Saturday, December 22, 2012

Are You Hungry for the Answer?


Leonard Cohen has found the answer, and wants to share it with you. Cohen has studied the major philosophies and religions, – but alas, he says, "Cheerfulness keeps breaking through."

All that study was not for nothing, though. In this concert, he shares THE ANSWER. If you don't want to watch the whole video, start at about the three minute mark.



P.S.  You must watch this in full screen.

Merry Christmas, all.

Could You Care Less?


A happy video about American "English." Thanks to one of my two English friends named Angela – the one called "Angie."




Sunday, December 16, 2012

Is the Social Security Trust Fund Real?


I've promised posts on Ross Douthat's Social Security trojan horses, and intend to keep that promise, but the holidays and life are keeping me from spending time on it right now.

In the meantime, for interested persons, may I HIGHLY recommend Kevin Drum's brief article on the Social Security trust fund. Drum is one best writers on the subject of Social Security you can find.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Another Shooting


It's hard to imagine the terror and anguish being felt in Newtown, Connecticut, right now. Certainly, to some degree, it is felt by all of us.

Certainly by Gregory Gibson, who writes:
Our son Galen, who was 18, and a teacher were killed on Dec. 14, 1992, by a deranged student who went on a shooting rampage at Simon’s Rock College in western Massachusetts.

In the wake of Galen’s murder, I wrote a book about the shooting. In it I suggested that we view gun crime as a public health issue, much the same as smoking or pesticides. I spent a number of years attending rallies, signing petitions, writing letters and making speeches, but eventually I gave up. Gun control, such a live issue in the “early” days of school shootings, inexplicably became a third-rail issue for politicians.

I came to realize that, in essence, this is the way we in America want things to be. We want our freedom, and we want our firearms, and if we have to endure the occasional school shooting, so be it. A terrible shame, but hey — didn’t some guy in China just do the same thing with a knife?
 I think that's an accurate analysis.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Here and There


  • The Onion declares North Korea's Kim Jong-Un the Sexiest Man Alive in 2012, which is pretty funny, but not half as funny as The People's Daily, the Chinese Communist Party's official newspaper, reporting it as a legitimate story.
  • Bruce Bartlett – a conservative veteran of the Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II administrations – describes how wacky the Republican Party has become. Not news to us here, of course. Last line: "When Republicans and conservatives once again start asking my opinion, I will know they are on the road to recovery." Can't count how many times I've said the same thing. Kidding aside, it's a good read.
  •  Sen. Dick Durban, a fine gentleman, thinks we should have another Social Security commission, like the bipartisan Greenspan Commission in 1983, to point the way forward for Social Security. This could be a good idea if there are any Republicans left who haven't had a sip of Paul Ryan's Kool-Aid. Unfortunately, I have to put myself in the skeptical column about that.
  • Kevin Drum suggests that Bill and Hillary get together and have a radio talk show. I'd sure tune it in.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Ross Douthat's Trojan Horses – Means Testing


Ross Douthat lays out the components of what he calls "sensible Social Security reform": shifting funding from a dedicated payroll tax to general revenues (the main push of his column), "means-testing for wealthier beneficiaries, changing the way benefits adjust for inflation, [and] a slow increase in the retirement age."

There are three very bad ideas here, and since the thrust of his article is that Social Security is an unbearable assault on the sensitivities of the conservative mind, one suspects that the one arguably good idea – changing the way benefits adjust for inflation – is just thrown in for show. [But maybe we should regard it with more suspicion!]

The three bad ideas may sound reasonable to people of good will (from whom Mr. Douthat is excluded, by the way), but problems become evident when we look at them more carefully. This post will address means-testing. You can't say you weren't warned.

Something similar to means-testing was part of Social Security from the very beginning. Social Security retirement benefits were regarded as "retirement insurance." Insurance does not pay you if you do not suffer a loss, and this retirement insurance was intended to replace some of the income "lost" through retirement. If you have not retired, this reasoning went, you have not suffered a loss. Thus, the original Social Security Act contained a provision that "Whenever the Board finds that any qualified individual has received wages with respect to regular employment after he attained the age of sixty-five, the old-age benefit payable to such individual shall be reduced, for each calendar month in any part of which such regular employment occurred, by an amount equal to one month's benefit."

This was called the monthly earnings test, and strictly speaking was not means-testing, of course, although by no coincidence most retiring persons suffered a diminished ability to pay their bills. A retiring wealthy person, however, was as entitled to receive his/her Social Security benefits as a retiring person with little or no savings. This was intentional in that it gave high wage earners a continuing stake in the program. After paying Social Security taxes during their work life, they are as entitled as the next man/woman to receive a retirement check, regardless of how successful they have been financially.  Social Security beneficiaries thus bear no stigma as welfare cases. Rather, their benefits are rightly regarded as "a reward for steady work," as Mr. Douthat contemptuously refers to them.

The monthly earnings test has changed over the years. Most recently, by a unanimous vote in both houses of Congress, it was eliminated in 2000 for persons who had reached "full retirement age" – traditionally age 65, but gradually working its way up to 67. Whether this was a great idea is arguable, but it was certainly popular with our Congressmen.

So despite the monthly earnings test Social Security is not a welfare program. It is a "social insurance" program created in the depths of the Depression by people who understood the vagaries of life all too well. Its benefits are a compact between generations. Means-testing Social Security would fundamentally change that. Means-test Social Security and you have just created a welfare program, the beneficiaries of which will be stigmatized. Your parents, for example.

You.

But there are other, very practical reasons to reject means-testing. For one, means-tested programs are several times more costly to administer than simple social insurance programs. Is it necessary to add that additional administrative expenses equate to less money available to be paid as benefits?

Consider this comparison of Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. You know what Social Security is. You may not know about Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal, means-tested program for the aged and disabled. Although the benefits and administrative expenses of SSI are not paid from Social Security trust funds, both SSI and Social Security are administered by the same agency. To apply for SSI, you go to a Social Security Office. The manager of the Social Security Office is also the manager of the SSI program administered by that office. At the level we're talking from, there is no essential difference.

Now consider this: the cost of administering the non-means-tested Social Security program in 2009 was 0.9% of total expenditures, while the cost of administering the means-tested SSI program in the same year was 7% – nearly 8 times higher!

Another problem with means-tested programs is that, because people's economic circumstances often change, they have much higher payment error rates.  Compare the 2011 Social Security payment error rate of 0.6% with the SSI payment error rate of 9.1%.

Between the additional administrative expenses and the higher payment error rate, we have just reduced by 15% the trust funds available for payments to the taxpayers. A great idea this isn't.

Of course, Mr. Douthat would be pleased with this arrangement because he is a person with a "philosophy," and his philosophy dictates that regardless of whether Social Security works (an apparently immaterial concept) it is undesirable because it is government doing things for people they should be doing for themselves. Means-testing Social Security is just a step toward stopping the government from doing that.

Like it all worked so well before Social Security.

Social Security is not in dire trouble. Modest changes will put it back in actuarial balance for the next 75 years. In fact, you can do it yourself here.

Coming up, more Trojan horses: funding from general revenues and another increase in the retirement age.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Benghazi


If you've suspected that the impetus for the Benghazi uproar was a desire to damage President Obama, your suspicions have been confirmed by now. Benghazi was about a courageous American diplomat who took risks with his own safety in the service of his country.

Joe Klein asks, "[W]hat sort of risks should we ask our diplomats to take? It is a question that hits very close to home for me since, as some of you may know, I’m the father of an American diplomat who has served in difficult places, including a year in Baghdad."
It is also the sort of question that John McCain might have asked back in the days when he was an honorable public servant. But he’s now a political caricature, severely debilitated by anger and envy. His trigger-happy foreign policy beliefs have always been questionable, but this Benghazi crusade has put [him] in the weird circle inhabited by nutcases and conspiracy theorists like Michele Bachmann and Allen West. He should honor the memory of those who lost their lives that terrible night by putting a cork in his disgraceful behavior immediately.

Instructions for Thanksgiving



Via Dave, here come Margaret and Helen, with a thanksgiving letter for the family. A sampling:
Dinner is at 2:00.   Not 2:15.  Not 2:05.   Two.  Arrive late and you get what’s leftover.
Last year, that moron Marshall fried a turkey in one of those contraptions and practically burned the deck off the house.  This year, the only peanut oil used to make the meal will be from the secret scoop of peanut butter I add to the carrot soup.
Jonathan, your last new wife was an idiot.  You don’t arrive at someone’s house on Thanksgiving needing to use the oven and the stove.  Honest to God I thought you might have learned after two wives – date them longer and save us all the agony of another divorce.
Now, the house rules are slightly different this year because I have decided that 47% of you don’t know how to take care of nice things.  Paper plates and red Solo cups might be bad for the environment, but I’ll be gone soon and that will be your problem to deal with.
 Then, scroll down to read about Helen's visit to Fox News. Hilarious.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What Gets Scientists Excited?


Some BIG NEWS is going to be coming out of the Mars rover soon. At least one scientist is bursting at the seams to tell us all about it:

"This data is gonna be one for the history books. It's looking really good."

Scientists are wonderful people as a group, but they tend to get excited if nitrogen measurements are 1/2 percent more than expected. We'll see.

But I suspect the news is not that they've found Lucy's missing teeth.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Required Reading


This post by Steve Benen should be required reading for all Progressives.

 A taste:
Lefties outside the South seem to think very little of suggesting the red states just get out. For kicks, I spent some time this weekend subtracting ballots for Barack Obama in the red states from the president's margin of victory in the national popular vote.
You could do this any number of ways, but if you take out just Alabama, Oklahoma, Arkansas, my own Mississippi and Georgia, the president loses the popular vote. Georgia alone added 1,761,761 votes for Obama. And yes, I realize those same states contributed enough red votes to keep the election close. But every blue ballot represents a natural ally for lefties outside the South, not votes to be thrown out.
What's more, progressives in conservative states are making a new and quite game go of it. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Odds and Ends


  • Another bit of evidence is this: Noting that John McCain held a press conference to whine and make insinuations about not getting information about the Benghazi attack, at the exact same time he should have been attending a confidential briefing on the very subject, a CNN producer had the temerity to ask him about it. It wasn't pretty.
  • Read the fascinating back-story to the famous Lee Atwater interview, in which he explained how the Southern Strategy morphed "nigger, nigger, nigger," into cutting taxes.
  • From the Washington Post:
    Things just got a whole lot worse for Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.).
    According to a new report from the Chattanooga Times Free Press the congressman, who is also a doctor, admitted to sexual relationships with multiple patients and co-workers during sworn testimony at his divorce trial and urged his now-ex-wife to get two abortions, despite campaigning for Congress as an antiabortion rights, family values candidate. 

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Still Haven't Had Enough?


Haven't had enough of feeling good about the election?

Watch Rachel!!

Addendum:  Actually, I posted the above before watching the whole thing. She ends with an appeal to Republicans that makes this a MUST SEE VIDEO.

She's absolutely right: only one side is working on the hard stuff.

A New Idea


"Immense salaries are paid to [corporation] officers; transactions are consummated by which the directors make money while the rank and file among the stockholders lose it; the honest investor waits for dividends and the directors grow rich. It is suspected, too, that large sums are spent under various disguises in efforts to influence legislation."
– Grover Cleveland 1883

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Best Comment So Far


"I love the smell of schadenfreude in the morning."

from TPM Commenter jsfox on TalkingPointsMemo.

My New Neighbors


There was so much good news last night that I feel ungrateful for wishing the House had gone Democratic. But this morning's news that Congressmen Joe Walsh (IL) and Allen West (FL) had been returned to Oblivion sure took the sting out of that.

Welcome to the neighborhood, guys!


The Election


First, congratulations to Dave, who counts electoral votes as closely as Nate Silver. Dave said it would be over early. He was right.

I, on the other hand, had a last minute failure of nerve. "In my gut" I thought the polls were too close, that something was going to go wrong. I've never been so happy to be wrong.

Russ Douthat, who is the most conservative of the NY Times columnists, sees what happened:

"The age of Reagan is officially over, and the Obama majority is the only majority we have."

Yay!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

More Crackpot Stuff


... in this case, unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution. What happens if there's a tie in the Electoral College?




While We're Waiting ...


... for the returns to come in, let's see if there's any crackpot stuff we've missed.

This one is a few months old, but is new to me.  A Republican candidate for state senate decided she would withdraw from the race to pursue leadership in "an alternate form of government." Make sure you read her resignation letter. Awesome.

Yeow


Nate Silver now has Obama's chance of winning at 91.6%.  Romney's at 8.4%.

The Princeton Election Consortium gives Obama 332 electoral votes (270 required to win).



Why am I still worried?

Oh, yeah. Polls don't vote.

Monday, November 05, 2012

It Was Fun


As we prepare for our nail-biting tomorrow night, maybe we should take a moment to thank the GOP for the good laughs they've given America during the campaign, while pretending to be a party of serious people.

There was "Oops!"

And Herman Cain's "I Am America" commercial.

Newt's Moon Colony!

Binders full of Women!

Paul Ryan's beefcake photos!

And so much more.

Really, you owe it to yourself to watch the Oops! video again.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Sounds Good


The Princeton Election Consortium, a creation of Princeton University academics (particularly Professor Sam Wang, whose concentrations are biophysics and neuroscience), is a liberal poll aggregate site. They are good at arithmetic, and did a great job in 2008.

Their banner today reads:

"Probability of Obama re-election: Random Drift 98.2%, Bayesian Prediction 99.8%"

I have no idea what Random Drift and Bayesian Prediction are, but I think these might be good numbers.

On a level that I can understand, Wang says,
A few days ago, the word was that Team Romney was buying ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. If he wins either of those states I will eat a bug. Ohio…a really big bug. And yes, I will post a photo.
Now THAT's science I can believe in.

Addendum:

I was shocked to see that Nate Silver has been physically attacked at the NY Times.

Pre-Election Sunday


  • In a post yesterday, the question was raised whether New York is really a safe Obama state. The reasoning was that the Democratic vote is concentrated in New York City, where it is likely a lot of people are not going to vote because of the devastation there. There are certainly Democrats upstate, but upstate the GOP is more competitive.
Today, anecdotal evidence arrives that the GOP Super PACs may have the same idea: A Talking Points Memo correspondent writes: "Yesterday I saw multiple airings of ads by Crossroads and Restore our Future in the Buffalo media market. It does contain two PA counties, McKean and Potter, but they are small counties with only about 35,000 and 2-1 Republican enrollment. At the approximately $75,000 cost for 1000 points in the Buffalo market, that is some extremely inefficient spending."
But on further reflection, it just seems too far-fetched to be possible. In 2008 Obama carried New York by more than 2 million votes out of 7.6 million cast. Although the GOP is more competitive upstate, that is mostly in counties that have very small populations. And Staten Island, which was plastered by Hurricane Sandy, was strongly for McCain in the last election. So, it looks like New York is still a safe Obama state.
  • After about 30 years of giving a poly sci major's defense of the Electoral College, I've had enough. This concentration of everything in the swing states is really hurting us as a country.  The last candidate to campaign in every state was Richard Nixon in 1960. Even at the time, his campaign managers were telling him he was nuts. He lost a close election. Since then, it's all been about electoral votes, and I think that's been a major factor in the increasing divisiveness of politics.
  • Romney folks are saying that if he loses, it's because of Hurricane Sandy. At least, that's the excuse they'll be giving all those big check-writers. But you know, they might win. Commentors on the linked story question why the "Christian" right sees God's hand in Hurricane Sandy striking New York "Sodom" City, but not in the storm making it harder for Romney to win. We'll see.
  • Steve Benen has an interesting take on Obama's "Don't boo. Vote. Voting is the best revenge." comment that was referenced here yesterday:
The entire line of attack seems rather sad -- it's more forced than sincere -- but the larger takeaway is that the Romney campaign has spent months chasing after every shiny object that catches their eye.
This campaign is going to be about "the private sector is doing fine"! Wait, scratch that, it's going to be about "you didn't build that"! Oh, actually, on second thought, it's going to be about the "redistribution" quote from 1998! Hold on, now it's going to be about "you can't change Washington from the inside"! On second thought, it's going to be about "not optimal"! No, wait, it's going to be about characterizing developments in the Middle East as "bumps in the road"!
This is precisely why I've compared Team Romney to small children playing soccer, running wildly to wherever they see a bouncing ball, whether it's strategically wise or not. There's certainly nothing wrong with a campaign taking advantage of new opportunities, but haphazardly shifting from one out-of-context sound bite to another is evidence of an unfocused candidate in search of an effective message.
Oops, the Bears game has started.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Ugh


Is this an appeal to racism on Romney's part?

Oh, yeah!



Was that a bad thing for Obama to say, serving it up on a silver platter like that?

Oh, yeah!

If you haven't seen many of Obama's campaign speeches this year, "Don't boo! Vote!" has been his standard response to audience expressions of disapproval.  Even if you haven't seen any, you know that "[Insert word here] is best revenge!" is an innocuous, ubiquitous phrase.

Oh well. I guess this is the only thing left in Romney's quiver. As with other foaming appeals, I think it appeals only to the ones who already support him.

Obama's International Support


The BBC has conducted polls on the American election worldwide. The results: Pakistan is strong for Romney.

Nobody else, though.

Romney's Climate Change Joke


Via Crooks & Liars:



Saturday Morning Pick-and-Choose


  • Nate Silver says, "President Obama is now better than a 4-in-5 favorite to win the Electoral College, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast. His chances of winning it increased to 83.7 percent on Friday, his highest figure since the Denver debate and improved from 80.8 percent on Thursday. ... Friday’s polling should make it easy to discern why Mr. Obama has the Electoral College advantage. There were 22 polls of swing states published Friday. Of these, Mr. Obama led in 19 polls, and two showed a tie. Mitt Romney led in just one of the surveys, a Mason-Dixon poll of Florida."
  • Chicago Ted pointed me to a good video that explains why Obama supporters should be hopeful about winning this thing.
  • Nate Cohn envisions an election night nightmare.  "In most eastern states, the overwhelming majority of votes are counted by the end of Election Night, since only a small share of absentee or overseas ballots arrive after the election. But elections in Washington and Oregon are now conducted entirely by mail and 41 percent of California voters voted by mail in 2008. In some states, ballots only need to be postmarked by Election Day and it can take days before all of the votes arrive and weeks before they get counted, usually in modest batches once or twice a day."
  • I laughed: Ed Kilgore recalls that someone tweeted that Romney's new efforts in Pennsylvania, which he had ignored until this week, amounted to an "onside kick."
  • Is anyone concerned about the effect of Hurricane Sandy on the reliability of New York as an Obama state? New York City is heavily democratic; Upstate New York, not so much. If the city can't or doesn't get to the polls, could 29 electoral votes go to Romney?
  • A good friend writes:  
I'm so worried that Jim Oberweis will finally be able to buy his very own state election that I have been walking door to door in my own neighborhood, asking people to vote for Corinne Pierog.  This is a hard sell in the land of zygotes=humans.  But, to my surprise, I have underestimated my neighbors' innate civility.  Almost everyone, in fact, everyone has been quite polite to me. 
Except there was Mike, who told me I was worrying about all the wrong stuff and dared me to google "UN Agenda 21".  Mike is the embodiment of an oxymoron.  He's a handicapped, disgruntled engineer who works for the EPA, with a seething dislike for all government.  I responded that he might like to read "What's the Matter with Kansas?".   To which, he carefully wrote down the title, author and the estimated download price of $9.99.

I get around.
You go, girl! 
  • Chip sends an article about Obama's wild spending. NOT! As hard as it is for some people to believe, Obama is the moderate in this race.
  • Speaking of which, the argument for Romney's election that is most popular with Republicans who are not actually foaming at the mouth seems to be this:  
    The Republicans in the House of Represenatives are absolute lunatics. If Obama is reelected, it will be like throwing meat to hyenas.  They would rather bring this country crashing down than cooperate with Obama. Only Romney has a chance of getting anything done.
    You think I'm kidding? 
Here's David Frum:
"The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won't reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP — and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment."
    Here's David Brooks, who sees advantage in Romney's "shape-shifting nature."
    Using this logic, we can only assume these guys would have supported John C. Breckinridge over  Abraham Lincoln in 1860.
  • There is an incredible, embarrassing whine coming out of the Republican columnists that Obama has run a very negative campaign. This is hilarious coming from the party of Willie Horton and the Swift Boat Liars. It will make them feel better about being petulant, though, so they like it.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Oh! Well, then ...


I've always liked Businessweek, now called Bloomberg Businessweek, their recent design changes notwithstanding. Back when "serious people" were falling for the "Social Security sky is falling!" nonsense, Businessweek got the story straight.

I'm thrilled with their new cover, and can't wait for it to show up on my doorstep:


I once had a subscription to The Economist, too, but they lost me when they endorsed Dubya for a second term. Today they endorsed Obama. (Yawn.)

Two Thousand Words








[This photo juxtaposition was posted by someone else to my Facebook page, which I actually visited today. The idea/realization is not original to me.]

Smorgasbord


  • Maureen Dowd thinks New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's praise of President Obama in the wake of this week's storm is carefully calculated to improve his (i.e., Christie's) Presidential chances. An interesting argument, but I don't see how it improves his chances in a Republican Party dominated by wackos.
  • For example, Gail Collins writes this morning that "Mitt is bringing half the Republican Party to Ohio on Friday to kick off the new 'Romney-Ryan Real Recovery Road Rally.' Everybody’s coming — Ann, the sons, Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan’s wife who we have yet to actually meet, Rudy Giuliani, a couple of Olympic medalists and pretty much every Republican elected official except He Who Must Not Be Named in New Jersey."
  • How calculated is Christie's chumminess with Obama? If he changes his tune before the election, and loudly proclaims that Obama has dropped the ball, he might recover his creds with the science deniers.
  • The "Emergency Committee for Israel," whose "board" consists of William Kristol, Gary Bauer, and a third person, is robocalling a "debate" between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  The Washington Post's Fact Checker says, "This is one of those days when we wish we were not limited to just Four Pinocchios." Personal opinion: the "Emergency Committee for Israel" is doing Israel no favors with this crap.
  • George Will can be ignored again today. [No link given.]
  • The Washington Post does have a good editorial on the Texas attorney general's threats to arrest members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who want to observe the electoral process in that state. Texas continues to embarrass.
  • A Republican ad playing in Florida, in Spanish, links Obama with Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, and – steel yourself – Che Guevara, who died when Obama was 5 years old.
  • How does Obama's handling of the economy compare to Herbert Hoover's? Pretty darn well.
  • And I know you were wondering, "How does Obama's handling of devastating storms compare to Grover Cleveland's?" Turns out the answer is, "Pretty darn well".

Monday, October 29, 2012

George McGovern


George McGovern was the most decent man to run for President in my lifetime. By a long shot.

In 1969, before he was publicly running for President, I walked into his office in Washington and asked to do volunteer work. They sent me to a basement office, where I sat at a typewriter and typed in addresses that got punched onto a long tape. They weren't too interested in seeking my counsel and advice on political issues. And the rest is history.

I'm proud to be a card-carrying member of the McGovern Million Member Club. The idea was that if a million people sent him $25, he'd have enough to challenge the large donations being gathered by Nixon's people – an idea that was later perfected in Obama's first campaign. A million people didn't, and Nixon outspent McGovern two-to-one.

I could only afford $10, but they sent me a card anyway.

I still have it. When my turn comes, I intend to show it to St. Peter.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ugh!


Okay, call me old fashioned, but I just don't like my political ads to be sexual double entendres.




Addendum: I have to admit that I have no idea who Lena Dunham is, so clearly I'm on the far side of old fogeydom. Looking at her Wikipedia entry, I have no idea what greenlit means, as in "Dunham's television series, Girls, was greenlit by HBO in early 2012." I think it's probably a good thing if you're Lena Dunham.

Later addendum: Looking at this again, I'm just amazed that Obama's reelection team, who are pretty darn smart guys, approved this. It really creeps me out.

What it's screaming is: Obama thinks your daughter is going to have premarital sex. And not just with one guy, because "first" implies "second, third, fourth, ... two hundred and thirty-second!"

"Oh my gosh! Obama thinks my daughter is a ...."

Really, Obama guys. I hope this thing got a lot of 20-somethings lined up for you. Seems kind of high risk to me, though.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Debate in Song


Thanks to the NY Times for making this Songify version of Tuesday's debate available for pathetic bloggers:



Clueless


I've been reading a lot about the First World War lately, trying to figure out what my grandfather might have experienced then as a private in the French infantry. In the first months of the war, it quickly became apparent that the old rules no longer applied. Machine guns and mechanization had changed everything.
In the Russo-Japanese War [1904-05] an English observer, the future General Ian Hamilton, reported that the only thing the cavalry could do in the face of entrenched machine guns was to cook rice for the infantry, causing the War Office to wonder if his months in the Orient had not affected his mind. [The Guns of August, Barbara W. Tuchman]
So I was on my feet cheering last night when, during his debate with Mitt Romney, President Obama pointed out why comparing the number of ships in the U.S. Navy in 1916 was missing the point in a very significant way. If you didn't see the exchange, this is a MUST WATCH segment:



Now, I must say that I originally thought the President was going a bit too far when he started explaining that we now have ships that planes can actually land on. That's piling on and really talking down to him, I thought.

Then Paul Ryan opened his mouth:



These guys are colossally ignorant.

Add to that Romney's explanation that Syria is Iran's "route to the sea." Steve Benen has a good post on this, headlined "Flunking Geography 101," and I'll steal his map:


The further out we get from this debate, the worse Romney's performance looks.

It is no surprise that Romney's foreign policy team is composed mostly of John Bolton and his band of chuckleheads.  Like George W. Bush, Romney is a blank and clueless slate, upon which they can write whatever they please.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Odds & Ends


Three great quotes, via Andrew Tobias.

David Stockman, Director of the Office of Management and Budget under Ronald Reagan:

"Bain’s billions of profits were not rewards for capitalist creation; they were mainly windfalls collected from gambling in markets that were rigged to rise.
"Nevertheless [he continues], Mitt Romney claims that his essential qualification to be president is grounded in his 15 years as head of Bain Capital, from 1984 through early 1999. According to the campaign’s narrative, it was then that he became immersed in the toils of business enterprise, learning along the way the true secrets of how to grow the economy and create jobs. The fact that Bain’s returns reputedly averaged more than 50 percent annually during this period is purportedly proof of the case—real-world validation that Romney not only was a striking business success but also has been uniquely trained and seasoned for the task of restarting the nation’s sputtering engines of capitalism.
Except Mitt Romney was not a businessman; he was a master financial speculator who bought, sold, flipped, and stripped businesses. He did not build enterprises the old-fashioned way—out of inspiration, perspiration, and a long slog in the free market fostering a new product, service, or process of production. Instead, he spent his 15 years raising debt in prodigious amounts on Wall Street so that Bain could purchase the pots and pans and castoffs of corporate America, leverage them to the hilt, gussy them up as reborn “roll-ups,” and then deliver them back to Wall Street for resale—the faster the better.
That is the modus operandi of the leveraged-buyout business, and in an honest free-market economy, there wouldn’t be much scope for it because it creates little of economic value. But we have a rigged system—a regime of crony capitalism—where the tax code heavily favors debt and capital gains, and the central bank purposefully enables rampant speculation by propping up the price of financial assets and battering down the cost of leveraged finance.
So the vast outpouring of LBOs in recent decades has been the consequence of bad policy, not the product of capitalist enterprise. I know this from 17 years of experience doing leveraged buyouts at one of the pioneering private-equity houses, Blackstone, and then my own firm. I know the pitfalls of private equity. The whole business was about maximizing debt, extracting cash, cutting head counts, skimping on capital spending, outsourcing production, and dressing up the deal for the earliest, highest-profit exit possible. . . .

PoliticoLobbyists Ready for a Comeback Under Romney

President Barack Obama’s gone further than any president to keep lobbyists out of the White House — even signing executive orders to do it.
But the mood on K Street is brightening.
Industry insiders believe that Mitt Romney will unshackle the revolving door and give lobbyists a shot at the government jobs their Democratic counterparts have been denied for the past four years, a dozen Republican lobbyists said in conversations with POLITICO.

Nicholas Kristof

I wrote in my last column about my uninsured college roommate, Scott Androes, and his battle with Stage 4 prostate cancer — and a dysfunctional American health care system. I was taken aback by how many readers were savagely unsympathetic.

“Your friend made a foolish choice, and actions have consequences,” one reader said in a Twitter message. 

As my column noted, Scott had a midlife crisis and left his job in the pension industry to read books and play poker, surviving on part-time work (last year, he earned $13,000). To save money, he skipped health insurance. 

A year ago, he encountered difficulties urinating and didn’t see a doctor in part because of the cost. By the time the prostate cancer was detected, it had spread to his bones. 

“I blew it,” Scott told me several times. He repeatedly acknowledged that he should have bought insurance and should have seen a doctor as soon as his symptoms appeared.

[snip]

That’s in part what this election is about. If President Obama is re-elected, Obamacare will stay in place and health insurance will become close to universal in 2014. In contrast, Mitt Romney has promised if elected to work to repeal Obamacare — and any American who made a bad health care decision would continue to suffer. 

To many of my readers, that’s fine. 

“Not sure why I’m to feel guilty about your friend’s problem,” Terry from Oregon wrote on my blog. “I take care of myself and mine, and I am not responsible for anyone else.” 

Bruce wrote that many people in hospitals are there because of their own poor choices: “Smoking, obesity, drugs, alcohol, noncompliance with medical advice. Extreme age and debility, patients so sick, old, demented, weak, that if families had to pay one-tenth the cost of keeping the poor souls alive, they would instantly see that it was money wasted.” 

That harsh view is gaining ground, particularly on the right. Pew Research Center polling has found that the proportion of Republicans who agree that “it is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves” has slipped from 58 percent in 2007 to just 40 percent today. 

Let me offer two counterarguments. 

First, a civilized society compensates for the human propensity to screw up. That’s why we have single-payer firefighters and police officers. That’s why we require seat belts. When someone who has been speeding gets in a car accident, the 911 operator doesn’t sneer: “You were irresponsible, so figure out your own way to the hospital” — and hang up. 

To err is human, but so is to forgive. Living in a community means being interconnected in myriad ways — including by empathy. To feel undiminished by the deaths of those around us isn’t heroic Ayn Rand individualism. It’s sociopathic. Compassion isn’t a sign of weakness, but of civilization. [Okay, my emphasis.]

My second argument is that if you object to Obamacare because you don’t want to pay Scott’s medical bills, you’re a sucker. You’re already paying those bills. Because Scott wasn’t insured and didn’t get basic preventive care, he accumulated $550,000 in bills at Seattle’s Swedish Medical Center, which treated him as a charity case. We’re all paying for that.

Scott and I spoke on Sunday morning about whether his story might move some critics of health care reform. He was weakening and mused that he probably didn’t have long. A few hours later, Scott slipped into a coma. He died Monday morning. 

We can’t be certain that the cancer would have been found earlier, when it was more treatable, if Scott had been insured. But it’s a reasonable bet. Researchers have estimated that one American dies every 20 minutes for lack of health insurance

In other countries, I’ve covered massacres, wars, famines and genocides, and they’re heart-rending because they’re so unnecessary and arbitrary. Those massacred in the Darfur genocide in Sudan might be alive if they had been born in Britain.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Binders Full of Women!


One of the points of hilarity in last night's debate was Mitt's assertion that he asked for the names of women qualified to be appointed to political posts in the Massachusetts government, and got "binders full of women." People have been having a lot of fun with that.

The most telling part of Mitt's story, as it turns out, is that it's not true. Imagine that!

How He'll Do It


RomneyTaxPlan.com.

Thanks to Charlie for passing on the link.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Did I Miss Something?


When I was a young man I worked for the Social Security Administration in a town called Ironton, Ohio. There were many good things about living in Ironton, like, um, the cost of living was really low, which was a good thing, because my annual salary was $8,303.  Don't feel bad for me, though, because I thought I was rich, and in the most important ways, I was.

Living in Ironton gave me several good stories, which I have repeated in the ensuing years so often that there is probably no one who knows me that hasn't heard them so often that they fail to be good stories.

One of them is this: I interviewed a man whose name was something like John Jones II. John Jones II had a son, whom he had named John Jones II, Jr.

That's the kind of knee-slapper that only an effete East Coast pseudo-intellectual can appreciate.

That story came back to me today when I read a story about one of the slimier right-wing personalities, Dinesh D'Souza. If you're not familiar with D'Souza, it should be enough to say that he wrote an article in Forbes magazine which claimed that Obama's foreign policy was based on his Kenyan father's anti-colonialism. Awesome stuff. Breathtaking scholarship. Forbes magazine. The editors' mothers must be so proud.

Well, D'Souza, as you might have imagined, is an evangelical Christian. And, as you might have imagined from that, he's all for "family values." And as you might have imagined from that, he's been stepping out on his wife, Dixie. Well, that's between him and Dixie and his daughter, I guess.

But get this: the name of the lady he's been stepping out on his wife with is – are you ready for this? – Denise Odie Joseph II.

Denise Odie Joseph the Second? What's with that? When did THAT start?

It appears that "King's College," of which D'Souza is "president," has some problems with DOJ II.

It's easier to feel schadenfreude when there aren't innocent people (current wife and daughter) affected.

10/18 Update: D'Souza has resigned from the presidency of "Kings College," which reportedly netted him $1 million a year. Oh, to be a member of the meritocracy!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

We've Come a Long Way in Four Years


It's easy to forget.

☑  Get bin Laden
☑  Save the American auto industry
☑  Improve health care
☑  End DADT
☑  Out of Iraq
☑  Give Afghans a shot at a decent country
☑  Restore relations with our allies
☑  Stop the bleeding from the 2008 economic scandal



Paul Ryan Endorses Stimulus Spending


I've never had a high opinion of Paul "Pinocchio" Ryan. Maybe he's no more dishonest than your average politician, but he's the prototype of the modern-day Republican: Head stuck in the 19th century, and more interested in defeating the Democrats than in serving America.

Think I'm being kind of hard? Over-the-top? Extreme?

See what Paul Ryan says about stimulus spending when it's proposed by a Republican president. [Sorry about the commercial that precedes it. But it's worth the wait.]


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


The clip is from the MSNBC program Up with Chris Hayes.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Brave New World


Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta warned yesterday of a "cyber Pearl Harbor" attack on the United States.

“An aggressor nation or extremist group could use these kinds of cyber tools to gain control of critical switches,” Mr. Panetta said. “They could derail passenger trains, or even more dangerous, derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”
Defense officials insisted that Mr. Panetta’s words were not hyperbole, and that he was responding to a recent wave of cyberattacks on large American financial institutions. He also cited an attack in August on the state oil company Saudi Aramco, which infected and made useless more than 30,000 computers.
But Pentagon officials acknowledged that Mr. Panetta was also pushing for legislation on Capitol Hill. It would require new standards at critical private-sector infrastructure facilities — like power plants, water treatment facilities and gas pipelines — where a computer breach could cause significant casualties or economic damage.
In August, a cybersecurity bill that had been one of the administration’s national security priorities was blocked by a group of Republicans, led by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who took the side of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and said it would be too burdensome for corporations.
The most destructive possibilities, Mr. Panetta said, involve “cyber-actors launching several attacks on our critical infrastructure at one time, in combination with a physical attack.” He described the collective result as a “cyber-Pearl Harbor that would cause physical destruction and the loss of life, an attack that would paralyze and shock the nation and create a profound new sense of vulnerability.”
It's enough to make you want to fill your basement with Spam. The whole NY Times story is here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Categories


I still recommend a Netflix subscription to people who don't have one, although with less enthusiasm than two years ago. The whole DVD/streaming controversy really steamed me, and the upshot is I'm paying too much for the service now. Although they supposedly have tens of thousands of movies available for streaming, most of it is cr.... uh, not worth watching. So you have to have a DVD subscription if you want to see some really interesting movies.

Another disturbing aspect of Netflix is that they keep track of the movies you've watched, and put them into very weird categories, then use those categories to recommend other movies to you. If you have a 10-year-old girl watching movies at your house, it makes for some interesting choices.

But even excluding that, I had no idea that my movie interests tended to:

• Sentimental Romantic Movies Based on Books

• Comedies Featuring a Strong Female Lead

• Quirky Biographical Documentaries

• Classic Dark Movies from the 1970's

and my favorite so far,

• Heartfelt Independent Dysfunctional-Family Movies.

Not just ANY dysfunctional family movie will do. It has to be heartfelt. And independent.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Margaret and Helen Do the Debate


Thanks to my friend Dave for spotting this and linking to it on his Facebook page:

Do not miss Margaret and Helen's coverage of the debate.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Manipulating Labor Statistics


The Washington Post reminds us there once was a President who tried to manipulate data coming out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
As first recounted by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein in their 1976 book “Final Days,” the frequently paranoid president [Nixon, in case you're too young to remember] — who had a history of anti-Semitic outbursts — became obsessed with the idea that a “Jewish cabal” at BLS was undermining him by issuing negative labor numbers. Nixon ordered his subordinates to tally up the number of Democrats and Jews in the agency.

“There’s a Jewish cabal, you know, running through this,” Nixon fumed in July 1971 to his chief of staff, H.R. “Bob” Haldeman, according to White House tapes. “…And they all — they all only talk to Jews. Now, but there it is. But there’s the BLS staff. Now how the hell do you ever expect us to get anything from that staff, the raw data, let alone what the poor guys have to say [inaudible] that isn’t gonna be loaded against us? You understand?”

According to journalistic accounts and documents, the task fell to Nixon aide Fred Malek, who first counted high-ranking Democrats at BLS using voter registration lists and then identified employees with “Jewish-sounding” names. He reported the resulting statistics to Nixon in a 1971 letter that became known as the “Jew-counting” memo, identifying 25 Democrats and 13 employees who “fit the other demographic criterion that was discussed.”
The rest of the article is here.

Krugman is a partisan, of course, but he's also a man who knows something about the BLS reports.
For the record, it’s ridiculous to imagine that the Obama administration could arrange (on short notice, no less) to cook the jobs numbers. The sheer logistics would be impossible, plus these are civil servants who have to live under both parties.
But conspiracies are more fun than being a grownup and facing the truth.

Update: Elsewhere in the Post, Ezra Klein runs on Krugman's theme:
Let’s get one thing out of the way: The data was not, as Jack Welch suggested in a now-infamous tweet, manipulated. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is set up to ensure the White House has no ability to influence it. As labor economist Betsey Stevenson wrote, “anyone who thinks that political folks can manipulate the unemployment data are completely ignorant of how the BLS works and how the data are compiled.”
Gee whiz, do you mean that in one stupid tweet Jack Welch turned from a business titan into a doddering old fool? Time to find a replacement on the corporate boards.

Mandatory


I first read about this situation a month or more ago, and wondered why more wasn't made of it. Now the Obama campaign has made a television ad from it. As far as I know, it's running only in Ohio. Why not run it in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Southern Illinois?

Yes, I know West Virginia and Kentucky are solidly in the Romney column, but just the same they need to know. And yes, Illinois is solidly in the Obama column, but just same, ditto.



Great Jobs Report


At 8:30 a.m. ET the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its Monthly Jobs Report, showing that the unemployment rate is now at 7.8 percent.
Adding to the positive news, job gains were revised upward by 40,000 for July (to 181,000) and by 46,000 for August (to 142,000), which had been considered a disappointing month, casting a slightly rosier hue on the summer slowdown.
- NY Times
Cool! But Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, can't control his sphincter and tweets: “Unbelievable jobs numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers."

Just for the record, yesterday Gallup indicated their own measurements were showing movement in the same direction:
Gallup's unadjusted unemployment rate fell to 7.9% in September -- down from 8.1% in August and the lowest monthly average since Gallup began measuring it in January 2010. Of course, part of the reason for this improvement has to do with temporary hiring for Halloween -- now a major sales event for the nation’s retailers -- and the Christmas holidays.
Gee, I didn't know there was THAT much temporary hiring for Halloween. But just the same, I guess Gallup is in on the conspiracy Mr. Welch has spotted.

Perhaps the reason Republicans always screw everything up is because they just can't separate their emotions from their brains. They don't like evolution, so it's not true. They don't like global warming, so it's not true. Saddam Hussein MUST have weapons of mass destruction, therefore Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. They haven't caught Osama bin Laden, therefore it's not really important to catch Osama bin Laden. They don't like arithmetic, so use pixie dust instead. They just don't like the BLS statistics, so the statistics must be fraudulent.

You just can't base policy on that kind of thinking, guys.

The Debate


It was clear to anyone watching, I think, that Romney "won" the first debate. The question is, does it matter?

Since televised debates began, only one sitting president was said to have won the first debate with his challenger. So even before the debate, there were several stories about how debates don't matter, that historically they don't seem to actually affect how people vote. I'm not so sure of that, but there's some interesting evidence from this debate that supports it – focus groups.

A blog called No More Mister Nice Blog has this round-up:
* Priorities USA's Colorado focus group of "weak Democrats and independents who voted for Obama in 2008 but who remain open to switching" thought Romney wasn't specific last night; they warmed somewhat to his tax ideas, but "there was a doubling in the number of respondents who said that Obama has good ideas for improving the economy.... 63% of respondents said at the end that Obama expressed good ideas for improving the economy, compared with 27% who said the same about Romney...."

* In a focus group of independents on MSNBC, not one switched to Romney after the debate. (Hat tip: Never Ben Better in comments.)

* In another Colorado focus group of undecideds assembled by pollster Stan Greenberg, Romney gained somewhat -- 27% leaned his way before the debate, 44% afterward. But Obama held his ground -- 30% or 31% before (the link is ambiguous), 33% afterward. I read that as a 15-point swing -- but translated nationwide, it suggests that, if something like 5% of voters are undecided, Romney's getting less than a 1% gain. And that's in the immediate afterglow of the debate, which will wear off by Election Day.

* Oh, and if you believe this sort of thing is meaningful, Twitter comments about Romney leaned extremely negative last night, while comments about Obama leaned positive.

Beyond that, Obama had built up a bigger cushion than we thought before the debate: Gallup shows him up by 4 over Romney today (that's averaged over the seven pre-debate days), while his approval rating (over the three pre-debate days) has leaped to 54 percent.
 Feel better now?

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Grasping at Straws


There were two signs of GOP desperation that surfaced today. First, they tried to make some kind of hay out of this statement by Vice President Biden:

“How they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that has been buried the last four years?”

That doesn't even rise to gaffe status, though Mitt and Pinocchio have been jumping up and down like they'd caught him admitting a big secret.  Well, duh, guys. But they're trying. Guess they'll try something else tomorrow.

Then, there was this "explosive" video of Obama talking to a black audience at Hampton University (not to be confused with The Hamptons) about American black history. I'm not sure what they saw there that was so explosive. They must not get out much. This video appears to have been on YouTube since 2007.

What do you think?



And to add to your racist hysteria, here's Obama giving a shout out to Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Again, in 2007.



It's just awesome that there are still people who think Obama is a black bogey man.

Bulletin to conservatives: Romney's already got the votes of the people these videos are going to upset.  They've been looking under their beds for Muslims for four years! But hey, go ahead.

A Difficult Subject


Don't miss this story from yesterday's NY Times about children and grandchildren of Auschwitz survivors who, as a sign of respect or remembrance, have had their elders' concentration camp numbers tattooed on their own arms. There are thousands of ways (more than six million, I'd guess) to respond to the Holocaust. I found this one to be particularly moving.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, I had several friends whose parents were concentration camp survivors. I thought this was "cool," as a bank employee said to one of the people in the video that accompanies the story. When I asked my boyhood friends about it, they invariably said their parents "never talk about it." In the past 10 or 15 years, though, there has been a lot of effort to record these people's stories before they pass from the scene.

Don't miss the slide show and the video that accompany the story. The first three photographs upset me for another reason. To me, they are too edgy, like something out of a Colors of Benetton ad, so the impact is something different than I think is appropriate. Emily disagrees with me.

Odds & Ends


Eric Cantor in Trouble?

Eric Cantor might be in trouble in Virginia this year. His opponent, Wayne Powell, is a long shot, but if the swing state swing to Obama continues, who knows what could happen?

If you've got $25 burning a hole in your pocket, and you want to send it somewhere where it might help knock off one of the worst, consider Wayne Powell.


Even a Broken Clock ...

I am no fan of Al Sharpton. His behavior during the Tawana Brawley episode was inexcusable. Period. Full stop. I do not for the life of me understand why MSNBC has given him a platform. Wait, yes I do. He's a "celebrity."

That said, Sharpton was right about this:
When you look at the Ryan budget, tax hikes for the rich can’t be on the table, but we can put on the table Social Security, we can put on the table Medicare, we can put on the table Medicaid.  So we’re really saying: we can’t touch the rich, we can’t touch the elite, but seniors and those that are most vulnerable — they’re up for discussion.  That’s why this election is not about Obama.  It’s about yo mama.
That first sentence frames it just right, and is how it should be presented in Wednesday night's debate. President Obama: are you paying attention? (I think you are, because I get an email from you and Michelle every day.)


Michele Bachman in Trouble?

Speaking of Michelles, a recent poll (commissioned by her opponent) showed Michele Bachmann ahead of Democrat Jim Graves by only two percentage points. Reason enough to send Jim Graves some dough.


Looking for Scandalgate

One rather remarkable thing about Obama's first term is how free of scandal it has been. You can call Fast and Furious a scandal, but after that, the pickin's are slim.

When I say it's remarkable, I mean in a historic sense. George W. Bush certainly had his share in his first term. Clinton had Whitewater, Travelgate, and Filegate. George H. W. Bush had Iran-Contra, which was a holdover from the Reagan administration. Reagan had too many to mention, but they're listed here. Carter had Bert Lance. Ford had Earl Butz and the Nixon pardon.

Ironically, Nixon had a good record in his first term. But in the second term: the original -gate scandal.

But you have to hand it to the Republicans, they're trying hard to create one for Obama. Steve Benen has found six different "scandals" they've likened to Watergate.

Paul Ryan: Boy Policy Wonk


The tide is finally turning on Paul Ryan. Somebody turned on a fan and blew away the smoke. The mirrors have cracks in them. The Washington Post:
The Republican ticket says it could pay for its tax cut by eliminating loopholes. But the biggest loopholes are popular: the exclusion from taxation of employer-sponsored health insurance and the deductions for mortgage interest, charitable contributions and state and local taxes. Pressed by the assiduous Mr. Wallace about which of these Mr. Ryan would limit, the nominee pleaded a lack of time. “It would take me too long to go through all of that,” he said.
The GOP wants voters to think that only the rich would be affected by its loophole closing. “And don’t forget that the higher-income people have a disproportionate amount of the loopholes that they use,” Mr. Ryan said. Well, actually, no. Higher-income people reap a “disproportionate amount” of the benefit of lower rates on capital gains and dividends — households earning more than $200,000 a year receive 90 percent of the benefit. But the Romney-Ryan plan would leave that break in place. Most of the remaining major tax breaks flow primarily to households earning $200,000 or less. For example, more than two-thirds of the benefit of the deduction for home mortgage interest goes to those making less than $200,000 a year. [Italics are my emphasis.]
Paul Krugman is shocked!
Way back in 2010 I took a real look at Paul Ryan’s much-praised plan, and quickly determined that it was essentially a fraud. I pronounced him a flimflam man. And according to my sources, the Very Serious People of Washington were greatly annoyed. They had decided that Ryan was a Brave Truth-Teller; you weren’t supposed to question that premise. Indeed, months later Ryan received a “Fiscy” award for fiscal responsibility.
So you’ll forgive me if my eyes popped a bit on seeing VSP Central, aka the Washington Post, publishing an editorial titled, yes, Paul Ryan’s budget flimflam, accusing him of faking it and “hiding behind a flimsy scaffolding of pseudo-wonkiness.” Quite.
Look, I’m glad to see this sinking in. As Jonathan Chait says,
Paul Ryan’s selection as Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate is subjecting him to all manner of strange new indignities, such as questions about public policy that are different than those that his own press staff would have written.
And the results aren’t pretty.
But can I suggest in future that if I say that somebody is a fraud, the VSPs at least consider the possibility that I know what I’m talking about?
Paul Krugman is also no stranger to self-esteem. I guess having a Nobel Prize can do that to a person.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Oops!


Not what your average presidential candidate wants his spouse to say:
In an interview Thursday with television station KTVN, Mrs. Romney was asked what her biggest worry was should Mitt Romney be elected to serve in the White House.

"I think my biggest concern obviously would just be for his mental well-being," she said. "I have all the confidence in the world in his ability, in his decisiveness, in his leadership skills, in his understanding of the economy. ... So for me I think it would just be the emotional part of it."
This sort of comment shouldn't matter at all. It's just a wife being concerned for her husband, and isn't that what we want wives to be? (And vice versa, I should add.) Somebody will try to make political hay out of it, but not me.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Camera in My Pocket


Having a cell phone in your pocket can come in handy. Here are a couple of things spotted when out walking.

Mitt Romney is infamous for 1) his 47% remark, and 2) making his dog ride in a cage on the top of his car during a family vacation. He defended it by saying the dog liked it up there. Somebody thought that was a good idea for a political comment.

1%rs Only in the Cab

Click on it if you can't make it out.

For months I've been thinking about creating a photo essay showing how the public idea of what's appropriate to do with an American flag has changed. I hate to see somebody wear a flag as a bandanna, for example, but I'm pretty sure it's usually meant to be an expression of patriotism rather than disrespect.

You have to admit it's at least ambiguous, though.

Here's another ambiguous one:

Dumpster Flag


Jesus' Wife


I have no dog in this fight, but ...

By now you're familiar with the news story about a 4th century papyrus fragment which has been translated as having Jesus say, "My wife ...."  Whatever he said about "his wife" is unknown, because it's just a papyrus fragment, and the rest of the document is probably dust now.

I've read quite a bit about the early years of Christianity, and I know enough to say there were all kinds of Christians who believed all kinds of stuff about Jesus in those days, quite a bit of it ridiculous. (And quite a bit of the ridiculous stuff got into the main narrative.) This papyrus fragment, if authentic, means no more than there was somebody in the 4th century who thought Jesus had a wife.  [It could mean less. See Jon Stewart's riff on that.] And that's all the scholar who announced it claimed.

So it seemed kind of silly to me that the Vatican has (predictably, I guess) overreacted to the story.

But there was a section of the Washington Post story about this brouhaha that caught my attention. I'll quote a long section of the article to put it in context:
[Harvard scholar Karen] King has said the fragment doesn’t prove Jesus was married, only that some early Christians thought he was. She has acknowledged the doubts raised by her colleagues and says the fragment’s ink will be tested to help determine when it was written.
Some scholars attending the conference questioned the authenticity of the fragment, noting its form and grammar looked unconvincing and suspicious. Others said it was impossible to deduce the meaning of it given the fragmented nature of the script.
Camplani, a professor at Rome’s La Sapienza university who helped organize the conference, cited those concerns and added his own, specifically over King’s interpretation of the text — assuming it is real.
Rather than taking the reference to a wife literally, he wrote, scholars routinely take such references in primitive Christian and biblical literature metaphorically, to symbolize the spiritual union between Jesus and his disciples.
The absence of any reference to Jesus being married in historic documents “seems more significant than the literal interpretation of a few expressions from the new text, which by my reading should be understood purely in a symbolic sense,” he wrote.
Camplani nevertheless praised King’s academic paper on the subject as scientific and objective.
Maybe, instead of routinely taking "such references in primitive Christian and biblical literature metaphorically,"  scholars should take such references on a case-by-case basis. It would make them better scholars.

Bad Language in a Good Cause


Sarah Silverman is cute as a kitten. But she has a mouth on her that you have to be in your 20's not to recoil from.

So, sad to say, I can't show this video about voter suppression on Sempringham, because – as everybody knows – this is a high-class place.

But if you wanted to go see the video on your own, there's nothing I could do to stop you. And don't say I didn't warn you.