Saturday, May 18, 2013

Vive la France! Down with Texas!

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Progress is on the march. In countries like Portugal and, of course, France:

France's president has signed into law a controversial bill making the country the ninth in Europe, and 14th globally, to legalise gay marriage.

On Friday, the Constitutional Council rejected a challenge by the right-wing opposition, clearing the way for Francois Hollande to sign the bill.

He said: "I have taken [the decision]; now it is time to respect the law of the Republic."

It wasn't easy:

Mr Hollande and his ruling Socialist Party have made the legislation their flagship social reform since being elected a year ago.

After a tortured debate, the same-sex marriage and adoption bill was adopted by France's Senate and National Assembly last month.

The bill was quickly challenged on constitutional grounds by the main right-wing opposition UMP party of former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

But the Constitutional Council ruled on Friday that same-sex marriage "did not run contrary to any constitutional principles," and that it did not infringe on "basic rights or liberties or national sovereignty".

Indeed, while France is a generally progressive country (e.g., on health care), the right is still very strong, with conservatives well to the right of Sarkozy, and issues like gay rights and immigration prove to be deeply divisive.

Still, it's done, a victory for liberty and equality (and, for that matter, fraternity), and that's more than you can say about the U.S., which includes retrograde states like Texas:

A Republican Texas Judge has ordered a lesbian couple to live apart or give up custody of their children. According to Think Progress, Judge John Roach of McKinney, Texas has given Page Price 30 days to move out of the home she shares with Carolyn Compton and Compton's two children from a previous marriage because he does not approve of Compton and Price's "lifestyle."

Roach has placed a "morality clause" in Compton's divorce papers, which forbids Compton from having anyone she is not related to "by blood or marriage" in her home past 9:00 p.m. if the children are present. Same sex marriage is illegal in Texas, so by law, Compton cannot live with Price if she wishes to retain custody of her children.

That's not Saudi Arabia, that's Texas. And that's right, this bigot of a judge, reinforcing the bigotry of that state, is denying this woman her liberty and her equality (and, for that matter, her fraternity).

Truly, utterly shameful.

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Affinity bias and the White House scandals

By Frank Moraes 

I've been thinking a lot about why so many journalists I follow went so wrong on the supposed White House Scandals this week. I think it has a lot to do with affinity bias. And that does not speak well for the state of journalism.

A lot of people wonder why, for example, conservatives often hold opinions that are just wrong. Throughout the Bush administration, Fox News viewers were systematically misinformed about important issues. Why was that? It's quite simple: they trusted Fox News. And that is not only acceptable, it is necessary. We can't independently become experts on every issue we hear about. So we find people who we trust as experts and believe what they say.

Of course, it pays to be selective. Anyone who gets their information from cable news is cruising for a bruising. In general, I think that MSNBC is a lot better than Fox News. But that isn't always case. I think Fox News has done a better job under Obama than they did under Bush. It's all been pretty bad, though. MSNBC has done better generally, but I think they were soft on Obama during the campaign. At times they act as apologists for the Obama Administration -- especially certain shows. Regardless, I think that MSNBC does a better job of informing liberals than Fox News does informing conservatives. Of course, the best conservative print publications are better. Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review and Josh Barro of Bloomberg View are both fact based. I wish a lot more conservatives got their news from people like them.

There really is a difference between what liberals and conservatives think about things even when they are working off the same set of facts. And that should be enough. But instead, generally conservatives get different facts than liberals do. I think this is about 90% the fault of conservative media, but it hardly matters. My point is that we've got to trust someone.

I've worked very hard to find people who I feel I can trust -- people who will not knowingly deceive me and will admit when they are wrong. I still feel very dependent on these people. But not always. For example, most of them went crazy this last week. They acted as though there was something to all these scandals. There were damned few people like me who were pushing back against this. And my question is: why?

Read more »

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Death, Teapot Dome, and Benghazi, Cuba

By Frank Moraes 

According to Public Policy Polling (pdf), 74% of Republicans think that the Benghazi scandal is worse than Watergate. But I wonder: do these people even know what Watergate was about? That scandal has come to be a blanket term for a whole lot of presidential malfeasance. The Watergate break-in was just the loose thread that once pulled unraveled the whole shirt. But we can't know what these Republicans think about Watergate because they weren't asked. They were, however, asked if Benghazi was worse than Iran Contra and only 70% thought it was. And even more interesting, 74% think Benghazi is worse than the Teapot Dome scandal.

(Note: the worst thing about the Benghazi "scandal" is that it has forced me to learn to spell it! Look people: I have a hard enough time keeping the spelling of all the really useful words in my mind. There's only so much space. I blame the Republicans.)

What are we to make of these numbers? I think it's pretty simple: Republicans don't like Obama. Because let's face it, I doubt that 5% of Republicans have even heard of Teapot Dome and 1% know what it was. I suspect if you asked Republicans if Benghazi was worse than Judas betraying Jesus for 30 pieces of silver, they would say, "Yes!" I even know their argument: only one person died in Jerusalem whereas four people died in Benghazi! Okay, maybe they wouldn't say that because most of them are Christians, but it does make as much sense as the argument, "No one died as a result of Watergate!" (Interestingly, the whole Benghazi "scandal" has been about what the White House said about Benghazi after the attack: the controversy is the "talking points." No on died as a result of the talking points either, but that isn't mentioned.)

If you think I am overstating the ignorance of the Republicans, just check out another part of the poll. PPP asked the "worse than Watergate" respondents where Benghazi was. Of them, 39% didn't know. Here's what they said:

  • 10% Egypt (Close!)
  • 9% Iran (Only 1,500 miles off!)
  • 6% Cuba (6,000 miles!)
  • 5% Syria (1,000 miles)
  • 4% Iraq (1,000 miles)
  • 1% North Korea (5,600 miles!)
  • 1% Liberia (2,600 miles, but it does sound the same)
  • 4% Didn't know (Good answer!)

(I got the distances from this great tool: Distance From To. Check it out!)

Read more »

Labels: , , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Friday, May 17, 2013

Progressive Portugal

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Portugal has had a long and complicated political history. In the last century, it was ruled by a brutal right-wing dictatorship from 1926 to 1974. The non-violent Carnation Revolution (or "25 April") of 1974 put an end to that tyranny, and the country held its first democratic election in 50 years a year later. But there was little stability in those early years of democracy, the country swinging back and forth from left to right, a new constitution adopted in 1976 and then revised in 1982 and 1989. And yet, through it all, stable and legitimate parliamentary democracy took hold. Looking at it now, from our current vantage point, it all seems quite remarkable. After decades and deades of oppression and terror, Portugal was able to build a healthy, sustainable democracy without all that much turmoil and bloodshed.

What is also remarkable is that this mostly Roman Catholic country that little to no experience with, nor appreciation for, diversity, a country with a long history of repression and exclusion, and worse, has become a beacon for progressive values. Maybe that can happen when you've been through what Portugal went though, and when you can start anew in a more progressive time, but it is remarkable nonetheless.

And one of the areas where it is most progressive is gay rights:

Portugal has offered marriage equality to same-sex couples since 2010, but until now had not allowed those couple to adopt each other's children. Today, the Portuguese Parliament passed a bill 99-94 to allow adoption, ending the discrepancy in what it means for same-sex couples to be married. Portugal is one of the few countries in the world that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in its constitution.

Again: Catholic country, long history of brutal tyranny, relatively new democracy.

And it puts the United States, supposedly, we are constantly told, the greatest country ever, a beacon of liberty, to shame.

You deserve our admiration, Portugal, and our praise.

(image: a flag for a more inclusive Portugal)

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share


By Frank Moraes

This morning, Jonathan Chait reported, The Strange Creation of the Obama Scandals. And Glenn Greenward reported, The Major Sea Change in Media Discussions of Obama and Civil Liberties. Indeed, Obama does seem to be experiencing a perfect storm of bad sandal-like news. And most of the coverage of it is horrible.

It isn't as though all of these controversies don't tell us a whole lot about modern America. It is just that what they tell us is not playing much of a role in the coverage. Instead of looking at what is wrong with how this country is run, we get stories straight out of bad TV westerns. Obama wearing a black cowboy hat moseys into town and grabs an innocent woman. Suddenly, Rand Paul wearing a white cowboy hat rushes out into the street. "Take your hands off her!" Paul yells at him. And on and on. There's a bad guy in town and that bad guy is the president who is responsible for everything.

You all know me: I'm not a big fan of the president's. But he is not the bad guy in all of this. He certainly is one of the bad guys in an evil system that proudly rewards villainy. But he doesn't stand out in what is really going on and this is most definitely not a story of good versus evil.

Consider scandal number one: Benghazi. There is an important issue here. People in our foreign embassies should not be murdered. Were their problems with that particular embassy or our embassies generally? I'd like to know. I'm sure the American people would like to know. But that's not what the scandal is all about. It is about how the administration talked about the attack on the Sunday news shows after it happened.

Read more »

Bookmark and Share

Midterm Madness: California's 36th Congressional District

(Charlie Cook is currently calling eight House races toss-ups for 2014. Seven of these are held by Democrats and only one by a Republican. Let's look at the California 36th.)

The California 36th is represented by Democrat Raul Ruiz. He won it against redistricted incumbent Mary Bomo Mack in 2012 by a margin of 52.9 percent to 47.1 percent. 

Obama beat Romney in the district 50.7 percent to 47.5 percent. 

According to Charlie Cook, rapid immigration of Hispanic and wealthy liberal voters in areas of this district made what had historically been a safe GOP seat a battleground district in 2012. 

Also important was the fact that Republican incumbent Mary Bono Mack was helping her husband run for the U.S. Senate in Florida and perhaps didn't pay enough attention to getting herself reelected.

The midterm dynamic is in play in 2014 and it may be a struggle for Ruiz to keep the seat without the lustre of the top of the ticket driving supportive turnout, which is what puts this in the toss up column for Cook. 

Ruiz is a part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Frontline Program, which is designed to help at risk incumbents, so they understand too. 

A name that comes up as a potential GOP challenger is Assemblyman Brian Nestande who, according to press reports, already has a campaign committee to run for the 36th CD. He hasn't declared but seems likely to run. 

Whoever gets the GOP nomination will probably work harder than Mary Bono Mack who has said she is done with politics.

The district's voter registration is almost equally divided and, as in 2012, both parties will focus serious effort here. 

(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

John Edwards resurfaces

By Richard K. Barry

I doubt it has much to do with electoral politics, but The Washington Post reported yesterday that John Edwards has reactivated his law license and is getting ready to hit the speakers circuit. 

It does make you wonder what with Mark Sanford reviving his political career and Anthony Weiner trying to do the same, could someone ever come back from what Edwards did? You would have to say no, but times change, and he is merely 60 years old. 

Edwards has remained largely out of public view since his May 2012 acquittal on one charge of campaign finance fraud. A judge declared a mistrial on five other criminal counts after jurors couldn’t agree if Edwards illegally used campaign money to hide his pregnant mistress as he ran for president in 2008.

I don't think there is much doubt about his talent, and those who know talk about his abilities as a trial lawyer, so perhaps getting back to that is what he should do.  

To refresh your memory:

The six-week-long trial recounted the most intimate details of Edwards’ affair with former campaign videographer Rielle Hunter, with whom the then-married presidential candidate fathered a daughter. At the time, Edwards’ wife Elizabeth was batting cancer; she died in late 2010.

At issue in the criminal case was about $1 million in unreported funds secretly provided by two wealthy campaign donors used to care for Hunter during her pregnancy, moving her across the country on private jets between a series of luxury resorts and homes.

For a while back in 2008 a lot of progressives were excited by John Edwards' statements and his more progressive political stands. While Obama and Clinton fought over center-left terrain, Edwards sounded more like someone who understood what it actually meant to be on the left. 

Too bad. 

(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.)

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, May 16, 2013

P.M. Headlines

Thomas Perez
(USA Today): "Second IRS official resigns after scandal"

(Fox News): "15 killed, including 6 Americans, after bomb hits US convoy on Afghanistan"

(Reuters): "US House lawmakers in last-ditch bid to save immigration bill"

(New York Times): "Onset of woes casts pall over Obama's policy aspirations"

(Politico): "Senate panel OKs Perez nomination for Labor Secretary"

(Ezra Klein): "The scandals are falling apart"


Bookmark and Share

Behind the Ad: House Republicans go all "Arrested Development" on ObamaCare

By Richard K. Barry

Who: The House Republican Conference

Where: Web ad

What's going on: In a spoof of the opening credits of the cable TV show "Arrested Development," House Republicans are claiming all sorts of destruction in a new ad as a result of ObamaCare. Of course, once again, Republicans are going after a full repeal of the president's healthcare law very shortly so it's a timely piece.

We've heard these lines before, but cleverness should be acknowledged and this is kind of fun. 

(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Where the hell are they shopping?

By Carl

Wal-Mart reported earnings yesterday, and it’s a bit eye-opening. If I was an investor¹, I’d be very worried:

Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer by sales, reported an unexpected drop in US sales that pointed to pressure on low-income consumers and sent its shares falling.

The discount chain said on Thursday that its US like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to April 26 declined by 1.4 per cent. It had previously told investors that it expected sales to be “around flat”.

The company blamed the fall on delayed tax refunds from last year for consumers, a rise in the payroll tax rate this year, lower-than-expected food inflation, and bad weather.

Here’s the thing: the stock market is booming. China is suffering. The US economy is gaining momentum, which only happens when consumers go out and buy, regardless of when they get their tax refunds. So someone is selling to them. And if not Wal-Mart, the bastion of low prices and good selection (despite their irresponsible business practices and outright piratical scavenging of local retailers) then where?

When the economy is in the doldrums, and for what we know at this point in time, it still is, Wal-Mart is where people shop. It’s essentially one giant mall of discount prices on, well, not quality merchandise but certainly “better than a yard sale” stuff. People are still hurting out there, even though the worst of it appears to be over. The jobless numbers are still high and personal income is still declining when adjusted for inflation.

Wal-Mart should be selling like it’s ice cream on a hot summer’s day. And yet…

Now, I don’t have a problem with mass merchants, per se. I loved Sears and K-Mart for things like tools and household goods. I can’t help but to indulge in the slightest bit of schadenfreude when it comes to Wal-Mart. My few experiences with shopping in one have left a bad taste in my mouth. The stores are too large, the merchandise is pretty hard to sort through, and well, there’s the people who shop there.

Don’t cry too much for Wal-Mart: despite the drop in sales, they earned more money than they did for the same period last year, so they must be ripping consumers off harder.

¹ Full disclosure: my daughter owns one share, so I can keep abreast of corporate news and so I can vote against the Walton family.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind)

Bookmark and Share

Get your own damn breadline

In a piece yesterday at Daily Kos on potential cuts to Food Stamp programs, this photo was posted with the caption "The U.S. Congress Sees Nothing Wrong With This Picture." Well, they may not, but I do. It's a picture of the Yonge Street Mission in Toronto, which started its work helping the needy in 1896. Toronto, as you may know, is not in the United States, and while Canada has its own problems with poverty, I don't expect the U.S. Congress to be all that worried about them.

(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

A.M. Headlines

(Politico): "Obama tries to stop the bleeding"

(The Guardian): "Syria condemned in UN vote but doubts grow about backing rebels"

(New York Times): "Acting chief of I.R.S. forced out over Tea Party targeting"

(The Hill): "Sanford thanks 'god of second chances' at House swearing-in ceremony"

(Reuters): "Tornadoes rip through Texas, killing six"


Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

P.M. Headlines

(ABC News): "'Ineffective management' at IRS to blame for Tea Party targeting, report finds"

(CNN Politics): "Holder criticizes longtime foe at committee hearing"

(Bloomberg): "IRS sent same letter to Democrats that fed Tea Party row"

(New York Times): "White House pushes for media shield law"

(CNN): "White House releases 100 pages of Benghazi emails"


Bookmark and Share

Midterm Madness: Arizona's 1st Congressional District

(Charlie Cook is currently calling eight House races toss-ups for 2014. Seven of these are held by Democrats and only one by a Republican. Let's look at these races, starting with the Arizona 1st.)

Republican Paul Gosar represented this district going into the 2012 election. Due to redistricting, however, which made it slightly less friendly to the GOP, he chose to run in the Arizona 4th. Without an incumbent in 2012 the seat was considered a toss-up. Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick, who held the Arizona 1st from 2009 to 2011, ran against Republican Jonathan Paton. 

Kirkpatrick won the election on Nov. 6, 2012 with 48.8 percent of the vote compared to Paton's 45.1 percent. A Libertarian candidate Kim Allen got 6.1 percent. 

For 2014, Kirkpatrick is listed as one of seven early targets by the National Republican Congressional Committee, due to the fact that the district is among the seven most Republican districts currently held by Democrats. 

In 2012, Romney received 50 percent of the vote compared to Obama's 48 percent in the district.

From the Democratic side Kirkpatrick is a member of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Frontline Program, which helps the most vulnerable incumbents. 

Kirkpatrick lost in a midterm election in 2010 and will likely be vulnerable again in the midterm in 2014. Charlie Cook notes that she benefited from a high Native American turnout in 2012 and a decent Hispanic turnout, and a relatively weak opponent in state Sen. Jonathan Paton. 

Although Kirkpatrick won by almost 4 percent, a Libertarian candidate got 6 percent, which could well have been the difference between winning and losing, though direct transfers from one candidate to another are not a given. 

Read more »

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share

Budget deficits? What budget deficits?

By Carl

NOW can we start spending some money to fix the nation?

Since the recession ended four years ago, the federal budget deficit has topped $1 trillion every year. But now the government's annual deficit is shrinking far faster than anyone in Washington expected, and perhaps even faster than many economists think is advisable for the health of the economy.

That is the thrust of a new report released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, estimating that the deficit for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30, will fall to about $642 billion, or 4 percent of the nation's annual economic output, about $200 billion lower than the agency estimated just three months ago.

The agency forecast that the deficit, which topped 10 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, could shrink to as little as 2.1 percent of gross domestic product by 2015 — a level that most analysts say would be easily sustainable over the long run — before beginning to climb gradually through the rest of the decade.

That’s pretty remarkable. The deficit hasn’t been this low since Fiscal Year 2007, which was also Bush’s lowest deficit, half a trillion dollars.

You read that correctly: Bush’s deficits never once were below $500 billion (Clinton’s last budget did run a deficit of $100 billion, which slopped over into Bush’s first year in office.)

So much for tax cuts stimulating the economy. So much, moreover, for the silly sham that budget deficits are killing us.

(Cross-posted to Simply Left Behind)

Bookmark and Share

Behind the Ad: Progressive group targets Karl Rove

By Richard K. Barry

Who: The Bridge Project.

Where: Web ad.

What's going on: Karl Rove is already attacking Hillary Clinton over Benghazi even though she hasn't declared her candidacy for 2016, and the premise of his attack is absurd. Enter the Bridge Project, which is giving as good as Hillary gets by going after Rove as one of the slimiest operatives in the history of politics.

(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.)

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

A.M. Headlines

(ABC 10 News): "Lawmakers outraged over another military sex case"

(New York Times): "Management flaws at IRS cited in Tea Party scrutiny"

(Salon): "Who doctored a White House email?"

(The Hill): "Carney: Obama believes the press 'needs to be unfettered'"

(Stuart Rothenberg): "Obama's new political reality is bad news for Dems in 2014"


Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

P.M. Headlines

(CNN): "Obama struggles with rocky start to second term"

(Reuters): "US attorney general says he didn't make AP phone record decision"

(Jake Tapper): "CNN exclusive: White House email contradicts Benghazi leaks"

(TPM): "Understanding the politics of the IRS scandal"

(Angelina Jolie): "My medical choice"


Bookmark and Share

Blogging and tweeting in a time of fake scandal, media hyperbole, and Republican insanity

By Michael J.W. Stickings

I've been without home Internet access the past few days, hence my lack of blogging. It's now back up and running, and so I'll be getting back to it later today.

I have, however, been tweeting a lot from my phone, tweeting being easier than blogging. Highlights include celebrating the Maple Leafs' crushing loss last night and coming under assault from typically delusional teabagging wingnuts over Benghazi and the IRS (and, of course, pushing back with reality and the facts on my side).

You can find me on Twitter @mjwstickings, and I also have a Twitter widget with my updated feed over on the right sidebar of this site.

Anyway, thanks as always to Richard for taking care of things, even more so than usual. He's a fine, fine editor, and a great partner in this blogging endeavor of ours.

We'll have more from the team throughout the day. I'll be back with new posts later.

I hope you're all having a nice day.


Oh, by the way, did you hear that a White House e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes, obtained by CNN, contradicts recent media reports that suggested the White House was possibly involved in a nefarious plot regarding the Benghazi talking points?

I expect a full and unambiguous apology from media outlets, like ABC News, that breathlessly reported on the leaks in a way that enthusiastically heaped blame on the White House, as well as from all others, mostly Republican, who jumped on that bandwagon of lies.

Cue "The Sound of Silence" by Simon & Garfunkel:

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Out of my comfort zone

By Carl

Well, writing about boobies is not out of my comfort zone, but writing about celebrities is:

Angelina Jolie has made a tough decision that will forever change her life. The 37-year-old actress reveals that she underwent a double mastectomy in an attempt to reduce the odds that she will get breast cancer. In a New York Times column that came out Tuesday, Jolie admits that she had the surgery back in February and the last of the follow-up procedures done in April.

Jolie decided to get the surgery done because she had a high risk of getting breast cancer. "My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent," Jolie writes. "I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer." Doctors also told her that she has a 50 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.

Jolie's partner and the father to their six children has been extremely supportive throughout the experience. "I am fortunate to have a partner, Brad Pitt, who is so loving and supportive," she says. "Brad was at the Pink Lotus Breast Center, where I was treated, for every minute of the surgeries."

Read more »

Bookmark and Share

Of polar bears and patents

By Frank Moraes

The USA Today reported earlier this evening, Cute Kali: Orphaned Polar Bear Cub Prepares for Move. It told the story of the preparations to move young bear to the Buffalo Zoo. And yes, it is cute as a button. All mammals are cute before they get big enough to eat you. But there was something about the article that really caught my attention. It reported, "The bear's mother was killed March 12 by a subsistence hunter near Point Lay, an Inupiat Eskimo whaling community 300 miles southwest of Barrow and 700 miles northwest of Anchorage."

Where is the outrage? After all, polar bears are threatened. But there is no outrage because it would be really stupid to be outraged about a practice of the native people who have hunted the bears for generations. They aren't the reason that polar bears are threatened. There are lots of reasons to be concerned about the survival of the species and none of them are Eskimo hunting.

But this raises an important question: why can we be reasonable about the causes of polar bear population degradation but we can't be reasonable about economic matters? In particular: patents. It has long bothered me how patents reward innovation in a highly unjust and even random way. The Wright Brothers, for example, got a ridiculously high fraction of the rewards for work that they shared with many others who got less and in many cases nothing.

My point here is that we see that a subsistence hunter is but one small part of the forces that are causing polar bear populations to decrease, even though that hunter is the only cause of the death of that one polar bear. But we don't see (or regardless, don't care) that economic progress is also a large scale phenomenon that involves a whole society. Bill Gates probably does deserve to be well rewarded for his work. But there is no way that he is worth even 1% of the rewards that he's received.

Advances (scientific, artistic, business) are the results of a highly complicated social system. But we have settled on an economic system that doesn't come close to rewarding people in a just way. In fact, well over half of our politicians worship our broken system as though it were not only good but perfect. We need to start distinguishing the bears from the species. Or else we will all go extinct.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

Bookmark and Share

Why Minnesota matters

By Mustang Bobby

Ten other states and the District of Columbia have already passed marriage equality, and yesterday Minnesota made it twelve. I congratulate those other states, but to me Minnesota matters a little more than Massachusetts, Vermont, Rhode Island, and the rest.

It’s for several reasons, all of them personal. My father was born and raised in Minneapolis, and that’s where my grandparents are buried. I went to grad school at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, that’s where my first play was produced, and that’s where I was living when I came out to my friends and family and had my first significant relationship with another man. So that’s why I was especially glad to see that it rejected the marriage-for-straights-only amendment last fall and very, very happy to see them pass the marriage equality law yesterday afternoon. So far, of all the many places I’ve lived since leaving home, Minnesota is the only state where now I can get married to the man I love if I so choose (and assuming I have found him).

I think it says a great deal about the people of Minnesota and the strength of character they embody (and that I hope I inherited from my ancestral roots there) that they took on this issue and passed it not out of a sense of being radical or ground-breaking or even pro-gay and anti-family. They did it, it seems, out the of basic goodness and fairness that Minnesotans have shown for generations.

Now if we could get some of that Minnesota Nice to spread to the other remaining states, including Florida.

Here’s the floor speech yesterday by the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Dibble of Minneapolis. He pretty much sums it all up.

(Cross-posted at Bark Bark Woof Woof.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

A.M. Headlines

(Philadelphia Inquirer): "Gov't obtains wide AP phone records in probe"

(Politico): "Journalists fume over DOJ raid on AP"

(Washington Post): "IRS officials in Washington were involved in targeting of conservative groups"

(New York Times): "Uneven I.R.S. scrutiny seen in political spending by big tax-exempt groups"

(USA Today): "Gosnell abortion trial moves to next phase"


Bookmark and Share

Monday, May 13, 2013

The soft bigotry of short attention spans

By Carl

I realize conservatives have to strike while the iron is hot, but this is pure stupidity:
And they're off: With no defined field of candidates and the last election just six months in the rearview mirror, American Crossroads on Sunday aired the first attack ad of the 2016 presidential campaign, panning Hillary Clinton for her role in the "cover-up" of an attack last Sept. 11 on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The 90-second paid spot - manufactured by the Karl Rove-founded "super PAC" - was posted Friday online and ran Sunday morning on CBS during a broadcast of "Face the Nation." Previewing the ongoing saga that's likely to haunt Clinton's White House ambitions for the next three years, the ad implicates the former secretary of state - Democrats' top-billed contender to succeed President Obama - in the wildly varying accounts of how administration officials reacted last fall in the wake of the strike.

"Was it because of a protest, or guys out for a walk who decided they'd kill some Americans - what difference, at this point, does it make?" Clinton is shown saying Jan. 23 before a Senate committee. A narrator counters: "The difference is a cover-up, and four American lives that deserve the truth."

Read more »

Bookmark and Share

Coup d'etat and economists

If I found myself in charge of a new country after a coup d'etat, and was limited to a single economist to help me build the new country, I wouldn't want some Nobel Prize winner—not even someone like Paul Krugman. The reason is that those who win such a prize are brilliant in certain ways, but that doesn't necessarily mean much when it comes to practical economics. After all, one only needs a single great idea (and often not even that) to get a Nobel. As we've seen with any number of brilliant Chicago School economists: when it comes to the actual economy that all of us struggle with each day, they are usually driven much more by their ideological preferences rather than what the profession generally has to teach about the economy.

Take for example the idea of Ricardian equivalence. This is an idea from David Ricardo, an economist 
who followed closely on the heels of Adam Smith. The idea is that there is a limit to government stimulus.[1] If the government decides to spend beyond its income, the taxpayers will assume that this means that future taxes will have to be raised to pay off the spending. As a result of this, the taxpayers will reduce their spending to provide for the taxes that they know are coming. There is one obvious problem with this theory: people aren't nearly as rational as economists always assume. And there are other problems. But if we assume that the model is completely accurate, it still doesn't prove that stimulus doesn't work.

An example will help. Let's assume the government provides stimulus over 2 years that they will pay off by issuing 30 year bonds. The taxpayers will not set aside all the money to pay their taxes in that 2 years. They put aside a much smaller amount for the 30 years over which the bonds will mature. Thus, a big government stimulus will not be offset by a huge reduction in spending by the private sector. And this is the case even if Ricardian equivalence is right, which is far from certain.

I bring this up, because lots of distinguished economists argued that the 2009 stimulus bill (ARRA) couldn't help the economy because of Ricardian equivalence. They weren't talking long term, here. Instead, they just didn't understand a basic economic fact. They were lost in the mythical fairy land were theory is reality. Economics as a whole is prone to this mistake, but conservatives are especially prone to it. I've been thinking about this since Dean Baker wrote yesterday, "As a general rule economists are not very good at economics."

Read more »


Bookmark and Share

The IRS scandal

By Richard K. Barry

There should be little doubt that the IRS targeting conservative groups is totally unacceptable. I agree with Joe Klein that those responsible should be shown the door quickly.

Whether he is right on other arguments, I'm not sure, but it's worth considering. What I do know is that whatever explanations can be provided, whatever apologies can be given, the appearance of using the government apparatus to silence political enemies could be a big problem at the ballot box, and it should be.

Joe Klein:

Yet again, we have an example of Democrats simply not managing the government properly and with discipline. This is just poisonous at a time of skepticism about the efficacy of government. And the President should know this: the absence of scandal is not the presence of competence. His unwillingness to concentrate–and I mean concentrate obsessively–on making sure that government is managed efficiently will be part of his legacy.

Previous Presidents, including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don’t think Barack Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is.

(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.) 

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Rand Paul keeps 'em laughin'

By Richard K. Barry

Sen. Rand Paul was in Iowa on Friday to deliver a speech at the Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner in Cedar Rapids. Apparently Iowa has something do to with securing a party's nomination for the presidency, or perhaps Paul just likes the weather in the Hawkeye State this time of year.

Chris Cillizza notes that the The Washington Post currently rates him as "the third most likely candidate to wind up as the GOP’s presidential nominee."    

Part of the speech was used to mock former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's handling of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya in which four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. 

NBC Politics writes:

Speaking at the Iowa GOP’s annual Lincoln Dinner, Paul questioned the initial response to the attacks and asked, "First question to Hillary Clinton: Where in the hell were the Marines?"
"It was inexcusable, it was a dereliction of duty, and it should preclude her from holding higher office," the Kentucky Republican added to loud applause.

They also say this:
Paul's speech doubled at times as a comedy scene, as he seemed at ease before the crowd, stepping away from the podium, microphone in hand, to project a casual demeanor. He rattled off jokes about absurd pork-barrel projects, recalling the campaign style of Arizona Sen. John McCain as he ran for president in 2008.

As a matter of style, I am not sure I would choose McCain's approach, given how that worked out. I am also uncertain that this kind of smart ass attitude is likely to work with American voters. "Funny" works, "smarmy,"  not so much. I'm sure it amuses the already committed, but whether it broadens the base, I don't know. 

Not that reality impresses Republicans, but, as an added bonus, the second clip is an interview with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who sees much of the Benghazi criticism as based on a "cartoonish" view of military capability. 

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

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

Terrorist without a cause

By Capt. Fogg

No, this one does not star James Dean chewing on the scenery as he wails "You're tearing me apart" but it's tearing us all apart. I'm starting to think there's a national competition going on and I'm getting tired of saying "not again!"

19 people shot at a parade in New Orleans, with 3 suspected perpetrators as yet to be apprehended. Why?  Is it some bizarre political statement only they can understand?  I can only guess, but the notion that we have a lunatic fringe competing for their share of obsessive media coverage is tempting. If there are indeed three men involved, we have to rule out mental illness as we usually think of it although we can't avoid the question of what kind of sanity could prompt such acts of random violence.

New Orleans is a violent, crime ridden city with a police force that has been accused of incompetence, corruption and its own acts of violence, but one has to ask why New York is a vastly safer city; Miami, El Paso  -- all of which prove that ethnic diversity has nothing to do with it and suggests strongly that strong gun laws have little to do with it.

I simply don't know, but this, once again, isn't crime for profit, it isn't about gangs or gangsters or their territorial disputes.  I can only ask myself why people compete, why people are willing to court death, even seek it, just so CNN can have another huge boost in ratings.

(Cross-posted at Human Voices) 

Bookmark and Share

Digging for nuts: The IRS and the Tea Party probe

By Mustang Bobby

Whoever it was in the IRS who came up with the idea of looking deeply into Tea Party groups probably thought they were doing the right thing. After all, once Citizens United came down from the Supreme Court, political action groups — both liberal and conservative and under any number of names and disguises — were going to pop up like mushrooms. And they did. But going after just the right-wingers — where there were bound to be more groups — was dumb, if only from a political-fallout perspective. After all, everybody knows that no one screams louder and carries on like a banshee than bullies who get hit back.

Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post has a good summation on the story so far and points out that when it came to light that investigators were looking only in the Tea Party groups, they were told to stop. They then broadened the scope to look at any group that might fall under the “political action” umbrella from both the left and the right.
On June 29, 2011, according to the documents, IRS staffers held a briefing with Lerner in which they described giving special attention to instances where “statements in the case file criticize how the country is being run.” She raised an objection, and the agency adopted a more general set of standards. Lerner, who is a Democrat, is not a political appointee.

But six months later, the IRS applied a new political test to social welfare groups, the document says. On Jan. 15, 2012, the agency decided to look at “political action type organizations involved in limiting/expanding Government, educating on the Constitution and Bill of Rights, social economic reform movement,” according to the appendix in the IG’s report.

The agency did not appear to adopt a more neutral test for 501(c)(4) groups until May 17, 2012, according to the timeline in the report. At that point, the IRS again updated its criteria to focus on “organizations with indicators of significant amounts of political campaign intervention (raising questions as to exempt purpose and/or excess private benefit.)”
Read more »

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

A.M. Headlines

(Reuters): "Reports: IRS targets more groups"

(New York Times): "IRS focus on conservatives gives GOP an issue to seize on"

(Politico): "Gates defends W.H. on Benghazi"

(Fox 8): "19 people injured in Mother's Day shooting"

(Washington Post): "Initial report from Detroit emergency manager shows the city with $162M negative cash flow"


Bookmark and Share

Sunday, May 12, 2013

P.M. Headlines

(Reuters): "Republican expects more Benghazi 'whistle blowers'"

(ThinkProgress): "Congressman tears into Fox News host for obsessing over Benghazi talking points"

(Time): "IRS mess"

(Daily Beast): "The coming attempt to impeach Obama"

(New York Times): "Some countries lobby for more in race for visas"


Bookmark and Share

Former Pennsylvania Gov. George M. Leader (1918-2013)

It is difficult to image a better name for a politician, and it seems that this former governor of Pennsylvania lived up to his. 

In 1954, at the age of 40, largely on the strength of the relatively new technology of television, George M. Leader won an upset victory to become governor of the state. 

New York Times:

Mr. Leader, a Democratic state senator at the time, had been given little chance of winning the 1954 gubernatorial race against Lt. Gov. Lloyd Wood, a rumpled, cigar-chomping political boss. But he pulled off the upset after running a strong television advertising campaign, one of the earliest in American politics. Two years before, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had been the first to use TV ads extensively in a presidential campaign.

Mr. Leader’s victory was widely attributed to his use of television, allowing him to introduce himself and appeal directly to voters in their living rooms.

Here are some accomplishments from his one four-year term as governor (the maximum allowed by law at the time): 

  • He cut the population in Pennsylvania’s mental hospitals to 11,000 from 39,000 by giving more state money to mental health clinics that helped patients adjust to life outside hospitals.
  • He signed a law changing Pennsylvania’s school code to require the education of the disabled. Within five years, 250,000 more children swelled the enrollment lists in public schools.
  • He was the first Pennsylvania governor to appoint a black cabinet officer and was active in promoting a role for the state in protecting civil rights for African-Americans and other minorities. 
  • He sought to rid the government of patronage jobs and improve social services.

He lost a bid for the U.S. Senate in 1958 and never ran for office again, "devoting himself to his assisted-living businesses and to causes like prison reform."

He died on May 9 in Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 95.

(Cross-posted at Phantom Public.)

Labels: ,

Bookmark and Share

Another Obama failure

By Mustang Bobby

We’ve already determined that Barack Obama is not very good at being a socialist, what with the stock market soaring to giddy heights, the unemployment rate falling, and corporate profits going through the roof. Now, according to Steve M, he’s not any good at being a tyrant.
The Obama “scandals” are: a pre-election “cover-up” of the truth about the Benghazi attack in which the administration acknowledged every fact said to have been covered up within less than two weeks after the attack (and more than a month and a half before the election); heightened scrutiny of the tax-exempt status of right-wing groups by the IRS that led to no revocations of tax-exempt status and happened while a Republican ran the agency; all of this following a “gun grab” that has led to exactly zero federal gun control because no bill could even pass the Democrat-controlled upper chamber of Congress; and a further “gun grab” said to be in the works in conjunction with the UN that involves a treaty that can’t possibly be ratified in the Senate, and wouldn’t do what the opponents say it does anyway, even if it did pass.

Can’t this guy do anything right?

(Cross-posted at Bark Bark Woof Woof.)


Bookmark and Share

Republican expectations mistake

By Frank Moraes

Josh Barro made an excellent point a week and a half ago, How Conservatives Are Helping Obamacare. It isn't the focus of the article, however. He noted that the Republicans are managing expectations about the implementation of the new healthcare law. So if next year comes without riots and a syphilis pandemic, people will likely be relieved.

This is interesting. You may remember back to the debates of the 2012 presidential election. Normally, each side tries to keep expectations low. "I'm just hoping my candidate can get through the debate without urinating on himself." In fact, this is so expected that it is the major focus of discussions by the pundits in the lead up to debates. But this last year it was different. The Republicans set expectations high for Romney. It all worked out for him in the first debate, not so much because he was strong, but because Obama was so weak. I wondered at the time why this was, but that was about it.

Now with Republicans setting expectations for Obamacare so low, I have a thought. The Republican Party is more and more a closed system. It has its own media sources and interacts as little as possible with normal, middle of the road, media, which they consider to be liberal and biased. As a result, they convince themselves not only that they are right but that the other side is so obviously wrong that conservatives needn't even worry about it. This was certainly seen in the last presidential election where a lot of conservatives thought Obama was such a weak candidate that they thought of course he would lose.

Read more »

Bookmark and Share