Saturday, April 30, 2011

Last Gas, 90 Miles, Um, I Mean, Last Books, 90 Days

Today was the last day open for a while for the nearest branch of the Houston Public Library, the one that is only 1½ blocks from our house, the one that supplies us most of our fiction, our movies, our new audio CDs, etc. in this era of, um, limited resources. Starting tomorrow (well, OK, technically it's Monday) our branch will be closed for renovations for approximately 90 days. Damn!

What renovations? The plant is at most 10 years old; what needs renovating so desperately that we have to lose our library for three months? Good question. Stella asked them parts of that question; I asked other parts.

The building is very open-looking, more or less one humongous room under a swoop-shaped space-age roof, glass walls in every direction. They plan to add some more internal glass walls for the sake of sound insulation: apparently, the various age-group-specific events (kids' storytelling, teen book discussion groups, computer workstations, etc.) were not adequately separated to prevent a lot of complaints about crosstalk. This seldom bothered me, but any IT professional who has worked in industrial environments develops an ability to concentrate in the face of almost any amount of noise, so I'm not a good test.

Beyond that, apparently, the topmost parts of some of the windows are not sufficiently sun-blocking, with the consequence that at some times of the day, significant parts of the library are simply unusable for reading or computer use.

There is some good news in all of this. The staff is being temporarily redistributed to other branch libraries (HPL has literally dozens of branches) rather than fired or furloughed, and will return to us once renovations are complete. This is good, because as a former library worker in my younger days, I have high praise for these people: they're good, and I am glad we are not losing them.

Books on hold (often brought in from other branches) will be available for pickup about five miles away at another branch. In sprawling Houston, five miles is like nothing. Indeed, the branch for pickup was at one time our closest library, before the swoop-roofed one was built.

Still, I am having some difficulty getting used to the idea of not having my very own branch library a block away. Let's hope they really do finish the work in under three months.

If You Ever Had The Misbegotten Notion...

... that Mitch Daniels is some kind of moderate, read this:

Daniels To Sign Bill Stripping Federal Funds From Planned Parenthood in Indiana
Melissa Jeltsen | April 29, 2011, 5:15PM

Republican Governor Mitch Daniels released a statement Friday afternoon saying he will sign legislation stripping federal funds from Planned Parenthood in Indiana, the first state to make such a move.

The statement reads:
I will sign HEA 1210 when it reaches my desk a week or so from now. I supported this bill from the outset, and the recent addition of language guarding against the spending of tax dollars to support abortions creates no reason to alter my position. The principle involved commands the support of an overwhelming majority of Hoosiers, as reflected in greater than 2:1 bipartisan votes in both legislative chambers.

Once again, a Republan in a powerful position not only sets out actively to discriminate against women, but attempts to justify an infringement on a woman's right to choose abortion by a reference to public opinion.

This is what Roe v. Wade attempted to clarify: abortion is a right. Rights are not subject to public opinion. Rights are not subject to majority rule. Rights cannot be voted on. If something is a right, it may not be suppressed by a plebiscite.

I suppose Daniels is going to run for preznit. Fine; let him... but I hope this incident puts to rest the notion that he is anything less than a full-fledged right-wing nut-case.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana will survive, no doubt with greatly reduced services. There will be thousands (millions?) more women in Indiana without contraception. As a consequence, there will be vast increases in the number of children that have to be supported in whole or in part by the state (or sent out on the street to starve). There will be substantial increases in STD rates in the Indiana population, including, probably, the infection of a few Republan politicians.

And... I'll say it if Mitch won't... there will be more abortions. Many, many more abortions. Great job, Mitch.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge

Mitt Romney talked today about "hanging" something around President Obama's neck. From the linked Boston Globe article:

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Expected Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney tread on dangerous ground tonight as he talked about "hanging" a misery index around the neck of Barack Obama, the nation's first black president.

Romney almost immediately caught himself, with the English major declaring "metaphorically" speaking, but the mix of nervous laughter with applause indicated at least some in the audience realized its potency.

I'm sorry... there's not a chance in Hell that this was accidental on Romney's part. This was a message to the most racist among the Republan base. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Absolutely, totally morally deplorable.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Powerful, Moving Deconstruction Of Donald Trump

Comedian, political commentator and blogger Baratunde Thurston has had it up to here with Donald Trump. His commentary on Trump's racist birther rhetoric (NSFW if your coworkers are sensitive about even occasional well-chosen profanity) is among the most powerful and inspiring condemnations of racism I have ever seen. Indeed, I am reminded of the late great Langston Hughes's poem "Let America be America Again," with its refrain "(America never was America to me.)"

As Thurston reminds us, the most dismaying thing about Trump's recent tirades is that they are happening now, almost a century and a half after the theoretical end of slavery in America. That fact has given me reason to believe that our nation is fragmenting in ways that may never be repaired. And people like Trump are part of the cause. Ironically, Trump would be lucky indeed to possess an intellect even remotely comparable to Thurston's. But he does not. Instead, he possesses only great wealth and an unjustifiably self-pleased attitude. If ever there were a one-man argument against rule by the rich, Donald Trump is it.

Barack Obama has not been the president I hoped and anticipated he would be. His track record on civil liberties places him squarely in the middle... the middle if the right-wing Republican crazy crowd. But this is not about whether I like Obama, or whether you or I voted for him (I think you know I did), or whether there is reasonable hope for national sanity if he is re-elected. This is about one thing and one thing only: the fact that President Obama is Black. To the birthers, nothing else matters... nothing. And their attitude is morally deplorable.

H/T Mustang Bobby.

Manually Generated Comment Spam

To me, it seems the hard way to do things, but I suppose it doesn't require hiring an IT professional or buying software. There has been a rash of comment spam lately, obviously manually generated (copy-pasted?), with comments along the lines of "Nice post" followed sometimes by a URL... anything to get those numbers up, I suppose. This has become common enough in the past week that from now on I'll delete it unremarked.

What an annoying phenomenon! In other news, water is wet.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Panetta/Petraeus Shuffle

Obama is reshuffling his national security structure, and I found David Dayen's take on the matter enlightening. Dayen concludes:

Panetta was Chief of Staff under Bill Clinton and before that a US Representative from the Central Coast of California. He’s been CIA Director in the Obama Administration, which as I understand it now is basically the Secretary of Defense job, given all the covert operations. And then you have a military commander moving to the CIA. So the merging of the military and the intelligence community is complete. Within a few years it’ll just be one big black op. The good news is they can cut the military budget then, and put everything into the secret, off-the-books intelligence budget so as not to raise suspicion.

(Emphasis mine.)

Our Founders had the foresight to place the military under the command of the most powerful civilian in our government. But they surely had no notion of a military-industrial complex, no notion of literally waging war by a series of black ops, and no concept of a government agency with the mandate and secret budget of the CIA.

Perhaps this simplification by merging of functions will help the folks who merely pay for it all with their taxes to understand better: now there's just one big entity that does all this stuff, and it works behind the scrim.

Feel better now?

Krugman On Obamacare/Romneycare

Paul Krugman examines the fundamental provisions of Obamacare one by one, then declares that Obamacare is essentially Romneycare (Massachusetts health reform). Krugman concludes:

There are no more conservative alternatives — not unless you give up on the whole idea that everyone should have coverage. There are alternatives to the left — single-payer, VA-style government provision — but Obamacare is already as conservative as a plan to make health insurance more or less universal can be.

Which means, of course, that the GOP has no interest in covering everyone under any plan whatsoever. For their money (so to speak), people who would be unprofitable should just go ahead and die, as long as insurance companies get their big bucks first.

Are You American? Could You Get A Passport Today? - UPDATED

H/T ellroon, who points us to digby, who says...

Remember when Alaskan extremist candidate Joe Miller cited East Germany's border fence as a fine example and we all laughed and laughed because their fence was built to keep their own people in rather than keeping foreign people out?

Well, the laugh's on us. We may not be literally building such a fence, but we are creating a virtual one:

If you don’t want it to get even harder for a U.S. citizen to get a passport — now required for travel even to Canada or Mexico — you only have until Monday to let the State Department know. The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants:

It seems likely that only some, not all, applicants will be required to fill out the new questionnaire, but no criteria have been made public for determining who will be subjected to these additional new written interrogatories. ...


Digby's assessment:
This is Big Brother stuff --- they are setting up a series of roadblocks to use "just in case" they want to deny someone a passport. The question is, who and why? ...
Big Brother stuff. Is that too strong a statement? I really don't know, and I hardly ever travel these days, domestically, let alone internationally.

But about a couple years ago, some time after I moved to this house, I ran across my old passport as I unpacked from the move. It was about to expire, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. Something told me that it was worth the time and money (which was considerable; I missed the renewal date by ONE DAY) to have a current passport. I doubt seriously that I shall outlive this new one, but I had a sense that it was not a good idea to wait until I had imminent travel plans to undertake the renewal. I promptly renewed the passport. Now I can at least visit the West Coast of Canada again if I'm lucky enough to regain my physical ability to travel; that was one very beautiful place, and I'd like to see it again before I step on a rainbow.

Why is this happening? What kind of USA wants to make international travel difficult for ordinary citizens? It makes no sense, even for the purveyors of empire, to restrict travel. Hell, it's bad for business of just about any kind. Why are they proposing to do this? I cannot think of an innocuous reason; can you?

UPDATE: BadTux says this turns out to be just another way of obtaining a passport, the only way if your original proofs of citizenship are lost. Let us hope that's all it is. See BadTux's comment on the thread of this post.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

No Barbour-ous Presidential Candidate

Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Racism) says he will not run for president, and gives his reasons:

A candidate for president today is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else.  His (or her) supporters expect and deserve no less than absolute fire in the belly from their candidate.  I cannot offer that with certainty, and total certainty is required.

Fire in the belly? Barbour? Water on the brain, maybe...

Elizabeth Warren: Recess Appointment To Head CFPB?

David Dayen has details. Needless to say, appointing someone apparently both sane and expert would be a first for Obama, and I doubt she can be confirmed when it's time to re-up. But Warren is so obviously the right person for the job that... um, never mind; I forgot for a moment what world I'm living in. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Newly Leaked Docs: Guantánamo 'Quite Simply A Mess'

The quote is from Obama, in May 2009 as reported on McClatchy in the article linked below.

The mess... well, if the WikiLeaks documents are valid, to say that Guantánamo has suffered mission creep is far too kind. Please read Amy Davidson in The New Yorker and Carol Rosenberg and Tom Lasseter of McClatchy. Americans, prepare to be embarrassed on behalf of your country, or perhaps even ashamed of it.

Two Via Digby

H/T Digby for links to the following two articles:

Both are rather long; both are worth your time.

Want To Cut The Budget? Reduce Military Spending

Sorry I missed this when it came out, and thanks to TrueMajority for emailing me a reminder: amazingly, the New York Times is on board with the "Not $1 More" campaign fronted by several progressive groups.

Let's face it: if we're going to leave people jobless and homeless in a quest for more money for rich folks budget reductions, we really ought to recognize two things: one, our military budget exceeds in size the military budgets of all other major nations combined, and two, the horrendous size of that budget... $7.5 trillion over the next decade, apparently not counting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... is so large in part because it addresses force structure and procurement needs for a bloated Cold War context that is simply no longer applicable.

If even The Newspaper of Wreckers recognizes (wreck-ognizes?) the scope of the problem, you know it's got to be bad. If the GOP is serious about deficit reduction (OK, stop laughing; I do know exactly one Republican who really means it, and he's not a happy camper these days), they will cooperate in addressing the item that overwhelms the rest of the budget. If not... very likely IMHO... we know it's business-as-usual into the foreseeable future.

RELATED INFO: Krugman talks about the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget proposal.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

More About iPhone And Android Tracking

David Drumm on Jonathan Turley's blog provides more details on the warrantless tracking info aggregated on modern smartphones and transmitted to the companies that provide services, or other companies, as the manufacturer may choose. First, the basics:
iPhones and Android smartphones regularly transmit their locations back to Apple and Google. The location information is used for the estimated $2.9 billion location-based services market. Location-based advertising targets consumers with location-specific advertising on their mobile devices.

According to research, the HTC Android phone collects location information every few seconds and transmits the data back to Google several times an hour.
What if you don't want to be targeted for location-based advertising?
According to Apple, GPS and cell tower data collected by the device and transmitted to Apple is assigned a random identification number that cannot be associated with a particular customer or device. Although, Apple could easily and secretly change this as part of a software “upgrade.” iPhone customers also have the option of disabling location-based service capabilities under the “General” menu under “Settings.” If this option is disabled, no location information will be collected. The more iPhone users that opt-out, the less location-based service revenue for Apple.
Anyone even remotely technologically inclined will realize that if the location service can be turned off locally by a user, it can surely be turned on remotely by the service provider. I suspect the ability to disable location service is a temporary provision, until Apple etc. can pay their tame members of Congress to fix the laws to allow location service to be activated silently and without permission.

Is it constitutional? does it amount to a "search" when a network locates a user for commercial purposes without the user's permission and without a warrant? Well, there's an app a Court for that...

My location is "at home" probably more than 99 percent of the time. And I am not particularly secretive about other places I may go. And my phone is old and cheap; obviously the cell tower system can find it, but I doubt seriously there's enough capacity in it to do the kind of real-time tracking described above.

But if I replace my phone, as one inevitably does if s/he lives long enough, I'll probably start turning it off when I'm out and about, unless I'm expecting an imminent incoming call or about to place a call myself... in other words, I'll use the phone more as a glorified answering machine. Call it my small personal stand for minimal privacy.

The feature I shall miss most if I turn my phone off is the displayed date and time. But they still sell devices that perform only that function; if I recall, they're called "wristwatches" ...

Drumm concludes with this thought:
... If police have warrantless access to your cellphone’s tracking data, the tagline will become “let me see your driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, and cellphone.”

Happy Easter To My Christian Friends

And please be kind to bunnies!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Cult Of Zero

I have just returned from a thread on emptywheel's blog, on which I learned that there are still people defending Obama even for his utterly inappropriate public claim that PFC Bradley Manning "broke the law." As far as I know, Manning has been charged with, but neither tried for nor convicted of, the acts for which Obama publicly condemns him.

It is a truism of American justice (reinforced implicitly in the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution) that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty under the law before a duly constituted court. What part of "innocent until proven guilty" does our self-proclaimed legal scholar president not understand?

At some point, support of Mr. Obama... even as he defies the law and the legal tradition of due process, proclaiming Manning's guilt in public, a public including military service members  who will eventually serve as Manning's jurors in trial proceedings by a military of which Obama is commander-in-chief... amounts to a kind of cultism in which Obama, just by being Obama, is above the law.

I'm sorry... that just won't wash.

It Was All A Misunderstanding

An afterthought on an earlier post about Sen. Jon Kyl's "misstatement":

Sen. Jon Kyl's aide did not, after all, say that Sen. Kyl's Planned Parenthood comment was "not intended to be a factual statement." What the aide surely actually said, which of course never made it onto the evening news, was that it was "not intended to be a fuck-you-all statement." But as they're all Republicans in that office, even that statement is a lie.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A Hitch In Time

Christopher Hitchens is dying of cancer. The link is to Hitchens's farewell letter to the American Atheist convention, which he was to have addressed, but was physically incapacitated past any hope of speaking. A big H/T to PZ Myers for publishing the letter. It may be the best thing Hitchens ever wrote.

Let's get something out of the way up front. Hitchens is a cantankerous man who drinks too much and has a real capacity for offending people. OK, I've posted the obligatory qualifier. But I am pretty cranky myself, and I don't write a tenth as well as he does. (I almost said "did" ... but as far as I know, he is still hanging on.) We can respect him for his good aspects. Speak no ill of the (almost-) dead, and all that.

Over the course of my 62 years (can you believe it? Hitchens is younger than I am) I have transitioned from non-belief (my very early exposure to Christianity simply didn't "take") to quasi-New-Age belief (I was influenced by friends toward that), to write-your-own-belief (I was a UU... an agnostic who admires our nation's Founders could do worse than to be a UU) to leaning-toward-unbelief, which is where I stand these days. The physical universe contains so many improbabilities, and their number and conceptual complexity seem to increase every time I revisit them after a few years, that I can no longer find it in myself to profess doctrinaire belief in any formal religion. And I seem to be able to speak God's alleged name only when I'm cussing a blue streak.

I've played music in services offered by an astonishing variety of Unitarian-Universalist churches, Christian churches both Catholic and Protestant, Jewish synagogues, and so on. That means I've heard sermons by a lot of different kinds of preachers. All I can say is, it is a good thing I was paid for listening to those preachers, um, I mean, playing those services...

Some preached moral truths; some among those actually addressed moral issues rather than listing thou-shalt-nots. Some stuck to the thou-shalt-nots.

Some preached Christian or Jewish stories; some of those stories were part of traditions thousands of years old... and none of them, not a damned one, was true in any literal sense, not that they didn't have their attractions and uses as myths.

Some UU ministers preached that I should create my own religion and traditions and stories from scratch or with help from any sources I chose. That came closest to fitting my needs (though I was too lazy to engage in much myth-making), and I stuck around for several years at one UU church.

But eventually I did not need a church for fulfillment. (I confess I do miss the music... but for performers, the music goes away one day, no matter how much you wish it wouldn't.) And as I don't need a god for salvation, blessing, justification for what I do, or formalizing of my human relations, I left most of my sense of God behind when I left the churches. I still have a vague, nebulous, nonspecific and certainly non-doctrinal sense of Presence, but I'm the first to admit that it could be (and likely is) brain chemistry.

So I have a great respect for the path chosen by Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and the other serious atheists of our era, as well as the street fighters in behalf of that tradition, such as PZ Myers.

As for Hitchens, I shall miss the cranky bastard when he's gone. I offer no prayers, but I shall raise a glass in his memory.

Amazon Weather Forecast: Not Cloud-y, Community Suffers

According to Reuters, Amazon's "Elastic Compute Cloud" service has experienced serious problems, starting early Thursday and continuing into today. This has affected me principally in the absence of login and comment facilities on Talking Points Memo; those services just returned to me within the past hour.

Yes, I know, some of you don't like TPM... or FDL, or Kos, or one side or the other of occasional blog wars between smaller blogs. Nothing wrong with that. But many of us find our blogging experience considerably enhanced by the presence of a community associated with a large blog.

For example, I learn more than a little bit by reading the comments on FDL; many of their commenters (yes, I am one, though only occasionally, under the name "SBtheYDD") are themselves bloggers in the manner of journalists, who do serious research and post at least some of it in comments or personal blogs on that site.

I am not as much a member of the TPM community (though I do post an occasional comment under the name "doggerelist"), but I lurk on their threads. It is not difficult to filter the good stuff from the crap, and sometimes the good stuff represents quality work by people not as well-known as the named authors.

So the commenting facility on a blog is a community-building tool, for progressives and liberals as surely as for wing-nuts. I am glad TPM seems to be back "on the air" with its full community visible from here once again.

Kyl Erases His Bogus Planned Parenthood Statement From Senate Record

Of course anyone who has ever had anything to do with following the doings of members of Congress knows that the congressional record is NOT anything like an official transcript of proceedings: basically, any member of Congress can change it, introducing, deleting or rewriting parts of speeches they made on the floor.

But the senator who can spell neither John nor Kyle properly, who claimed on the Senate floor that "[i]f you want an abortion you go to Planned Parenthood and that's well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does," then later responded to criticism of the statement by issuing a disclaimer, "[h]is remark was not intended to be a factual statement," has retroactively changed what he said, in the congressional record. Visit David Kurtz's account in the TPM Editors Blog at that link.

Next week, Sen. Kyl will reassure us that the federal government does in fact spend 15 percent of all taxpayers' money on foreign aid, that Social Security is broke and is going broker, that Saddam Hussein plotted 9/11 with the Saudi conspirators, that welfare mothers live better than you do, etc., etc.

Shorter Jon Kyl: it doesn't have to be true; it just has to sound good from one's own ideological perspective. Hey, maybe I'll remember that next time... nah. Unlike some people, I couldn't live with myself if I flung that kind of bullshit.

AFTERTHOUGHT: just in case you are wondering, Planned Parenthood does do abortions; according to their 2009 report, abortions represent about 3 percent of all services they provide. Much of the rest... women's reproductive health exams including cancer screening (17 percent of services), STD exams (31 percent), and supplying contraceptives (36 percent)... vastly exceeds the total for abortions. Planned Parenthood is often the only reproductive health care available to women of limited means and to teens whose parents, for one reason or another, will not provide them necessary medical care. Source: Media Matters... but practically any honest site on reproductive health can tell you that.

If 'God' Be Against Us, Who Can Be For Us?

"God" in this case is Barack Obama, who said in public about PFC Bradley Manning that "he broke the law."

Well, maybe he did, although I'd feel better about that assertion if they, like, you know, tried Manning and convicted him before the President of the United States went around proclaiming his guilt...

In a just world, in a just nation, this alone would be grounds for a mistrial in all subsequent trials of accusations against Manning. But I suspect Obama has no intention of ever letting the question of Manning's guilt see the inside of a courtroom. He's just going to hold him forever, shuffling him from one detention facility to another to try to defuse public discontent over the manner of Manning's imprisonment. And the Pentagon has as much as admitted it. From the same FDL article by Michael Whitley:
As a reminder: the Pentagon plans to hold Manning indefinitely. Might as well, since they think he’s guilty already.
Follow the above link and read the quote from the Pentagon's lawyer at the press conference: they're planning on holding Manning
... for what we expect will be a longer period of pre-trial confinement...
... we are probably months off from the trial of this case.
Why? Manning has been imprisoned for most of a year. He has been charged with a laundry list of crimes, at least one of them capital, for several months. Why is the prosecution not prepared, after all this time, to try him? I can only conclude that "justice" is far from the object of this case. The word "persecution" comes to mind instead. And the real crime? defying the will of "God."

Liberal Economist Jared Bernstein Is Out At The White House

Some things are simply not destined to work out. No genuine liberal could possibly do effective work in the Obama administration; his advisors come in two flavors: conservative and more conservative. So Bernstein is moving on, to the excellent Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, where he presumably won't have a boss who shuts him down (or up).

The best of success to Mr. Bernstein in his new venue. I'm sure Obama regards his moving on as a success: he now has no liberal economists among his advisors. Screw the base; never mind what we think we voted for...

The Oh-Dash-It-All Of Hope

Found thanks to Avedon:

No, no, no! Please take it back to the kitchen. Perhaps I didn't make myself clear: I ordered the audacity of LEGITIMATE hope!

Of course I don't blame all those problems on Obama and the Dog-awful Congress he has to work with. But significant, systematic, effective, society-wide approaches to all those problems require government involvement and funding. Without that, there's no... um... hope.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Obama DOJ: We Won't Say If We Intend Warrantless Reading Of Emails, Texts

ACLU Blog of Rights:

Last week the Justice Department squandered an opportunity to reassure Americans that as technology advances our civil liberties will not be left behind. The Justice Department was called before Congress to say whether it should be permitted to read people's email, text messages and other electronic communications without a probable cause warrant — that is, without a judicial determination that it has a good reason to believe a search will turn up evidence of a crime. The clear answer to this question should have been "no." After all, a warrant has been required for postal mail since at least the 1870s and for telephone conversations since the 1960s. Why shouldn't our email receive the same protection?

Unfortunately, instead of agreeing whole-heartedly with this basic concept of constitutional law, the Justice Department refused to take a position one way or another — leaving members of Congress and the public to wonder: does the Obama administration believe it should be able to read our text messages and emails without a warrant? This dismaying development proves once again that the courts and Congress have a vital role to play in keeping government surveillance in check and ensuring that Americans' privacy rights are fully protected.

(Emphasis mine.) If you voted for Obama, did you anticipate your basic rights, including privacy, would be better protected than they would have been under, say, John McCain? Many of us did vote for him with that expectation among others, only to learn that there is actually very little difference between the Obama administration and the Bush administration in matters of civil liberties: both presidents and their administrations seem not to give a good damn whether they comply with the Bill of Rights or not.

There is no question that the technological means exist for the federal government to capture literally all emails and text messages. We know they already do it with all international phone calls; it wouldn't surprise me if they already do it with emails and texts. But things are not really constitutionally different between letter mail and email: if the former is protected from government snoops absent probable cause and a warrant, the latter should be protected, too. Text messages are in some ways more like phone calls than emails: they are by their nature short, interactive and real-time. Considering all the innocent "Luv, I be off wk 7pm; shld I buy bread on way hm?" messages that are almost certainly scooped up already whether or not the feral gummint actually reads them, the degree of invasion of personal privacy inherent in warrantless searches of text messages is enormous.

So this is a big deal. At base, we either have privacy in our communications, including privacy from government snooping, or we don't, and scenes from the novel "1984" come to mind. Why is the Obama DOJ so reluctant to stand on the side of our constitutional rights? Exactly what does it intend to do with that information acquired by warrantless searches?

Japan: Radioactive Iodine Found In Breast Milk

I haven't visited the topic of the Fukushima disaster in a while, but AMERICAblog provides me the latest:

The radiation contamination came to light after tests were conducted on breast milk samples taken from nine women living northeast or east of Tokyo.

Four of these women were found to be contaminated, with the highest reading of 36.3 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kg detected in the milk of the mother of an eight-month-old baby in Kashiwa, Chiba prefecture.

Sigh. This is worse than anyone initially expected. Those women face an awful dilemma: use formula (or breast milk) from other parts of Japan (formula is usually a bad idea), or feed their babies 36.3 becquerels of radioactive iodine per kg of their own breast milk. You know, nobody anywhere should ever have to face that choice.

An' So's Yer Old Man!

In an  FDL post on a largely unrelated topic of the perils of pursuing accused terrorists with trials before military commissions, I found this excerpt interesting:

Aha, but isn’t al Nashiri an “unlawful combatant?” No he’s not. In fact, the Obama administration has rightly deep-sixed the Bush-era term “unlawful enemy combatant,” for Guantanamo detainees, replacing it with “unprivileged enemy belligerent.” This is consistent with a recognition that under the laws of war, participation in hostilities by civilians is not “unlawful.” Since military commissions may only take up crimes in violation of the laws of war, everything charged in connection with the Cole attack would be out the window, with the possible exception of perfidy.‬‪ ‬‪
Emphasis mine. Bush's "unlawful enemy combatant" passes from the dialog, and I had only just gotten accustomed to the phrase. I don't know that I like "unprivileged enemy belligerent" any better; it still seems to make a lot of assumptions about things that IMHO it would take a trial to prove. But asking Obama to grant combatants due process according to international standards is like, well, it's like asking him to follow up on his promises... don't hold your breath.

PolitiFact Destroys Its Own Credibility On GOP's Ending Medicare

This is so transparent that bugs bounce off it as they try to pass through. TPM's Brian Beutler:

If Democrats proposed to turn Medicare into a system that only provided free veterinary services to seniors, would Republicans be lying to say Dems wanted to "end Medicare," without including the caveat "as we know it"?

Of course not. But that's more or less the charge PolitiFact is leveling at Democrats over a new DCCC ad (below) which flatly charges Republicans with proposing to "end Medicare."...

Republicans call this new health insurance system "Medicare." But it's a completely different program from today's Medicare. PolitiFact doesn't see it that way.

"But to say the Republicans voted to end Medicare, as the ad does, is a major exaggeration," PolitiFact writes. "All seniors would continue to be offered coverage under the proposal, and the program's budget would increase every year." 


Indeed, seniors would be provided vouchers to pay for private medical insurance, and those vouchers would increase annually... by nowhere nearly enough to keep up with rising medical costs. This is just another way of murdering seniors, slowly, by financial starvation. It's the GOP way; it's who the GOPers are, right down to the bone.

As for PolitiFucked, if we could co-opt Harry Potter to turn a horse into a rattlesnake, would they still call it a horse and try to ride it? IMHO, PF's credibility, never all that great, just took a significant hit.

Republican Budget: Is The GOP The Ritual Suicide Party?

ABC News, in announcing the House's passage of Paul Ryan's "Road to Ruin" budget (or as I've been calling it, the "Path to Pathology"), says the bill includes a "controversial plan to transform Medicare."

An email from MoveOn (sorry; I don't have an online ref) puts it more bluntly:

Unbelievable. They really voted to eliminate Medicare.

Last week, all but four House Republicans voted for a budget that eliminates Medicare for anyone born after 1957.1

Right. Republicans: "Medicare is only the most popular government program of all time, so let's eliminate it." Yes, doing so fits their ritual kowtowing to the most bloody insane of their base. So why not do it? The world can live without the Republican Party, whatever they may believe.

(The footnote leads to the ABC News piece linked above.)

So... how popular is Medicare? From the above-linked MoveOn Medicare for All article:

The dual situations of Medicare popularity and the control of opinions by those who have not experienced Medicare are summarized by Mark Blumenthal of the National Journal:
“… Americans experienced with “government-run” health insurance (Medicare) like what they have and don’t want to change it, and younger Americans enthusiastic for change don’t know what they’re missing.”
Article of 6/29/2009: “Who’s Afraid Of Public Insurance?
Health Care Consumers Give Medicare Higher Marks Than Private Plans”
Polls referenced by Mr. Blumenthal in support of single-payer,Medicare for All, include these support levels:
      67%, (80% from a poll of 65 and older) (Kaiser Family Foundation polls)
      72% (CBS News / New York Times)
Highest marks (rating 9-10) from what Blumenthal describes as a “massive collection of data”:
      56% for Medicare (152,600 responses)
      40% for private plans (190,722 responses)
See Mr. Blumenthal’s complete article
Any questions? How do you spin those numbers as "Medicare is unpopular"?

Kill Medicare? Based on the above, sane people would want to expand it into a population-wide system, Medicare-for-all, and go about finding a way to pay for it. As I said earlier this week in a thread on Bryan's site, I personally favor an "eat the rich" approach, and I say that only half ingest. (Awwww, did he really say that? Yep.)

Seriously: Robert Reich points out:

If the rich were taxed at the same rates they were half a century ago, they’d be paying in over $350 billion more this year alone, which translates into trillions over the next decade. That’s enough to accomplish everything the nation needs while also reducing future deficits. 
Need I say more? If the GOP had set out intentionally to hand the Dems an ideal campaign issue for 2012, they couldn't have done a better job.

Some murderers, in a fit of remorse, commit suicide. Here's the GOP, planning to murder millions of senior citizens. Have they, too, decided to commit party suicide? Probably not... to do that, they'd have to have either a brain or a heart, and they're lacking both.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


A few hours ago... how many hours I'm not sure... I settled in for an afternoon nap. I woke up about an hour ago (at about 8 pm CDT). It was dark outside. I kept waiting for it to get light, but it didn't. I meandered into the bathroom and took my morning meds. I located Stella and said "good morning." She replied "good evening." Oops. Now I am truly disoriented; I keep thinking I have a full day ahead of me. And now that I've taken those meds, I'll never sleep tonight.

I wish I could claim this is the first time that has happened to me, but it seems to happen about once every few years. So, going with the flow, I say "good morning" to all of you!

The BP Disaster After One Year

Sierra Club:

One Year after the BP Disaster: Gulf Communities are Still in Crisis

Stunning Inaction by Congress after the Largest Environmental Disaster in American History
New Orleans, LA – One year after the largest oil spill in American history, Big Oil continues to rake in record profits, Congress has still not acted to hold BP accountable and thousands of working families and small business owners in the Gulf are still struggling to recover. 


The rest of the page, from a Sierra Club mailer, contains Executive Director Michael Brune's statement on the matter. He doesn't go easy on BP, of course... but he also faults Congress for its inaction. Read it; it's short.

If I recall correctly, Sierra Club policy opposes all deepwater drilling, on the grounds that the technology is not established as safe enough to protect the surrounding environment. It is a tragedy that we had to experience the effective destruction of the ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico before the message sank in (or did it?): don't deepwater drill.

Don't let anyone tell you the Gulf was unharmed, or has returned to normal: that, to use Ms. Maddow's favorite expression, is bullpucky. The chemicals BP used mostly had the effect of sinking the leaking oil to the bottom, where it is less visible but just as deadly to sea life, enabling BP's spurious claim that it has cleaned the Gulf. The Gulf will probably not return to anything resembling a normal condition within my lifetime, and possibly not yours, either.

Meanwhile, Congress has done nothing to regulate such drilling, and BP is requesting bolder and riskier drilling permits, even in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Meanwhile also, the "awl bidness" is patting itself on the back, proclaiming 2010 its best year ever. I dread seeing their worst year when that comes along.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Call Me A Socialist. Please!

According to davidswanson at Corrente, a Republican member of Congress did exactly that, on the floor of the House, to one or more Democratic members, referring to the Congressional Progressive Caucus's defense of its "People's Budget." Everything ground to a halt while that caucus's co-chairs, Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, demanded the accusation be transcribed for the record, and the Republican (who? davidswanson declines to say) retracted the "slander."

What folly. What a waste of time. Our country has a deep and vibrant tradition of socialism, and even of Socialism, complete with social programs that are undeniably socialist... Social Security, Medicare (notwithstanding Tea Partiers' "hands off" cry), Medicaid, WIC, unemployment compensation, food stamps, etc. etc. Small-s socialism is one of the tools in the American toolkit. If Tea Partiers go into fits when they realize the program they're defending is socialist in its very nature, well, that's nobody's fault but their own... as some conservatives used to shout "get a job" at hippies, I'll cheerfully fling "get an education" at the TP folks.

So yes, by all means, call me a socialist... that's partially accurate. Or a capitalist... that's partially accurate, too. You may choose to omit communist from your list of epithets, but I won't insist you take even that one back if you fling it at me, because if you do that, it can only mean you haven't a clue what the word means (as indeed I do not, at least in any detail), and are only grasping for a pejorative to spit at me. But I have no aversion to the label "socialist"; it places me squarely in one of the great American traditions, no matter who has vilified the term in the past few decades. Say it, to my face, if it makes you feel better... unlike Reps. Grijalva and Ellison, I'll just smile in response.

(H/T Avedon for the Corrente link.)

Poll: Majority Of American Adults Support Same-Sex Marriage - UPDATED

Jon Terbush of TPM:

As Republicans and President Obama square off over the Defense of Marriage Act, a new CNN poll shows that a small majority of Americans now support legal recognition for same sex marriages.

In the poll, 51% of adult Americans said they thought same sex marriages should be recognized by law, while 47% said they should not. That's a significant reversal from the same poll two years ago when Americans opposed same sex marriage by a 10-point spread, with 44% in favor and 54% against.

It's the second time in as many months that a pollster has for the first time found majority support for legalizing same sex marriage. In March, a Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that 53% of adults supported legalizing same sex marriage, while 44% opposed it.

As a proud (albeit straight) member of that majority, I am glad that majority has come to be. For one rare time, President Obama has done the right thing: his DOJ will not defend DOMA in court.

But John Boehner will spend up to $0.5 million in lawyer's fees in his attempt to sustain a law which never should have been passed and signed in the first place, a law which blatantly violates the human rights of a significant segment of America's population.

I hope he spends every penny of that half million... only to see his effort fail utterly and entirely. No one deserves failure more than a powerful public official who attempts to deny American citizens their human rights.

UPDATE: My bad on this. I didn't understand, as Mustang Bobby tells us, that this is TAXPAYERS' MONEY that Boehner and the House are using to defend DOMA, and the half million can be increased by agreement between the parties with the approval of the House. Mustang Bobby puts it this way:

So let me get this to speak. According to Mr. Boehner, the country is "broke," but he's willing to spend a half a million dollars to keep discrimination on the books?

Please read the rest of Bobby's post. I'm still not sure how the House can spend a half million without Senate concurrence and a presidential signature, but a lot of things happen these days that old folks like me with a more traditional understanding of the intent of the Constitution don't comprehend.


Ah, I see that Houston Early Music (fka Houston Harpsichord Society) has not changed significantly since my days as a participant. This time it's a concert by the Flanders Recorder Quartet, which I would be interested in hearing except for HEM's choice of venue:


Trinity Episcopal Church
Houston, TX


Kid Friendly: No
Dog Friendly: No
Non-Smoking: No
Wheelchair Accessible: No
That speaks volumes. Historically (so to speak), this org has been interested mostly in presenting good concerts for the enjoyment of wealthy people while treating both musicians and non-wealthy audience members the way I'm sure the people in charge of the org believe they deserve. Picking a wheelchair-inaccessible, smoking-allowed venue (really? a church allows smoking? one hopes this is a misprint) is just par for the course for this org.

What? you say I am biased? Damned right I am biased! Twenty to thirty years ago, I was among the musicians and audience members maltreated. I am not quick to forgive in any case, and I am especially not quick to forgive misbehavior by wealthy people toward the rest of us. I just hope the FRQ has an ironclad contract with them. Things got so bad a few decades back that one famous harpsichordist demanded prepayment to appear on their series. I am willing to bet that at least some of the org's board are the same people now as then. Musicians beware!

Days Of Wine And Charoses

A Jewish friend was kind enough to invite us to his Passover Seder. I have attended one before, probably 30 years ago, but I had forgotten almost everything. The ritual was fascinating, the story told was indeed one to be remembered, and the food... well, sad to say, while the food was wonderful at the time, this morning, the food is disagreeing with me. I don't know if it was the unfamiliarity of the spices or the sheer quantity I ate, but I'm not feeling well this morning. Blogging should resume by sometime this afternoon.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Obama Continues Assault On Due Process

Regular readers (both of you) are aware that my exasperation with Obama stems in large part from his unmitigated attack on the due process rights of citizens as specified in (at least) the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Jeralyn of TalkLeft informs us about the Obama administration's latest such assault... prolonged warrantless GPS tracking of a suspect's vehicle:

In August, 2010, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals became the first federal appeals court to rule that prolonged GPS tracking of a suspect's vehicle without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment. In doing so, it reversed a conviction and life sentence of an alleged major drug trafficker.

This week, the Obama Administration petitioned the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari in the case, asking it to find neither probable cause nor a warrant is required. You can read the petition, which has the circuit court's opinion attached, here. [More...]

Among the reasons DOJ wants to avoid getting a warrant: it wants police to be able to use the device at the beginning of an investigation, to help them establish probable cause (which is needed for search warrants, wiretaps and indictments.)

Using prolonged GPS tracking is to my way of thinking so obviously a "search" in the Fourth Amendment sense that using GPS to establish the probable cause necessary to pursue that search in the first place effectively eviscerates any mechanism by which a suspect (presumed innocent, remember) can protect him- or herself against an arbitrary search. (Disclaimer: IANAL.)

If police use a GPS device (presumably secretly installed) on anyone's vehicle, they can doubtless learn a lot about them; otherwise why would they bother to do it. But if it is done, there is no way it is done with any intent by the police other than to perform a search. That's why the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant: otherwise, police could simply track "known criminals" (i.e., anyone they feel they would like to arrest) with no judicial oversight, no counterbalance to the very considerable power of continuous location surveillance.

If the suspect is in fact guilty, and there is genuine probable cause established by basic police work, there is no judge who would deny police a warrant for supervised tracking, if that were necessary to establish guilt. But think about it... should they allow unlimited warrantless tracking to establish probable cause? What if... as the law presumes... the suspect is innocent? His or her privacy has just vanished, a victim of an increasingly invasive government.

If the Obama administration succeeds in persuading the Supreme Court to grant cert, you know good and well what will happen to our Fourth Amendment rights: "And another one gone, and another one gone... another one bites the dust..."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Amtrak: 40 Years Old And Still Useless

Stella's big birthday-ending-in-0 comes up in late July.

Trying to figure out something unusual and enjoyable for us to do to celebrate, I recalled our trip for Stella's last birthday-ending-in-0, an adventure in multiple modes of transportation: flying to Seattle, taking a small boat in the Strait of Juan de Fuca for two days and a night in Victoria, BC; returning to Seattle (stopping for a night of truly great jazz); renting a car to visit Olympia and some of the nearby national parks; driving back to Seattle and boarding the Coast Starlight for a mostly tedious but occasionally stunningly beautiful journey down the West Coast; eventually arriving at Oakland where we were met by a Berkeley-based musician friend for a day's visit before flying back to Houston.

Somehow I doubt we'll be able to match that adventure this time around.

Both of us do like trains, and that is one mode I can be fairly confident of being able to use. So I plunged into the Amtrak schedule to see what was available in late July starting from Houston. The short version: there's damned little available, and if we want a short trip, e.g., to Austin or San Antonio or Galveston, either ya can't get there from here, or the trains are already booked solid (please note... it's three months in advance!).

In any case, back to the post subject. Amtrak was founded in 1971, so it is 40 years old this year. It was useless back then (at least to Texans), and it's just as useless and considerably more expensive now. No one, at least no one in this part of the country, can use rail for business travel because the actual trip times (including being shunted onto sidings, sometimes for an hour or two, to let higher-paying freight trains pass) are excessive by today's standards. And as for using trains for recreational travel... well, I hope you have deep pockets and a gentle(wo)man's lifestyle providing you with unlimited time.

A local train enthusiasts' club is arranging a day trip to/from Lafayette, LA on May 6, but that's not a good time for us, and I at least have no reason to go to Lafayette at any time. So I am once again left without any travel-related ideas. No, I won't fly anywhere; apart from my principled objections, the sheer logistics of flying when you live in a huge reinforced boot and walk in a standard walker wider than a typical aircraft's aisle are just more than I could bear.

Maybe we can ride Metrorail downtown, and Stella can load me in a wheelchair for a sweaty walk to Discovery Green, which I have never seen because they built it while I was busy becoming a cripple. Oh, yeah, that would be lots of fun, especially for Stella!

As they all say, getting old is not for sissies...

Is Pelosi The Target Of An Obama (Political, Metaphorical) Hit?

What a headline. But considering that Obama has used executive orders to put out contracts for the assassination of American citizens, I felt the words in paren's were necessary to clarify that I am not suggesting that Obama is literally trying to kill Pelosi. We live in strange times when such clarifications are necessary.

OK, on to the specifics: Phoenix Woman of FDL believes the answer is Yes, and points to evidence of many recent anti-Pelosi columns in Politico, the WaPo, and even the usually more reliable McClatchy (see PW's post for links), articles asserting that Pelosi's power is waning, which (as PW demonstrates in still more links) is manifestly not true.

So where does all the apparent bullshit come from? PW thinks it's probably from the Obama White House itself:

My guess is that this may well be coming from the Obama White House. Why? Because she’s one of the few things that’s standing between him and his total destruction of any reason to vote Democratic over Republican. She has to be neutralized so he can successfully embed his plan to destroy Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as a Democratic Party platform plank. He’s already pushing a Republican budget plan as the furthestmost “left” of all possible plans (and there’s already a plan endorsed by Conservadem Claire McCaskill and her Republican buddy Bob Corker that’s even worse) — what happens should Pelosi work to stop it in its tracks and replace it with a much better plan, as she tried to do with the Ryan plan two weeks ago?
And a paragraph later, this sentence:

... Yet Obama is busily undercutting any stand-fast messaging Pelosi and other real Democrats might attempt: ...

I don't often quote Stella on political matters; she has her own (mostly nonpolitical) blog if she wants to speak her mind. But I'll make an exception to this extent: Stella is one of the first people I know, early in Obama's term, to proclaim without reservation, "Obama is a Republican." No qualifiers, no hedges, just "he's a Republican." For some time now I've believed she is right.

Can Pelosi save the Democratic Party from its own worst excesses, whose names are Obama and Biden? Or will she become merely another of Obama's victims in the cause of political expediency? Sit right here while I pop some popcorn; at the very least, this should be entertaining.

I Missed This Jewel Back On April 1...

Peterr of FDL provided us a proposal for a "bold refashioning of government," a restructuring of Congress as a House of Corporations and an Industrial Senate. Peterr's details are amusing; this is worth the short time it takes to read it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Which Side Are You On?

I asked myself that musical question today when I resigned from the local musicians' union, Local 65-699 of the AFM. (Sigh!) I paid my last half-year's dues (and some late fees... oops) so as to be able to resign in good standing, just in case my disabilities all vanish and I am able someday to perform again. But let's face it, if my doc's are right (and they've seldom been wrong), I'll never play for an audience again. Damn!

I was a union musician for well over two decades. During that time, I duly filed my contracts, worked only through union contractors, certainly didn't scab, showed up timely for rehearsals and jobs and delivered suitably professional performances. That's not because I'm such a great guy, but because I genuinely believe in unions as an organizing force for the benefit of labor of just about any sort... if there had been an IT professionals' union, I'd have joined that, too.

The thing is, union membership has obligations that come with it, and in the performing arts, those obligations include delivering consistently high quality performances every time you show up for a job. You have to perform well, or at least well enough, even on those nights when you feel like crap, and Dog knows I've played my share of those jobs. But I am physically unable to provide the dependable quality performances I used to, so it's time for me to retire as a musician. I am happy to say that Houston is full of young musicians who do what I used to do, and probably even better... life goes on.

Lady Liberty Goes Postal

Well, actually, her smaller replica in Las Vegas goes postal, the portrait of the Vegas Liberty look-alike having been used by mistake in a new series of stamps. But hey, it's a small sacrifice for the privilege of having a privatized post office, and there's a rumor that the Vegas Liberty will be fitted with an Invisible Hand of the Market...

Maybe they need a new slogan for this series: "You Can Bet On Our Liberty!" Nah. If only it were so...

If You Can Read This Righteous, Angry Screed, Thank A Teacher

Jim Wright of Stonekettle Station has a lot of good things to say in his post "Teacher Bashing 101." Go; you'll be glad you read the post. Teachers among you will soon be nodding your heads vigorously.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Jobless Claims...

... went up last week. When will it end? Will it end?

Sierra Club Wins One... Big-Time

Straight from the Sierra Club:

Blockbuster Agreement Takes 18 Dirty TVA Coal-Fired Power Plant Units Offline
Southeastern U.S. Takes Huge Step to Slash Air Pollution Thanks to Pressure from Environmental Groups, State and Federal Officials

CHATTANOOGA, TENN. – The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) board of directors approved a landmark agreement today with three citizen groups, four states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), marking one of the largest pollution reduction agreements in the nation’s history. This agreement requires TVA to phase out 18 units at dirty, coal-fired power plants and install modern pollution controls on three dozen additional units, thanks to more than 11 years of pressure from environmental groups, Southeastern states and the EPA. The blockbuster agreement – which includes the affected states of Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee – represents the largest ever reduction in air pollution in the Southeastern United States. This agreement permanently retires an unprecedented 2,700 megawatts of dirty coal-fired electricity and will drastically reduce TVA’s emissions of dangerous sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon pollution. Clean Air Task Force estimates that coal-fired power plants in the region cause more than 1,800 premature deaths and more than 2,400 heart attacks each year in the four-state region, and are a major source of area air pollution woes.

Power plants have a way of lasting forever, because no one wants to bear the cost of replacing them when they are truly worn out, not to mention too dirty for words. This victory is huge. Please support the Sierra Club if you are able!

(An aside, completely off-topic: if you are designing a document which, in some incarnation, may appear on the web, DO NOT USE UNDERLINED TEXT for any purpose whatsoever, except for the native underlining of links. The 'U' tag and the "text-decoration: underline;" style property introduce completely needless confusion when the document eventually goes up on the web. Just resist the temptation.)

Fixing The Misspelled Headline Of The Day

Like this:

Boehner Sidesteps Questions
About Republican Defec^tions
There... fixed it.

$0.350 Billion: 'License To Spend' - UPDATED

If you are as confused as I am about how the budget cut numbers came out so different from those the GOP announced, TPM has an explanation for you.

The first obvious fact is that two numbers as different as $350 million and $38 billion must refer to different quantities... and they do.
  • The second figure includes cuts that will be realized only over a period of years. 
  • That same figure also counts money already in each recipient's account from previous budgets (rightly IMHO) as a reduction in spending, since it does not have to be budgeted toward this year's expenditures because it's already there. 
Again IMHO, there are no grounds for complaint there: it would be a terrible mistake to punish an agency for having used its previous year's budgeted money efficiently. We can all see where that would lead. Well, I presume we all can, but I'm uncertain how the GOPer mind works.

Read the article for more details.

Did Obama really pull off the biggest coup of his presidency? Did the Big Orange Boner really fuck up completely? It sounds unlikely, but one is reluctant to dismiss a report by the CBO; they usually do not miss on weighty matters. All I can say at this point is this: stay tuned.

UPDATE: see the very relevant update on the next post upstream, below.

AFTERTHOUGHT:  now we REALLY get to see the Boner weep! See the pic on this TPM post. Do you think we'll miss him when he loses the Speaker's gavel?

Now Wouldn't It Be Embarrassing To The Boner... UPDATED

... if he had to depend on Democrats rounded up by Nancy Pelosi to pass the budget bill? She says she'll do it rather than allow the government to shut down. The question is whether the Big Orange Boner has the votes in his own caucus to pass the bill. Ever since the CBO released numbers showing that the bill will reduce direct payments by only one percent of the advertised $38 billion, there have been threats of defection in the GOP House caucus.

Of course Nancy Pelosi, for all her flaws, knows that Dems riding to the rescue of this GOP bill would allow her to demand a few things for her side. The only question for the rest of us is a simple one: Is her side... our side?

UPDATE: it took 39 Democrats to pass the Republan bill in the allegedly Republan-majority House. Big Orange Boner owes Pelosi big-time now. But if he pays off what he owes, his own caucus will shit in their pants. I love watching Republans squirm!

Oh, No! Sierra Club Promo Product Line Hits Bottom

The latest from the Sierra Club:

San Francisco, California – April 14, 2011 – PACT, a stylish underwear brand that blends design and sustainability with support for powerful social and environmental causes, launches a new line today that proudly supports the Sierra Student Coalition’s “Campuses Beyond Coal” initiative.  Today, PACT announces the public availability of their latest collection, “Beyond Coal,” from renowned designer Yves Behar, who has created an abstract pattern that evokes coal pollution in a blue sky. The print, which is available today at,  supports this movement to educate about coal’s dangers to environmental and public health.

Over the past few weeks, students from coal-powered campuses have already used the underwear line in conjunction with organized events such as flash mobs, where students spontaneously strip down to their “Beyond Coal” underwear, and a race to renewables, a cross-campus underwear run to advocate for the use of cleaner fuel sources. Included in these actions, Miami University students staged a pants-less rally to “Expose Coal” in front of their campus coal plant on March 31st, while University of North Texas students held an event in front of their administration office on April 1st.


And that's the news in brief(s). Other events are listed; there may be one in YOUR neighborhood!

Broun: FDR Was A Commie

The commie-baiting wars are starting again. Jillian Rayfield of TPM points to a floor speech by Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA):

Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) thinks President Franklin Delano Roosevelt loved Joseph Stalin so much that he sent advisers to Russia to see "what Stalin was doing there so that FDR could replicate it here in the United States."

Broun was speaking Tuesday on the House floor about how the "original intent" of the Constitution was to promote the "general welfare of the nation, not welfare of individuals." The concept of promoting the "welfare of individuals" started with Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, he said: "Both progressives. Both had socialist beliefs."

"In fact," Broun continued, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent his advisers, his close friends, his Cabinet people to go visit with Stalin in communist Russia to study what he was doing, what Stalin was doing there, so that FDR could replicate it here in the United States. And he did everything that he possibly could to do so."


Video available at the link above.

Republans have a tendency to rewrite history when they don't like its implications [added: or to perpetrate a personal smear]. Broun is no exception. But I can't help noticing that the ghost of Joe McCarthy has become faintly visible in the Capitol Building lately...

AFTERTHOUGHT:  the coin Rep. Broun is playing with has two sides. There are old political smear tactics other than commie-baiting available for revival from the same era. How would Rep. Broun feel, for example, about a resurgence of race-baiting, something seen in Tea Party events prior to the 2008 presidential election, and in mainstream Mississippi politics (*cough* Haley Barbour *cough*) more recently? I'm just asking if this is a political trend Broun really wants to see revived...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Caution: Obama Speech Parsing In Progress - UPDATED

I hope you have your shovels close by and in good condition, because Obama gave a speech today, in which he promised to "put[] every kind of spending on the table." His thumbnail history of the Eighties and Nineties is not too bad:

But as far back as the 1980s, America started amassing debt at more alarming levels, and our leaders began to realize that a larger challenge was on the horizon. They knew that eventually, the Baby Boom generation would retire, which meant a much bigger portion of our citizens would be relying on programs like Medicare, Social Security, and possibly Medicaid. Like parents with young children who know they have to start saving for the college years, America had to start borrowing less and saving more to prepare for the retirement of an entire generation.

To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation's deficit. They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush and President Clinton; by Democratic Congresses and a Republican Congress. All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice, but they largely protected the middle class, our commitments to seniors, and key investments in our future.

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America's finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt-free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program - but we didn't pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts - tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.

To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our national checkbook, consider this: in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.


Or, if we had simply omitted the Bush tax cuts for the very wealthy... or even if we allowed them to expire now... there wouldn't be even the appearance of a problem. Probably it would have helped not to allow Big Pharma to extend patent rights on drugs to obscenely long time periods, but our government belongs to them, not to us, so that's probably too much to expect.

The problem is of course the metaphor, "our national checkbook." The bank balance behind that checkbook is unlike any bank account an individual has ever experienced: the government can adjust its contents according to economic circumstances. The metaphor is simply wrong for the national budget: it doesn't work that way. But with Obama and every Republan talking about "our national checkbook," the concept has settled into everyone's brain. It's dishonest as hell, but there it is: people believe our government has a fixed amount of money.

There's more bullshit in the pile: Republans have consistently not only not helped bring our national budget into balance, they have done everything possible to give their wealthy "clients" obscene amounts of federal money (often in the form of "temporary" tax breaks that aren't temporary), and then claim the government is too broke to meet its obligations to mere ordinary citizens. Many of America's problems are bipartisan in origin: this one isn't. Republans alone are to blame. Obama is wrong to suggest any kind of "compromise" with (i.e., giveaway to) Republans.

So that's how our fiscal challenge was created. This is how we got here. And now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s. We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and win the future.
 Ah, now we begin in earnest. Excuse me a moment...


Sorry, but somebody has to say it, and if it isn't shouted, it won't be heard over the chatter. In an economy that is, at best, fragile (and arguably is not headed for recovery at all yet), the last thing our government needs to do is to "live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt." That way lies catastrophe of the sort Herbert Hoover pursued, until the nation replaced him with FDR. Indeed, even FDR didn't "get it" for a while. This turns out to be as simple as one can imagine: the government must be the employer and customer of last resort. When no one else is hiring, and no one else is buying, the government must hire and buy. When no citizen can afford medical care, the government must provide it.

Once the economy is up and running again, then private enterprise can pick up the thread, but let's face it: the major employers of the Noughties and Tennies just aren't doing the job right now. It is a fundamental flaw in capitalism ("what! that filthy commie! he said capitalism has a flaw!") that it has intrinsic feedback mechanisms that drive the economy in the wrong direction when things are at their worst, when people are out of work, losing their homes, living on the streets, losing resources such as public education for their kids, etc. etc. There is simply no choice: in these circumstances... and I mean right now, in case you haven't figured that out... government simply must step in. Old right-wing slogans notwithstanding, your government really should be there, and they really are there to help.

UPDATE: Krugman basically likes what he hears... but as an endpoint, not a starting point.

Graham 'merican Hypocrites - Lindsey Edition

Sorry, Glenn Greenwald had no opportunity to put this one in his recent book. But TPM gives us the story:

Graham Vows To 'Tie Senate In Knots' Over $50K Left Out Of Budget Deal
Susan Crabtree | April 13, 2011, 9:08AM


In fact, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was down right incensed over the decision not to include a mere $50,000 for an Army Corps of Engineers study on deepening the Port of Charleston in his home state and vowed to "tie the Senate in knots" by holding up Obama administration nominations. 

Ah, yes, another Republan signature motto: "Earmarks for me, but not for thee." Holding up Obama's appointments may irk Obama, but I've been hard put to tell the difference between Obama's appointments and any Republan president's appointments, so I, for one, don't care.

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