Monday, July 29, 2013

Fox News Hits New Low in Interviewing Skills

This is increasingly all over the blogosphere, but just to make sure you see it, I'm placing it here. A Fox News anchor can't for the life of her figure out why a religious historian -- who happens to be Muslim -- would write about historical Jesus.

Because he's an expert in his field, dingbat. Sheesh.

Update. The controversy widens with this WaPo piece by a professor of theology:
When conservative Christian critics decry Aslan’s scholarly take on the historical Jesus as having a Muslim agenda, they might want to note this scholar of religion’s strong argument against anti-Semitism.
In fact, Jesus’s advocacy for the “poor and the dispossessed,” as Aslan documents throughout “Zealot,” is, in my view, yet another driver of the conservative Christian push-back against “Zealot,” in addition to the well-known Islamophobia message machine of the right.
The life and teachings of Jesus, understood in their historical context, are about feeding the poor, housing the homeless, caring for the sick and loving the neighbor as yourself.
That’s Jesus.
Resa Aslan himself suspected what he was in for going on Fox News.

And back to the WaPo piece for a final bit of perspective:
Ironically enough, the role of the historical Jesus vis-à-vis the Christ of faith is less a Muslim-Christian struggle than it is a struggle that rages within Christianity itself and has, over centuries, up until today.  The life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth on poverty, for example, are a huge roadblock to conservatives who wish to use scripture to justify cutting food stamps (SNAP).
The conservative Christian view of Jesus in the New Testament is framed not around the person and work of Jesus, but around Jesus’s death, resurrection and return in judgment on sin (The Book of Revelation).  This explains the astonishing disinterest in his life and teachings as is well illustrated by Mel Gibson’s violent film, The Passion of the ChristAs I have written in a book chapter on this subject, this film portrays Jesus as engaged in a “war”; Jesus, in the Gibson film, came not to teach and heal, but to wage war on Satan and sin.  The horrific flogging scene in this movie, where Jesus is whipped before being crucified by the Romans, goes on, from beginning to end for nearly 40 minutes.  The Sermon on the Mount, by contrast, is mere seconds long.
The author of the piece, Susan Brooks Thistlethwait, speaks here to the core of where my humanism comes from, as well as to the origin of my conviction that contemporary conservatism is both bankrupt and amoral. One simply can't hate the poor and claim to be a Christian. That is, unless you execute the mind game illustrated in the above paragraph, and declare that the poor won't take responsibility for being poor and therefore no food for you!

How can one interpret today's conservatism otherwise?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Life Is More Dangerous Where?!?

Life is more dangerous out in the country. Cook County (which is, essentially, Chicago), for example, is safer than, say, Alaska, Nevada, or Maine, which are predominantly rural.

Why would this be? In spite of the perception that inner cities are much more dangerous than rural areas -- the good ole country -- due to gun violence, it's just not so:
That's from a new study out of the University of Pennsylvania in Annals of Emergency Medicine: "Safety in Numbers: Are Major Cities the Safest Places in the United States?" If by "safety" you mean "not dying from an injury," the answer is yes (the authors didn't evaluate nonfatal injury).
And the nominal reasons are pretty straightforward:
The overall injury death rate was 56.2 per 100,000 persons in the population. The overall death rate for unintentional injury was 37.5 per 100,000, and the overall death rate for intentional injury (homicide and suicide) was 17.0 per 100,000. The most common mechanisms for injury death across all subjects were motor vehicle related, which occurred at a rate of 14.9 per 100,000, and firearm related, which occurred at a rate of 10.4 per 100,000.
So driving is still the most likely thing to kill you. And you're much more likely to in or from a motor vehicle in rural areas than in urban areas:
Motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of injury death across the population, and the number of motor vehicle crash injury deaths increased sharply with increasing rurality (27.61/100,000 in most rural, 10.58/100,000 in most urban...).
Another way of putting it is:

These people don't present as big a danger to you in the city... driving in the country.

Go figure. And if you want to factor in the random gun violence, check out the weekly GunFAIL feature by David Walden at Daily Kos. Yep, not a whole lotta NYC, DC, Oakland, Chicago, or Philly listed there.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

This Is What I'm Talking About

Or, I should say, this is the kind of message implicit in my humanist world view, and it's from the son of Warren Buffett, no less. In this NYTimes op-ed, here's James Buffett speaking of philanthropy:
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
And with more business-minded folks getting into the act, business principles are trumpeted as an important element to add to the philanthropic sector. I now hear people ask, “what’s the R.O.I.?” when it comes to alleviating human suffering, as if return on investment were the only measure of success. Microlending and financial literacy (now I’m going to upset people who are wonderful folks and a few dear friends) — what is this really about? People will certainly learn how to integrate into our system of debt and repayment with interest. People will rise above making $2 a day to enter our world of goods and services so they can buy more. But doesn’t all this just feed the beast?
I’m really not calling for an end to capitalism; I’m calling for humanism.
I'm all for humanism, as you might guess, but what James Buffett is really calling for is socialism, which for some is a dirty word. For me, it's just a social system, like in Denmark, for example, where citizens gladly exchange half their income for security, cradle to grave. Once citizens have enough stuff, they look for a guarantee that they'll have healthcare and don't have to worry that they'll find themselves broke at 70. It's a fair trade. (Most the top-ten happiest countries are in Europe, with all five Scandinavian countries making the list).

In fiercely individualistic America, a good deal of our citizenry will trade free-market opportunity -- with the chance of wildly outsized success -- for a world in which the loser class is larger than in other more advanced countries. I got mine, and then some, so, uh, screw you. Great.

That's not the world James Buffett wants, and I applaud him. He finishes up:
What we have is a crisis of imagination. Albert Einstein said that you cannot solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it. Foundation dollars should be the best “risk capital” out there.
There are people working hard at showing examples of other ways to live in a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff). 
Money should be spent trying out concepts that shatter current structures and systems that have turned much of the world into one vast market. Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.
It’s an old story; we really need a new one.
Boy, you've got that right, Mr. Buffett.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Desperate Douche Bags of New York, New Jersey, Orange County, San Diego, Atlanta, Virginia, Take your Friggin' Douche-Baggin' Pick

Update. Overnight I considered whether douche bag is an unpleasant or inappropriate term. Thinking about it, referencing an archaic hardware device that is, by now, obsolete at least in the U.S. is not unusual when attempting to denigrate bad actors. More popular these days here in the U.S. and also across the pond in the UK is the term "wanker," which, let's face it, is descriptive for sure but no less objectionable. A term of derision is meant, let's face it, to deride. So I'm okay with douche bag, as I went, in any event, for its alliterative qualities. The only true remaining problem, though, is how to deal with the Palins, Bachmanns, etc., of the world. Queens of Crazy, Girls of Gall? A little sexist, wouldn't you think? I'm working on it. (End update.)

For years, I've been sorting through -- and, admittedly, enjoying -- a litany of "worst persons" of the world, planet, universe, day, etc., etc. They're almost always -- in the left blogosphere, anyway -- well, douche-worthy.

A blog or two ago, I had my Hall of Shame, and peoples who found themselves there were appropriately shameful. But I'm afraid that recently the number of people qualifying for such, er, um, notoriety, uh, seems to be multiplying.

Funny how this Democrat manages to be my first douche bag. Wasn't a hard pick.

I'm sorry for his wife, Huma, from all accounts a really decent human being. Beyond that, I'm not weighing in, except for, uh, Weiner, WTF? Oh, and totally, completely go away. Seriously.

I'm not completely sure Anthony Weiner is as big a douche bag as people might immediately be thinking, since, he's about as much TOAST as, say, A-Rod.

Right, it was Ryan Braun who just got suspended. A-Rod? Uh, bigger douche bag.

Not to leave out Ryan Braun, except to say, make these guys go away. I used to be a sports fan, with baseball my life-long favorite. Now, my fan status is, well, I still root for the Giants and A's. For now.

I changed my mind. Fuckin' douche bag. Go away. Boo him every AB. Forever.

What do these athletes have in common with politicians and pundits? They lie, cheat, steal, build false arguments, use sophistry, straw dogs, (in the case of athletes, drugs to make themselves money, achieve fame and garner trophy wives), any means to make more money, gain more fame, accrue more power, and so forth. Scammers all.

Go away, the lot of you.

Almost forgot why I threw in Desperate Douche Bags of Virginia. Governor Bob McDonnell -- and his fearless sidekick Ken "Cooch" Cuccinelli, who dabbled in freebies, too -- is so busy accepting gifts, bribes, free trips, dental work for his wife, that he forgot to deny anything because Virginia's ethics laws are so lax that he thought his haircut was going to get him the White House. I'm thinking -- and so is ANYONE WHO EVER THOUGHT HE WAS IN LINE FOR THE PRESIDENCY -- he's lucky if he gets to run for comptroller of the Commonwealth of Vaginal Ultrasounds. Cuccinelli, meanwhile, is running for governor, and his idea of a platform to run on is sodomy, sodomy, sodomy. I mean, dude, sodomy? Why not ethanol, or law and order, or tanks for every Virginia hamlet? Or higher test scores? Sodomy?

Why the long faces, boys? Someone take away your vaginal ultrasounds
and force you to have sodomy in your state? Actually, yeah. Bribes are okay, though.

There is, still, a special level of Hell all its own for Rush Limbaugh. I've never -- aside from the Boston Strangler and maybe Jeffrey Dahmer -- encountered a person as uninterested in helping humankind advance, unless, of course, you want to toss in Wayne LaPierre, as our Rushbo. If I believed in God, I'd ask that He have mercy on Limbaugh's soul. Since I don't, well, okay, no mercy.

I've got two questions for you: What happened to
your brains, and why are you still listening to me?

As for Wayne LaPierre, if we're meant to suffer a calamity, a new ice age, a swarm of locusts, a new Jurassic Age, LaPierre has presaged it, thrown down the marker, heralded the coming of the anti-Christ. Okay, true, I don't like the guy. Find me a reason to? You can't.

The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a legion of people
that are the opposite of Wayne LaPierre. He gives douche bags a bad name.

Desperate douche bags, one and all. They may have families, lives, fame, money, and, I suppose, cars. Sometimes, I confess, I'm envious of others' good luck. In the case of this passel of puke, sorry, I'm so glad I'm me, with my modest accomplishments and equally modest bank accounts. I'm at least not these losers.

Here's some fun, sorta, at the end of this douchefest, although it forces me to allow the existence of Glenn Beck, who's so batshit crazy I try not to encourage Amerka to notice him just when he seems to be vanishing before our eyes. Or at least before our non-batshit-crazy eyes. Oh well, Glenn Beck back on the agenda is a small price to pay -- especially because he's so hilarious! -- for this rundown of A Bunch Who Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest:

Update.  Okay, didn't want to promote Glenn Beck, so I won't. Mainly because this picture doesn't promote the imbecile. Surgical gloves to pick up and wave a gun? What's it got, cooties?

Or are they white dress gloves? Who is he, Holly Golightly?

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Anatomy of an Outrageous Misinformation Campaign, Washington-Post-Syle

Fred Hiatt, WaPo's editorial chief
We've just this weekend been given an astoundingly clear example of how misinformation works to the detriment of good policy, and since it took place in a Washington Post editorial, its implications for continued -- and falsely justified -- bad policy choices are equally clear. Deficit hawks love this stuff because it helps them win, by which I mean working to trim or eliminate the social safety net; liberals, Keynesians, deficit doves, whatever, hate this stuff because it's plainly either god-awful journalism or purposeful deception mounted, in effect, to attack the social safety net under the guise of "getting our fiscal house in order."

What I'm talking about is an editorial-board op-ed about Detroit's bankruptcy, with unfunded public-sector pensions as the central cause, that ran two days ago:
But we’re more impressed with what Detroit has in common with other jurisdictions. Specifically, the city is reaping what it sowed by promising public employees pay and benefits — especially health insurance and pensions for retirees — that it could not afford, and then borrowing for years to paper over the mistake. Similar issues were at the heart of three large municipal bankruptcies, in the California cities of Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino. A new survey by scholars at Boston College finds that state and local pension plans have $3.8 trillion in unfunded liabilities, even assuming strong rates of return.
Obviously, many jurisdictions included in that figure are currently managing their obligations well. But even a highly rated city, Chicago, just got marked down by Moody’s because of its $19 billion unfunded pension liability. The point is that long before cities reach the point of insolvency, unaffordable promises to their public-sector unions can raise borrowing costs and crowd out other public needs — such as parks, libraries, sanitation and public safety. And that’s not good for retaining a tax-paying middle-class population. Cities and states that wish to avoid a Detroit-like death spiral should start putting their retirement systems on a sustainable path now.
Economist Dean Baker
I placed the emphasis on the last line because it's the exact point of the editorial, which is that unions and the pensions and benefits they have achieved are the cause of our national decline, and the sooner we do something about it the better. The problem is it's not true, and the WaPo editorial is based on a serious misreading of the Boston College study. I offer the notion of "misreading" as a very generous interpretation of what the Post editorial board is up to. Purposeful deception is not an unkind or outrageous assessment, either.

Reliable Dean Baker was the first to flag the outrageous mistakes in the editorial:
But I apparently forgot to think about this number for the necessary 10 seconds before writing. The $3.8 trillion figure should have struck me as way too large for an estimate for unfunded liabilities, and in fact it is. Here's what the Boston College study said (page 2):
"In the aggregate, the actuarial value of assets amounted to $2.8 trillion and liabilities amounted to $3.8 trillion, producing a funded ratio of 73 percent."
You see, the $3.8 trillion figure was an estimate of total liabilities, not unfunded liabilities. Since the pensions have $2.8 trillion in assets, their unfunded liabilities are just $1 trillion. Or, to put this in terms that may be understandable to Post readers, the unfunded liabilities are 0.22 percent of projected GDP over the next 30 years. And, as I noted in my earlier post, most state and local governments are already funding at levels that are consistent with making up this shortfall so there will no required tax increases or spending cuts to meet these future obligations.
Paul Krugman, aka Krugtron.
If that were the extent of the failure of the WaPo editorial board, it would be one thing. But it's not. Paul Krugman crunches a few more numbers and squeezes more errors out of the editorial:
You see, the Boston College study doesn’t just estimate assets and liabilities; it also estimates the Annual Required Contribution, defined as
normal cost – the present value of the benefits accrued in a given year – plus a payment to amortize the unfunded liability
And it compares the ARC with actual contributions.
According to the survey, the ARC is currently about 15 percent of payroll; in reality, state and local governments are making only about 80 percent of the required contributions, so there’s a shortfall of 3 percent of payroll. Total state and local payroll, in turn, is about $70 billion per month, or $850 billion per year. So, nationwide, governments are underfunding their pensions by around 3 percent of $850 billion, or around $25 billion a year.
A $25 billion shortfall in a $16 trillion economy. We’re doomed!
 I can do the math for the last little bit: Underfunding of pensions amounts to .00156% of GDP.

As of this moment, more than 48 hours after the editorial was published, the Washington Post has made no effort to correct its mistake. Will it ever? And even if it did, do you think conservative pundits and politicians won't quote the mistake over and over until it becomes Beltway Conventional Wisdom that all Very Serious People will have come to rely on in their Very Serious Conversations?

This is another example of how Washington works. Yuck.

Update. A federal judge has halted the Detroit bankruptcy, ruling that pensions are sacrosanct under the Michigan constitution. However, U.S. bankruptcy statutes allow the trimming of pensions in bankruptcy settlements under Chapter 9, and federal law tends to trump state law. Stay tuned on that one, as the Michigan attorney general has already appealed the ruling.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Obama Speaks about Trayvon Martin...

...and reminds us that he's not only an eloquent speaker -- he spoke without a teleprompter -- but that he also has something significant to offer to the conversation driven by both the event of Trayvon's death and the subsequent trial and acquittal of George Zimmerman.

The president speaking before the press corps yesterday morning.

As I read the transcript of the president's remarks, I was moved by not just his grasp of the almost undeniable truths of the African-American experience and its bearing on the current situation but also by his straight-forward admission that he has lived through its historical context himself. As the first black president, he has remained remarkably calm and taciturn, unshakable in the face of a continuing, open assault on his character, on his history and his ideas. Some, even on his side of the political and cultural spectrum, criticize him for his reserve.

However, Barack Obama's instincts have been right in this: As the first black president, his attempt to be the first post-partisan and first post-racial national leader has been admirable, consistent, and well-intended if not totally productive. It's allowed him to remain above the fray, always measured, and never offering the opportunity to be branded the uppity black, which, let's face it, conservatives would have done at every turn. It's been a remarkable course he's taken and has bolstered the potency of his remarks on Trayvon Martin to the White House press corps:
You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son.  Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.  And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there’s a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it’s important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn’t go away.
There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store.  That includes me.  There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars.  That happens to me -- at least before I was a senator.  There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off.  That happens often.
And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those sets of experiences inform how the African American community interprets what happened one night in Florida.  And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.  The African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws -- everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws.  And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.
Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they’re disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence.  It’s not to make excuses for that fact -- although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context.  They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.
Obama goes on to place the events in a historical and cultural context. He emphasizes that another Washington blue-ribbon committee is the last thing we need, as such things are for show and rarely if ever produce anything of value. He does emphasize that we could all use some self-reflection and discussion in our communities, to see where we fit into the historical continuum and whether there's something each of us can do to move the country forward on the issue of race. The whole transcript is here.

We do not live in a post-racial world, which the president admitted in his remarks. I know that, for myself, I've struggled with the legacy of racism, as I'm sure every self-reflective American can acknowledge. I first encountered African-Americans in my boyhood when my family lived for two years in small-town Georgia, where I couldn't help but notice that my in-town school was all-white, while the blacks, who did come in town to shop, attended all-black schools on the edge of town.

When I asked my mother why this was so, she replied that this was the way it was in America, and she emphasized that it was wrong and she wished it were not so.

Like a lot of Americans, I've spent much if not all of my life in small, largely white towns and suburbs and thus learned about African-American culture and experience in movies and on TV. My few encounters with blacks have, as far as I can recall, been cordial and benign, though in a number of circumstances I was, not surprisingly, suspicious and afraid. Nothing came of such encounters, and by this I realized just how deep and pervasive institutional racism has been and remains so. That I feared black men when never having had a personal reason to do so is shameful but not surprising.

It's exactly the same kind of experience that gives rise to prejudice that drove George Zimmerman to do what he did. The difference was simply the lack of judgment and the lack of self-reflection on the matter, coupled with the notion that it's okay to walk around at night with a gun, playing cop under the guise of neighborhood watchman. Anyone, though, can be an undercover racist. Much to my own shame, I should know.

So Barack Obama is right to point to context and ask Americans to self-reflect, and he's right to point out that with each new generation we seem to be moving in the right generation. But to think that we've made sufficient progress, as the recent Supreme Court on the Voting Rights Act wrongfully assumed, is to fool ourselves. We have a long, long way to go. Let's, again, get started.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

This Just In -- For the Infinitieth Time -- Republicans Flying off the Rails

Do I have to spell it out for you? No, because centrist WaPo columnist Dana Milbank will:
Wednesday’s 66th and 67th attempts [to repeal Obamacare] went much like the previous 65, except for a mid-debate recess so that lawmakers could have their official photograph taken on the House floor.
“This bill is unraveling before us,” exulted Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Tex.) reported that “the train is not coming off the rails; it’s already off the rails.”
On the Democratic side, Rep. John Dingell (Mich.) responded by saying, “Einstein observed that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again with the full expectation that the results are going to be different.” Actually, the quote is probably apocryphal — but Einstein didn’t live to see the 113th Congress.
 Leftist op-ed writer Thomas Edsall extends the theme of insanity in today's Opinionator, sampling opinion on the left, right, and center:
Thomas Doherty, patronage czar and political enforcer for the former New York governor George Pataki, reached the breaking point last week when he read that House Republicans were preparing to “slow walk” the Senate immigration bill to death.
Doherty turned to Twitter:
If Senate Immigration bill gets ripped apart and ultimately defeated by House #GOP I’ve decided to leave my political home of 32 yrs #sad.
Doherty told me that he has
come to the conclusion that my party has elements within it that dislike homosexuals and think America is still in the 1940s. And while we talk about freedom and liberty, that liberty and freedom only seem to be acceptable for some.
Doherty, no liberal, is representative of the growing strength on the right of the view that the Republican Party has gone off the deep end.
Edsall goes on with a litany of Republican rejectionists. It gets bad when William Kristol calls out the extremists in his own movement. Yikes.

An important point Edsall makes is to correlate the "stupifying" of the GOP with the rise of conservative media, both radio and, lately, TV:
There is a striking correlation between the rise of conservative talk radio and the difficulties of the Republican Party in presidential elections. In an April Reuters essay, “Right Wing Talk Shows Turned White House Blue,” Mark Rozell, the acting dean of the George Mason University School of Public Policy, and John Paul Goldman, a former chairman of Virginia’s Democratic Party, wrote:
Since Rush Limbaugh’s 1992 bestseller “The Way Things Ought to Be,” his conservative talk show politics have dominated G.O.P. presidential discourse — and the Republicans’ White House fortunes have plummeted. But when the mainstream media reigned supreme, between 1952 and 1988, Republicans won seven out of the 10 presidential elections.
The authors continue: “The rise of the conservative-dominated media defines the era when the fortunes of G.O.P. presidential hopefuls dropped to the worst levels since the party’s founding in 1856.”
Hey, Rush Limbaugh, well played, sir. Really, don't stop.

Seriously, when perusing the national media for just one morning yields so many stories on how crazy a political party has become, it's time for a "national conversation." Whatever that means.

Racism Alive and Well in America

Zimmerman learns he's a free man. Free to do what? Don't worry, been there, done that.

Like many people, I followed the Trayvon Martin murder case. Also like many people, I felt that George Zimmerman deserved a voluntary manslaughter conviction. I assumed, like many people, that George Zimmerman would be found not guilty.

I don't need to restate the facts in the case. Florida law makes it clear that:
  1. You can carry a concealed weapon around.
  2. You can shoot someone if you feel threatened.
  3. You can be found not guilty if you're a fucking knucklehead but are sufficiently paranoid.
  4. This makes life as a "suspicious person," AKA a black male, very, very dangerous in Florida.
This holds true in all states or locales where concealed carry, stand-your-ground, knuckleheads, and young black males coincide. That's a lot of places.

I'm not young, or black, or living in a place with easy concealed carry -- it exists in my state and county but is really hard to obtain -- so even if there are a few knuckleheads around, it's likely I won't get shot for going out to buy snacks.

We do, unfortunately, live in a country where a man can hunt down a young, black male who went out to buy snacks, shoot him, and then be found not guilty and get his gun back.

If the answer to why this is so doesn't include the acknowledgement of continuing racism in America, then you're not paying attention. Or you're being purposefully obtuse. You know, like the Supreme Court.

Sorry, black people. Americans are not there yet. When we'll get there is anybody's guess. Until then, you might as well watch your back. Lord knows the George Zimmermans of America will.

Yeah, I remember the hope in those days, too.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Oh No! Obamacare Is Going to Work!

Fun fact: This has nothing to do with healthcare, but the woman in the picture is
Rep. Cathy Rogers (R-WA). She's in almost all pictures of the House leadership
because, look, we're not all white males! I didn't know her, either, always wondered.

California has already reported that healthcare rates under Obama's healthcare insurance exchanges will be substantially lower than expected. The linked article mentions that similar rates are popping up in Oregon and Washington, as well.

In today's New York Times, we find out that Obamacare is going to drastically reduce healthcare costs in New York:
Individuals buying health insurance on their own will see their premiums tumble next year in New York State as changes under the federal health care law take effect, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday.
State insurance regulators say they have approved rates for 2014 that are at least 50 percent lower on average than those currently available in New York. Beginning in October, individuals in New York City who now pay $1,000 a month or more for coverage will be able to shop for health insurance for as little as $308 monthly. With federal subsidies, the cost will be even lower.
 The GOP reaction to such news was to vote to repeal Obamacare for the 38th and 39th time. Smart, really smart. Remind me next time I want something cool, really cool to happen to benefit Americans that I should look to Republicans for help. Or not.

We tried fucking up healthcare and couldn't do it. Don't
worry, we'll probably find something we can fuck up.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Hispanics Eye John Boehner and GOP

The Hispanic Walter Cronkite, Jorge Ramos of Univision, tells WaPo's Greg Sargent that if comprehensive immigration reform fails, there's Hell to pay for the GOP. Sez Sargent:
Ramos left little doubt that Boehner and fellow House Republicans will get absolutely crucified by the Hispanic media if Republicans fail to support comprehensive reform.
As if we didn't know, but it's nice to hear a "from God's lips to my ear" from an influential Hispanic. GOP messaging games might resonate inside the Beltway -- and the conservative info-bubble -- but where it counts, look out.

They figured it out in 2012, they have it figured out for 2013 and beyond.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Barack Obama: The Man Who Fell to Earth

Daniel Ellsberg, 1971, a different time.
Daniel Ellsberg opens his op-ed piece in the Washington Post this morning with these words:
Many people compare Edward Snowden to me unfavorably for leaving the country and seeking asylum, rather than facing trial as I did. I don’t agree. The country I stayed in was a different America, a long time ago.
Ellsberg is right about Edward Snowden, and he's right about America, and the simple reason is that America, these days, is not a safe place for dissent, let alone the kind of civil disobedience Snowden is practicing. Ellsberg was released on his own recognizance after turning himself in; Snowden, were he to do the same thing, would more than likely be placed in solitary confinement with little or no access to the outside world. We are increasingly cruel to our offenders in general. To our political prisoners, we are downright tortuous.

Barack Obama: a lion in winter, or an
ordinary man in the thrall of power?
For that's what we have become, a cruel, often tortuous nation. Beyond Snowden and the snuffing out of information in, ironically, the Information Age -- for that's what's happening -- there's a failure on all fronts to move this country forward. And the man who suffers the most by this failure, at least in a legacy sense, is Barack Obama.

This is not the change we believed in, and Barack Obama turned out not to be the man we believed would usher in the changes many had not only longed for but indeed expected by his hands. Anyone around for the past four and more years would have to have been blind and deaf not to realize that his failures were to a great extent forced upon him: The opposition was never going to let him be a man of accomplishment and fought him tooth and nail, whether it was against the best interests of the nation or not. The black man must be put in his place. The white, racist, Christian constituency demanded it. The post-partisan president emerged in a time -- and with the color of skin -- that would brook no compromise. Full of hope as we were in 2008, we should have seen it coming. Heaven knows Obama should have.

Berlin, 2008.
Yet he clung to his bipartisan proclivities, not out of naivete but out of a determination to stick to his guns. To some, it has made him look weak and ineffective, to others aloof and contemptuous. I see him as a bit of both. But he was a man of hope and decided to play it out that way. He was waiting for the opposition to find their better angels. That was never going to happen because the opposition had no intention of finding them, let alone even looking.

Still, Barack Obama accomplished some things, most of which you don't need me to detail. And we also know that his more spectacular failures were well intentioned, such as gun control and immigration (I expect failure there, glad to be wrong). I never understood his moves on the Bush tax cuts, the debt ceiling, and the sequester. It could have been merely defensive, or it could have been because he eschewed -- or was incapable of -- bare-knuckle politics.

Obama speaks in Berlin in 2013 to a few thousand invited guests.
The president who fell to Earth, boxed in, figuratively and literally.
The best examples of that were that Barack Obama appeared ready to appease the anti-welfare folks with tweaks and worse to Medicare and Social Security. These "hard choices" were a complete sellout and betrayal of the coalition he appealed to in order to win the presidency and secure re-election. Such betrayal was unnecessary, and history may show yet that it would never satisfy an opposition hellbent on ending America' social safety net. Obama's vacillation on aspects of Obamacare, such as birth control, Plan-B, employer mandates, and whatnot, does not bode well for the rest of the program's rollout. Again, the president's soaring rhetorical skills and masterful framing of the debate leaves us with nothing if he abandons the fight at the first whiff of the smoke of battle. He should dig in and stand his ground. That he rarely if ever has not only shows him in a bad light but also leaves his constituency with nothing to show for its support.

The banks continue with their frauds because
no effort was really made to stop them.
Between the Treasury, the Department of Justice, and the SEC, the handling of the mortgage and banking crisis left homeowners -- and stockholders -- holding the bag. Saving Americans from foreclosure even if by the simple act of handling out free money would have helped the American economy immensely. That we instead coddled the banks and prosecuted not a one showed we cared little for justice and even less for the small guy. What a enormous disappointment, especially as the banks paid their fines, admitted no guilt, and then went on their merry way continuing their fraudulent practices, foreclosing left and right at will, even on those who never missed a payment. Why? Because they can.

Guantanamo was an abject failure, both morally and politically. Blame it on bipartisan opposition in Congress, if you want. But Obama was commander-in-chief and as such could have single-handedly brought the inmates to U.S. soil, placing them in military detention before working them through the civilian courts. He was boss, and he could have done it.

There was ill-intent and conventional hunger for power, as well, and it's that portion of the story of the still unfolding Obama presidency that may yet doom him to a mixed legacy at best. Presidents don't give up power willingly, and Obama proved no exception to that rule. Where Bush/Cheney broke new ground, Obama would give none back, except in the area of torture. Even there we don't know, necessarily, what's going on in the background, in the compounds and secret prisons abroad. That I would even think to say that or that you would find it hard to dispute it illustrates the degree to which such practices still might abound, in light of the massive surveillance here at home and against both our enemies and allies overseas that have come to light in recent weeks.

James Clapper: The face of unyielding abuse
of power in the name of national security.
Which brings us back to Edward Snowden. It's early in Obama's second term, but the Snowden affair has demonstrated how conventional Barack Obama has turned out to be. In many issues, Obama has shown his appreciation of nuance, and he could have here. Secrecy and the surveillance state and its discovery could have offered him a chance to demonstrate that the president gets why we might feel threatened, that there is an important balance between freedom and security. Instead, he gave us platitudes at best, and dishonesty at worst. He would protect the executive's burgeoning prerogatives.

His was to be a transformational presidency. At this point in his journey, he is more of an Icarus than an Apollo. Obama's favorite two words, dreams and hope, which appeared in the titles of his two best-selling books, have lost their potency, as he adhered to the conventional in the ordinary sense as well as in the more sinister sense, that of following the convention of undiminished executive abuse of power.

We did not expect that of Barack Obama, him of all people. That it's what we've received so far means that he is not the only man to fall to Earth. We, too, have fallen with him.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to Make People Hate and Distrust Their Government

Can you hear me now? Not good.

It doesn't take much. Abuse of power is one easy step:
In one of the [FISA] court’s most important decisions, the judges have expanded the use in terrorism cases of a legal principle known as the “special needs” doctrine and carved out an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s requirement of a warrant for searches and seizures, the officials said.
The special needs doctrine was originally established in 1989 by the Supreme Court in a ruling allowing the drug testing of railway workers, finding that a minimal intrusion on privacy was justified by the government’s need to combat an overriding public danger. Applying that concept more broadly, the FISA judges have ruled that the N.S.A.’s collection and examination of Americans’ communications data to track possible terrorists does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment, the officials said.
That legal interpretation is significant, several outside legal experts said, because it uses a relatively narrow area of the law — used to justify airport screenings, for instance, or drunken-driving checkpoints — and applies it much more broadly, in secret, to the wholesale collection of communications in pursuit of terrorism suspects. “It seems like a legal stretch,” William C. Banks, a national security law expert at Syracuse University, said in response to a description of the decision. “It’s another way of tilting the scales toward the government in its access to all this data.”
As Charlie Brown used to say, good grief.

Former presiding FISA Court judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly.

While trying to find a picture of the FISA court judges -- man, it is a secret court -- I could only find one of the former presiding judge, pictured above. I recall she also presided over the Microsoft anti-trust case after the original judge was removed. She gets around.

What was fun, though, while searching, was coming across a decidedly quaint article in Wired -- from June 6, 2008! -- that talked about how the FISA court questioned the actions of the FBI. Here's a sample:
Among other things, the declassified documents reveal that lawyers in the FBI’s Office of General Counsel and the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy Review queried FBI technology officials in late July 2006 about cellphone tracking. The attorneys asked whether the FBI was obtaining and storing real-time cellphone-location data from carriers under a "pen register" court order that’s normally limited to records of who a person called or was called by.
The internal inquiry seems to have preceded, and was likely prompted by, a secret court hearing on the matter days later. Kevin Bankston, a lawyer with Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the documents suggest that the nation’s spy court shares the reluctance of federal criminal courts to turn everyday cellphones into tracking devices, in the absence of evidence that the target has done something wrong.
"I hope that this signals that the FISC, like many magistrate judges that handle law enforcement surveillance requests, is growing skeptical of the government’s authority to conduct real-time cellphone tracking without probable cause," says Bankston.
Oh, brother. It seems the FISA court has seriously moved on. Seriously.

If only Bush were the end of the problem. See Obama, Barack Hussein.

An interesting thing about the Edward Snowden case is that since it's happened leakers are coming out of the woodwork. Is this because the Obama administration's over-the-top reaction to leaks -- that is, when they don't do the leaking to support their side of the story -- has caused a "you can't lock us all up or drive us into exile" reaction? Is American Journalism regaining its spine? I hope so. After all, when our dear leader has the gall, in light of Snowden and the steady drip, drip, drip of revelations, to deny them on national TV, well, it causes some people, as Atrios might say, to declare that shit is fucked up and bullshit.

What's funny is how well I made my case for why people might hate or distrust their government, and I didn't even get to the Republicans or incompetence yet. So, then...

Oh, what the hell. Shouldn't let this one go by:

Totally makes me trust my government -- and I'm a big-government liberal! Sheesh. What really is a hoot is James Clapper's response when he got caught:
During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on March 12, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the intelligence czar if the NSA gathers "any type of data at all on millions of Americans.”
"No, sir," Clapper responded. "Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly."
Clapper's response appears to contradict recent revelations about the agency's large scale phone records collection program, first reported on by the Guardian last week. However, during the NBC interview, Clapper said Wyden's question did not have a straightforward answer.
"I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked -- 'When are you going to start -- stop beating your wife' kind of question, which is meaning not -- answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no," Clapper said in the interview, which aired Sunday. "So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying 'no'."
That's just the kind of man I want running secret programs that spy on Americans, you know, someone whose idea of being truthful is to be the "least untruthful" he can be. Good grief, shit is fucked up and bullshit. Then again, it's not "wittingly."

Monday, July 1, 2013

Red States Set to Wreck Their Economies Just for Spite

Okay, there are other reasons why red states are going to be up against it economically over the next year or so other than pure spite. There's also that viral ideology that hates gays, minorities, and women (women are not a minority).

I've been thinking for a while now that DINKS -- double income no kids -- have an easier time financially, especially if both people in a household are college-educated professionals. And the gay household is a classic DINK household. What's more, now that same-sex marriage is legal, at least in the 13 states and DC, there will be a tendency for gays who marry to move, over time, to states that make it easy for them to get all the federal benefits of marriage.

Christie can rail against gays all he wants, but wait until the bucks flee to New York.

New Jersey, though generally a blue state, has a Republican governor in Chris Christie, who has vowed to veto any legislation aimed at legalizing same-sex marriage. It didn't take long for that to start to be a problem. Here's one solution:
The battle over same-sex marriage is often framed in moral or religious terms. State lawmakers, however, might soon be debating its economic consequences as well.
Consider New Jersey, where 4,500 Goldman Sachs employees are based in Jersey City. It's a short train or ferry ride across the Hudson River from lower Manhattan, where 8,000 of the company's employees work.
Edith Hunt, Goldman Sachs' chief diversity officer, tells WNYC that in the light of the Supreme Court's DOMA ruling, the company is thinking of moving all of its employees in same-sex relationships from New Jersey to New York so they don't miss out on any tax benefits.
That's a lot of purchasing power that will flee New Jersey. Good luck getting yourself "groomed" for 2016 if your state is crashing, Governor Christie.

It's the same with Obamacare -- where the spite comes into play -- as red states get set to do everything to stall its rollout. Refusing, as many red states are doing, to expand Medicaid has more consequences than just denying healthcare to the poor and near-poor: It also cuts federal payments to hospitals to mitigate the expense of serving the uninsured, which hospitals are required by law to do. But don't want to play in the Obamacare era? No play, no pay.

Florida Governor Rick Scott: Originally against the Medicaid expansion until he did
the math, now can't get the Republican Florida legislature to play ball. Bummer.

Wait for the hospitals to start squawking in 2014 in the red states. Once more, that's bad for the local economies. As a matter of fact, they're already squawking:
The Mississippi Business Journal recently reported that some Mississippi hospital administrators say they worry about bad financial consequences if the state doesn’t expand Medicaid under the federal health care overhaul.
These health care leaders are worried hospitals will have to continue providing care for uninsured people even if the federal government stops reimbursing part of the expense. They say there’s a lot of uncertainty about whether the reimbursement will continue in states that choose not to put more people on Medicaid, the federal-state health insurance program for the needy.
The Associated Press interviewed Chris Anderson, CEO of the Pascagoula-based Singing River Health System. Anderson said it makes financial sense to put thousands of currently uninsured people into the program.
“I absolutely think the state should proceed with expanding Medicaid,” Anderson said. “I realize there are pros and cons and there is some cost. But if we do not expand, we are taking taxpayer dollars from the state of Mississippi and we’re giving it to other states. It is going to strengthen other health systems in other states at the expense of Mississippi, already the poorest state in the country.”

Mississippi's Governor Phil Bryant: No Medicaid for you.

Real bright, Phil. You're okay for now, but Mississippians aren't going to buy it forever:
I'm [columnist Sid Salter] just as certain that Mississippi will eventually get around to expanding Medicaid as I was that the special session would not result in the expansion of Medicaid in this state this year.
Why? The benefits of expanding Medicaid coverage in states like Mississippi with such a large amount of taxpayer-subsidized uncompensated care will ultimately be too large to ignore.
This debate could -- and no doubt will -- be repeated in red state after red state as they realize the fiscal damage.

The same can be said for the plight of undocumented workers and several red-state responses to it. Both Alabama and Arizona made undocumented workers worry about harassment, arrest, and deportation. Alabama is now up against a farm-worker shortage. Arizona is losing Hispanics in droves, as they worry about harassment and deportation, as well.

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer: Got it right on Medicaid, but so wrong on Hispanics.

Immigration laws in Arizona have been studied for their economic impact, and it's not good:
Forcibly removing peaceful unauthorized immigrants from the U.S., separating them from their families, property, and jobs, to satisfy arcane labor market regulations created by Progressive politicians, is an appalling indecency.  It also inflicts significant economic harm. Arizona’s immigration laws have drastically damaged its economy since mid-2007. The humanitarian arguments may leave those who complain the loudest about unauthorized immigration unmoved, but the supporters of Arizona style immigration laws might be persuaded by the economic costs. [...]
The second problem is that E-Verify scares away businesses, investment, and workers.  E-Verify is tied to what then-Governor Janet Napolitano called the “business death penalty.”  Businesses that knowingly hire unauthorized immigrants have their licenses revoked on a second offense, killing the business.
Despite the fact that application of the business death penalty has been relatively rare the prospect has scared investors and businesses out of the state.  It was largely responsible for a shocking business formation rate decline of 14.3 percent in the third quarter of 2007 in Arizona, rates of business formation in California and New Mexico increased over the same time.
Two and a half years after LAWA was passed, Arizona created a more controversial law called SB 1070 to enforce immigration laws outside of the workplace.  The combined effects of LAWA and SB 1070 forced about 200,000 people out of Arizona, most of them from the Phoenix area.
And finally, the widespread war on women -- yes, it is a war, and, yes, it's on women -- will make the states with highly restrictive laws on women's health and abortion choices unfriendly to women, especially mobile single women. I couldn't find any data on this, so I'll have to wait to confirm it, though I will admit that abortion and birth-control restrictions unfairly harm poor women, who aren't very mobile.

However, Rachel Maddow presents the situation in Virginia where the Democratic slate for this year's state-wide offices was heavily influenced by women's issues, and it seems that the slate is all in for women's health:

We'll see what happens in Virginia, which had been trending blue before its detour back to the right with McDonnell and Cuccinelli. Both have tarnished the Republican brand in Virgina with their radical agenda, with McDonnell also getting into hot water for accepting illegal gifts and Cuccinelli getting caricatured by his obsession with sodomy and more.

Finally, today NPR's All Things Considered had a feature on turning a red state blue. Listen to it here.

Just as I pointed out yesterday that conservatives often work against their own self-interests, here we can see that, in the case of California, Proposition 187 was passed in 1994, and it took until Jerry Brown's re-election in 2011 to observe that California had moved from Reagan-red to Scharzenegger-purple to Brown-blue. Is Texas next?