Monday, March 31, 2014

Economic Misunderstanding

Still owned by the the cultic Unification Church, The Washington Times presented a slanted portrayal of a discussion (video at end) on Friday's Real Time with Bill Maher. Nonetheless, it is true that Maher

started off the segment with Mr. Ryan's recent comments about inner city overty and the cultural dynamics that perpetuate such cycles. The HBO host then asked if Mr. Ryan was simply making an honest observation or something motivated by racial ill will.

Comedian W. Kamua Bell intimated that some sort of racial malice was involved.

"You can't blame the people living in the inner cities, blacks and latinos, for not havingjobs where there are no jobs in the inner cities. You can't blame themwhen the schools such, the hosptial sucks, there's no grocery store, all of their fathers are in jai," Mediaite reported. The panel's fellow left-leaning guest agreed.

Then the "Real Time" host tricked his guests, saying: "let me read something else. Here's something else Paul Ryan said. He said: "When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can't be bothered. They're siting on couches for hours playing video games, waching TV instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader they're fantasizing about being a ball or a rapper.' Oh wait, that wasn't him . That was Michelle Obama, Michelle Obama said that."

The camera showed Mr. Bell stunned, at which point Mr. Maher turned to the audience and said" "Hushed silence! (....) Is something less true if a white person says it about black people?"

We talk to each other differently than when we talk to (white people)," Mr. Bell responded

Uh, Mr. Bell: this was not a discussion between two young people in a college dorm, two adults in a bar, or even between Michelle and Barack in the presidential bedroom. It was a commencement speech, at Bowie State University (admittedly, an historic black college) in Maryland, last May.  There is something called the "internet" and it's not likely that anything said in public by the First Lady of the United States is going to remain private for long.

Michelle Obama's statement, however, came in the context of reminding her audience of the great strides made against tremendous odds by black Americans to obtain credible education in primary and secondary education and at the collegiate level over the decades. She stated

In one Eastern Shore town, a teacher reported to work one morning to find that someone had smashed the windows of her schoolhouse.  Other black schools across Maryland were burned to the ground.  Teachers received death threats.  One was even beaten by an angry mob.  But despite the risks, understand, students flocked to these schools in droves, often walking as many as eight to ten miles a day to get their education.  In fact, the educational association that founded Bowie State wrote in their 1864 report that -- and this is a quote -- “These people are coming in beyond our ability to receive them.”  Desperately poor communities held fundraisers for these schools, schools which they often built with their own hands.  And folks who were barely scraping by dug deep into their own pockets to donate money. 

You see, for these folks, education was about more than just learning to read or write.  As the abolitionist Fredrick Douglas put it, “Education means emancipation,” he said.  He said, “It means light and liberty.  It means the uplifting of the soul of man into the glorious light of truth, the only light by which men can be free.”  You hear that?  The only light by which men can be free.  (Applause.) 

So to the folks who showed up to your school on that January day back in 1865, education meant nothing less than freedom.  It meant economic independence, a chance to provide for their families.  It meant political empowerment, the chance to read the newspaper and articulate an informed opinion, and take their rightful place as full citizens of this nation.

"So back then," she said,  "people were hungry to learn," and she eloquently recounted great victories over seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Nonetheless, she maintained

But today, more than 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, more than 50 years after the end of “separate but equal,” when it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered.  Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV.  Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.  (Applause.)  Right now, one in three African American students are dropping out of high school.  Only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree -- one in five. 

Michelle Obama was, obviously, speaking in a far different context.  But.... each was pandering to his/her immediate audience.  Ryan was being interviewed on Bill Bennett's radio program to listeners who are overwhelmingly conservative.  Obama was talking to an audience overwhelmingly black- but of students (and their parents) who had successfully run the educational gamut, bright individuals (and their dedicated parents) who had perservered and succeeded.   The young people had never been the ones "fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper"- or if they had at one time, had resisted those limitations and become something better.

Think of it a little as an individual delivering an anti-smoking message to people who always have rejected smoking- or to ex-smokers, who usually are even a little more rabidly anti-smoking.  Obama wasn't addressing a group of "ballers" or "rappers" or parents who would be likely to have much sympathy for those wasting their youth while they sacrificed a lot (not only financially) so their offspring could overcome.

Michelle Obama, like Paul Ryan was pandering, though Ryan is lucky enough to be a First Lady and thus immune from criticism.  (Occasionally, the loudmouth right has criticized Michelle Obama, but far less than they have her measured, accommodating husband, and obviously wouldn't criticize her for slamming black youth.) But she, unlike Ryan, focused her remarks on education, commenting

So when it came time for my brother and I to go to college, most of our tuition came from student loans and grants.  But my dad still had to pay a small portion of that tuition each semester, and he was always determined to pay his share right on time -- even taking out loans when he fell short, because he couldn’t bear the thought of us missing a registration deadline because his check was late...

And today, I am thinking about all the mothers and fathers just like my parents, all the folks who dug into their pockets for that last dime, the folks who built those schools brick by brick, who faced down angry mobs just to reach those schoolhouse doors.  I am thinking about all the folks who worked that extra shift and took that extra job, and toiled and bled and prayed so that we could have something better.  (Applause.)

Following the outcry over his remarks, Ryan disingenuously denied race had even crossed his mind when confronted with the charge that "urban" was a euphemism for "black."  Obama, however, faced no such dilemma, given the venue and topic of her speech.

Still, there is a disturbing and inaccurate assumption undergirding the remarks of both. Paul Ryan got cause and effect wrong, stating "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and culture of work. There is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with."  It's a "tailspin of culture" which "has to be dealt with," saith Ryan, who fails to take into account the leaching of private sector jobs by corporations and the elimination of public sector jobs by deficit-phobia politicians like himself.

Michelle Obama also appears to believe that the jobs are there, if only blacks would pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. She argued

But let’s be very clear.  Today, getting an education is as important if not more important than it was back when this university was founded.  Just look at the statistics.  (Applause.)  People who earn a bachelor’s degree or higher make nearly three times more money than high school dropouts, and they’re far less likely to be unemployed.  A recent study even found that African American women with a college degree live an average of six and a half years longer than those without.  And for men, it’s nearly 10 years longer.  So yes, people who are more educated actually live longer.

So I think we can agree, and we need to start feeling that hunger again, you know what I mean?  (Applause.)  We need to once again fight to educate ourselves and our children like our lives depend on it, because they do.

Stirring words. And higher education is necessary. But, as they once said in high school algebra, it's necessary but not sufficient.  While teaching jobs have been cut, young men and women with a bachelor's degree in the social sciences compete with a voluminous number of graduates for a limited number of jobs   And the once-highly paid graduates in the STEM field find that annually there are more than twice of them than there openings in the field.  Salaries have stagnated for more than a decade, as displayed by the graph below from the Economic Policy Institute.

Michelle Obama dramatically emphasized the importance of education to a people oppressed by discrimination in education. Paul Ryan focused on a degenerate subculture, allowing him to excuse inaction on the employment front by the right-wing ideology he so ably espouses.  As Bill Maher implies, something is not less true if a white person says it than if a black person says it.  But it's also not less false if a black person- a First Lady- says it. A fundamental misunderstanding of the economy does not become valid simply because it comes from the First Lady of the United States.

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

Little Noticed

The other day Barbara Morrill at Daily Kos gloated (justifiably) at the headlines following release of an "investigation" led by a lawyer closely connected with Chris Christie.  They included

Chris Christie Cleared of Bridge Traffic Role by Attorney He Hired; Official said he told Christie of Lane Closure in Bridge Scandal Review... Governor Doesn't Remember Conversation: Report: Christie Informed of Lane Closures in Septmeber: Chris Christie's Lawyer Says Chris Christie Did Nothing Wrong; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's Lawyer Says Governor not Involved in Traffic Jam Plot; Christie's Lawyer: Governor Not Involved in Bridgegate Plot; Christie's Lawyers Clear Governor, Expand Bridge Scandal Blame; Christie 'played no role whatsoever' in Bridge Lane Closures, Says Christie's Investigator.

But the report may have been more revealing than generally suspected.  As part of her commentary (video below) Thursday evening, Rachel Maddow explained

First, during the cover-up, while the legislature was being told the cover story that was designed to cover up what really happened when they closed the lanes on that bridge, literally during that testimony, an e-mail was sent to the governor`s office, to the governor`s spokesman exclaiming how great and important it was that the governor`s office had not been blamed. That had not come up in the testimony. An e-mail during that testimony from David Wildstein to Governor Christie`s spokesman, quote, "Most importantly, Governor Christie was not brought into this."

They were already worried about governor Christie potentially being implicated in this in late November while they were trying to sell the cover story.

Also, new information, we also know whose handwriting this is. This is a draft of that cover-up testimony that was delivered to the legislature back in November. We had previously seen this draft and could tell it was all marked up by someone, but we didn`t know whose handwritten notations these were, editing that testimony, obviously trying to shine it up a little bit. We now know whose handwriting it is. We know it`s the handwriting of the governor`s current chief of staff, Regina Egea, and a staffer named Nicole Crifo, she`s another senior staffer in the governor`s office at the time.

In today`s report from the governor`s lawyers, footnote 549 helpfully notes that those two staffers are the two senior Chris Christie staffers who admit that those are their handwritten comments on the testimony about the cover story. So they helped edit it. We now know that.

We also learned that the governor`s chief counsel, Charlie McKenna, also advised Bill Baroni on that cover-up testimony and also learned it was Governor Christie`s personal direction that Bill Baroni should give that testimony, that he should appear before the legislature and give that testimony which, again, was a fake cover story.

We also learned from this report today that Governor Christie was told at least three times including by his political adviser Mike DuHaime, that people involved with the lane closures had claimed that the governor senior staff was in on it, and that there was e-mails reflecting the fact that someone on the governor`s senior staff was in on what happened on that bridge. He was notified of that three times before he ever admitted to that publicly.

We also know that even though the governor said publicly on December 19th that he wasn`t asking any questions about the bridge issue, he wasn`t looking it, he said if you`re asking me if I`ve done independent investigation, the answer is no. When he said that on December 19th, the governor was not telling the truth. A week earlier he had, in fact, started investigating. Independently. What his staff knew and when they knew it.

Whoa! Let's go back to the beginning of the excerpt (in video below, beginning at approximately 11:40):

an e-mail was sent to the governor`s office, to the governor`s spokesman exclaiming how great and important it was that the governor`s office had not been blamed. That had not come up in the testimony. An e-mail during that testimony from David Wildstein to Governor Christie`s spokesman, quote, "Most importantly, Governor Christie was not brought into this."

Bill Baroni, an appointee of to the Port Authority who resigned effective January 1 over the bridge scandal, was scrupulously loyal to the Governor, even fashioning false (unsworn) testimony before the NJ state legislature, and taking part in a scheme to bilk Port Authority commuters to enhance the popular image of Governor Christie (and of New York Governor Cuomo).   So he would not lightly have "brought into this" Governor Christie and would have avoided it unless the latter at least had known about the lane closure.

Most importantly, Governor Christie was not brought into this. Why would he- why could he possibly have been- were he not actually involved somehow?   David Wildstein might have been making it up, simply throwing in the line for posterity, anticipating that one day the scheme would be uncovered and turned into a scandal, and the e-mail would be one piece of the bargaining chip his lawyer could use to get him immunity. But he gave a Christie loyalist, the governor's spokesman, a line she could have repudiated, had there been any reason to.

Apparently, though, she didn't, or Randy Mastro certainly would have noted, even highlighted, it.  That he did not suggests that Wildstein's e-mail, if not a smoking gun, is at least incriminating.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Missing The Mark- By A Lot

Staffers for the San Jose Mercury News have written that State Senator Leland Yee is in trouble with federal law enforcement authorities:

In a stunning development that almost certainly torpedoes Yee's quest for statewide office, the San Francisco Democrat wound up glum and disoriented in a federal courtroom Wednesday. The politician who introduced anti-gun-violence legislation is now charged with trafficking in firearms and public corruption in an FBI undercover operation that could land him in prison for years.

...Yee is depicted in a startling, 137-page FBI affidavit of repeatedly offering to broker illegal firearms sales in exchange for campaign contributions. He allegedly took part in dealmaking meetings with undercover agents....

Yee is linked to a host of wrongdoing to pad his political warchest, charged with seven felonies in a case with two dozen defendants accused of everything from money laundering to murder-for-hire. The defendants include Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, a reputed ringleader of a Chinese syndicate federal investigators have been trying to crack since the late 1980s.

A federal magistrate judge released Yee on $500,000 bond, and he brushed past a swarm of reporters and left the courthouse in a dark blue BMW. Paul DeMeester, Yee's lawyer, said he was encouraged the senator was released and added: "The future will hold a lot of work."

The government's case will no doubt be challenged as the case unfolds. It rests largely on the FBI's accounts of Yee's meetings with undercover agents, which include alleged attempts to improperly land cash for his current secretary of state campaign.

But as recently as last month, Yee was engaged in the secretive meetings, at one point telling an undercover operative with whom he was trying to cut an arms deal that he was ready to cash in on his connections in Asia if he lost his current bid to become secretary of state, according to court papers.

The feds are busy in the south, also as The Charlotte Observer on Thursday reported

Patrick Cannon, who rose from public housing to become mayor of North Carolina's largest city, was arrested Wednesday by the FBI and accused of accepting tens of thousands of dollars in bribes – including $20,000 in cash delivered in a briefcase last month to the mayor's office.

Cannon, a 49-year-old Democrat who took office only four months ago, was scheduled to show up at a luxury apartment in SouthPark for yet another payoff from what he thought were businessmen needing his influence in city matters, the affidavit says.

But after arriving, Cannon learned who they really were, a source confirmed: undercover FBI agents who'd been recording their meetings over the past three years....

Steve M., who follows right-wing Repub pundits so you (and I) don't have to, found that in the space of fifteen minutes on Thursday afternoon, Michelle Malkin issued four tweets:

Why is Obama's FBI publicizing all of its raids/probes on Democrat politicians now? Answer: Clearing the decks before midterms.

Prediction: Obama/Holder's DOJ is saving up FBI goods on GOP corruptocrats for release right before election for maximum distraction/damage.

There's always an ulterior motive w/Obama/Holder DOJ. I see right thru this latest round of Corruption Crackdown Kabuki Theater. Don't you?

It's Chicago on the Potomac, people.

Four, really? In rapid succession?  She has to get a life.  One of Malkin's followers, M. found, promptly tweeted "You gotta hand it to them.  Cleans house prior to '14 and distracts from 31 March 'deadline.'"  S.M. comments

That's right: arresting fellow pols on corruption charges is proof of corruption. The fact that the arrestees are fellow Democrats is proof of naked partisanship. Ruining these people's political careers and probably sending them to prison for many years is "Kabuki theater."...

That's right -- the whole point of these multi-year investigations and arrests was to distract us from Obamacare this week! It all makes sense now!

There are reasons aside from merit for investigations by law enforcement. But a Democratic administration pursuing Democratic officeholders for alleged corruption is anything but partisan.  It's analogous to the situation in New Jersey, where then-U.S. attorney Christopher J. Christie went after a few Republicans, including Jim Trefffinger and Robert Stears- who were of no use to him- with highly publicized charges and indictments geared for maximum political effect.  He strategically targeted some politicians and protected others, the latter ones individuals who could assist his rise to political power.  As one Republican State Senator put it, "He knows where the power is and goes to the power, whether that power is a Republican or Democrat."  Only now are people connecting the dots and realizing Christie is a thug, and even now few people accused Christie of being particularly partisan.

Prosecutorial discretion is a wonderful thing, if you're a prosecutor (cartoon below from The Economist).  An insightful blogger, noting that if convicted, Patrick Cannon is likely to do serious time and be fined many years' worth of income, remarked

Meanwhile, retired Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis and the bank itself settled a civil lawsuit today with the New York attorney general’s office that had alleged securities fraud. Specifically, Lewis and the bank were accused of deceiving BoA stockholders about what crappy shape Merrill Lynch was in when the bank asked stockholders to approve a takeover of Merrill in December 2008. This transaction played a nontrivial role in blowing up the economy, although that demolition was well under way when the sale closed on Jan. 1, 2009.

Neither Lewis nor the bank is required by the settlement to admit any wrongdoing. The bank will have to pay $15 million. Lewis himself will have to pay $10 million, although that’s the equivalent of zero days’ worth of income for him because the bank will pay it for him. Given the bank’s net earnings of $4.2 billion in 2012 (the 2013 annual report is due out any day), those fines amount to about two days’ profits, give or take. That’ll certainly warn all the other banks not to screw their shareholders, I think.

Oh, and Lewis is personally barred for three years from serving as an officer or director for any publicly traded company. Which is really going to cramp his style because he’s, you know, retired.

Criminal charges vs. civil.
Prison and a significant fine vs. no prison and a trivial fine.
A guilty verdict or guilty plea vs. no admission of guilt.
Prison (again) vs. an order not to do something he probably wasn’t going to do anyway.

What have we learned from this experience?
We’ve got one set of rules for banksters, and another set for everybody else, including mayors of major cities, you, and me.
There is a club. You and I are not in it.

Unfortunately, Michelle Malkin and other conservative talking and writing heads, if not in the club, support the club.  And if they can keep attention focused on the evil Democrats in Washington, their followers won't understand how the playing field is tilted. And it's not tilted toward the likes of Cannon, Yee, or Holder.  Michelle Malkin et al. could do their followers a favor by pointing out the overzealousness of the FBI or federal prosecutors. Or if their only motive is to criticize President Obama, they might note that the absence of prosecution of bank executives for bringing the economy and the nation to their knees. Or they might recognize that the raids on marijuana dispensaries in states which have legalized medical marijuana run contrary to the GOP's old-fashioned belief in states' rights. Alas, they seemed to have rediscovered federal sovereignty when it comes to personal use of marijuana, an indication that corporate America fears legalization of the substance.

But, no. Because if criticism of an action is called for, you can bet conservatives will criticize it for the wrong reason.  It's nearly  as safe a bet as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

And Abortion 6,921 Miles Away Is Just Dandy

It is said "even a stopped clock is right twice a day."  Justice Scalia is right at least once in a quarter of a century.  Unfortunately that was in 1990.

Argued on November 6, 1989, Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith (No. 88-1213) was decided in April, 1990 by a 6-3 vote, with the dissenting votes coming only from the Court's three liberal members.  Mr. Smith and Mr. Black had been denied unemployment compensation from the State of Oregon after they were fired from a private drug rehabilitation program because they ingested peyote as a sacramental ritual at their Native American Church.  Delivering the majority opinion, which overturned the ruling of the Oregon Supreme Court, Justice Scalia wrote

Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs...

To make an individual's obligation to obey such a law contingent upon the law's coincidence with his religious beliefs, except where the State's interest is "compelling" -- permitting him, by virtue of his beliefs, "to become a law unto himself," Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. at 167 -- contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense. 

If this blog had existed then, I would, save for a loss of common sense, have reluctantly concluded that Antonin Scalia reasoned correctly, as when he added "Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself."

But when Congress has an opportunity to pander, it will, so we ended up with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, decreeing "Government may burden a person's exercise of religion only if it demonstrates that application of the burden to the person furthers a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."  That, as then-Justice Stevens understood, probably violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. And now, craft store chain Hobby Lobby (photo below from Think Progress) and cabinet manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties claim that the mandate violates their religious freedom under the RFRA. But as Chris Hayes put it Monday evening

Have you ever seen a corporation kneeling in the pew next to you during mass? Have you ever seen a corporation getting bar mitzvahed,  celebrating a bris, taking off its shoes at Friday prayers? The answer, of course, is no.

Because corporations are not religious observants. People are.

But Scalia, assumed to believe that consistency is the hobglobin of small minds, will subordinate the law to right-wing ideology and find that Hobby Lobby, as Hayes put it, has a right to "assert a kind of right to conscience over the total domain of all its employees."

Most significantly, the questions posed by Justice Kennedy- who appears to be the swing vote on this case, as on many others- suggest that he will land on the plaintiffs' side.  Still, Justice Roberts' perspective is the most curious.  Jeffrey Toobin notes

Chief Justice John Roberts, never one to miss an advantage, pressed Verrilli on this point. “Isn’t that what we are talking about in terms of their religious beliefs? One of the religious beliefs is that they have to pay for these four methods of contraception that they believe provide abortions. I thought that’s what we had before us.” Verrilli was forced to concede that this was “a difficult case.”

Scientific fact be damned, if they believe it's abortion, it's abortion, a curious view coming from jpillars of a profession which prides itself on careful and reasoned deliberation.

Salon's Katie McDonough picks up where Toobin leaves off, explaining

Verrilli responded that federal and state law support the medical consensus on the issue and “don’t consider these particular forms of contraception to be abortion,” but that was the only clarification on the matter in 90 minutes of oral arguments.

“It was very clear from the oral arguments that the justices aren’t going to look behind the religious belief,” Gretchen Borchelt, the director of state reproductive health policy for the National Women’s Law Center, told Salon during a phone interview about the case. “The courts generally treat someone’s religious beliefs as sincere, kind of no matter what they are. In other words, they are going to accept that it is their religious belief that [emergency contraception] is abortion — even though it is not based in science.”

The right, it seems, has a real love affair with bogus science. And all too often, they appear to be setting the terms of the debate. Just as medically refuted arguments about fetal pain at 20 weeks have been used to pass sweeping restrictions on abortion care, phony claims about emergency contraception have been embraced by the mainstream as acceptable science.

But we ought to be used to bogus arguments by the anti-reproductive special interests. Justice Roberts fails to recognize that it is truly a faith-based movement, at times relying on faith for its political positions, and at other times relying on others to assume their religious beliefs are sincere. That's quite a privilege extended to Hobby Lobby, which sells an enormous number of items made in mainland China, whose restriction on religious freedom does not haunt the conscience of the company, and which is the world champion of abortion (video way below from Daily Kos).

Nonetheless, Hobby Lobby has itself  become a champion and leader of the religious right, energized by the core idea that life begins at conception and that God therefore intended all pregnancies to be taken to term. God, however, seems to have something else in mind, for Gina Kolata (which perhaps rhymes with pina colada) reported in The New York Times in 1988

Thirty-one percent of all conceptions end in miscarriage, usually in the early months of pregnancy and often before women even know they are pregnant, according to a new study. But most of the women who have miscarriages are normally fertile and subsequently become pregnant again and have babies, the study reported.

The notion that abortion is an evil which is contrary to God's law and must be stamped out is a fundamental tenet of the worldview of many cultural conservative. They maintain birth control is indistinguishable from abortion and from there, that their employees' behavior must conform to the employers' political and religious outlook, derived from the Almighty himself.  My way, or the highway. Sincere or not, it hardly comports with Peter's admonition in his first letter to Christians in the diaspora when he was moved to write 'Likewise, you who are young, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives give grace to the humble.'"

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stop The World. It's Opening Day.

Over 100,000 people believe he was.  Actually, more than 101,000, including Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, say he was.  Sadly, the former St. Louis Cardinal joined Anhueser-Busch, most famous for brewing the pedestrian Budweiser beer, in promoting the first day of the baseball season as a national holiday.  (What can happen when a town goes all-in for high school football, below).

If a petition on the White House website gains 100,000 signatures within 30 days it is guaranteed a response from the White House, and this one went over 101,000 as of 7:00 a.m. on Monday, a few days before the deadline.  The Administration, which has not gone foolish, suicidal, or insane, eventually will turn down the request.

Phillip McClary (assuming he's still living and in the U.S.A.) would agree, given that on a summer's evening in 2008 he

heard hometown brewer Anheuser-Busch would be bought by the Belgian company InBev.
"I was actually drinking a Bud Light when I heard, and I couldn't even finish it. That's the honest-to-God truth," he said Monday.

"I was proud to drink Budweiser, not any more," said P.J. Champion, a student at the University of Mississippi who said the brew is "a great piece of American history."

McClary put Champion's thoughts to music, posting his song "Kiss Our Glass" on YouTube and on a Web site that tried to stop the sale,  

"America is not for sale, and neither is her beer," McClary sings, the song continues, "Have a drink with Mother Freedom, and tell InBev to kiss your glass."

McClary could predict as well as he could rhyme.He never was sanguine about his chances, and his website no longer exists, at least in its original incarnation.   But his impulse for love of country, support of workers, or even for publicity, certainly trumps whatever motive Ozzie Smith might have.  Evidently, the 100,000 marionettes of a huge Belgium company believe "Baseball Day" or "Opening Day" or "Baseball Pastime Day" should be honored with the likes of Veterans Day, Labor Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Martin Luther King Day.   There are a lot of words for that, and one would be "obscene."

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Not A Cult. Not A Religion. Not Science.

It's way past time someone did it.  And in this excerpt from "The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry,"  Zachary Dodes and Lance Dodes,M.D. debunk,well, 12-step programs and the rehab industry (which as the "rehabilitation" industry would be far less fashionable).  Studies, Dodes & Dodes maintain, have shown Alcoholics Anonymous successful in effecting sobriety and preventing relapse in only 5-10% of cases. Nevertheless,

AA has managed to survive, in part, because members who become and remain sober speak and write about it regularly. This is no accident: AA’s twelfth step expressly tells members to proselytize for the organization: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.” Adherence to this step has created a classic sampling error: because most of us hear only from the people who succeeded in the program, it is natural to conclude that they represent the whole. In reality, these members speak for an exceptionally small percentage of addicts, as we will see.

The Dodes Boys note the religious antecedents of the organization, whose 12 Steps include references to alcoholics as "powerless," to "a Power greater than ourselves," to a "spiritual awakening," and in five instances, to "God."  The authors criticize an "emphasis on proselytizing, a basic tool through which recognized religions and certain fringe religious groups spread their message."

But it is not clear to what "God" AA is referring, or even if they're referring to a God recognizable to adherents of any of the three great monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam), one of which accepts the Old and New Testaments, one the Old Testament, and the other portions of the Old Testament. Alcoholics Anonymous, by contrast, asks its disciples to submit to "God as we understood God."

That is what in law, economics, and common English is known as a giant loophole. "God" is neither defined nor described, a convenient concession to the Great American Religion in which we all believe in a god, whatever he, she, or it might be, lest there be no way we get into heaven and no supreme being approving our every move.

AA does proselytize, but it has nothing to do with religion, aside from a generalized, undefined, ephemeral spirituality.  Dodes & Dodes explain

Beyond these individual proselytizing efforts, AA makes inflated claims about itself.  Its foundational document, Alcoholics Anonymous (commonly referred to as the “Big Book” and a perennial best seller), spells out a confident ethos regularly endorsed by AA members:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those, too, who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest.  

Evidently, AA doesn't require of itself the humility it appears to encourage in its clients.  "The program," the authors summarize (emphasis theirs) "doesn’t fail; you fail."  AA escapes characterization as a cult because it lacks deviant views. Its approach not only has become widely accepted, it has crowded out other, more verifiable and scientifically sound approaches. Unsurprisingly, then, Dr. Dodes writes

I have been treating people suffering with addictions in public and private hospitals, in clinics, and in my private practice for more than thirty years. In that time, I have met and listened to a very large number of people who have “failed” at AA and some who continue to swear by it, despite repeated recidivism.

As men of science, Dodes and Dodes cite AA as reflective of a rehabilitative industry that promises, and claims, far more than it delivers.  The twelve-step concept, however, does successfully deliver a warm, fuzzy feeling which many people, whether or not addicts, find alluring.  The industry, as the Dodes outline, resembles a pseudo-science.  Paradoxically, however, it simultaneously (at least in its twelve-step focus) resembles pseudo-religion. Neither Jewish nor Muslim (nor polytheistic), it also is unfaithful to the monotheistic religion, which in its jarring testimony, is far better exemplified here by the late Odetta:

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

MIght As Well Hang On

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, Law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky argues that 81-year-old Associate Justice Ruth  Bader Ginsburg should step down from the Supreme Court to permit President Barack Obama to nominate her successor and preserve the five-member working majority on several issues. He writes

...there is a distinct possibility that Democrats will not keep the Senate in the November 2014 elections. The current Senate has 53 Democrats, two independents who vote with the Democrats and 45 Republicans. But in the November 2014 elections, Republicans have a far greater likelihood of gaining seats in the Senate than the Democrats. One recent study identified nine seats held by Democrats that could be won by Republicans, but only two seats occupied by Republicans that might be taken by Democrats.

So long as the Democrats control the Senate, President Obama can have virtually anyone he wants confirmed for the Supreme Court. There has been only one filibuster against a Supreme Court nominee, and that was to block Justice Abe Fortas' elevation to chief justice, not to block his initial appointment. There were 48 votes against Thomas and 42 against Alito, but Democrats filibustered neither. Besides, if Democrats have control of the Senate, they could change the rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees, just as they did for lower federal court judges and presidential appointments to executive position.

Among the reasons Democrats didn't filibuster the nominations of Thomas and Alito is that Democrats rarely do such things- it would be oh, so rude, and they'd fear Republicans would do the same against a Democratic nominee.

But of course, the GOP would filibuster a Supreme Court nomination by a Democratic president, whatever the Democratic approach to Repub nominees, and they'd be unlikely to accept any replacement for Ginsburg. Steve M. explains

But what will they be objecting to? Oh, they'll find something. In Obama's first term, a somewhat less rabid GOP chose not to filibuster his previous picks, but the current, more radicalized GOP could easily have declared either of them beyond the pale, with Fox and talk radio as an amen chorus. Elena Kagan was denounced as "anti-Second Amendment" by the likes of RedState and (writing for Fox News) John Lott ("A Vote for Kagan Is a Vote to Take Away Your Guns"). Sonia Sotomayor was criticized for not accepting white firefighters' claims of reverse discrimination in Ricci v. DeStefano, as well as for saying in a speech, "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Kagan and Sotomayor had spent their careers largely avoiding the sorts of controversies that could block their ascent, yet even they had one or two questionable items in their histories. What future appointee wouldn't? The difference is that now the GOP is out for blood.

Out for blood, indeed.  Among the items the extreme conservatives and the more-extreme conservatives agree upon is that, having picked up the House by reflexively opposing Barack Obama and his initiatives, their path to control of the Senate and possibly the presidency is by making sure nothing positive comes about in this administration. (The path to a majority certainly doesn't lie with demographics.)  

Evidence abounds. A few years ago the conviction of Mumia Abu-Jamal for killing a Philadelphia police officer was set aside in favor of life imprisonment.  Recently, the President nominated to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department Debo Adegbile, who "did contribute to the filing of a 2009 court brief that argued that Abu-Jamal faced a discriminatory jury- an appeal later to have found merit by a judge. Repub senators who a month earlier couldn't spell J-a-m-a-l suddenly were incensed about Adegbile's limited work on behalf of the defendant and voted unanimously to kill the nomination.  Performing effectively their role as stenographers for the GOP, media outlets typically labeled Democratic senators as largely responsible for the defeat, which they misinterpreted as righteous indignation over the Abu-Jamal case.

And now the President's nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy to be Surgeon General is endangered because he once tweeted "tired of politicians playing politics w/guns, putting lives at risk b/c they're scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue." Appalled that Murthy has recommended doctors discuss gun safety with their patients, the NRA last month wrote Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell

Dr. Murthy’s record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about his ability to objectively examine issues pertinent to America’s 100 million firearm owners and the likelihood that he would use the office of the Surgeon General to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership.

In the first year (ending in 12/13)  following the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, approximately 194 children were killed by a spontaneous eruption (obviously not a public health problem) and roughly 127 of them in their own home, according to these graphs from Mother Jones (via Addicting Info):

Murthy's advocacy is among what Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee refers to as "political credential."  And remember:  Lamar Alexander is one of those Republicans the media likes to call moderate- no fire-breathing radical like Ted Cruz or Mike Lee, and not like the Idaho senators Risch and Crapo, or Oklahomans Inhofe and Coburn, Mike Johanns of Nebraska, Tea Party Johnson of Wisconsin, or any one of the other far, far right GOP senators.  But he is an extremist, or at least one willing to talk and vote like one when it really matters, and on board with the GOP no good can come from Obama approach.  (If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck...) And if Ruth Bader Ginsburg chooses to retire (which she's reportedly resisting), there is little likelihood this President could get anyone approved in her place who is to the left of Mitt Romney.

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Different Rules For Chris Christie

Linking to an article from Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer about a growing scandal involving (Democratic) Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Will Bunch explains the Attorney General's office

began an undercover sting operation against certain politicians in 2010, when the attorney general was a chap named Tom Corbett (perhaps you've heard of him?). An obscure lobbyist caught up on unrelated charges agreed to wear a wire and offer mid-sized bribes to state legislators and others; ultimately, according to the article, four lawmakers from Philadelphia and a judge were captured on tape accepting either cash or, in the case of the judge, a Tiffany bracelet. And yet Kane ultimately decided that lawmakers taking other people's money on tape somehow wasn't enough evidence to bring criminal charges. Kane told the newspaper in a statement that the sting operation -- which targeted black elected officials -- was racially biased and she added, somewhat incongruously. this is "nothing more than the Good Ol' Boys club playing political games."

Bunch notes that many elected officials commit indictable acts of official misconduct, that there is in fact serious,widespread racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and that poor communities in Philadelphia are being victimized by representatives more focused on their personal enrichment than in rampant crime, exploitation by payday lenders, lack of jobs, and schools neglected by political elites.

The prosecutorial discretion to which Bunch alludes (and which is perceived to have been abused in this case) extends, as he knows, beyond Pennsylvania's borders.  By golly, it even appears in New Jersey! In his wide-ranging story in The New Republic last month, Alec MacGillis told of how U.S. attorney Christie cleared his path to the governorship by protecting three powerful New Jersey Democrats, including George Norcross, then the most powerful Democrat (aside from possibly the then-Democratic governor) in the state, and now the most powerful. MacGillis writes

On numerous occasions, Norcross’s operation has come under legal scrutiny—from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), state investigators, and the FBI. The cases are labyrinthine, but they all involve some dubious overlap of his many public and private interests. One case in particular threatened to get real traction. In the early 2000s, several New Jersey attorneys general investigated whether he had pressured a Palmyra councilman to fire a city solicitor, Ted Rosenberg, who wasn’t cooperating with the machine. Wiretaps offered a rare glimpse of a man completely convinced of his power. “[Rosenberg] is history and he is done, and anything I can do to crush his ass, I wanna do cause I think he’s just a, just an evil fuck,” Norcross said. In another conversation, referring to then-top Jersey Democrats, he declared, “I’m not going to tell you this to insult you, but in the end, the McGreeveys, the Corzines, they’re all going to be with me. Not because they like me, but because they have no choice.” While discussing plans to remove a rival, he exclaimed: “Make him a fucking judge, and get rid of him!”

In February 2003, Norcross met Christie for a steak dinner at Panico’s in New Brunswick. It was, to put it mildly, highly unorthodox for a U.S. attorney to sit down with a political boss who was the subject of state and SEC attention. But Christie brushed off the criticisms. “I’m very careful with who I would go out with,” he said. “If I’m looking at somebody, I’d try to stay away from them.”

That, to the skeptics, was just the issue. His corruption squad was scrutinizing dozens of lower-profile figures, all the way down to an Asbury Park councilman charged for getting his driveway paved for free. Why wasn’the looking at Norcross? And didn’t he realize that he might have to in future? Sure enough, the following year the state attorney general referred the Palmyra case to Christie’s office. 

Two years later, Christie issued a scathing six-page letter announcing that he would not bring any charges against Norcross. It was a remarkable document. Not only did Christie openly declare a controversial figure to be home free, but he accused the state prosecutors of bungling the case so badly that they may have been shielding Norcross. “The allegation of some bad motive on the part of the state prosecutors is very unusual,” says Andrew Lourie, a former chief of the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice. 

High-ranking legal sources in the state view the letter as the ultimate Machiavellian maneuver. They agree that there may not have been a strong case to bring against Norcross in the Palmyra case after so much time had lapsed. But by publicly accusing his state counterparts of protecting Norcross, Christie was inoculating himself against accusations of favoritism. One of the former attorneys general who’d handled the case, John Farmer, who went on to become senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission and is now dean of Rutgers Law School, told me: “The statements and insinuations contained in that letter were, as I said at the time, utter nonsense. The passage of time has only magnified their essential absurdity.”

Norcross may have been the most formidable player to escape Christie’s net, but he wasn’t the only one. Another was Brian Stack, a state legislator and Union City mayor who exemplifies a Jersey tradition Christie had long railed against: holding paid elected office at both the state and local levels. Stack maintains his constituents’ loyalty with acts of largesse such as doling out 15,000 free turkeys at Thanksgiving. He is rewarded with Soviet-style vote totals. (His slate won 92 percent in 2010.) In 2007, Christie conducted a massive investigation into legislative earmarks. It found that Stack had secured $200,000 in state grants that benefited a day-care center run by his then-wife. Charges were brought against other legislators for directing money to entities in which they held a personal interest, but not Stack. 

There was also Joe DiVincenzo Jr., lumbering and gregarious, the protégé of legendary Newark community leader Steve Adubato Sr. In 2002, “Joe D.” ran to replace Treffinger as executive of Essex County, the largest source of Democratic votes in the state. Rumors raged that he, too, was under investigation, for conflicts between his freeholder duties and his job (one of four he held at the time) at a produce company with a county contract. Then, right in the heat of the primary, Christie released a statement denying that Joe D. was under investigation. “It was totally unprecedented. I’ve never seen that done by a sitting U.S. attorney,” said DiVincenzo’s opponent, now-Assemblyman Tom Giblin. “Trying to get a letter out of the U.S. attorney’s office is usually like pulling a wisdom tooth.” After Joe D. took office, he invited Christie to give county workers a symposium on ethics.

Finally, there was Glenn Paulsen of Burlington County, who had become the most powerful Republican power broker in the state in part because of his symbiotic détente with Norcross. Norcross got a lot of business for his insurance firm in Burlington County, while Paulsen’s law firm got plenty of municipal work in Norcross territory. In 2006, Christie’s office secured a guilty plea from a Republican operative, Robert Stears, for hugely overbilling several million dollars of lobbying work for the Burlington County Bridge Commission. According to one person with knowledge of the matter, it seemed likely that more revelations would follow and that an investigation of the commission’s spending could draw in Paulsen, and perhaps even Norcross. Stears, according to Christie’s announcement, was cooperating with an “ongoing criminal investigation.” In court, he explained that he had been “sucked into a corrupt group of people” and that he had been directed how much to bill the commission and how much to donate to the county Republican Party, which had been led by Paulsen. “Everyone was waiting for the second shoe to drop,” David Von Savage, the former GOP chairman in Cape May County, told me. It never did. “Chris essentially dumped that investigation—he absolutely dumped it,” says one lawyer, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution. “As a favor to these guys, he tanked the investigation completely.”

By taking down some of the state’s bosses while leaving others off-limits, Christie had effectively turned the supposedly apolitical role of prosecutor into that of kingmaker. It was a brilliant strategy. New Jersey offered such a target-rich environment that Christie was able to get credit for taking down a slew of crooked officials and build alliances with some of the most powerful bosses in the state at the same time.

Before the scandal over closure of lanes to the George Washington Bridge, voters were told by the national media only of how the New Jersey governor worked across the aisle, creating an image of a politician who treated Democrats and Republicans alike in sharp contrast to the rancor of Washington. The myth grew of a statesman interested only in effective governance, not amassing political power at the expense of everyone but himself. In the southern part of the state, where George Norcross first became dominant and where he is the biggest pol of them all (governor arguably included), coverage of the prosecutor-turned-governor who protected him is hardly revealing. The media company which includes The Philadelphia Inquirer, the fiftteenth most circulated newspaper in the USA and most widely read newspaper  in the region, is owned by three men, with majority ownership in the hands of... George Norcross.

In an op-ed in the Inquirer today, Kathleen Kane (photo below) maintains that virtually all of the recordings essential to the prosecution took place 18 months after she took office, time-tested law enforcement tactics were skipped, two people have reported that the investigation intentionally focused on minorities, and all charges against the informant were dropped without agreement upon his testimony.  But by exercising prosecutorial discretion (appropriately or not), Kane's political career is destroyed. Not so with the governor of New Jersey, who knew that the path to political success lay in intimidating Democrats, charming the media, and especially, coddling the powerful.

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

A Tale Of Two Pauls, With A Rick Thrown In

Many essays have been written commenting on Paul Ryan's recent remarks about inner-city culture. Perhaps the best is that of Paul Krugman in The New York Times. With my perspective following, here is Krugman's full column:

There are many negative things you can say about Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee and the G.O.P.’s de facto intellectual leader. But you have to admit that he’s a very articulate guy, an expert at sounding as if he knows what he’s talking about.

So it’s comical, in a way, to see Mr. Ryan trying to explain away some recent remarks in which he attributed persistent poverty to a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working.” He was, he says, simply being “inarticulate.” How could anyone suggest that it was a racial dog-whistle? Why, he even cited the work of serious scholars — people like Charles Murray, most famous for arguing that blacks are genetically inferior to whites. Oh, wait.

Just to be clear, there’s no evidence that Mr. Ryan is personally a racist, and his dog-whistle may not even have been deliberate. But it doesn’t matter. He said what he said because that’s the kind of thing conservatives say to each other all the time. And why do they say such things? Because American conservatism is still, after all these years, largely driven by claims that liberals are taking away your hard-earned money and giving it to Those People.

Indeed, race is the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.

We are told, for example, that conservatives are against big government and high spending. Yet even as Republican governors and state legislatures block the expansion of Medicaid, the G.O.P. angrily denounces modest cost-saving measures for Medicare. How can this contradiction be explained? Well, what do many Medicaid recipients look like — and I’m talking about the color of their skin, not the content of their character — and how does that compare with the typical Medicare beneficiary? Mystery solved.

Or we’re told that conservatives, the Tea Party in particular, oppose handouts because they believe in personal responsibility, in a society in which people must bear the consequences of their actions. Yet it’s hard to find angry Tea Party denunciations of huge Wall Street bailouts, of huge bonuses paid to executives who were saved from disaster by government backing and guarantees. Instead, all the movement’s passion, starting with Rick Santelli’s famous rant on CNBC, has been directed against any hint of financial relief for low-income borrowers. And what is it about these borrowers that makes them such targets of ire? You know the answer.

One odd consequence of our still-racialized politics is that conservatives are still, in effect, mobilizing against the bums on welfare even though both the bums and the welfare are long gone or never existed. Mr. Santelli’s fury was directed against mortgage relief that never actually happened. Right-wingers rage against tales of food stamp abuse that almost always turn out to be false or at least greatly exaggerated. And Mr. Ryan’s black-men-don’t-want-to-work theory of poverty is decades out of date.

In the 1970s it was still possible to claim in good faith that there was plenty of opportunity in America, and that poverty persisted only because of cultural breakdown among African-Americans. Back then, after all, blue-collar jobs still paid well, and unemployment was low. The reality was that opportunity was much more limited than affluent Americans imagined; as the sociologist William Julius Wilson has documented, the flight of industry from urban centers meant that minority workers literally couldn’t get to those good jobs, and the supposed cultural causes of poverty were actually effects of that lack of opportunity. Still, you could understand why many observers failed to see this.

But over the past 40 years good jobs for ordinary workers have disappeared, not just from inner cities but everywhere: adjusted for inflation, wages have fallen for 60 percent of working American men. And as economic opportunity has shriveled for half the population, many behaviors that used to be held up as demonstrations of black cultural breakdown — the breakdown of marriage, drug abuse, and so on — have spread among working-class whites too.

These awkward facts have not, however, penetrated the world of conservative ideology. Earlier this month the House Budget Committee, under Mr. Ryan’s direction, released a 205-page report on the alleged failure of the War on Poverty. What does the report have to say about the impact of falling real wages? It never mentions the subject at all.

And since conservatives can’t bring themselves to acknowledge the reality of what’s happening to opportunity in America, they’re left with nothing but that old-time dog whistle. Mr. Ryan wasn’t being inarticulate — he said what he said because it’s all that he’s got.

Krugman is correct:  articulate Paul Ryan has the knowledge class convinced he knows what he's talking about; Ryan's citation of Charles Murray, known best for contending that black I.Q. is inheritable, belies any claim he wasn't thinking about race; tea party "populists' have taken a pass on calling out specific misdeeds of the corporate sector; the "welfare cheat" meme, when popular decades ago, was exaggerated and is even less accurate now; the degree of economic opportunity was exaggerated in the 1970s and has fallen since; Ryan couldn't find space in a 205-page report about poverty to mention falling wages; and this is a dreadful run-on sentence.

More questionable, however, is Krugman's contention

Instead, all the movement's passion, starting with Rick Santelli's famous ran on CNBC, has been directed against any hint of financial relief for low-income borrowers. And what is it about these borrowers that make them such targets of ire? You know the answer.

Well, no I don't, because I think Krugman evidently believes the subjects of the venom (video, below) are minorities, especially blacks (or blacks exclusively). I don't think that's at all clear, however.

Certainly Santelli, a guy who like Paul Ryan is expert at sounding as if he knows what he's talking about, attacked the "other."  But the other, in the mind of most (white) Americans need not be minorities.  Individuals in this nation don't consider themselves lower-class, but middle-class. And if they are forced to admit they are of lower-income, they don't identify with that status.  They are middle-class (or so they believe).  When Santelli rails against low-income borrowers, he strikes a chord in people who resent others.  And others could be white- they could in fact be their neighbor or, even more likely, the faceless people down the street or in the next town over.  What they could not be is their close friends, immediate relatives, pastor, or especially, themselves. It's always somebody else, especially if he or she doesn't have a face or a name.

At approximately 1:10 of the video below, Santelli turns to his audience of traders and rhetorically asks "how many of you people want to pay for their neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?"  He's not referring specifically to minorities or even to poor people, but rather to individuals who can afford a house with a bathroom, maybe two. Further, in the minds of many (white) Americans, minorities don't even have to pay bills- the government pays for them.

Similarly, when Santelli claims "you can go down to minus-2% (mortgage)- they can't afford the house," he's referring to consumers in general, not solely ones of low income.   Conveniently, both statements feed into the "entitlement" ruse. Conservatives and neo-liberals refer to Social Security and Medicare as "entitlements" not only because they (rightly) fear they will incur voters' wrath by saying they want to cut "Social Security" and "Medicare." They know also there is a vague sense (though largely inaccurate) that "others"- everyone not in the voter's inner circle- are getting away with something to which they arrogantly believe they're entitled. (They also technically are "entitlements" according to congressional nomenclature, but nobody knows what constitutes "entitlements," anyway. Or what the heck "nomenclature" is.)

In the following graph from Business Insider (culled from a few misleading graphs), we get an idea of what the cumulative income of the people for whom Santelli posed as defenders earn- compared to the income of the individuals he really was speaking for.

And this refers merely to income- not to wealth, in which the disparity is even greater- which renders Krugman's argument even more relevant and piercing.  Paul Krugman is about 97% on target, which even Peyton Manning would be proud of.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's Just The Man's Style

Paul Ryan is an important man.  As chairperson of the House Budget Committee, he soon will be rolling out the Repub budget proposal, which will be heavily influenced by a 204-page document, "The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later," he rolled out earlier this month.  It blamed poverty on- wait for it- poverty programs, neglecting to mention the growing national divide between the rich and poor.  And he is (as he has been, notwithstanding Chris Christie), along with Scott Walker and Marco Rubio one of the three leading candidates for the GOP presidential nomination. (Alert Chris Cilllizza, who's imagining things.) More recently, he provoked controversy for his remarks suggesting culture in the inner city has created generations of men who aren't working or even "thinking about work."

Joan Walsh has called Ryan out, in part for citing the work of Charles Murray, who believes in the "inherent" inferiority of blacks, a good reason for cynicism about the Wisconsin congressman.  Aside from his antiquated view of race, Murray is stunningly (though, considering the source, not surprisingly) dishonest. Walsh points to Murray's claim "In all the critiques of The Bell Curve in particular and my work more generally, no one ever accompanies their charges with direct quotes of what I’ve actually said."  But Walsh notes that she has "written about Murray’s work extensively, and with lavish documentation and direct quotes (and I’m not the only one)" and "debated Murray on WBUR in 2012."

In the explicitly racial "The Bell Curve," Murray argued "if the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences."   After Murray wrote "The Bell Curve" and then "Coming Apart," he wrote "Losing Ground: The State of White America, 1960-2010,:  Upon its publication, in which he contrasted "Fishtown" (based on a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood of the same name) with Belmont, Massachusetts, the author stated in an online chat

We’re talking about IQ more than culture. It helps to be living in a neighborhood where smart actions about money are common, but the main breakdown is IQ. Lots of smart people in Fishtown do the right thing, but (politically incorrect warning) there are more smart people in Belmont than in Fishtown.

As the above suggests and despite protestations to the contrary, so much of Murray's work relies on genetics rather than culture, nature rather than nurture.

But it speaks also to an intellectual dishonesty which extends to one of his followers.  In Ryan's recent 200+ page report (photo below from Reuters via Salon, 8/12),  he cited the work of many academic researchers, among them Jane Waldfogel, Barbara Wolfe, Jeffrey Brown/Amy Finkelstein (who worked together), and William Karnes. Each of them says Ryan "misunderstood or  misinterpreted their research," in the words of The Fiscal Times.

And let's not forget the vice presidential nomination speech, in which the congressman spoke, according to the Center for American Progress, at least six lies.  Three (see 1, 4, and 5) were merely misleading and self-serving; two, however, were untruths deliberately uttered.

Representative Ryan falsely stated that Senator Obama while campaigning for president promised that a General Motors plant, which later was shuttered, would not be closed down.   Also, he claimed Obama had accumulated “More debt than any other president before him, and more than all the troubled governments of Europe combined," which was objectively, demonstrably, numerically untrue, a reprehensible lie for most politicians, more so for the chairperson of the House Budget Committee.  He charged also "What did taxpayers get out of the Obama stimulus? More debt.  That money wasn’t just spent and wasted, it was borrowed, spent and wasted."  But given that an estimated 1-3 million jobs were created, it's incomprehensible that the money was "wasted."  (Neither is it likely, for the same reason, that it created additional debt.)

Perhaps "borrowed, spent and wasted" would have been the fate of stimulus money Representative Ryan himself requested, funds he denied requesting until proof was presented. Even then, he passed it off as "constituent service requests," close cousin to "it depends on what the meaning of 'is,' is."

One of the items cited by CAP, though not a formal lie, ironically calls attention to the mission of this Ayn Rand disciple.   The man who idolized the apostle of selfishness proclaimed "The greatest of responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak," a remarkable comment from a politician who has dedicated his career to strengthening the powerful and condemning the powerless.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

For Ryan, It's Not Only Blacks

Last week, Paul Ryan remarked "We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt." with.."

Many liberals/progressives noted that Ryan had approvingly cited the work of two individuals, one of them the infamous Charles Murray, who argued in The Bell Curve that blacks are genetically predisposed to lower intelligence quotients.  Ryan claims that he was misunderstood, a claim skeptically received by many on the left, including Salon's Brian Beutler, who maintains "You can take Murray completely out of the equation and the likelihood that Ryan wasn’t at least subconsciously playing to the prejudices of resentful or racist whites is pretty low."

Slate's Dave Weigel, however, argues it's

not at all clear that Ryan was thinking of that research when he spoke to Bennett. The stain of The Bell Curve has stuck to Murray for all of the 20 years since he published it. As he's said, like when he defended Barack Obama's post-Jeremiah Wright "race speech," this wrecked his reputation with some people, and it won't get un-wrecked. But the conservatives of 2014 don't cite Murray for his race work. They cite Losing Ground, which still guides how they think about welfare's effects on social norms, or they cite more recent work on inequality that stayed away from the race issue.

Not being able to read Ryan's mind, I assumed he was thinking of Murray for his Losing Ground/Coming Apart work, and not for Chapter 14 of his book about how some races just ain't got what it takes. I assumed that because Ryan wasn't saying anything about race—not explicitly, though I understand the people who argue he was dog-whistling. Could Ryan have been so clueless as to have not realized that citing Murray would make him sound racist? Honestly, probably—it's called epistemic closure, and there is no known cure.

I'm not trying to apologize for Ryan as much as I'm explaining why he might have said this. For the better part of a decade, I've covered the national conservative movement. Before that, in college, I shacked up with the college conservative movement. When explosive (even accidentally explosive) rhetoric comes over the transom, I'm more interested in where it came from than in how fast I can sharpen my pitchfork. Felt the same way during that brief moment in 2012 when Derrick Bell became an Emmanuel Goldstein figure who turned Barack Obama into a time-released socialist dictator. I'm not saying that you can't be racist without being obviously cartoonishly racist. Just explaining why Ryan might have said this, and what he might have meant, based on years of covering such things.

Taking a different angle, Beutler believes that even if Ryan (as he claims) was not referring specifically to blacks, he

has fully internalized a framing of social politics that was deliberately crafted to appeal to white racists without regressing to the uncouth language of explicit racism, and written its origins out of the history. If that’s the case it augurs poorly for those in the movement who are trying to broaden the Republican Party’s appeal, because it’s easier to convince people to abandon a poor tactic than to unlearn rotten ideology.

It's not clear- at least to me- that subtly crafting a message to appeal to white bigots, though making it more difficult for the Repub Party to broaden its appeal, is a losing strategy.  It has, in subtle ways, worked to their advantage, especially in the now near-solid South.   

Ryan has placed faith in someone, however, whose antipathy extends beyond blacks. Questioning the assumption that Ryan was engaging in dog whistling, Weigel discounts any other noxious aspect of the congressman's remarks. Additionally, in another piece from the same day, Weigel tries to draw an analogy between Ryan's comment and President Obama's statement "Too many communities where no matter how hard you work, your destiny feels like it’s already been determined for you before you took that first step. I’m not just talking about pockets of poverty in our inner cities. That's the stereotype."

But Obama's sentiment differed from Ryan's.  The President placed the primary blame on the diminished life chances of many individuals in impoverished places, especially the difficulty in finding a job that allows them to escape their circumstances.  Ryan, however, laid the onus on "inner city" culture, which he implies leads to joblessness. That notion is ungenerous and inaccurate.

Ryan's comfort with Murray's sociological perspective is further flawed.  Last year, Michelle Goldberg of The Nation, recognizing that conservatives had begun to drop their faux populism, noted

Then there’s Charles Murray, who, taking a break from theorizing the innate inferiority of African-Americans, turned his attention to inequality among white people in last year’s Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010. That book argued, among other things, that a “decay in industriousness” among working-class white men, not decay in the labor market, is a major factor in our country’s growing class divide.

Lest we forget what Weigel and even Beutler seem to have, Murray merely started as a racist, often an unfair characterization, but one for a man who believes in the inferiority of a race due in large measure to nature, not nurture.  Having been scorched for demeaning blacks in The Bell Curve, Murray opted for a new strategy, realizing that if criticism for his earlier work would not be diminished, it at least would not increase if he went after working-class whites, also.  Call it equal opportunity condescension, or simply punching down.

We know now of Paul Ryan that two of his heroes are Ayn Rand (video below from The Young Turks) and Charles Murray.  And think: he was close to being a heartbeat from the presidency. Nice move, Mitt.

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

There Goes That Elizabeth Warren Again

The U.S. Senate has a variety of members And then there is the one who spends her time devising ways to help the working  and the middle classes. Think Progress' Mason Atkins  reports that at an event at CAP on Thursday, Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren

argued that America faces a choice: “Do we invest in students, or millionaires?” Warren plans to introduce a bill that would create an “America that invests in those who get an education” by revising the tax code and enacting the Buffet rule. 

The Buffet rule is named after billionaire Warren Buffet and would establish a minimum tax on income in excess of $1 million. The measure, which never got out of Congress, raises approximately $50 billion in revenue and ensures that millionaires do not pay lower tax rates than middle-class families.

Congress acted to lower the federal unsubsidized student loan interest rate to 3.86 percent for undergraduates for the 2012-2013 academic school year. But unless it acts again, the $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt will continue to grow.

Warren’s plan would allow students with outstanding student loans to refinance at lower rates. The cost of the change would be covered by a “dollar for dollar” effort where for “every dollar the Buffet rule brings in, we use that dollar to refinance student loan debt,” she explained. She estimated that recent graduates who borrowed the maximum in undergraduate loans could see their payments drop by $1,000 a year and total interest paid over the life of the loan could be cut nearly in half. Students with graduate loans or borrowers from private lenders would save even more, Warren projected.

If the Buffet rule exceeds its expected revenue, then the plan would call for lowering the interest rates even further. All college graduates still repaying federal student loans would have the option to refinance to a lower rate, saving graduates thousands of dollars per year.

Warren is not a Johnnie-come-lately or, rather, a Jennie-come-lately.  In February, The Daily Beast noted she "helped lead an unsuccessful fight against the Bipartisan Student Loan Certainty Act in the summer of 2013, which allowed the interest on future student loans to float freely at market rates, rather than face a government cap."

Expect howls of outrage from the right. Still, millionaires can afford it ; they're the ones with it, as the graph below from Business Insider displays.

Emanuel Saez has found

From 2009 to 2012, average real income per family grew modestly by 6.0% (Table 1). Most of the gains happened in the last year when average incomes grew by 4.6% from 2011 to 2012. 

However, the gains were very uneven. Top 1% incomes grew by 31.4% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 0.4% from 2009 to 2012. Hence, the top 1% captured 95% of the income gains in the first three years of the recovery. From 2009 to 2010, top 1% grew fast and then stagnated from 2010 to 2011. Bottom 99% stagnated both from 2009 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2011. In 2012, top 1% incomes increased sharply by 19.6% while bottom 99% incomes grew only by 1.0%. In sum, top 1% incomes are close to full recovery while bottom 99% incomes have hardly started to recover.

As this graph from Business Insider indicates, the top 1% averaged only (only!) approximately $350,000 in annual income. The revenue which Warren's bill would capture would come from only the higher earners in the group. And the tax would apply to only that portion of income above $1 million.

This should be a no-brainer. But unless Warren and others can convince the GOP-controlled House of Representatives that it will increase the supply of non-renewable energy, endanger health and safety regulations, restrict women's reproductive choices, or somehow cut income taxes for the privileged, it will be a herculean task to get it approved.

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The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...