Wednesday, March 31, 2010

suburban, gated ghettos

What is striking to me about this new phenomenon is that it isn't new at all. My urban neighborhood is filled with gorgeous Victorian, Craftsman, American Foursquare, and Queen Anne homes that white people willingly abandoned in the mid-20th century for saltboxes and ranch houses a couple of miles down the road.

Peoples is strange.

gathering steam

Or, at least, hot air. I highlight this article from Media Matters because it's a great example of the Washington media focusing on the "popular fascination" with personalities that only the media themselves give a damn about.

Sarah Palin is the John and Kate Gosselin of politics. The Octomom of politics. Sarah Palin has a vanishingly small following at the end of the day, yet people watch her on TV and read about her in the papers because:

1. she's a train wreck. It's fun to hear what stupidity she has uttered and what bizarre, hypocritical position she's suddenly championing. What new and interesting way has she figured out to make herself look like an ass today?

2. the reporters themselves won't shut up about her because they think she represents some Nixonian silent majority that holds the key to the next decade of politics. You want to watch political news? You'll be hearing about Sarah Palin, whether you want to or not.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

very short rant

Can I just say that I'm consistently and probably irrationally annoyed at the sudden and constant use of the term "optics" in the political sense? I'd much prefer "visuals".

that is all...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

give her the agency

Give her whatever she wants. If I were king I would put Elizabeth Warren in charge of pretty much everything related to money and banking.

Monday, March 22, 2010

the "baby killer" yeller: a Lubbock original

Which congressman shouted "baby killer!" at Bart Stupak when he voted yes on the health care bill? I had a sinking feeling when people said it came from the Texan delegation, and it was confirmed this afternoon: it was Randy Neugebauer (R-Lubbock), who is now lamely claiming it was in reference not to Stupak, but to the bill itself.

In other news, for the first time in his 10-ish-year stint as congressman, Randy Neugebauer has finally managed to distinguish himself in some way.

student loan changes pass House

Overshadowed by the health care bill is the passing of another tremendously important piece of legislation: the student loan bill. It eliminates the federal subsidies to private lenders and clears the government to lend directly to students. It's important in the sense of both cutting useless paper-pushers out of the system and adding needless subsidies of corporate profits for notoriously corrupt institutions while breaking up the parasitic relationship between lenders and colleges. Meanwhile, it also raises the Pell Grant allowance while saving $61 billion over 10 years according to the CBO.

It's an interesting and illustrative argument between Democrats and Republicans in that Republicans are trying to protect the right of private entities to collect taxpayer money without serving any real purpose. The government sets the standards for the loans, pays the fees while the student is in school, and guarantees the loans against default. The government also lends directly to students with a number of other loans, so they already have the infrastructure for lending. All the private lender does is collect free money.

optics

But while we're on the subject of the "optics" of the health care reform vote, I would like to point out that what people saw on their TVs this weekend was a black president and an Italian-American female Speaker passing this bill over the protests of mobs of white teabaggers shouting "ni66er" and "fa66ot."

On a simpler level, though, it's also worth remembering John Madden's dictum about unpopular players and coaches: winning is a great deodorant. I suspect we're going to see some movement in approval ratings over the next week or two.

Also, so much for the GOP's charge that Obama isn't doing anything. Are we going to the "too busy" or "too much change" arguments now?

Waterloo

Health care reform passes. There's a lot of obfuscation and a lot of posturing and a lot of mob mentality and groupthink about the politics of this decision, but here's David Frum, one rocksolid Republican with a lot of influence who calls it Waterloo... for the GOP.

He admits what we've all suspected and what has been maddening about the Democrats' approach, namely that the GOP decided at the very beginning to stonewall reform, to refuse any compromise, to "play for all marbles" as he put it. The GOP could have had a huge influence on this bill (they didn't as it is?), but because they opted for mere obstructionism, they failed and got nothing out of it.

There will be no repeal, even after the GOP gains in November. Frum writes:
Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage?

I'll take this a step further: this bill will never be repealed and the middle class will like it, and the failed attempt to preserve the infamous "doughnut hole" and insurance companies' right to cut you off at the critical moment will hang on the necks of the GOP like a millstone for a generation. The Democrats will be able to come back to those points again and again.

But, as I've been hitting on over and over in this debate, the politics of this don't matter as much because the policy is so important to the lives of all 300 million of us. This was the kind of thing you played all those politics for, the big play where a party and president leverage all that political capital to do all that world-changing they dreamed of doing when they first decided to enter politics. As Josh Marshall puts it, it's legislation like this that makes losing a majority worth it. Win or lose in November (or better put, lose or hold onto), the Democrats managed to pass the first major social policy legislation in 50 years.

Put another way: every majority ends eventually. The real difference is not how long they last, but which ones do something productive and which disappear with nothing to show for it. It's a lesson I'd like to see some of Bayh's agenda-less coalition (like my own mollusk of a congressman) reflect on.

This bill was thin gruel compared to the House bills of a year ago, but the regulations on the worst insurance company abuses alone are going to save lives. Plus, many, many families who would have been bankrupted by medical bills and the loss of health coverage will not be because of this bill. Furthermore, the execrable "doughnut hole" is now a footnote in history.

Let's remember what matters, people.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

the fat tax

I thought I'd post my thoughts on the idea since people are suddenly talking about it again. In my opinion, otherwise reasonable people get a little obtuse when you use the word "tax." The tax isn't about "punishment," and it's not the government trying to tell you what you can and can't eat. You can still buy cigarettes and booze!

It's about steering behavior to more healthful eating, the idea being that while people buy cokes and twinkies because they love them, the fact that they're super cheap is also part of the equation for many people. This is especially true of a lot of the stuff you find in the middle of the grocery store, the box dinners and such that feed 4 people for $1.99. So the theory goes, if the price differential between crap and produce were lessened, the balance between these foods in people's diets would also shift.

And before we get all anecdotal about all the fat people you know that will still buy twinkies, consider this: in the case of tobacco use, cigarette companies have admitted (.pdf) that higher taxes are a major curb on use among both teens and adults.

Still, if the fundamental problem is the low price of bad food compared to good food, a better idea than disincentivizing soft drinks via a new and unpopular tax would be to deal with the cause of rock-bottom coke prices in the first place: the corn subsidy. Much of the trouble with the American diet can be traced back to the overproduction of corn and soybeans, from which stem the low prices of everything from soft drinks and twinkies to french fries, boxed dinners, and ground beef. These crops are overproduced because the lion's share of farm subsidies are earmarked specifically for those growing corn and soybeans. Moreover, the subsidy is based on how much you grow, meaning farmers are encouraged to produce as much as they can even when the price of corn has bottomed out.

If the government wanted to encourage more healthful eating, the single best thing it could do would be to change corn and soybean subsidies to fresh produce subsidies.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

purchasing a majority

Pegged to spend more than either the Republican or Democratic national committees in this year's midterms: the US Chamber of Commerce.

And hey, look at this line from the article:
The chamber's potential impact on the November elections was bolstered further by a recent Supreme Court decision, which allows corporations and their surrogates to spend freely on political ads for and against specific candidates right up to Election Day.

So the Republicans nominated the justices who overturned a century old law to allow big business to lobby freely... for Republicans!

I would like to point out that the 2008 election was notable for being the first that I know of where a presidential candidate refused to accept contributions from lobbyists and won. He and his party enact sweeping regulations of the banking industry, wage war on health insurance companies, and threaten to enact legislation cracking down on CO2 pollution from oil, gas, electric and auto companies. The next year a Supreme Court packed by Republicans lifts all restrictions on corporate spending. Elections have consequences, indeed.

the end of the rule of law

courtesy of John McCain and Joe Lieberman. Via OpenCongress:
One of Congress’s most notoriously hawkish duos, Sen. John McCain [R, AZ] and Sen. Joseph Lieberman [I, CT], recently introduced legislation in response to President Obama’s decision to try Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day airplane bomber, in a criminal court. Their proposal, which they are calling the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act, would empower the U.S. military to arrest anyone, U.S. citizen or otherwise, who is suspected of terrorist associations and detain them indefinitely, without right to a trial.

From the legislation itself:
SEC. 5. DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL OF UNPRIVILEGED ENEMY BELLIGERENTS.

An individual, including a citizen of the United States, determined to be an unprivileged enemy belligerent under section 3( c)(2) in a manner which satisfies Article 5 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners in which the individual has engaged, or which the individual has purposely and materially supported, consistent with the law of war and any authorization for the use of military force provided by Congress pertaining to such hostilities.

And the people eligible for such treatment:
(2) CRITERIA FOR DESIGNATION OF INDIVIDUALS AS HIGH-VALUE DETAINEES- The regulations required by this subsection shall include criteria for designating an individual as a high-value detainee based on the following:

(A) The potential threat the individual poses for an attack on civilians or civilian facilities within the United States or upon United States citizens or United States civilian facilities abroad at the time of capture or when coming under the custody or control of the United States.

(B) The potential threat the individual poses to United States military personnel or United States military facilities at the time of capture or when coming under the custody or control of the United States.

(C ) The potential intelligence value of the individual.

(D) Membership in al Qaeda or in a terrorist group affiliated with al Qaeda.

(E) Such other matters as the President considers appropriate.

The passage of this bill will mean the president can lock up anyone he wants for any length of time for any reason he deems sufficient. It does not matter if that person is a US citizen on US soil, or how many decades there are considered to be "hostilities," or even whether or not the person is in any way involved with terrorism.

For all of you consoling yourselves by figuring this will never survive judicial review, remember that only those people with "standing" can challenge a law in court. What this means is the ACLU can't just petition the Supremes to review any law they see fit; you can only challenge a law you have been personally punished by or will be imminently punished by. In this case, you have to have already been jailed by the military under this law to take the president to court.

Except you can't, of course, because this law explicitly denies you the right to a trial or a lawyer.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

and now, for his next trick

Everybody's favorite conservative, the paragon of reasoned, thoughtful and fair debate, David Brooks, shows us how reconciliation for health care reform is like the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, and Islamic sectarian terrorism.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Benedict XVI implicated in cleric sex abuse scandal

So far people in the United States have heard only about the alleged male prostitution ring in the Vatican, but a second unrelated and much worse papal scandal has finally jumped the Atlantic. From The New York Times:
BERLIN — A widening child sexual abuse inquiry in Europe has landed at the doorstep of Pope Benedict XVI, as a senior church official acknowledged Friday that a German archdiocese made “serious mistakes” in handling an abuse case while the pope served as its archbishop.

The archdiocese said that a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted. Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy. A subordinate took full responsibility for allowing the priest to later resume pastoral work, the archdiocese said in a statement.

If you really believe the archdiocese that Ratzinger was wholly ignorant of what was going on here, I have some property you might be interested in.

My suspicion is that the reason for these stories breaking out now has less to do with new scandalous behavior and more to do with the waning influence of the Catholic Church in Europe. Call me crazy, but I just don't think priests started molesting boys in the 1960's.

The Runaways

Totally want to see this.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

busting idiotic budget cliches in Elkhart

My little bloggy soapbox has been directed at education idiocy the past week or so, but there's something very different going on in Elkhart. It appears that Mayor Dick Moore made crime a priority for his administration. The city government funded more squad cars, cameras, computers, and police officers, and as a result are seeing tangible improvements in their crime numbers and less tangible, but no less real or important, improvement in citizens' feeling of safety.

In other words, the mayor "threw money at the problem," and it's working.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Mishawaka cutting teachers, too

38 of them, in fact, in a district with one high school and one middle school. Mishawaka High School alone will be losing 12 teachers. Along with these cuts are 5 administrators and 11 "other jobs," and will still not cover half of the $4.7 million deficit over the next two years.

Let's see here: $1.8 million savings over 2 years in a town of 46,557 people. Pull out my trusty calculator, and according to my calculations we get a tax savings per capita of... $19.33 per person per year. Approximately $1.61 per month.

Clearly there is no alternative to massive teacher layoffs!

Monday, March 08, 2010

oscars cont.: political controversy in this year's nominees

There are several Oscar movies that delve into political/social issues in a ham-fisted manner and have caused a bit of a stir in the process: Avatar, The Hurt Locker, and The Blind Side. Everyone knows about Avatar and its myriad interpretations, with people in all sorts of quarters claiming the movie as their own while conservatives blast it for being anti-American and, quoting John Podhoretz, "blitheringly stupid" (it certainly is the latter, though with respect to the former, it struck me as more broadly anti-imperialistic).

It's The Blind Side that interests me more, however. It only got a 58% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes, a surprisingly low rating for a Best Picture nominee, and several of the "fresh" reviews are mixed at best. Here's an example, from the Detroit News:
It's a cute, touchy-feely crowd pleaser that wants nothing more than to wrap audiences in a warm holiday embrace. In a sense, it achieves that goal, but it is overly sentimental in a Lifetime movie kind-of-way.

The negative reviews, however, are at times truly vicious, such as one calling it "an ode to white privilege." From the NY Daily News:
Writer-director John Lee Hancock has turned Oher's remarkable life into a Hollywood fable that trades difficult truths for easy clich├ęs.

Several use the word "cipher" to describe Michael Oher, the kid at the center of the story, and argue that the movie is little more than the sanctification of Sandra Bullock's character. They argue that the book tells a complicated story of race, class, and southern culture wherein the boy Oher is being helped, yes, but also being used, and while so many others are left to rot in west Memphis ghettos.

Again, I have to see it myself before I can make a judgment, but the evidence so far is not promising. But hey, at least it won't have jive-talking robots who can't read, right?

The Hurt Locker's issues are related more to the portrayal of American soldiers. One of the loudest voices crying foul is Paul Rieckhoff, whom I've come to respect through his vocal opposition to the Iraq War. His argument is that the protagonist, William James, is unprofessional and reckless with the welfare of the soldiers in his command and with his own life. This movie, however, got 97% from Rotten Tomatoes, all pretty stellar, so I'm more sanguine about this one (pun intended).

As an aside, looking at the reviews I think it should have been more obvious that The Hurt Locker had an edge over Avatar. As with The Blind Side, the reviews for Avatar tended to have lots of caveats, and one big one in particular: that the actual story is dim-witted and derivative. Similarly, many positive reviews of The Blind Side note the simplistic narrative and notable absence of any attempt to deal with the obvious questions prompted by the narrative and deftly probed by the book. With The Hurt Locker, however, there are few such caveats.

the Oscars

Watched it at the O'Zee's place. Was thinking about Zee's question of whether Top Gun (1986) won anything, so I looked it up. It did: it was nominated for Best Sound Effects, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and won (of all things) Best Original Song for Berlin's "Take My Breath Away".


At first, however, I mistakenly looked at 1987 Oscars (which took place in 1988) as opposed to the 1986 Oscars (which took place in 1987), and I found it much more interesting. What was most striking was the disconnect between the movies the Academy deemed "the best" and which ones have the most cultural currency today.

A trite point, I know, and the Oscars aren't necessarily about movies that will be timeless rather than capturing the zeitgeist, but it's a fun exercise nonetheless.

The "Best Picture" nominees that year were The Last Emperor, Broadcast News, Fatal Attraction, Hope and Glory, and Moonstruck. The Last Emperor won, its last of 9 wins that year. It won in every category for which it was nominated. Other movies that figured prominently in that year's Oscars included Wall Street (for which Michael Douglas picked up "Best Actor"), Ironweed (starring perennial Oscar favorites Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, both of whom were nominated), and The Untouchables.

Of the Best Picture nominees, Fatal Attraction caused something of a scandal because it was widely thought that it was unworthy of such attention. I might have thought the same thing were I in my 30's in 1987; though I tend to root for "off-genre" movies at the Oscars, in retrospect Fatal Attraction was sickeningly chauvinistic. It is, however, far and away the most memorable of the nominees from my standpoint.

Now let's talk about some of the movies that either had only unsuccessful nominations or were wholly snubbed by the Academy that year:
  • Empire of the Sun

  • Raising Arizona. Holly Hunter was nominated that year, but for her role in Broadcast News

  • Full Metal Jacket. Stanley Kubrick died having never won Best Director

  • The Princess Bride




Regarding this year's ceremony, though, there were some other oddities and interesting facts worth pointing out:
  1. Morgan Freeman still has never won an Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role, and only has one Supporting Nod (for Million Dollar Baby).

  2. Lee Daniels (Precious) is the second African American to be nominated for Best Director -- ever. The first was John Singleton, for Boyz in the Hood.

  3. This was Colin Firth's first nomination

  4. This was Stanley Tucci's first nomination

  5. This was Christopher Plummer's first nomination. His first movie role was in 1958

  6. Sandra Bullock also "won" the Razzie for Worst Actress this year for All About Steve


My three favorite movies of the year, Star Trek, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Where the Wild Things Are, got snubbed. Star Trek won one award on four technical nominations. Fox got two nominations. Wild Things got nothing, not even a single nomination.

Friday, March 05, 2010

no, Ken Silverstein, it's not

A surprisingly obtuse post today from a normally clear-eyed Ken Silverstein:
TPM ran an item yesterday in which American Bar Association President Carolyn Lamm made an emotional plea on behalf of the principle of legal representation for all. In response “to the Liz Cheney Web ad that questions the loyalty of lawyers who have represented Guantanamo detainees,” Lamm, reported TPM, said that lawyers have an ethical obligation to “provide representation to people who otherwise would stand alone against the power and resources of the government–even to those accused of heinous crimes against this nation in the name of causes that evoke our contempt.”

Of course, Lamm also strongly believes in the principle of providing legal representation to governments who have committed well-documented heinous crimes against people who stand alone against state power — as long as they pay cash.

Take, for example, Lamm’s own work on behalf of Libya, the former Zaire and Uzbekistan. Her client in the latter case is Gulnara Karimova, bosom buddy of rock star Sting and Bill Clinton. Gulnara’s daddy, Islam, rules Uzbekistan and has a nasty habit of killing his political opponents, in one case by immersion in boiling water.

Lamm’s position is confusing, but one thing is clear: Liz Cheney is not one of her clients.

Actually, her willingness to represent or defend the representation of both Gitmo detainees and oppressive foreign governments shows that she really does believe the system works best when everyone gets fair representation, no matter who they are or how their position jives with her political agenda. What is Silverstein's accusation, that she'll defend anyone if the price is right (otherwise known as "the job description of a defense attorney")?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Jason Horowitz or your lying eyes

From the Washington Post:
Rahm Emanuel is officially a Washington caricature. He's the town's resident leviathan, a bullying, bruising White House chief of staff who is a prime target for the failings of the Obama administration.

But a contrarian narrative is emerging: Emanuel is a force of political reason within the White House and could have helped the administration avoid its current bind if the president had heeded his advice on some of the most sensitive subjects of the year: health-care reform, jobs and trying alleged terrorists in civilian courts.

It is a view propounded by lawmakers and early supporters of President Obama who are frustrated because they think the administration has gone for the perfect at the expense of the plausible.

Talk about f**king retarded! Does anybody believe Barack Obama's problem has been that he didn't compromise enough?

Word around the internets is that these odd pro-Rahm stories suddenly circulating are a PR move by Rahm either as tossing bombs on the way out or an attempt to strong-arm the president into caving on his agenda. What a jackass.

Onion op-ed by John Boehner

Nice.

Monday, March 01, 2010

the long history of public transportation in America

Some of you may have already noticed, but Atrios has been pulling up some very interesting information lately, specifically old (old like pre-Cold War) maps of public transportation systems in American cities. The findings are striking in how they show that, even aside from the cities known for early adoption of mass transit (San Francisco, Chicago, New York), by the 1930's and 40's most cities actually had surprisingly comprehensive systems of trains and trolleys, some of which have since diminished or disappeared.



The implicit argument is that significant investment in public transit is not at all novel or un-American, but I find the maps interesting even aside from the politics of mass transit.

Just for giggles, I looked up a couple of others:
Grand Rapids, MI, 1927 (this is a proposed streetcar expansion map, but it is clear that in 1929 GR had a significant and widely used streetcar system)
Washington, DC, 1888
Dallas, TX, 1905