Tuesday, December 31, 2013








It's Just A Matter Of Pandering To The Right People

What is Paul Ryan, the mainstream media's second favorite Republican, up to?  The former GOP vice-presidential candidate, Charles Pierce remarks, "believes that government benefits have a corrosive effect on society, depriving its members of the character-building effects of poverty and hunger. He believes in the salvific effect of money earned in the perfect free-enterprise system."

And he also, Pierce observes, believes in casinos, or at least a plan proposed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, as long as competing tribes also accept it.  "Considering that Ryan's basic position is that we also should turn Social Security and Medicare over to his cronies in the Wall Street casino," Pierce concludes, "I guess there's a sort of consistency there in his deep affection for economic parasites."

Ryan's preference for economic parasites- and extortion- ranges far and wide.   The debt ceiling comes due in March but, a Wall Street Journal blogger writes

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) on Tuesday floated the possibility of pressing the White House to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline as a GOP condition for raising or suspending the debt ceiling.

“We’ve never just done nothing,” Mr. Ryan said in an interview on the Hugh Hewitt radio program. “We want to make sure that we’re taking steps in the direction of fiscal conservatism, of fiscal responsibility. I, for one, think we need to do more in the energy sector. I believe we need to approve Keystone pipeline. We need to produce regulatory certainties to all this private capital that develops this energy boon. We could be an energy independent continent within a decade if we stop the government from stopping it from happening. If we just get the government out of the way, it could be a real renaissance of oil and gas exploration in America, lower our gas prices, stop sending this money to foreign countries.”

The House Budget Committee chairperson is willing to jeopardize the U.S. economy by balking at raising the debt ceiling- routinely approved by Congress prior to takeover of the House by the GOP- thus threatening a default. While he threatens economic stability, he keeps at arms length from truth.

"If we just get the government out of the way," the Repub contends, "it could lower our gas prices,"  a claim that fails the test of objective reality.  According to Judy Dugan, author of "Keystone XL: An Oil-Industry Cash Machine," TransCanada consultants have written

[The current price discount in the U.S. Midwest] suggests that the supply of Canadian heavy crudes has exceeded demand in their main markets north of the USGC [US Gulf Coast].

The Keysone XL pipeline to the large USGC market would expand the market for Canadian crude sand increase demand. This should allow the price of Canadian heavy crude to increase at least as far as USGC parity with [Mexican] Maya. The price for Canadian heavy crude could increase further if the Keystone XL pipeline causes the available supply in the Midwest to be less than the demand.

The aim of lowering supply in the Midwest is enhanced because, Dugan explains

Major Midwest oil refineries, including the large BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana, have modified their plants to efficiently refine very heavy oils such as tar sands production.  Once the change is made, refineries cannot quickly or easily switch to other grades of oil that they would import from the Gulf Coast. Any withdrawal of tar sands crude to the Midwest would thus restrict the region's refining capacity, further spiking gasoline prices.

"If we just get the government out of the way," Ryan claims, we could "stop sending this money to foreign countries."  We might not be sending money directly to foreign countries, but we would be sending oil to foreign countries so that the price would rise for American consumers.  Once on the Gulf Coast, the oil isn't staying (cartoon below from New York political cartoonist and illustrator Mark Wilson). Dugan notes

Gulf Coast refineries are already exporting record amounts of diesel fuel and more gasoline than is imported into the region, yet are still operating with up to 15% spare capacity depending on the season. They could not maximize revenue and profits without exporting any additional refined fuel. The U.S. Southeast already enjoys the nation’s lowest average gasoline prices (in the absence of major hurricanes). Gulf Coast refiners have no incentive to add supply that would let the regional gasoline price drop further.





"If we just get the government out of the way," Ryan argues, "it could be a real renaissance of oil and gas exploration in America."  That's different than an unreal renaissance, presumably.  Ryan should, however, see an optometrist if we can't see what's already happening with oil and gas exploration in the nation whose economy he'd just as soon see tank. Fuelfix.com finds

The United States’ average daily oil production is on track to surge by 1 million barrels per day this year, the biggest one-year jump in the nation’s history, according to federal data

The country has pumped an average of 7.5 million barrels of crude per day in 2013, up from 6.5 million barrels per day in 2012. That breaks last year’s record, when oil production jumped by 837,000 barrels per day between 2011 and 2012.

Bill McKibben's graph indicates we keep mining and drilling for more and more coal, oil, and gas in the U.S.A.:






This sort of thing matters. The man is not only a leading candidate for the GOP nomination for President. He's also chairman of the House Budget Committee and author (with Democrat Patty Murray) of the budget recently signed by Barack Obama.  He can serve the country honestly, or he can continue to curry favor with the corporate interests which dominate Republican primaries. It doesn't look good.





                                                   HAPPY NEW YEAR




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Monday, December 30, 2013







New Jersey Residents Just Collateral Damage To Chris Christie

Chris Christie understands only too well what the fictional character Mr. Dooley once stated:  "politics ain't beanbag."  CNN reports

As New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie continues to bat down questions about a controversy involving the country's busiest bridge, new documents indicate Port Authority officials have long known that Fort Lee, New Jersey, has struggled with traffic gridlock because of the George Washington Bridge.

Closing some of the access lanes to the bridge, which spans the Hudson River and connects New Jersey to Manhattan, would only exacerbate the problem. But that's exactly what a Christie political appointee did in September, resulting in massive delays and gridlock on the first day of school.

The appointee, a Port Authority employee, has since resigned but said he ordered the closures for a traffic study. New Jersey's top Port Authority official, Bill Baroni, also resigned over the controversy, accepting responsibility for not following the right protocols in approving the study, Christie announced earlier this month.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created by an act of Congress and receives federal funding. In his role as chairperson of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia has asked the U.S. Transportation Secretary to "review the events of this incident and examine the Department's authority to ensure oversight of the agency to prevent future disruptions."  Democrat John Wisniewski is heading a probe by the New Jersey Assembly into the bizarre closure (video below from DemRapidResponse).

But figuratively throwing his weight around is nothing new for Governor Christie.  Pete Zernike of The New York Times recently explained

In 2011, Mr. Christie held a news conference where he accused State Senator Richard J. Codey of being “combative and difficult” in blocking two nominees. Mr. Codey, a Democrat who had served as governor following the resignation of James E. McGreevey, responded that he had not only signed off on the nominations, but had held a meeting to try to hurry them along.

Three days later, Mr. Codey was walking out of an event in Newark when he got a call from the state police superintendent informing him that he would no longer be afforded the trooper who accompanied him to occasional public events — a courtesy granted all former governors. That same day, his cousin, who had been appointed by Mr. McGreevey to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was fired, as was a close friend and former deputy chief of staff who was then working in the state Office of Consumer Affairs.

“I understand politics, that a new administration comes in,” Mr. Codey said, but he believed this was not about Mr. Christie bringing in his own people. “This was all about sending a message.”

The governor laughed at the allegation of retribution, and his spokesman belittled the Democratic Party chairman who complained about it.

Later that year, the governor was pressing hard on Alan Rosenthal, the Rutgers political scientist whom Republicans and Democrats had chosen as the tiebreaking member of the commission that was redistricting the state’s legislative districts. Mr. Christie wanted Mr. Rosenthal to vote for the map put forward by the Republicans on the commission, but instead he chose the Democrats’ plan, saying it offered more stability.

Soon after, Mr. Christie used his line-item veto to cut $169,000 for two programs at Mr. Rosenthal’s institute at Rutgers.

The apparent payback is not always directed at Democrats — Mr. Christie can be just as hard on Republicans in an attempt to enforce party discipline.

In 2010, when a blizzard paralyzed the state, State Senator Sean T. Kean, a Republican, told a reporter that the “one mistake” the Senate president and governor had made was not calling earlier for a state of emergency, which might have kept more cars off the roads.

Mr. Christie was smarting from criticism that he had remained at Disney World during the storm. When he returned, he held his first news conference in Mr. Kean’s home district. Shortly before, a member of the governor’s staff called Mr. Kean and warned him not to show up. His seat was eliminated in redistricting the following year.

Mr. Kean, now in the Assembly, declined to comment. At the time, an anonymous administration official told The Star-Ledger that Mr. Kean got what he deserved.

Last year, another Republican, State Senator Christopher Bateman, voted against the governor’s plan to reorganize the state’s public medical education system. Mr. Bateman had been working with the governor to get a judge appointed in his home county. Suddenly, after months when it looked as if it would happen, the nomination stalled.

Mr. Bateman, too, declined to comment. But last month, when it came time for Republicans to elect a new leader in the State Senate, he first expressed support for the current leader; then, when Mr. Christie supported someone else, he voted for the governor’s candidate.

(Indicating the governor’s ability to use favor as well as fear, all the Republicans who voted for his preferred candidate, who lost, were rewarded with tickets to the governor’s box at a recent New York Giants game. “I felt kind of cheap,” one said, but added, “to say no is an insult.”)

Governor Christie says he knew nothing of the actions of his appointees, either Barone or David Wildstein (who ordered the closure) in nearly closing down the bridge running from Fort Lee, NJ to New York City. The resignation of Bill Baroni, apparently just another state employee, was unrelated to the bridge fiasco.   But curiously, Zernike writes further

The governor’s close lieutenants often deliver the message. Bill Baroni, one of the two appointees now accused of exacting revenge with the bridge lanes, once called Bill Lavin, an officer with a state firefighters’ union, after hearing him on the radio.

Mr. Lavin had told the interviewer that the unions and the governor had been talking past one another, and needed to start talking to one another. He thought he was extending an olive branch to the governor.

Mr. Baroni, then a Republican state senator, called Mr. Lavin with a message from the governor, and then used an obscene phrase to describe what the governor thought he should do.

Mr. Baroni declined to confirm or deny the incident in The Star-Ledger; he did not respond to messages seeking comment.

“What he said a couple of times,” Mr. Lavin recalled, “was: ‘The governor told me to make sure you don’t get this message mixed up; say these exact words.’ ”

There will be no smoking gun.  Powerful figures- and New Jersey's constitution grants extraordinary power to its chief executive- rarely issue the most nefarious orders.  Chris Christie did not say to Bill Baroni or to his other confidante involved in the fiasco "I need yet more Democrats to endorse my re-election bid and Fort Lee mayor Mark Sokolich refuses. Close two of the three access lanes for a few days on the busiest motor vehicle bridge in the world, tie up traffic throughout the town and when the Executive Director of the Authority figures out what's going on, tell him it was for a traffic study."

After "beanbag," Finley Peter Dunne's Dooley continued "‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it.”    Chris Christie is surely none of those- and the political appointee who does not anticipate the boss' wishes is soon an ex-employee (cartoon below from The New Yorker via Talking Points Memo).  Or as in the case of Wildstein and Baroni, if someone has to take the fall, it surely isn't going to be the guy running for President of the United States.















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Saturday, December 28, 2013








Big Difference

In 2011, a contributor on a blog called thisorthat.com blasts as "political correctness" five things: "photographic diversity, the firing of Juan Williams, trying not to hurt the feelings of people who probably have more important things to worry about; even more name changing; coddling the children."

A common threat of disdain among conservatives for what they deride as "political correctness" (or "pc" for short) is that that it exhibits an excess of sensitivity.  However, a recent outburst in New Mexico demonstrates that a lack of insensitivity can manifest- to the difference between ongoing behavior and a single incident-can precipitate a foolish overreaction.

On December 27, Think Progress' Travis Waldron wrote

Colorado State University suspended its defensive line coach, Greg Lupfer, after the coach used a gay slur during the team’s New Mexico Bowl win over the Washington State University.

When Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday came toward Colorado State’s sideline after throwing a touchdown pass in the first quarter, Lupfer called him a “faggot.” The incident was caught by a sideline camera. Colorado State investigated it after the game and suspended Lupfer for two weeks without pay. He will also undergo educational training centered on LGBT issues.

“I accept these consequences – two weeks without pay and the training programs – and I am thankful for this second chance to continue coaching at Colorado State and be a part of the Ram Family,” Lupfer said in a statement after the suspension was announced. “I am deeply sorry for my behavior, which does not represent who I am or my values. I embrace the opportunity to participate in anger management and diversity sensitivity training. I was angry and careless with my words, and my words hurt many people. I sincerely apologize to the GLBTQ community for causing pain by using a slur without considering its meaning. I take ownership of my words and fully understand why people are very upset.”

Lupfer is probably lucky to keep his job after resorting to gay slurs. Rutgers fired basketball coach Mike Rice in April after video surfaced of him physically and verbally abusing players — he also used gay slurs and went through training programs upon losing his job. Eastern Michigan football coach Ron English used a similar slur while yelling at his team during the 2013 season and was fired.

Well, no. Greg Lupfer is not lucky to keep his job "after resorting to gay slurs" in light of the dismissal of Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice Jr. for continually, as ESPN reported it the time, "shoving, grabbing and throwing balls at players and using gay slurs during practice" (video  below). Greg Lupfer needed to be disciplined for the episode (video further below),  in which

it appears the two may have made contact, but it wasn't initiated by Lupfer. It also shows Lupfer never grabbed Halliday, but another coach, assistant strength and assistant coach Rashad Harris, does touch Halliday in an attempt to separate the two and get Halliday moving back toward the field and away from the CSU sideline.

There is a huge difference between hurling gay slurs at an opposing player who approaches one's sideline and practicing physically abusive behavior over what appeared to be a period of months or, as in this description, "verbally and physically abusing college players, pushing, kicking and throwing balls at his team and calling them, among other things, 'cunts,' 'fairies,' and 'faggots.'"   Pernetti was fired, whereupon he began coaching an AAU basketball team of 12-year-old girls near his home, some 20-30 miles from Rutgers. There, he reportedly continued the approach which ended his relationship with Rutgers University.

Greg Lupfer blew up obnoxiously and irresponsibly at an opposing player; Mike Rice continually berated and assaulted his players.  There is a phenomenon of" political correctness" which needs to be ridiculed.  But while conservatives wail that it is characterized by exquisite sensitivity toward minorities (ethnic, sexual, or otherwise), the disturbing aspect is that it often makes no distinction between speech and behavior.








 













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Thursday, December 26, 2013






Still Not Reading


If Katie Couric never contributes anything further to good journalism (she hasn't, and she won't), she deserves credit for helping to expose Sarah Palin.  In September, 2008, she had the following exchange with the would-be vice-president:

Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?

Palin: I've read most of them, again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media. 

Couric: What, specifically?

Palin: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me all these years. 

Couric: Can you name a few? 

Palin: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news, too. Alaska isn't a foreign country, where it's kind of suggested, "Wow, how could you keep in touch with what the rest of Washington, D.C., may be thinking when you live up there in Alaska?" Believe me, Alaska is like a microcosm of America.

"Why, of course she reads newspapers!" we heard from the right, except when we heard "who reads newspapers anymore, anyway?"

But Palin was stung by the criticism she received for inadvertently acknowledging she was ill-informed.  And two years after she and Senator McCain were rejected for higher office, she boasted she does like to pick up a dead tree scroll.   After being criticized by a Wall Street Journal reporter, she pointed to a different WSJ article which allegedly buttressed her viewpoint.   She crowed on Facebook "Now I realize I'm just a former governor and current housewife from Alaska, but even humble folks like me can read the newspaper. I'm surprised a prestigious reporter for The Wall Street Journal doesn't."

Except that it now appears that she doesn't read newspapers either or, rather, relevant magazine articles of social significance.   On December 18, she would write on her Facebook page "Free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us" (comment from The Young Turks, below).  ButfFive days later, questioned by GOP TV's Greta Van Susteren, Palin would admit “I haven’t read the article. I don’t know exactly how he said it."

Sure, the ex-governor jumped to conclusions when she impulsively defended Phil Robertson and chastised his critics.  But she would have gotten away with it if she simply had taken fifteen minutes out of her publicity-crazed schedule to read the interview.

But then Sarah Palin wouldn't have been Sarah Palin. Still, she would have been the pol who was tapped five years ago by John McCain to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, a position in which she could have explained that she would have bombed Iran even if she had first read the briefing papers.










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Opaque

As the USA's ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice proved a lightning rod for Repub complaints about the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya.  Apparently, she has learned some things about how to be, well, diplomatic.

An interview presented on Sunday on 60 Minutes featured this exchange between Rice and longtime correspondent Lesley Stahl:

Lesley Stahl: According to an article in the New Yorker, every time there’s been a question about putting restraints on the NSA up to now, the president has sided with the intelligence community.

Susan Rice: What the NSA and our intelligence community does as a whole is designed to protect Americans and our allies. And they do a heck of a good job at it.

Lesley Stahl: Officials in the intelligence community have actually been untruthful both to the American public in hearings in Congress and to the FISA Court.

Susan Rice: There have been cases where they have inadvertently made false representations. And they themselves have discovered it and corrected it.

If "corrected" means clarifying a statement revealed to be untruthful, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (and that's not former DNI director) did in fact correct a statement he made to Congress in June (though surely he did not "discover" it).  At least Rice didn't claim anyone "apologized."

At a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in March, Clapper was asked (video, below) by Ron Wyden (D-OR) “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?”  He answered "no" but when pressed, clarified "not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly."







After the hearing- according to a spokesman for Wyden- the Senator's office contacted Clapper's office, which "acknowledged that the statement was inaccurate but refused to correct the public record when given the opportunity."  Nearly four months later, on July 2, Clapper maintained that he now could speak truthfully because two newspapers had reported the NSA spying, following is disclosure to them by Edward Snowden.   "I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or at least untruthful, manner," he contended."

But as Jonathan Turley( law professor at the finest college in the USA) noted, "many of the senators who heard that testimony knew it was a lie because they admitted later to knowing about the NSA program to gather data on every citizen." Clapper knew of the spying and inaccurately testified about it to Congress in March.   When the DNI chief was (cliche alert) caught by Edward Snowden with his pants down, he claimed he responded in what he contended was the "least untruthful" manner he could- to a question he had been informed in advance that Wyden would ask.

Susan Rice says "they themselves have discovered" and "corrected" what she euphemistically terms "false representations."  But as Wyden has told the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza, however, "There is not a shred of evidence that the statement ever would’ve been corrected absent the Snowden disclosures.”

Susan Rice covers up for James Clapper.  They both still work for a guy whose websites enthusiastically pledged commitment to transparency.  As a presidential candidate, it was identifying "making government accountable to the people" as " a cause of my life for two decades.   As president-elect, it was to "strengthen whistleblower laws" and make "government more transparent."  As a newly inaugurated President, it was "to making his administration the most open and transparent in history..."     And four years later, it was the President himself protesting "This is the most transparent administration in history.

Rice and Clapper are part of a government which includes Eric Holder, the attorney general who has prosecuted more whistle blowers than all combined who have served before him. And it all points to Barack Obama, the man with good intentions and frequently little else.



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Tuesday, December 24, 2013










What Kind Of Fool Do You Think I Am?*


The disturbing point about Digby's remarks is that she wasn't speaking solely of Rand Paul, but of the majority of GOP members of Congress.Noting House Speaker Boehner's declining popularity in his congressional district may, Ms. Parton writes

It's hard to know for sure if Boehner's unpopular because he's seen as a sell-out by the Tea partiers or if he's unpopular because he's acting like Ebenezer Scrooge on steroids. But the good news for Real Americans is that this might just mean the congress will come back and pass a UI extension. These numbers are pretty clear. The public does not like the idea of cutting people off when there are no jobs. gee, it turns out that the majority of Americans aren't complete jerks. Somebody tell the GOP. 

Boehner is the most important Republican, but no member of Congress more clearly believes that the majority of Americans are complete jerks than does Rand Paul.   Sixteen days ago on Fox News Sunday, the Kentucky's junior senator stated  "I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they're paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers."   He added

When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you're causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy. And it really - while it seems good, it actually does a disservice to the people you're trying to help.

Paul's remark was not merely condescending, though referring to a "perpetual" group of the unemployed makes it brazenly so.  Digging further, on Monday Paul clarified upon telling NBC News

If people think we need two years of unemployment insurance they should come forward and say we want to raise the taxes, and the contributions of employees and employers, for unemployment insurance...

When I said it's a disservice, I meant it - I am worried about the workers. Not that I think they become bad people by becoming unemployed longer, but that the longer they're unemployed, the less likely they are to ever get a job again...

If Senator Paul is disappointed his colleagues are not more forthright, he might look in the mirror.  "Does it make sense for our country to borrow money from China to give it to the unemployed in America? That is weakening us as a country," he maintained.   There are several reasons to be suspicious of mainland China but given that it owns less than 8% of American debt, the money we borrow from Beijing is the least of them. (China remains a boogeyman for many Republicans- except when it comes to moving companies or outsourcing jobs there,)

So Paul contends extending unemployment compensation "does a disservice" to the long-term unemployed because "the longer they're unemployed, the less likely they are to ever get a job again."

But he doesn't tell you that the ratio of CEO pay to that of production/non-supervisory workers rose from 20:1 in 1965 to 273:1 in 2012 (chart below, as with the others, from Economic Policy Institute).













Nor does the Kentucky senator mention that the federal government- as encouraged by Repubs including himself- responded to the recession with the slowest growth of public spending following any recession since World War II, which has prevented the addition of millions of jobs (chart below).






But most damning to Paul's claim is the surge of corporate profits in recent years while the number of long-term unemployed- for which the Senator oozes concern- has risen substantially (chart, below).

Contrary to Paul's implication, the "perpetual unemployed" have not been sidelined because unemployment benefits have made them malingerers, but because companies have decided not to invest in human capital. It's not for nothing that capital income as a share of corporate-sector income rose from the 1969-2007 average of 20.4% to 25.8% in 2013 (chart, below).










This has occurred while the net productivity of production/non-supervisory workers rose 63.8%  in the period from 1979 to 2012 (chart, below).  (Real compensation, meanwhile, rose 7.8%, belying the claims of free traders and of those who believe job training is a ticket into the middle class.)                                                                                                                                                                             










The meme of Americans as lazy will not die. Most Democrats (and a minority of Republicans) support S744, the comprehensive immigration bill which nearly triples the H-1B guest worker program despite severe unemployment and stagnating wages among high-technology workers.  Lower down the food chain, more than 23,000 individuals recently applied for 600 jobs available when two new Wal-Mart stores in the District of Columbia advertised for applications. Yet, Repubs stymie efforts to extend unemployment benefits and to raise the minimum wage

Businesses are raking in profits with a bare minimum of employees.  As individuals remain unemployed for a longer period of time than in the past, employers are more reluctant to hire them in a self-perpetuating routine.  If Rand Paul thinks that American voters will believe that he is looking out for the interests of unemployed workers, he must really take us for jerks. Fortunately, he underestimates most Americans.


*





                                                  MERRY CHRISTMAS





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Monday, December 23, 2013



It Must Be Government's Fault


Attempting, in a conservative vein, to be realistic, Bill O'Reilly suggests Phil Robertson at least made a tactical error.   Chatting with fellow rightie Laura Ingraham, O'Reilly asks "Do you think Robertson made a mistake in the condemnation line? See, that's where I think he made his mistake. Right up to there, he was OK. But once he went in and said you are not going to heaven."

O' Reilly at least was connected, however tenuously, to reality, as contrasted with Ingraham, who imagined "They want him to shut up. It's the new blacklist. If you don't submit to their worldview, they will try to destroy you."  Similarly, Mike Huckabee told Fox News' Chris Wallace that comments made by Robertson comparing homosexuality to bestiality are "more appropriate for the duck woods than the pages of a major magazine."

As everyone presumably knows now, they were referring to the patriarch of the Robertson clan of A&E's now-famous Duck Dynasty, who in arguably his most controversial comment to a GQ interviewer maintained

It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.

But if Laura and Bill and (of course) Sarah Palin are worried that A&E will cancel Duck Dynasty or Phil Robertson, they have little to worry about. The statement from the cable network stated it "has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely" but

Despite the suspension, A&E still has several hours of "Duck Dynasty” programming over the next week. For Thursday night, there is three hours of shows the network is airing. On Sunday Dec. 22, A&E will be airing the popular show from 5 p.m. until 4 a.m. the next morning. On Monday Dec. 23, episodes will air from 7 p.m. until 4 a.m. the next morning. On Christmas Eve, “Duck Dynasty” will be aired from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. And on Christmas Day, A&E will air “Duck Dynasty” episodes from 3:30 p.m. until 4 a.m. the next morning. All times are Eastern.

The next day, Entertainment Weekly reported

A source close to the situation confirmed that when the network resumes airing new episodes of Duck Dynasty starting Jan. 15, footage featuring the Robertson patriarch will indeed remain intact. The network also hopes the media and fan furor will cool down over the holidays and that tensions over shooting future episodes can then be resolved.

“There’s no negotiation to have; we’re doing the show,” said an insider close to the situation. “We’ll figure out a solution. It’s just not going to happen overnight. Everybody will take a break for the holidays and regroup afterward. That’s probably the smartest thing for everyone to do. Time heals a lot of wounds.

Duck Dynasty is a big hit with the network's audience, a big money maker, and we wouldn't want to (cliche for everyone over the age of 50) kill the goose that laid the golden egg.   It seems a fairly simple concept to understand- corporation cares little about politics but only the bottom line, and will maintain the status quo until and unless it fears an insurrection by advertisers.

But it is a concept conservatives apparently find difficult to grasp. On her Facebook page (on which the photo below appears), Sarah Palin writes "free speech is an endangered species. Those “intolerants” hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us."   PJ Media culture critic Andrew Klavan argues "But the rest of you liberals…  listen, I know you.  I know a lot of you are against the kind of oppressive and bigoted activity that is becoming more and more emblematic of leftist thought and action. But there comes a point where if you’re not against them, you’re for them."   And the openly gay libertarian Camille Paglia (to whom Klavan approvingly links) likens disapproval of Robertson's remarks to "the level of punitive PC, utterly fascist, utterly Stalinist, OK, that my liberal colleagues in the Democratic party and on college campuses have supported and promoted over the last several decades." Seriously.

Besides arguably inflammatory statements about gay people, Robertson also commented on black people in a fashion which would make Rand Paul's heart skip a beat.  But beyond Robertson's views of homosexuality or race relations or the misunderstanding of whether an employer can suspend an employee for remarks it finds inimical to its business model lies a more pervasive problem..

It is a myth which on his Fox News' program cleverly titled Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor avoided propagating. Recognizing the network as responsible for its actions, he notes reality television

has given us such high brow viewing as Jersey Shore, Temptation Island and Cheaters. It's okay for shows to glorify adultery, binge drinking, teen sex and serial promiscuity, but if someone on a reality show should actually reflect the reality of his Christian faith, then God better help him, because the network won't.

So just who do the suits at A&E think those millions were who watch Duck Dynasty? Muslims aren't criticized, ostracized or banned from the public square, and their views are far more harsh and intolerant of homosexuality.

Still, the dominant theme in the conservative community is to blame the public, rather than, the private, sector. Steve M. argues Paglia "is one more person who thinks A&E is a branch of the government."  First Amendment protections against abridgment of free speech apply only to government and not to the private sector, most notably in its role as an employer. As Digby puts it, "corporations and other employers can fire you for looking at them sideways much less expressing views they think will offend their customers."   A&E feared a backlash from its sponsors and acted in what the network perceived to be its pecuniary interest.

Still, once a company slaps down an employee for talking out of turn, much of the right turns on government as if the employer has suddenly become a government agency.

It's an easy target.  Republican President Ronald Reagan said "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."  Anti-tax zealot Grover Norquist famously vowed "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."  And in a more limited slam, responding to criticism of the rollout of health care reform, President Obama claimed "You know, one of the lessons -- learned from this whole process on the website -- is that probably the biggest gap between the private sector and the federal government is when it comes to I.T. " He would rather blame himself than business.

For better or worse, there is no first amendment right for an employer to honor an employee's views about ethnic or sexual minorities.  Equally certain is that when controversy arises, politicians and pundits alike instinctively know who to blame.










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Saturday, December 21, 2013






Friends To The End- Or To Our End


The Barbara Walters/Hillary Clinton connection has come full circle.  When Walters began her Most Fascination Persons of (the current year) award twenty years ago, Hillary Clinton came out on top.  On her latest and final installment, Hillary Clinton tops the list.

And she has some predictable- uh, er fascinating- things to say. Professing her admiration for Chilean president Michelle Bachelet and Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, Clinton stated

It matters. It matters because we have half the population that has given so much to building this country, to making it work, raising children and, of course, I want to see women eventually in the White House. If you look at my friends and former colleagues, who are now in the Senate, it was the women senators, on both sides of the aisle, who finally broke the fever over the government shutdown and the debt limit. ... They have been working across party lines, and we need more of that.

Sorry; don't buy it.  Clearly, Clinton wants to see a female president- but not Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, nor Repub governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico. Whether "raising children" is any more of a qualification for USA president than, say, being the traditional breadwinner has been for men is debatable.   We've gotten a lot of bad male presidents upon selecting them for gender, and we may get a few bad female presidents selected, as Hillary Clinton would have it, because they "finally broke the fever over the government shutdown and the debt limit."

If Mrs. Clinton were to promote the presidential prospects of Washington Senator Patty Murray, the Budget Committee chairman who recently negotiated with Paul Ryan a deal which averts a government shutdown, her support of "women senators" who "finally broke the fever over the government shutdown and the debt limit"  would be more credible. Admittedly, that extraordinarily unlikely development might not be favorable, given Murray's failure to negotiate with House Budget Committee chairman Ryan an extension of unemployment compensation nor nor agreement that the GOP won't balk at lifting the debt ceiling.

While giving her encomium to the value of choosing candidates based on genetics, Mrs. Clinton gave a nod to the liberal concerns of high unemployment, "people getting kicked off food stamps," and the inability of small business to obtain credit.  But her heart (or financial interests) seems to lie elsewhere.  National Review on October 30 reported

Hillary Clinton spoke at two separate Goldman Sachs events on the evenings of Thursday, October 24 and Tuesday, October 29. As both Politico and the New York Times report, Clinton’s fee is about $200,000 per speech, meaning she likely netted around $400,000 for her paid gigs at Goldman over the course of six days.

Last Thursday, Clinton spoke for the AIMS Alternative Investment Conference hosted by Goldman Sachs, a closed event exclusively for Goldman clients. AIMS is an annual conference that explores the latest strategies and products available to financial advisers. At the event, Clinton offered what one attendee described to me as “prepared remarks followed by questions.”

On Tuesday, Clinton spoke at the Builders and Innovators Summit, devoted to discussing entrepreneurship and how to help innovators expand and grow their businesses. According to Politico, Clinton conducted a question-and-answer session with Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein. Goldman Sachs declined to comment on the subject of her remarks or why Mrs. Clinton in particular was invited to the events.

Keeping close to the investment world, Clinton also made visits to private-equity firms KKR in July and the Carlyle Group in September. At KKR’s annual investor meeting in California, Clinton answered questions from firm co-founder Henry Kravis on the Middle East, Washington, and politics. At Carlyle Group, Clinton made a speech to shareholders moderated by Carlyle founder David Rubenstein.

Clinton’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

A couple of weeks later, Elizabeth Warren spoke (transcript, here) to the Roosevelt Institute upon the occasion of release of a report prepared by that organization and Americans for Financial Reform.   "Today," she noted

the four biggest banks are 30% larger than they were five years ago. And the five largest banks now hold more than half of the total banking assets in the country. One study earlier this year showed that the Too Big to Fail status is giving the 10 biggest US banks an annual taxpayer subsidy of $83 billion.

The Massachusetts senator observed "What we need is a system that puts an end to the boom and bust cycle. A system that recognizes we don’t grow this country from the financial sector; we grow this country from the middle class."  Unemployment, food stamps, access of small businesses to credit are safe issues, relatively easy to address for a Democratic senator or candidate for the party's presidential nomination.   But if Hillary Clinton understands that the country prospers from the middle class out rather than from the largest banks downward, she gives no hint.









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Thursday, December 19, 2013







Staying Put


In July, 2012, arguing President Obama "does not believe in American exceptionalism the way we believe in it," Heritage Foundation president Ed Fuelner remarked "in effect you can defend your own future. You can be whatever is possible as long as you are willing to work hard for it and make it happen on your own behalf. You are not automatically cast into a classs system or a certain level of society which you can't rise out of it. You can reallly make a difference. In short, America is not just a place: It is an idea."

In September, 2012 anti-Muslim fanatic Pamela Geller wrote President Obama does "not believe in American exceptionalism at all" because he "has dismantled American hegemony and diminished our standing in the world."    Earlier this month, former Vice-President Dick Cheney claimed on Fox and Friends “I don’t think that Barack Obama believes in the U.S. as an exceptional nation, and the whole concept that the world is a safer place, a more peaceful place, when the U.S. is powerful, able to in fact project its will in various places around the world."

Answering critics like Geller and Cheney who emphasize Obama's reluctance to bomb for the heck of it, in March Obama responded "Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top Al-Qaeda leaders who’ve been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement."

Indeed. However, claims of American exceptionalism customarily have not hinged on US foreign policy but rather- as the otherwise misguided Fuelner inferred- the idea that ordinary American citizens can be all that they can be. But as Joseph P. Ferrie wrote in the paper "The End of American Exceptionalism? Mobility in the U.S. Since 1850"

This particular sense of U.S. exceptionalism was increasingly accepted as, throughout the nineteenth century, many astute observers noticed the extremely high degree of social mobility in the United States. As Alexis de Tocqueville toured the 1830s America of flatboats and family farms, of busy workshops and loaded wharves, and of bustling cities and teeming canals, the French aristocrat marveled at the economic activity. But he marveled even more at the extraordinary fluidity of the social relations that lay beneath the economic tumult. Tocqueville described the ease with which families rose and fell in the social hierarchy, and contrasted the mobility he witnessed with the rigidity of the societies known to his European readers:..  At the start of the twentieth century, observers like Werner Sombart continued to ascribe the conservatism of American workers to their unique opportunities for economic and social mobility. America’s high levels of mobility seemed an exception to the patterns of development seen elsewhere.

Things have changed. He adds

Recent research comparing mobility in the modern U.S. to other countries, however, reveals that U.S. mobility is not exceptional today. Since the 1970s, systematic comparisons of intergenerational occupational mobility have revealed that by the second half of the twentieth century, the U.S. was no more mobile than similarly developed countries. Erikson  wrote: “In none of these respects, however, could our findings for the United States  . . . be regarded as ‘exceptional’ when set against those from European nations . . . . [I]t could not be said that [the U.S. differs] more widely from European nations in . . . actual rates and patterns of mobility than do European nations among themselves.” Bjorklund and Jantti find that intergenerational income mobility in the United States is no greater than in Sweden, while income inequality is considerable higher in the United States. Solon concluded in this journal: “At this stage, it seems reasonable to conclude that the United States and the United Kingdom appear to be less mobile societies than are Canada, Finland and Sweden” in the link between the incomes earned by fathers and sons.

And that was written in May, 2005, over eight years ago, before the most recent decline.Recently, Timothy Noah (who has previously addressed the general topic) analyzed the decline in socio-economic mobility in which

In our own time, though, all of that has changed. Americans are moving far less often than in the past, and when they do migrate it is typically no longer from places with low wages to places with higher wages. Rather, it’s the reverse. That helps explain why, since the 1970s, income inequality has gone up and upward mobility has (depending on who you ask) either stagnated or gone down...

The larger reality is that Americans of all ages and stripes were becoming far less likely to move. So, for example, between the 1980s and the 2000s, the percentage of young adults (those aged eighteen to twenty-four) who migrated across state lines declined by 41 percent. Similarly, whether married or single, black or white, parent or childless, factory worker or knowledge worker, educated or not, Americans in any or all of these categories became far less likely to move than their counterparts a generation ago. Even immigrants from abroad are much less likely to move, once they get here, than were foreign immigrants in the past.

Noah finds that none of the usual suspects- aging of the population,  purported increase of two-earner couples, bursting of the housing bubble, growth of the Internet, or ability to find satisfactory employment in one's own area- has had a major impact on the decline of mobility in the U.S.A.  Nonetheless, some people have been moving, but  (with the exception of North Dakota) to areas with relatively limited opportunity. He asks

where have people been moving to, if not to where the money is? Generally to southern Sun Belt states, where average wages not only are lower than in the places they left behind but are also growing more slowly. So, for example, when people moved from Connecticut to Texas in 1980, they moved to a place where per capita income was 17 percent lower. By 2011, when people made the same migration from Connecticut to Texas, they wound up in a place where per capita income was 31 percent lower. And yet they kept coming.

Maybe you’re thinking that states with lower wages have a higher volume of jobs. Pay people less and you can hire more of them, right? But in fact, most Americans moving across state lines are relocating to places where they’re no more likely to find employment. As the Atlantic’s Jordan Weissman pointed out in December 2012, of the ten states with the highest rates of in-migration, more than half had unemployment rates equal to or higher than the national average...

The larger picture is one in which migration is not only declining but also tends to be away from places where, according to recent studies, young adults have the best chances of moving up the income scale.

Noah concludes that the cost of housing (boosted by exclusionary zoning and restrictions on housing construction), combined with the drop in median household income and the inefficiency of the labor market has contributed most to the inability of people of modest means to move where the greatest economic opportunity lies.

That contributes to the exceptional nature of the USA, in which the Gnni coefficient (map from The Atlantic), a measure of income inequality in which 0.0 represents total equality, is higher in the United States than in most of the industrialized world.  With a coefficient of .450, US income equality ranks behind that in mainland China and India and right up there with the likes of Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ecuador.










As the graph below from the St. Louis Fed via The Economic Populist indicates, income inequality as measured by the Ginni ratio has risen substantially in the United States of America in the past few decades and especially since 1981 (the first year of the administration of Ronald(6) Wilson(6) Reagan(6), Saint Ronald of 666).







There are causes other than residential immobility which have caused, and are causing this moment, a rise in income inequality in the USA.  But whatever the factors, it is clear that American exceptionalism as it traditionally has been considered and to which American politicians pay homage no longer exists.



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Tuesday, December 17, 2013




Our NSA, Its 60 Minutes


First citing the inaccurate Benghazi report and the puff piece interview of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Politico's Dylan Byers recognizes "CBS '60 Minutes' has had a terrible year." In another piece, he reports

Lara Logan and Max McClellan, the '60 Minutes' journalists who were put on a leave of absence following their now-retracted report on Benghazi, are set to return to the program early next year, POLITICO has learned.

Logan and her producer, who had unfinished projects in the works when they left in November, have started booking camera crews for news packages, network sources said. Their return could come as early as next month.

Digby comments

In case you are wondering what Dan Rather is up to these days, you can find him doing interesting long form reporting at AXSTV. He is persona non grata at the Tiffany network. After all, he relied on a bad source about an inconsequential story from 40 years ago, which is unforgivable. Logan will still have the most vaunted news program in history pushing her shallow jigoistic drivel --- whether it's true or not. 

"60 Minutes," as Heather Digby Parton and probably Byers realize, is a shell of its former self.  The latter notes the interview (transcript, here) the program ran Sunday night of NSA Director Keith Alexander by John Miller "has been roundly criticized for a litany of issues, from Miller's conflicts of interest to his softball questions to the absence of any input from NSA critics."

One of General Alexander's major objectives was to damp down the criticism of the agency's collection of metadata, defined by Miller as "the digital information on the number dialed, the time and date, and the frequency of the calls."  So Alexander claimed

 "We need to help the American people understand what we're doing and why we're doing it." And to put it simply, we're doing two things: We're defending this country from future terrorist attacks and we're defending our civil liberties and privacy. There's no reason that we would listen to the phone calls of Americans. There’s no intelligence value in that. There's no reason that we'd want to read their email. There is no intelligence value in that.

That is one of the arguments eviscerated in the takedown of the interview by Spencer Ackerman, who explains

When Miller said the bulk metadata collection “sounds like spying on Americans”, Alexander replied: “Right, and that’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong.”

Notice the tension here. It’s the metadata – who you called, who called you, for how long, how frequently you communicate – that has intelligence value, not, in Alexander’s telling, what you actually say on the phone. The NSA is relying for its defense on a public conception of surveillance as the interception of the content of your communications, even while it’s saying that what’s actually important is your network of connections – which the agency is very, very interested in collecting.

Senator Ron Wyden, an intelligence committee member who has emerged as a leading opponent of bulk collection, says the metadata provides NSA with a “human relations database”. For many, surveillance occurs when someone else collects anything on their interactions, movements, or communications, rather than when that other party collects certain kinds of information. And it hardly makes sense to say, as Alexander did, that surveillance on Americans doesn’t occur when NSA collects the sort of information that it believes actually has intelligence value.

Six months ago, Jane Mayer wrote of her conversation about metadata with Sun Microsystems engineer Susan Landau, who stated

“The public doesn’t understand.  It’s much more intrusive than content.” She explained that the government can learn immense amounts of proprietary information by studying “who you call, and who they call. If you can track that, you know exactly what is happening—you don’t need the content.”

For example, she said, in the world of business, a pattern of phone calls from key executives can reveal impending corporate takeovers. Personal phone calls can also reveal sensitive medical information: “You can see a call to a gynecologist, and then a call to an oncologist, and then a call to close family members.” And information from cell-phone towers can reveal the caller’s location. Metadata, she pointed out, can be so revelatory about whom reporters talk to in order to get sensitive stories that it can make more traditional tools in leak investigations, like search warrants and subpoenas, look quaint. “You can see the sources,” she said. When the F.B.I. obtains such records from news agencies, the Attorney General is required to sign off on each invasion of privacy. When the N.S.A. sweeps up millions of records a minute, it’s unclear if any such brakes are applied.

Another claim examined by Alexander pertained to a "BIOS plot," which he describes as "an attempt by China to launch malicious code in the guise of a firmware update that would have targeted computers apparently linked to the US financial system, rendering them pieces of junk."  Alexander maintains

The lack of specificity made cybersecurity expert Robert David Graham dubious that the plot NSA claimed to discover matched the one it described on TV. “All they are doing is repeating what Wikipedia says about BIOS,” Graham blogged, “acting as techie talk layered onto the discussion to make it believable, much like how Star Trek episodes talk about warp cores and Jeffries Tubes.”

Did someone mention Star Trek? It is unclear whether Graham was aware (photo below via Glenn Greenwald, text from Foreign Policy's "The Cowboy of the NSA")

When he was running the Army's Intelligence and Security Command, Alexander brought many of his future allies down to Fort Belvoir for a tour of his base of operations, a facility known as the Information Dominance Center. It had been designed by a Hollywood set designer to mimic the bridge of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek, complete with chrome panels, computer stations, a huge TV monitor on the forward wall, and doors that made a "whoosh" sound when they slid open and closed. Lawmakers and other important officials took turns sitting in a leather "captain's chair" in the center of the room and watched as Alexander, a lover of science-fiction movies, showed off his data tools on the big screen.

"Everybody wanted to sit in the chair at least once to pretend he was Jean-Luc Picard," says a retired officer in charge of VIP visits.

This is the guy now in charge of an agency which is collecting information on phone calls of every American. And 60 Minutes, once the gold standard of TV news, continues its descent.









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Monday, December 16, 2013







He Gets By With A Little Help From His Friend

It's called self-righteousness, Jed.

In an interview with ABC, House Budget Committee chairperson Paul Ryan states "My job is not to cloud my judgment with personal ambition. My job is to do my job and that is things like this.  If I have to stop myself from doing what I think is right to become president, then I don’t want to be president.”

Overcome by Ryan's pomposity, Daily Kos' Jed Lewison sneers at the congressman's "selfless act of heroism" and remarks "I'm sure the the 1.3 million Americans who will find out that Congress has cut their unemployment benefits by failing to include an extension in the budget agreement won't agree with Ryan's perspective, but let's get back to St. Paul for a moment..."

Ryan is, as Dan Rather might have put it, slicker than the Alaska prairie on New Year's Day.  Fresh off House approval of the budget agreement (graphic representation in context, below) he reached with Senate Budget Committee chairperson Patty Murray, Ryan appeared on Meet the Press (transcript, here) and commented

You gotta, you know, crawl before you can walk before you can run.  I'm hopeful, as a Ways and Means member as well, that we can start moving tax reform legislation. I think ...

Tax reform?  Watch the Ways and Means Committee in the first quarter of next year.  We're going to be advancing tax reform legislation because we think that's a key ingredient to getting people back to work, to increasing take-home pay, to...

"Two out of three ain't bad," Meat Loaf once sang. The Budget Committee chairman must have been a fan, for he swears his party's "ultimate goals" are to "balance the budget, pay off the debt, don't raise taxes."  But one of those three doesn't belong. Can you guess which one?

After the Wisconsin Repub pledged fealty to "tax reform legislation," Gregory, unwittingly, asks him "And could you actually raise money from tax reform and actually bring down the debt?"

Silly man.  Of course, he won't accept additional revenues, because the professed concern with bringing down the debt is a mere scam, mouthed to keep Beltway journalists stuck to their "he said, she said" narrative.  Ryan's response, predictably, was "We'll have to disagree about that." Balance the budget and pay off the debt without raising taxes. Same old tune, same old dishonesty.

Of the man determined to cut the budget without raising the taxes which are at nearly their lowest level of the past half century, Senator Murray, appearing with Ryan on MTP, stated "I think it's a step forward that shows that there can be other breakthroughs and compromise if you take the time to know somebody, know what their passions are, and know how you can work together."

When asked about the upcoming debt ceiling, she responded (as the program's transcript has it) "Well, we agreed that the debt ceiling would not be part of this.  I don't think that our country wants to see another crisis and to send our country into a tailspin.  And, so, we'll take that road when we get there.  But, you know, I’ll defer to you (TO RYAN)."

Oh, yes, defer to brother Paul because he has only the best interests of the country at heart. That, however, does not dovetail with his remarks on Fox News Sunday:

We as a caucus — along with our Senate counterparts — are going to meet and discuss what it is we’re going to want out of the debt limit.  We don’t want nothing out of this debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we’re going to accomplish out of this debt limit fight...

We’re going to meet in our retreats after the holidays and discuss exactly what it is we’re going to try to get for this.

On Meet The Press, Murray said of the man who votes for spending, then refuses to agree to pay the bill:

Well, we didn't get everything we wanted.  But I'll tell you what we did get, is certainty for the next two years.  We have a point now where we're not going to tell everybody that we're going to throw the economy in a tailspin because we have to have something.

Not throw the economy in a tailspin because we have to have something?  Dear lady, your counterpart, your negotiating partner, said the very same morning "We're going to decide what it is we're going to accomplish out of this debt limit fight."  Admittedly, that is certainty- certainty that brother Paul's party is going to balk at raising the debt limit and thereby threaten to destroy the economy.

Even David Gregory has a clue. "Republicans," he noted, "have dictated budget negotiations over the last couple of years. We're talking about these across-the-board cuts. There's nothing in here, big spending programs to get the economy going, that Democrats think are really important, and jobless benefits don't get extended."

And neither, in return for cutting spending and cutting the unemployed off at the knees, do Democrats get any assurances from Republicans about the debt limit- other than that they're going to use the issue to extract more concessions from the poor and the middle class.

Jed Lewison is right- Paul Ryan would like to nominate himself for sainthood. But he is at least somewhat forthright, hinting at the GOP's tactics of obstruction and disregard for the country over the next few months. It's not his fault that Patty Murray and other leading Democrats have chosen not to listen.








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Sunday, December 15, 2013




Moving Forward


From Pope Francis (photo below from Reuters) to Barack Obama; and from Elizabeth Warren (photo way below from Progressive Change Campaign Committee) to Pope Francis.  Recently, President Obama stated

And, you know, I -- I think Pope Francis is showing himself to be just an extraordinarily thoughtful and soulful messenger of peace and justice. I haven`t had a chance to meet him yet, but everything that I have read, everything that I have seen from him indicates the degree to which he is trying to remind us of those core obligations.

He should know.  It was release of Pope Francis' stunning Apostolic Exhortation on November 26 which lent cover to the President's stirring statement on the economy on December 4.  Recognizing "the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed," Obama remarked

In fact, this trend towards growing inequality is not unique to America’s market economy.  Across the developed world, inequality has increased.  Some of you may have seen just last week, the Pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length.  “How can it be,” he wrote, “that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Addressing on the Senate floor on November 18 the retirement crisis, Massachusetts' Warren explained

The call to cut Social Security has an uglier side to it, too. The Washington Post framed the choice as more children in poverty versus more seniors in poverty. The suggestion that we have become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong. This is about our values, and our values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve. 

Fresh off his speech in which he recognized "the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by the happy few" and  criticized "the culture of prosperity" and "people (who) continue to defend trickle-down theories," the Pope was at it again.  In a speech entitled Fraternity, the Foundation and Pathway to Peace," the pontiff stated

We need, then, to find ways by which all may benefit from the fruits of the earth, not only to avoid the widening gap between those who have more and those who must be content with the crumbs, but above all because it is a question of justice, equality and respect for every human being. In this regard I would like to remind everyone of that necessary universal destination of all goods which is one of the fundamental principles of the Church’s social teaching. Respect for this principle is the essential condition for facilitating an effective and fair access to those essential and primary goods which every person needs and to which he or she has a right.

Those who must be content with the crumbs. Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes:

The call to cut Social Security has an uglier side to it, too. The Washington Post framed the choice as more children in poverty versus more seniors in poverty. The suggestion that we have become a country where those living in poverty fight each other for a handful of crumbs tossed off the tables of the very wealthy is fundamentally wrong. This is about our values, and our values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve. 

That would be from Senator Warren's November 18 statement.  But Pope Francis, who recommended "sharing the wealth,"  is no mere copycat.  He recommended

not being guided by a “desire for profit” or a “thirst for power.” What is needed is the willingness to “lose ourselves” for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to “serve them” instead of oppressing them for our own advantage. “The ‘other’ – whether a person, people or nation – [is to be seen] not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our ‘neighbour’, a ‘helper’”...

One also sees the need for policies which can lighten an excessive imbalance between incomes. We must not forget the Church’s teaching on the so-called social mortgage, which holds that although it is lawful, as Saint Thomas Aquinas says, and indeed necessary “that people have ownership of goods”, insofar as their use is concerned, “they possess them as not just their own, but common to others as well, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as themselves."

Oh, that excessive imbalance between incomes.  Last year, then-CEO James Skinner pulled in $9,247 per hour for presiding over the gastronomic horror show known as McDonald's.   According to figures compiled by the financial information company NerdWallet, the average salary of a McDonald's hourly worker is $7.73, which means, according to this analysis, "the average McDonald's employee would have to work for 3.86 months straight at an overtime wage or 1.5 times her regular hourly pay- to match what Skinner made in an hour."

While protests of McDonald's policies continue, the company can continue to follow the WalMart model, in which full-time employees in the USA earn $12.67 per hour.  Or it can follow the model of Costco, in which hourly workers average $20.89, and far more employees receive health insurance than at WalMart. Since 2009, Costco's stock price has doubled while its sales have grown 39%. It's not hurting, and its CEO publicly supports an increase in the federal minimum wage.

Raising the minimum wage wouldn't kill McDonald's business.  At a hearing in March, the aforementioned Senator Warren maintained

During my Senate campaign, I ate a number 11 at McDonald's many, many times a week. I know the price on that- $7.19.   According to the data on the analysis of what would happen if we raised the minimum wage to $10.10 over three years, the price increase on that item would be about four cents. So instead of being $7.19 it would be $7.23.

Even before the statements of Warren and the Pope, an Administration spokesman had announced that President Obama supports the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise the federal minimum wage from $ 7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour. It falls short of the dramatic reforms which Senator Warren and Pope Francis would advocate but, with the folks who are in control of the House and the White House, is at least a beginning.















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The President Of The One-Track Mind

You've all seen this tweet, sent by President Trump twelve hours before polls closed in an election I had totally wrong: Donald...