Monthly Archives: February 2009

As Suspected

Following up on yesterday's post, it turns out that Jindal wasn't telling the truth after all.

For those needing a recap, here's the video of the relevant portion of Jindal's response:

Some story, huh?  Turns out, it's not so true.

Specifically, when Jindal told the nation that he was in the sheriff's office "during Katrina," he didn't mean "during Katrina." Days later, well after the incident with the boats, Jindal visited with the sheriff. 

When Jindal said he'd "never seen [the sheriff] so angry" as he "was yelling into the phone" about rescuing people, that wasn't exactly right, either. Jindal heard about the story after the fact.

We know this now because Jindal's spokesman has "clarified" this anecdote for us.

Implications of this?

This is no minor difference. Jindal's presence in Lee's office during the crisis itself was a key element of the story's intended appeal, putting him at the center of the action during the maelstrom. Just as important, Jindal implied that his support for the sheriff helped ensure the rescue went ahead. But it turns out Jindal wasn't there at the key moment, and played no role in making the rescue happen.

There's a larger point here, though. The central anecdote of the GOP's prime-time response to President Obama's speech, intended to illustrate the threat of excessive government regulation, turns out to have been made up.

I have a political adage that I'm trying to get into the mainstream.  I call it "The Reagan Cadillac-Driving Welfare Queen Adage".  It's basically this: if you have to lie, fabricate, embellish, exaggerate, or mislead others as to the factual basis of a demonstrative anecdote, then the policy or position you are advocating through the use of that anecdote must lack merit.

Reagan Cadillac-Driving Welfare Queen Adage…. meet Bobby Jindal.

Sticks and Stones

Picture-4 Huckabee called Obama a socialist yesterday.  Sen. DeMint (R-S.C.) called Obama a socialist today.  And of course, calling Obama a "socialist" was S.O.P. during the election season. (Both Palin and McCain invoked the phrase).

Socialism is, of course, a political theory and economic system in which the collective (i.e., the government) owns industry (the means of production) and capital.

Now when Republicans call Obama a "socialist", it is typically at rallies and conventions where conservatives gather.  It's red meat; a crowd-pleaser… for that crowd. 

But it is hyperbolic rhetoric, which is a nice way of saying that it is not literally true.  And in its attempt to "rebrand" the GOP party, how wise is it to cast the Republican Party's message as something which is demonstrably false?. 

It seems like just screaming "socialism!" at every turn probably isn't the best way back to power.  It will fare no better than screaming "unpatriotic" at those who opposed the Iraq War.

There are legitimate complaints to be uttered about Obama's policies.  I myself can think of a few, without resorting to silly breathless sky-is-falling rhetoric. 

Why can't the loyal opposition be more serious?  Why must they be so tone deak to those outside the farthest-right fringe?  And why can't they realize that Obama already won the 2008 populist revolution?

Pictured above: an actual bumper sticker being sold at the CPAC convention this week

Ex-President Bush Goes Back To School

Pershing Elementary School in Preston Hollow, Texas:

The Bushes [George and Laura] were scheduled to visit three classes, but they ended up popping in on any room with an audience.

Ducking in one room, Bush asked, "Hey kids, do you know who I am?"

Gasps all around, and then someone blurted, "George Washington!"

O.K.  That didn't go well.  But a little later…

…..at an ESL [English as a Second Language] class, Bush tried introducing himself in Spanish. Only it was a little too West Texas for the Spanish speakers. He tried again. Blank looks. Even held up three fingers. You know, a 'W." Still nothing.

Finally, Pershing's innovative, energetic principal, Margie Hernandez, stepped in with a Spanish introduction.

Ohhhhhhh.

The kids laughed at the confusion. The former president laughed. The principal laughed, out of relief, mostly.

Awwwwkward.

Once he finished his tour, he addressed a school assembly, where he related his favorite question of the morning:

"Why did you come here?"

Hmmmm.

Still, the visit was a success… in that he didn't read from My Pet Goat, and America wasn't attacked.  So, you know, small blessings….

An Open Letter To The GOP

Stop it. 

Stop it now. 

It's uncomfortable to look at. 

Stop trying to be cool.  Stop trying to be "hip".  Stop with "the Twittering".  Don't try to convince us that the Republican Party is "off the hook".  Don't look at the RNC chairman (an African-American) and shout, "You be da man!".  Don't be sending some "slum love" to Republican governor Bobby Jindal, thinking that, because he is Indian, you have to make some reference to Slumdog Millionaire.

Just stop it all.

I get embarrassed for you.

It's like when my mother, circa 1980, went to a ZZ Top concert.  Or me, circa today, trying to do hip-hop.  It's just too psychologically jarring and it makes people uncomfortable.

What the hell are you thinking?  Did you see Obama win, largely because of the youth vote, and figure that the reason he won was because he was "fresh" or "fly", or even "da bomb"?

Consider this: maybe — just maybe — Obama won the election (including the youth vote) because of his policies, which he articulated with eloquence and sincerity.  Maybe it was his seriousness about the issues facing America that won over the electorate.  Did you think that just because he was black, he was edgy or tuned in to America's youth… so now you have to do the same?

And you think engaging in ebonics on Twitter is the way to do that?

Stop it.  You're being Poochie.

Why The GOP Is Still Lost In The Woods

Daniel Larison:

It seems to me that conservatives and Republicans have assumed the GOP is the natural governing party, at least regarding the Presidency and to some extent as it relates to Congress since ‘94, which is why so many have continued to insist that America is a “center-right nation” in face of mounting evidence that it is not and hasn’t been for a while. Symbolic gimmickry does stem in part from a lack of confidence, but it is more the product of a movement and party that have ceased to understand, much less address, most of the pressing concerns of working- and middle-class Americans. The party assumes that all it needs to do is show up, push the right pseudo-populist buttons and reap the rewards, and for the most part the movement cheers. See Palin, Sarah.

But of course, the GOP is not reaping the rewards for this strategy, as working- and middle-class Americans in such places as Ohio and Indiana are becoming increasingly center-left.  Why?  They experience the income stagnation.  They experience the war.

As we all know, income stagnation is something that most conservatives and Republicans have spent years pretending was not happening, because it did not fit in with the assumption that working- and middle-class Americans were thriving as part of the “greatest story never told.” It is the failure to acknowledge and address all of these things along with the preference for using symbolic gimmickry that begin to account for the lamentable states of conservatism and the GOP. There is also the war, but movement and party have become so invested in it that I have my doubts whether they can ever recognize its role in discrediting both with the public.

So…. will conservatives adopt a new strategy?  Or will their ever-smaller numbers congregate to engage in the more-of-the-same, i.e., spewing populist rhetoric which only receives applause lines from the furthest fringes of the right?

This week is the annual CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) convention, typically seen as a necessary speaking place for future GOP candidates.  It's also where the rabid right can pose with cardboard cutouts of real-life cardboard cutouts — rightwing icons like Palin and "Joe the Plumber" (In the real world, Joe the Plumber is a nobody; a non-entity that can only muster eleven people to come to his book signing).  Perhaps we can find an answer there.

That's Cliff Kincard, a writer and editor for the right-wing organization, Accuracy In Media.  That's a rather ironic name for his organization, seeing as how he is shown here touting that Obama is a communist who was not born in the United States.

And Ann Coulter hasn't even spoke yet.

This video is a perfect example of why Americans are taking Republicans less and less seriously. People are seeing conservatism as nothing more than a low-brow, ignorant, mob-inspired, tirade.

UPDATE:  Even one prominent conservative blogger laments the GOP's inability to become something new:

I’m writing this from the CPAC convention and judging from the speakers, there’s not a whole lot of recognition of the need to update the intellectual platform to accomodate a changed era.  It’s as if Jimmy Carter’s still in the White House and Roe vs. Wade was just handed down.

Broad-based Sex Education Popular In North Carolina

From Public Policy Polling survey results released earlier this week, the question was asked:

A bill being considered in the Legislature would give parents the choice of having their children receive comprehensive sex education or abstinence only sex education. Would you support this proposal?

69% said "yes"; 31% said "no".

Even conservatives (58%) and Republicans (54%) supported the bill by a slight majority.  So did senior citizens (63%) and rural voters (69%).

Groups whose support exceeds 80% include liberals (88%), urban dwellers (86%), and African Americans (83%).

Full results here (PDF).

And Jindal Lies

From Jindal's reponse speech earlier this week:

During Katrina, I visited Sheriff Harry Lee, a Democrat and a good friend of mine. When I walked into his makeshift office I'd never seen him so angry. He was yelling into the phone: 'Well, I'm the Sheriff and if you don't like it you can come and arrest me!' I asked him: 'Sheriff, what's got you so mad?' He told me that he had put out a call for volunteers to come with their boats to rescue people who were trapped on their rooftops by the floodwaters. The boats were all lined up ready to go – when some bureaucrat showed up and told them they couldn't go out on the water unless they had proof of insurance and registration. I told him, 'Sheriff, that's ridiculous.' And before I knew it, he was yelling into the phone: 'Congressman Jindal is here, and he says you can come and arrest him too!' Harry just told the boaters to ignore the bureaucrats and start rescuing people.

What Jindal told Human Events in 2008:

There are thousands of these stories. I talked to a sheriff in an area where they had people with boats that were ready to go in the water and rescue people and they were turned away because they didn't have proof of registration and insurance, they didn't bring the right paperwork. The bureaucracy was just awful.

The implication here is that Jindal talked to the sheriff after the fact, not that he was in his office during the moment of crisis.

Presumably, Sheriff Lee could settle this, uh, apparent contradiction, but he died in 2007.  However, Lee did say this, to Larry King:

LEE: I fully believe that when then matter is looked into, we tried to get some boats in the water early on … Those boats where not allowed to get into the water when they were needed and I just found out about seven days later one of the reason boats couldn't get in was they didn't have enough life preservers and some of them didn't have proof of insurance.

Seven days later?  Not at the time of the crisis?

Rush, She’s Just Not That Into You

Rush Limbaugh can't figure out why women don't like him:

Women don’t really like Rush Limbaugh. On Feb. 23, Public Policy Polling released findings showing that only 37 percent of women hold a favorable opinion of the hate radio host, compared to 56 percent of men.

As Jill Zimon notes, Limbaugh brought up this poll yesterday on his radio show, noting that it was one of the largest gender gaps Public Policy Polling has seen on any issue it has polled in the past year. His solution? To convene a summit of women to find out why they dislike him:

RUSH: We’ll have a summit of all the women in this audience — or as many of them as we can get into breakout groups — and perhaps devote an hour in an upcoming program to calls only from women who genuinely want to talk to me. They can be liberal, conservative. They could be non-audience members, could be audience members. But I want some of these women to start telling me what it is I must do to close the gender gap — or, if not what it is I must do to close the gender gap, what it is I’ve done that has caused the gender gap; assuming the gender gap is true and that the poll is true. […]

I own the men, and what must I do now to own women? And who better to ask than women? Including some of those who may agree that that I’m unfavorable. So stand by for that.

Well, for starters, Rush, perhaps women are turned off by your misogyny.  For example, holding a summit so that you can "own women" is itself indicative of your problem. 

And this habit of repeatedly calling women who call for the advancement of women "feminazis"?  I'm going out on a limb and suggest that is a bit of a turnoff, too.

Or some of your quotes, most notably:

Rush's marriage advice: "If you want a successful marriage, let your husband do what he wants to do."
Source: Palmbeachpost.com

Or…

“I love the women’s movement. Especially when I’m walking behind it.”

Or

"You have to understand the mindset of a lot of these feminists and women…These women have paid their dues. They've been married two or three times; they've had two or three abortions; they've done everything that feminism asked them to do. They have cut men out of their lives; they have devoted themselves to causes and careers. And this — the candidacy of Hillary Clinton — is the culmination of all of these women's efforts."

Or

So the question is this: Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?

Or (from your book)…

One of my fabulous routines concerns a San Francisco men's club which lost its battle to exclude women from membership. The courts ruled that they had to admit women on the basis that businesswomen were being unfairly denied opportunities to do business. This is specious. How much business did women think they were going to get as a result of forcing their way in?

Anyway, after one year, the female members demanded their own exercise room. They were probably tired of being ogled by a bunch of slobbering men while they pumped iron in leotards and spandex. The men offered to install the first three exercise machines in the women's new workout room. The ladies were thrilled. When they arrived on that first exciting day they found, to their stunned amazement, a washing machine, an ironing board, and a vacuum cleaner. Heh, heh, heh. (The Way Things Ought To Be, p.142-45 Jul 2, 1992)

Or any of these quotes.

Mystery solved, Rush.

UPDATE:  Or maybe it has nothing to do with women's issues at all.  Maybe it's just a turnoff when Rush says things like "I hope Obama fails".  And in case you didn't get his gist, he reitterated it today, saying "We want something to blow up here politically. We want something to not go right."  And Rush says "here", he's talking about the economy and the stimulus as he's saying this.

Can you imagine if a liberal pundit had said in, say, 2004, that he hoped Bush failed in his war on terrorism?  That we, the opposition, want something to blow up?  That we, the opposition, want another terrorist attack?

Best Reaction To Jindel Speech

And it speaks to both Jindel and Palin:

Absent any deep thoughts, the Republicans are going to complain about waste. The high point of Jindal’s address came when he laced into “wasteful spending” in the stimulus bill, and used as an example a $140 million appropriation for keeping an eye on the volcanoes in places like Alaska, where one is currently rumbling.

“Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what Congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington, D.C.,” Jindal claimed.

I don’t know about you, but my reaction was: Wow, what a great stimulus plan. The most wasteful thing in it is volcano monitoring.

Louisiana has gotten $130 billion in post-Katrina aid. How is it that the stars of the Republican austerity movement come from the states that suck up the most federal money? Taxpayers in New York send way more to Washington than they get back so more can go to places like Alaska and Louisiana. Which is fine, as long as we don’t have to hear their governors bragging about how the folks who elected them want to keep their tax money to themselves. Of course they do! That’s because they’re living off ours.

Emphasis mine.

Broadway To Become More Pedestrian

This sounds like a good thing:

The city plans to close several blocks of Broadway to vehicle traffic through Times Square and Herald Square, an experiment that would turn swaths of the Great White Way into pedestrian malls and continue Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s effort to reduce traffic congestion in Midtown.

Although it seems counterintuitive, officials believe the move will actually improve the overall flow of traffic, because the diagonal path of Broadway tends to disrupt traffic where it intersects with other streets.

The city plans to introduce the changes as early as May and keep them in effect through the end of the year. If the experiment works, they could become permanent. The plan was described by several people who were briefed on it this week.

***

The plan calls for Broadway to be closed to vehicles from 47th Street to 42nd Street. Traffic would continue to flow through on crossing streets, but the areas between the streets would become pedestrian malls, with chairs, benches and cafe tables with umbrellas.

Seventh Avenue would be widened slightly within Times Square to accommodate the extra traffic diverted from Broadway.

Below 42nd Street, Broadway would be open to traffic, but then would shut down again at Herald Square, from 35th Street to 33rd Street. Then, below 33rd, it would open again.

Here's how it will look from Broadway and 7th Street, looking north (before, after).  Note the pedestrian mall in the background (going all the way to 47th Street) as well as the foreground.

CarFreeBway-TSQ_1

And a view of Herald Square (Macy's on the right) before and after.  Again, pedestrian malls are in the foreground and background.

CarFreeBway_HSQ

Ways To Make Money In A Bad Economy

What's up in this down economy?  Gold.  Gold parties are a big big thing.  I've not been invited to one, but I wouldn't go anyway, not having any gold.

And here's another way you know we're living in a different world economically.  Gone are the commercials about making a fortune in real estate.  Instead, it's commercials about — yup — gold.

Which leads me to this spoof:

Sometimes I Worry About My Friends

Someone very near and dear to me is in love with Ben Linus, the charactor on Lost

Mind you – not in love with Michael Emerson, the actor who portrays Ben Linus, but Ben Linus.

Ben Linus, who is not only a murderer, but a fictional murderer at that.

I'm going to watch my back around her….

But seriously, Lost is getting pretty good.  Unfortunately, I missed a few shows in Season 3 and 4, and I'm not quite sure I follow everything.  Then again, maybe I'm not supposed to.

Obama Won The Night

CBS News poll of approximately 500 people saw approval of the president rise from 62 percent before the speech to 69 percent afterward.

Meanwhile, a poll on CNN showed that 68 percent of respondents — who skewed a bit Democratic — viewed the speech positively, 24 somewhat positively, and only eight percent not positively. Eighty-two percent supported the president's economic plan as outlined in the speech, while 17 percent opposed it.

Those results were buttressed by the findings of longtime Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg. In his own dial poll, which included 50 participants of mixed gender, education and politics, Greenberg found a large swath of bipartisan support for Obama's addres. That included a 14 percent jump, from 62 to 76 percent, in the favorability rating for the president.

Saying at the onset that this was an "immensely successful speech," he highlighted a few issues on which Obama won over the audience.

* On taxes, "there was a 26-point gain," from 38 to 64 percent, "the biggest gains that he made." 

* On the deficit, "there was an 18 point swing… from 42 percent to 60 percent." 

* On Iraq, "there was a 18-point swing" (no numbers were offered)

"I've never seen this," Greenberg added. For a large part of the speech, all three, the Republican, Democratic and independent line where virtually in the same place."

What was striking, Greenberg concluded, was "how un-polarized the reaction was to this speech. I have not quite seen that."

Jindel? Really?

I was going to make fun of Bobby Jindel's response to the Obama address, but everyone else beat me to it.  Ezra Klein was spot-on when he suggested that Jindel had the oratorical stylings and naive optimism of Kenneth, from 30 Rock.

What was most striking about Jindel's response was using Katrina to stand as the example that government help is bad, but the will of the American people is good.  As if Americans had forgotten who was President during Katrina.

Look, if Katrina served as a lesson, it is this: Do not put government in the hands of people who think government is incapable of doing good and helping the citizenry.  Because inevitably, they'll muck it up so that they can say "See?  Government can't solve problems."

Cognitive dissonence also never striked Jindel when he flag-waived about America's illustrious past — how we overcame slavery, segregation, etc.  Of course, it was government that brought about these changes (despite the often forceful protestations of conservatives).

But I think satirist Jon Swift said it best:

But what really inspired me was the story he told about how people in leaky little boats tried to save the citizens of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina even though government bureaucrats tried to stop them. If the government had stayed out of New Orleans entirely and encouraged more people to use their boats or to make their own boats out of things around the house, more people would probably be alive today. And instead of waiting for inefficient government workers to fix the levies, ordinary New Orleans citizens could have patched them up using bubble gum and duct tape and good old American know-how.


Instead of relying on the government to build magical magnetic levitation trains, the people of Las Vegas should be encouraged to bring some tools from their garages and build the train themselves, the way the Amish do. And while it's true that the magical levitation part might prove to be technologically difficult for the average Las Vegas citizen, if they all put their minds together and pray, I bet they would be able to levitate the trains. The power of prayer worked for Gov. Jindal when he and a few friends exorcised some demons and cured a woman of cancer back when he was in college so it could probably work for trains, too. And praying may also be the answer to our health care crisis.

Swift went after the GOP cure-all to every problem — tax cuts — which Jindel predictably championed, while ignoring the fact that Obama's stimululs bill just created the largest tax cut in history:

Finally, the best part of Gov. Jindal's speech was when he talked about tax cuts. Cutting taxes for 95% of Americans as Pres. Obama promises is extremely unfair to the 5% of Americans who work hard, too, but already pay a lot more taxes than everyone else does despite all of their efforts to shield their assets in offshore accounts. Somebody needs to represent the 5% minority of people who are discriminated against by Obama's tax plan. Gov. Jindal and the new Republican leader Michael Steele understand what it's like to be minorities so it is no surprise that they are willing to stand up for the minority of people who make more than $250,000 a year like bank executives who are often the victims of bigotry in the liberal media. Most Americans want our millionaires to do well because someday we may win the lottery or appear on a quiz show and become millionaires ourselves.

When all is said and done, Jindel's performance was a disappointment, even to the folks at Fox.  It was a littany of the same GOP mantras of the past 8 years: a lot of pro-America cheerleading, lacking substance but for the tax cuts, tax cuts, tax cuts.

Other Jindel reactions:

  • TPM's Josh Marshall: "I thought Jindal's comments and presentation was just weird and cringy and awful."
  • Think ProgressMatthew Yglesias: "Bobby Jindal apparently believes it's appropriate to address the citizens of the United States in a tone that suggests we're all nine years old."
  • Firedoglake's Eli: "Why does he sound like he's narrating a children's movie?"
  • Silver: "If it sounds like Jindal is targeting his speech to a room full of fourth graders, that's because he is. They might be the next people to actually vote for Republicans again."
  • Beeton: "Is it just me, or does Bobby Jindal sound an awful lot like Kenneth from 30 Rock?"
  • Sudbay: "[Jindal] was awful. Unimpressive and uninspiring. […] Let's admit it: Sarah Palin has nothing to worry about from Jindal."
  • TAPPED's Dana Goldstein: "[Jindal's] basic message was that government causes problems, and can't fix them. The thing is, during this time of economic uncertainty, Americans are looking toward government for help and reassurance, not for a cold shoulder."
  • The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen: "[A]s bad as Jindal's performance was, his ideas were even worse — tax cuts, drilling, school vouchers, spending bad, government bad. Why bother picking a fresh face if all the party has to offer is stale ideas? Why ask a young governor with a reputation for innovation to present the same old agenda that the GOP has pitched for a generation?"
  • Ezra Klein: "[This is] a speech that [House Min. Leader John] Boehner could have given in 2007 and that [ex-Senate Maj. Leader Bill] Frist could have given in 2005 and that [ex-Senate Maj. Leader Trent] Lott could have given in 1998 and that [ex-House Speaker Newt] Gingrich could have given in 1993. Jindal made a mistake accepting the GOP's invitation to give this response. Yesterday, he seemed like a different kind of Republican. Today, he doesn't."
  • Sudbay: "[U]sing Katrina as an example to tout the GOP? That was sheer brilliance."
  • digby: "[M]y God, I'm gobsmacked by the fact that he actually raised Katrina in the way he did, suggesting that they didn't need government help. I just don't know what to say about that."
  • AMERICAblog's John Aravosis: "Let's think for a moment. Who was it who abandoned New Orleans again? Uh, that would be the Republican president who ignored Katrina, the Republican presidential candidate who ate an oversized birthday cake in California while citizens of New Orleans drowned, and the Republican Congress who refused to investigate what went wrong. Your point would be what exactly, Mr. Jindal? That voters shouldn't trust Republicans to protect them in time of need?"
  • Klein: "It's as if [GOPers] don't think Americans are smart enough to remember who was running the government in 2005."

UPDATE:  A geology website has something to say about Jindel's claim that volcano monitoring is "wasteful spending":

I have two questions.


1. Do Republicans (or moderates who don't have a kneejerk anti-Republican reflex) also feel like he's talking to the nation as though we were all kindergarteners? I was flabbergasted, but I don't know how to properly account for my rather strong political biases here. 

2.  DID HE SERIOUSLY JUST SAY THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT BE MONITORING VOLCANOES??!?!!!????@#$@! 

Ignoring for the sake of argument the value of the basic science that always results from the data collected during routine monitoring – ignoring the general function of increased spending as an economic stimulus to the nation's earth scientists, instrument manufacturers, etc., – even ignoring all that, volcano monitoring is still a very sensible investment in national security. A $1.5 million investment in monitoring at Pinatubo (near a U.S. air force base) earned a greater than 300-fold return when the volcano erupted explosively in 1991: hundreds of millions of dollars worth of property (mostly airplanes) was saved, as were thousands of lives. That 30,000% figure comes before you attempt to put a value on human life.
***
In other words: If the USGS didn't monitor volcanoes, the Defense Department would have to. And we all know that would cost eleventy-squillion times more than the current shoestring budget.

What Was *That*?

I just saw something I've never seen before in my quarter-decade of following politics.

I was flipping around the dial, and came to CNN.  Wolf said that they were going to cut live to the White House where Obama was about to speak at a "fiscal responsibility summit".  Yawn, right?

It's hard to describe what I saw.  It looked like Obama speaking to reporters — a typical press conference.  But then he called out for questions and comments from the people sitting in front of him.  The first person he called on?  Senator John McCain.

What Obama had done was call in a bunch of knowledgeable people — Democrats, Republicans, people in government, people in the private sector — and put them into various work groups to talk candidly about issues relating to fiscal responsibility (specifically, how to deal with the deficit).  That is apparaentlyl what they were doing today.  Then he called them all back in, and gave this summit.  Each group is going to prepare a report, showing where everybody seems to be in agreement, where there is disagreement, and providing thoughts about what to do next.  John McCain, for example, was in the military procurements group, and reported to the President that all in his group seemed to agree on military overspending.  He noted that the President's new helicopter was going to cost more than Air Force One.  (Obama quipped that the helicopter he had was just fine, and didn't need a new one).

It was remarkable in that I have never ever ever seen a President hold a nationally-televised summit where there was a back-and-forth between himself, his political opponents, and members of the public.  It was clear that Obama was there to listen.  Remarkable.  

I don't think it was just for show.  Obama was clear — and stated repeatedly — that he understands there are going to be politics, but he wanted agreements on policies.  It was leadership like I have never seen before.

At one point, a Republican Congressman from Texas rose and spoke to Obama, noting that his obvious bi-partisan approach to fiscal responsibility issues were essentially meaningless if it was going to be handled like the stimulus package, where Republicans felt they were left out.  Obama had a brilliant response.  He essentially said that while his administration is dedicated to bi-partisanship, it is the responsibility of the minority party to step up with ideas, rather than simply rejecting Obama's proposals, which was essentially what happened with the stimulus package.

Was this political theater?  A cynic might say so.  But it just didn't look that way.  It was an intelligent conversation between opposing factions on what they could and should do to reduce the deficit.  One thing that came out was that health care is going to be the key.

Anyway, this should be on Youtube shortly.  I'll try to post the link.  But if you get a chance to see it, you will see something that is virtually unheard of in American politics.  Even the media was astounded.

The Chicago Tea Party

For those who missed it, this is the video that went viral yesterday.  It features CNBC's Rick Santelli:

David Sirota said it best: Santelli was "literally on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange surrounded by multimillionaire traders railing on the Obama administration for trying to help struggling homeowners, and berating people who are getting foreclosed on as 'losers.'"

But that is precisely what has made him a cult hero (already!) on the right.  K-Lo at NRO says the reaction she is getting from conservatives in her email bag is a lot like the day after Sarah Palin made her convention speech.  She even created this graphic:

Pic_PALIN-SANTELLI

I'll let Political Animal speak for me:

In the midst of Santelli's tirade, threats about another "tea party," and genuinely frightening screaming, it didn't seem to occur to him that he sounded ridiculous. A $700 billion bailout for a financial industry on the verge of collapse? No problem. A $75 billion housing policy to stem the foreclosure crisis? Grab the pitchforks, show your unbridled rage, and prepare for a class war against those low-income families who've let down the Wall Street traders who've done so much to improve the nation's economy.

No wonder some of the less sensible among us fell in love with Santelli's faux-populism. It's the precisely the kind of class warfare Republicans have always dreamed of — the wealthy whining incessantly about struggling families getting to keep their homes.

As dday put it, "The revolution has begun. These workaday stock traders are going to take back this country for the laissez-faire capitalists who are entitled to it."

Not incidentally, now might also be a good time to point out that Santelli's fury doesn't stand up well to fact-checking. He made it sound like "losers" who bought homes they couldn't afford are poised to get a bailout from the feds. That might be the prevailing judgment of furious traders on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, but it's not reality.

The right is going to need a new cult hero. This guy doesn't seem to know what he's talking about.

If this was a "Chicago Tea Party", then it heralded the beginning of "class warfare".  Not the class warfare the Republicans whine about, where rich people are forced to pay higher taxes, but a class warfare against the middle and low classes, brought on by the Wall Street elite.

My First Album

Another internet meme:

(1) Go to “Wikipedia.” Hit “random” and the first article you get is the name of your band.

(2) Then go to “Random Quotations” and the last four or five words of the very last quote of the page is the title of your first album.

(3) Then, go to Flickr and click on “Explore the Last Seven Days” and the third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.

Here's the first album of my new band, Technical Area:

Myalbum

Dumb Idea

AP:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says he wants to consider taxing motorists based on how many miles they drive rather than how much gasoline they burn—an idea that has angered drivers in some states where it has been proposed.

The reason, says LaHood, is that gas taxes don't cover the cost of the federal and state highway and road infrastructure.

Okay, fine.  But a mileage tax isn't as good as a gas tax.  A mileage tax will motivate people to drive less, but it won't incentivize you to by a fuel-efficient car.  A gas tax, on the other hand, will do both.  Right?

Repubican Report Card

CNN:

It's the one-month anniversary of President Obama's swearing-in, and not surprisingly the Republican National Committee is out with its' verdict: It's been "disappointing."

"Obama's first month has been marked by wasteful spending, failed bipartisanship, and questionable ethics," the RNC said in a document circulated to reporters.

Uh, right.  Because the last eight years have been the hallmark of fiscal conservatism, successful bipartisanship, and ethical governance.

NYU Protests

Student occupations of the administration buildings, police whopping students, pepper spray… it's like the 60's, man.

Some setbacks apparently…

New York Times:

The students pushed tables and chairs against the doors, and a woman with a megaphone outlined the group’s demands.

They included a full and annual reporting of the university’s operating budget, expenditures and endowment. The students also demanded that N.Y.U. provide 13 scholarships annually to students from the Gaza Strip and give surplus supplies to the Islamic University of Gaza. On the group’s Web site, it also asked that all participants in the protest be granted amnesty from punishment.

Well, that place more emphasis on Gaza.  Here are the actual demands from the protest website:

  1. The inclusion of an elected representative from the student body in New York University’s (NYU) Board of Trustee meetings. This representative should have rights, including voting rights, equal to that of Trustees, as well as the authorization to make public statements on the operations of the Board of Trustees without prior approval from any administration official.
  2. Public release of NYU’s annual operating budget, including a full list of university expenditures, salaries for all employees compensated on a semester or annual basis, funds allocated for staff wages, contracts to non-university organizations for university construction and services, financial aid data for each college, and money allocated to each college, department, and administrative unit of the university. Furthermore, this should include a full disclosure of the amount and sources of the university’s funding.
  3. Disclosure of NYU’s endowment holdings, investment strategy, projected endowment growth, and persons, corporations and firms involved in the investment of the university’s endowment funds. Additionally, we demand an endowment oversight body of students, faculty and staff who exercise shareholder proxy voting power for the university’s investments.

That's the general demand.  Then there is the "occupation demands":

  1. Amnesty for all parties involved.
  2. Full compensation for all employees whose jobs were disrupted during the course of the occupation.
  3. Public release of NYU’s annual budget and endowment.
  4. Allow student workers (including T.A.’s) to collectively bargain.
  5. A fair labor contract for all NYU employees at home and abroad.
  6. A Socially Responsible Finance Committee that will immediately investigate war profiteers and the lifting of the Coke ban.
  7. Annual scholarships be provided for thirteen Palestinian students.
  8. That the university donates all excess supplies and materials in an effort to rebuild the University of Gaza.
  9. Tuition stabilization for all students, beginning with the class of 2012. Tuition rates for each successive year will not exceed the rate of inflation. The university shall meet 100% of government-calculated student financial need.
  10. That student groups have priority when reserving space in the buildings owned or leased by New York University, including, and especially, the Kimmel Center.
  11. That the general public have access to Bobst Library.

Not exactly "fuck the draft", but you know… it's 2009.  Wotchoo gonna do?

The protest website is here, although access to it is sporadic.  From last night:

The police pepper-sprayed the crowd earlier and a few supporters in the street were injured. There are still between 400-500 people out there and it doesn’t look like they’re going anywhere. We, the students of the occupation, remain firmly against violent action and we hope the crowd stands in non-violent solidarity with us. Negotiations are ongoing and we thank you all for your support!!

And later, at 3 a.m.:

We are writing to you from inside NYU. There are still hundreds of dancing masses swelling at the exterior of the building. Morale is high. We are sticking this out. 

The administration’s negotiation consisted of repeating the same ultimatum over and over. They proposed probation (not amnesty in the slightest) for all students involved in the occupation, a disbanding of the occupation and the ability to meet with only two administrators in order to meet to discuss the demands. So… basically they offered to blacklist us, end the occupation and we get 5 minutes in a room with Lynne Brown (Senior Vice President for University Relations and Public Affairs) and Linda Mills (Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education and University Life). This is not negotiation, this is mandate with no room for bargaining.

The  crowd’s energy is high. They overtook the streets several hours ago, and are maintaining their position along West 4th St. They are shouting, dancing and having a good time. At a certain point in time, the crowd began to push against police barricades in front of the Kimmel entrance. There was one confirmed arrest, who was told informally that he was charged with assaulting an officer. These claims are not fully confirmed.

We’re all busy blogging, napping noshing and chanting to the crowds. We appreciate your support, and are open to negotiation at all times. Contact your professors, contact administrators, contact your parents. All we ask is a seat at the negotiations table. We don’t need to bargain to negotiate. We don’t need to plead to talk. We will be heard.

I'm all for student activism; when I was in school (in the eighties) there was an appalling pervasiveness of apathy.  I'm not quite sure that the NYU students are going about this right (could this just be activism for activism's sake?).  [NOTE:  Case in point].  But then again, I'm woefully ignorant of the details and history of the controversy. Having been to law school at NYU, I know Dean Sexton pretty well.  He's not an eminently reasonable guy. 

UPDATE:  Not everyone is rallying behind the students. [Pictured below: a Zac Brown lookalike outside the Kimmel Center]

7nyu

Not Saying He’s *Better*

Obama beats out Jesus in poll asking for biggest hero:

Americans named President Obama as their No. 1 hero, followed by Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King, in a new Harris poll.

Others in the top 10, in descending order, were Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, Abraham Lincoln, John McCain, John F. Kennedy, Chesley Sullenberger and Mother Teresa.

Can't believe McCain beat Sully.

An Open Letter To Freida Pinto

16slid1 Dear Freida,

Loved you in Slumdog

I read here that you don't have an Oscar date.

I just wanted you to know I'm not doing anything this coming Sunday evening.  Leave a comment to this post so I know how to contact you.  Or email.

Yours, Ken

The Obama Housing Plan

This, the most straightforward explanation I could find, is still over my head.  But I think some of this applies to me.  The refinancing part.  I think.  I'm not at risk of foreclosure or anything, but it seems to me that I could and should be doing something to reduce my mortage.

I guess I'll have to see what it actually means, what homeowners have to actually do, etc.

Anyone find a good primer on this stuff?

Rebranding The GOP (“You Down With GOP? Yeah, You Know Me!”)

This should be amusing.

Washington Times:

Newly elected Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele plans an “off the hook” public relations offensive to attract younger voters, especially blacks and Hispanics, by applying the party's principles to “urban-suburban hip-hop settings.”

The RNC's first black chairman will “surprise everyone” when updating the party's image using the Internet and advertisements on radio, on television and in print, he told The Washington Times.

"Yo.  Get your GOP on, ai-ight?  I'm down with da tax cuts, and don't be steppin' with the estate-o-bizzle tax, dawg."

Seriously, I'm not sure what Steele has in mind, but I think it will be comedy gold.  Especially if it pans out like the GOP's embrace of Twitter…..and "the Google"…

UPDATE from Steve Benen:

Steele said the party needs "messengers" who can capture a "region" made up of "young, Hispanic, black, a cross section." He added, "We want to convey that the modern-day GOP looks like the conservative party that stands on principles. But we want to apply them to urban-surburban hip-hop settings…. [W]e need to uptick our image with everyone, including one-armed midgets."

"One-armed midgets"?  Dude.

Steele went on to explain his public-relations vision, saying, "It will be avant garde, technically. It will come to table with things that will surprise everyone — off the hook."

Asked if he imagines a cutting-edge approach, Steele replied, "I don't do 'cutting-edge.' That's what Democrats are doing. We're going beyond cutting-edge."

Raise your hand if you think Michael Steele has the foggiest idea what he's talking about.

Bueller?  Bueller?

What We’re Not Buying

Nate Silver points us to this government spreadsheet from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce, showing Personal Consumption Expenditures by Type of Product. If you scroll to the right, you'll eventually come to the 4th quarter of 2008.

What do you see when it comes to the last fiscal quarter?  Nobody's buying things:

Sales of jewelry and watches were off by 7.2 percent in the fourth quarter, the third-largest drop ever recorded. Casino gambling receipts are down about 8.5 percent from a year ago, far and away the largest decrease ever over four consecutive quarters.

Silver focuses on one thing, the sale of beer/alcohol for home consumption.  Seems people aren't stocking up much anymore.

Beer4 

Silver adds:

Sales of alcohol for off-premises consumption were down by 9.3 percent from the previous quarter, according to the Commerce Department. This is absolutely unprecedented: the largest previous drop had been just 3.7 percent, between the third and fourth quarters of 1991.

Beer accounts for almost all of the decrease, with revenues off by almost 14 percent. Wine and spirits were much more stable, with sales volumes declining by 1.6 percent and 0.9 percent respectively.

It's not all doom-and-gloom, though:

What's doing well? The movies. The movies, also historically a recession-proof industry but not a counter-cyclical one, are doing terrifically well. Motion picture theaters increased their revenues by 10.9 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the Commerce Department.

And to my encouragement, something else remained steady.  Actually, it ticked up slightly during the last two quarters of 2008: attendance at "legitimate theaters and opera, and entertainments of nonprofit institutions"

The Latest In The Abortion Battle

Oh, no.  It's not over simply because Obama was elected president.  The pro-life crowd is still at it.  Even racheting it up a bit.  Here's what they're doing in North Dakota:

A long legal journey could be in store for an anti-abortion bill the North Dakota House passed on Tuesday that would give constitutional rights to fertilized human eggs, the bill's sponsor said on Wednesday.

"I think North Dakota will be on the map to be the first state in recent years to mount a legitimate challenge to Roe v. Wade," Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Minot, said of the U.S. Supreme Court 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

Good.  So now fertilized eggs will have the right to keep and bear arms.

I guess the thinking is that if you give constitutional rights to fertilized human eggs, then that will effectively prevent many forms of birth control (and, of course, abortions) since the fertilized egg will have the right to "due process" (i.e., a trial) before you deny it its "life".  This prohiobition would include rape and incest victims, as well as mothers with health risks.

It also means that the fertilized egg would effectively be a "person", meaning a halt to stem cell research.  And, I suppose, it will mean that pregnant women can use the car pool lane.  On the other hand, they'll have to buy two tickets (one adult, one child) whenever they see a movie.  And let's not forget the tax implications.  It'll also screw up the census.

Colorado tried this last year, but the voters overwhelming rejected it.

There's a biological problem with giving constitutional rights to fertilized eggs.  Medically, a woman is not defined as "pregnant" until the fertillized egg attaches itself to the uterus.  That event triggers the hormonal, physical and other changes that enable the fertilized egg to draw nourishment from the mother’s body.  And sometimes, the fertilized egg fails to make that attachment.

Actually, the text (PDF) of the bill is even worse than the new reports suggest.  It reads:

SECTION 1. References to individual, person, or human being – Legislative intent. For purposes of interpretation of the constitution and laws of North Dakota, it is the intent of the legislative assembly that an individual, a person, when the context indicates that a reference to an individual is intended, or a human being includes any organism with the genome of homo sapiens.

SECTION 2. STATE TO DEFEND CHALLENGE. The legislative assembly, by concurrent resolution, may appoint one or more of its members, as a matter of right and in the legislative member's official capacity, to intervene to defend this Act in any case in which this Act's constitutionality is challenged.

Any organism with the genome of homo sapiens?  Forgive my biological ignorance, but doesn't that (at least arguably) include sperm?  Wouldn't this law effectively outlaw masturbation?  Hmmm… I guess every sperm is sacred.

Anyway, if the law makes it past the North Dakota Senate, would it be constitutional?  Absolutely not, but that’s just the point. The underlying agenda is to provide a vehicle for challenging Roe v. Wade.

They’re Not Going To Pla–ay–ay This Year’s “Rent”

The principal at a high school in California said "no" and shut down the drama club's production of Rent.  Mind you, this was the "school edition" of Rent, a cleaned-up version created by the show's producers with Jonathan Larson's estate.  Rent: School Edition cuts some of the harsher language and takes out "Contact" (the orgiistic sex number), but that wasn't good enough for Corona del Mar High School's principal.  She had issues with the fact that the musical contained teh gay:

Drama students at Corona del Mar High School were excited to push the envelope with a spring production of the Bohemian love story "Rent."

But the drama teacher at the Newport Beach school says the principal told him to cancel the show because she disapproved of the gay characters in the musical.

Fal Asrani, the school's principal, disputes that she pulled the plug on the production, saying that she only asked to review the script, according to district officials.

***

Ron Martin said he chose "Rent," the story of artists struggling in New York City, for the spring musical because he hoped it would be a vehicle for teaching tolerance after overhearing students using homosexual slurs.

"My responsibility as a drama teacher is to expose my students to a variety of different types of plays," Martin said. At a recent meeting with Martin and a union representative, Asrani shut down the plans for "Rent," saying that she needed to review the script because of "prostitution and homosexuality," Martin said, adding that there is no prostitution in the musical.

Asrani did request a script, a common practice in the school district, but was not provided one, said Newport-Mesa Unified School District spokeswoman Laura Boss. The principal has discretion over anything that occurs on campus, but she "emphatically denies" canceling the show, Boss said; that call was made by the drama teacher.

"We feel confident at the role the principal played," Boss said, adding that district officials will follow up on the matter when students and staff return next week from a break.

Asrani "gets to the bottom" of things, said Dana Black, president of the Newport-Mesa Board of Education. The district, Black says, does not shy away from edgy subject matter, but, "we don't want anybody feeling alienated."

And it makes sense for a principal to review potentially sensitive material, Black said. "I'm just kind of surprised, to be honest with you, that there was any controversy."

Asrani did not return calls seeking comment; Martin stands by his account of the meeting.

Martin said that in the five years he's worked at the school, Asrani had never asked to review a script before a production. The teacher had already discussed the abridged school edition of "Rent" — which cuts out same-sex contact — with actors' parents and says none had a problem with the material. And previous shows such as "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" portrayed adult themes without raising administrators' eyebrows.

A parent complaint about this winter's production of "No Reservations," which included light profanity, a kissing scene and a gay character's monologue, prompted Asrani to attempt — unsuccessfully — to edit the show after it had opened, according to Martin and students in the department.

Upon hearing the news that their spring musical was canned, drama students, about 20 of whom had already been cast for roles in "Rent," were flabbergasted.

"We've all been angry," said Tim Dyess, 17, president of the Drama Club. "The reason why it got canceled was completely ridiculous."

He and other students have plans to distribute fliers and buttons and post YouTube.com videos criticizing what they view as a discriminatory move. Some have called the American Civil Liberties Union.

This isn't the first time a high school's production of Rent has been cancelled because of the content.

Anyway, now the drama club at Corona del Mar High School is stuck doing You're A Good Man Charlie Brown for its spring musical.  School officials are looking into the possibility that Peppermint Patty is a lesbian.

Okay, Let Me Explain This Facebook Thing

Facebook recently changed its terms of service and now thousands of Facebook users are in an uproar.

Opponents claim that Facebook wants the right to own and use your information even after you have cancelled and deleted your account.

ZOMG!  Because I just posted a Facebook note that rivals James Joyce's "Ulysses", and why should Facebook get the rights to that????

Get a grip, people.  Understand something.  When you sign on to Facebook, you give them the right to your information and writings.  Specifically, you give them the right to pass on your information.  You tell them to do that.

For example, if I write on Emily Mark's wall, I am implicitly giving Facebook permission to take what I type and put it on Emily's wall, knowing full well that her "wall" is public (or viewable by people of her choice).  THAT IS ALL THAT FACEBOOK IS GIVING ITSELF BY ITS TERMS OF SERVICE.  In other words, you acknowledge that you give Facebook permission to pass on information that you want to be passed on.

The so-called "new language" in the terms of service merely clarifies that Facebook still has the ongoing obligation to retain that passed-on information even after you cancel and delete your profile.  Returning to my example, suppose I write something to Emily Mark's wall and then, the next day, I cancel my Facebook account and delete everything I have there.  What I wrote on Emily's wall still remains there.  All Facebook is doing, by changing the legalese of their terms of service, is to get you to acknowledge that even after you delete your profile, information and writings that you had up there and passed on to others, will still be available.

It is nothing more than language to protect their own asses.  They are not taking things from you and selling it.  They are not doing anything other than what you expect they would do.

So chill.

Eliminationist Rhetoric

From the blog of a white supremicist:

After the pending Second American Revolution results in killing the people who have wrecked this country — yes, you KNOW who I'm talking about — what are we going to do as a nation to move forward?

There are lots of very very serious things to consider. What to do with the people who are presently living solely on social security? What to do with people who depend solely on medicare? What about the infirm, the retarded, the disabled?

What to do about the debts incurred by the people we got rid of? Repudiate them? That causes wars.

As you might imagine, these are serious issues not to be left to haphazard guesswork after the fact.

I want to form serious working groups; think tanks, to seriously consider these matters.

Getting rid of the scumbags who wrecked the country is the easy part. We can take them out in under an hour. The REAL hard part is what to do once we've gotten rid of them?

This is going to require considerable analysis and forethought. The solutions they came up with over the past 50 years have literally bankrupted the nation. We can't go back down that road so what do we do in the immediate aftermath and then what do we do for the long term?

Your serious thoughts are urgently needed. I suspect the killing will have to begin very soon; likely within a couple months.

For those of you totally perplexed by who it is that has to go and why, read this article from WorldNetDaily that demonstrates the obligations of the feds now exceed the GDP of the entire WORLD!

Any of you foolish enough to think this can be resolved in any manner other than bloodshed are delusional.

You got that?  Killing the liberals is the easy part.

What Will The Stimulus Bring To Forsyth County?

According to this fact sheet (PDF) put out by the White House, 7,800 jobs will be saved or created by the stimulus package in North Carolina's 12th District.  The 12th District covers most of Forsyth County, parts of Guilford County, and extends to Charlotte.

NC-Congress-12 

The 5th District (where I actually live, just west of Winston-Salem) will see 7,700 jobs saved or created.

NC-Congress-5 

North Carolina as a whole will see 105,000 jobs saved or created by the stimulus package over the next two years.

Well, that's the hope…..

Don’t You Have To Win In Order To Take A Victory Lap?

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA) has created a YouTube video set to the tune of Aerosmith’s “Back In The Saddle” boasting that zero Republicans voted for the recovery package. The video is called “The House GOP is Back.” Watch it:

I'm not quite sure that having near-unanimous opposition to the stimulus bill is a political winner.  After all, the public seems to approve of Congress's passage of the bill:

Gallup's latest congressional job approval rating, from a Feb. 9-12 poll, shows a sharp 12 percentage-point increase from last month, rising from 19% to 31%. While still quite negative on an absolute basis, this is the best rating for Congress in nearly two years.

Ype3bnkd5kgao7g1x1kprq 

Of course, not all Republicans are in the Canter camp.  As a matter of fact, there is clearly a Republican divide forming, and that was made clear in the party's approach to the stimulus bill.  Jason Linkins at Huffington Post has a great article on this.  In it, he quotes Bush 41 speechwriter David Frum, who made reference to the GOP assertion that the stimulus bill would give millions of dollars to salt-marsh mice:

The problem with the story is not that it was false. The problem with the story is that it was stupid.

The US economy has plunged into severe recession (94% of Americans describe economic conditions as "bad," according to the Feb 2-4 CBS poll, and 51% say conditions are getting even worse).

President Obama and the Democrats have responded by steering the US radically to the left. Since World War II, the federal government has most years spent less than one dollar in five of national income. Once the stimulus gets underway, the federal government will spend more than one dollar in four. The cost of everything the Democrats want to do comes closer to one dollar in three.

We're facing more regulation of everything from high finance to the ordinary workplace. The Democrats are expanding Medicaid to crowd out private insurance. The federal government wants a huge new role in redirecting private investment in transportation and energy in the name of "green jobs."

And facing all this – we're talking about mice?

Could we possibly act more inadequate to the challenge? More futile? More brain dead?

We in fact have a constructive solution to offer, one that would deliver more jobs faster: the payroll tax holiday, an idea endorsed by almost every reputable right-of-center economist. But that's not the solution being offered by Republicans in Congress. They are offering a clapped-out package of 1980s-vintage solutions, including capital gains tax cuts. Capital gains! Who has any capital gains to be taxed in the first place?

Actually, the "story" that the stimulus bill would give millions to "mice" is false.  It gives $30 million to wetlands preservation, some of which might go to marshes in the West Coast, some  of which contain salt-water mice (as well as other creatures and flora).

I think the Republicans had a point when they attacked the stimulus package as creating a huge deficit that will increase the burden on future generations.  This is, no doubt, true.  But the problem for Republicans politically is that they were silent for years, when Bush 43 ran massive deficits.

Fiscalconservatism    

It just seems odd to be so concerned about fiscal conservatism now.

Short Takes

(1)  Kudos to Bristol Palin for being realistic about abstinence-only education.  (And she oughta know).

(2)  Really?  A book which re-tells the story of Bambi…. from the hunter's point of view?  Really?

(3)  Michelle Bachmann really is scary-stupid.

(4)  Not surprisingly, Republican governors support Obama's stimulus package.  Governor Sanford of South Carolina doesn't, though.  But Paul Begala has an idea for Sanford.

(5)  Aaron Sorkin fans: If you haven't seen Sports Night, Sorkin's first foray into television, do yourself a favor and buy the complete series DVD while it is 15% off at Amazon.  It is some of his best writing.

(6)  Looks like another Madoff-type scandal.

(7)  I don't know when it happened, but Jump the Shark really jumped the shark.  Probably when it was bought by TV Guide.

Malkin, Idiot

I really should let this go, but I can't.  Michelle Malkin today writes:

On Nov. 4, after Barack Obama clinched the White House, the market closed at 9,625.28.

In mid-morning trading today, the day President Obama signs his massive Generational Theft Act into law and a day before he unveils a massive new mortgage entitlement, the Dow dropped to to 7,606.53.

Now, imagine if President Bush had presided over a 2,000-point stock market tumble in the same time period — during the first few months of his presidency.

Great start, O.

This is, of course, beyond stupid.  For one thing (and this should be obvious), Obama wasn't president starting on November 4.  When Obam took office on January 20, the Dow was at 7,949.  Right now (as I write this) it's at 7,588 — that's not even a 400 point drop.  Here's the chart:

Chrtsrv

And Malkin asks "what if" there was such a precipitous drop during the time Bush presided? Uh, Michelle?

Chrtsrv2

John Cole has the last word:

Everyone knew they would attempt to blame the Bush administration’s failings on the Democrats and the Obama administration, and the facts really are stacked against them so they have a tough job, but quite honestly, I thought they would be a little bit better at it than this. The crazy people ranting about black helicopters have more credibility, and at least try to make a coherent argument. The nut of her argument is “If you pretend Obama was President two months and a few weeks before he took office, he is to blame for the market declines during that time period.” Really, it is that stupid.

Two Americas (What Digby Said)

I was going to blog about this, but Digby beat me to it, so I'll just pilfer her post:

If you get a chance to see the HBO Alexandra Pelosi documentary about the McCain campaign called Right America: Feeling Wronged, do it. If you ever doubted that this is actually two countries, and that there is a very real divide that is unbreachable by any single politician, you won't doubt it after you see these people. I have been hearing various versions of this crap my whole life. They never change. And their most distinguishing characteristic is that they never, ever back down.

These folks were already convinced that the election of Obama ushered in the end of western civilization and all that follows will be seen as a result of that. The inept George W. Bush never existed. (Except he saved us from the boogeyman.) I'm sure these people aren't representative of all conservatives and the film doesn't claim they are. But they sure as hell are representative of the dittoheads who pull the strings of what's left of the Republican party.

I found the documentary rather depressing.  These people patted themselves on being "real" Americans, the kind of salt-of-the-earth bread-and-butter workers who live between the East Coast and West Coast, and who keep America going.  Which is fine.  But then when they utter Hannity-like talking points — like Obama being a Muslim, etc. — I began to despair for this country.

Digby is correct that the people featured in the documentary are not representative of all conservatives.  But it did cause me to think — what if there are people even more rabidly wingnutty?  People who actually take their despair about the "liberal" movement, and turn that despair into action?  Oh, wait:

It was a simple plan, he wrote, borne out of hopelessness but rooted in patriotism.

“The future looks bleak,” the ex-soldier lamented. “I’m absolutely fed up! So I thought I’d do something good for this country — kill Democrats ‘til (sic) the cops kill me.”

With what he believed to be his last pen strokes, Jim David Adkisson urged other suicidal soldiers against the “liberalism that’s destroying America” to leave their own trail of carnage behind.

“I’d like to encourage other like-minded people to do what I’ve done,” Adkisson wrote. “If life ain’t worth living anymore, don’t just kill yourself. Do something for your country before you go. Go kill liberals.”

These people scare me.

The Upside Of A Bad Economy

Muzak's financial difficulties:

Muzak, the company that put pop, string-filled arrangements of rock songs in your elevator, filed bankruptcy papers Tuesday after it missed a $105 million payment to creditors.

The pipeline of easy listening will continue to flow as Muzak restructures its debt during the Chapter 11 process, the company said.

"Muzak is a solid business with an outstanding customer base, but we are burdened with substantial debt obligations established over a decade ago," Muzak CEO Stephen Villa said.

Spending As A Percent of GDP: Socialism?

Reader Brett Borowski points me to this little presentation:

In the video above, the commentators are bowled over by the fact that government spending in 2010 is going to leap to 40% of the country's gross domestic product.  "OMG!  Socialism!" they cry.

I'm not going to quibble with the numbers — if they are off, I suspect that they are not far off.  There's no question that this is a massive stimulus package, and that it will create large deficits.  Nobody disputes that.  

But there are a couple of things to keep in mind when considering data like this:

(1) Government spending as a percentage of GDP is certainly one way to look at the stimulus package, but it is important to keep in mind that GDP isn't a constant.  GDP is going DOWN and expected to go down significantly next year.  So even if there was no stimulus package at all, and the government spent as much in the coming years as it did in the past few years, there would still be a spike of several percentage points.

(2)  39.9% is high.  But it doesn't mean "socialism".  Look at all the countries that have greater than 40% spending as a percentage of their GDP (2007 data):

Country GE as % GDP
1. Iraq 87.3

2. Cuba

81.4
3. Slovakia 66.2
4. Timor 65.5
5. Romania 65.5
6. Moldova 63.4
7. France 61.1
8. Seychelles 60.3
9. Hungary 59.1
10. Guyana 58.8
11. Czech Republic 58.8
12. Sao Tome 58.3
13. Sweden 58.1
14. Denmark 58.1
15. Iceland 58.1
16. Malta 57.9
17. Qatar 57.2
18. Kuwait 56.1
19. Belgium 56.0
20. Norway 55.8
21. Uzbekistan 55.6
22. Colombia 55.3
23. Italy 55.3
24. Netherlands 54.7
25. Austria 54.3
26. Finland 54.2
27. Portugal 54.1
28. Lesotho 53.8
29. Libya 53.0
30. Belarus 52.9
31. Cyprus (no Turk-adm) 52.6
32. Ukraine 52.1
33. Yemen 50.9
34. Greece 50.7
35. Brunei 50.5
36. Georgia 50.4
37. UK 50.0
38. Bosnia/Herzegovina 50.0
39. Bulgaria 49.9
40. Swaziland 49.9
41. Germany 48.8
42. Malawi 48.2
43. Canada 48.2
44. Latvia 47.7
45. Jordan 47.6
46. Egypt 47.5
47. Spain 47.3
48. Slovenia 47.1
49. Ghana 47.0
50. Croatia 46.8
51. New Zealand 46.6
52. Oman 46.5
53. Estonia 45.8
54. Zambia 45.4
55. Papua New Guinea 44.9
56. Angola 44.8
57. Namibia 44.2
58. Azerbaijan 43.9
59. Lithuania 43.9
60. Jamaica 43.9
61. Lebanon 43.7
62. Zimbabwe 43.7
63. Israel 43.6
64. Australia 43.6
65. West Bank/Gaza 43.4
66. Algeria 43.1
67. Uruguay 43.0
68. Serbia 42.8
69. Ireland 41.5
70. Venezuela 41.1
71. Saudi Arabia 40.4

Looks like a hodge-podge of all different kinds of countries and economic systems.

(3)  The video closes with the announcer saying "our nation is being taken away… and perhaps forever".  They call the government spending on this stimulus package "unprecedented".

Dudes…. get a grip.

Astute observers may wonder why they start their analysis in the year 1947.  I'll tell you why.  They don't want you to think about the years prior.

Hmmm.  I wonder why.

Government Spending As A Percentage of GDP: 1940-2004

Outlays-per-gdp-graph.php
The above chart shows the same data: government spending as a result of GDP.  It is plotted from data derived from the same source, the OMB.

One of the memes that conservatives like to spout is this: FDR's spending programs didn't pull us out of the Great Depression, World War II did.  Okay.  Now they have to eat their words.  It was the spending of World War II that pulled us out.  In 1943 and 1944, government expenditures were 43.6% of GDP, higher than the 39.9% that is projected in 2010 under the stimulus plan.

And then what happened after WWII?  Was our country "changed forever"?  Did we become socialist?  Hardly.

The bottom line: yes, it is a massive spending package.  But if what we're facing is comparable to the Great Depression — and most economists think it is — then the government needs to inject as much money into it (as a percentage of GDP) as we did in Roosevelt era.  And as for the deficits?  We've had them before (especially after WWII).  We can get out of them again.

Broadway Bound?

Who would have thunk it?

I might be making my Broadway debut in May.

No kidding.

I workshopped a show at Open Space Theatre last year — an original play called "The Nebula of Georgia".  And now it's going to be staged (with the original cast, as best as possible) at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre on May 20, 21, 22.

Okay, it's not actually a Broadway house.  It's technically off-off-Broadway (which I've done many times).  But it's right in the theater district…. so, you know, close enough.

I don't know all the details, so I don't know if I can commit.  But it's kind of exciting.

By Any Other Name

Leaders of the religious right no longer want anybody to refer to them and their followers collectively as "the religious right".  According to John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life:

"People associated it with a hard-edge politics and intolerance. Very few people to whom that term now would apply would use that term."

Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, added:

"Terms like 'Religious Right' have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism."

There is nothing about the term "religious right" that is perjorative.  It only became perjorative when the people associated with it engaged in hard-edge politics and intolerance.  It's not a branding problem.

Anyway, they now want to be called "social conservative evangelicals".

Which likely means that in 10-15 years, that term is going to be associated with intolerance and extremism.

Stimubill Passes House 246-183

Once again, no Republicans voted in favor of it, which begs the question of why Obama feels the need to cowtow to them. [UPDATE: According to a Politico report, Obama may be getting wise and giving up on bipartisanship from now on].

I also wonder how many of those Republicans voted for the almost-as-huge bank bailout (aka "TARP").  Seems like a risky strategy for those Republicans running for re-election.  I mean, you vote to save Wall Street, but vote against saving Main Street?  That's not going to go down well….

A Valentine Day’s Tip

It's the little things:

A long time ago when my wife was my girlfriend and we were LIVING IN SIN, a tradition was born. I'd like to now share it with you all.

I came home from work one day and found her in front of the computer. I said "Hello," and she barely grunted back. I don't even think she looked up.

Half-jokingly I responded, "Okay, we're gonna try this again." I walked out the front door and came back in a few moments later…

"STEVIE'S HOME, STEVIE'S HOME!!! YAY!!!" was the new over-the-top cheer I was greeted with. It was accompanied by a hug and kisses. And I loved it.

What began as a joke quickly became an ongoing practice that continues to this day in our house: The person who is home first must make a small fuss when the other person gets there.

Does it sound silly? Yes. Do I promise that it will set the tone for a nicer evening just about every time you do it? Yes.

The world is full of douchebags, guys. Take 3 seconds out of your precious day to make a fuss over each other. Do it like you mean it. Do it as a goof. Just do it a lot.

I'm promise you'll be glad you did.

And for those of you without a significant other/spouse at home, get a dog.  Pretty much the same thing.

Stimulus Breakdown

Good chart here, broken down by category.

Nice to see the $50 million for the NEA is still in there.  I mean, it's paltry (when compared with, say, $198 million for Fillipino World War II veterans compensation — which isn't really job-stimulating), but it's better than nothing.

It doesn't include tax relief, but it appears that the chart will be updated.

Can We Drop The Charade Now?

Joe Klein on post-partisanship:

Obama should now understand that the Republicans are not reliable partners–at least, not for the moment. Most are stuck in the contentious past, rutted in Reaganism, intent on taking a Hooverist course on the economy (although there remains cause for optimism on foreign policy). The President's default position, after the stimulus fight and the Gregg fiasco, should be to appoint Democrats to significant domestic policy positions–the notion of making a public show of bipartisanship, by reaching across the aisle to someone like Senator Gregg, gives the opposition too much credibility and leverage. Which doesn't mean that Obama shouldn't remain as conciliatory, and open to constructive Republican ideas, as he has been. There are potential long-term benefits from such openness (and short-term benefit as well, since the public clearly believes that Obama has been more reasonable than the Republicans).

Sobering

New York Times today:

Some of the nation’s large banks, according to economists and other finance experts, are like dead men walking.

A sober assessment of the growing mountain of losses from bad bets, measured in today’s marketplace, would overwhelm the value of the banks’ assets, they say. The banks, in their view, are insolvent.

None of the experts’ research focuses on individual banks, and there are certainly exceptions among the 50 largest banks in the country. Nor do consumers and businesses need to fret about their deposits, which are federally insured. And even banks that might technically be insolvent can continue operating for a long time, and could recover their financial health when the economy improves.

But without a cure for the problem of bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, as banks cannot resume the ample lending needed to restart the wheels of commerce. The answer, say the economists and experts, is a larger, more direct government role than in the Treasury Department’s plan outlined this week.

Basically, this means the government is going to have to effectively by up many of these large banks.  And maybe it's time that we admit reality and restructure the entire banking system, and have the government (at least for a while) take over the banks.  

Yes, shareholders will lose their investments.  But you know what?  Big deal.  Investments are, by their very nature, a gamble.  If I buy stock in Coca-Cola, and it goes under — oh, well.  I made a bad investment.  The same for shareholders of financial institutions.  The far more important thing is that depositors's money remains intact.  We can get these bad assets of the books, close banks that aren't working, and start again.

UPDATE:  The Roubini plan is along the lines I'm talking about….

Nationalization is the only option that would permit us to solve the problem of toxic assets in an orderly fashion and allow lending finally to resume. Of course, the economy would still stink, but the death spiral we are in would stop.

Nationalization — call it "receivership" if that sounds more palatable — won't be easy, but here is a set of principles for the government to go by:

First — and this is by far the toughest step — determine which banks are insolvent. Geithner's stress test would be helpful here. The government should start with the big banks that have outside debt, and it must determine which are solvent and which aren't in one fell swoop to avoid panic. Otherwise, bringing down one big bank will start an immediate run on the equity and long-term debt of the others. It will be a rough ride, but the regulators must stay strong.

Second, immediately nationalize insolvent institutions. The equity-holders will be wiped out, and long-term debt-holders will have claims only after the depositors and other short-term creditors are paid off.

Third, once an institution is taken over, separate its assets into good and bad ones. The bad assets would be valued at current (albeit depressed) values. Again, as in Geithner's plan, private capital could purchase a fraction of those bad assets. As for the good assets, they would go private again, either through an IPO or a sale to a strategic buyer.

The proceeds from both these bad and good assets would first go to depositors and then to debt-holders, with some possible sharing with the government to cover administrative costs. If the depositors are paid off in full, then the government actually breaks even.

Fourth, merge all the remaining bad assets into one enterprise. The assets could be held to maturity or eventually sold off with the gains and risks accruing to the taxpayers.

The eventual outcome would be a healthy financial system with many new banks capitalized by good assets. Insolvent, too-big-to-fail banks would be broken up into smaller pieces less likely to threaten the whole financial system. Regulatory reforms also would be instituted to reduce the chances of costly future crises.

The Underpants Gnome Theory Of Economic Recovery

I hear/read this sort of thing a lot:

Unfortunately, too many people (mostly liberals) are of the opinion that only government can stimulate the economy. Mule fritters! The best thing government can do is to enable and empower, through getting people to go out and spend. Reduce business taxes to get companies to hire. Get out of the way so small businesses can be started. Etc.

This is stupid on hyperdrive.  You know why businesses aren't hiring?  It has nothing to do with business taxes.  It's because the economy sucks. 

Ask yourself this: why would a small business hire more employees at a time where there is record low demand for its product or service?  Answer: It wouldn't, and a business tax cut isn't going to change that.

And just how is government in the way of small businesses being started?  It's really not.  In fact, it is probably a great time to start a small business now (I'm sure real estate rents are very very low) — except that only a fool is going to start a small business in a bad economy.

Yes, it's the classic conservative answer to everything: less government and lower taxes.  They just assume that will cure all of our woes.  It's their answer to everything.

Underpants Gnome thinking at its best:

(1)   Less government and lower taxes
(2)  ????
(3)   Peace and prosperity, rainbows and unicorns for all

Silly.