Daily Archive: 09/25/2012

Sep 25 2012

It’s a Puzzle

This Presidential Race Should Never Have Been This Close

Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone

September 25, 2:10 PM ET

Unless someone snags an iPhone video of Obama taking a leak on Ohio State mascot Brutus Buckeye, or stealing pain meds from a Tampa retiree and sharing them with a bunch of Japanese carmakers, the game looks pretty much up – Obama’s widening leads in three battleground states, Virginia, Ohio and Florida, seem to have sealed the deal.

That’s left the media to speculate, with a palpable air of sadness, over where the system went wrong. Whatever you believe, many of these articles say, wherever you rest on the ideological spectrum, you should be disappointed that Obama ultimately had to run against such an incompetent challenger. Weirdly, there seems to be an expectation that presidential races should be closer, and that if one doesn’t come down to the wire in an exciting photo finish, we’ve all missed out somehow.



The mere fact that Mitt Romney is even within striking distance of winning this election is an incredible testament to two things: a) the rank incompetence of the Democratic Party, which would have this and every other election for the next half century sewn up if they were a little less money-hungry and just tried a little harder to represent their ostensible constituents, and b) the power of our propaganda machine, which has conditioned the entire population to accept the idea that the American population, ideologically speaking, is naturally split down the middle, whereas the real fault lines are a lot closer to the 99-1 ratio the Occupy movement has been talking about since last year.



These people represent everything that ordinarily repels the American voter. They mostly come from privileged backgrounds. Few of them have ever worked with their hands, or done anything like hard work. They not only don’t oppose the offshoring of American manufacturing jobs, they enthusiastically support it, helping finance the construction of new factories in places like China and India.



The people in this group inevitably support every war that America has even the slimmest chance of involving itself in, but neither they nor their children ever fight in these conflicts. They are largely irreligious, rarely if ever go to church, and incidentally they do massive amounts of drugs, from cocaine on down, but almost never suffer any kind of criminal penalty for their behavior.



For all this, when it came time to nominate a candidate for the presidency four years after the crash, the Republicans chose a man who in almost every respect perfectly represents this class of people. Mitt Romney is a rich-from-birth Ivy League product who not only has never done a hard day of work in his life – he never even saw a bad neighborhood in America until 1996, when he was 49 years old, when he went into some seedy sections of New York in search of a colleague’s missing daughter (“It was a shocker,” Mitt said. “The number of lost souls was astounding”).



If the clichés are true and the presidential race always comes down to which candidate the American people “wants to have a beer with,” how many Americans will choose to sit at the bar with the coiffed Wall Street multimillionaire who fires your sister, unapologetically pays half your tax rate, keeps his money stashed in Cayman Islands partnerships or Swiss accounts in his wife’s name, cheerfully encourages finance-industry bailouts while bashing “entitlements” like Medicare, waves a pom-pom while your kids go fight and die in hell-holes like Afghanistan and Iraq, and generally speaking has never even visited the country that most of the rest of us call the United States, except to make sure that it’s paying its bills to him on time?

Romney is an almost perfect amalgam of all the great out-of-touch douchebags of our national cinema: he’s Gregg Marmalaard from Animal House mixed with Billy Zane’s sneering, tux-wearing “Cal’ character in Titanic to pussy-ass Prince Humperdink to Roy Stalin to Gordon Gekko (he’s literally Gordon Gekko). He’s everything we’ve been trained to despise, the guy who had everything handed to him, doesn’t fight his own battles and insists there’s only room in the lifeboat for himself – and yet the Democrats, for some reason, have had terrible trouble beating him in a popularity contest.

The fact that Barack Obama needed a Himalayan mountain range of cash and some rather extreme last-minute incompetence on Romney’s part to pull safely ahead in this race is what speaks to the extraordinary brokenness of the system.



(W)hen one of the candidates is Mitt Romney, the race shouldn’t be close. You’ll hear differently in the coming weeks from the news media, which will spend a lot of time scratching its figurative beard while it argues that a 54-46 split, or however this thing ends up (and they’ll call anything above 53% for Obama a rout, I would guess), is evidence that the system is broken. But what we probably should be wondering is why it was ever close at all.

Sep 25 2012

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Dean Baker: Debt Worries: Economists Fail Arithmetic, Again

The Washington political establishment has decided that reducing the debt should be the country’s number one economic priority. The tens of millions who are unemployed, underemployed or out of the workforce altogether due to the fallout from the collapse of the housing bubble will just have to wait until things get better; limiting the growth of the debt is the order of the day in Washington. [..]

Is it possible that many of the world’s leading economists are completely missing the boat in their understanding of the way in which the debt poses a burden on the economy? While that may seem far-fetched, almost all of the world’s leading economists completely missed the housing bubbles, in the United States and elsewhere, and the dangers the housing bubbles posed to the economy. In fact, the reason that the United States and other countries are facing large deficits today is almost entirely the result of the failure of the economists who were guiding policy in the years preceding the crash. [..]

In fact, they were anxious to put Social Security money in the stock market. The Republican economists wanted to get the money into the market through private accounts, and the Democratic economists wanted to do it by investing the Social Security trust fund directly. Either way, both got their arithmetic wrong.

Robert Reich: Mitt Romney’s Biggest Problem: He’s Giving the GOP Exactly What It Wants in a Candidate

I’ve spent the past few days debating right-wingers – among them, Grover Norquist and Ann Coulter. This isn’t my idea of fun. I do it because apparently many Americans find these people persuasive, and it seems important to try to show why they’re profoundly wrong.

There are two major theories about why Romney is dropping in the polls. One is Romney is a lousy candidate, unable to connect with people or make his case.

The second is that Americans are finally beginning to see how radical the GOP has become, and are repudiating it. [..]

Romney’s failing isn’t that he’s a bad candidate. To the contrary, he’s giving this GOP exactly what it wants in a candidate. And that’s exactly the problem for Romney – as it is for every other Republican candidate – because what the GOP wants is not at all what the rest of America wants.

John Nichols: Top GOP Senate Candidate Just Says It: ‘Do Away With Medicare, Medicaid’

Paul Ryan admits that he’s an “end Medicare as we know it” candidate.

But, somehow, we are not supposed to think that he would actually end the popular and successful healthcare program for the elderly, as well as related Medicaid programs for the poor and people with disabilities.

The “as we know it” part provides a sort of cover, as least in the eyes of a media that is more inclined toward stenography than journalism. [..]

Only when a candidate starts talking about ending entitlement programs-as in “doing away” with them-can we be serious about the immediate threat those programs actually face.

Meet Tommy Thompson, former Republican governor of Wisconsin, former Bush-Cheney administration secretary of health and human services, former candidate for the Republican nomination for president and mentor to Paul Ryan.

Paul Buchheit: Now We Know Our ABCs. And Charter Schools Get an F.

The Chicago teacher strike is over, but the assault on our nation’s children has just begun. As with all free market systems, the price is set high enough to ensure a profit for the companies doing business, even though not everyone will be able to afford their product.

With our private health care system, 1 out of 6 Americans are uninsured. It’s frightening to think of a private educational system in which 1 out of 6 children have to settle for an inferior education.

We’ve learned a lot in recent years from the struggles within our schools. Here are three sensible considerations for anyone involved in the education of our children.

Sam Pizzagati; The ‘Self-Made’ Hallucination of America’s Rich

Like Mitt Romney, most Americans who amass grand fortunes have a substantial head start.

Let’s cut Mitt Romney some slack. Not every off-the-cuff comment he made at that now infamous, secretly taped $50,000-a-plate fundraiser in Boca Raton reveals an utterly shocking personal failing. Take, for instance, Mitt’s remark that he has “inherited nothing.”

Not quite “nothing.” But there’s no reason to pick on Mitt either. Most deep pockets, not just Mitt, consider themselves “self-made.” The best evidence of this predilection to claim “self-made” status? The annual September release of the Forbes magazine list of the 400 richest Americans. [..]

Forbes made the same observation last year, too, and most news outlets took that claim at face value. But United for a Fair Economy did not. The Boston-based group’s analysts took the time to investigate the actual backgrounds of last year’s Forbes 400. They released their findings (pdf) on the same day Forbes released the new 2012 list.

The basic conclusion from these findings: Forbes is spinning “a misleading tale of what it takes to become wealthy in America.” Most of the Forbes 400, like Mitt, have benefitted from a level of privilege unknown to the vast majority of Americans.

Joe Conason: Looking for That ’47 Percent,’ Mitt? Check Red States and Elderly Republicans

While Mitt Romney may well wish he had expressed himself more “elegantly” at the swanky Boca Raton fundraiser where he denounced half the voting population as shiftless, government-entitled moochers, he isn’t backing away from those secretly recorded remarks-although what he said was entirely inaccurate, as well as obnoxious. [..]

Leaving aside the significant probability that his listeners included a few of the thousands of millionaires who paid no income taxes last year, there is no reason to believe that voters who don’t pay income taxes are certain to vote Democratic. A substantial number of the people who are too poor to pay income taxes, thanks to tax reforms supported by Ronald Reagan, are among the Southern whites inclined to vote for Romney. In 2008, according to the New York Times, 25 percent of voters earning under $15,000 per year and 37 percent of those earning between $15,000 and $30,000 per year voted for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Sep 25 2012

Coming Soon

Spain Recoils as Its Hungry Forage Trash Bins for a Next Meal

By SUZANNE DALEY, The New York Times

Published: September 24, 2012

“When you don’t have enough money,” she said, declining to give her name, “this is what there is.”



“It’s against the dignity of these people to have to look for food in this manner,” said Eduardo Berloso, an official in Girona, the city that padlocked its supermarket trash bins.

Mr. Berloso proposed the measure last month after hearing from social workers and seeing for himself one evening “the humiliating gesture of a mother with children looking around before digging into the bins.”



But Mr. Berloso’s locks created something of an uproar across Spain, where the economic crisis is fueling more and more protests highlighting hunger. A group of mayors and unionists in southern Spain, where unemployment rates are far above the average, recently staged Robin Hood raids on two supermarkets, loading carts with basic foods and pressing them to donate more food to the needy.

More than a dozen people are facing prosecution for theft over the stunt. But they are unrepentant and appear to have huge local support. “Taking some food and giving it to families who are having a really hard time, if this is stealing, I am guilty,” one of the men, Francisco Molero of the farmworkers’ SAT union, told the local news media afterward.

I.M.F.’s Call for More Cuts Irks Greece

By LIZ ALDERMAN and LANDON THOMAS Jr., The New York Times

Published: September 24, 2012

The impasse has elevated tensions here as Greece braces for a nationwide general strike planned on Wednesday that threatens to bring public services to a halt. The Greek people are increasingly angry over the prospect that public salaries and pensions will be cut again in a last-ditch bid to secure a new loan installment of 31.5 billion euros, or $40.7 billion, from Greece’s creditors.

The Greek prime minister, Antonis Samaras, plans to address the nation this week to bolster support for the austerity package. He has already publicly warned his center-right party, New Democracy, that he will oust lawmakers of the party failing to back the package once it comes up for a vote, probably in early October.



In this political calculus, Ms. Merkel and others see Mr. Samaras as the last best hope for Greece. They worry that if the government teeters, new elections might be called in which his party could lose power to the increasingly popular leftist party Syriza, led by the political maverick Alexis Tsipras. Mr. Tsipras advocates tearing up the loan agreement with Greece’s international creditors. That would raise the risk of default and an eventual exit from the euro.



At the meeting, Poul Thomsen, the I.M.F.’s lead negotiator for Greece, was pushing hard for additional tax increases and wage and pension cuts, these people say. Mr. Stournaras angrily gestured to a bullet hole in one of the windows of the Finance Ministry.

“You see this – this came from a bullet,” Mr. Stournaras said. “Do you want to overthrow the government?”



The impasse reveals the extent of the government’s alarm at the worsening mood on the streets. More protests are likely in October, when Parliament is expected to vote on the measure. Many Greeks are now talking about the potential for civil unrest when the weather turns colder and many people may not be able to afford to heat their homes. Fuel prices, including gasoline, have been climbing, and whatever cushion Greeks on the margins had in their savings is gone.

Moreover, questions are swirling about the extent to which Greece’s police force will be willing and able to maintain public order, because it is also facing salary cuts. A number of officers were held off with pepper spray by riot police officers last week outside of Mr. Samaras’s residence, where they held a demonstration.

Draghi Rally Lets Skeptics Dump Spain for Bunds

By David Goodman and Emma Charlton, Bloomberg News

Sep 25, 2012 8:47 AM ET

Demand for German debt, perceived to be among the safest securities, is being sustained as Spain weighs a sovereign bailout to supplement a 100-billion euro ($129 billion) bank rescue package and as Europe’s economy slides toward recession.



Even as policy makers strive to end the three-year debt crisis, the region’s economic outlook is weakening. Euro-area surveys on Sept. 20 showed services and manufacturing output fell to a 39-month low in September adding to evidence the economy is heading for a recession. Figures yesterday showed German business confidence unexpectedly fell to the lowest in more than two and a half years in September.

“We are in a period where the ECB has laid down its framework to save the euro but the fundamentals will ultimately creep back in and you will see new problems flare,” said Harvinder Sian, a fixed income strategist at RBS in London. “Bunds will remain supported. I think 1.55 percent to 1.70 percent is a good entry location.”

Spain is in its second recession in three years, endangering plans to trim its budget deficit and avoid a bailout. The euro-region economy will probably shrink 0.4 percent this year, the ECB said this month.

Sep 25 2012

On This Day In History September 25

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

September 25 is the 268th day of the year (269th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 97 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1789, the Bill of Rights passes Congress.

The first Congress of the United States approves 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and sends them to the states for ratification. The amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, were designed to protect the basic rights of U.S. citizens, guaranteeing the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and exercise of religion; the right to fair legal procedure and to bear arms; and that powers not delegated to the federal government were reserved for the states and the people.

The Bill of Rights is the name by which the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution are known. They were introduced by James Madison to the First United States Congress in 1789 as a series of articles, and came into effect on December 15, 1791, when they had been ratified by three-fourths of the States. An agreement to create the Bill of Rights helped to secure ratification of the Constitution itself. Thomas Jefferson was a supporter of the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights prohibits Congress from making any law respecting any establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, guarantees free speech, free press, free assembly and association and the right to petition government for redress, forbids infringement of “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms…”, and prohibits the federal government from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. In federal criminal cases, it requires indictment by a grand jury for any capital or “infamous crime”, guarantees a speedy, public trial with an impartial jury composed of members of the state or judicial district in which the crime occurred, and prohibits double jeopardy. In addition, the Bill of Rights states that “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” and reserves all powers not specifically granted to the federal government to the people or the States. Most of these restrictions were later applied to the states by a series of decisions applying the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was ratified in 1868, after the American Civil War.

The question of including a Bill of Rights in the body of the Constitution was discussed at the Philadelphia Convention on September 12, 1787. George Mason “wished the plan [the Constitution] had been prefaced with a Bill of Rights.” Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts “concurred in the idea & moved for a Committee to prepare a Bill of Rights.” Mr Sherman argued against a Bill of Rights stating that the “State Declarations of Rights are not repealed by this Constitution.” Mason then stated “The Laws of the U. S. are to be paramount to State Bills of Rights.” The motion was defeated with 10-Nays, 1-Absent, and No-Yeas.

Madison proposed the Bill of Rights while ideological conflict between Federalists and anti-Federalists, dating from the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, threatened the final ratification of the new national Constitution. It largely responded to the Constitution’s influential opponents, including prominent Founding Fathers, who argued that the Constitution should not be ratified because it failed to protect the fundamental principles of human liberty. The Bill was influenced by George Mason’s 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, the 1689 English Bill of Rights, works of the Age of Enlightenment pertaining to natural rights, and earlier English political documents such as Magna Carta (1215).

Two other articles were proposed to the States; only the last ten articles were ratified contemporaneously. They correspond to the First through Tenth Amendments to the Constitution. The proposed first Article, dealing with the number and apportionment of U.S. Representatives, never became part of the Constitution. The second Article, limiting the power of Congress to increase the salaries of its members, was ratified two centuries later as the 27th Amendment. Though they are incorporated into Madison’s document known as the “Bill of Rights”, neither article established protection of a right. For that reason, and also because the term had been applied to the first ten amendments long before the 27th Amendment was ratified, the term “Bill of Rights” in modern U.S. usage means only the ten amendments ratified in 1791.

The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Sep 25 2012

Translator’s Little GOTV Effort 20120924

I write very little political material here because there are so many more people who are better at it than am I.  I generally write about popular culture, science and technology, and early life experiences.

That does not mean that I am apolitical.  It is far from it.

Please let me recount a recent experience (last week) that shows a little of what I do.  I am very low key, and affect only a few people at a time.  But I think that this is still important work.

Sep 25 2012

No Dancing XI

I still see this band fairly frequently live since they’re from Long Island.

Born to be Wild

Last Days of May

I actually have a Soft White Underbelly shirt.