means to move Israel towards a two-state solution. Hamas and the PA have been competing for the devotion of the Palestinian people for years now. Europe and Abbas have been using diplomatic means, trying to get the UN to recognize Palestinian statehood, but American UN Ambassador Susan Rice has vigorously blocked it as the Israelis demanded. Despite Republican assertions that the Obama administration is Israel's worst enemy.

Again and again, Israel has stymied all peaceful Palestinian attempts at resolving the issue, but has caved to terrorist demands. Every time Palestinians kidnap an Israeli soldier the Israelis ultimately cave in and release hundreds of Palestinians from prison to get one guy back. They'll even do it for a corpse. Admittedly, most of the Palestinians the Israelis release are innocent schmucks "arrested" for just this purpose. But, still...

For years now Israel has stiffed the peaceful Abbas, but now it looks like Israel will again reward terrorist Hamas by cutting a deal on the blockade. What message does this send to the Palestinians? Violence works. Terrorism works. Kidnapping works. Negotation and diplomacy? Not so much.

You have to wonder why Israel chooses to proceed this way. Are they just that stupid, or is there a more cynical reason? Do Bibi Netanyahu and the conservative Likud Party have a symbiotic relationship with Hamas? Do Likud and Hamas constantly rekindle these deadly conflicts solely to prop up their own popularity?

If so, Hamas and Likud are trading human lives for political power. To be sure, Hamas is far more disgusting in the treatment of its own people as human shields. But Israel does the same thing by having its citizens to build illegal settlements on Palestinian territory, intentionally placing themselves in grave bodily danger, which then requires the Israeli military to protect settlers on that stolen land, requiring further assimilation of Palestinian land as "buffer zones."

While Hamas is using human shields to launch attacks on Israel, Israel is using human swords to carve up Palestinian lands.

In the end, there appears to be no incentive for Likud to agree to peace. As long as Israel can portray Palestinians as dangerous terrorists like Hamas, they can avoid a diplomatic solution that would require them to give up land. It'll only cost a few Israeli lives each year to keep the conflict going, maybe even fewer if they can get all the bugs out of Iron Dome. And a random bus bombing every few months will remind Israelis how much they really need Likud in power to protect them from random bus bombings.

The status quo allows Israel to continue to slowly expand its borders every year, and allows Hamas to gain popularity among Palestinians. It's win-win for everyone. Except the millions of Palestinians who live in abject poverty, the hundreds of Palestinian children who die from malnutrition and the dozens of Israelis killed by terrorists each year.
The irony here is that if America saw more photos like this of Mitt Romney, he may have gotten a few more votes.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks

I am thankful for...

My beautiful children who amaze me every day...
My wife who gets better and better looking as she gets older (love that bubble butt:))
My students who hit me with a metaphorical shovel to the head on a consistent basis...
My family who, despite all the crabbiness, are damn fine people to spend a life with...
My friends who make me laugh...
Comic books which stoke my inner geek...
Music which soothes my soul in ways that nothing else can...

And finally, the American people, for not believing the lies and electing the right man for president!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Productivity Dividend

Getting back to Stiglitz.

Many years ago Keynes posed a question. For thousands of years, most people had to spend most of their time working just to survived-for food, clothing, and shelter. Then, beginning with the Industrial Revolution, unprecedented increases in productivity meant that more and more individuals could be freed from the chains of subsistence living. For increasingly large portions of the population, only a small fraction of their time was required to provide for the necessities of life. The question was, How would people spend the productivity dividend?

This is that quote from Chapter 4 that I wanted to pull out and examine on its own. The reason for this is that it ties directly into our economy. In the United States, people spend that productivity dividend on consumption and, as Stiglitz notes, their consumption relative to others. This is where that whole "Keeping up with the Jones'" comes into play. In particular, he notes that Europe opted for more goods AND more leisure while America opted for less leisure and more goods.

So, are we really working harder and harder "for the family?" Or are we simply playing a continual game of catch up with no end regarding consumption? No doubt that our economy is heavily based on consumption but is that a good thing? Should we consider more leisure time and less of keeping up with the Jones'? As we  consider how to mend our economy, we should examine the basic question of the productivity dividend.

Another idea that came out of this quote was the issue of fear and anxiety about the future. There are many on the Right that believe America is going to end soon because of the president and the Democrats. Would they be worried about this if they had to provide the basics (food, clothing, shelter)? Further, would anyone worry as much about all the silly stuff we fret over if this were the case?

I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Guess That Settles That

Analysis: Tax Cuts Don't Lead to Economic Growth, a New 65-Year Study Finds

The paper is a good reminder to be humble about taxes as a tool for growing the economy. They remain, above all, a tool for collecting revenue and tweaking incentives for specific economic behavior. Congress has cut tax rates repeatedly over the last 60 years, while the country and the global economy have undergone considerable changes that probably had a greater effect on growth.

Yep, pretty much. And what did the GOP do when they saw this?

Nonpartisan Tax Report Withdrawn After G.O.P. Protest

Stomped their feet and stormed down the hallway...yelling at dad the whole way!!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

A Bubble That Has Burst

From Andy, over at

Older, male, white voters are having a lot of trouble understanding the election results. They and everyone they knew just assumed that the country would never re-elect a tax-and-spend liberal. Fox News told them this was impossible. Now reality is beginning to kick in--things have changed and are not likely to go back to the way they used to be. They are also flummoxed by the voters accepting same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana in some states. Many of them see the country as Mitt Romney does, with makers and takers and the takers are taking over. 

This is a fundamentally different situation than in the past. Then, a loss was just a loss--maybe the other side had a better candidate or ran a better campaign. Even after George McGovern and Michael Dukakis' massive defeats, Democrats didn't think this was the end of the America that they had always known. It was simply a lost election and they could try again in 4 years. The difference now is probably that way back then, everyone watched one of the three television networks and read the same newspapers. Now it is possible to live entirely in a bubble of your own choosing and simply have no idea of what is really going on in the country. 

Someone who watches only Fox News and listens to talk radio and reads on the Internet is going to be completely detached from reality, so an election result like this comes completely out of the blue for them. For Democrats, this is not true. Someone who watches only MSNBC, reads the New York Times and follows Websites like Huffington Post, Talking Points Memo, and Daily Kos, knew that it would be a fairly close election but that Obama and the Democrats had a small, but consistent, lead. The electoral vote predictors at all those places as well as here were pretty close to the final result. The new reality is that when you hide in a virtual cave of your own making, emerging out into the sunshine can be frightening.

When people look back on this election, they will note that this was the moment that the bubble burst. If you get your information from Drudge, Fox, other right wing sources and spend time frequenting places like Kevin Baker's site, The Smallest Minority, you likely think that Americans are stupid for voting for the president and the Democrats. Of course, this is not true. It's not really a question of intelligence. As I have said all along, it's a question of willful ignorance brought on by insulation. This election showed that they can't do that anymore. People saw that what they were saying wasn't real and what they were advocating was truly awful. Can you blame them with garbage like this?

Barack Obama has repeatedly circumvented the laws, including the Constitution of the United States, in ways and on a scale that pushes this nation in the direction of arbitrary one-man rule. 

Now that Obama will be in a position to appoint Supreme Court justices who can rubber stamp his evasions of the law and usurpations of power, this country may be unrecognizable in a few years as the America that once led the world in freedom, as well as in many other things. 

This "transforming" project extends far beyond fundamental internal institutions, or even the polarization and corruption of the people themselves, with goodies handed out in exchange for their surrendering their birthright of freedom.

Have you noticed how many of our enemies in other countries have been rooting for Obama? You or your children may yet have reason to recall that as a bitter memory of a warning sign ignored on election day in 2012. 

What on earth is he talking about? A country that may be unrecognizable? What enemies are rooting for him? Good grief...

Their shock (and sadly with it, their behavior) is about to get worse. The economy is improving and things are getting better, despite the dire predictions of all of America becoming like Detroit. What will they do then? People will stop paying attention to them in droves and they will go back to being a small group of people playing make believe around the 21st century equivalent of a short wave radio: the internet.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

In today's world...indeed.

I've been meaning to point out this post over at The Moderate Voice for several months but lost track of it as election season heated up. The first paragraph grabbed me right away for obvious reasons.

There are myths proclaimed by some right-wing partisans and Ayn Rand acolytes that “rugged individualists” working alone have been responsible for America’s great accomplishments and that government is the enemy of progress. In their quest to reduce taxes, particularly for the wealthy, and cut the size of government, this myth has been promulgated by ideologues to gain support from the middle-class, needed to elect legislators who share their vision.

Yeah, and the American people recognized those myths for what they were 12 days ago.

Businesses could not function without the nation’s infrastructure (though it currently needs work). Building the interstate highway system, bridges and tunnels and maintaining them, was and is a federal concern. The integrity of America’s ports and airports, and air traffic control, all comes under the aegis of federal agencies. Products and people could not move if it were not for the government. Apportioning the broadcast spectrum for TV, radio, cell phone companies and so forth, insuring the safety of transmission lines, pipelines, and so forth, are all functions of the federal government. 

In short, they didn't build that. Not that the government isn't completely wonderful, though.

The federal government is inefficient in many of its operations, but its expansion has occurred during both Democratic and Republican administrations. Those who rail against the government should focus on fixing it and not just making it smaller so they can pay less in taxes. And the money saved should go to paying down the deficit. For different reasons, both the weak and strong among us need a robust federal government in today’s world. 

In today's world...indeed.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Way Forward on Gun Violence

Police have arrested a man for plotting another movie murder spree:
A southwest Missouri man accused of plotting to shoot up a movie theater during the new "Twilight" film was charged Friday after his mother contacted police, telling them she worried her son had purchased weapons similar to those used during the fatal Colorado theater shooting.
I realize that the Twilight films are bad, but are they that terrible?

This incident shows us a new way to reduce gun violence. Forget FBI background checks and waiting periods: anyone who buys a gun should be required to have a note from their mom.

It's win all the way around: it would promote traditional family values and respect for parents. It would put a big dent in the illegal gun market; straw buyers would have to explain to their mothers why they need to buy a fifth Glock semiautomatic pistol in a month. And all those gangstas in the hood would never get their mommas to sign off on gun purchases, because those women know exactly what happens to young men with guns.

Of course, this is tongue-in-cheek. But it's clear this problem is only growing worse.

In the last 15 years hundreds of people have died at the hands of mentally unstable people who should never have been able to get firearms. From Columbine, to Tucson, to Aurora, to Oak Creek, to Minneapolis, where this September a guy who was just fired shot eight people and leaving five dead, including himself a UPS man who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every other week another five or ten people are killed by some nut with a gun, who then kills himself or is shot by a cop.

I agree that we don't need a nanny state watching over our every move. Maybe we just need a nanny.

What David Said

Most of the media agree that the behind closed door testimony of former CIA Director, David Patraeus, still leaves much in doubt about what happened in Benghazi last September 11th. I disagree. In fact, I'd say it confirms what I have been saying all along: the administration withheld information they had on the attacks for reasons of national security.

But he said the administration initially withheld the suspicion that extremists with links to Al Qaeda were involved to avoid tipping off the terrorist groups.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with this so the Right's mental meltdowns over Benghazi strike me as odd. They're saying that the administration purposefully misled the public on whether or not the attack was Al Qaeda linked and, instead, kept talking about the movie trailer. This seems odd to me for two reasons. First, since when did the Right embrace Julian Assange and call for more openness when it comes to military intelligence? It seems to me that they are now acting just the way he does which, in my view, is dangerous on a number of levels. The reason why we win and lose wars is due to intelligence and some government secrets, in particular with the military.

Second, throw a dart somewhere and you're likely to hit a conservative pundit bitching about how we announce things to our enemies (pulling out of Iraq, Afghanistan etc) and how that's bad. So why should we announce, mere days after the attack when an investigation is still under way, that we know it's Al Qaeda and we're coming to get them? This would be a terribly stupid thing to do.

I also don't get why there is all this bile being heaped upon Susan Rice. The Patraeus testimony confirms that when she made her remarks, she was going on what the intelligence said at the time...the intelligence that was not classified, mind you. Besides, she's the US ambassador to the UN, not a member of the CIA or the State Department. The attacks on her are tremendously unjustified.

Petraeus also said some early classified reports appeared to support Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, when she said five days after the deadly raid in Libya that it had grown out of a protest that was hijacked by extremists — comments that some Republicans contend were meant to downplay the significance of the attack before the presidential election. Even now, the intelligence community has evidence that some attackers were motivated by protests earlier that day in Cairo over an anti-Islamic video, sources familiar with the intelligence said.

I realize that there are still a lot of sour grapes after the complete incompetence pre and post the 9-11 attacks regarding the Bush Administration. But Benghazi isn't even in the same ballpark, folks. And we aren't even done with the investigation yet on what exactly went wrong and why. Obviously, the Right's not going to be patient about this and have even more sour grapes about the election.

Perhaps they might want to learn a thing or two about what happened on November 6th and withhold further comment until we hear more testimony from the people who were more actively involved.

Friday, November 16, 2012

We Have a Winner!

In the last 20 years we have seen a dozen Mitt Romneys parade across the landscape. There was the greedy young man with money coming out of his ears. There was the pro-choice Mitt Romney who ran against Ted Kennedy. There was Mitt Romney the gubernatorial candidate who supported gay rights. There was the severely conservative Mitt Romney who would instantly sign any and all anti-abortion bills that came across his desk. There was the self-sacrificing Olympics-saving Mitt Romney. There was the one-percent Mitt Romney talking sneeringly to wealthy donors behind closed doors about the lazy 47%, quickly followed by the candidate-of-the-100%-in-the-last-few-weeks-of-the-campaign Mitt Romney.

Now that the election is over and the Etch a Sketch has been shaken for the final time, we have a winner! Ding ding ding! The envelope please...

The sneering 1% Mitt Romney!

In a conference call with 400 wealthy donors Romney said that Obama won by promising gifts to the 47%: blacks, Hispanics, young women and college students. Some of his comments include:
With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest was a big gift. Free contraceptives were very big with young, college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents’ plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008.

You can imagine for somebody making $25,000 or $30,000 or $35,000 a year, being told you’re now going to get free health care, particularly if you don’t have it, getting free health care worth, what, $10,000 per family, in perpetuity — I mean, this is huge.
These comments demonstrate Romney's utter lack of empathy and total inability to  imagine the lives of somebody making that $30,000 a year. Such people often have to work multiple jobs because employers intentionally limit their hours to avoid having to pay full-time benefits such as health care. A single mom with two kids who works two jobs for 56 total hours a week at Walmart and Papa Johns Pizza at $10 an hour will still only make $29K and get no benefits. $29K is not enough to pay for a car, gas, rent, food and clothing, much less any kind of preventive health care for the kids.

How can such a person ever get ahead in Romneyworld?  Every waking hour of every day is spent working, sleeping, taking care of kids or driving them to grandma's for daycare.

The time when just anyone with gumption could open a pizzeria or corner store to get a start in business is gone, destroyed by the ilks of Sam Walton and "Papa" John Schnatter and their nation-wide chains that wiped out millions of mom-and-pop operations across the country.

John Schnatter gained notoriety this past summer when he said that his pizzas would cost more because of Obamacare. Exactly how much? Less than a nickel a pizza.

Hundreds of thousands of independent small businesses have been destroyed by giant corporations like Walmart and Papa John's. Yes, big companies are more efficient and sell stuff cheaper. That's because they employ fewer people than the competitors they destroy and don't pay their workers a living wage.

Romney thinks America is still the way it was in Forties, Fifties and Sixties when S. Truett Cathy (Chick-Fil-A), Ray Kroc (McDonald's) and Sam Walton founded their empires. But more and more money and power are concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer businesses, and those businesses have monopolies on vast sectors of the economy. Companies like Chick-Fil-A, McDonald's and Walmart have locked out the majority of small entrepreneurs.

Go to any mall in the suburbs in any part of the country and you'll see the same set of 30 chain stores selling products made in Asia. Sixty years ago you would have seen dozens of independent small businesses selling American-manufactured goods in the downtown of every small city. These days most suburbs don't even have downtowns.
 I hope the 1% Mitt Romney isn't the last one we'll see. Maybe one day he'll realize the reason he lost the election was because wealthy supporters like John Schnatter and the Walton heirs created all those people who need the things Obama is fighting for.

A Hypocritical Pile of Poo

If you skip a meeting on classified intelligence on Benghazi to bitch about how the administration missed key intelligence points, you are a weenis. Furthermore, I've had it with the Right bitching about Benghazi. Where do they get the stones to bitch about intelligence failures after 9-11 and Iraq? Condeleeza Rice was handed a report that said "Al Qaeda determined to attack in US" in August of 2001. President Bush was briefed on this report. A month later 3,000 innocent civilians died and the sound from the Right?


Yet when three members of our armed forces and a highly trained ambassador who knew the risks being in what was essentially a war zone were killed, the Right acts as if all of our nation's women and children were raped and slaughtered. What a hypocritical pile of poo...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Great Economic News

The United States has exported 187 billion dollars worth of goods-an all time high and up 3.1 percent-for the month of September. This narrows the trade deficit to its lowest point in two years, at 41.5 billion.

Driving this uptick was the sale of the iPhone 5 as well as oil exports. A recent article in the New York Times (highlighting an IEA report) show the US is set to become the world's top oil producer in five years. In fact,

The United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world’s leading oil producer by about 2017 and will become a net oil exporter by 2030, the International Energy Agency said Monday.

Wow. Imagine how different a world that is going to be. It's going to give me an enormous amount of satisfaction to have the power shift in the way it is going to do so. So how has this happened?

That increased oil production, combined with new American policies to improve energy efficiency, means that the United States will become “all but self-sufficient” in meeting its energy needs in about two decades.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Avoiding Innocent Victims: 10 Rules for Affairs

The Petraeus affair may have claimed an innocent victim in the person of Gen. John Allen, the man who was expected to be the next head of NATO. He claims he was never alone with Jill Kelley, and I'm inclined to believe him.

This highlights a serious problem ushered in by the Internet.  Because anyone can send you email, a crazy person can become infatuated with you and inundate you with gushing and suggestive emails. If that person happens to be important in your social circles, as Jill Kelley was in Gen. Allen's, you may feel obligated to respond cordially to their incessant barrage of spam. According to reports, they exchanged 20-30,000 emails, though that number is almost certainly inflated.

If you're completely innocent, even an apparently benign cyberstalker like Kelley can cause you major grief. A malicious and competent one can destroy your life by setting up dummy email accounts that look like they belong to you and filling them with all sorts of false evidence.

This problem isn't really new. In the past a delusional admirer could flood your mailbox at home and at work with love letters suggesting all manner of liaisons. But at least you could burn the evidence; in the age of the Internet nothing ever goes away--except that spreadsheet you were working on when your computer crashed.

If Allen's career has in fact been trashed, the blame can be squarely placed on Paula Broadwell's insanely jealous crusade against the flirtatious Jill Kelley, and Petraeus' foolish decision to engage in an affair with a loose cannon.

This has prompted me to draw up 10 rules for high-ranking officials looking to have an affair.
10: Don't communicate via email, Twitter, Facebook, or Dropbox (though MySpace is probably safe by now). In fact, don't use the Internet at all. 
9: Don't use your normal cell phone or landline to contact your paramour. Get a burner cell phone and don't use your credit card to buy it. 
8: Don't have suggestive conversations at work or at home. 
7: Do choose paramours of equal rank and social standing: that is, people who have as much to lose as you do if the affair becomes public. 
6: Don't wear cologne, perfume, lipstick or makeup, or anything that will leave a strange scent on your paramour, and shower after trysts (but don't go out with wet hair!). 
5: Don't do the deed in public, in your home, at your office, or in your car. 
4: Don't change your daily routine, don't go anywhere out of the ordinary, and don't be seen in public with your paramour, especially kissing or touching in any way. 
3: Don't have an affair with a jealous clingy person, or someone who would cheat on you. Which is sort of an oxymoron, isn't it?

2: Don't leave bodily fluids on blue dresses. 
And the top rule:
1: Don't have an affair with someone who's already written one book about you, and will stand to make millions selling a second book about an affair with you.
Looking over this set of rules, it reads more like a set of contact protocols for a CIA agent than a prescription for romantic liaisons. You'd think our master spy would be more adept at this sort of thing...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Site Update

Hey folks, quick site update. We've started getting comments that are making it through the spam filter so I had to change the settings so you have to register to comment. I'm truly sorry about this but I can't stand seeing anymore comments selling xanax and cleaning them out every hour on the hour. So, no more anonymous posters.

Petraeus Falls off the Pedestal

The most amazing thing about the whole Petraeus affair, now spilling over to Gen. John Allen, is how utterly unamazing it is.

These men, at the pinnacle of power in the military and the intelligence community, turn out to be regular schmoes just like the rest of us. The story is sounding more and more like a bunch of teenage kids having a war on Facebook.

It goes like this: Petraeus starts an affair with Paula Broadwell, using Dropbox to get around the email trail. Allan starts an affair with Jill Kelley, exchanging thousands of emails. Broadwell sees that Kelley is also emailing Petraeus daily and sends Kelley threatening emails. Kelley complains to an FBI friend about the emails. Mr. FBI becomes obsessed the case and with Kelley, and sends her shirtless photos of himself.

What is it about using the Internet that makes everyone's IQ drop 100 points? How can people using government computers and who are constantly surrounded by aides and guards and secret service protection details possibly think they can keep these affairs secret?

You'd think we'd learn to expect this sort of thing after Tiger Woods, Anthony Weiner, Chris Lee, John Edwards, John Ensign, Newt Gingrich (two or three times), Bill Clinton, Larry "Wide Stance" Craig, David Vitter, Ted Haggard, Mark Sanford, Mark Foley and half the Republican House leadership during the Clinton impeachment debacle, and on and on and on and on.

And that's just in the last several years. The history books are full of sordid stories of presidents, prime ministers, princes, priests, popes and prophets undone by their inability to keep their penises in their pants.

Looking on the bright side, at least Petraeus and Allen weren't having affairs with subordinates.

The takeaway, for the nth time, is that it is a colossal mistake to put men like Petraeus on a pedestal. Yeah, he's a smart guy. But he's just a guy, like anyone else.

Nobody—nobody—is worthy of the adulation that we're so eager to heap upon them. Not Petraeus, not the pope, not the president, not Mohammed. Their work can and should be praised on its merits, but their persons deserve no worship. They're all just human beings, every bit as flawed as the rest of us.

Regular schmoes have affairs too, but no one is watching them. They have little to lose and will only disappoint their families and friends if they get caught. 

So the question is, why do these important men keep doing this? Does our elevating them to godhood make them lose perspective, buy into the hype and think they can do no wrong? Or do they consider themselves regular schmoes just doing a job, unworthy of the attention lavished upon them and therefore under no particular compulsion to lead an exemplary life?

I don't know. Maybe it's having their brains pickled in testosterone for fifty years...


I'm quite curious these days as to why many on the Right are so quiet on the whole Patraeus affair, especially since it has now spilled over into other areas of the Defense Department. Even more puzzling is how they continue to focus the blame on the president when we are now finding out that there was obviously something really off between the CIA, the DOD and the State Department in terms of Benghazi and David Patraeus.

Is the Defense Department such a sacred cow that any improprieties can be conveniently ignored? Patraeus?

I never thought I'd link a Brietbart article on this site but when the source of much of their Benghazi meltdown is the woman who brought down the Director of the CIA, I guess I don't really have a choice. 

This article reveals a very key point that throws a giant wet blanket on the cover up wank fest going on with the Right. If the attackers were trying to get into some sort of CIA secret holding facility, wouldn't it make sense to keep this issue quiet because of national security? After all, the Right continually reminds us how people like Julian Assange and his commie buddies are traitors. So, why is it now OK and absolutely necessary to find everything out about Benghazi?

Oh, they can win the argument and prove the president wrong.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Real-Life John Galt

Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is the story of John Galt, a titan of industry who refuses to be exploited by the tyranny of a government that taxes him too much. President Obama's reelection has purportedly prompted a real-life John Galt to action, in the person of Robert E. Murray, CEO of Murray Energy.

The day after the election Murray read a prayer in front of staff members and fired 150 workers from two of his coal mines because, he says, Obama will destroy the coal industry. (The fictional John Galt is an atheist, by the way.) But the fact is, Murray's coal mines are losing money not because of taxation and environmental regulation, but because his filthy and inefficient nineteenth-century product is losing market share to a much cleaner and more efficient twentieth-century product.

Many companies have force-fed employees pro-Romney propaganda in this election cycle, a tactic Romney promoted. Other CEOs besides Murray threatened to fire workers if Obama won, though it's not clear how many have carried through. One nameless Las Vegas businessman claims to have done so, but David Siegel, the Florida timeshare billionaire who threatened mass firings, has instead given employees a raise.

Murray, however, delivered on his threat. He has long used the threat of firings to blackmail employees to donate to Republicans. He set up a PAC and "encouraged" employees to contribute to it with payroll deductions, which have totaled $1.4 million since 2007.  The tactic is a nifty way to get around campaign finance laws, which limit how much money Murray can personally give to candidates. Murray is also the CEO who shut down a mine in Ohio and forced employees to attend a Mitt Romney speech without pay. Not all employees donate voluntarily:
The Murray sources, who requested anonymity for fear of retribution, came forward separately. But they painted similar pictures of the fund-raising operation. “There’s a lot of coercion,” says one of them. “I just wanted to work, but you feel this constant pressure that, if you don’t contribute, your job’s at stake. You’re compelled to do this whether you want to or not.” Says the second: “They will give you a call if you’re not giving. . . . It’s expected you give Mr. Murray what he asks for.”
Murray Energy is in financial trouble, to be sure, but it's not because of excessive regulation or any "war on coal." It's due to competition from cheap, clean-burning natural gas obtained from fracking.

As I've written before, the price of gas has been so low recently that energy companies are losing their shirts, according to none other than the head of Exxon, Rex Tillerson.

Because of that, more and more utilities are turning to natural gas turbines instead of coal-fired power plants. Natural gas is cheaper and safer to produce, easier to use, more flexible, and cleaner. It can generate electricity, heat homes and cook food. It doesn't cause mercury pollution or acid rain. It emits less CO2 per kilowatt hour produced. It's more easily transported through pipelines or in liquid form. It doesn't produce filthy coal slurry that poisons rivers and streams, as has happened at least seven times with Murray's coal operations. It doesn't leave toxic clinkers after burning. Coal mining requires miners to work in filthy conditions a mile underground, or decapitate entire mountaintops to expose coal seams. Natural gas turbines can be turned off and on almost at will, and don't have long startup times like coal-fired plants. And gas turbines use much less water than coal to produce the same amount of electricity, which is important as the nation is still in the grip of a drought with no end in sight.

By switching electricity generation from coal to natural gas the United States has reduced CO2 emissions to what they were 20 years ago.

I'll be the first to admit that natural gas fracking has its problems. In their rush to exploit the new technology many operators have taken shortcuts that have spilled toxic fracking fluids, polluted groundwater and even caused earthquakes. But by slowing down, developing better regulations and licensing only conscientious operators, the problems with fracking can be minimized, all while making natural gas profitable again. And of course, we should be working hard on developing twenty-first century technologies that eliminate the problems of fracking.

But instead of acknowledging the reality of technological and competitive forces that have undermined his antiquated business model, Murray blames his losses on the president and the laws that keep Americans safe and healthy.

It's a blatantly dishonest bait-and-switch argument by a greedy coward. And that's all these John Galt wannabes really are.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Sunday Dedication

Today I am thinking about Army Cpl. Andrew Wilfahrt who died on Feb. 27, 2011, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive device blew his 31-year-old body apart. Andrew was gay and DADT  hadn't quite been repealed when he slipping the surly bonds of earth on that day. But it was soon after.

Andrew was from Minnesota and the election last Tuesday also saw a defeat the marriage amendment. I can't think of a better way to honor his memory than to have hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans stand up and say no to something that would have limited individual rights.

Rights that he died defending.

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again. (Psalm 71:20-21)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Still Missing the Point

Tuesday's election results have conservative Christians wondering what went wrong, with Romney losing and so many states embracing gay marriage:
“Millions of American evangelicals are absolutely shocked by not just the presidential election, but by the entire avalanche of results that came in,” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Ky., said in an interview. “It’s not that our message — we think abortion is wrong, we think same-sex marriage is wrong — didn’t get out. It did get out.

“It’s that the entire moral landscape has changed,” he said. “An increasingly secularized America understands our positions, and has rejected them.”
These guys are still missing the point. The problem is not that everyone who voted against them rejects their moral positions. We just believe it's wrong for religious groups to use the power of state and federal government to force their moral beliefs on the whole of society. That "we" includes atheists, agnostics, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Democrats and even libertarian Republicans.

Personally, I think it's best for kids to have a father and a mother who are married. Alcohol and marijuana are a stupid waste of money, time and brain cells. Anal sex can spread venereal disease, hepatitis and E. coli infections. Oral sex is unsanitary and disgusting. Cheating on your spouse is wrong. I would never encourage my wife or sister to have an abortion. But these things, done properly, are not automatically detrimental to society or the people who do them

Though the folks bemoaning their losses on Tuesday refuse to acknowledge it, their campaign to legislate their beliefs on abortion, gay marriage, contraception and other sexual practices is no different than the Taliban enforcing strict Sharia law in Afghanistan.

Once we go back down the road of legislating religious morality, eventually that power will be used to undermine other religions, even those that currently consider themselves to be allies in the fight against gay marriage. After all, just 50 years ago many believed John Kennedy's Catholicism disqualified him to be president.

People came to this country to escape the endless bloodshed that swept Europe in the pogroms of Christians against Jews, Catholic inquisitions against heretics, and wars between Protestants and Catholics.

And it's why the First Amendment was added first.

They Have Been Failing You

One of the main "story behind the story" bits of this election was how the conservative media completely failed. Dick Morris predicting a landslide? Karl Rove whining to the other Fox anchors about how we shouldn't rush to judgment on Ohio, even though their guys in the backroom just called it? It was really a sad thing to watch.

Conor Fridersdorf pretty much nailed it.

Before rank-and-file conservatives ask, "What went wrong?", they should ask themselves a question every bit as important: "Why were we the last to realize that things were going wrong for us?"

Because they live in a bubble.

It is easy to close oneself off inside a conservative echo chamber. And right-leaning outlets like Fox News and Rush Limbaugh's show are far more intellectually closed than CNN or public radio. If you're a rank-and-file conservative, you're probably ready to acknowledge that ideologically friendly media didn't accurately inform you about Election 2012. Some pundits engaged in wishful thinking; others feigned confidence in hopes that it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy; still others decided it was smart to keep telling right-leaning audiences what they wanted to hear.

But guess what? You haven't just been misinformed about the horse race. Since the very beginning of the election cycle, conservative media has been failing you. With a few exceptions, they haven't tried to rigorously tell you the truth, or even to bring you intellectually honest opinion. What they've done instead helps to explain why the right failed to triumph in a very winnable election.

So why do you keep putting up with them?

My only hope now is that readers of Kevin Baker's site (and other right wing blogs) will realize that all the talk of impending Armageddon is failing them as well.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Amnesty Amnesia

The day after the election I opined that demographic shifts would require the Republicans to change their policies in order to remain politically viable. The shift took exactly one day, and on Thursday Republican pundits began to concur with my analysis in droves.  Sean Hannity endorsed immigration amnesty. Charles Krauthammer, in a piece in the Washington Post, wrote:
[Hispanics] should be a natural Republican constituency: striving immigrant community, religious, Catholic, family-oriented and socially conservative (on abortion, for example).

The principal reason they go Democratic is the issue of illegal immigrants. In securing the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney made the strategic error of (unnecessarily) going to the right of Rick Perry. Romney could never successfully tack back.

For the party in general, however, the problem is hardly structural. It requires but a single policy change: Border fence plus amnesty. Yes, amnesty. Use the word. Shock and awe — full legal normalization (just short of citizenship) in return for full border enforcement.
This sounds reasonable enough. But it's going to be hard for the Republican Party to do a full 180 on amnesty, because it's more than just changing a bullet point in a party platform.

For decades Republicans have depended on the Southern Strategy for victory. That strategy, often credited to Richard Nixon, involves stoking racial prejudice among certain southern whites. Prior to the 1960s the south was reliably Democratic (because Republicans were the party of Lincoln), but by using racist code words and "dog whistles" like "states rights" Nixon was able to end the Democratic Party's hold on the Solid South. Reagan did the same in the 1980s, when he talked about "welfare queens." Romney was still doing it when he said "Obama gutted welfare reform."

But over time, with increasingly positive images of blacks in popular culture (Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, Halle Berry, Will Smith, Ice Tea), and the total devotion to hip hop by white teens, African Americans were becoming more mainstream and non-threatening. Conservative blacks like Clarence Thomas, Herman Cain and Alan West further eroded the efficacy of the Southern Strategy.

So, in the 2000s Republicans morphed the Southern Strategy into anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiments. These foreign invaders who can't even speak English are stealing our jobs! Never mind that we would never consider doing those jobs ourselves because they are too dangerous, or back-breaking, or degrading and don't pay enough.

In states like Arizona, Georgia, and Mississippi, Republican state legislatures have enacted (or tried to enact) tough new immigration laws, intruding into questionable legal territory. The Republican Party embraced these attitudes nationally, leaving only a few outliers like Rick Perry. Mitt Romney, whose own Mormon church has a long history of racism, tore into Perry for breaking the party line on immigration.

Now, the people persuaded by the Southern Strategy are not some abstract them situated south of the Mason-Dixon line. They include my dad, who lives in Minnesota. When my sister M got engaged to a Hispanic American my dad disowned her. When my sister S went to M's wedding in Texas, he refused to speak to S for years. When my sister J's daughter, N, got pregnant by a Latino boyfriend, my father had a two-fer: he disowned them both.

I am therefore one of the millions of people who are directly affected by this stupid, senseless and divisive racism that the Republican Party has been perpetuating and exploiting to their political advantage for decades.

And the word that most disgusts my father, the word that caused him to despise John McCain as much as he loathed Ted Kennedy? Amnesty.

How are people like my dad going to react to a Republican Party that embraces amnesty for illegal immigrants, in what is undeniably an openly cynical political ploy just to gain more votes? Republicans like Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation invented the health care insurance mandate, but as soon as Obama accepted the compromise that included it, they decreed the mandate to be the end of freedom and democracy.

Will people like my father develop instant amnesty amnesia on command from the Republican Party, like they forgot that they supported the health care mandate? Or are their attitudes on race so deeply ingrained that they will stay home on election day? I'm sure Krauthammer thinks that since they have nowhere else to go, they'll just blindly continue voting Republican.

But is Krauthammer right in blithely assuming that my dad is a Republican patsy who will sit down, shut up and do what he's told? Or will people like my dad join third parties and vote for candidates like George Wallace, as my dad did in 1968?

In other words, is the Republican coalition of big business, stubborn tribal whites, NRA gun enthusiasts and anti-abortion and anti-gay crusaders about to come apart?

Thursday, November 08, 2012

A Gerrymandered Mandate

Republicans love to talk up their "mandate" when Republicans win, and deny that Democrats have one when Democrats win.

So it is this year. Republicans say President Obama's victory is no mandate because he only won 50.4% to 48% of the popular vote. In the electoral college the difference is much more marked. If Florida is decided for Obama he'll win 332-206 (or 303-235 if Florida goes to Romney).

When George Bush "won" in 2000 he actually lost the popular vote 47.9% to Gore's 48.4%. Electorally he barely squeaked by, winning 271-266, and doing that only because the Supreme Court stepped in with a 5-4 decision to prevent Florida from conducting a recount. Yet Republicans claimed a huge mandate for their programs of military spending increases and tax cuts for the wealthy.

When George Bush won in 2004 he took the popular vote by 50.7% to Kerry's 48.3%, with a 286-251 electoral advantage, a lead that hinged on Ohio which had very serious irregularities in the computer voting system built by Diebold, a company with ties to the Republican Party. Republicans again claimed a huge mandate for Bush.

When Barack Obama won in 2008 he won the popular vote by 52.9% to McCain's 45.7%, with a 365-173 electoral shellacking. Yet Republicans claimed that Obama had no mandate whatsoever, that he was wrong to pursue the stimulus programs and the health care and financial reforms he promised during the election and that he was too "partisan."

Republicans say Obama's 2012 victory is not a mandate because it's the worst performance a sitting president ever had, because he "only" beat Romney 50.4% to 48%, or a margin of 2.4%. This is a lie of course: Bush beat Kerry by the identical 2.4% margin in 2004.  And they somehow forget that George H. W. Bush lost his reelection bid in 1992 to Bill Clinton. 

Now some Republicans are saying voters gave them a mandate for lower taxes by returning Republicans to the House. This is completely false.

Republicans kept the House because congressional districts across the country are gerrymandered so that incumbents retain their seats. The gerrymandering lock was strengthened in this cycle because Republicans held so many state legislatures after the 2010 census when the entire country was redistricted. That situation has already been reversed in Minnesota, which gave Democrats commanding majorities in both houses of the legislature on Tuesday. But redistricting allowed Michele Bachmann to keep her seat this year; she won by a mere 4,207 votes while outspending her Democratic challenger 12 to 1. Most of the $23 million she spent on the campaign was raised from contributors outside Minnesota.

Because of the way congressional districts are gerrymandered, a status quo House result doesn't tell us what "the people" really want. You have to look at the results a little more closely. The fact is, six Tea Party House freshmen in swing districts lost their bids for reelection. Tea Party rape fantasizers Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost their Senate bids in Indiana and Missouri, which should have been gimmes for Republicans. Barack Obama won the presidency. And Democrats held on to the Senate, even though 21 of the 33 Democratic seats were up for election.

The election definitely tilted in favor of the Democrats, but the only mandate they have from "the people" is that they do their jobs, come to a reasonable accommodation with the Republicans and get the economy moving again. The mandate for the Republicans is the same, with additional provisos that they stop sabotaging all legislation and appointments, and abandon their tactic of running out the political clock in the vain hope of some Rovian electoral magic in 2016.

Perhaps it will be easier for Republicans now that their number one priority is no longer making sure Barack Obama is a one-term president.

What Needs To Done?

If there is one thing that has left a very bad taste in my mouth about the election this year, it's the low voter turnout. As of this post, we are over 10 million short of the last election. I realize that 2008 was an historic election but I feel an enormous amount of dismay at the fact that out of the 210 million or so people that are eligible to vote, only 120 million voted (130 in the last election).

Folks, this sucks. What needs to be done to get those extra 90 million people in the voting booth?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Was Hurricane Sandy God's Vote for Obama?

Republicans love to invoke God's will at the slightest hint of meteorological catastrophe. For people like Pat Robertson, every flood, drought, hurricane and tornado is evidence of God's displeasure with a gay pride parade or an abortion clinic.

Karl Rove said that Hurricane Sandy was Obama's October Surprise, and Dick Morris blamed the hurricane and Chris Christie for Obama's victory.

But would God really hammer millions of people on the east coast, in mostly Democratic states, merely to drive home the point that the country would be better off with a Democrat running FEMA? Or was God punishing those Democrats with a hurricane, hoping that the infrastructure in the cities would be destroyed and urban dwellers wouldn't be able to cast their votes, allowing rural and suburban Republicans in those states to stage an electoral coup and win one for the Mitter?

If so, God would be guilty of the largest election tampering scheme in history, dwarfing the fevered Republican dreams of ACORN operatives running around impersonating dead people at the polls. Since natural disasters hurt everyone equally, perhaps the right will stop pretending that God actually has anything to do with them. After all, if God has been siccing earthquakes and hurricanes on us lo these many millennia, he's the largest mass murderer in the history of the world.

Now, I'd be the first to agree that Chris Christie threw Mitt Romney under the bus when Hurricane Sandy hit. Christie was never enthusiastic about Romney, whom he barely mentioned when he addressed the Republican national convention in August. But the truth is, no Republican wanted Romney: he was everyone's third or fourth choice, even among other money men like Sheldon Adelson. Most Republicans would have preferred someone like Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich or Herman Cain, but they knew the rest of the electorate considers those guys to be incompetent or nuts. So they settled on the guy who likes like a generic Central Casting president.

Besides, what's good for Chris Christie is not what's good for Mitt Romney. First and foremost, Christie needs to make sure his state recovers from the hurricane. Second, Christie is governor of a mostly Democratic state, and he needs to work with Democrats (something Romney might appreciate). Third, Christie may have presidential aspirations, and a Romney presidency would effectively close him out of the running in 2016.

But despite any cynical speculation about Christie's motives for embracing Obama after the hurricane, putting our differences aside and working together to make this country better is the right thing to do. Partisans like Rove and Morris complain bitterly about Christie, but that's what the people of this country want to see. Even John Boehner is also making some encouraging statements, in his own gruff way.

If guys like Chris Christie can lead the Republican Party out of the wilderness and back into the light, more power to him.

The Times, They Are a-Changin'

For years it's been obvious that long-term demographics predict the demise of the Republican Party as currently constituted. The question has been when that would kick in. Now we have the answer: 2012.

President Obama won reelection largely on the strength of support from women, minority and younger voters. Those voters turned out for him in droves in 2008, and the question was whether that could be sustained.

Many commentators talk about how Obama "lost" the white vote, implying that there was some kind of racial bias of whites against the president. I'm not so sure. The president won in "white" states like Minnesota and Wisconsin (Paul Ryan didn't even pull in his own state). Yes, some whites who voted for the president in 2008 didn't vote for him this time around. That would have happened to any president faced with an obstinate Congress and the lackluster recovery, regardless of race.

But racial (and sexual) politics does have a lot to do with why Romney, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock lost. The Republican Party banked on conservative religious folks to win the election for them. But the social tide is turning: gay marriage was approved in three states, and Minnesota voted down a constitutional amendment to ban it.

In Minnesota Republicans controlling both houses of the legislature did an end-around the governor to put an anti-gay marriage amendment on the ballot, hoping that it would fire up turnout among Catholics and religious conservatives. That tactic backfired. Instead, young people came out in droves to vote against it and a voter suppression bill that would have disenfranchised both younger and elderly voters. And at the same time they elected significant Democratic majorities in both houses.

Now, I'll be the first to say that this demographic shift does not mean the Democratic Party has a permanent lock on the electorate. The Republican Party can stage a comeback if they drop racially motivated policies on immigration, stop opposing gay marriage and military service, and stop incessantly attacking the reproductive rights of women.

It's doubtful they'll do all these at once. Because they're so dependent on the the religious right for turnout they'll most likely stop opposing immigration reform first, hoping that they'll be able to peel off conservative Hispanic Catholics. This will alienate many of the racially motivated Southern whites, but since they have nowhere else to go it's a safe bet. Immigration reform will also please business-oriented Republicans who've been clamoring for more cheap foreign labor to help bust the unions.

It's hard to see how the Republicans can back down on abortion and gay marriage at this point; they've been dependent on conservative Catholics for the last several elections. But since Catholics generally are more sympathetic to Democratic policies of justice and social welfare, any Republican retreat on those issues will cede the field completely.

But continued opposition to gay rights will inevitably cost them the support of libertarians and younger generations. For that reason, Republicans will ultimately have to drop opposition to gay marriage and military service.

In the end the money men like Mitt Romney, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers will decide the direction the Republican Party will take. Romney has shown he will take any position on social issues he needs to win. Adelson and the Kochs want results, and if that means jettisoning the conservative social agenda they'll do it.

Cynicism aside, I would love for the Republican Party to make these changes. I used to be a Republican myself. I want to again be able to vote for candidates based on their individual qualifications, rather than voting against them because of their lockstep devotion to their party's narrow self-serving agenda.

Six Billion Dollars Down the Drain

It looks like we spent at least $6 billion on this election, and nothing really changed. We've got the same president, the same House and the same Senate. And that $6 billion doesn't even count an unknowable amount of "dark money" spent to influence the election, but estimates are in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Much of that money was spent on countless misleading TV ads. Shouldn't we be spending our money on something more constructive, instead of giving it to the lamestream media to harangue us with stuff no one wants to see?

The Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision may be catastrophically wrong, but because of that there's little to be done to directly limit the amount of money being spent. What we can do is require more openness in the process: all ad buys should be reported on the web within 24 hours and dark money "social welfare" groups should be required to disclose all large donors on the web.

ProPublica has been working on a series of stories about dark money organizations. The weirdest part of the story is that they found a bunch of financial documents for one of these "social welfare" organizations in a meth house in Colorado. The documents seem to show coordination between Montana political campaigns and Western Tradition Partners (WTP), a dark money organization. Such coordination is illegal even under Citizen's United.

Without full disclosure of donors to such organizations it has become obvious that we cannot meet the Citizen's United's low standard. WTP's shenanigans show how easily the current system could be corrupted, or at least present the appearance of corruption.

If we know who's behind these ads then we can make a better decision about the reliability of the message, and hold them responsible for their actions.