Sunday, August 28, 2011

Kristof Asks "Did We Drop the Ball on Unemployment"?


Maybe if you'd been addressing it as often as your fellow columnist Paul Krugman has, instead of talking about almost every other issue under the sun, people would get the severity of the situation. No such luck.

This has been another "simple answer to stupid questions."

(Edit: And, no, admitting you're "an offender" for asking the wrong question at a Twitter thing doesn't cut it. You've been offensive on this issue for a long, long time.) 

Stay Safe, East Coasters

It looks like Irene got downgraded to a tropical storm, but it's still no joke.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rebels in Tripoli's Central Square

From Al Jazeera:

Euphoric Libyan rebels have moved into the centre of the capital, Tripoli, as Muammar Gaddafi's defenders melted away and thousands of jubilant civilians rushed out of their homes to cheer the long convoys of pickup trucks packed with fighters shooting in the air.

The rebels' surprising and speedy leap forward, after six months of largely deadlocked civil war, was packed into just a few dramatic hours. By nightfall on Sunday, they had advanced more than 32km to Tripoli.

Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent, said from the Green Square: "There's a party in the Libyan capital tonight. The people are in charge of the city. They've decided the square is now called Martyr's Square, the original name. They're shouting 'we're free' and shooting at a poster of Gaddafi."

Green Square had been the site of night rallies by Gaddafi supporters throughout the uprising.

Earlier, the rebel leadership said on Sunday that Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam, was arrested in a tourist village in western Tripoli. There was no word on the whereabouts of Gaddafi himself.

US President Barak Obama said Gaddafi must "acknowledge the reality that he no longer controls Libya. He needs to relinquish power once and for all".

In a statement issued from Martha's Vineyard, where he's vacationing, Obama said: "The future of Libya is now in the hands of the Libyan people." He promised to work in close coordination with the rebels and said the US will "continue to insist that the basic rights of the Libyan people are respected."

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, confirmed Seif al-Islam had been detained and said the ICC would speak to the rebel National Transitional Council about his transfer to the Hague.

Seif al-Islam, his father and Libya's intelligence chief were indicted earlier this year for allegedly ordering, planning and participating in illegal attacks on civilians in the early days of the violent crackdown on anti-regime protesters.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi's eldest son, Mohammed, surrendered to rebel forces and spoke to Al Jazeera shortly afterwards.

In the interview, he took an apologetic tone and said it was a lack of wisdom that caused the revolution and crisis in Libya.

"I've never been a government or security official, however I can tell you the absence of wisdom and foresight is what brought us to here today. Our differences could have been solved easily," he said.

As he spoke though, his house was attacked and shot at and the interview ended with the sound of gunfire.

"I'm being attacked right now," he said. "This is gunfire inside my house, they're inside my house. There is no God but Allah - no God but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger."

However, the head of the National Transitional Council later told Al Jazeera that Mohammed was not hurt.

"Neither Mohamed Muammar Gaddafi nor any one of his family was harmed," Mustafa Abdel Jalil said. "He will remain in his house, and I guarantee his safety."

There were no confirmed reports about the fate or whereabouts of other members of the Gaddafi family...

...The rebels said they had entered the Green Square near the compound of Gaddafi where his supporters gathered nightly throughout the uprising to rally for their leader of more than 40 years.

Our correspondent said the rebels met little resistance as they moved from the western outskirts into the capital in a dramatic turning of the tides in the six-month-old Libyan civil war.

"Hundreds are on the street, and most of them are armed. Most of these are fighters who came down from the mountains in western areas of Libya. They entered the capital a few hours ago and with the opposition inside the capital, have managed to liberate the city from the government's control," our correspondent said.

"Everyone we have been talking to in Libya say that they want to Gaddafi and his son to pay for their action and for what they accuse them as crimes against humanity.

"People are worried about sleeper cells but cleaning up operations are underway to make sure there are no snipers in the buildings nearby.

"For the people here, Tripoli has fallen and they are in control ... and this is what they have been telling us: 'For years we could not speak, prevented from any sort of freedom whatsoever’.

"People are confident that the government has fallen and they are in control."
Stunning, stunning news.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Google Plus's "Nymwars"

I'm not on Google Plus, for reasons that should be quickly obvious: I use a pseudonym here, I'm very open about using a pseudonym here, and I have no interest in having my blog suspended or worse because of how Google wants to manage their new social networking thing.

But what I'm reading about these "nymwars" is very alarming, because I'm suspecting more and more that it's going to affect Blogger. If it does, then I'll just change the pseudonym to "Demosthenes Jones" or "Demosthenes Smith" or something of the like. I shouldn't have to, though. Pseudonymity is vital.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ehrenreich: "On Turning Poverty into an American Crime"

Barbara Ehrenreich updates Nickled and Dimed for 2011. It's horrifying.

You want to know what America really is? It's stuffing poor people into small apartments like sardines because they can't afford their own space. It's suicide help lines swamped with calls, and suicide rates spiking with those who couldn't be helped. It's people selling raccoon carcasses on the side of the road because it's the only source of food for people in the area. (The guy selling them recommends "marinating them in vinegar and spices") It's people killing squirrels for meat in places where they can't even afford the raccoons.

America is injured workers that can't go on disability because disability insists on an MRI they can't afford. It's people on food stamps only because welfare is now impossible to get, post-Clinton. It's TANF recipients being fingerprinted and interrogated as to the parentage of their children by hostile social workers.

As Ehrenreich said, though, America is mostly about criminalizing the destitute and impoverished, hating and blaming them for their own misery. That hatred motivates the constant suspicions of drug use in low-wage employment. That hatred motivates a legal system that drags ordained ministers out of shelters for the crime of being homeless. That hatred gets homeless activists arrested for feeding "indigents", and pushes places like Phoenix, Arizona to try to use zoning laws to stop churches from serving breakfasts to the desperate.

America is, yes, also about debtor's prisons. It's not called that, of course. But if you can't pay a fine, or if your creditor leans on a judge to get you declared "in contempt of court"? Off you go to jail. If you're a minority, you might not even have to wait until you're in debt, either; your communities have their public funding cut at the same time as law enforcement is redoubled:

In what has become a familiar pattern, the government defunds services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Generate no public-sector jobs, then penalize people for falling into debt. The experience of the poor, and especially poor people of color, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks. And if you should try to escape this nightmare reality into a brief, drug-induced high, it’s “gotcha” all over again, because that of course is illegal too.

One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world. Today, exactly the same number of Americans -- 2.3 million -- reside in prison as in public housing. And what public housing remains has become ever more prison-like, with random police sweeps and, in a growing number of cities, proposed drug tests for residents. The safety net, or what remains of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.
Worst of all, as Ehrenreich points out, is that many states are making prisoners pay for their own incarceration, shifting the burden of a broken justice system onto its desperate victims.

Meanwhile, America's richest 1% are wealthier and more powerful than they've ever been in the history of the Republic, and thanks to Citizen's United, they're going to make damned sure that the only voice that voters hear is theirs.

That's your America. Unless you damned well DO something about it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Most American's Can't Afford a $1000 Emergency (Plus Bonus Buffet)

From CNNMoney:

When the unexpected strikes, most Americans aren't prepared to pay for it.

A majority, or 64%, of Americans don't have enough cash on hand to handle a $1,000 emergency expense, according to a survey by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, or NFCC, released on Wednesday.

Only 36% said they would tap their rainy day funds for an emergency. The rest of the 2,700 people polled said that they would have to go to other extremes to cover an unexpected expense, such as borrowing money or taking out a cash advance on a credit card.

"It's alarming," said Gail Cunningham, a spokeswoman for the Washington, DC-based non-profit. "For consumers who live paycheck to paycheck -- having spent tomorrow's money -- an unplanned expense can truly put them in financial distress," she noted.

That's the case for Allyson Curtis, 35. "I think about it every day," she said.

Curtis was unemployed for only three months last year, but in that time she accumulated $5,000 in credit card debt that she's now struggling to pay down. In the case of an emergency, Curtis said she would likely postpone other payments and pile on additional debt.

She is already putting off $450 in dental work and a car inspection due to a crack in her windshield, which will cost $300 to replace, she said.
Budgeting for an emergency fund

Many respondents, 17%, said they would borrow money from friends or family. Another 17% said they would neglect other financial obligations -- like a credit card bill or mortgage payment -- in order to free up some funds.

Alternatively, 12% of the respondents said they would have to sell or pawn some assets to come up with $1,000 and 9% said they would need to take out a loan. Another 9% said they would get a cash advance from a credit card, according to the NFCC.

Cunningham finds that particularly troubling. Neglecting other debt obligations -- or worse piling on more debt -- "really exacerbates the problem," she said.

An earlier study by the same organization found that 30% of Americans have zero dollars in non-retirement savings. A separate study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 50% of Americans would struggle to come up with $2,000 in a pinch.
So people are a minor emergency away from financial doom. Good to know.

But, hey, at least the richest people are happy, right? Well, no. Warren Buffett wrote a big ol' piece in the Times talking about how he thinks the current situation is nonsense as well.

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.

These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent...

...I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.
Many, yes. The problem is that the ones who aren't decent—like, say, the arch-conservative Koch brothers, the Coors family, and Scaife—are expending a ton of time, effort, and money into supporting a whole system of bullshit "free market" think tanks, institutes, media outlets, and other organizations that exist solely to screw the middle class and apologize for their billionaire backers.

Warren, if you want things to change, stop writing Op-Eds and start underwriting groups that counter the destructive influence of your far-right counterparts. Start making sure that progressives have the same sort of influence and reach that conservatives do. Start ensuring that Grover freakin' Norquist isn't the only voice that matters in Washington.

Talk is cheap. You have loads of money, and this is all ABOUT money. You can afford more. So do something about it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


So the Republicans have made their picks, and not surprisingly, they're all nutbar right-wingers:

For the House, it's Jeb Hensarling, Dave Camp, and Fred Upton. For the Senate, it's Jon Kyl, Rob Portman, and Pat Toomey.

So how nutty are they? Well, Toomey wants to privatize social security, Henserling called Social Security "a cruel ponzi scheme", Camp wants higher taxes on the poor, and Portman wants to get rid of the Department of Education.

Yep. Jon Kyl is the "not intended to be a factual statement" guy, too.

Meanwhile, Reid's sent in John Kerry, Patty Murray, and Max "DINO" Baucus. All of whom are more than willing to carve up "entitlements" that they have no personal need for or familiarity with.

So, yeah, America's fucked. I just wish it had a President. That'd be nice, wouldn't it?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Niall Ferguson Blames Global Uprising On....Wait For It...

...GREEDY POORS! That's right, it's all the fault of those damned poors and their "entitlements".

What all the Indignant have in common is the refusal to address squarely the problem that nearly all Western countries face. That problem is that the welfare systems that evolved in the mid-20th century are unaffordable under the demographic and economic circumstances of the 21st century. The financial crisis has merely exacerbated what was already a severe structural crisis of public finance, boosting deficits while slowing growth.
No, asshat, that's not the problem.

The problem is that a miniscule minority of nouveau-robber-barons control such a gigantic portion of the world's wealth that it's destabilizing the entire system. It's what's screwing up the economy—since you can't have a functional economy without people who actually spend money instead of hoarding it—and it's those screwed-up economies that are responsible for the deficits that you're whinging about.

But, then again, whose interests do you think he's advocating? Money is speech, after all.

Perry for President

So, that's what's happening. A low-rent Dubya imitator that can't even get abstinence-only education right is going to make a grab for the big-boy chair.

Well, here he is, in all his glory, explaining his "mommy problem":

Watch live video from texastribune on

Monday, August 08, 2011

London's on Fire

Guardian has the liveblog about the riots here.

Edit: Here's a good quote from MSNBC about why this is happening.

LONDON -- As political and social protests grip the Middle East, are growing in Europe and a riot exploded in north London this weekend, here's a sad truth, expressed by a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?

"Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"

The TV reporter from Britain's ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. "Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

Eavesdropping from among the onlookers, I looked around. A dozen TV crews and newspaper reporters interviewing the young men everywhere.

The truth is that discontent has been simmering among Britain's urban poor for years, and few have paid attention. Social activists say one out of two children in Tottenham live in poverty. It's one of the poorest areas of Britain. Britain's worst riots in decades took place here in 1985. A policeman was hacked to death. After these riots, the same young man pointed out, "They built us a swimming pool."
Hello? America?


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

No Such Thing As "Independents"

I'm no great fan of TNR. I always try to give credit where it's due, though and TNR hosted a very good piece by Ruy Teixeira, worth quoting in full.

The debt ceiling deal has been struck and the score looks to be in the neighborhood of Republicans: a zillion, Democrats: zero. It is perhaps the inevitable outcome of a process in which Obama treated GOP default-threatening tactics as legitimate and accepted the GOP framework that cutting debt, not creating jobs, was the country’s central problem. As a result, we have a deal that severely undercuts Democratic policy priorities and cuts government spending just as the economic recovery is showing signs of tanking. Just how, exactly, did it come to this? The most plausible explanation is that Obama and his political advisors are convinced that striking a bipartisan compromise on debt reduction is the way to the hearts of America’s political independents, who famously abandoned the Democrats in 2010.

Following this logic, Obama’s actions—treating the Republicans’ extraordinary threat not as an illegitimate bargaining tactic but as an opportunity—begin to make a measure of sense. Since independents are supposedly fixated on a bipartisan compromise to reduce spending and cut the debt, Obama would use the leverage provided by the Republicans’ threat, in a judo-like fashion, to enlist both parties in a grand bargain to restore long-run fiscal health. As a result, independents would reward Obama for being, in that tired phrase, “the adult in the room” who stood up for their fiscal priorities.

But it hasn’t worked out that way. As Obama has talked endlessly about a “balanced” approach to getting the country’s fiscal house in order, the economy has continued to stagger and that support from independents is nowhere in sight. Pew data show his approval rating among independents down 16 points in the last few months to an abysmal 36 percent. As for Obama’s re-elect numbers, they have also tumbled, with just 31 percent of independents now saying they would vote to re-elect him, compared to 39 percent for a generic Republican.

To understand how very unlikely it is that Obama’s long sought-after deal is going to magically turn around his numbers, we must visit one of the most robust but amazingly underappreciated findings in American political science: independents are not independent. That is, the overwhelming majority of Americans who say there are “independent” lean toward one party or the other. Call them IINOs (Independents In Name Only). IINOs who say they lean toward the Republicans think and vote just like regular Republicans. IINOs who say they lean toward the Democrats think and vote just like regular Democrats.

Right now, according to Pew data, IINOs are 68 percent of independents, split 36/32 between Republican-leaners and Democratic–leaners, respectively. That leaves less than a third of independents who might really qualify as independent. This figure, in turn, translates into just 13 to 14 percent of adults, and inevitably a lower percentage of actual voters, since pure independents have notoriously low turnout. In 2008, according to the University of Michigan National Election Study, pure independents were only 7 percent of voters.
Only SEVEN PERCENT. That's what the Dems are obsessing over. Kee-rist.

So how’s the debt deal going to go over with these different flavors of independents? Well, Democratic IINOs and pure independents both are concerned about the job situation over the deficit by a margin of two to one, according to Pew data. In fact, the only part of the “independent” pool that actually thinks the deficit is more important than the job situation are Republican IINOs, who right now give Obama a 15 percent approval rating, the same as regular Republicans. Good luck winning that group over.

But maybe pure independents only say they’re concerned with the economy when their real passion is bipartisan compromises on the debt, and so they’ll ignore the bad jobs situation and turn out in droves for Obama. That’s not likely to happen either. As John Sides has pointed out, voting preferences among pure independents are more influenced, not less, by the state of the economy.

These are the facts, but politicians, and Obama especially, seem to have a hard time grasping them. Perhaps that’s because independents are the Rorschach test of U.S. politics—you see in them what your beliefs and preferences incline you to see. Obama and his team want to see teeming hordes of voters who are above the partisan allure of party, untroubled by the bad economy (or, at least, not planning to vote on that basis), and pining for a Washington where the parties, darn it, just work together. So that’s what they see.

The administration’s chimerical search for the independents of their dreams has not served the country, nor the president, well. Obama has stumbled ever further into a political heart of darkness, hemmed in on all sides by radical GOP views on government and governance. And he can’t expect independents to bail him out.
No, he can't. It's amazing that someone as sharp as Plouffe would think that, but I suspect it might be because Obama did a damned good job of scooping up progressives during the primaries, and didn't yet have to match his rhetoric with action. Now America's got two and a half years of his Administration behind it, and progressives are pissed, as they have every right to be. Plouffe's assuming that he has them on-side, and I don't think he necessarily does, even if you have a crazy like Bachmann on the Republican side.

I'm still a bit baffled by all this. There's no goddamned way that you're going to see a lot of people who are both highly informed and completely without opinion or ideology. That doesn't happen. You might get IINOs, but highly-informed swing voters are only marginally less rare (and mythical) than unicorns. Teixeira's right: low-info voters are going to vote based on the economy, considering how crappy the economy is, and aren't going to give a shit about who's being more "reasonable".

I still believe Obama will win, if only because the Republican candidate is likely to be an absolute disaster that even turns off IINOs. It's still going to be closer than it has any right to be—and they'll still take the wrong lesson from it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Neither New Taxes Nor Pentagon Cuts

So says Kos, and I buy it.

So Reid says the super committee must have new revenues.
Reid says the tea party's influence on the process has been "unfair to the American people." "The American people are not impressed by the no new revenue...because the richest of the rich have contributed nothing...the burden [in the deal] is on the middle-class." Says the Bush tax cuts did not help the economy. But says we do need to cut spending, and says the Super Congress will force action, and that the Super Congress must include revenue. "We need a fair approach to this committee." "The only way we can arrive at a fair arrangement for the American people is to have equal sharing." He says revenue must match spending cuts (which I think is an absolute minimum standard). "It has to be equal. There has to be spending cuts...and revenue that matches that."
Boehner and McConnell say it won't. Limbaugh and Norquist won't let them.

So then what? Automatic cuts to discretionary spending and the defense budget.

But the GOP won't fret over those defense cuts. Because all they have to do is pass separate legislation refunding the Pentagon and Senate Dems (either too scared or too compromised) will cave on that and what will Obama do? Veto spending "for the troops"?
Not much to add to that. This arrangement would work if Dems had the stones to follow through on their threats. They don't. They NEVER do. So Republicans need not fear.

Monday, August 01, 2011

It's Over

Yep, it's over. And by "over", I mean the likelihood of any sort of real American recovery.

Remember, kids: extortion works wonders against Democrats. They fold like a cheap shirt. They might babble about how it makes them stronger in future fights...but it's horseshit and always has been. They said the same thing about John Roberts, for God's sake, and look at what happened: America ended up with a 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court where Antonin Scalia calls the shots.

In any case, I'd suggest looking up butler schools. The only people that are going to see prosperity are the wealthiest families. Might as well try to make a living off of them, since it's going to be damned near impossible to make a living doing anything else.

Congressional Progressive Caucus Might Scuttle Deal

If you don't like the idea of government spending getting cut to the bone, just so that rich people can continue to have the lowest taxes in generations, these are the people you need to contact. They're the House's Congressional Progressive Caucus, and they're saying that they aren't going to accept this gigantic hillock of bullshit lying down.

These are the people you talk to if you want to prevent the Republicans from getting away with threatening to murder an economy to protect the richest people in the world.

"A nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists."

So says The Times about the new deal. Krugman's more straightforward, saying "the President Surrenders". Which he a scared coward, huddling in a pool of slow-cooling urine.

Well, looks like Al Qaeda had the right of it after all. The United States does negotiation with those threatening its destruction. Not only does it negotiate, it fucking surrenders without a shot.

The Republicans are emboldened, progressives are betrayed, the economy is fucked, and the people are too. What a pathetic, ridiculous spectacle.

Edit: Just for some laffs:

Q Mr. President, thank you. How do these negotiations affect negotiations or talks with Republicans about raising the debt limit? Because it would seem that they have a significant amount of leverage over the White House now, going in. Was there ever any attempt by the White House to include raising the debt limit as a part of this package?

THE PRESIDENT: When you say it would seem they’ll have a significant amount of leverage over the White House, what do you mean?

Q Just in the sense that they’ll say essentially we’re not going to raise the — we’re not going to agree to it unless the White House is able to or willing to agree to significant spending cuts across the board that probably go deeper and further than what you’re willing to do. I mean, what leverage would you have –

THE PRESIDENT: Look, here’s my expectation — and I’ll take John Boehner at his word — that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote. That’s something that nobody ever likes to vote on. But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern. You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.
Mr. President, sir?

You're a credulous idiot.