Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Fireside chat for November 20, 2010 (VIDEO)

The President says ratifying the New START, a pivotal treaty with Russia on nuclear weapons, must happen this year. He explains that failure to ratify the treaty this year would not only mean losing our nuclear inspectors in Russia, but also undermine the international coalition pressuring Iran, put at risk the transit routes used to equip our troops in Afghanistan, and undo decades American leadership and bipartisanship on nuclear security.

Friday, November 19, 2010

By the way. Belgium is about to split into two countries and no U.S. Media (outside of PBS' NewsHour) is covering it!

Uhhh...there's a chance Belgium could split into two countries.

Yeah. No joke.

On Sunday, the public television network in Flanders will broadcast a 45-minute special program during which 12 professors (followed by a panel of local politicians) will outline how Belgium could be divided into two separate Dutch and French speaking countries. They will take on such issues as control of the army, the future of the monarchy, social security payments, a massive national debt and the most contentious issue of all -- control of the capital Brussels, which also serves as the headquarters of the European Union.

For many Belgians, the timing of the broadcast could not be worse. The country has been without a government since June elections led to the victory of a Flemish nationalist party committed to gradual dissolution. And the mix of television broadcasts and Belgian unity have been a sore point since the French network four years aired a spoof of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" --called "Bye Bye Belgium" --dramatically portraying the end of the nation. As with that famous radio broadcast, many viewers in Belgium thought they were viewing the real thing, until 50 minutes in when the fiction was revealed.

That's right. Read that again...without a functioning Government since June.

Here's my question...why, outside of PBS's NewsHour (where I got the link) isn't anyone covering this in the States?

The answer, I'm afraid, is that your News Media sucks.

Remember this @#$% when the Republicans threaten to cut the funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Steven Benen: Obama Derangement Syndrome knows no limits.

From "Russians are Mystified":

Sergei M. Rogov, director of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, told the Post he simply didn't believe Republicans would go through with this, unambiguous threats notwithstanding. "In arms control, Russian and American cooperation is crucial," Rogov said. "I really don't think Republicans want to kill arms control."

The problem, I suspect, is that much of the world assumes Republican officials in the United States place the country's well being above all else. International observers, in other words, believe elected American politicians want to do things that would benefit America. It's a simple matter of self-interest, which tends to motivate practically everyone in international affairs.

In this case, we're talking about a treaty that would keep tabs on Russia's long-range nuclear bases, bolster American credibility around the globe, weaken Iran and North Korea, improve Russian cooperation in Afghanistan, and diminish the political strength of hard-liners in Moscow. For Americans who want to help America, it's a no-brainer.

But Obama Derangement Syndrome doesn't just lead right-wing activists to believe ridiculous things, it's also a sickness that causes powerful Republican officials to put partisanship over patriotism.

Note that Senate Republicans who intend to kill New START can't even explain themselves. They're not holding out for some new concession; they don't have a list of demands; they haven't identified flaws in the measure they find intolerable. Their opposition is simply mindless. The White House needs the treaty to improve our national security, so Republicans are against it to deny the White House a victory.

No wonder Russians are "mystified." Since when do American leaders deliberately act against American interests? The world is watching Washington, assuming that President Obama can't convince Americans to do the right thing. But the problem isn't with the country; it's with a few dozen people in the Senate, whose partisan hatred has clouded their judgment in ways that are literally hard to believe.

White House White Board: The Rebirth of the American Auto Industry (VIDEO)

Josh Marshall (via TPM) thinks these the White Board videos are "simultaneously quaint, bizarre and also kind of cool". I just think they're cool.

Clear-eyed, easy to understand Economics reporting (or anything related to Econ) is hard to find. Let's enjoy these while we have them.

Do you think maybe it's time for MSNBC's Phil Griffin to be fired?

I have zero love for Joe Scarborough. But punishing him for something you didn't think was wrong until Keith Olbermann did it strikes me as painfully ridiculous.

MSNBC has suspended "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough for the same violation that took Keith Olbermann off the air earlier this month.

In a statement, MSNBC President Phil Griffin said he has suspended Scarborough for making political donations to candidates in Florida without seeking prior approval.

Fair is fair...I guess. But I am starting to wonder about Mr. Griffin's motives.  This all seems hyper-heavy-handed.  What makes a political donation made by a "reporter" (note the quotes) for a news organization less onerous by seeking "approval" for it?

Oh yeah, so the lawyers won't get suprised.

With that, I'll be sure to post Jon Stewart's Interview with the guy who wrote the book: "A World Without Lawyers" later today.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

New Deal Democrat: The light at the end of the tunnel...may actually be sunshine!

New Deal Democrat, who posts over at the Bondad's blog, talks about how the light at the end of the tunnel...may actually be sunshine!

In 4 of the last 7 months, real retail sales have been up over 6%. Based on 65 years' worth of data, this translates into, at minimum, 2% (or about 2.5 million jobs) year over year job growth, sometime soon. Whether "soon" is more like 6 months or 24 months is impossible to tell, but the trend is unequivocally positive.

You got to see the whole thing, but we could be looking at some good economic news in the coming months. Maybe.

Jonathan Chait: Rich guy Harold Ford says that we should extend Tax Cuts for Rich Guys like him...

With each passing day, I grow happier and happier that Harold Ford is nowhere near Congress.

This is from an Op-Ed he wrote for Forbes:

The most important thing our leader can do is to push the reset button with business and not raise taxes on companies in a time of economic hardship. The U.S. economy and workers benefit from a strong, healthy relationship between government and business. America's most powerful job-creation engine, the private sector, remains under intense pressure from the uncertainty surrounding tax rates and new regulations, among other things.

On companies he said.  That's the most important thing.

What exactly is the difference between him and Bob Corker?

The man's a weasel. Like Elliot Spitzer and Eyan Bayh to come, he's looking to make money by being an "honest broker Democrat" who'll criticize other Democrats. Trust them at your peril.

Jonathan Chait was even more vicious:
I hope this kind of truth-telling doesn't hurt Ford's chances of securing a plush gig at one of the well-heeled institutions dedicated to punishing the rich and powerful. Hopefully some private equity firm can take him under their wing and allow him to continue to speak truth to power.

So what do the polls say about Tax Cuts for the Rich?

The following is from a NBC/WSJ Poll. I got the emphasis from Greg Sargent's blog, so all credit to him:

Congress will soon decide whether to keep in place the existing tax cuts enacted during President Bush's time in office, or allow them to expire. Which one of the following options would be your preference for what they should do?

Eliminate all the tax cuts permanently: 10

Eliminate the tax cuts for those earning more than $250,000 per year, but keep them for those earning less than that: 39

Keep in place all the tax cuts for everyone for another year to three years: 23

Keep in place the tax cuts for everyone permanently: 23

As it happens, far and away the largest group, 39 percent, favors the Dem proposal of extending only the middle class cuts and letting the high end ones expire.

Now, this is not entirely conclusive. Another way to look at these numbers is to note that 46 percent favor either a temporary or permanent extension of all the cuts. The counter to that, though, is that more -- 49 percent -- favor the options that would eliminate the tax cuts on the wealthy.

But all that parsing aside, the simple fact is that when the public is offered the full range of options currently being considered, the Dem position has significantly more public support than any other one. The "compromise" being discussed is supported by less than a fourth. So why is there even a debate underway among Dems over how proceed?

According to Steny, looks like there's gonna be a Tax Cut fight after all...


Steny Hoyer, the number two in the House Dem leadership, told Democrats at a caucus meeting this morning that they would get to vote this year on just extending the Bush tax cuts for the middle class, a senior Dem aide tells me, signaling support for a confrontational move towards the GOP that liberals have been pushing.

Asked if Democrats would definitely get a chance to hold this vote, the senior aide responded: "Definitely."

Hoyer's declaration comes as Democrats have been debating the way forward on the Bush tax cuts, and another aide tells me that "more than half" of the Dem caucus supports this course of action.

But it's not all peaches and cream:

The move indicates that House Dems are growing more resolved to draw a hard line on the Bush tax cuts, forcing Republicans to choose between supporting Obama's tax plan and opposing a tax cut for the middle class. However, the way forward still remains murky. Even if such a measure were to pass in the House, it's unclear whether the Senate will agree to such a vote, and the White House has not endorsed the approach.

What's more, the vote could conceivably go down, or alternatively, Republicans might successfully mount a procedural response, known as a "motion to recommit," that could also force a House vote on the high end cuts. I have not been able to determine how House Dems might respond to such a move.

Well, the President's wrong on this one (third time I've said this?).  This is the way to go.  Middle Class Tax Cuts...or nothing.

Also, passing Middle Class Tax Cuts is a tax-hike, in GOP-Land:

"The last thing our economy needs right now is a massive tax hike on families and small businesses -- and that's what this plan would mean."

Republicans against Federal Spending...who don't want to acutally do anything about it (VIDEO)

From last night's Keith. Great stuff:

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bondad on the "Washington Lobotomy Factory" and why we LOVE IT when Polticians lie to us.

Apparently, the Bondad isn't too fond of the idea to do a simplification of the Tax Code:

Here's the deal.

The U.S is running a deficit. That means two things.

1.) Taxes have to increase.

2.) Spending has to drop. As I demonstrated last week, the real issue there is medical costs We need to find some way to lower medical spending. I have no idea what that entails,but that is the central issue going forward for the US deficit.

This magical thinking that a reworking of the tax code will solve the problem is utter crap. It's a nice idea, but the tax code is full of special interest giveaways. The only way to make simplification work is to eliminate every single giveaway and not let any return. Politically, in an age of massive lobbying by everybody and their dog, that is simply not going to happen.

So far, all we've gotten is really stupid solutions that effectively say, "we don't want to make hard decisions because we might not get re-elected."

This isn't that hard or complicated. However, it does require grown-up solutions to answers. And that is where we come up short. Washington is full of stupid people.
I love Bondad's writing.

Granted, the man's a Tax Attorney.  One could argue that he'd stand to lose business if the Tax Code were simplified, and one would be wrong.  (I'm thinking he could find something to do with his skillz).

But he's right about the Politics of this.

What he says makes sense, but collectively "We The People" also bear an awesome responsibility for the mess we're in. Remember Walter Mondale talking about a rising deficit and how he needed to raise taxes in order to fix Reagan's mess? Of course you don't...because he lost to Reagan. 

Remember Grey Davis saying that the California Budget hole was large and growing, and how he needed to resort to desperate measures to fix it? This after he'd been re-elected. I bet you don't because he was recalled in favor of Governor Arnold.

And the budget hole got worse.

Why do Politicians lie about these things? Because we beg them to.

Lewis Black, Nate Silver and the shameless utter hypocrisy of the American People (VIDEO)

I was going to do a whole piece on the American's shameless hypocrisy over the full body scanners. Save me! Save me from those nasty Muslims! Do whatever you have to them. Take away my neighbor's civil liberties, I have nothing to hide.

Wait, you want to do something to me? Whooooaaa, you crossed a line there, fella.

Of course, Lewis Black said it (and performed it) way better.

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It reminds me of the old adage: Black people.  Why I love black people!  Blacks are some of my best friends...

...but no, I wouldn't let my daughter marry one.

Instead here its: Muslims?  I ain't afraid of no Muslims...but don't let one sit next to me, okay?  And don't let them build a Mosque in my neighborhood...and God help you if you touch my junk!
Still, Nate Silver has a couple interesting points about his own experiences with the Scanners in San Diego (an experience mirrored by Sports Talk Show Host, Jim Rome on his own show this morning, but I don't have audio for that):

My first experience with the full-body scanners, on a flight back to Kennedy Airport from San Diego last month, was also a negative one. I had assumed that, whatever their other faults, the full-body scanners would at least speed up the process of going through the security line; I supposed I imagined something like this scene from the movie Total Recall, in which passengers literally don’t even have to pause to go through security as their bodies are scanned while they walk toward the departure gate.

Instead, the lines were quite slow — possibly because the machines were coming up with a lot of false positives, myself included. As is my usual practice when passing through airport security, I emptied my pants pockets completely — there wasn’t so much as a stick of gum, a penny, or a taxi receipt in there. But the machine nevertheless insisted that that there was something in the back right-hand pocket of my jeans. When the official from the Transportation Security Administration asked me what I had in my pocket, and I told him that there was absolutely nothing, he then performed a pat-down. I was in a chipper enough mood that I wasn’t inclined to make a scene, but I did ask the T.S.A. official whether it was routine for the machines to see things that weren’t there, to which he declined to respond.

This is not necessarily to suggest that my experience was typical — although perhaps there are some particular issues in San Diego, the same airport at which Mr. Tyner experienced his problems, and perhaps there is something of a learning curve as T.S.A. crews learn how to use the new technologies effectively.

And Nate has some interesting stuff about the polls finding Americans in favor of the scanners:

The T.S.A. is fond of citing polls which suggest that about 75 or 80 percent of air travelers approve of the new machines. There are a couple of issues having to do with the timing of these surveys, however. Most of them were conducted in January, immediately after the failed attempt last Christmas day by a Nigerian man, who had concealed explosives in his underwear, to blow up a plane travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit — during which time concern about air travel security would naturally have been quite elevated.

In addition, the surveys were conducted at a time when virtually no Americans would have had experiences with the full-body scanners, which had not yet been installed in any American airports at that time. Again, I have no way of knowing whether my experience at San Diego was at all typical. But if so, I would imagine that other people might have their opinions shifted after actually having encountered the machines.

"All The Devils Are Here..." the unedited Daily Show Interview with the book's authors (VIDEO)

Continuing this blog's effort to highlight responsible, clear-eyed Economic reporting:

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A suggestion for and done??

Coming off that ridiculous piece in the Washington Post, Jonathan Bernstein (subbing for Jonathan Cohn) comes up with something similar for the House Republicans, though far funnier: John Boehner and entire Republican Caucus should resign the day after they're sworn in.

Yeah! That'll get those stinkin' Democrats! They'll never know what hit 'em!!

Congress, without a quorum in the House, would be paralyzed. Ideally, this would coincide with a short extension of appropriations through, say, January 15, so that Democrats would be left running the entire government when it shut down. Blame the Republican heroes? How? They’re not even there! The massive inconveniences would clearly be the fault of Kenyan anticolonial ideology.

For once, conservatives wouldn’t have to worry about their leaders selling them out. How could they, when they weren’t even there?

Richard Trumka's trying to get the White House, Nancy and Harry to hold a Middle Class Tax Cut vote solo...

According to the headline writers at the Huffington Post, it may even be working. (As of 3:35pm Pacific, the banner headline on their homepage is: DEMS MAY VOTE ON MIDDLE CLASS TAX CUTS ONLY)

Still, there's nothing in the article that says it may be working.

The largest union federation in the country has been in talks with both Democrats in Congress and members of the administration to push them to hold a vote that would only extend the Bush tax cuts for the middle class and not those for the rich.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said on Tuesday that his group has been "working diligently with lawmakers and the White House" about its legislative preference for the expiring tax rates. Though he wouldn't elaborate on the substance of those discussions, Turmka explained that "to date, no one that I'm aware of said that's not a good strategy, that's not good policy, and that's not good for the country."

Listen, fingers crossed. I think this is the right move. I just there was some evidence for Huffpo's clickable optimism.

Jon Stewart and Rachel Maddow are telling you the same thing America, John McCain is a flake! (VIDEO)

Of course, both of these clips of video got a fair amount of airplay in the Blogosphere. I just thought it'd be useful to have them in the same place for once.

For the record, Jon's funnier.

Then again, he's not trying to be news.

And finally, the Daily Show (which I saw first):

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I don't want to forget this special moment of Daily Show goodness, discussion the static nature of our contemporary political discourse...

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Republicans Miss Bill Clinton
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And, your moment of Zen...

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Moment of Zen - John McCain Questions Homosexual Conduct
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Monday, November 15, 2010

For those who like lines in the sand, @ezraklein draws four lines in the sand

Well, they should be lines in the sand.

This is really good stuff.  He calls them Four possible deals on Bush Tax Cuts:

1) Unemployment insurance: In a few weeks, unemployment benefits will expire for 2 million Americans. An extension of the benefits commands majority support among Democrats, Republicans and independents. But most Hill observers think Congress will fail to act. It would be unconscionable, however, to let unemployment benefits expire even as the tax cuts for the rich are continued. If Republicans aren't willing to come to the table on unemployment benefits, Democrats shouldn't move on tax cuts for the wealthy. And if they're not willing to take that case to the public, what are they good for, exactly?

2) The debt ceiling: In February, Congress will have to vote to lift the debt ceiling. Republicans are already looking toward this moment eagerly. Sen. Jim DeMint, for instance, wants to use it as leverage for "returning to 2008 spending levels" and "repealing Obamacare." Of course, part of the reason the debt ceiling will have to rise is that extending the Bush tax cuts will cost about $4 trillion -- all of it on the deficit. If Republicans want the tax cuts, Democrats should force them to accept the consequences of their vote and stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the debt ceiling. For Democrats to vote to extend Bush's tax cuts and then let Republicans hammer them on raising the debt ceiling borders on self-parody.

3) Comprehensive tax reform: Our tax code is long-overdue for an overhaul. We need to clean out the loopholes, lower the rates and get rid of the tricks and traps (like, for instance, the occasional expiration of unaffordable tax cuts). The Bush tax cuts offer a useful forcing mechanism for that process: Sen. Kent Conrad has proposed pairing a short extension with a mandate for comprehensive tax reform. If the reform doesn't pass, then rates snap back to their 1999 levels, or deductions start taking across-the-board cuts.

4) The expiration of the tax cuts for income over $250,000: This was originally the White House's position, though they don't seem to be fighting for it very hard. Now it's the position of the House Progressive Caucus. They want to split the vote on the tax cuts for the rich from the vote on the tax cuts for income under $250,000. It's widely acknowledged that this makes the passage of the tax cuts for the rich less likely, which is why Republicans are ferociously resisting it. it's unclear exactly what leverage they're wielding in that effort, but whatever it is, it seems to be working.

I personally think my fellow Liberal numbnuts who failed to show up on November 2nd, deserve an awful lot of scorn for what's about to happen to us for the next two years. And I would also remind my fellow Liberals that you have just demonstrated that you're not worth dealing with, because in the end, no matter what the policy is, no matter what's done or passed, it will never be good enough and you will stab your own ideological colleagues in the back.

At the same time, Democrats bear a responsibility to make sure we know there's a difference between us and them.  They talked a good and convincing game about responsibility to the middle-class, and votes they want to pass.  Howzabout stepping up and passing them?

Erza probably put it better:

The Bush tax cuts cannot pass without Democratic support. They expire before the House changes hands. And even if they didn't, Democrats still control the Senate and the White House. They have a much stronger negotiating position than the Republicans: They can decide what passes, and Republicans have never been willing to end the tax cuts for most Americans simply to preserve the tax cuts for the rich. But though they're the party in charge, Democrats aren't acting like it.

Elizabeth Warren delivers the Mario Savio memorial lecture at Berkeley (VIDEO)

Great get from Ezra:

Just to let you know, the lady herself does not appear until the 25:39 mark.