Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, July 31, 2011


Will the Braves get a CF before 4pm today?

Will the nation avoid default before Tuesday?

We all need deadlines to get things done, but the tyranny of the clock is one of the awful things about American culture.  In the 19th century immigrants were given English primers from whence they could learn phrases like, "The whistle blows, I must go to work."

I've been alone the last few days to finish up some projects - plastering and painting the half-bath, staining the deck steps, mowing the lawn, doing some driving for the Summer School - and being able to do what you have to do WHEN you want to do it makes it feel less like a chore and more like simply doing what needs to be done.

Human life used to be tied to the seasons and the sun.  Now it is tied to the minute hand.  As a result, we are all much more efficient, but also, I think, much more stressed.

UPDATE: Braves got their CF.  Ball is in your court, Congress, though it sounds like a perfectly awful deal is imminent.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Air Travel

No, I don't want to.

This morning at 3:00am I heaved myself out of bed, made an extra large cup of coffee and drove two summer school kids to JFK to catch a flight home to the Dominican Republic.

Because one of them was 13, he was an "unaccompanied minor" and therefore I had to park rather than slow to 5 or 10 miles per hour and shove him out the door before a TSA agent yelled at me for parking by the terminal.

We went inside and stood in line for a while, then we had a ticket agent who seemed to be on some sort of protest slow down.  Maybe it was performance art.  Thing One can type faster than this guy.  He gave them the boarding passes and I said, what about the unaccompanied minor?  Me and my big mouth.  The Flash goes back to pecking at his keyboard and finally produces my pass to escort them to the gate.  I am told I have to wait until he boards before I can leave.  We had arrived at about 5:15am.  It is now 6:10. The flight boards at 7:00.

The line for security was ponderously slow until someone decided to open another scanner.  The person who decided to open it was a caricature of "angry, sassy black lady".  She literally said, "Don't you be bringing any water bottles in my line!"  Then turned to a sheepish coworker and said, "Unh-uh, I don't do that."

Luckily my pants didn't fall down when I had to take my belt off.

I ate a $9.00 bagel in the food court before taking the boys on to the gate.  At the gate, I was told that my ward would be the last to board.  Awesome.  I still had to drive back to Connecticut on three hours sleep.  I really wanted to spend as much time at that gate as possible, to increase the exciting possibility of my falling asleep at the wheel and orphaning my children.

When the young lad - who was polite but clueless through the whole thing - finally boarded, a very snippy gate attendant told me I had to wait until the plane pushed away from the gate.  Why?  I asked perhaps a bit too stridently. (I am not a nice person when tired and hungry, although it is arguable I am a not nice person in any conditions.)  "In case the plane has mechanical issues, what would happen then?"  She snapped back.

How about, "That's your problem.  If you can't keep your planes from having mechanical problems, then you need to find someone to sit with this young man.  The airport seems to be swarming with TSA people, get one of them on it."

Instead, I sat there and waited, waited for the plane to push back.

Driving back, I nearly missed an exit because I was a little muddle headed.

This is all a long winded way of saying how much I hate air travel.  Not because I'm afraid of flying, but because it is such a soul crushing experience.  To call airplanes busses with wings is unfair to busses.  You don't have to partially disrobe, get body scanned and have your junk fondled to ride the bus.  You buy a ticket, nod to the bus driver, say a prayer that he's not downing cough syrup and diet pills and ride the bus.

Every step of air travel is designed to make you uncomfortable.  Airlines don't give a damn about customer service, because they don't have to.  They all suck!  The TSA "security theater" is a farce designed to make policy makers feel secure about preventing the last attack rather than making flying any safer.  And the planes themselves are nasty, claustrophobic things.

I've briefly considered paddling to Ireland later this month rather than fly.

I complained to the head of Summer School, a fine guy, and he bumped my pay a bit.  To which his assistant, among the nicer people I know, smiled at me and said, Quit Whining.

Which brings me to this.  To put it all in perspective.


Can't we all just get along?

"It would be amusing if it weren't so sad..." is a common refrain around the Internets over the debt fiasco.  Watching the Speaker get pantsed by the Tea Party was funny, but default really isn't funny.

Neither is the fact that the subtitle for this whole summer melodrama should be "Macroeconomics: You're Doing It Wrong!"

Cropping up around the internet are clips, articles and clips about articles with economists of many different persuasions all saying the same thing: "You shouldn't cut spending in a weak economy."

The response from the Tea Party/Austerity Fetishists is "People tighten their belts in a downturn, so should the government."

Economists are looking at macroeconomics, Teatards are looking at microeconomics.

We've been over this a ton before, but there are a number of reasons why we are running budget deficits.  Some of them (wars) can be ended soon hopefully.  Some of them (tax cuts) are likely to linger along somewhat in some form.

But one of the biggest reasons is that we are in a terrible "jobs" recession.  Unemployed people not only don't pay taxes, they collect unemployment insurance.  Getting them back to work would seem to be the number priority for anyone who wants to cut the deficit.  Would you rather pay someone unemployment insurance?  Or pay them to fix a bridge or the electrical grid?  The second would be more expensive, but also more stimulative and have a longer benefit to the country.

But the Teatards aren't interested in "experts" with their "book larning".

As the Standup Economist put it, "These are people who believe in Social Darwinism, but not Darwin."

Friday, July 29, 2011

Update From The Stupid

Boehner attacks!

Boehner now has a bill so batshit insane it might just get Tea Party votes.  In it, he will REQUIRE the House and Senate to pass a Constitutional Amendment - the Cap, Cut and Balance Amendment, what Ezra Klein calls the Worst Idea In Washington - and refer it to the states before the second debt ceiling limit.

He basically takes TWO non-starters - a bifurcated debt ceiling increase and a terrible, terrible Constitutional Amendment - and ties them to solvency.

At this point, Reid should just pass a clean debt ceiling increase and see if enough GOP congressfolk will join with every Democrat to pass it.

And then we have a report that Q2 growth is MUCH lower than expected.  I bet 19 out of 20 economists would implore the Congress not to contract any more in the face of slowing growth.  Even the IMF, home of austerity, has begged them not to do it.

In a just world, the GOP will be punished for ruining the economy.

We don't live in a just world.

UPDATE: Herr Professor Krugman weighs in on the Cult of Balance:
The cult of balance has played an important role in bringing us to the edge of disaster. For when reporting on political disputes always implies that both sides are to blame, there is no penalty for extremism. Voters won’t punish you for outrageous behavior if all they ever hear is that both sides are at fault.


Kuttner Gets It Wrong

Let slip the yippy little dogs of punditry.

Robert Kuttner at the American Prospect gets it wrong.

This may sound churlish at such a moment, but in addition to blaming the recklessness of today’s Republican party, the man who deserves substantial blame for this impending economic doomsday is Barack Obama. For two and a half years, he has been all but training the Republicans, Pavlov fashion, to keep rejecting compromise. He has done this by rewarding them with a treat every time they up the ante or move the goal posts.

It's not that it's churlish, Robert, it's that it's wrong.

The House is insane, or at least as insane as an institution can be.  This focus on Obama's conciliatory style misses by a mile the world view of the Tea Party.  They don't see a compromising centrist, they see a Socialist-Communist-Dictator.  They literally believe that.

They see his passage of ACA as a goon driven, arm twisting abuse of liberty.  They see the Stimulus as dictatorial infringements on the market.  If you see the world that way, you are not looking to take advantage of a pragmatic sense of compromise, you are looking to defeat the source of evil and the root of despotism.

That's how these idiots think.

Bush was Manichean in his outlook towards the world.  "You're either with us or against us."  But he could recognize the benefits of working with someone like Ted Kennedy.  He eventually had a rapprochment with Clinton.  He was simple minded about a lot of things, but as a politician, he sought out people.

These jackalopes have taken the worst aspect of Bush's worldview and doubled down on it.

Obama - and frankly most centrists, from Mike Bloomberg to Tom Friedman to Cokie Roberts - have operated on the presumption that the House GOP is willing to govern and a lot of this posturing was just rhetoric.

And they probably believed it because they were talking to Boehner and McConnell who treat it as such.

But what we learned last night was that while Boehner may use extreme rhetoric as a negotiating tool, the House itself is so extreme that he can't pass bills with his caucus.

This is what caused Obama to lose his cool at the presser a couple of weeks ago.

Yes, Obama will compromise in order to govern the country.  Just like EVERY president has done.  Did he compromise too much?  We still don't have a deal, so I don't see how you can say that he has.

But what we have learned - or we should have learned by now - is that if you DON'T compromise, you get the debacle that we had last night.

The problem - first, second and last - is the House GOP.  They have engineered a crisis.  Not because they think Obama is a bad negotiator but because they are ignorant and insane.

UPDATE: Norm Ornstein of the AEI talks about the dysfunction of Congress.  While he doesn't say it's all the GOP's fault, you can't help but see that some of the trends are institutional (decline of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats), much of the current dysfunction is the plan of the GOP.

UPDATE 2:  This is really good.

Nice Summary

From Tim F. at Balloon Juice:

Word has it that Boehner retired to redraft the bill and win some teatard votes. The worst bill in American history amended by a sleep-deprived guy under tremendous stress, to please the stupidest group of legislators in American history. What could possibly go wrong?

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Fallows Calls It

James Fallows is not perfect.  He commits some of the sins of journalists, especially their clubiness.  But he is a very insightful analyst and occasionally a gifted writer.

Go read.


Hey, Mr. Speaker?  Have the frakking votes before you call a vote.  Just a suggestion.

What are we to make of a party that hates government so much, it takes it over and doesn't even bother to figure out how it works?

I used to have sympathy for Boehner, who I saw as a typical smoke-filled room dealmaker.

Now I just have contempt for his weakness and ineffectualness.

We Are All P.I.G.S Now

So, Nancy Pelosi made a speech embracing austerity.  And that's the ballgame, folks!  Drive safely on the way home.

I wonder how well austerity works?  It's failed in Portugal, Ireland and Greece, but those are tiny countries, surely with nothing to teach the USA! USA! USA!

Well, how about Great Britain?  Unlike the PIGS, the UK is not forced by the Euro to march in lockstep with painful monetary policies, as they have the pound.  They also have a similarly post-modern economy.  How has their embrace of austerity gone?

Not well.

The weak growth is fuelling fears that Britain could lose its AAA credit rating unless the economy picks up sharply in the third quarter.

Hunh?  I thought only massive debts could force you to lose your AAA rating.  Turns out, having a sucky economy will do that, too.

The Austerity brigade likes to talk about running a national economy the way people run their personal finances.

In other words, they are using microeconomics to solve macroeconomic problems.  In other other words, they are wrong, stupid and should be shown the door.

But, because our system of government is not well suited to handle certain crises, they are running the show.

Look on the bright side, you can bore your grandkids with tales about "When I was young, during the second Great Depression..."

It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

The Bulwer-Lytton awards were given today.


Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Two Good Posts On Why Tom Friedman Sucks

Friedman takes complicated, nuanced ideas and phenomena and reduces them to simplistic bumperstickers that any disinterested person can understand.

Friedman is the one force that unites Left and Right in our politics.  Both sides hate him.

One More Day...

Good Lord, it's about as beautiful a day here as I can remember.  High 70s, dry and clear blue skies.

When we think of the Great Depression, we think in black and white, but surely there were glorious days like this in 1931 as the politicians and central bankers turned an economic downturn into the Great Depression.

And now with the House GOP threatening to do the same, I wonder how future generations will remember the Second Great Depression?

Also, too, I agree with Krugman that it is patently absurd to say, "Both sides are to blame, Washington can't compromise."  The Democrats have prepared a plan that is to the right of the Republican electorate and still it is being rejected.

Death by stupidity.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Well, That Explains It

Boehner lives in Jellystone...Jelly...Jelly... Boehner lives in Jellystone, Jelly, Jellystone.

No wonder Boehner's plan won't pass the House.  It's a joke.  It doesn't cut the deficit, it doesn't solve the debt ceiling issue for another 16 months, it doesn't do diddly.

Josh Marshall hears that "sane" Republican machers and Wall Street are preparing to step in with an intervention to save Boehner from himself.

Good luck with that.

Free Nancy Pelosi!

Show him how it's done, Nancy Smash.

Kabuki is in high gear!  Boehner has a plan that won't pass the Senate and will get vetoed by the President.  What's REALLY funny is that it likely won't pass the House either.

I hope he has the vote tomorrow and loses.  I hope those 60 mouth breathing morons - people who "believe in Social Darwinism but don't believe in Darwin" - vote against his plan.

Then Boehner can tearfully call up Nancy Pelosi and let her whip the votes for a clean debt increase - or at least one that isn't a gigantic transfer of wealth up the ladder.

Anybody could do a better job whipping the GOP than Boehner and Cantor.

"If you want to be a leader, you have to lead."


Here's the Darwin source.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Offered Without Comment

OK, one comment: How did Brian Wilson get past the Secret Service?

Where Now?

Saw the speech.

Should have been given two months ago.

Still, I heard the Congressional web server went down from people trying to contact their reps.

I'm starting a long biography of Woodrow Wilson.  Wilson believed fervently in the education of the American electorate.  He used presidential addresses to inform and educate the people about what he wanted to do and why.  Famously, he was trying to do this when he suffered his debilitating stroke in 1919.

Anyways, Obama has some certain similarities with Wilson (although probably not the racism).  One he could use more of is the idea of explaining things.

His speech on Jeremiah Wright was like that.  He needs more of it.  And sooner.

I worry this speech is too late.

UPDATE: Brad DeLong says invoke the 14th Amendment and get rid of the debt ceiling kabuki.

The Perils Of False Equivalency

Washington isn't broken, the House GOP is.

Go read it. It's short.

You Don't Have To Play Eleven Dimensional Chess With Morons

Harry "Not A Porn Star" Reid has come up with a plan that saves $2.7B over the next two years by winding down the wars (Yay!), saving money on interest and some discretionary flensing.  It has no new tax revenues.

In short, he has met Boehner's bottom line: enough savings to balance the increase in the debt limit and no new revenues.

Watch how fast Boehner runs away from it.  As Obama said, "What can they say yes to?"

Someone, maybe at Daily Kos, maybe Matt Yglesias, said that what they've been trying to do all along is in fact get the Democrats to cut entitlements.

That's the whole reason we're flush up against default.  They want to cut entitlements.

Because there are long term structural problems?

No, don't be silly.

Because they want the Democrats to be on the hook for cutting Medicare.

After the Paul Ryan budget PR fiasco, they have seen the polls and realize they have touched the third rail.  But if they can get the Democrats to cut entitlements, then they can blunt the Death Panel 2012 ads that the Democrats are sure to run against them.

The GOP understands politics and elections just fine.  But they couldn't govern a garden club.

The 21st Century Ft. Sumter

Dennis G at Balloon Juice has a schtick, if you will.  He has written persuasively and at length about the modern GOP being essentially a neo-Confederate party.  Today, he wrote a very interesting and thorough piece about that.

He argues, accurately, that compromise is the basis of both American governance and progressive change.  All positive change in this country evolved over time through compromises.  Dennis sites a speech Obama made recently where he talked about Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation - a confusing, half-assed compromise if ever one existed - but how that eventually led to the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments.

Anyone with a basic understanding of American civics and history knows that this country is run on compromise.

And as Dennis points out in his piece, it really broke down only once before, almost exactly 150 years ago, with the election of "Black Lincoln".  At that moment, the slave holding South refused to accept a President elected without Southern votes and forced a showdown that ruptured the government and the nation.

The point of the piece obviously is that today we face a group of radicals who are willing to destroy the government - or at least its ability to function - rather than compromise with a President whose legitimacy they cannot accept.

Ezra Klein has a piece this morning where he notes that the Democrats are willing to accept a bad deal on the debt ceiling, because they desperately don't want the economy to implode.  The obvious, unsaid counterpoint is that the GOP really doesn't care if we plunge back into recession.

I cannot think of a time in American history where a political party in charge of something (as opposed to a minority party barking at the doors of power) has willfully embraced the possible collapse of the American economy for political reasons.  Even when Andrew Jackson killed the Second Bank of the US, he thought he was doing the right thing economically.

Today, the Tea Party caucus is proposing a House resolution demanding that should default occur, the President must fund creditors, the military and Social Security first.  That means everything else, from the FAA (already closed) to highway construction to the National Weather Service to national parks to the SEC to food inspections to farm subsidy payments to defense contracts to the FBI to... well, you get the idea... all of that would shut down.

For the first time, they seem to understand that maybe default WILL hurt.

And yet they welcome it just the same.  They are willing for the first time to default on our nation's debt, to ruin the credit worthiness of our country.  They are willing to do this despite an offer of $3T in spending cuts - including entitlements - and $1T in revenues (and no increase in marginal rates).

There is a strain of human thought that embraces chaos and disorder in the abstract.  Hence the popularity of Mad Max, zombie movies and other apocalyptic fare.  Everyone fancies himself John McClane.

But I have a hunch that when actually experienced, this becomes considerably less palatable.

That strain of thinking appears to motivate the Tea Party.  They seem to welcome the chaos and disorder that default will bring.

Just as the Fire Eaters of 1860 welcomed the chaos and disorder of civil war.

Keep that in mind as we tick down to the deadline.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

History For Dummies

Dante Atkins over at Daily Kos points out that FDR never would have stood for Boehner's shenanigans on the debt ceiling.

Well, no, I guess not.  In fact, I'm not certain the Congress even VOTED on the debt limit in the '30s.

But whatever.  This is why the Manic Progressives over at DK drive me insane.

FDR had majorities in both Houses of Congress.  There were progressive Republicans in the Congress as well.

There were not certified nihilists running the House into the ground.

Better example would be to compare the fate of Truman's Fair Deal at the hands of the Do-Nothing Congress.

Idiots.  Don't play with sharp objects, Dante.

Reason 1093248937 Why John Boehner Is Not Up For The Job

The headline in the Times: "Boehner Says GOP Is Ready To Act Alone On Debt Deal".

I guess this could be a rant against the idiocy of our political media, but honestly, does that sentence make ANY sense?

If the GOP acts alone, how is it a "deal"?  And if they act alone, what happens to that pesky Senate and White House?

This is really, really worrisome. Because it shows that Boehner has no idea how to pass the debt ceiling increase and so it positioning himself for the fallout.  "We had a deal to end Medicaid and therefore balance the budget, but those Democrats wouldn't pass it from the Senate."

At some point, I keep hoping for our Galtian Overlords to come on the scene and kick some GOP butt into line.  But at this point - and perhaps for the first time - I think we're about to default on our debt.

Congratulations, Teatards!  You've turned the US into Greece.

Ezra Klein Points Out We Are Already Screwed

 We yoked the deficit to the debt ceiling. We began negotiating everything at once. But rather than showing how responsible Washington was, the negotiations uncovered how irresponsible and unpredictable it had become.
The market did not tie the debt ceiling to a $4 trillion deal on the deficit. Washington did. But now that it’s not clear that Washington can get the deal, the market may not let it undo the knot.

So, awesome job, GOP.  Your super-suave negotiating ploy of tying debt reduction to the debt ceiling has created a crisis in the markets.

You know, one of the things we heard about reigning in deficits or lowering vs raising interest rates was that we had to listen to the bond market - the bond vigilantes - who would punish us for our profligate ways.  Only the bond markets didn't give a squeaky fart about our deficits.

Now, the Asian markets are going to open up for business and start selling American bonds and currency, triggering a collapse in the value of the dollar (at least that's the conventional wisdom).  One thing this could lead to is more expensive gasoline, as we have to import oil using a weak dollar.

And we all know how much we love paying more for gasoline.

Klein notes that Standard and Poors is prepared to downgrade the US credit rating even if we pass the sort of clean debt ceiling that we always have in the past.  

Why?  Because the nihilists in the GOP took the US credit rating hostage in order to cut Reading Is Fundamental.

In 1931, central banks made a conscious decision to try and maintain the value of their currency.  In doing so, they destroyed the world banking system and turned the market panic of 1929 into the Great Depression.

Are we about to see the same thing?

Nick Kristoff Redeems The Times Op-Ed Page

IF China or Iran threatened our national credit rating and tried to drive up our interest rates, or if they sought to damage our education system, we would erupt in outrage.
Damon Winter/The New York Times
Nicholas D. Kristof

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Well, wake up to the national security threat. Only it’s not coming from abroad, but from our own domestic extremists.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Let's Have A Laugh Shall We

After a crappy few days, howsabout a laugh (via ABL).

If You Want To Be A Leader, Then You Have To Lead

Obama burps Boehner after the Knuckle Sandwich he gave him made Boehner a little gassy.

I've read and watched the capper to Obama's new conference yesterday a few times.  I think it distilled for me why Obama seems so willing to meet these nihilists halfway.

Obama understands that half a loaf is better than going hungry.  He also understands a fundamental truth that Americans have about our government: For the most part, Americans think almost everyone in Washington is a freaking clown.

The reason people think this is because the people in Washington frequently behave like clowns.  They also know that Washington hasn't done a whole lot to help them.  Other people, yeah, but not them.  (Part of this is because a lot of what the government does for us is usually invisible.)

Obama has been accused by people like Krugman for "embracing right wing frames and memes".  And there is some truth to that.

But above all, what Obama is trying to do, it seems to me, is to show that American government can work.  That on a basic level, government can make things better.  Health care, wars, equality... government can be a force for good.

But to do that, he has to negotiate with a bunch of moronic nihilists who just want to burn everything down.

So he accommodates and accommodates and accommodates.  And it drives us mad.

But I think he feels that if he can't show that government can work then all the policy in the world is just gilded paint on rotting wood.

Polls show that the public supports Obama's position overwhelmingly.  In fact, Republicans support Obama's position more than the House GOP.  I wish I could say that I was sanguine that this "public" would become voters who would reward the one party that seems prepared to govern.

But Casey Anthony is out of jail and OMG Amy Winehouse ODed..  So, whatevs.

Is This Arguable?

This is apparently what Muslims look like in Norway.

DougJ over at Balloon Juice has a point to make:


Can we start honestly talking about what the west is facing now from the far right?
You’ve got teatards threatening to destroy the American economy, Fox Newsers hacking and blackmailing everyone in sight in the UK for who knows how long, and now it looks like a crazy right-wing terrorist (andapparent Pam Geller fan) killed nearly 100 people in Norway yesterday.
To top it all off, we’re told over and over again that both sides do it.
I’m not advocating that we start dropping freedom bombs or torturing people, far from it. But the rising tide of home-grown right-wing extremism in the west scares me a lot more than anything going on in the Middle East

And Andrew Sullivan joins in, too.

The Republican refusal to countenance any way to raise revenues to tackle the massive debt incurred largely on their watch and from a recession which started under Obama’s predecessor makes one thing clear. They are not a political party in government; they are a radical faction that refuses to participate meaningfully in the give and take the Founders firmly believed should be at the center of American government. They are not conservatives in this sense. They are anarchists.
// snip
Coming from abroad, this country seems as if it is beyond dysfunctional. It looks like a banana republic on the verge of economic collapse. Now that Nixon’s dream has come true and the GOP is fundamentally the party of the Confederacy, it was perhaps naive to think they could ever accept the legitimacy of this president, or treat him with respect or act as adults in the governing process.
But this is who they are. I longed for Obama to bridge this gulf in ideology. But he cannot bridge it alone, especially when the GOP is determined to burn the bridge entirely, even when presented with a deal so tilted to the right only true fanatics could possibly walk away from it. And so the very republic is being plunged into crisis and possible depression by a single, implacable, fanatical faction. Until they are defeated, the country remains in more peril than we know.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oh, No

I just saw a headline at NYTimes that says 80 people were killed in the shooting at the youth camp in Norway.

What an awful, awful day for them, and really anyone with a soul.

It appears the perpetrator is Norwegian, which I guess makes sense.  Who would hate the Norwegians?  Their area of military expertise is mine-removal.

So to recap the day:

-Norway has an Oklahoma City incident.
-The House GOP decides to destroy the American economy.
-The country is locked in a record heat wave, while denying global warming.
-The NFL lockout - which was supposed to be over - may not be, because the owners were being dicks.

Oh, and we saw Cars 2 today and it kind of sucked.

UPDATE: The shooter is a right-wing extremist.  Left wing extremists don't eat meat and ride their bike to work.  Right wing extremists blow up government buildings and go on shooting rampages.  That's fair and balanced.

We Are All Mayans Now

The House of Representatives is lead by sociopathic elephants.

On the plus side, we've finally found out what makes Obama angry.  It took two or three years of public scrutiny, but he finally got pissed.

In some ways, the McConnell escape hatch - or some variant - always made the most sense.

As the President said, "Can they say 'yes' to anything?"  Of course, the answer has always been "No."  And many in the blogosphere have been driven to distraction because we've always known the answer has been "No."

The GOP doesn't care about deficits!  The President seemed/feigned surprise that the GOP would walk away from a deal that would have been a VERY serious and very PAINFUL deficit reduction package.  But they don't give a rat's arse about deficits.

They care about cutting taxes for the rich and funding for the poor and working class.

That's it.  That's the whole GOP ideology in a nutshell right there.

Oh, and there's NO WAY they were going to allow Obama to "win" the deficit question.  Of course, he gave up a ton to try and broker a deal, but they weren't going to let him "win" one.

After the 2010 election, I - and quite a few others - opined that the GOP had not spent long enough in the electoral wilderness.  They elected these crazy-assed teatards to Congress and have shown a complete inability to govern.

It's like the GOP's lack of belief in evolution has led them into some dark wormhole where they are actually DEVOLVING.

Eisenhower, the moderating voice of temperamental conservatism, gave way to the scheming machination of Nixon.  But at least Nixon knew how to govern.  Illegally, but still.  Then Reagan and Bush 41 who talked one way and governed another.  Then Shrub who did what the smart guys told him to do and had a bullhorn once and wasn't that nice.

But the current crop of GOP congresspeople make Shrub look like Cicero, like Lincoln.

Grover Norquist, field marshall of the destruction of entitlements and spending on people who are not rich, has given his blessing for the McConnell plan.

Hopefully the fiscal world will not come crashing down in a week.

But nothing these simpering idiots do would surprise me now.

Talking 'Bout A Heat Wave

Well, that's one way...

I have now lived in four distinct climatic regions: Subtropical Georgia, Subarctic New Hampshire, Mediterranean California and Temperate Connecticut.

I was thinking of the lessons I learned - especially returning to the South from more temperate climes - about the need to go slow in the heat.

People who live in tropical climes understand this.  These are people who know the benefits of a good siesta and the principle of manana.  But in the US we have a culture built around the Protestant work ethic of Northern Europe.  Sloth is a sin, God put you here to work.

As the globe gets warmer, the US will go from a predominantly temperate zone to an increasingly sub-tropical climate.  It will be sad watching people hustle and scurry in 100' heat.  We weren't built for that and A/C only helps a little.

So, take it slow, people.  Amble, don't walk.  Mow the lawn next week.

Unless your Congress, in which case: Get Off Your Ass!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ah, Ronnie, We Hardly Knew Ye

I miss Markos.  His site has become one step removed from FDL in some of its reflexive Obama bashing, but he's always had a nice perspective on politics and remembers who the real cretins are.

Today, he once again points out that Reagan is too liberal for today's GOP.  And he rightly notes that this fact should color all of our discussion of  where the state of the two party governance is in this country.

T Minus Ten And Counting

The debt ceiling stuff is all over the map.  Several people - like John Cole - have been saying, "Let the damn thing crash and we will tie the misery around their necks for a generation."

I get that sentiment.  I have a job and am unlikely to lose it (knock wood).  Another market panic would simply make retirement that much more remote.

But the long term effects of default are very, very painful.  We would add a $1,000,000,000,000 to the debt in interest fees.  Screw TARP or the stimulus, defaulting on the debt would be a disaster for the public books.

The sheer stupid, obstinate, pigheadedness and ignorance of the GOP on this makes me want to go all pitchforks and torches on their sorry asses.

But if we have learned anything, it is that the American people - when confronted with difficult economic policies - will largely forget intellect and go with their "gut".  We are starting to see the public clue in a bit on default and Obama has positioned himself as the "responsible one".

What worries me is that the first week of August sees a genuine market panic, the economy double dips and the GOP - chastened - agrees to a deal.

But Obama has already signaled that he's willing to put long term budget considerations ahead of fixing our current economy.

How do important programs survive the long knives that will be broken out once we add another TRILLION dollars onto our debt?

Is this, perhaps, the GOP plan?  Forget the perhaps.  This is Grover Norquist's "shrink government to the size where you can drown it in a bathtub" become real.

The GOP don't give a damn about deficits.  THEY. DO. NOT.

They want to stop the EPA from keeping the water clean.  They want to end Medicare as we know it.  They want to defund everything and turn it all over to private enterprise.

And it it takes running up huge deficits, then so be it.

Because Clinton and Obama have shown that only Democrats really give a damn about deficits and are willing to fix things.

Not that anyone seems to give them credit for it.

The GOP can win elections, but only the only the Democrats can govern.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Onion: The Finest News Source In The World,20977/

It is impossible to read that link and not be convinced that our satire has outpaced our reality.


On the left: what I should be doing.  On the right: what I've actually been doing.

I spent the last dozen waking hours playing around on  It really is remarkable how they've created a combination online resource/genealogy hosting site/family tree wiki.

For about fifteen minutes this morning I was descended from Scottish kings.  But then, not so much.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Putting The "High" In Higher Education

We don't need no education.

No, this is not a post about marijuana use on college campuses.

Ed at Ginandtacos has an interesting post about the pressures to raise tuition for college.  He notes the building spree that went on during the boom years and the proliferation of useless administrators that suck up six figure salaries while doing nothing of real educational import.

My own comment in his thread stressed the psychology of high tuition costs.  I'll expand upon it for my loyal readers.... reader.

A few years back before the '08 Crash, three of the finest schools in the New England boarding school world considered offering tuition free education.  Andover, Exeter and St. Paul's had amassed such large endowments that they could afford to operate their schools without charging tuition.

They elected not to, and not just because the Crash pummeled their endowments.

Education has increasingly become a commodity.  We talk a lot about sculpting and caring and encouraging young minds.  We talk about educating the "whole student".  But we are also offering a "product".  Small class sizes, committed faculty and gorgeous facilities.

If we were to be able to offer that same product for no tuition, there is a part of the human psyche that would no longer value that educational "product".  How can something be valuable if it is "free"?

We send a lot of our graduates to NESCAC schools (Middlebury, Colby, Wesleyan).  These are fine schools that in some way replicate what we offer: smaller classes, beautiful facilities, an intimate environment.  One of my favorite students declined to go to Middlebury, because - as she said - I just spent four years in a place like that.

But they are also expensive.  And part of me wonders if perhaps they are popular BECAUSE they are expensive.  Looking at the USN&W College rankings, you have to go down to U. Cal Berkeley at 22 before you find a state university, or in other words a college with tuition less than $30K a year.  The University of Virginia clocks in at 25.


UVA and Cal are "worse" schools than Washington University in St. Louis?  Than Rice?  Vanderbilt?  Notre Dame?  Emory?

Or are they simply "cheaper"?

Go to the smaller "Liberal Arts College" list - expunge the service academies as being unique outliers - and you have to get down to #47 Rhodes College before you can find a school at under $35K - and it's barely under that number.  If Rhodes charged more in tuition, would it become more prestigious?

I mean, Middlebury charges over $50K a year.  It must be a good school, right?

Harvard, Princeton and Yale cost less than $40K a year.  Most schools in that top-20 category of National Universities peg their tuitions off that, falling within the $36-$43K range (only Rice falls outside of it).

Now, it would seem to me that a college - like, say Harvard - plopped right down in the middle of Boston would have higher costs associated with operating than Middlebury, which lies approximately in the middle of nowhere.

But tuition is not about "operating costs".  And while I think Ed is right that colleges have overbuilt (haven't we all in the past two decades?) and they have layered on too much administration, I think a fundamental problem is that we - as a society - have decided that education MUST be expensive to be valuable.

Middlebury would rather have a $50K tuition and provide financial aid to most of it's students than charge $25K and offer no aid.  Why?  Because a $50K school is better than a $25K school.  And that puts pressure on schools with smaller endowments - who can't offer the level of financial aid that Middlebury can - to keep up or look like they are the WalMart of the college world.

The discussion about the cost of college will likely accelerate in the coming years whenever we finally get the economy back on track.  Unlike health care, I don't think this is a monumental problem.  It's 50% fiscal-50% psychological.

This likely makes it unsolvable, however.

I hope Thing One and Thing Two can get into the Naval Academy...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Budgets: How Do They Work?

via John Cole, here's Dave Leonhardt of the Times

The story of today’s deficits starts in January 2001, as President Bill Clinton was leaving office. The Congressional Budget Office estimated then that the government would run an average annual surplus of more than $800 billion a year from 2009 to 2012. Today, the government is expected to run a $1.2 trillion annual deficit in those years.
You can think of that roughly $2 trillion swing as coming from four broad categories: the business cycle, President George W. Bush’s policies, policies from the Bush years that are scheduled to expire but that Mr. Obama has chosen to extend, and new policies proposed by Mr. Obama.
The first category — the business cycle — accounts for 37 percent of the $2 trillion swing. It’s a reflection of the fact that both the 2001 recession and the current one reduced tax revenue, required more spending on safety-net programs and changed economists’ assumptions about how much in taxes the government would collect in future years.
About 33 percent of the swing stems from new legislation signed by Mr. Bush. That legislation, like his tax cuts and the Medicare prescription drug benefit, not only continue to cost the government but have also increased interest payments on the national debt.
Mr. Obama’s main contribution to the deficit is his extension of several Bush policies, like the Iraq war and tax cuts for households making less than $250,000. Such policies — together with the Wall Street bailout, which was signed by Mr. Bush and supported by Mr. Obama — account for 20 percent of the swing.
About 7 percent comes from the stimulus bill that Mr. Obama signed in February. And only 3 percent comes from Mr. Obama’s agenda on health care, education, energy and other areas.

That there above is something called "fact based journalism".  It's a rare and wondrous thing to see in the wild.

Enjoy it while it lasts.

The Passion Of The Rupert

A typical News Corps son of a bitch.

I have not posted on the Rupert Murdoch/News Corps hacking scandal, because it felt like one of those stories that was moving so fast anything you said on Tuesday would be irrelevant on Wednesday.

Plus, my own bias leads me to view this as a "dog bites man" story.  Rupert Murdoch is a bully, a thug and a criminal?  Say it ain't so!

Today I read this summary of events.  So now I feel a little more plugged in.

Here's my takeaway for what it's worth.  

They are guilty.  Due process and presumption of innocence notwithstanding, their behavior and the trail of evidence is overwhelming.  The mass resignations, the stream of new allegations and the fact that normally cowed or co-opted watchdogs are now snarling all tell me that this is not only 100% true, but there's a lot more unsettling stuff out there.

The broader question of what this all means seems to be this: Rupert Murdoch is the Cornelius Vanderbilt of the New Gilded Age.

Vanderbilt cagily started as a shipping magnate and then moved into railroads.  Murdoch started with tabloids and then moved into cable television.  Vanderbilt was a renowned SOB.  Murdoch is certainly coming into the light as the same.  Vanderbilt once said, "What do I care about the law?  Ain't I got the power?" and "You have undertaken to cheat me.  I won't sue you, for the law is too slow.  I'll ruin you." Once, Vanderbilt cut off all rail and ferry traffic to New York City to force a concession.  

Vanderbilt is - along with his hated nemeses Gould and Fisk - the archetypical "robber baron" of the First Gilded Age.  He saw his opportunity, took it and then made sure that no one could challenge him.  He died one of the wealthiest men in the world and one of the most influential in the United States.

Few people better represent the "capitalism: red in tooth and claw" better than Vanderbilt.

Murdoch is an archetype of the Second Gilded Age.  This Gilded Age is not about railroads and steel, but rather it revolves around the control and distribution of information.  In this, Murdoch excelled.  He has become "content provider" for large swathes of the English speaking world.  In addition to Fox News and the myriad newspapers that he owns, Murdoch owns part of DirectTV, Dow Jones and Fox Broadcasting Company, which runs FOX, FoxSports, F/X (one of my favorite channels) and a bunch of other "little" cable niche networks.

But what really ties Murdoch to Vanderbilt in my mind is their contempt for the idea that the law applies to the rich.

The law is a slow, ponderous thing that seeks to create a legal equality among all.  Theoretically, when you stand before the bar, you are equal to the Murdochs and Vanderbilts of the world.  While I think we know that this is not technically true, the law can still level the mighty on occasion.  Therefore, the super-wealthy just go around it.

They hide their income from taxes.

They hire lobbyists to insert loopholes into laws.

They hire lawyers to exploit those loopholes.

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The rich are different than you and me" he meant that they were almost like a different species.  But today it seems more that the Rich are their own nation.  They exist apart from "America" or "Australia" or "Britain".  They make their own rules, their own laws and their own way in the world.

Like the original Gilded Age, this eventually provoked a backlash - first from the Populist farmers, then from the Middle Class Progressives.  It remains to be seen whether the modern American is too numbed, too ignorant and too indifferent to be rallied to another great movement of reform.  

But a hundred years ago, Americans broadly realized that these "Malefactors of great wealth" - as Teddy Roosevelt called them - were a threat to democracy.  They understood that they existed outside Jefferson's America.

Today, it is apparent that those days have returned.  

Murdoch is just the latest example of this.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Brutaful Game

You shall know Abby Wambach by the trail of her dead.

What a game of soccer today.

The US played their most complete game of the tournament and lost on PKs.  Having beaten Brazil and France despite trailing in possession and looking somewhat ponderous in attack, they look dynamic and in control for much of today's Cup championship.

But two dreadful defensive lapses cost them.  That and their inability to finish off goals early in the game.

Congratulations to Japan's legitimate Cinderella run and easily one of the best feel-good stories of the year.  The fact that it was the WOMEN'S team that gave hope and inspiration to a nation that sorely needed it is just a wonderful statement of how far we've come on issues of gender.

Still, I feel bad for the siege tower that is Abby Wambach.  She deserved a Cup.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Required Reading

The GOP caucus at work.

Once you read this, you can understand why we should take nothing for granted on the debt ceiling.  While the McConnell-Reid plan might have some hope of working to avoid default, it's shoddy governing.

The reason why the GOP can't agree to what they likely would have done if they had control of the White House and Senate is because many members of the GOP caucus are either willfully evil or blindingly stupid.

There just isn't any other way to spin the comments from that piece above.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Fierce Whininess Of Now

Can't we all just get along?

I listened to the President's presser this morning.  It was reasonable, moderate Republican stuff about sharing the pain and balancing the books.  Predictably, the response from Manic Progressives has been intensely negative and frankly there is a lot to recommend in their criticisms.

Social Security is not in a crisis.  It needs minor revenue tweaks to stay solvent beyond the fiscal horizon.

Medicare should not be "means tested" into a poverty program like Medicaid that will allow future politicians to kill it.

The middle of a terrible jobs recession is not the time to be cutting spending.

The President's plan - according to a neat graphic whipped up by Nate Silver - is actually slightly to the right of most Republicans (who aren't Teatards or Congressmen).

It has been easy to see Obama is either a feckless negotiator or a traitor to the Democratic party for those inclined to do so.  I certainly have criticized Obama's negotiating skills in the past.

But why is it so easy to label him a traitor to Democratic ideals?

I think we have entered a period where feedback is both immediate and insular.  The internet has - mercifully - punctured some of the sanctimony of "conventional wisdom" by bringing facts and different viewpoints to the fore.  But it has allowed for groups to talk to themselves and no others.  FDL and DailyKos are pretty good examples of this.  So are Red State and Fox News.

But the immediate passions are not new.  I'm wrapping up a book on the election of 1912, and it was striking to me how fervently Teddy Roosevelt believed that Woodrow Wilson would be a disaster for the country.  Actually, Wilson passed some critical legislation that had eluded Teddy when he was in the White House.  Similarly, Roosevelt advocated in his Nobel Speech for an "international police force", yet he roundly derided the League of Nations.  The two ideas were very different in philosophy and approach, but they were largely similar in intent.

And yet this drove TR and his supporters bonkers.

We tend to take up inflexible positions and then fight to the death to defend them.  The GOP has certainly done that with their stance on the debt ceiling.  But I fear that we in the reality based community are also too quick to defend our positions with absolutist positions.

It's absolutely not frakking fair that Obama has to try and balance the budget.  George Bush passed those reckless, irresponsible, incredibly damaging tax cuts.  George Bush passed Medicare Plan B without paying for it.  George Bush launched two wars without paying for them.  George Bush oversaw the emasculation of the regulatory system that led to a collapse of the global economy.

And if we elect Mitt Romney president, Boehner or Cantor Speaker and McConnell Majority Leader, we will see the same damned reckless, feckless budgetary evil all over again.

It's not fair that Obama has to clean this up.

But he's trying to do it.  And he's trying to do it in ways that make me angry.

But not nearly as angry as I am at the other side for threatening to crash the global economy to preserve the carried interest tax cheat.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Cry Babies

Obama reassures Eric Cantor that there will be pie.

Following up on John Cole's post below, we can add immaturity to the various flaws manifested by the GOP, especially Eric Cantor.

Apparently, he kept interrupting Obama to bring up something Obama had already said no to three times, namely a short term increase in the ceiling to keep things going.  (It's interesting that the closer we get to the deadline, the more the advantage seems to shift to Obama.  The GOP are clearly piddling their shorts.)

Obama ended the meeting and hurt Eric Cantor's fee-fees.  The response of Democratic leaders has been telling:

Schumer: "If Eric Cantor decides everything, I fear we'll be in default."

Reid:  "House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has shown he shouldn't be at the table and Republicans agree he shouldn't be at the table."

This tells me that the Democratic team has focused on Cantor as the obstacle to getting a deal done.  As the spokesman for the Teatards, he holds a veto power over the deal.  If they get him to cave, presumably they get a deal done.

With the markets increasing the pressure on these children to get a deal done, it will be interesting to see what happens next.  Do we get an "clean" extension?  A set of deficit reduction measures in the midst of a recession?  A "grand bargain" on both deficits and entitlements?

Again, this would be entertaining if so much wasn't at stake.  Bob Woodward will need to channel Shakespeare for his next book.

UPDATE: Fair and balanced: "He lost a lot of credibility when he walked away from the table … It was childish," said one House Republican with close ties to Cantor who spoke on condition of anonymity to preserve their friendship. "This is his time to perform."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Required Reading

I should post a link, but I'm just going to cut and paste Cole's piece.  I'll mail him a royalty check...

Of Course They’re Crazy

Why the hell are we still having this fucking debate:
The more we find out about the House Republican caucus, the more obvious it becomes that they’re not just trying to maximize their leverage by pretending to be crazy. They’re crazy.
Of course they are crazy. Ross Douthat is just a hack who does his best to run cover for his dumber compadres, but they are all crazy. There is really no reason to debate this anymore. They deny evolution, many of them think the earth is only several thousand years old, they don’t believe in global climate change and adamantly don’t believe humans have anything to do with it, they think being gay is a choice and I guaran-god-damned-tee that at least half of them think you can pray it away, they think stem cells are tiny babies, they think Saddam Hussein had a role in 9/11, they think you can cut taxes indefinitely and government revenues will always increase, they think Sarah Palin is qualified to be President and Joe the Plumber has keen political insights, they think Obama may be a Muslim and might not be a citizen, they think the solution to gun violence is more guns, and that dijon mustard and arugula are elitist, that the President who appointed half of Goldman Sachs to his administration is a socialist, and so on. And I’m not attributing to the GOP made up stuff, these are things in their fucking platform or that they state regularly on camera and in print. Michelle Bachmann was just on tv all wild-eyed asserting that even if we default, seniors will still get their social security checks and that Obama is a big meanie for suggesting otherwise. How will we pay them? Who the fuck knows? They aren’t dealing with reality and haven’t been for a long, long time.
There simply is no reason on earth to have this debate any more, except that it serves the needs of assholes like Ross Douthat and David Brooks and other members of the conservative “intelligentsia.” If we all recognize that the conservatives are nuts and their ideas are disastrous, they would lose their respectable media/beltway credibility, and you can’t have that happening. So they spin all this bullshit and pretend that it is just another conservative viewpoint when what it actually is is batshit crazy being normalized by sociopaths like the aforementioned Times columnists.
So yes. They are crazy. Batshit, bugfuck crazy. Anyone who treats them as a serious party is either a wingnut welfare recipient or just plain stupid