Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Obama 2014

Real Clear Politics brings us polling data on Americans' view of President Obama's performance

PollDateSampleApprove Disapprove Spread
RCP Average12/3 - 12/22--42.752.5 -9.8
CNN/Opinion Research12/18 - 12/211011 A4850 -2
Gallup12/20 - 12/221500 A4451 -7
Rasmussen Reports12/20 - 12/221500 LV4851 -3
The Economist/YouGov12/13 - 12/15698 RV4454 -10
ABC News/Wash Post12/11 - 12/14RV3957 -18
NBC News/Wall St. Jrnl12/10 - 12/141000 A4550 -5
Reuters/Ipsos12/10 - 12/142096 A3754 -17
GWU/Battleground12/7 - 12/111000 LV4350 -7
FOX News12/7 - 12/91043 RV4253 -11
Associated Press/GfK12/4 - 12/81010 A4158 -17
McClatchy/Marist12/3 - 12/9923 RV4352 -9
USA Today/Pew Research12/3 - 12/71507 A4251 -9
Bloomberg12/3 - 12/51001 A3952 -13

Recently, I would have put myself in the disapprove column, when I've been considering how many ways I've been disappointed by President Obama:  failure to address the crimes of the Bush administration, failure to push for a stronger stimulus to bring more people back in to the  work force (and giving college graduates the opportunity to start their careers), giving in to the counterproductive deficit reduction mania and supporting the damaging sequester, nominating Wall Street hacks to important policy positions....  I have a long list of disappointments..  

(Some believe that disapproval of the president's performance translates into support for the Republican Party.  No sir!  Mr. Obama may have disappointed me, but at least he hasn't been crazy damaging like the Republican Party has been and wants to be.)

And now Andrew Sullivan comes along to help restore some sense of proportion:
There has long been a pattern to Barack Obama’s political career on the national stage. There are moments of soaring moral clarity and inspiration; there are long periods of drift or laziness or passivity; and there are often very good fourth quarters. The 2008 campaign was an almost perfect coda: the sudden initial breakout, then a strange listlessness as he allowed the Clintons to come back in New Hampshire, turning the race into a long and grueling battle for delegates, then a final denouement when he made up with the Clintons and stormed into the White House. Or think of healthcare reform: a clear early gamble, followed by a truly languorous and protracted period of negotiation and posturing, and then a breakthrough. Or marriage equality: an excruciating period of ambivalence followed by a revolution. On climate: a failed cap and trade bill … followed by real tough fuel emissions standards, new carbon rules from the EPA and an agreement with China.
 When he was elected, I had hoped Mr. Obama would prove to be one of our great presidents like Lincoln and FDR.  I guess I have to settle for pretty good.

Update 12/24/2014      Yglesias weighs in as well
Update  1/12/2015        So does Chait
Update  6/4/2015        David Axelrod on Obama's thinking (after a classic Jon Stewart takedown of RWNJs):
I'll never forget, he said, "Look, I get all that [the many failures of previous administrations to pass universal health care, and the political minefield it would be to take it on], but what are we supposed to do, sit here for eight years, put our approval rating in the shelf, and just admire it?  Or are we going to draw it down and try to do some things that mean something." and he said. "If we don't do it now, we'll never get it done."

Republican Humor (Oxymoron Watch)

This reminds me of this - the "comedy" news show that had to add a laugh track.
And what about that set and audience briefly shown at the beginning?   It clearly wasn't where the program was actually recorded.  Misleading, you say?  Well, what did you expect?  It is Fox News, after all.....

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reverse This Requirement Now!

 From the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

Gov. John Kasich's $10 million plan to bring mentors into Ohio's schools for students now has a surprise religious requirement – one that goes beyond what is spelled out in the legislation authorizing it.
Any school district that wants a piece of that state money must partner with both a church and a business – or a faith-based organization and a non-profit set up by a business to do community service.
No business and no faith-based partner means no state dollars.
But in the meantime, from the comments on this story:

 We can only hope.....

Worth Reading In Full

A black judge responds to Josh Marshall on the recent publicity over police violence towards people of color.

 We supporters don’t “miss” the “deep wells of support and trust” police have in the majority population. They have always had such support and trust. It just doesn’t matter here. What you seem to miss is that the reason that such support and trust exists is due to the fact that what they are protecting the majority population from, in the minds of far too many in that population, is us!
I have seen the disparity in criminal charges and sentencing up close and personal. I have seen the biased perceptions of our police result in imprisonment, beatings, mistreatment and yes, even death. But it is not only the overt physical violence that minorities are subjected to, it is the presumption of guilt that we confront on a daily basis. 
But listen to the defenders of the police in these latest cases… do you really want to live in the world they are promoting? One where you must immediately acquiesce to any request/order give by anyone in a uniform, without question or complaint… under penalty of death if you don’t comply, or comply too slowly for them? Do you really mean to give people in uniform the power to kill, maim, imprison any person simply because they questioned why they were being confronted or resisted rough treatment? Is the uniformed officers word to be deemed absolute, without recourse… and his/her power to punish to be deemed limitless? 
So, we don’t miss the support and trust police have in the majority population… t’was always thus… we just don’t care to let that support and trust kill more of our sons and daughters. We are tired of letting their subjective “fears” be reason enough to make us bury another child. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Small Value Coins

The case for doing away with the penny (each of which costs 2.4 cents to produce) is strong.
Some object with the following observation:
But eliminating it would result in greater use of the five-cent coin, the nickel, which costs 11.2 cents to produce.
 The obvious step is to eliminate the nickel as well.  Consider: the real value of a dime today is just a little more than a cent was worth in 1920 i.e. 12 cents. If we got along with a minimum coin value of about today's dime then, why can't we now?

There was a half cent coin produced in the US until 1857, when it was discontinued as not being worth enough to continue in circulation.  Its value at that time in today's currency:  14 cents - or almost 1½ dimes. It's clear: making the dime our smallest value coin should be a no-brainer.

Some might argue that we should look to the future, as there will be more inflation, further eroding the value of our coinage.  I believe the quarter (worth less than one cent in 1857 values, about two cents in 1920 values) should be our smallest value coin.  Consider: in 1858 our smallest value coin was the penny - whose spending power was about 28 cents in today's currency.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Political Correctness Strikes Again

From the Houston Chronicle:
A third-grade HISD teacher accused of making profane and anti-Muslim remarks on a public access television show will resign immediately and receive three months' pay under a deal approved by the school board Thursday.    
In online clips, Box could be heard referring to "bacon-haters," using profanity in connection with Muslims and asking, "Can't Ebola just take one for the team and take out Obama?"
"District administrators recommended accepting Box's offer of resignation after determining it was in the best interest of the school and its students," HISD said in a statement Thursday.
 While Angela Box's opinions and the expression of them are clearly obnoxious, as long as she was not expressing them in the classroom, and they did not otherwise affect her job performance, it's hard to see the justification for removing her from her position.  It reminds me of the "Red scare" firing of teachers in the 1920's:
"Red hunting" became the national obsession.  Colleges were deemed to be hotbeds of Bolshevism, and professors were labeled as radicals.  The hunt reached down to public secondary schools where many teachers were fired for current or prior membership in even the most mildly of leftist organizations.
Political views (however ugly) expressed outside of the workplace should not be cause for dismissal.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Black Protest


reminds me of this:

Plus ça change and all that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Another Press Failure

Right wing institutions like the American Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Heartland Institute are clearly propaganda mills, yet the press gives them an air of intellectual respectability by describing them as "think tanks" - as thought they are sites that produce reasonable conclusions based on disinterested research, the way genuine think tanks like the Brookings Institute (and our universities) do.

Look for instance at some of the "scholars" associated with the American Enterprise Institute:  John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, Newt Gingrich.  And the Cato Institute?  Its original name says it all: The Charkes Koch Foundation.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Good CNN/Bad CNN

John Stewart was being pressed by Fareed Zakariah to acknowledge good reporting from CNN.  Stewart's response:
"CNN is very similar to the doll Chucky. Sometimes it's good Chucky, but you really got to watch out for bad Chucky."
As if to prove his point, here's Zakariah's pivot to his next story:
"Next on GPS: many accused Putin this week of putting the moves on China's first lady."
Sure, placing a shawl on the lady was a faux pas on Putin's part, but "putting the moves on"?

Bad Chucky!

Democratic Messaging

As Howard Dean noted, the Democrats messaging for the 2014 election was terrible:
Dean criticized Washington Democrats for never being able to stay on message, agreeing with Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who said his party did not do a good job communicating what President Obama has done.
"The Republican message was, 'We're not Obama.' No substance whatsoever," Dean said. But after rhetorically asking himself the message from Democrats, Dean answered sarcastically "Oh, well, we're really not either."
I've been thinking about how the Democrats could have put out a positive message, and made it consistent across the country.  If they had asked me, I would have suggested a series of TV spots with a consistent message: "Don't let the Republicans (do harm in the issue). Elect a Democrat!"

For instance, a series of spots on the subject of health insurance, each one with a (genuine) person relating how health insurance previously unavailable had helped him/her: someone being treated for a serious illness, someone with assured insurance who could quit a job to start a business, someone who is jut plain secure knowing their family is covered if things go wrong, and each ending with the same tag:   "Don't let the Republicans take (person's) health insurance away - elect a Democrat!"

Or a series of spots featuring people who lost their jobs after the 2008 crash, but who have since found employment in the recovering economy, and the relief they feel at being able to stand on their feet again, all ending with the tag: "Don't let the Republicans crash the economy again - elect a Democrat!"

Or people who can talk about how their local air or water has improved with government protections against polluters, ending with the tag:  "Don't let the Republicans allow our air/water to be fouled again - elect a Democrat!"

The same spots could be played nationwide, as they carry a positive Democratic message that is not specific to any single race, and the unified message could have set the national discourse in a direction much different than the nebulousness described above by Howard Dean.

Mormon Church

I can't be the only person to have noted the totally appropriate name that Joseph Smith invented (presumably subconsciously) for the "angel" with the absurd story who set him on the path to founding the Mormon Church -- Moron I.

Saturday, November 8, 2014


If a lady politician flashing one "gang sign" is bad:

Then flashing two must be twice as bad:

Friday, November 7, 2014

"I Am Not a Scientist"

Republicans have an answer to questions about their non-action on global warming: they profess ignorance by saying, "I'm not a scientist."  To which the obvious follow-up question is: "Then don't you think you should be getting your information from the people who are scientists - specifically climate scientists?"

Sadly, our feckless press allows politicians to get away with their evasions while the danger to the planet continues growing.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

They Asked For It

So the Democrats have lost the Senate. Well, they have only themselves to blame, after exhibiting their usual rhetorical deficiency, playing defense (weakly) instead of going on the offensive.

An example of how the Democrats could have taken to rhetorical high ground:  they could have countered Boehner's references to our weak recovery as "the Obama economy", and his placing the blame for our economic weakness on "President Obama's policies", by aggressively turning the blame for the slow recovery back onto Boehner himself.

What I would have liked to hear:   it was President Obama's stimulus policy that pulled us back from the brink of a more severe depression in 2009, and led to the recovery here in the US that has done better than most of the other industrialized countries. We can call that period of 2009-2011 the "Obama economy."  But when it was apparent that the slow recovery needed more stimulus, Mr. Boehner and his party refused to pass the bills requested by the president to boost the economy, begin repairing our crumbling infrastructure, and create millions more jobs.  A clear dichotomy:  President Obama's policy of stimulating the economy for faster growth, John Boehner's policy of obstruction for the sake of obstruction, resulting in continuing slow growth.   So we can call the struggling economy "the weak Boehner economy" - and after you've undercut the president's policy, how dare you refer to the "weak Boehner economy" as the "Obama economy"!

Another example: when the Republican governors refused to set up the state exchanges anticipated under the ACA, it was evident that they were acting out of political spite, to the detriment of the people of their states.  And much of the obstruction in congress has also been purely out of political spite, not based on the merits of legislation or appointments.  I would have liked to have seen the Democrats jump on the phrase "political spite", and hang it (justifiably) around the necks of the Republicans - let them be on the defensive, and try to show that they were not acting out of spite.

There are plenty of other issues on which the Democrats could have put the Republican on the defensive.  I think that the example of these two memes - "the weak Boehner economy" and "political spite" could have helped tremendously in the elections.  Sadly, the Democrats could not bring themselves to set the terms of debate, and playing on the Republicans' terms meant a deserved defeat.
Update:  Lexington of The Economist interviewed voters in Kentucky.  Here's one:
Clinton Gray, a retired army Apache helicopter pilot, talked of being a “firm capitalist”, casting a vote in opposition to government-loving Democrats who “do not believe in industry,” and “do not want to see the economy improve, because it won’t be to their political advantage.”
Well, Obama wanted the economy to improve - the Republicans did not,  because it wasn't to their political advantage.  If the Democrats had been competent in messaging, Mr. Gray might have understood he had it exactly backwards.

Kernan's Ignorance

As I've noted before, Joe Kernan of CNBC has a problem with basic comprehension, as well as not being very knowledgeable.

Now he has outdone himself with an even more stunning display of ignorance.

And for this he gets paid big bucks!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Club Dues

As Michael Tomasky points out:
When Republicans attack Democrats, the attacks quite often go right to the heart of Democratic essence, and philosophy. “My opponent is a big-government, big-spending, high-taxing” etc. That gets it all in there in a few short words. Every Republican says it, and the fact is that it’s typically at least sort of true, because Democrats do believe in government and spending and taxes. As a result, in almost every American election, the Democrat is instantly put on the defensive, while the Republican is playing offense.
It's long past time for the Democrats to put the Republicans on the defensive.  Here's one way.

Say to your audience: Suppose you are a dues-paying member of a club - a club that has nice buildings, and a raft of services and activities that are important to you, a club of which you expect you will be a lifetime member.  The dues are sizeable, but they keep the club in good repair and operating smoothly, and the dues are affordable: there's a sliding scale based on your income.

Now suppose the club secretary reduces your club dues, and the drop in funds results in the buildings not being properly maintained, and the services and operations that make the club so desirable cut back.  Would you consider that a responsible action on his part?  Would you re-elect him just because he cut your membership dues?

As Americans, we are members of the best club in the world: the USA.  Our club dues are the taxes we pay to maintain our country's physical structures and services.  The deal offered by Republicans is to cut our "club dues" - our taxes - pandering to our natural desire to keep as much of our income as we can, while not making clear how the country's infrastructure and R&D are suffering from our refusal to pay taxes to maintain them. (The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we need to invest $3.6 trillion over the next six years to get the US's infrastructure up to A level - at the moment, the society rates our infrastructure at a D+ - but the Republican continue to block significant funding for the needed investments.)

So the Democrats could go on the offensive, saying:  We are members of the best club in the world.  To maintain that club, we need to pay our club dues - the taxes that fund the investments that keep our country strong.  The Republicans are pandering to you and sabotaging the country by cutting taxes below a reasonable level.  Step up and be willing to pay your club dues!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tempting offer

At the end of his long screed attacking Krugman, Cliff Asness writes:
Now for a real prediction: Paul will continue to be mostly wrong, mostly dishonest about it, incredibly rude, and in a crass class by himself ...... That is a prediction I'm willing to make over any horizon, offering considerable odds..........Any takers?
Asness is conflating two predictions: Krgthulu will be
1.  mostly wrong, mostly dishonest about it, and
2.  incredibly rude, and in a crass class by himself

One would be safe betting against Asness on prediction 1, and clean up on those long odds offered if the bet were judged fairly, but how about prediction 2?  The assessment here would be purely subjective. What many of us see as justifiable snark (to draw people's attention to important policy decisions made and not made) apparently hurts Asness's fee-fees, so if he's the one who gets to define "incredibly rude, and in a crass class by himself" - well, I guess he'll want your money on the bet.

Now if only he made the offer on prediction 1 only......

Update: Krgthulu gives one justification for his style:
Making fun of billionaires who are clueless about economics, and lack the menschood to admit their mistakes, serves a couple of functions. It reminds the audience that being rich doesn’t mean that you know what you’re talking about; it also provides other rich people some incentive to think before they speak, and maybe even do some homework before preaching to the rest of us. I’m snarky for a reason.

Brad DeLong nails it

 From Washington Center for Equitable Growth:
There are two questions that must be answered in the process of figuring out whether having the government borrow money and spend is a good idea:
  1. What is the money being used for?
  2. How expensive is the money to borrow?
Back in the Reagan-Bush I years–the steep run-up in the debt-to-annual GDP ratio in the 1980s and the first third of the 1990s:
  1. The money was used to rapidly build up the U.S. military to counter the Soviet Union’s overwhelming might–an overwhelming might that existed only in the fantasies of the neoconservatives who ran the “Team B” exercise initiated at the CIA by George H.W. Bush.
  2. The money was used for tax cuts for the rich in the hope that increasingly incentivizing entrepreneurship would accelerate economic growth above the pace of the 1970s–a vain hope indeed.
  3. The real interest rate at which the U.S. government could borrow was relatively high–between 3.5%/year and 8.5%/year, and averaging 5.5%/year in the 1980s.
DeLong goes on to quote from Krgthulu on our depressed economy:
There’s an obvious policy response to this situation: public investment. We have huge infrastructure needs, especially in water and transportation, and the federal government can borrow incredibly cheaply–in fact, interest rates on [ten-year] inflation-protected bonds have been negative much of the time (they’re currently just 0.4 percent). So borrowing to build roads, repair sewers and more seems like a no-brainer. But what has actually happened is the reverse. After briefly rising after the Obama stimulus went into effect, public construction spending has plunged. Why?… The federal government could easily have provided aid to the states…. But once the G.O.P. took control of the House, any chance of more money for infrastructure vanished
 And after summarizing the fiscal failures of Bush ll, DeLong concludes:
Now, of course, things look different.......The fruit as to what the government could do that would be useful, productive, and growth-enhancing is not just low-hanging. It is lying on the ground.
And yet it is impossible to get the chattering class in Washington to seriously ask the two questions:
  1. How valuable would be the things we would be using the money for?
  2. How expensive would the money be to borrow?
and reach the natural, obvious, inescapable conclusion that right now what the U.S. needs is not a smaller but a larger national debt. Instead, all we hear is:
Why can’t Washington do the math?
Why not indeed!

Monday, October 27, 2014


Back in the day, when congressman Richard Nixon was exposing Alger Hiss, it was said that to left wingers, for Nixon to pursue Hiss was despicable - but to be proved right was unforgiveable.

I see some of the same reaction in the right's view of Paul Krugman: to expose conservative follies is despicable, but to be proved right (over and over) is unforgiveable.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Republican Obama

For years I've been describing President Obama as an Eisenhower Republican (i.e. a moderate conservative).

I'm glad to see Bruce Bartlett agree:
In my opinion, Obama has governed as a moderate conservative—essentially as what used to be called a liberal Republican before all such people disappeared from the GOP.
And Rick Ungar in Forbes a couple of years ago:
Amidst all the cries of Barack Obama being the most prolific big government spender the nation has ever suffered, Marketwatch is reporting that our president has actually been tighter with a buck than any United States president since Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I see a couple of analogies between the Eisenhower and Obama presidencies.

Positive domestic action  on civil rights
Eisenhower - Little Rock
Obama - gays in the military.

Negative foreign actions which come back to haunt us:
Eisenhower - overthrowing the democratically elected Mossadeq in Iran, a misjudgment that has led to the present hardline Islamic state which is one of our greatest foreign headaches.
Obama - the indiscriminate drone wars, which have alienated large parts of the population in the very countries from whom we need support in opposing violent radical Islam, and from which we can expect further "terrorist" (i.e retaliatory) attacks.

So yes, for good and bad, an Eisenhower Republican.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Can We Really Undo the Damage Done by Reagan?

Kinderman and Krueger have a working paper out at the National Bureau of Economic Research proposing a return to the Eisenhower era's top marginal tax rate of around 90% as one step toward increasing federal revenue while at the same time reducing the alarming inequality we are witnessing here in the US.

Diamon and Saez have also suggested a much higher top marginal rate, settling on an optimum figure of 73%.  About 70% seems about right to me. In my post of Feb 2013 I proposed these tax rates:
Suggested marginal rates for married filing jointly - halve the income ranges for singles. The top marginal rate (constant dollars) is the same as it was in 1965-66.
10%            $0 - 25,000
15%            $25,000 - 75,000
25%            $75,000 - 150,000
35%            $150,000 - 325,000
50%            $325,000 - 650,000
60%            $650,000 - 1,500,000
70%            Over $1,500,000

Let's hope that the Kinderman Krueger paper will move the range of discussion acceptable to the Village in a rational direction.

Britain Calling

Ha-Joon Chang has a nice article in The Guardian, examining Britain's disastrous experience with austerity: a fall in income for millions of citizens, and growing inequality as an unreasonably high share of the nation's income goes to the top 1% .  We in the US have had somewhat the same experience*, yet in both countries the dominant narrative remains the same: debt is bad, and deficits must be cut.

Chang counters:
The country is in desperate need of a counter narrative that shifts the terms of debate. A government budget should be understood not just in terms of bookkeeping but also of demand management, national cohesion and productivity growth. Jobs and wages should not be seen simply as a matter of people being “worth” (or not) what they get, but of better utilising human potential and of providing decent and dignified livelihoods.

* though in our case mitigated by the 2009-2011 stimulus, the automatic stabilizers of food stamps and unemployment insurance, and the Fed's quantitative easing.

Monday, October 20, 2014

In His Own Words

So Rand Paul thinks the Bilderberg Group are
"very wealthy people, who I think manipulate and use government to their own personal advantage. They want to make it out like world government will be good for humanity. But guess what? World government is good for their pocketbook." 

Let's bring his words back to reality by just a few substitutions.
The Koch brothers are
"very wealthy people, who I think manipulate and use government to their own personal advantage. They want to make it out like Republican government will be good for the US. But guess what? Republican government is good for their pocketbook." 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Cephalopod Smackdown

Brad DeLong delivers it:

Consider whether one should line up with Amity Shlaes--along with William Kristol, Niall Ferguson, James Grant, David Malpass, Dan Señor, and the rest of that motley company--against Ben Bernanke. Suppose that one has no special expertise on the issue. Suppose that Ben Bernankehas studied that issue for his entire adult life.
  1. Wouldn't anybody with a functioning neural network greater than that of a moderately-intelligent cephalopod recognize that such a lining-up was an intellectual strategy with a large negative prospective α?
  2. Wouldn't--after the intellectual strategy's large negative-α returns have been realized--anybody with a functioning neural network equal to that of a moderately-intelligent cephalopod recognize that it was time to perform a Bayesian updating on one's beliefs, rather than doubling down and claiming that: it's not over--the inflationary pressures are building minute-by-minute?
  3. Wouldn't--when thinking about how to double-down on one's negative-α intellectual strategy, and placing even more of one's mental and reputational chips on the claim that expanding and keeping the Federal Reserve's balance sheet beyond $1.5T generates excessive and dangerous risks of inflation, and that any such expansion ought to be stopped and reversed--anybody with a functioning neural network even less than that of a moderately-intelligent cephalopod recognize that phrasing one's doubling-down in the voice of John Belushi on a very bad day would be unwise, would be likely to call forth mockery and scorn on the same rhetorical level that one had chosen, and would make one a figure of fun and merriment?
  4. And, when the readily-predictable tit-for-tat responses at the rhetorical level one chose do in predictable and due course manage to arrive, that to respond by whinging and sniveling and feeling offense would be unwarranted--would demonstrate only that whatever functioning neural network one does have was not fully connected to reality?
Hah! Smackdowns don't get much better than this!  (I guess it's this kind of thing that cause the practitioners of derp  to refer to Brad DeLong as Paul Krugman's "personal Rottweiler".)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What I Do Not Understand

Imagine if in 1944, while the US was still facing its largest national crisis since the great depression, and after President Roosevelt's re-election with 53.4% of the vote, the Republicans had deliberately undercut the war effort for their political gain, resulting in the prolonging of the war, and thousands of needless deaths.  Who would vote for such a party?

But that is how the Republicans behaved during the country's greatest crisis since WWll: the financial collapse of 2008 and the subsequent downturn*, which put millions out of work.  One would have thought that after Obama's 2008 election with 52.9% of the vote (not that far from Roosevelt's 1944 share), and with the country still in crisis, the Republicans would have supported the president's efforts to get people back to work and the economy back on track.

Instead on the day after the inauguration, Republican lawmakers met to plan undercutting the president's efforts.
For several hours .... they plotted out ways to not just win back political power, but to also put the brakes on Obama's legislative platform.
That was just the immediate first step in a policy of sabotaging the recovery, which was detailed in Mike Grunwald's book The New New Deal.   “If he was for it,” former Ohio Senator George Voinovich explained, “we had to be against it.

Vice President Biden told me that during the transition, he was warned not to expect any bipartisan cooperation on major votes. “I spoke to seven different Republican Senators who said, ‘Joe, I’m not going to be able to help you on anything,’ ” he recalled. His informants said McConnell had demanded unified resistance. “The way it was characterized to me was, ‘For the next two years, we can’t let you succeed in anything. That’s our ticket to coming back,’ ” 
One Obama aide said he received a similar warning from a Republican Senate staffer he was seeing at the time. He remembered asking her one morning in bed, How do we get a stimulus deal? She replied, Baby, there’s no deal!
“This is how we get whole,” she said with a laugh. “We’re going to do to you what you did to us in 2006.”
At the House retreat [before Obama took office], Pete Sessions delivered this message to his colleagues:
The team’s goal would not be promoting Republican policies, or stopping Democratic policies, or even making Democratic bills less offensive to Republicans. Its goal would be taking the gavel back from Speaker Pelosi.
“That is the entire Conference’s Mission,” Sessions wrote.
In January 2009, after just a week in office, Obama announced he would visit the Capitol to meet with Republicans at noon of that day to talk with them about his economic recovery plans.  
Shortly before 11 a.m., the AP reported that Boehner had urged Republicans to oppose the stimulus. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs handed Obama a copy of the story in the Oval Office, just before he left for the Hill to make his case for the stimulus, an unprecedented visit to the opposition after just a week in office. “You know, we still thought this was on the level,” Gibbs says. Obama political aide David Axelrod says that after the President left, White House aides were buzzing about the insult.
“It was stunning that we’d set this up and, before hearing from the President, they’d say they were going to oppose this,” Axelrod says. “Our feeling was, we were dealing with a potential disaster of epic proportions that demanded cooperation. If anything was a signal of what the next two years would be like, it was that.”
David Obey, then chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, met with his GOP counterpart, Jerry Lewis, to explain what Democrats had in mind for the stimulus and ask what Republicans wanted to include. “Jerry’s response was, ‘I’m sorry, but leadership tells us we can’t play,’ ” Obey told me. “Exact quote: ‘We can’t play.’ What they said right from the get-go was, It doesn’t matter what the hell you do, we ain’t going to help you. We’re going to stand on the sidelines and bitch.”
In his campaign, Obama had promised to hold his hand out to the Republicans so they could tackle the economic crisis together.  The GOP had other ideas.
    Grunwald again:
Republicans recognized that after Obama’s big promises about bipartisanship, they could break those promises by refusing to cooperate.
[McConnell] realized that it would be much easier to fight Obama if Republicans first made a public show of wanting to work with him.

McConnell realized that Obama's promises of bipartisanship gave his dwindling minority real leverage.  Whenever Republicans decided not to cooperate, Obama would be the one breaking the promise. ... As long as Republicans refused to follow his lead, Americans would see partisan food fights, and conclude that Obama failed to produce change.
George Voinivich:  "All he cared about was making sure Obama could never have a clean victory."
The goal was to portray [the stimulus] as trillion dollar spending bill at a time of trillion dollar deficits, rather than an economic recovery bill at a time of economic crisis. 
The dream of hope and change was about to enter the world of cloture votes and motions to recommit.
And so President Obama's hope of a bipartisan effort to get the economy rapidly back on track was undercut, and millions of Americans suffered through unemployment - unemployment that ruined lives as careers were stalled or ended, and in the case of college graduates not even begun. (Suicides increased from around 35,000 in 2007 to over 40,000 in 2012.)

This has been suffering imposed by the Republicans solely for political and electoral gain - the good of the country be damned.  (And to add insult to injury, the Republicans claim that it has been Obama who has been "divisive"!)

What I do not understand:  why would anyone even contemplate voting for such a party?

* Some may point to 9/11 as the greatest crisis since WWll.  While it was a monstrous crime that affected thousands of people, it was more akin to the 1996 Oklahoma City bombing, though on a larger scale, and should have been treated the same way as that earlier terrorist attack, instead of the hysterical reaction of the Bush administration that led to the current threats from ISIS.

Update 10/29/2014  Brad DeLong agrees:
(T)here is something wrong with anyone who publicly supports today's Republican Party without having an immediate, practical plan for utterly transforming it root-and-branch into something else.

Update 11/6/2014

And the midterm results show that the Republicans' policy of obstruction and maintaining a weak economy has worked for them, as they have gained control of the Senate and a larger majority in the House.  Let's hope they will now promote economic growth policies expecting it will bring them political advantage.

Further update:

Or perhaps not.   The American Prospect's Paul Waldman:
The incentives for them to continue fighting Obama on anything and everything are everywhere. The strategy of maximal obstruction got them where they are today. Twenty-four Republican senators will be up for re-election in 2016, and every last one will be looking over their right shoulder, worrying about a primary challenge and knowing that the only way to avoid it is to be as venomous as possible in their opposition to Obama. And next year’s House will also become even more conservative than it is now, with the addition of a group of new Tea Partiers.
A Republican party in the flush of a sweeping victory isn’t exactly going to be looking for areas where it can dial back its demands. If someone would like to explain how a GOP caucus in Congress even farther to the right than the one whose antics we currently enjoy would be more inclined to compromise with Barack Obama than it is now, I’m all ears.

Update 11/7/2014.  Krgthulu weighs in:
But the biggest secret of the Republican triumph surely lies in the discovery that obstructionism bordering on sabotage is a winning political strategy. From Day 1 of the Obama administration, Mr. McConnell and his colleagues have done everything they could to undermine effective policy, in particular blocking every effort to do the obvious thing — boost infrastructure spending — in a time of low interest rates and high unemployment.
 This was, it turned out, bad for America but good for Republicans. Most voters don’t know much about policy details, nor do they understand the legislative process. So all they saw was that the man in the White House wasn’t delivering prosperity — and they punished his party. 

Update 11/8/2014.  Eric Boehlert points out the complicity of the national press:
Led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Republicans vowed in 2009 to oppose every political move Obama made, not matter how sweeping or how minor.  "To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked," wrote Matthew Yglesias at Vox, in the wake of the midterm election results. New York's Jonathan Chait made a similar observation about McConnell: "His single strategic insight is that voters do not blame Congress for gridlock, they blame the president, and therefore reward the opposition."
But why? Why don't voters blame Congress for gridlock?
Why would the president, who's had virtually his entire agenda categorically obstructed, be blamed and not the politicians who purposefully plot the gridlock? Because the press has given Republicans a pass. For more than five years, too many Beltway pundits and reporters have treated the spectacular stalemate as if it were everyday politics; just more "partisan combat." It's not. It's extraordinary. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)
Update 11/26/2014:  Jon Chait weighs in:
The GOP has withheld cooperation from every major element of President Obama’s agenda, beginning with the stimulus, through health-care reform, financial regulation, the environment, long-term debt reduction, and so on. That stance has worked extremely well as a political strategy. (Boldness added.)  Most people pay little attention to politics and tend to hold the president responsible for outcomes. If Republicans turn every issue into an intractable partisan scrum, people get frustrated with the status quo and take out their frustration on the president’s party. It’s a formula, but it works.

(Of course, my title for this post is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.  It's been apparent all along that the press has failed dismally in its duty to inform the public about just what was going wrong in Washington, and that is why a deliberate campaign of sabotage was so handsomely rewarded.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Voices of sanity from British conservatives:


If you need proof of just how friendless Israel’s hard-Right government has become, consider the statements last night from MPs who would normally count themselves the country’s natural allies. Arch-Tories such as Nicholas Soames (whose grandfather Winston Churchill is Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political hero) spoke eloquently in favour of Palestinian statehood. And Richard Ottoway, chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said that despite having been “a friend of Israel long before I became a Tory”, its recent policies had “outraged me more than anything else in my political life”, concluding: “If Israel is losing the support of people like me, it is losing a lot of people.” 


It has been the position of every British government since 1967 that the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza have not been lawfully part of the State of Israel, whether at its creation or at any point thereafter. Indeed, that is the view of every foreign government, including the United States.
And since 1967, a clear line has been drawn in international law which defines which territory is occupied and which is not. Yet relentlessly, every week, every month, and every year for decades, Israelis have built illegal constructions on Palestinian land.
The construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is contrary to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits the occupying power from transferring parts of its own population into the territories it occupies. This is a position held by the international community and confirmed by the International Court of Justice. Indeed, the Supreme Court of Israel itself has repeatedly found that the West Bank is held in belligerent occupation.
But since 1967 Israel has continuously and systematically built outside its legitimate borders and has claimed its neighbours’ land as its own. Israeli settlements are the worst, most destructive, aspect of the military occupation, an occupation which has become the longest in modern international relations.
The continued expansion of settlements demonstrates that the occupier has little or no intention of ending that occupation or of permitting a viable Palestinian state to come into existence.
I do not expect the same degree of realism to come out of Washington.

Friday, October 10, 2014

More non-apologies

In the 2012 campaign, Mr, Romney claimed that under his policies if he were president, unemployment would be down under 6%, and 12 million new jobs created by the end of his first term (four years) -  contrasting his policies with that of President Obama.

Now in 2014 (two years after the 2012 campaign), unemployment is at 5.9%,  there have been 11 million new jobs created, and we're on track to reach 12 million in just a few months.  So under President Obama's policies (at least those that haven't been undercut by an obstructionist congress), one of Mr. Romney's four year goals has been accomplished withinin two years, and the other expected to be accomplished in a little over two years.  Or to put it another way - Mr, Romney was promising in his campaign that he would slow the rate of job growth, and maintain a higher unemployment rate longer compared to the president's policies.

I've yet to hear a Republican apologize for supporting Mr. Romney and his slow growth, employment slowing policies, now that the comparative results are in.

Monday, September 1, 2014


I've yet to hear a single Republican apologize for voting to cut the State Department budget for embassy/consulate security.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Open Carry Texas

So a woman driving four children was pulled over in Texas because of a report that someone had been seen driving and displaying a gun?

I thought Texas was an open carry state, so what's the big deal about showing a gun in public?

Silly me for asking: it was a black man...


A pet peeve: when I'm watching a movie or TV program, my involvement in the story and characters is jerked out of the illusion of reality whenever a phone number is mentioned or seen written - it's always a 555 number, which by now we all know is a fictitious number, used in movies etc. because there are no 555 numbers in the real world.  I understand why movie producers use this fictitious number - a random realistic number may belong to someone, who could object to his/her number being broadcast to the world, and who might be harassed if viewers took it on themselves to dial a number heard in a movie just to see what happens.  But I'm annoyed every time I hear 555.

I wouldn't have thought it would be that hard for the Motion Picture Association of America to arrange with phone companies to set aside (for a reasonable fee) ten or twelve completely different numbers that would never be assigned to subscribers, so that when a character in a movie/TV show used a  phone number, one of those numbers would be chosen, and so sound convincing.  (The movie producers could pay a license fee for each number they use in a movie, so financing the operation.) Of course, the same numbers would need to be set aside in every area code so that no phone subscriber's number would be used, but that doesn't seem to me to be a big obstacle.

Yes, the same numbers would be used over and over, but the chance of a realistic number being remembered from one movie to another is slight.  That's why I'm suggesting a dozen or so numbers be available to choose from - it would lessen the chance that phone numbers would be recognized from one movie to another.

Ah - if only they asked me....

Update 9/2/2014

A reader writes:

As to your 555 rant, I have had some personal experience along those lines. You may remember that in The Conversation, much was made of Gene Hackman's character's attempt to track down a specific phone number. Toward the end of the film, he finds it, and it is briefly shown on screen. It was not a 555 number. Around the time the film came out, I was working for KGO.
It was shortly after the Patty Hearst kidnapping, and I was working on that pretty much every day for ABC News. KGO News was a smaller operation then and had only three extension for the news department. This sometimes became a problem for the network people trying to call New York. They decided to have a private line installed in my editing room. Guess which number we got. Often at our busiest moments that phone would ring, and it would be someone who had just seen the film. Their most common reaction was, "ABC News? Far out!"

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Aquatic Ape

A couple of years ago I was videorecording an interview of a very famous professor of physical anthropology, who had led several expeditions to Africa to uncover early humanoid fossils.

In the few moments before he left after the interview, I asked him what he though of the aquatic ape hypothesis.  His answer: "So early humans settled near rivers.  Well, duh!"

I admit I was so taken aback by such an egregious setting up of a straw man that I was speechless for long enough for the professor to leave before I could point out how wrong he was.

For if proponents of the aquatic ape hypothesis did in fact base it purely on patterns of human settlement, then "duh" would be the appropriate response;  it was clear that the good professor had not taken the time to inform himself of the reasoning behind the hypothesis before dismissing it out of hand.  Unfortunately, this ant-intellectual reaction seems all too prevalent in academic circles.

So what is the basis for the hypothesis?  It's twofold - based on differences and on similarities.

Our closest animal relations are the chimpanzee and the bonobo - we share about 99% of the same DNA.  Yet the differences are striking: unlike the chimpanzees and bonobos, humans are almost hairless, walk bipedally, have subcutaneous fat, and communicate with reasoned speech.  Something profound must have happened in our past to have caused such changes from creatures so close to us in our DNA makeup, something that conventional anthropologists have no explanation for.*

It's the aquatic or partially aquatic mammals (whales, dolphins, manatees, dugongs) that are similar to us in being hairless and have subcutaneous fat to insulate themselves from cold water, and  dolphins communicate with what appears to be reasoned speech (as against the instinctual chatter of chimpanzees).

These two observations are the basis for the aquatic ape hypothesis:  that when our early ancestors were somehow cut off from their previous food supply, they took to a shoreside wading and swimming existence, and over a long period adapted to better function as mammals who waded (accounting for our bipedalism**) and swam (accounting for our relative hairlessness and body fat patterns);  the hypothesis has the virtue of being a plausible explanation for the differences and similarities described above. Whether it will turn out to be the true explanation will depend on future research, but one observation I might make is that a fossil record will be hard to find if our ancestors' dead bodies were carried out to sea.

The most persistent proponent of the hypothesis has been British writer Elaine Morgan. You can see her 2009 TED talk on the subject here, where she likens people like the anthropologist I met to a priesthood unable to open their minds to possibilities outside their dogma.  (I get some encouragement from the fact that the TED audience gave her a standing ovation.)

*The "Savannah Theory" (in fact the savannah hypothesis), which held that humans adapted to their present form when they left the jungle trees to live in grasslands, has finally been discarded, and in any event we know how apes adapt when they move into a savannah existence:  they evolve into baboons (with whom we share about 91% of our DNA).
**Bonobos knuckle-walk on land (like chimpanzees), but become bipedal when they wade in water in search of food.

The Rodney King Distortion

Lest readers think that my last post and my 2011 post on the Diallo shooting means that I am anti-police, let me take the opportunity to defend the officers who arrested Rodney King in 1991.

Here's an example of how the press continues to frame that event:

The horrific beating of Rodney King by five police officers in Los Angeles in 1991 -- and the subsequent acquittal of his assailants -- sparked the L.A. riots of 1992, leading to 53 deaths, some at the hands of police. It was also a video introduction to police brutality for those in America who may have doubted its severity.
And the phrase "Rodney King beating" is one that I often hear or read when the event is referred to in radio or print reports.

Let's step back and see what actually happened back in 1991.

Rodney King was driving very fast when he was pursued by the LAPD.  Apparently trying to avoid pursuit, he drove at times in excess of 100mph.  The officers pursuing him considered this driving sufficiently reckless to justify an arrest.  When King finally stopped his car, the police officers arrested his two passengers, who did not resist - no muss, no fuss.

King, however, refused to cooperate in his arrest.  When the officers attempted to gang pile him, he shook them off - think of a wet spaniel shaking off water.  The officers tried their second tool for subduing arrestees, a taser.  The first taser had no effect, so they tasered him a second time - still no effect.

It's at this point that the well known video recording of the event begins.  In the first few seconds, you can see King charging one of the officers*.  It's at this point the batons come out, and the officers attempt to subdue King by baton blows.  It's true that when you see the video recording, the baton blows appear gratuitously violent, but remember - the recording does not include the sound from outside the window through which the camera is pointed.  The officers are calling on King to lie still and put his hands behind his back.  Instead of complying, King continues trying to rise to his feet, and the officers continue to try to keep him on the ground using their batons.  If you watch the video carefully, there's a point where King stays still for a moment, and you can see the officer with his back to the camera begin to reach for his handcuffs before King once again starts up.

I spoke to a police officer about the King arrest a few days after, and he remarked that part of police training in baton use was to break the wrists or ankles of a particularly recalcitrant arrestee. The officers arresting King did not go that far, and testimony at the trial of the officers confirmed that their use of batons was within the guidelines set by the LAPD.**  You may think that the guidelines on baton use are inappropriate - but if so, that was the fault of the LAPD, not the individual officers acting within those guidelines.

I saw the video recording when it was first broadcast, and thought at the time: good - policemen gratuitously beating a man had been caught on videotape, and would be held to account.  It was during the trial, as testimony on the reality of the situation was reported, that I realized my first impression was a distortion.  Unfortunately, the press did not report the thrust of the testimony widely enough, so those who had not made the effort to follow the trial were surprised by the justified acquittals, and riots ensued.  The subsequent federal trial was a purely political effort, sacrificing the officers to assuage uninformed public opinion.  In that trial, two officers were acquitted and two convicted.  It's my belief that the jury in the second trial were too fearful of a second round of riots to acquit all the officers, as they should have.

So the appropriate expression the press should be using is "the Rodney King arrest", not "the Rodney King beating."

(For a full account of the King arrest, the trials, and the riots, I recommend Official Negligence by Lou Cannon.)

*For the first few seconds, the recording is out of focus.  Some video editors, in a misguided attempt to be "professional", cut out the part that is not well focussed - the part that shows King charging the officers.

**The jurors in the original trial were split on the question of whether one of the officers had crossed the line in attempting to subdue King.  I don't know this for a fact, but I suspect it was the officer seen kicking King, rather than relying solely on a baton to

Update 11/08/2014.
At the time of the trial, I asked a friend who was critical of the baton use, "In the circumstances, what do you think the officers should have done differently?"   Her weak answer: "They could have  shot him in the leg."(!)  I invite critics of the officers to answer the same question.
It should be noted that the LAPD moved to the use of batons to subdue a person who refused to be arrested after the previous technique of a choke hold led to deaths of arrestees. Just this year, in New York we've seen how that can happen.

Update 6/14/2015
The Salinas police chief describes in detail the background to a similar video recording.
Much of what he says applies to the Rodney King arrest.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Michael Brown shooting

If this account is accurate, the police officer should be charged with murder.

Update 11/26/2014:
But it appears the story is not as clear cut as Brown's friend's account.
However, shooting an unarmed man to death seems completely unwarranted.  If in fact Brown was approaching Wilson in a threatening way (doubtful), there is always the baton as a useful defensive weapon when it's clear that the (perhaps) attacking person has no weapon at all.

And Benjamin Watson reacts:
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policeman abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Gore and 9/11

If Gore had been president in 2001, the 9/11 attacks  would probably have been averted.

Why do I say this?  Two reasons.

Firstly, it was Clinton's (and following him Gore's) intention to respond to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole by sending special forces into Afghanistan to destroy the Al Qaida camps.  The proposed raid had been put on hold until US intelligence confirmed that Al Qaida was indeed behind the Cole attack - confirmation that only came in January, at the time of the transition to the Bush administration.  Following the principle of disavowing anything that Clinton was for, the Bush team dropped the ball, and there was no response to the Cole attack.

If in a Gore administration the Afghan camps had been destroyed, it's possible that Al Qaida would have been weakened enough to be unable to mount the 9/11 attacks.  And would also have seen the consequences of attacking the US directly. As it was, the lack of any response to the Cole attack could only have emboldened Al Qaida, while leaving their structure intact.

So it's possible that 9/11 would have been averted right at the beginning of a Gore administration.  But it's also possible that the planning for 9/11 would have continued undeterred in Hamburg.

So let's assume that the 9/11 attack preparations continued.  As we later learned, there were a lot of disparate pieces of information available that put together would have been enough for the Gore administration to round up the plotters.  Would that have happened?

I had the opportunity a few years ago to talk to a counterterrorism advisor (now with the Sate Department) who had worked in the Clinton White House.  He told me that yes, in a Gore administration, 9/11 would probably have been averted, using the precedent of the 1999 millennium bomb threat to  explain why.

When in 1999 rumors of an attack on the US scheduled for Jan 1 2000 surfaced, the Clinton White House set up a dedicated situation room to deal with the possible attack, and daily sent out requests to federal agencies for any scrap of information that might be useful, as well as a reminder to be on alert.  And an alert immigration officer did in fact stop the would-be LAX bomber.*  So there was a precedent for what a President Gore** would have done in the months before September 2001, and if all the pieces of information out there (e.g. people taking airliner flight training who didn't seem interested in taking off or landing) had been collated in a Gore White House attack threat situation room - well, as I say, it's probable that 9/11 would have been averted.

And in his book Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke said the same.

 *An unanswered, and unanswerable, question:  would the immigration officer have let the bomber pass though without the White House promptings to be on heightened alert?
**The counterterrorism advisor told me that in the Clinton White House, it was Gore who was the one more concerned by, and focussed on, the possibility of terror attacks.

Butterfly Effect

Back in 2009, our Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker observed, "The events for which the Iraq War will be remembered have not yet happened."

We are now seeing the beginning of those events for which the war will be remembered: the rise of ISIS, and the beginning of a power struggle to determine the future that part of the Middle East we now know as Iraq and Syria.

To me, the crisis in the Middle East is an example of the butterfly effect in action.  Let me explain.

We are all familiar with the term butterfly effect, named for the hypothesis that a butterfly fluttering its wings will create a tiny change in air currents, which change in turn could effect other currents, starting a potential chain with increasingly greater effects, so perhaps culminating on a typhoon on the other side of the Earth.

The poor design of the "butterfly ballot" used in Florida in the 2000 election cost Al Gore over 20,000 votes, votes that would have easily propelled him to the presidency if the voters wishing to vote for him had not (understandably) been confused by the poor design, and so improperly punched their cards so their votes went to another candidate or were just not counted.  As a result, Bush was declared the winner in Florida, and so gained the presidency.

Now consider the counterfactual if Gore had become president as the voters wished.  9/11 would probably have been averted (I'll return to explain this in a future posting), and we would certainly not have embarked on the disastrous Iraq adventure.  And our destablization  of Iraq has led to the current frightful state of affairs as ISIS gains ground.

So, as I say, the butterfly effect made real...

Best Defense...

Returning to the theme that the best defense is a good offense:

I'm amazed at the Democrats' continuing wussiness in their failure to make their case, even when the Republicans hand them the opportunity on a platter.

The Republicans have tried  over 50 times to overturn the ACA, with legislation titled "Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act"

If the Democrats were on their toes, they would have offered an amendment to the bill: to amend the title by striking the words "job killing" and replacing them with the words  "unemployment reducing", followed by an explanation in debate along these lines:

The description "job killing" is completely bogus.  Our colleagues across the aisle use this term because the CBO scoring of the Affordable Care Act predicted a reduction in the labor force. I'm afraid our colleagues have misunderstood.  That does not mean a reduction of jobs.  The expected reduction in the labor force would come from more people retiring from their jobs, or quitting their jobs to start their own businesses, now that health insurance is assured.  So it will reduce unemployment in two ways. The jobs that people voluntarily left would still exist, to be filled by the currently unemployed, and those who quit to start their own businesses will be hiring workers, also hiring the currently unemployed. Thus, the Affordable Care Act will result in more people getting jobs, so, as I say, to call the Act "job-killing" is completely bogus, and, intentionally or not, misleading to the public.  Hence the proposed amendment the replace the false "job killing" with the truthful "unemployment reducing". 
And one more thing: members who vote against this amendment after the reasons have been explained would be voting to knowingly continue to deceive their constituents and the public, and should realize that such mendacity will be preserved in the Congressional Record."
 It's really not that difficult, folks!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Lottery

While I suppose it's a good thing that the private numbers racket has been legalized by state lotteries (aka the public numbers racket), I am troubled by what I see here in California:  the aggressive advertising encouraging the purchase of lottery tickets.  I see the ads on the sides of buses and in the BART train stations, as well as on billboards, with such come-ons as "Luck will find you" (illustrated with an alluring looking woman) and "Fortune awaits".  The sheer number of the ads suggests a huge outlay of advertising dollars.

Ambrose Bierce described the lottery as a tax on people who are bad at math, for the odds of winning are staggeringly high.  The most likely purchasers of lottery tickets are those with the lowest incomes, which, given the infinitesimally small chance of winning, means a waste of their limited resources. If they choose to buy lottery tickets, it's certainly their right.  I just don't think the poor should be encouraged to  throw away their money by an expensive advertising campaign.

Update  11/10/2014
John Oliver thinks so too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Revert, Not Raise

We do need more revenue to keep the federal government operating well without indefinitely running up debt through annual deficits.

But to suggest "raising taxes" is seen as political suicide as it's not popular with voters. So let's look at raising revenue through a different lens: we would not be raising taxes, but undoing most, if not all, of the irresponsible Reagan and Bush tax cuts - i.e. not "raising taxes", but reverting to the sensible tax rates in place before the cuts - the tax rates that were in effect in the Kennedy and Nixon years, when the United States was a more equal (or at least less unequal) society than it is today,

The effect would be the same, but the message would be one of undoing damage by going back to what we had before, rather than imposing something new.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

WWID (What Would Ike Do?)

I missed Jill LePore's Article The Force when it appeared in the January 28, 2013 New Yorker - I recently caught up with it.

The article is about funding for our bloated military, and part of it describes the first of the 2011 House Armed Services Committee hearings on the future of the military.

Dwight Eisenhower famously said in his farewell address:
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.
and at the hearing Congressman John Garamendi read part of Eisenhower's first major address as president :
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.This is a world in arms. This world in arms is not spending money alone; it is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.... This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.
Garamendi invited Air Force General Richard Myers to comment on what Eisenhower said.  Myers's response:  "I wonder what President Eisenhower would have done in New York City on 9/12/2001."

Well, I do not wonder.  President Eisenhower, who had been supreme allied commander in World War ll, was well aware of the limits of military power, and the horror of warfare, and the two paragraphs above show his skepticism about the value to the country of its excessive militarization.  I'm fully confident he would have acted as another president did when there was a monstrous and murderous attack on a large building: President Clinton recognized that the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building was a criminal act, and directed the FBI to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.  So too was the attack on the World Trade Center a criminal act (though on a much larger scale), and the appropriate response was to identify who was behind the crime, arrest and try them.

And I believe that is the prudent and sensible course that President Eisenhower would have followed were he president in September 2001.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

How to Talk About Income Inequality

John Oliver had a segment on income inequality, in which he showed President Obama referring to it as "the defining challenge of our time," only to back off when Fox and other right wingers accused him of "waging class warfare."

Yes, there is class warfare - but it is not President Obama and others concerned about the disturbing rise in income (and wealth) inequality who are waging it.  As Warren Buffett has remarked:,“There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”  I take it he means the buying of politicians who will act to further the policies that have already resulted in a huge increase in the national income going to a tiny elite of the truly wealthy, and the concomitant increase in their wealth.

John Oliver quotes President Obama as asking a group of historians "to help me find a way to discuss the issue of inequality in our society without being accused of class warfare."  First observation:  why historians? The right people to ask would be those familiar with the arts of persuasion - PR professionals would be an obvious  choice, though if President Obama had asked me, I would have told him to consult the likes of George Lakoff, who has consistently advised Democrats to frame issues in a way that resonates with voters, and not allow the Republicans to set the terms of debate, so that Democrats are left on the defensive and silenced, as in the example of President Obama's unwillingness to pursue "the defining challenge of our time." 

Apparently, President Obama has not heard the old saying: the best defense is a good offense.  Rather than let his opponents accuse him of class warfare, he should forcefully point out that class warfare is being waged against ordinary Americans by the wealthy 1%, and make it clear: reporting on class warfare is not the same as waging class warfare.  The wealthy are waging it, and and bringing attention to it is reporting on it, not waging it.  By failing to go on the offensive, President Obama is allowing right wing hacks to unfairly accuse him of being the one waging class warfare.

A century ago, at a time of similar inequality as we're seeing today  Teddy Roosevelt energized the nation by damning the wealthy who preyed on ordinary Americans with the memorable expression "malefactors of great wealth".  See how the context of that expression resonates today:
..it may well be that the determination of the Government (in which, gentlemen, it will not waver), to punish certain malefactors of great wealth, has been responsible for something of the trouble ; at least to the extent of having caused these men to combine to bring about as much financial stress as possible, in order to discredit the policy of the Government and thereby secure a reversal of that policy, so that they may enjoy unmolested the fruits of their own evil-doing.
 We need another resonant expression today to make clear the pernicious influence on our politics of today's malefactors of great wealth, as they pour huge amounts of money to support the political candidates (mostly Republican) who are only too willing to assist them in their waging of class warfare.  The term I propose: class war mercenaries, and use it regularly to describe the Republican party in general, as well as individual members as they vote against the interest of poor and middle class Americans for the benefit of their wealthy financiers.  And Fox News and its ilk can be called class war propagandists, as they can (accurately) be seen to be defending and cheering on those waging class war.