Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Our fun-filled state legislatures

Sometimes a cigar is just an assault weapon.
Illinois had the tightest restrictions against carrying firearms in the country when a federal appeals court threw the law out, so their legislature was putting together a new one on Tuesday. Rep. Jim Sacia (R) was moved to speak in debate:
“Here is the problem in Illinois,” he said on the House floor. “I love you folks in Chicago. You’re the ones that have the problem, you have a runaway gun problem. Don’t blame the rest of us. This isn’t about Democrats, it’s not about Republicans. It’s because Chicago wants a warm fuzzy. ‘Let’s pass a bill that will eliminate assault rifles.’ Last year there were more people killed with hammers than with assault rifles.

“Here’s an analogy folks, I ask you to think of this. You folks in Chicago want me to get castrated because your families are having too many kids. It spells out exactly what is happening here.” (Raw Story)
Tell me Dr. Freud paid you to say that, just so he could prove his silly theory was correct.

As far as Rep. Sacia's penis (long may it wave!) is concerned, I'm pretty sure Illinois doesn't allow open carry. Put it back in your pants, Jim—oh, I'm sorry, was that your head?
We love you, Jim Sacia!
The above image represents Rep. Sacia receiving the kisses of the Humane Society, ASPCA, and Doudoubirds (who produced the picture) on March 9, 2012, after he moved to table a bill
aimed at criminalizing whistleblowers who expose animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, environmental destruction and other illegal and unethical activities on farms.
It was one of those deals where your friendly neighborhood American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) kindly writes it up for you, because of their concern for the embarrassment and humiliation an agribusinessman goes through when some busybody films him torturing animals.

What Doudoubirds and the others were too polite to note is that it was Rep. Sacia who had introduced the "ag gag" bill in the first place, on February 8, 2012. Looks like he just changed his mind all of a sudden, but he declined to explain why. Le cœur a ses raisons, etc., etc. Couldn't have had anything to do with his being up for reelection (really, he was unopposed).

On the question of the lethal blunt instruments, I think we all might want to ask ourselves how many times in the last year somebody used a hammer to kill four IHOP patrons (some members of the Nevada National Guard), 12 members of a Colorado Batman audience, six Sikh worshipers, or 26 people in a Connecticut elementary school, 20 of them first graders? See, a hammer is ideal for your intimate little date murder, for example, but it is not the weapon of choice for a templeful of Punjabis, all the males carrying daggers under their turbans, where the well-accessorized killer-about-town looks for something, shall we say, a little racier.
And remember, if you want to kill somebody with a hammer, a well-bred person uses a nail. It's neater. Jael and Sisera, Roman School, undated, from Wikigallery.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My dream Obama

David Brooks writes:
The original Handsome Dan, purchased by Yale tackle Andrew Graves from a local blacksmith in 1889. From Wikipedia.
In my column last Friday, I inadvertently said that President Obama had no plan for helping Speaker Boehner control his caucus and averting the sequester other than his usual program of taxing the rich, or at least that's what I'm told I said, although it doesn't sound quite right. But apparently it actually wasn't quite right, is the thing, strange as it seems, and the White House actually does have some ideas that they have informed the Republicans about. Obama is still useless, obviously, but not in exactly the ways I described.
But since humiliation is good for the soul, I want everybody to know that I'm fully capable of acknowledging when I'm wrong, and I thought I would do that today by working it over in my mind and showing how my conclusion—that Obama is a [jump]

Monday, February 25, 2013

To the pure, all things are Purim

Thers, reporting Dov Hikind's amazing Purim prank, makes the minor error of supposing that there are few African American Purim parties. This would not be entirely true. There are up to 150,000 black Jews in the U.S., even before you count Amar'e Stoudemire, and that's a lot of false noses. But there's not much photographic evidence, I'm afraid.
Purim in San Francisco, 2008.

Retroactionary Watch

Weasley clock project, from Oh Gizmo.
Times, writing about how Republicans don't seem to mind cutting the Pentagon budget any more:
“Fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “But the war in Iraq is over. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts.”
So it's no longer after 9/11? Shifted temporal direction again?

This time I think it's a little less insane: not retroactionary time travel but the more familiar cyclical view of time. Think of it in terms of a clock. As the big hand travels down from 12 to 6 it's two, five, ten, a quarter, and so on after wherever the little hand is; and then from the 6 back up to 12 it's before whatever's up next, say the next crisis landmark. (In Germany, where 9:30 is halb zehn or "half ten", they start anticipating a tiny bit earlier—I think some do that in England too.)

So we got somewhat blindsided when on 9/11 "everything changed". It did, but only for a metaphorical half an hour. It stopped being after 9/11 when Obama first got elected—at figuratively 9/11:30—and started being before Obama commits some military blunder, twenty-five to Iranian invasion, or a quarter to Syrian quagmire, or what have you. Of course that didn't happen, though some Republicans continue to hope against hope that he did something wrong in Benghazi.

They could always try old Senator Dole's crack about "Democrat wars" but it didn't work very well last time, after the little escapades in Grenada and Panama and so on, and it seems unlikely to play any better as we extricate ourselves from Iraq and Afghanistan. They can't get back to their preferred "Democrats are weak on defense" stance, though, until that minute hand finishes its current tour. Might as well encourage cuts, in the meantime, especially in Democrats' districts. Then when it's campaign o'clock they can start howling about how Obama gutted our forces, leaving us once again prey to that North Korean invasion that the high school kids will have to repel. OMG, wake up, sheeple, it's already five to Red Dawn!

Slack or be slacked

Ross Douthat:
the decline of work isn’t actually some wild Marxist scenario. It’s a basic reality of 21st-century American life, one that predates the financial crash and promises to continue apace even as normal economic growth returns. This decline isn’t unemployment in the usual sense, where people look for work and can’t find it. It’s a kind of post-employment, in which people drop out of the work force and find ways to live, more or less permanently, without a steady job. So instead of spreading from the top down, leisure time — wanted or unwanted — is expanding from the bottom up.  Long hours are increasingly the province of the rich.
Sadly, no. Marx called it the reserve army of labor, a mass of people large enough to guarantee that employers would be able to keep wages down at subsistence level forever, or until the collapse of the system.

Naturally it includes short hours—if they keep you under 30 hours they don't have to contribute to your health insurance. So you pick up additional gigs as you can. I wonder how many hours young Ross puts in, and I mean sitting at the keyboard, not standing around at PR functions munching on Danish.
Found by tourist Sophie Nørgaard in San Diego. She remarks: "Danish pastry - Ingen rugbrød, men "PEAR DANISH" ????!"
Thanks to Steve M. for reading it first.

Sunday, February 24, 2013


An exceedingly callow young denizen of Thinktankistan called Michael Kugelman has undertaken the task of teaching Pakistanis to stop worrying and love the drone, or at least put up with it, in an op-ed in the online Dawn, and Matt Taibbi just savages him for it, in his own blog:
So there it is, folks. Welcome to the honor of American citizenship. Should we replace E Pluribus Unum with We Don't Kill as Many Children as Measles? Of course people aren't mad about bombs being dropped on them from space without reason; they're mad because anti-Americanism is alluring!
He also tears a fine new one for the authors of a Times editorial in favor of a drone court, though he misses Emptywheel's insight, which I think is indispensable, that it would be a system for punishing crimes before they are committed.
Aerial Target: Design for an unmanned, radio-operated plane for use against Zeppelin aircraft and controlled  bomb, 1916.
Taibbi includes the first real discussion I've seen of the issue of cowardice in drone fighting:

What in Tarnation?

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal. Fox News photo.
Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal on Meet the Press, 2/24/2013, with new photographic evidence of the existence of Hell.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

One entity, one vote!

Photos of Kalispell - Featured Images
This photo of Kalispell is courtesy of TripAdvisor.
If Rep. Steve Lavin (R-Kalispell) gets his way, owners of property in, say, Troy, but who live in, say, Ekalaka, will be able to vote and run for office in municipal elections in Montana even though they are not residents of the municipalities in which they’re voting. Even more startling, Lavin’s bill, HB-486, can be construed as giving the out-of-state corporate owners of property in a Montana municipality a vote in that municipality’s elections. Walmart’s bigwigs in Arkansas might be able to vote in Kalispell’s city council election by mail ballot.  (James Connor's Flathead Memo, February 21 2013)
And immediately, of course, the blamesters, as I like to call them, are snapping at your heels. "You're already buying the candidates, that isn't enough? Now you want to vote for them too?"

You have no idea how hurtful that is. When you're a corporation. In fact I have no idea either, not really. It's a little like the question of whether the unborn child feels pain or not, inside the womb, sheer guesswork. They're at another—some say a higher—order of existence, and we can't communicate directly with them. Does that mean they don't care? You can say any spiteful thing you want and it's not going to bother them? Hath not a corporation cameras? Hath not a corporation recording devices, with microphones planted in certain meeting rooms, lavatories, and so forth? If you prime us with alcohol, do we not leak?

The fact is, corporations live among us, in their disembodied way, working hard, playing by the rules, and trying to ensure a better life for their subsidiaries. If they have an interest in Kalispell, it's sort of like living there, except for the living part; they're concerned, just as you or I might be, with the little things that make a place a home, like do you have to pay workers minimum wage even if they're illegals, or how strict are they about hazardous wastes. Corporate citizenship is second-class citizenship; they feel they deserve the real deal. Is that asking so much? (Apparently yes, the bill didn't make it out of committee. But it's the thought that counts.)

Sequester break

The sequester event is evidently driving the natives mad, to the point where David Brooks found himself typing a lie so egregious that he was obliged to post a correction, which is as far as I know a unique occurrence in the history of the column, and then submit being taken to the metaphorical woodshed by Ezra Klein, though of course Klein is so courteous and Brooks so fatuous that he may not realize he's been there.* I hope the kids in Humility Class think to ask him how it felt, though.

The Vixen thinks the sequester was a kind of present from Obama to Boehner, a device meant to help the Speaker get some control over his goofy caucus, but too complex, alas, so that he couldn't figure out how to operate it. There's something to that, for sure (note that Boehner did manage to split the Fiscal Cliff into parts and get half of it down, the tax rise half, at the beginning of January—the sequester is what's left).

But I don't think Boehner himself sees it as a gift. I think, in the pattern that's been repeating itself two or three times a year, he begins by believing he's tricked Obama ("I got 98% of what I wanted") and ends up feeling that the tricked one is himself: he's raised his patrons' taxes, the Hastert rule is broken, he failed to defeat Cantor because Cantor didn't even want to run for Speaker, and all he got was this lousy T-shirt. You can already see the outlines of the same thing happening in the next couple of weeks or so: in the deal he's finally forced to accept the chained Consumer Price Index will be hedged round with compensatory machinery, and the Medicare cuts will turn out to be the $137 billion that the CBO just lopped off its projection.
Fen de Villiers, Time Sequestered (wood, plaster, ink). Photo by Tim Peters.
*Brooks also slipped into another reference to a "progressive sales tax", meaning his dread X-tax, which is starting to make him sound like one of those exotic single-issue perpetual presidential candidates, like Pierre "Pete" DuPont and Malcolm "Steve" Forbes. Patrick "Pat" Buchanan. David "Dave" Brooks. Could Brooks really have his eye on those truly vast spaces for entertaining? Or is he just after a gig at CNN?

Afternoon Update:
Second paragraph seems to suggest wrongly that the Happy New Year Fiscal Cliff deal is all that needs to be said about taxes, but it's not, as BooMan reminds us: additional revenue was always part of the deal.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Cheap shots: Dinner before tender

I wish ThinkProgress would stop doing this:

Fox Host Calls Universal Preschool ‘Immoral Crazy Talk’

 host Gerri Willis called the effort “immoral“:
WILLIS: I have to tell you, I think it’s immoral to make all of these promises, when you know you can’t afford it, we can’t afford it. Preschool for everyone, are you kidding me? We don’t have the money for that! … This is just crazy talk and I think it’s immoral to put this across as something that’s actually doable, when it’s not.
It would be delightful and hilarious if she had said that universal pre-K was immoral crazy talk, but she didn't; she said that it was immoral to hold out parents' hopes of having it when (according to her, and no doubt she is wrong) they can't. Making your opponent's words say something they weren't meant to say is a Republican trick.

Also too, the way they then proceed to bury their silly joke in solemn discussion, proving to the skeptical that preschool is not immoral or crazy. They could have used the time better [jump]

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Original thought

Shorter David Brooks, New York Times, "What Data Can't Do":
Not everything that can be counted counts.
Not everything that counts can be counted.
Not everyone that counts hangs out with Friedman.
Like I know the CEO of a bank with a branch in Italy.
Image via Katherine on MySpace.
Update 2/20:
What is most dangerously wrong in Brooks's column is ably dismissed by Paul Krugman. I'm pretty sure there's something hilariously wrong about the way Brooks reads Naseem Taleb, but I'm far from sure I understand Taleb myself—anybody out there care to help out?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Pre-Crime does not pay

Flower chucker. From Notional Value.
As Emptywheel has been pointing out in her series on "Setting Up a Department of Pre-Crime", discussing the FISA or FISA-like court that might be established to oversee the president's American-murdering activities, such a court is going to be in the very odd position of, [jump]

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Retroactionary biology

Via Stoney Wage Slave.
I figured I had enough of a handle on Intelligent Design that I would never have to study it, but I was startled about the use of "destiny" as part of the scientific toolbox as reported in Mother Jones:
Late last month, Rick Brattin, a Republican state representative in Missouri, introduced a bill that would require that intelligent design and "destiny" get the same educational treatment and textbook space in Missouri schools as the theory of evolution. Brattin insists that his bill has nothing to do with religion—it's all in the name of science. 
"I'm a science enthusiast...I'm a huge science buff," Brattin tells The Riverfront Times"This [bill] is about testable data in today's world." But Eric Meikle, education project director at the National Center for Science Education, disagrees. "This bill is very idiosyncratic [jump]

Friday, February 15, 2013

Cheap shots, 2/15/2013

Our bad—from Washington Post's Suzy Parker:
CORRECTION:  An earlier version of this post and the post’s URL incorrectly reported that Sarah Palin had signed on as a contributor to the Al Jazeera America news network. The blogger cited a report on the Daily Currant Web site as the basis for that information without realizing that the piece was satirical. 
 To be fair, it's not always obvious that the Daily Currant is meant to be funny. With headlines like

Lehman Brothers CEO Arrested For Accounting Fraud
Glenn Beck Calls 911 After Accidentally Eating Halal Pizza
it could easily be some kind of fantasy wish fulfillment site.
Photo by Reuters/Mike Segar.

Self-Awareness Gap

Rand Paul, in his re-rebuttal or post-rebuttal of the SOTU, on the subject of why America is exceptional:
For the first time in history, men and women were guaranteed a chance to succeed based NOT on who your parents were but on your own initiative and desire to work.
Photo from Politico.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Paranoia) on former Senator Chuck Hagel:
Saying that he had serious doubts about the source of payments that Mr. Hagel had accepted for speaking engagements, Mr. Cruz declared, “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”
Right, and I'd like to know why Senator Cruz was late with his financial statement last summer: it is at a minimum relevant to know if the "legal fees" from the Chinese "tire company" Shandong Linglong were really profits from his part ownership of a brothel in Qingdao for gentlemen with especially fancy tastes involving nuns' habits.
Why does he always look as if he's about to burst into tears? Texas Tribune.

Who says Republicans don't have a plan for dealing with global warning?

From Wayne LaPierre's Daily Caller rant (via ThinkProgress):
Hurricanes. Tornadoes. Riots. Terrorists. Gangs. Lone criminals. These are perils we are sure to face—not just maybe. It’s not paranoia to buy a gun. It’s survival. It’s responsible behavior, and it’s time we encourage law-abiding Americans to do just that.
 Because it's OK to shoot a tornado in self-defense.
LaPierre foams at the mouth. From Business Insider.
Shorter David Brooks, New York Times, "When Families Fail":
Let's compromise: You can have your universal pre-K as long as I can say rude things about Head Start* and about poor people, who are clearly unqualified to be parents.
*Dishonest or ill-informed: cites research from 2010 suggesting that the impact of Head Start disappears by the time its students get to 3rd grade, without noting later critiques of the research and evidence of effects in high school and adulthood.

Thursday, February 14, 2013


Turkeys, from
Barack Obama, sometime after 9:00, September 12, 2013:
Tonight, I’ll lay out additional proposals that are fully paid for and fully consistent with the budget framework both parties agreed to just 18 months ago. Let me repeat – nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.
National Review Online, shortly after 11:00:
Go ahead and watch the video if you want. It features President Obama saying many, many times that this or that program is not going to add one dime to the deficit. And then those brilliant minds at the National Review put on a title that says
Hahahahahaha, the national debt went up by 58 trillion dimes!!!!
But guess what, children, the debt and the deficit are different things. And the deficit has indeed been increasing by rather less than a single dime over the past four years. As in look:

Recent US Federal Deficit Numbers

Obama DeficitsBush Deficits
FY 2013*: $901 billionFY 2009†: $1,413 billion
FY 2012: $1,089 billionFY 2008: $459 billion
FY 2011: $1,300 billionFY 2007: $161 billion
FY 2010: $1,293 billion
Although the federal deficit is the amount each year by which federal outlays in the federal budget exceed federal receipts, the gross federal debt increases each year by substantially more than the amount of the deficit each year. That is because a substantial amount of federal borrowing is not counted in the budget. See here.
* Federal Deficit is budgeted.
† Some people have emailed to insist that the FY 2009 deficit should be assigned to Obama. Good point.*

*I don't know what's good about it. The FY 2009 deficit is not assigned to Obama because it is Bush's expenditures, over which Obama had no control.

Indeed, Obama has added negative dimes to the deficit, lots and lots of negative dimes, so fast that some people are a little bit worried about it, like super-liberal Investor's Business Daily:
Believe it or not, the federal deficit has fallen faster over the past three years than it has in any such stretch since demobilization from World War II.
In fact, outside of that post-WWII era, the only time the deficit has fallen faster was when the economy relapsed in 1937, turning the Great Depression into a decade-long affair.
It is not surprising that the debt has gotten larger. That's what happens when there's a deficit. What is surprising is that these guys at the National Review still haven't learned the difference! Liars or stupid? You decide.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

This is no country for old women

Updated 2/19/2013

David Brooks writes:
Via Eliva Hellena.
The Europeans who settled North America escaped the lazy, improvident parents who were holding them back and crossed the Atlantic without ever looking back, like stones from a slingshot, in the belief that a single-minded focus on money-making would enable them one day to give their own children something cooler for Christmas than that same dumb-ass sweater. So did the pioneers who traveled the Oregon trail, and each generation of immigrants after that, except for the Asians and Hispanics, who insist on living ten to a bed so they can send remittances back to the Black Hole from which they have fled, as if a little money could make a difference to those haggard, toothless invalids in their opium dens and botánicas.

That's why they call America the Land of the Future, even though technically everywhere you go it's still the present, and time traveling is actually physically impossible; because every true American's mind used to be fully occupied with counting chickens from eggs that hadn't even been laid. We couldn't see the wilderness we were in for the tract houses and strip malls that would one day be there. And so the government invested heavily in things like railroads and canals.*

But nowadays this has all been turned upside down, and instead of starving our parents in order to put our kids in the sleepaway camps where they'll meet kids that will be able to give them jobs ten or fifteen years down the line, we're neglecting the kids to take care of the parents, putting them in luxurious nursing homes, making videos of them telling their stupid stories about the Depression, and generally keeping them alive until they're 120 or 130 years old.

The Federal government is the most obvious example. It's become nothing but a kind of vacuum cleaner to suck up value out of the economy and shower it on the elderly. This harms children in two ways. First, it takes money that could be used for investment in the future and essentially throws it away on this idiotic ancestor worship.** Second, it's the children that will end up paying for it.*** A report from the International Monetary Fund says that their taxes will have to go up 35%, even as entitlement spending will have to be cut by the same amount.****

But it's not just the government, it's private enterprise as well. Banks have slowed down on business investment even more than on real estate, devoting their time instead to credit cards, for some reason.***** And student loans. Meanwhile, companies are pouring billions of dollars into their retirement funds to keep their diabetes-crippled retirees tooling around on their imported scooters and spending nothing (compared to Germany, Finland, and South Korea) on research and development.****** 
What happened to turn us around from that traditional throw-mama-from-the-train fascination with risk and adventure to our current terrorized selves? I'm guessing it was the Depression and World War II, in which we sacrificed so much that, like Scarlett O'Hara, we decided we'd never sacrifice anything again.******* There's less of a sense of obligation to the future, in a chain linking the dead (who don't need any money) to the unborn (who certainly will).

Nevertheless Republicans and Democrats just keep arguing about government and business, who started it, and who needs a time out, and President Obama's address tonight looks likely to be another salvo in the same tired battle. He's going to quote Sun Tzu, I understand ("Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across", whatever the hell that's supposed to mean), as if he were the one teaching Grand Strategy at Yale instead of me.

If he would just address himself to the future instead he could give a fantastic speech. He could agree to give a permit to the Keystone XL pipeline, which is a totally futury thing (we won't know if it will make Nebraska uninhabitable until the future). He could cut corporate taxes and pay for it with a progressive national sales tax, one of my most futuristic ideas ever, and he could make cuts in Social Security and Medicare, yielding money for the National Institutes of Health and charter schools and maybe charter universities. Maybe the NIH could come up with a drug to make those old people stop whining so much—for God's sake, Grandma, man up!
*As well as subsidizing industry and occasionally owning it themselves, picking winners and losers, and using tariff policy to reinforce the choices. They had this insane idea that government could somehow beat the market to the next big thing!

**Absolutely. If we could only cut the Social Security and Medicare budgets, Congressional Republicans would be jumping to put that money into infrastructure and schools.

*** Except that they won't, nor is there any good reason to do so. Although they will have to pay the interest, meaning it's a better idea to borrow now, while the rates are low, than later.

**** Oh, you precious little Brooks! No, what that report said (in April 2011) is that we should have raised taxes and cut entitlements by 35% then, or if you prefer you could leave entitlements alone and raise taxes by 88%. And you know you have to listen to the IMF, because they're the ones who advised Ireland, and Greece, and Spain, and UK. And Latvia. And Iceland—oh, wait, smarty pants little Iceland thought they knew better than the IMF and, uh, actually they were sort of right.

*****Wouldn't have anything to do with deregulation, would it?

******Those figures are for growth between 1999 and 2006. For what it's worth, in 2011 the US spent a higher proportion of GDP on research and development than any industrialized country except Japan, South Korea, Israel, Sweden, and Finland; more than Germany, Taiwan, Austria, Switzerland, or Singapore, to say nothing of total laggards like China, France, and UK.

Via AgeNorthernIreland.
*******Yes, undoubtedly. How else do you explain why after the war we didn't build the Interstate highway system, win the race to the moon, create the state university systems of California, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York, etc. (of course only losers go there), invent the Internet, or decode the human genome. The failure to invest certainly had nothing to do with the antitax movement and its triumphs from around 1978!


Tom Levenson has a wonderful post on this column. While I still really like my own post here, his covers many extremely important points that I didn't, or didn't even notice. How can there be so much wrong with one little essay? The moral is:
Of the faking of Brooks there is no end.

Say it to my face! No, wait a minute...

Image by Michael Ferry, from Album3.
Is this what they call butthurt?
In the April 2011 speech at George Washington University, Obama sharply criticized Ryan’s proposal to privatize Medicare, saying, “It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that ten years from now, if you’re a 65 year old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck - you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.”...

Bill Daley, the White House chief of staff at the time, tried to warn Obama of Ryan’s presence, but didn’t get to him in time. And with the bright lights shining on stage, blocking his view of the crowd, the President went ahead with his critique.

“I mean, Jesus, it was heavy,” former Sen. Alan Simpson told FRONTLINE. “He didn’t use Ryan’s name, he just made fun of anyone who could propose anything like what he had read recently as a proposal presented to the House Republican leadership that did this to old people, and it went on and on. It was tough. And it was nasty.”

White House economic adviser Gene Sperling chased Ryan down after the speech. “All I was trying to do was to let him know that — that we didn’t know they were coming,” Sperling told FRONTLINE. “His response was that he felt the President had ‘poisoned the well.’” (via TPM)
I mean, Jesus, you don't make fun of a guy's plan. When he's sitting right there. I mean, who do you think you are, Alan Simpson

Monday, February 11, 2013

If you get an outfit you can be a cowboy too!

Denver, Colorado. Solomon D. Butcher. 1905. 
Nebraska State Historical Society. [Digital ID: nbhips 12615]

Nothing particular to say, I just liked the picture. From what looks like an online high school class from Stanford U.

Hostage crisis

This is what Special Interests look like. From Native American Community Academy.
Senator Cornyn feels that our Constitution forbids Native American police officers and courts to do anything about white men raping or beating or otherwise harming Indian women on reservation territory. Nor can a woman get help from the police of the state where the reservation is located. It was the clear intention of the Founding Parents, according to Senator Cornyn, that victims of that sort of violence should head out to the nearest US Attorney's office, no matter how many hundreds of miles away it may be, or else just suffer, so that white men can exercise their God-given right not to be investigated by brown people. So he can't allow the Violence Against Women Act to be renewed with a new provision rectifying that situation. It even makes him a little sad:
“This is a bill which could do so much good in the battle for victims’ rights, but unfortunately it is being held hostage by a single provision that would take away fundamental constitutional rights for certain American citizens,” Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “And for what? For what? In order to satisfy the unconstitutional demands of special interests.”
Funny, I never heard the Senator was especially concerned about the Fifth Amendment, except insofar as it concerns real estate. Indeed, Senator Cornyn and Fifth Amendment rights for humans have a little history of disagreement.

I guess the plan will be to arrest that hostage-taking provision. And torture it. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Brennan curiosity

MacLeod Cartoons, via In Medias Res.
What Wyden asked (clipped from discussion at Crooks & Liars):
SEN. RON WYDEN: ...What do you think needs to be done to ensure that members of the public understand more about when the government thinks it’s allowed to kill them, particularly with respect to those two issues, the question of evidence and the authority to use this power within the United States?
JOHN BRENNAN: I have been a strong proponent of trying to be as open as possible with these programs, as far as our explaining what we’re doing. What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time optimize secrecy and the protection of our national security. I don’t think that it’s one or the other. It’s trying to optimize both of them. And so, what we need to do is make sure we explain to the American people what are the thresholds for action, what are the procedures, the practices, the processes, the approvals, the reviews. The Office of Legal Counsel advice establishes the legal boundaries within which we can operate. It doesn’t mean that we operate at those out of boundaries. And, in fact, I think the American people will be quite pleased to know that we’ve been very disciplined, very judicious, and we only use these authorities and these capabilities as a last resort.
What Wyden didn't ask: So, uh, what's stopping you?

I'm pleased to hear that Father Brennan thinks I'll be pleased to know how disciplined and judicious they've been, but not sure I'll be as pleased as he thinks I'll be. Or whether what he regards as a last resort is the same as it would be for me. Do they have a sequence of steps they follow, beginning with a warning letter? (Dear Sir, Our current information indicates that you are a paid-up member of Al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula. Please either provide evidence to the effect that you are not currently an imminent threat to the United States or its interests. Failure to respond will be regarded as unfriendly and may lead to adverse consequences for you, your family, your house, and any persons or animals who visit you. Also we would advise you to stay out of motor vehicles.)

It's humiliating to say, but I can't sustain any interest in the legal justifications at all—though I was very much intrigued by Emptywheel's suggestion that the recently "leaked" White Paper seemed to be cobbled together out of different sources, those that found the President's authority to conduct targeted assassinations in the Authorization to Use Military Force of September 2001 and those that found it in Article II of the Constitution (acting without congressional authorization in the nation's self-defense). Perhaps they have inadvertently revealed the real secret of the memos: that they're embarrassing, inadequate, and incompetent.

What I'd really like to see is how the rules are put into action. It's the evening of January 23 and Rabae Laheb is out in a double-cab Toyota Hilux on the road from Marib to Sanaa with four Yemeni companions and one or two Saudis, or perhaps a driver, Saleem Muhammed al Qawili. Laheb has been reported dead before, in a drone strike of last November, when Yemeni army colonel Adnan al Qadhi was killed (although he could easily have been arrested by local authorities and may not have been a militant at all). At 8:00 PM a drone passes overhead and four missiles fall out of the sky to hit them, completely destroying their vehicle and burning them all beyond recognition. Did anything happen in the White House? A blip floating across a screen? ("Old Laheb's on the road?" "I thought we killed that sucker six weeks ago!") Or is the White House finished once they've declared him an imminent threat?

Is there a team watching all Sanaa 24 hours a day on video screens somewhere, reporting who gets into a car and where they're driving throughout the entire city? Or is it guys on the ground following particularly those higher up on the list and calling home to say when a target is in a killable situation (i.e., not with wives and children or other non-imminent threats), and the video watchers (and the drone) take over from there?

And how do they know it's him? Especially given that he's supposed to be dead? Have they reopened his file on the receipt of new information? Is he tagged like a Wyoming wolf? (But if he's impossible to arrest, as he's supposed to be to get on the kill list, then he must be impossible to tag.) And how do they get confirmation? (Here in urban Yemen I can see it, but up in North Waziristan where the Pakistani troops themselves dare not move?)

And what about the cost-benefit analysis: How much harm has Laheb been doing, to Americans and American interests, how much since he went on the kill list, how much will have been prevented by his death? How much harm does his death do, how many friends or sons or nephews join the AQAP because of it, how many join some other party to the civil war because the government can't protect them. How many Yemeni doctors and teachers and civil servants will escape to some other country because they can't stand any more grief and terror, thus making Yemen a still more difficult place to live?
The vehicle Rabae Laheb was riding in. Yemen Observer via Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
You have any numbers on that, Father Brennan?

So crazy it just—worked already

A truly inspiring education story in today's Times, from Union City, New Jersey, teaser for a forthcoming book by David L. Kirp (Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools, to be released this April).

It's about one of those districts that seems to be doomed by factors entirely outside a superintendant's control—
a poor community with an unemployment rate 60 percent higher than the national average. Three-quarters of the students live in homes where only Spanish is spoken. A quarter are thought to be undocumented, living in fear of deportation. [jump]

But because of a comprehensive program developed over the last 25 years, from near-universal pre-K to literature seminars in high school, it looks very different:
From third grade through high school, students’ achievement scores now approximate the statewide average. What’s more, in 2011, Union City boasted a high school graduation rate of 89.5 percent — roughly 10 percentage points higher than the national average. Last year, 75 percent of Union City graduates enrolled in college, with top students winning scholarships to the Ivies.
And yet it hasn't achieved this by becoming a factory for the production of test scores:
It hasn’t followed the herd by closing “underperforming” schools or giving the boot to hordes of teachers. No Teach for America recruits toil in its classrooms, and there are no charter schools....
Nor, it might be added, did it divide the big high school into imitation charter schools so they could fire the Russian teacher and the track coach and hire more principals and assistant principals. What did it do?
To any educator with a pulse, this game plan sounds so old-school obvious that it verges on platitude.
Eugenio Maria de Hostos Center for Early Childhood Education.
They did, honestly, what teachers have been begging them to do for decades.
The district’s best educators were asked to design a curriculum based on evidence, not hunch.
There's nothing wrong with quantified data—indeed, it's necessary—but you mustn't confuse it, as the Rhees and Duncans do, with reality, and it has to be, as most of theirs isn't, reliable. (Did you see Rhee on the Daily Show last week, explaining that she knew her data was garbage, but gee, you have to go to war with the data you've got, not with the data you might wish to have, you know?)
Learning by doing replaced learning by rote.
Students who have studied how to take the tests don't actually know the material, they just know how to look as if they do; whereas students who have learned the material and ignored the test will do fine on the test anyway.
Parents were enlisted in the cause. Teachers were urged to work together, the superstars mentoring the stragglers and coaches recruited to add expertise.
Collaboration is hard to achieve when you've got a two-way race to the top and the bottom, where the superstars are moving to hipster Hoboken on their merit pay while the principal gets brownie points by denying tenure to the stragglers and eventually dumping them and you've got a staff turnover rate of 20% and more. That's an appealing strategy to "leaders" who like to make "tough decisions", like punishing Greece for borrowing from German and French banks, but it doesn't improve the situation. And guess what? Money does.
That these schools are generously financed clearly makes a difference — not every community will decide to pay for two years of prekindergarten.
Doesn't mean you should drop it on the school from a helicopter (with Greece that could be a good idea). Spend that money carefully—above all don't give a cut to rent-seeking charter school managers—but it has to be spent.
Union City High School class of 2011. Photo by Doug Bauman/The Jersey Journal.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Cheap shots: Blizzard edition

Beyoncé and Kathryn Jean in happier times (K-Lo in costume as a Discworld Dwarf). Photo via Heyonick
Kathryn Jean Lopez of the National Review (via ThinkProgress) wants to know:
Why can’t we have a national entertainment moment that does not include a mother gyrating in a black teddy?
Sorry, but that's a little too much like why can't we have a White History Month? Gyrating mother-free national entertainment moments are a dime a dozen where I come from. I wonder what cable company she has.

So he plead guilty, do he? Typo of the week, from ThinkProgress:
Floyd Corkins, 28, of Virginia on Wednesday plead guilty to a shooting a man at the conservative Family Research Council in August, CNN reports. As a motive, Corkins told a judge he wanted to intimated gay rights opponents.
Floyd, Floyd, that's not how to do it. You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Banker suit by Vivienne Westwood, fall-winter 2013.
I wish I'd written this:

To be read in the voice of Paul Harvey.
And on the eighth day God looked down on his planned paradise and said, “I need someone who can flip this for a quick buck.”
So God made a banker.
God said, “I need someone who doesn’t grow anything or make anything but who will borrow money from the public at 0% interest and then lend it back to the public at 2% or 5% or 10% and pay himself a bonus for doing so.”
So God made a banker.
God said, “I need someone who will take money from the people who work and save, and use that money to create a dotcom bubble and a housing bubble and a stock bubble and an oil bubble and a commodities bubble and a bond bubble and another stock bubble, and then sell it to people in Poughkeepsie and Spokane and Bakersfield, and pay himself another bonus.”
So God made a banker.

Dodge’s 'farmer' ad

In this Super Bowl ad, Chrysler pays tribute to the American farmer.
God said, “I need someone to build homes in the swamps and deserts using shoddy materials and other people’s money, and then use these homes as collateral for a Ponzi scheme he can sell to pensioners in California and Michigan and Sweden. I need someone who will then foreclose on those homes, kick out the occupants, and switch off the air conditioning and the plumbing, and watch the houses turn back into dirt. And then pay himself another bonus.”
God said, “I need someone to lend money to people with bad credit at 30% interest in order to get his stock price up, and then, just before the loans turn bad, cash out his stock and walk away. And who, when asked later, will, with a tearful eye, say the government made him do it.”
God said, “And I need somebody who will tell everyone else to stand on their own two feet, but who will then run to the government for a bailout as soon as he gets into trouble — and who will then use that bailout money to help elect a Congress that will look the other way. And then pay himself another bonus.”
So God made a banker. 
Brett Arends, MarketWatch; via Crook & Liars.

Humility Watch:
From AntTracts.
At the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, Obama called for “humility” that “carries over every day, every moment.”
“Let us retain that humility not just during this hour but for every hour,” the president said. “And let me suggest that those of us with the most power and influence need to be the most humble.
But in his Thursday radio broadcast, [the American Family Association's Bryan] Fischer concluded that God must be ignoring Obama if he has to pray for humility every day.
Raw Story (
Yes, Fischer got his humility after one go. Little trick he picked up from David Brooks. That Obama is such a scrub, huh?

Ralph Lauren, David Lauren, and  the bathtub Matisse. Found art by Guccifer.
I have absolutely nothing to say about the heist of Bush family emails reported in the Smoking Gun, including George W.'s portraits of unclothed portions of his body (totally SFW unless you're supposed to be, like, working) except to express my childlike and nonpartisan delight at the news (to me) that Neil Bush's daughter is married to the son of a famous fashion designer (pictured above), making her name (drumroll) Lauren Lauren.

Also too, an illustration of partisan bias affecting even me:
In a December 27 e-mail to his four siblings, Jeb Bush saluted his ailing father’s “kindness and good nature” and pointed to “how kind he was with President Clinton and he helped restore his sordid reputation. A very tough thing to do but with kindness, dad probably helped Bill Clinton than anything he himself has done.”
I swear I had no idea Clinton was suffering from a "sordid reputation" when he left office with a 66% approval rating. I thought it was Clinton who was doing old George a favor, taking time to hang out with him.