Saturday, July 4, 2009


Avedon: I wonder, if a link to Matt Taibbi's piece about how it's Goldman Sachs' fault falls in the forest, does it make a sound?

Omnislash May 25, 2004: This isn't really an exclusive, but aside from a scanned PDF copy of the physical magazine, the complete article isn't online anywhere I can see thanks to Rolling Stone being completely retarded, so I OCR'd it. This is one of the best articles he's written yet, and even as cynical as I am, I was still sick to my stomach by the time I finished the last section.

From tech stocks to high gas prices, Goldman Sachs has engineered every major market manipulation since the Great Depression - and they're about to do it again


The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it's everywhere. The world's most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money. In fact, the history of the recent financial crisis, which doubles as a history of the rapid decline and fall of the suddenly swindled-dry American empire, reads like a Who's Who of Goldman Sachs graduates.

By now, most of us know the major players. As George Bush's last Treasury secretary, former Goldman CEO Henry Paulson was the architect of the bailout, a suspiciously self-serving plan to funnel trillions of Your Dollars to a handful of his old friends on Wall Street. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's former Treasury secretary, spent 26 years at Goldman before becoming chairman of Citigroup - which in turn got a $300 billion taxpayer bailout from Paulson. There's John Thain, the rear end in a top hat chief of Merrill Lynch who bought an $87,000 area rug for his office as his company was imploding; a former Goldman banker, Thain enjoyed a multibillion-dollar handout from Paulson, who used billions in taxpayer funds to help Bank of America rescue Thain's sorry company. And Robert Steel, the former Goldmanite head of Wachovia, scored himself and his fellow executives $225 million in golden parachute payments as his bank was self-destructing. There's Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff during the bailout, and Mark Patterson, the current Treasury chief of staff, who was a Goldman lobbyist just a year ago, and Ed Liddy, the former Goldman director whom Paulson put in charge of bailed-out insurance giant AIG, which forked over $13 billion to Goldman after Liddy came on board. The heads of the Canadian and Italian national banks are Goldman alums, as is the head of the World Bank, the head of the New York Stock Exchange, the last two heads of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York - which, incidentally, is now in charge of overseeing Goldman - not to mention ...

But then, any attempt to construct a narrative around all the former Goldmanites in influential positions quickly becomes an absurd and pointless exercise, like trying to make a list of everything. What you need to know is the big picture: If America is circling the drain, Goldman Sachs has found a way to be that drain - an extremely unfortunate loophole in the system of Western democratic capitalism, which never foresaw that in a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy.

The bank's unprecedented reach and power have enabled it to turn all of America into a giant pump-and-dump scam, manipulating whole economic sectors for years at a time, moving the dice game as this or that market collapses, and all the time gorging itself on the unseen costs that are breaking families everywhere - high gas prices, rising consumer-credit rates, half-eaten pension funds, mass layoffs, future taxes to pay off bailouts. All that money that you're losing, it's going somewhere, and in both a literal and a figurative sense, Goldman Sachs is where it's going: The bank is a huge, highly sophisticated engine for converting the useful, deployed wealth of society into the least useful, most wasteful and insoluble substance on Earth - pure profit for rich individuals.

They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They've been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s - and now they're preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet.

If you want to understand how we got into this financial crisis, you have to first understand where all the money went - and in order to understand that, you need to understand what Goldman has already gotten away with. It is a history exactly five bubbles long - including last year's strange and seemingly inexplicable spike in the price of oil. There were a lot of losers in each of those bubbles, and in the bailout that followed. But Goldman wasn't one of them.


Goldman wasn't always a too-big-to-fail Wall Street behemoth, the ruthless face of kill-or-be-killed capitalism on steroids - just almost always. The bank was actually founded in 1869 by a German immigrant named Marcus Goldman, who built it up with his son-in-law Samuel Sachs. They were pioneers in the use of commercial paper, which is just a fancy way of saying they made money lending out short-term IOUs to small-time vendors in downtown Manhattan.

You can probably guess the basic plotline of Goldman's first 100 years in business: plucky, immigrant-led investment bank beats the odds, pulls itself up by its bootstraps, makes shitloads of money. In that ancient history there's really only one episode that bears scrutiny now, in light of more recent events: Goldman's disastrous foray into the speculative mania of pre-crash Wall Street in the late 1920s.
go to the link for the full story.

The Blogs are Alive, with the Sound of Palin . . . .

Truly, Sarah Palin has come a long way. When she ran for vice president, she frequently became disjointed and garbled when she departed from her prepared remarks. Now the prepared remarks are incoherent, too.
The timing of Palin’s announcement was extremely peculiar. Not only did she interrupt the plans of TV newscasters to spend the entire weekend pointing out that Michael Jackson is still dead, she delivered her big news just as the nation was settling into Fourth of July celebrations. You’d have thought she didn’t want us to notice.
Kurtz (TPM): Shorter Palin: Real Winners Quit

Perhaps the best part of Palin's announcement today:

Life is too short to compromise time and resources... it may be tempting and more comfortable to just keep your head down, plod along, and appease those who demand: "Sit down and shut up", but that's the worthless, easy path; that's a quitter's way out.

Quitters stick to it. Winners quit.

Marshall: Nothing Suspicious About That

Andrea Mitchell says sources close to Gov. Palin say she is now "out of politics for good."

From a few hours before the announcement, we have . . .

Dougj: Baby steps?

Jonah Goldberg has “a letter to Sarah Palin” column that I find interesting because it touts the importance of policy knowledge, but only for getting elected:

Second, peddling a few platitudes and truisms about free markets and limited government is no substitute for really knowing what you’re talking about. Yes, you can talk well about the stuff you know — oil drilling, energy, etc. — but beyond your comfort zone, you fall back on bumper-sticker language that sounds fine to the people who already agree with you but is useless in winning over skeptics.

President Bush had the same problem you do, which is why there’s a hunger for Republicans who can effectively articulate and sell our policies and philosophy. That’s why the wonks have the upper hand. Mitt Romney, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, and other hands-on types are what the party wants and, frankly, needs.

Note that the emphasis is on articulating and selling, not on understanding and implementing. But even if Jonah still doesn’t believe that the reality of policy is important, at least he now accepts that the electorate does and thinks that Republicans should put forward candidates who at least give the appearance of understanding this reality.

I think that represents some kind of progress.

John Cole: Just Weird

For those of you who have not seen Palin’s presser, here it is via Paddy via Taylor Marsh at the Political Carnival:

That was rambling and disjointed even by Palin’s low standards. When I was watching it, it reminded me of a COPS episode, when they are are talking to a guy accused of stealing aerosol paint from a hardware store, and the guy swears he didn’t steal any paint, and yes it is all just a big coincidence that he has a circle of silver paint around his mouth and nose, and yes, it is an even bigger coincidence that there is a paper bag with silver paint in it and no he has no idea why there are empty silver cans of paint in the bag seat of his car and oh, hey, by the way, do you have a light, buddy, and better yet do you gotta smoke?

It was manic. I have no idea what is going on, but this was just bizarre. And what makes me even more convinced she is just done, we have this:

If Palin wants to run in 2012, why not do exactly what she announced today? It’s an enormous gamble – but it could be a shrewd one.

After all, she’s freeing herself from the duties of the governorship. Now she can do her book, give speeches, travel the country and the world, campaign for others, meet people, get more educated on the issues – and without being criticized for neglecting her duties in Alaska. I suppose she’ll take a hit for leaving the governorship early – but how much of one? She’s probably accomplished most of what she was going to get done as governor, and is leaving a sympatico lieutenant governor in charge.

And haven’t conservatives been lamenting the lack of a national leader? Well, now she’ll try to be that. She may not succeed. Everything rests on her talents, and on her performance. She’ll be under intense and hostile scrutiny, and she’ll have to perform well.

All in all, it’s going to be a high-wire act. The odds are against her pulling it off. But I wouldn’t bet against it.

That was Bill Kristol, and that is as good as a kiss of death.

All sorts of speculation going on, but who knows? I’ve never understood her to begin with, I won’t begin to try now.

hilzoy: There's Something About This I Just Don't Understand ...

Anderson Cooper interviewed Sarah Palin's spokesperson tonight. He asked what Sarah Palin would be doing next. Here's her answer:

"STAPLETON: OH, everything under the sun that you can possibly think of.

And what she has said and what she did say in her speech was, just alone, getting out there and working with candidates and for candidates to get the right people in office who have those same ideas and ideals, and energy independence and who will work for stronger national security and more support for..."

I see. Sarah Palin resigned as Governor so that she could help people who share her "ideas and ideals" get elected to political office. Maybe if she works really hard at it, she could even get one of them elected governor.

Oh, wait ...

Dougj: Crazy like on Fox

It’s time to face the awful truth: the right-wing blogosphere’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s resignation has been disappointingly sane. There are two notable exceptions, however. First, we have Atlas Shrugs:

6:40 pm: The diseased and utterly morally left at work again (I talked of this very evil here, earlier this week) – photoshopping Palin family pictures here. Do you believe this represents America? (hat tip Dave)

Bear in mind, this is not the first time they have made fun of and photoshopped Trig. And these are not fringe blogs. These are some of the biggest blogs in the left wing blogosphere. (Wonkette, Tbogg, Firedoglake etc.)


4:30 pm: My take? If Palin is anything like I think she is (know she is), Obama’s treasonous presidency is responsible for this. She, like all patriotic Americans, is shocked by what is happening. Obama is destroying this country. She knows it. We all know it. We need a leader. She is answering our call.

She did not quit. She is going to get into the fight to save America. Watch what happens.

This is a pitch perfect example of post-wingnuttery in that it stirs up all kinds of images but makes no actual sense.

And here’s Mary Matalin (via via):

Ms. Matalin joked that despite her own initial inside-the-Beltway reaction of surprise, shoppers at her local WalMart in the Shenandoah would be whooping “hoo-rahs” because of Ms. Palin’s continued popularity among conservative voters.

These are probably the same whooping “hoo-rahs” I heard in my predominantly Democratic neighborhood when Eliot Spitzer resigned.

Kurtz (TPM): Go Crazy, Folks

We've rounded up the Top 10 Sarah Palin videos we've posted on the site since her selection as McCain's veep last year. These are the most-viewed clips of her stumbles and bumbles and of the coverage surrounding her -- in all their viral loveliness.

Kurtz (TPM): From Crazy to Shrewd In One Hour

At 4:06 ET, when news first broke that Sarah Palin was resigning the governorship, Fox News got Palin's Svengali, Bill Kristol, on phone who said he was "real surprised" by the decision. "[Y]ou know when I first heard it I thought that's a little crazy, giving up the governorship for a year and a half," Kristol told viewers.

What a difference an hour makes.

At 5:06 ET, Kristol posted on the Weekly Standard website: "If Palin wants to run in 2012, why not do exactly what she announced today? It's an enormous gamble - but it could be a shrewd one."

Is it a huge gamble or a shrewd move? Kristol leaves himself a big out there.

Late Update: Fox is coming around, too. A little while ago, Stuart Varney said, "Let's get back to this resignation," before pausing to correct himself. "Not the resignation but stepping aside from the governorship."

Josh Marshall (TPM): Surreality Only Beginning

As David noted below, many commentators have taken little more than an hour to proceed from slack-jawed bewilderment to belief that Sarah Palin's unexplained resignation may be a political masterstroke.

For the moment there's no clear evidence of or explanation for some massive political or scandal bombshell that would have driven Palin from office. And it can be difficult not to allow the preposterous to become credible when many supposedly rational people are saying it.

But logic and common sense seldom fail as a guide to understanding politics. And the idea that Gov. Palin just up and decided for no reason in particular to resign her office little more than half way through her term, with a hastily assembled press conference and a rambling and histrionic speech, is just too silly for serious consideration. Another sign of the confusion on the inside are the comments reporters are getting from supposed Palin insiders. Palin insiders told Andrew Mitchell that Palin was "out of politics for good." But she told the Executive Director of the Republican Governors Association that she's resigning to campaign for more candidates in the continental US, work on her book, all with an eye to gearing up for her run for president in 2012. Call me cynical but it seems hard to reconcile those two explanations.

As with her speech itself, the tell is that the decision was apparently so rushed and sudden that there was not enough time to come up with a plausible cover story or to get out the word about what it was.

It looks like a duck and quacks like a duck. Either Palin is resigning ahead of some titanic scandal (which should emerge in short order if it exists) or her resignation was triggered by an even more extreme mental instability than we'd previously suspected.

Kurtz (TPM): No Quit in the Hagiographers


Rod Dreher, Dallas Morning News, Sept. 7, 2008:

She's a fighter, this one. And worth fighting for. Come what may in November, we now know what the future of the GOP and the conservative movement looks like.

Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 4, 2008:

Sarah Palin may come from the backwoods of Alaska, but she has the heart of a street fighter.

Jim Wooten, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Sept. 3, 2008:

Republicans want a fighter. I do believe they have one in Gov. Sarah Palin.


David Brody, CBN, today:

Oh and by the way, the last time I checked, her nickname is "Sarah Barracuda." Palin is a fighter.

Palin spokesperson Meghan Stapleton, quoted by the AP, today:

Palin remaining as governor is not good for Alaska, given the "political bloodsport" by her critics, Stapleton said. Stepping down is a "fighter's move," Stapleton said, essentially Palin stepping around political barriers in her way and pursuing her vision.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada.

Reid says he expects the tactic of gentle persuasion to work best, given the size of his Senate Democratic flock and the political divergences within it. "I don't dictate how people vote," he said in an interview this month. "If it's an important vote, I try to tell them how important it is to the Senate, the country, the president ... But I'm not very good at twisting arms. I try to be more verbal and non-threatening. So there are going to be -- I'm sure -- a number of opportunities for people who have different opinions not to vote the way that I think they should. But that's the way it is. I hold no grudges."

I don't doubt Reid is widely liked and admired within the caucus. But "gentle persuasion" is rarely a recipe for party discipline.

There have been plenty of Senate Majority Leaders in history who members feared and wouldn't dare cross. Reid isn't one of them.


Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) decided to shake up an otherwise slow news day with an astounding announcement: not only has she decided to skip a re-election campaign next year, she's also resigning from office altogether later this month.

"Gov. Sarah Palin will resign her office in a few weeks, she said during a news conference at her Wasilla home Friday morning.

Lt. Gov. Sean Parnell will be inaugurated at the Governor's Picnic at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks on Saturday, July 25, Palin said.

There was no immediate word as to why she will resign, though speculation has been rampant that the former vice presidential candidate is gearing up for a run at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Palin is making a terrible mistake. The lure of the national spotlight is strong, and the day-to-day challenges associated with running the executive branch of a state are no doubt difficult. There are probably plenty of far-right activists and donors whispering in Palin's ear, telling her to ignore the naysayers and realize she's ready to lead the nation, but she's listening to the wrong people. Walking away from the governor's office after one term is incredibly foolish -- but walking away from the governor's office after two and a half years in office is stupefying.

Just yesterday, Charles Krauthammer, an unquestionably conservative observer, explained on Fox News, "[Palin] is not a serious candidate for the presidency. She had to go home and study and spend a lot of time on issues in which she was not adept last year, and she hasn't."

Indeed, she's done the opposite. Reihan Salam, a prominent conservative blogger and Republican strategist, defended Palin repeatedly over the last several months, making excuses for her shortcomings, and arguing valiantly that Palin is a credible national figure. Then, in April, Salam reluctantly gave up.

Palin's campaign antics can be forgiven. What can't be forgiven is the ham-handed way she's tried to build her national profile since she returned to Alaska. She's abandoned the bold right-left populism that won over Alaska voters -- and me -- in the first place in favor of an increasingly defensive and harsh partisanship.... One can't help but get the impression that Palin is a clownish, vindictive amateur.... What I'm wondering is: Has Sarah Palin undergone some kind of secret lobotomy?

Salam was arguably understating the case. Indeed, since that item was published, Palin's on-the-job performance has become an even bigger train wreck, with a bizarre fight with the state legislature over economic stimulus, a failed effort to appoint a ridiculous state attorney general, a striking number of public and private feuds, and a series of media interviews in which she's humiliated herself over and over and over and over again. And this doesn't even factor in the allegations of ethics violations.

What's especially curious about all of this is that Palin had a more obvious and productive route, which she's inexplicably chosen to ignore. As Chris Orr recently noted, "Perhaps the most mystifying element of Palin's recent forays into nuttery is that, politically speaking, it would be difficult to come up with stupider way to position herself in the wake of her v.p. run. The base already loves her -- the diehard pro-lifers, the hands-off-mine individualists, the anti-elitist brigades, you name 'em. Where she has (deepening) trouble is with everyone else: moderates, socially liberal libertarians, DC-establishment types, and anyone who places a premium on basic competence."

Palin had an opportunity to prove her critics wrong. She could have returned to Alaska after last year's campaign, studied up on public policy, and built up some kind of record in office, preferably with some achievements. Instead, Palin has become an even more rigid ideologue. Given a chance to prove herself as leader, Palin has decided she'd prefer to walk away, blinded by a combination of ambition and misplaced arrogance.

July 3 - This & That

Josh Marshall: Takes Your Breath Away | TPM
Melinda Henneberger has a nice blow by blow run-down of the various, overlapping, often contradictory and mainly just painful explanations from WaPo executives about their abortive pay-for-play/pay-for-schmooze operation discussed this morning by Politico.
  • Attaturk: Yes, quite a media critic

    As the Washington Post flailed about yesterday trying to find a way to blame Nico Pitney for their trying to sell access to Villagers and Villager Enthusiasts, one thing was very curious indeed. As Jamison Foster asks at Media Matters, where was the WaPo's media critic on this?

    How was he scooped so badly by of all places,the Politico and Mike Allen aka beltway Eddie Haskell?

    Well, Howie was busy doing important stuff -- let the tweets speak for themselves:

    The ultimate white guy, who has certainly never written a column about white guys covering white guys really thought he had one awesome story. Howie, you're a lifetime member of the Ya Ya Wankerhood.

Very good news vis Steve Benen:
* Two years ago, polls in Pakistan showed a populace largely unconcerned with the Taliban and the activities of al Qaeda. Not anymore. Pakistanis "now consider terrorist groups a 'critical threat' to their country."
Also from Steve:
Andrew Sullivan ponders what Fox News and other Republican outlets would do if Obama treated the American flag the same way Sarah Palin did. It's not an unreasonable question.

Josh Marshall: Berserk

We have an update on this incident over the weekend in SD which was in equal parts bizarre, horrific and comic. A Sheriff's deputy got called to the home of two Democratic activists who were holding a fundraiser for congressional candidate Francine Busby. The complaint he was responding to was sd-deputy-702-dc.jpgwhat appears to have been a bogus noise complaint called in by a neighbor who simultaneously yelling anti-gay slurs from outside the event (a lesbian couple hosted the event).

So Deputy Marshall G. Abbott shows up at house and within a few moments he's literally going berserk, twisting the hosts' arms behind their back and throwing them to the floor and then pepper spraying multiple guests. (Reading the various accounts the whole thing sounds like some Saturday Night Live episode, though probably less so to the attendees who had pepper spray squirted into their eyes.) Apparently convinced he was in some sort of imminent danger from the group middle-aged, mainly female Democratic activists, Abbott proceeded to call in back up, which lead to eight more deputies, a helicopter and a canine unit being dispatched to the scene.

Now the Sheriff's Department is in lockdown, refusing to answer any questions while allegedly conducting their own internal investigation of the incident. But what jumps out to me is that the DA's Office in San Diego is still deciding whether or not to file charges against the two women Abbott arrested during his rampage.

Ezra Klein: In Case You Were Insufficiently Depressed About the Job Numbers


In April, a "mere" 322,000 people lost their jobs. That was part of the whole "bad news, good trend" thing that had everyone talking about green shoots. In May, economists predicted a pretty similar result: 350,000 lost jobs. They got it wrong. We lost 467,000 jobs in May. The unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent. And that actually underplays the problems. It's always worth remembering that the unemployment rate is, at best, a partial indicator of people who are unhappily unemployed. Tim Fernholz explains:

Keep in mind that when we say 9.5 percent, we're talking about people who have lost their job and are looking for a new one. But when you factor in people who "currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past" "plus total employed part time for economic reasons," and you get a rate of 16.5 percent unemployment -- nearly one in five potential workers has lost significant wages and work in the current economic environment.

And, as Billy Mays would have said, that's not all! We've also got about 9 million workers who are part-time because they can't find full-time work. That's up from 5 million workers in June. On the bright side -- and yes, there is a bright side -- banker pay has rebounded to 2007 levels. As Kevin Drum says, "It's good to see that not everyone is suffering."
Graph credit: Calculated Risk.

Krugman: That ’30s Show

O.K., Thursday’s jobs report settles it. We’re going to need a bigger stimulus. But does the president know that?

Let’s do the math.

Since the recession began, the U.S. economy has lost 6 ½ million jobs — and as that grim employment report confirmed, it’s continuing to lose jobs at a rapid pace. Once you take into account the 100,000-plus new jobs that we need each month just to keep up with a growing population, we’re about 8 ½ million jobs in the hole.

And the deeper the hole gets, the harder it will be to dig ourselves out. The job figures weren’t the only bad news in Thursday’s report, which also showed wages stalling and possibly on the verge of outright decline. That’s a recipe for a descent into Japanese-style deflation, which is very difficult to reverse. Lost decade, anyone?

Wait — there’s more bad news: the fiscal crisis of the states. Unlike the federal government, states are required to run balanced budgets. And faced with a sharp drop in revenue, most states are preparing savage budget cuts, many of them at the expense of the most vulnerable. Aside from directly creating a great deal of misery, these cuts will depress the economy even further.

So what do we have to counter this scary prospect? We have the Obama stimulus plan, which aims to create 3 ½ million jobs by late next year. That’s much better than nothing, but it’s not remotely enough. And there doesn’t seem to be much else going on. Do you remember the administration’s plan to sharply reduce the rate of foreclosures, or its plan to get the banks lending again by taking toxic assets off their balance sheets? Neither do I.

All of this is depressingly familiar to anyone who has studied economic policy in the 1930s. Once again a Democratic president has pushed through job-creation policies that will mitigate the slump but aren’t aggressive enough to produce a full recovery. Once again much of the stimulus at the federal level is being undone by budget retrenchment at the state and local level.

So have we failed to learn from history, and are we, therefore, doomed to repeat it? Not necessarily — but it’s up to the president and his economic team to ensure that things are different this time. President Obama and his officials need to ramp up their efforts, starting with a plan to make the stimulus bigger.

Just to be clear, I’m well aware of how difficult it will be to get such a plan enacted.

There won’t be any cooperation from Republican leaders, who have settled on a strategy of total opposition, unconstrained by facts or logic. Indeed, these leaders responded to the latest job numbers by proclaiming the failure of the Obama economic plan. That’s ludicrous, of course. The administration warned from the beginning that it would be several quarters before the plan had any major positive effects. But that didn’t stop the chairman of the Republican Study Committee from issuing a statement demanding: “Where are the jobs?”

It’s also not clear whether the administration will get much help from Senate “centrists,” who partially eviscerated the original stimulus plan by demanding cuts in aid to state and local governments — aid that, as we’re now seeing, was desperately needed. I’d like to think that some of these centrists are feeling remorse, but if they are, I haven’t seen any evidence to that effect.

And as an economist, I’d add that many members of my profession are playing a distinctly unhelpful role.

It has been a rude shock to see so many economists with good reputations recycling old fallacies — like the claim that any rise in government spending automatically displaces an equal amount of private spending, even when there is mass unemployment — and lending their names to grossly exaggerated claims about the evils of short-run budget deficits. (Right now the risks associated with additional debt are much less than the risks associated with failing to give the economy adequate support.)

Also, as in the 1930s, the opponents of action are peddling scare stories about inflation even as deflation looms.

So getting another round of stimulus will be difficult. But it’s essential.

Obama administration economists understand the stakes. Indeed, just a few weeks ago, Christina Romer, the chairwoman of the Council of Economic Advisers, published an article on the “lessons of 1937” — the year that F.D.R. gave in to the deficit and inflation hawks, with disastrous consequences both for the economy and for his political agenda.

What I don’t know is whether the administration has faced up to the inadequacy of what it has done so far.

So here’s my message to the president: You need to get both your economic team and your political people working on additional stimulus, now. Because if you don’t, you’ll soon be facing your own personal 1937.

Getting Warmer

  • ChrisinParis (AmBlog): Scottish sheep shrinking due to global warming
    Mother nature always knows.
    The case involves a rare herd of wild sheep on the remote Scottish island - known in Scottish Gaelic as Hirta - that are refusing to bow to conventional evolutionary pressure, which says big is best. Instead, they have steadily decreased in size since the 1980s.

    Scientists have now stepped in to solve the conundrum, and fingered the culprit as the new Moriarty of mankind: global warming.

    The experts say shorter and milder winters mean that lambs do not need to put as much weight on during their first few months of life. Smaller animals that would have perished in harsh winters a few decades ago can now survive to their first birthday. As a result, the average weight of the sheep has dropped by 81g each year.
Sully: Yglesias Award Nominee
"It is perfectly legitimate to argue that the House cap-and-trade system is flawed beyond redemption -- so complex and confusing that it only benefits regulators and the lobbyists who outwit them -- and that Congress should start over with a carbon tax. It is also legitimate to contend that, while the cap-and-trade system is flawed, it is better than inaction and necessary to spur innovation. And for eight House Republicans who took this stand at great political risk, it is not only legitimate -- it is admirable," - Michael Gerson, yesterday's Washington Post.
  • Via Benen -
    * Quote of the Day, from Thomas Friedman: "There is much in the House cap-and-trade energy bill that just passed that I absolutely hate. It is too weak in key areas and way too complicated in others. A simple, straightforward carbon tax would have made much more sense than this Rube Goldberg contraption. It is pathetic that we couldn't do better. It is appalling that so much had to be given away to polluters. It stinks. It's a mess. I detest it. Now let's get it passed in the Senate and make it law."
  • Ezra Klein: It's The System, Stupid

    The main thing we could do to improve the functioning of the legislative process would be to dissolve the U.S. Senate. Its composition is wildly anti-democratic, its rules are aggressively anti-majoritarian, and its culture holds all this aloft as a good thing.

    But the main thing we could do to improve the media's understanding of the problems in the legislative process would be to dissolve the office of the presidency. (This blog, you have to admit, has a very high ratio of reforms-to-sentences.) It's a bright, shiny, simple thing that's not the actual issue but that no one seems able to look away from. You see this in Clive Crooks' column today. The actual subject of the column is the halting and problematic legislation being produced by the Congress. But the putative subject of the column is how Barack Obama feels about the legislation being produced by the Congress. "The president has cast himself not as a leader of reform," sighs Crook, "but as a cheerleader for 'reform.'"

    This endless op-ed alchemy in which anger at the hard, complicated thing (our relentlessly dysfunctional system of government) gets transformed into disappointment with the simple, easy thing (the single individual who occupies the White House) isn't just analytically lazy. It's actively damaging. it implies a solution that will not solve the problem. It implies the need for different presidents, or maybe better presidents. Presidents of the other party, or maybe no party at all (remember Unity 08?).

    To take health-care reform as an example (and when, at this blog, do we not use health-care reform as an example?), full-scale reconstruction of the health-care system has been contemplated or attempted by FDR, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. If any of those men had been czar, health reform would have been finished decades ago. But all of them failed, or turned back. And it is not because they were all dunces or Democrats, cowards or incompetents. It is because the system is resistant to large-scale change, even when the problem is obvious. In response to these failures, we frequently change the president, or switch out the party that controls Congress. And then they too fail, and we eventually switch back.

    Clive Crook's criticism of Obama is that Obama is playing within the constraints of the system. And by focusing his criticism on Obama, Crook, too, is playing within the constraints of the system. But the problem is not Obama. It is the system.

The conservative Washington Times ran a piece today on one of the right's new favorite subjects.

Republican lawmakers, coming off a loss Friday in their attempt to block passage of a massive climate bill, have seized on a global warming memo they say was suppressed by the Obama administration.

The memo, drafted by two environmental economists, is highly critical of the science behind an Environmental Protection Agency memo that found carbon dioxide to be a greenhouse gas.

Sen. James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Sen. John Barrasso, Wyoming Republican, said the memo shows that the EPA did not have accurate information when it completed its finding.

In their letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson yesterday, Inhofe and Barrasso claim to "have learned" that a "senior EPA official suppressed" a "rigorous account" of "the most up-to-date science of climate change."

Last night, Fox News picked up on the same argument, insisting that the EPA "suppressed" a "report" that contradicted the standard scientific consensus on climate change.

I know we covered this the other day, but it's probably best to keep setting the record straight before bogus claims gain traction.

At issue is a "memo" put together by Alan Carlin, who works at the EPA as an economist, not a climate scientist. He happens to believe the planet may be getting cooler, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

Did Carlin prepare a "report" on climate change? No. In his spare time, he put together an argument against global warming, which wasn't requested by anyone at the agency. His argument stems from his personal hobby.

Was Carlin's memo "suppressed"? No. The EPA's National Center for Environmental Economics allowed him to put together his memo, and it was reviewed by agency scientists.

Was Carlin's memo any good? No. I've seen it described this week as "a hodgepodge of widely discredited pseudoscience," and "a ragbag collection of un-peer reviewed web pages, an unhealthy dose of sunstroke, a dash of astrology and more cherries than you can poke a cocktail stick at."

Zachary Roth spoke to Carlin, and the economist conceded that his "studies" were not "specifically commissioned by the EPA," and they've been published, but "not all in academic journals."

I don't imagine Inhofe or Fox News will find these details important, but it's something to keep in mind if the "story" starts to get wider play.

Think Progress: Media Outlet Refuses To Run Republican TV Ad Filled With Misrepresentations Of Clean Energy Bill
This afternoon, Roanoke television station WDBJ-TV, announced they will be refusing to air a National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) ad attacking freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA), citing factual inaccuracies. The NRCC had been planning to run television ads against Democratic members of Congress, like Perriello, who voted for the Waxman-Markey clean energy economy legislation that passed last week. After receiving information about the factual inaccuracies in the ad, the station pulled it from rotation.

For any objective observer, the the ad is pulled out of thin air. The ads erroneously state that the bill will “destroy jobs” and “cost middle-class families $1,800 a year.” According to a study by the Center for American Progress, clean energy economy legislation will create 1.7 million American jobs while simultaneously addressing climate change by capping carbon dioxide emissions. The $1,800 figure used by NRCC is also made of whole cloth. The Congressional Budget Office has scored the bill and found that by 2020, the annual cost would be about $175 per household — about a postage stamp a day. An EPA estimate of the bill found similar results, projecting the cost to be about $80 to $111 per a year.

Still refusing to accept reality, the Republican leadership is instructing its members to lie about the clean energy economy bill:

– Last week, Republican whip Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) posted a message erroneously claiming that clean energy legislation will amount to “a national energy tax of up to $3,100 on all Americans.”

– Republican leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) posted on his website that the clean energy bill will cost “$3,100 a year,” then modified that number to “$3,000 per household per year.”

– Republican conference chair Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), not to be outdone, claimed the clean energy bill would be “over $4,000 a year.”

All the numbers cited by Republicans are at least seventeen times the highest possible projection by the CBO and EPA.

Clearly, Republicans opposed to the clean energy bill seem willing to justify their opposition using outright falsehoods. But fortunately, at least some stations are not willing to propagate it.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Wingnuts - Totally Insane Edition

Joe Klein (Swampland): UnBolted

In the Washington Post today, screw-loose wingnut extraordinaire John Bolton has a column in which he advocates an Israeli strike against Iran. This would be shocking, except that...

On June 26, Bolton had an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which he advocated bombing Iran. And, well, er...

On June 12, he had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in which he advocated bombing Iran.

One wonders which op-ed page editor will succumb to this dangerous and demented guy's wiles next week.

update: For those seeking some sane commentary about Iran, here's Roger Cohen--still there, incredibly.

update2: Max Boot just loves Bolton's "analysis." Especially, Bolton's public diplomacy gambit: we're bombing you, but we're not as bad as your government. That should work wonders.

update3: Spencer Ackerman has at the public diplomacy idiocy. Boom-shakalaka, indeed!

Think Progress: Michael Scheuer: Obama Doesn’t Care ‘About Protecting This Country’

Earlier this week, former CIA operative and torture apologist Michael Scheuer appeared on Fox News, where he told Glenn Beck (who nodded in agreement), “The only chance we have” to repair our national security apparatus “is for Osama bin Laden to deploy and detonate a major weapon in the United States.” Yesterday, on Alan Colmes’ radio show, Scheuer made similar comments about the national security stance of the U.S., saying that he doesn’t believe that President Obama wants to protect the country “if it costs him votes”:

COLMES: You don’t think the President of the United States, Barack Obama, cares about protecting this country.

SCHEUER: No, I don’t. Because I don’t think he realizes what the world is like outside the United States. [...]

COLMES: You don’t think he wants to protect the country?

SCHEUER: I don’t think he can, sir. [...]

COLMES: He doesn’t want to protect the country?

SCHEUER: Not if it costs votes.

Listen here:

A number of progressive bloggers castigated Scheuer for his remarks on Beck’s show. The Washington Independent’s Spencer Ackerman, however, expressed disappointment in Scheuer’s comments and hoped that he was “being taken out of context,” citing his respect for Scheuer’s previous national security work. Unfortunately, it appears that Scheuer meant what he said.

sgw: Jon Stewart On Scheuer

This clip isn't even funny and I don't believe Jon Stewart wanted it to be.

Osama bin Laden Needs to Attack America

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

The question is why isn't every cable news station and news outlet denouncing this clown today? We have to rely on Jon Stewart to police this kind of crap?! What the hell is up with that?

Health Care Tuesday

via Daily Kos ...


The city and province of Buenos Aires have announced a health emergency to fight a swine flu outbreak that has killed at least 26 people in Argentina.

Benen: IS 'HELP' ON THE WAY?...
Just two weeks ago, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored a health care reform plan crafted by Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. The results were ugly: the plan would cost at least $1 trillion over the next decade, but leave tens of millions of people without insurance.

The problem, of course, was that it wasn't the actual plan -- the CBO relied on out-of-date details to score a proposal that wasn't finished and was missing key provisions. Regardless, Republicans pounced, using the misleading CBO analysis as a cudgel to beat reform advocates. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) went so far as to call the CBO breakdown "the turning point in the healthcare debate."

The good news is, the actual HELP bill is complete. The better news is, the committee seems to have put together a solid plan. Jonathan Cohn explained:

According to the official CBO estimate, which a Capitol Hill source provided late Wednesday afternoon, the provisions over which HELP has some jurisdiction -- which include employer contributions and subsidies to people who can't fully pay for insurance on their own -- would bring insurance to 21 million additional people by 2019, the end of the ten-year budget window. (Erosion of job-based coverage would be virtually zero.) An expansion of Medicaid, something HELP supports but can't officially legislate -- because of committee jurisdiction -- would cover another 20 million.

So what does that mean in context? The official CBO projections suggest that, given current trends, there'd be 54 million uninsured people in America by 2019. Therefore, the reforms HELP envisions would reduce that number by three-quarters. Overall, if my math is correct, 95 percent of the population would have health insurance; more than 97 percent if you discount undocumented workers.

The plan would cost -- including net outlays, Medicaid expansion, Medicare/Medicaid savings, and new revenue -- about a $1 trillion over the next decade.

The HELP Committee's proposal also, thankfully, includes a public option, though the details have not yet been published.

As for the Republican lawmakers who used the incomplete CBO analysis to practically announce the death knell of reform, Faiz Shakir asks the right question: "[W]hat excuses will McCain, Boehner, Graham, and other Republicans offer now? Their attacks were not only found to be baseless, but their concerns about the costs and coverage have also been addressed."

I'm sure they'll think of something. They always do.

from Salon's Tom Tomorrow: Healthcare reform: Here we go again!

This Modern World By Tom Tomorrow

The Wall Street Journal ran a very odd op-ed today from someone named George Newman, described as "an economist and retired business executive." The point of the piece was to try to debunk some of the common arguments in support of health care reform. Towards the end of the piece, Newman tackled the notion that we need a public option "to keep the private plans honest."

The 1,500 or so private plans don't produce enough competition? Making it 1,501 will do the trick? But then why stop there? Eating is even more important than health care, so shouldn't we have government-run supermarkets "to keep the private ones honest"? After all, supermarkets clearly put profits ahead of feeding people. And we can't run around naked, so we should have government-run clothing stores to keep the private ones honest.

ABC News' John Stossel was "especially" impressed with this argument. That's a shame.

Jamison Foser explains why Newman's analogy doesn't make sense.

Supermarkets make money by selling people food. Clothing stores make money by selling people clothes. If they don't give people food/clothing, they don't get money.

Insurance companies, on the other hand, make money by selling people insurance -- and they make even more money by selling insurance, and then denying claims.

I would have hoped this was obvious, even to Stossel and the editors of the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page. Oh well.

I'd just add, by the way, that Newman is convinced that American consumers already benefit from the competition among existing private insurance plans. Perhaps, before his next op-ed, Newman could look into the phenomenon of "highly concentrated" insurance markets.

digby: Blanche!

As you all know, Blue America has been collecting money to run some ads in Arkansas to ask Blanche Lincoln to support a Public Plan. We shot three spots but couldn't decide which one to go with, so we've decided to ask you to make the decision for us, by coughing up yet another buck or two for the ad of your choice.

All you have to do is go to the Act Blue Campaign For Health Care Choice Page and follow the instructions.

Here are the ads:

#1 "I Thought We Had Insurance"

#2 "Bonuses"

#3 "Bailout"

Vote here! Vote often!

John Amato has a thorough post about the campaign and the contest, here.

Previous posts about the campaign:

Campaign For Health Care Choice
Monopoly Money
A Votre Sante
Private Dancers
Code Blue
Learn, Damn You, Learn!
Washington To Constituents:STFU
Sargent: Happy Hour Roundup

* Sam Stein reports on an interesting new effort being spearheaded by blogger Jane Hamsher and liberal groups like MoveOn that will make breast cancer survivors the public faces of the push to get wavering Dem Senators to back the public health care option.

Here’s the first spot, targeting Senator Mary Landrieu:

More from Hamsher, a breast cancer survivor herself who has already made trouble for the White House by whipping votes against the war supplemental, right here.

* Speaking of a public plan, at an online town hall today, President Obama voiced strong, unequivocal support for the public option:

I also strongly believe that one of the options in the Exchange should be a public insurance option — an option funded by premiums, not the government. This public option is important because if the private insurance companies have to compete, it will keep them honest and help keep prices down.

* Here’s a good rundown of the health care questions thrown at Obama at the forum.

* A smart post from Eric Kleefeld, who reminds us that the Rupert Murdoch media empire, which is now going batty about Al Franken’s victory, was what originally sued Franken and put him on the political map. Life is funny that way!


Yglesias: Health Care: What’s in it for Me?

Jon Cohn and Kevin Drum ring the alarm bells about something that I think the Democratic Party leadership is overlooking to a dangerous degree—the possibility that by the time they’re done trimming Barack Obama’s health care philosophy down to something acceptable to Max Baucus and Kent Conrad that you’ll be left with something that the public doesn’t actually support. A public option, for example, is wildly popular with the public and supported by almost seventy percent of voters. But it doesn’t have nearly so many fans in the United States.

And as Kevin says, absent a public plan or really generous subsidies, “[m]ost people will just see higher taxes funding better coverage for the poor, and you don’t have to be the world’s biggest cynic to understand that this isn’t going to be overwhelmingly popular.” Now to be clear, people actually would, under this scenario, benefit from a variety of regulatory changes that congress wants to make. But the benefits of those changes would be cumulative over time, and not like a nice Christmas present to voters. Under the circumstances, you could easily imagine any number of Senators who have thus far not been allowed to dominate the political process—ordinary, mainstream Dems who don’t sit on the Finance Committee—looking at the final bill and kind of shrugging. Reducing the long-run trajectory of health care costs is an obsession for DC health policy wonks, but there’s very little evidence that it’s high on the public’s list of concerns. If you don’t do anything to make middle class health care cheaper in the short run, or to open up some new options to people, then you may have appeased some of reform’s critics at the cost of producing a bill with few real fans.

Ezra Klein: Does Medicare Pay Below "Cost?" (Wonky!)


Over at Movin' Meat, Shadowfax has a useful reply to my post on Medicare's method of payment. In particular, he makes the important point that Medicare overpays many specialists and underpays many primary care providers. Agreed. In fact, one of the important and quiet wrinkles of health reform will be how it redresses that imbalance. If you want an affordable health-care system, you can't have your largest insurer tilting the playing field toward specialty care.

But he ends his post the wrong way. "Yes, Ezra," he says. "Medicare does work by dictat." But no! It doesn't! Hospitals and doctors are not forced to accept Medicare's rates by Medicare. (It is true, as Shadowfax says, that many hospitals choose to contract with Medicare and thus the doctors who practice at hospitals have to do so as well. But that's a rather different situation.). There may be a lot of reasons a doctor ends up working with Medicare, just as there are many reasons a supplier ends up working with Wal-Mart. You can argue that they're good reasons or bad reasons, and that policy should or should not change them. But the reasons are not that the law says they have to accept Medicare patients. And that's the argument I'm addressing here.

I also want to say a word on this idea that Medicare pays hospitals "below cost." You can see it clearly in the Blue Cross/Blue Shield slide that mbp3 contributed in comments. "This would seem to be at odds with your post," he/she wrote. The graph is very simple, as you can see. There's a dotted line marked "cost." Medicare is below it. Blue Cross Blue Shield is above it. But the argument here boils down to a very simple question: What is "cost?"

On March 17th, Glenn Hackbarth, the chairman of MedPAC, testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on this very issue. Hospitals, Hackbarth argued, are inefficient. Their costs are too high. And this was backed up in the data. "MedPAC analysis has identified a set of low-cost hospitals that consistently out-perform other hospitals on a series of quality measures, including mortality and readmissions," Hackbarth explained. "Among this set of hospitals, we found that Medicare payments on average roughly equaled the hospitals’ costs." In less "efficient" hospitals, Medicare's payments were below costs. You can see this in the following table:


Among the major differences between "efficient" and "non-efficient" hospitals was that the less-efficient hospitals were not under financial pressure: They made a lot more money from other sources. As such, they spent a lot more money on things like capital expansion. As example, compare the amount a young journalist spends to the amount a young investment banker spends. The banker requires more income to break even on that lifestyle. His "cost" is higher. But he doesn't need that lifestyle. He doesn't need that "cost." And if that banker is being paid on taxpayer dollars, I don't want him to have that lifestyle. I want him to have what he needs, rather than what he wants. Because I'm paying for it.

And so too with Medicare payments. Indeed, what MedPAC found was that hospitals under "financial pressure" -- hospitals that made less money, in other words -- managed to control their "cost" better. Medicare's payments sufficed for them. And their quality outcomes weren't any worse.

Put another way, the question is simple enough: Do you think hospitals are efficient? My read of the evidence is that they are not. "Cost" is too high. I think we need to cut costs. I think that the health-care system needs to spend less money than it currently spends. Another way of saying that is I want the system to begin paying below projected "cost." That, after all, is how you save money.

My read of the data is that there's sufficient room to do that without harming quality. The fact that the vast majority of hospitals continue to accept Medicare patients proves that, I think. Medicare's rates aren't where they'd like them to be. But it's still worthwhile for them to do business with Medicare. That suggests there's significant space between where hospitals are today and where they could be in a more efficient system.

That's not true for everyone, of course. As Hackbarth admits, Medicare underpays primary care providers, and it needs to redress that balance. And Medicare itself does a lot to increase costs across the system (in particular, it's fee-for-service payments give doctors incentive to increase volume). But in the aggregate, I think it's a feature, not a bug, that Medicare's payment rates are pushing hospitals to close that cost gap.

For people who want to dig deeper on this, Hackbarth's testimony is here.

Madrak (C&L): Compare and Contrast: A Woman With Pneumonia Goes to The Local Clinic

From Coalition of the Obvious, via Avedon, this useful "compare and contrast" on national health care systems. It especially means something to me because a few years back, after my unemployment ran out and I was working an hourly job, I developed pneumonia and couldn't afford to pay for a chest x-ray. I'm glad I'm still alive to tell the tale:

During my time in Venezuela, I developed a cough that went on for three weeks and progressively worsened. Finally, after I had become incredibly congested and developed a fever, I decided to attend a Barrio Adentro clinic. The closest one available was a Barrio Adentro II Centro de Diagonostico Integral (CDI) and I headed in without my medical records or calling to make an appointment. Immediately, I was ushered into a small room where Carmen, a friendly Cuban doctor, began questioning me about my symptoms. She listened to my lungs and walked me over to another examination room where, again without waiting, I had x-rays taken.

Afterwards, the technician walked me to a chair and apologized profusely that I had to wait for the x-rays to be developed, promising that it would take no more than five minutes. Sure enough, five minutes later he returned with both x-rays developed. Carmen studied the x-rays and informed me that I had pneumonia, showing me the telltale shadows. She sent me away with my x-rays, three medications to treat my pneumonia, congestion, and fever, and made me promise to come back if my conditioned failed to improve or worsened within three days.

I walked out of the clinic with a diagnosis and treatment within twenty-five minutes of entering, without paying a dime. There was no wait, no paperwork, and no questions about my ability to pay, my nationality, or whether, as a foreigner, I was entitled to free comprehensive health care. There was no monetary value connected with my physical well-being; the care I received was not contingent upon my ability to pay. I was treated with dignity, respect, and compassion, my illness was cured and I was able to continue with my journey in Venezuela.

This past year, a family friend was not so lucky. At the age of 56, she was going back to school and was uninsured. She came down with what she thought was a severe case of the flu, and as her condition worsened she decided not to see a doctor because of the cost. She died at home in bed, losing her life to a system that did not respect her basic human right to survive.

Her death is not an isolated incident. Over 18,000 United States residents die every year because of their lack of prohibitively expensive health insurance. The United States has the distinct honor of being the “only wealthy industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have coverage”.(8)

Instead, we have commodified the public health and well being of those live in the US, leaving them on their own to obtain insurance. Those whose jobs do not provide insurance, can’t get enough hours to qualify for health care coverage through their workplace, are unemployed, or have “previously existing conditions” that exclude them from coverage are forced to choose between the potentially fatal decision of refusing medical care and accumulating medical bills that trap them in an inescapable cycle of debt. And sometimes, that decision is made for them. Doctors often ask that dreaded question; “do you have insurance?” before scheduling critical tests, procedures, or treatments. When the answer is no, treatments that were deemed necessary before are suddenly canceled as the ability to pay becomes more important than the patient’s health.(9)

It is estimated that there are over fifty million United States residents currently living without health insurance, a number that will skyrocket as unemployment rates increase and people lose their work-based health care coverage in this time of international financial crisis.(10)

Already this year, 7.5 million people have lost work-related coverage. Budget cuts for the state of Washington this year will remove over forty thousand people from Washington Basic Health, a subsidized program which already has a waiting list of seventeen thousand people.(11)

As I returned to the US from Venezuela, I was faced with the realization that as a society, the United States places a monetary value on life. That we make life and death judgments based on an individual’s ability to pay. And that someone with the same condition I had recently recovered from had died because, according to our system, her life wasn’t insured.

ChrisinParis (AMBlog): Privatization fails over and over in the UK

The Margaret Thatcher Tony Blair privatization plans all sounded so wonderful. Basic services such as public transportation and the mail could be spun off and the free market would save everyone lots of money! Hooray! Except it didn't quite work out that way. Public transportation privatization has been a fiasco and costs to consumers have hardly decreased. As a regular consumer of public transportation in France I'm horrified with the outrageously high costs when I travel to the UK. It's very expensive and the quality is generally sub-standard.

The rail privatization took a hit as another rail operator notified the government that it has had enough. Like many business ideas from the recent past, what sounded impressive during the credit boom suddenly looks like a very bad idea. Politicians such as Blair and "modern" lefties all bought into the idea that government services could become sexy and profitable if only they had a bit of faux capitalism. Only a politician who spent their life working in government could have viewed this as a good idea.

The DfT's financial constraints were exacerbated as National Express announced it will hand back its £1.4bn east coast contract at the end of the year, the second time in three years that a company has bid more than £1bn for the route and then quit after admitting that it could not afford it. GNER gave up its £1.3bn contract in 2006, only for National Express to place a higher bid less than a year later.

The east coast withdrawal marked a new low in the tense relationship between struggling train operators, who are battling to honour expensive contracts signed before the recession, and the transport secretary, Lord Adonis. He warned that National Express would be barred from the rail market amid uproar that the company was preparing to avoid fulfilling its £1.4bn pledge.
In yet another blow, the UK government is now backing down from its privatization of the post office. The government was becoming addicted to the easy money and ignoring the real world results. The post office privatization is thankfully gone though the UK government is now eying some very steep financial hurdles. All of these programs still require money but there's none left. It was all spent bailing out the banks and covering some of the basics. The UK is in the difficult situation of either requiring a new economic surge (not likely) or raising taxes. The government was drunk on credit and the phony economy that they created and now they have to figure out how to survive without either. The Conservatives may be howling but if anything, they would have gone even deeper into credit and privatization. Their strongest selling point today is that they are not Labour.

Your Morning Wingnuts

You know who's having a hard time adjusting to Al Franken's Senate victory in Minnesota? Fox News.

Glenn Beck said of the senator-elect, "[I]t shows how crazy our country has gone.... [I]t shows that we've lost our minds." Beck didn't seem to realize why these words, coming from him, are deeply amusing.

It's not much better on the Hill among Fox News' allies. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, a long-time member of the world's most deliberative body, today referred to his newest colleague as "the clown from Minnesota." Considering how many times I've dismissed Coburn as a clown, I found his choice of words rather ironic.

For his part, Rush Limbaugh today called Franken a "genuine lunatic." Again, the irony was lost on the speaker.

I think Franken is going to be a very capable lawmaker, but watching his success send the right into apoplexy makes yesterday's developments just a little more entertaining.
Kurtz: He's Not Talking About His Wife
Mark Sanford: "I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate."
  • Josh Marshall adds:

    I know there are a lot of people who are genuinely questioning Sanford's sanity at this point -- when you put together the furtive trips and the endless new revelations. But am I the only one who thinks that he appears to be deeply in love with this woman and should just go be with her?

    The marriage seems clearly to be over. And if it wasn't on his first day back from Argentina, it's hard to conceive how it isn't now.

    Most of the relevant players have weighed in on South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's (R) personal and professional difficulties, but Dan Gilgoff reports there's one group whose silence stands out.

    One week after Mark Sanford admitted to his affair with an Argentine woman -- and a day after he called his mistress his "soul mate" and acknowledged further indiscretions -- I'm struck by the total silence of pro-family groups.

    The Family Research Council has been completely quiet on the South Carolina governor's affair. So has Concerned Women for America. Ditto for Focus on the Family.

    The wall of silence is all the more striking given that 10 Palmetto State senators in Sanford's own party have called for him to step down. Does the pro-family movement burn up credibility if it looks the other way when Republican allies own up to extramarital affairs?

    That's certainly a reasonable question, though I'm not at all sure the religious right still has "credibility" in reserve.

    Either way, the movement's silence is striking. The afternoon Sanford admitted his affair, the Family Research Council, which had invited Sanford to be a featured speaker at its 2009 Values Voter Summit, moved with lightning speed to remove the governor from the guest list.

    But that obviously isn't a condemnation. While religious right groups rarely hesitate to issue moralistic denunciations about events of the day, they've somehow managed to give Sanford a pass.

    Gilgoff flagged this gem from a book Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wrote: "As long as we as Christians are willing to tolerate or overlook duplicity in our self-identified party, it will be clear to the world that our allegiance is to a party and not the truth, regardless of what we claim.... [I]f we are ever to speak as the moral conscience of the nation, we must consistently stand for a clear set of values and principles, no matter if that leads to a temporary loss of political power."

    I realize that Sanford was as close an ally to the religious right movement as any governor in the country. But if these groups expect to lecture the rest of us about morality and family values, they should at least offer some criticism of their close ally.

Atrios: But Their Real Views Were Always Obvious
Only the obfuscation attempts by wanker pundits and "I CAN'T HEAR YOU" deliberate ignorance by everyone involved in the farce have obscured this fact. The broad anti-abortion movement isn't just anti-abortion, it's anti-sex generally and most importantly anti-women having agency over their bodies and sexual activity. This is not true of all anti-abortion people, but it is true of the anti-abortion movement.

Lots of people are squishy about abortion, though I firmly believe the vast majority of people in this country are pro-choice for me if not for thee, but those involved in the anti-abortion movement don't just care about embryos and fetuses, they care about punishing women for unapproved fucking.
  • Yglesias: Bishops, Baptists Organizing Against Contraception

    It’s precisely because of stances like this that it’s very hard to take the “abortion is murder” crowd seriously when they say abortion is murder. Their revealed behavior indicates that they don’t actually find abortion especially problematic, but just place it on a spectrum containing a general aversion to women controlling their own sexuality:

    But more conservative religious groups working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships say they would be forced to oppose such a plan—even though they support the abortion reduction part—because they oppose federal dollars for contraception and comprehensive sex education. This camp, which includes such formidable organizations as the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention, is pressuring the White House to decouple the two parts of the plan into separate bills. One bill would focus entirely on preventing unwanted pregnancy, while the other would focus on supporting pregnant women.

    Atrios sees this as a reason to mock those who advocate seeking “common ground” with abortion proponents. I think we’re arguably seeing here the real fruits of seeking common ground in good faith—their real views are smoked out.

President Obama, even as a candidate, always seemed to have a good, politically-salient line on reproductive rights: he's pro-choice, but he also supports common-sense measures that would reduce unwanted pregnancies, reduce the abortion rate, and improve the reproductive health of millions of women.

In general, it was an approach that resonated with many who were otherwise skeptical of progressive politicians. After all, if Obama supports steps that would lower the number of abortions, he can be pro-choice while also finding some meaningful areas of agreement with opponents of abortion rights.

At least, that was the theory. U.S. News' Dan Gilgoff reports:

As the White House readies its plan for finding "common ground" on reproductive health issues and reducing the need for abortion, a major debate has emerged over how to package the plan's two major components: preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing the need for abortion.

Many abortion rights advocates and some Democrats who want to dial down the culture wars want the White House to package the two parts of the plan together, as a single piece of legislation. The plan would seek to reduce unwanted pregnancies by funding comprehensive sex education and contraception and to reduce the need for abortion by bolstering federal support for pregnant women. Supporters of the approach say it would force senators and members of Congress on both sides of the abortion battle to compromise their traditional positions, creating true common ground that mirrors what President Obama has called for.

But more conservative religious groups working with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships say they would be forced to oppose such a plan -- even though they support the abortion reduction part -- because they oppose federal dollars for contraception and comprehensive sex education. This camp, which includes such formidable organizations as the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention, is pressuring the White House to decouple the two parts of the plan into separate bills.

It often goes overlooked, but a significant number of conservatives not only oppose abortion rights, but would also deny Americans legal access to contraception.

As a result, it's difficult to have a constructive discussion. The left says, "Women should have the right to a safe, legal abortion." The right replies, "We're against that." The left says, "OK, how about improving women's access to contraception and education, which in turn would reduce unwanted pregnancies and cut down on abortion?" The right replies, "We're against that, too."

So much for "common ground" with conservatives.


Rep. Michele Bachmann's (R-Minn.) bizarre obsession with the national census -- she's said she's prepared to break the law and not answer census questions -- has become so annoying, some of her far-right Republican colleagues in the House have seen enough.

David Weigel reports today that Reps. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), and John Mica (R-Fla) -- three conservatives on the House Census Oversight Subcommittee -- issued a statement today, emphasizing "how important it is for every individual to fill out their census forms," and explaining why Bachmann is backwards.

"Every elected representative in this country should feel a responsibility to encourage full participation in the census. To do otherwise is to advocate for a smaller share of federal funding for our constituents. Boycotting the constitutionally-mandated census is illogical, illegal and not in the best interest of our country.

"The unfortunate irony is that Ms. Bachmann's boycott only increases the likelihood that ACORN-recruited census takers will be dispatched to her constituents' homes. Anyone who completes and returns their census form will remove any need for a census taker to visit their residence.

"Furthermore, a boycott opens the door for partisans to statistically adjust census results. The partisan manipulation of census data would irreparably transform the census from being the baseline of our entire statistical system into a tool used to wield political power in Washington."

As Weigel noted, "You don't usually hear Republicans criticizing a fellow member in such a public and official capacity." Quite right. Given the language in this statement -- "illogical, illegal and not in the best interest of our country" -- it was a pretty striking rebuke from three far-right Republicans to another.

And as long as we're on the subject, Bachmann talked to Sean Hannity on Fox News last night about her anti-census crusade, and returned to one of her favorite arguments: "Sean, you know the one question they don't ask? They [don't] ask, 'are you an American citizen?' ... [T]hey could at least ask if we're an American citizen? They don't bother to ask for that. That's why I think people need to read this census for themselves. If you go to my website, michelebachmann, you can read it."

Good idea. If you take Bachmann's advice, visit her website, and read the census, you find the American Community Survey put together by the Census Bureau. Question #7 reads: "Where was this person born?" Question #8 reads, "Is this person a citizen of the United States?"

Bachmann probably should have noticed this before repeatedly going on national television, pleading with people to read the census questions, and railing against the absence of a question that's already there.