Posted by Brad @ 7:04 pm on April 20th 2011

Don’t Run, Ron

David Weigel explains why Gary Johnson hasn’t yet gotten the attention he deserves, and probably won’t.

Posted by Brad @ 4:54 pm on April 20th 2011

On Why the Chicago Cubs Still Haven’t Won a World Series in Over 100 Years

Because they may have thrown that one 93 years ago.

So quit whining, cheaters.

Posted by Brad @ 4:45 pm on April 20th 2011

Quote of the Day II

On the non-existent WikiLeaks Pultizer:

“The power and punch of Wikileaks was not the curated massive doc dump the NYT did. It’s the constant reference to a Wikileaks nugget in countless news stories since, especially in the Arab Spring. We simply understand the world – in all its hypocrisy, double standards and ugliness – more profoundly than we did pre-Assange. And we can better assess the real world trade-offs that our political masters would prefer to understand and make in seclusion.”

Andrew Sullivan

Posted by Brad @ 11:39 am on April 20th 2011

Quote of the Day

“Imagine how the brain functions in a person who spends years and years flattering people and trolling for money in order to get to the Senate, then arrives and, after surveying all of America’s problems, decides they’re going to focus on stopping adults from viewing pornography and playing poker online.”

Glenn Greenwald

And that’s really all I have to say about that (not the case for Glenn though – he continues throwing around zingers in that post).

Posted by Brad @ 3:36 pm on April 19th 2011

Two Entirely Unrelated Stories Today in the Hill

Citing lack of immigration reform, liberal House Dem might not back Obama in 2012 – 04/18/11 03:19 PM ET

Obama revives immigration reform – 04/19/11 06:15 AM ET

That “liberal House Dem” is influential Rep. Luis Gutierrez who has been going around the country urging Latinos to stay home in 2012 unless the Democrats get around to getting serious about immigration reform, as surely they now will with this renewed commitment that will in no way be half-assedly put up for a vote that everybody knows will lose, such that Democrats will urge Latinos to come out against those mean old Republicans that killed the issue, and then we’ll never hear about it again beginning promptly at midnight, Nov. 3rd, 2012.

Latinos – the new gays?

Posted by Brad @ 3:20 pm on April 19th 2011

The Correct Question

Megan McArdle gets at what I keep pounding away about to liberals:

You see this all the time in print: liberals pointing out how unpopular benefit cuts are, conservatives pointing out that no one wants their taxes increased. But of course, the correct question is “Compared to what?” Do people want their Social Security benefits enough to pay another 10% of their income into the program? Do they hate tax increases enough to give up Medicare?

This quote comes off a Jim Manzi post which is itself based on Bruce Bartlett’s back-of-the-envelope calculation that to be able to pay out the unfunded portions of our current commitments to just Medicare and Social Security would require an immediate increase in all federal income taxes by 80%, forever. To flip that, if you wanted to to pay out those programs without raising any taxes whasoever, it would require us to cut out about $100 trillion of our current commitments to those programs.

You can nibble around the edges of that however you like, but at the end of the day you can’t beat basic math. We do not raise enough money to cover our entitlement commitments. It’s not even close. So if you allow that deficits matters, there is a choice to be made. Increase revenue or reduce commitments or do both at a level commensurate with the difference – i.e. if you only raise another $690 billion in revenue (which is roughly the amount you would net over 10 years by letting the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest 2% expire), you’re still left with a $99,310 billion over-commitment.

This is what I talk about when I talk about the gap between the fundamental premises of liberals and conservatives. I’m starting to view Democrats who do not seem to feel a need or urgency for scaling back our entitlement commitments in roughly the same way they do global warming skeptics. And that’s why when I listen to them go on about how cutting benefits hurts real people (FYI: it does), I just sort of blink. Because the correct question is: “you don’t think promising them benefits that we can’t guarantee and that we know will eventually not be paid back to them – and which could well bring down our whole economy with it – doesn’t?”

Posted by Brad @ 2:46 pm on April 19th 2011

Inhofe V. The Airport

I just glanced over this story when it came out last week, but a brief recap: Senator Inhofe (R-OK), 76 years old, has a private pilot’s license. Last October he came in to land at a Texas airport, and went to a runway that was currently being repaired – as in it had a giant yellow X on the north end of it, and several trucks and construction workers milling about in the middle of it. Everybody at the airport, including air traffic controllers, tried to get his attention to no avail. He landed anyway, although he finally saw the workers as his plane was skidding towards them, at which point he pulled up, hopscotched over them, and landed again behind them. This, as you might imagine, scared the holy crap out of the workers and the airport folks. Inhofe got out of his plane and blamed it all on them. He wound up getting a slap on the wrist from the FAA.

Again, I didn’t pay much attention to the story, until I listened to the audio of the airport personnel calling the FAA immediately following the incident, and read a post by James Fallows (pilot and aviation enthusiast) describing how outrageous the slap on the wrist for it is.

Posted by Brad @ 4:46 pm on April 18th 2011

Music Video of the Week

Love me some Guy Forsyth.

Also: more blues songs need to make prominent use of the sousaphone. And I’ve seen him live a few times and can indeed confirm that the percussionist is just a guy that sits on a box. You should see him solo though – blow your friggin’ mind.

Guy Forsyth – Adam’s Rib

Posted by Brad @ 2:58 pm on April 18th 2011

Sign O’ The Times

Fearing currency devaluation, the University of Texas converts $1 billion of its endowment to gold. Like, physically. As in, it buys 332 tons of gold bullion and sticks it in a vault.

Posted by Brad @ 1:05 pm on April 18th 2011

Headline of the Day

From the local section of a news portal:

Man With Machete High on Bath Salts.

Posted by Brad @ 12:11 pm on April 18th 2011

How’s that Libyan War Going?

In case you haven’t noticed, despite America and NATO having invested themselves in regime change in Libya, Gaddafi still appears to be hanging in just fine.

It’s funny, the neocon position always seems to be that we have to commit to all these actions lest we project weakness to our international enemies. And so we get mired in situations where we’re stuck parked in a desert in Iraq for a decade twiddling our thumbs and waiting for democracy to kick in, or in the mountains of Afghanistan shoveling money at bickering warlords while unable to find a 6’5″ guy wheeling around a dialysis machine who happens to be about the most recognizable figure in the world, or bringing the weight of the world’s force down on a tinpot dictator who fancies umbrellas and kimonos, and appearing unable to even rattle him much at first pass. And we wind up looking for all the world like world’s most overinflated paper tiger.

Leslie Gelb has a good post making this argument. He’s right.

Posted by Brad @ 12:01 pm on April 18th 2011

Dear Fiscal Denialists…

How do you square a decided lack of urgency in relation to the national debt – and the implicit assumption either that deficits don’t matter, or our country is not in fact insolvent – with the S & P 500 joining a long list of international credit agencies – including the IMF – in downgrading our credit rating perilously close to “everyone get out now” levels?

Are the people actually investing in treasuries all just stupid or trying to make our nation’s seniors eat cat food?

What’s particularly damaging about the S & P report is that, unlike others, it’s not just an analysis of the debt as presently structured, but on the political prospects of that problem being addressed or rectified (summation: not good as neither side seems very serious about doing the heavy lifting required).

Posted by Brad @ 9:40 am on April 18th 2011

Rolling Brownouts

Just to let you know, we’re doing a bit of server switching, so besides the outage yesterday, you might have some problems viewing the blog over the next day or two as things propagate and settle. Should be smooth sailing again after that.

Posted by Brad @ 11:15 am on April 15th 2011

Ignominious Moments in State Governance

The Arizona Senate passed the so-called Birther bill, which requires presidential candidates to provide a birth certificate. Or, as per an amendment, a circumcision certificate.

Posted by Brad @ 11:10 am on April 15th 2011

Cool Link of the Day

So, here’s the Japanese earthquake, as heard underwater…900 miles away in Alaska.

First recording is through the earth’s crust (which they heard first). Second one, at the 1:10 mark, is what they picked up directly through the water.

Posted by Brad @ 10:59 am on April 15th 2011

Budget Crisis Averted!

Bipartisan deal reached!

Posted by Rojas @ 11:11 pm on April 14th 2011

Other true lies

“Days, not weeks.”

Posted by Rojas @ 10:51 pm on April 14th 2011

Rent Liechtenstein!

You know you want to.

Posted by Rojas @ 9:40 pm on April 14th 2011

True lies

The following headline pops up multiple times in my social media feed, fostered by my Wisconsin progressive friends: “Walker admits during testimony that collective bargaining law doesn’t save money.”

Pretty amazing that Scott Walker would make an admission that would so comprehensively demolish the case for his own legislation. So, to the video of the Kucinich-Walker exchange we go, and…uh…

Kucinich (0:43): Let me ask you about some of the specific provisions in your proposal to strip collective bargaining rights. First, your proposal would require unions to hold annual votes to continue representing their own members. Can you please explain to me and members of this committee how much money this provision saves for your state budget?

Walker (1:07):That and a number of other provisions we put in because if you are going to ask, if you are going to put in place a change like that, we wanted to make sure that we protected the worker’s of our state so they had a right to know what kind of value they got out of it. It’s the same reason we gave worker’s the right to choose, which is a fundamental America right, the right to choose whether or not they want to be a part of a union, and whether they went up to a thousand–

Kucinich (1:26): Would you answer the question? How much money does it save Governor? Just answer the question.

Walker: It doesn’t save any.

Ah.

Okay. Back to the social media. Um…guys? Here’s the full transcript of the exchange that article is reporting on; here’s the video; you sure you want to be linking this article on Facebook? Indeed they are…because, to paraphrase said friends, the headline is just about getting attention; Kucinich’s larger argument about the law not saving money is true, and that’s what matters.

These are the times at which I wonder whether a civil political dialogue in this country is possible anymore.

Posted by Brad @ 2:04 pm on April 14th 2011

The Fallacy of the “Do Nothing” Solution to the Budget Deficit

A close cousin to the “We are not actually broke” talking point is the “All we have to do is nothing and it will fix itself” argument en vogue this week and roughly originating with Annie Lowrey. Her argument, in a nutshell, is that if we simply allow things that are set to sunset, to in fact sunset, and then trust that in the next 40 years Congress won’t propose any additional spending, or if they do will also propose how to pay for it, and all will be well! We don’t need an institutional reorganization, Lowrey contends, we just need nobody in Congress to show up for the next several decades. Also, for Obama’s health care plan to work and health care costs to stop rising. And for Social Security to be solvent. See? Easy!

As nice as that sounds, as a positive response to a very real and very impending budget crisis it is, needless to say, pretty idiotic, particularly as its being dispatched by (mostly) Democratic partisans arguing against even walking to a table with institutional or entitlement reform on it. Even if you accept the whole “just trust that nobody proposes new spending” latter part of the premise, the the former is, at best, largely irrelevant as well. In part because letting the Bush tax cuts on the middle class expire does not appear to even be on the table, nor is failing to pass the Medicare “doc fix”, which prevents payments to drop by 30%, as Pete Suderman explains.

But it does underscore a point I’ve been harping on: I just don’t believe that most Democratic partisans believe in the need for entitlement or fiscal reform, period. Obama’s speech and the fact that we’re even having a conversation about it at all is largely due to the fear liberals have that they are in fact living in a center-right country so they at least have to pretend to give a shit.

Posted by Brad @ 11:47 am on April 14th 2011

An Additional DataPoint in the Case for Haley Barbour as a Dark Horse…

Ohio Governor John Kasich has preemptively endorsed him. One other datapoint that this speaks to that FD hasn’t mentioned in our comment discussions and that didn’t occur to me: as head of the Republican Governor’s Association in a nice cycle for incoming Republican governors, he’s made more than a few friends in key states.

Barbour’s barely polling at 1% so far, but maybe FD’s on to something and he’s really second tier ready to break.

Posted by Brad @ 11:32 am on April 14th 2011

Great Moments in State Governance

Posted by Brad @ 11:21 am on April 14th 2011

If War Spending is the Great Federal Budget Unmentionable…

Want to guess what one area of spending that is presently bankrupting state governments generally never even makes it to the table when fiscal questions are discussed?

Posted by Brad @ 10:12 am on April 14th 2011

Chinatown Buses – Capitalism in a Nutshell

Reihan Salam has a good post up acknowledging the incredible success of the revolution in cheap mass travel spurred by a dude named Fung Wah. Wah, in 1998, began operating a low rent busing company that, for $25 dollars, would transport you from New York’s Chinatown to Boston’s Chinatown. 10 years later, a number of large corporations finally began to follow his lead, turning NYC’s best kept transportation secret into big business, with Megabus, Boltbus, et al., all of which are now challenging trains and planes as the commercial travel vehicle of choice. It really is an I, Pencil kind of a story. It still amazes me that I can, today, get a ticket for a 3:00 bus departing a few blocks away here in Philly, and be on 34th & 8th in Manhattan two hours later, for a cost of, I shit you not, $8 (I just checked fares).

It occurs to me that those not on the East Coast might not realize the extent of impact low-rent busing has had, as the model doesn’t translate precisely as well to the Midwest, for instance. But for me, living in Philly and with my main weekend trips being to NYC or D.C., I don’t know what I would do without them.

Of course, to hear Obama tell it, we need to hook each state to a multi-billion dollar commitment to build high speed rail systems. To hear legislators tell it we need to shovel more money into transportation subsidies. To hear cities tell it public transportation is nigh-on unsustainable without massive and regular fare increases. And, also of course, where the private sector finds success (and money), government will eventually decide they need a piece of the action. So we may well be at the peak of the Chinatown Bus Renaissance, before regulators step in and eventually choke it to death.

Still, it’s a nice reminder that capitalism, left unchecked, has just as much a capacity for ringing successes and awesome demand-filling as it does, to hear most people tell it, to screw people. And that markets are perfectly able to swoop in and meet needs not just in lieu of government, but frankly in spite of government.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:48 pm on April 13th 2011

Unsafe deposit boxes

The state of California pursues a revolutionary new tactic to clear its debts.

Posted by Brad @ 7:49 pm on April 13th 2011

On the Occasion of Blue Jays Slugger Carlos Delgado’s Retirement From Baseball…

One brief footnote to his career that probably won’t get mentioned.

The older I get, the more nationalism perplexes me. Remember how weird 2001-2004 was?

Posted by Brad @ 4:35 pm on April 12th 2011

Quote of the Day

“This can’t be said often enough. Involving politics in industry is a surefire way to involve money in politics. The more that government seeks to influence the economy, the more that individuals with means will seek to influence the government. This often leads progressives to push for better regulators on one hand and tighter controls on the other. Taxes become tools to alter behavior rather than raise operating revenue. Industries become regulated to the point that they are quasi-public utilities. Public-private partnerships pile up, as do their costs; just this morning, the Obama administration announced it would spend a billion dollars on partnerships designed to reduce medical errors. It’s an endless feedback loop, in which progressive reformers are perpetually trying to fix the problems they helped create.”

Peter Suderman

Example: health care costs.

Posted by Brad @ 4:28 pm on April 12th 2011

Music Video of the Week

The Books – There is No There.

Posted by Brad @ 2:43 pm on April 12th 2011

A Winner is Declared in David Byrne v. Charlie Crist

And to the loser goes the court-mandated YouTube apology vid.

Background.

Posted by Jack @ 10:45 am on April 7th 2011

Big Agro, The Ivory Coast, and Blame

PZ Myers is exercised over Big Agro’s exploitation of cocoa farmers, and the greater issue of corporate culpability for the grinding poverty, corruption, and armed conflict in Cote d’Ivoire. He links to this “excellent summary” in The Nation. I clicked through with some trepidation since I find PZ quite informative (though admitedly caustic) on evolution vs creationism, atheism and religion, and critiques of pseudoscientific nonsense, but often dismissive, reactionary, and ill informed on generic areas of the law and politics. As a progressive liberal, he is miles below our own (former?) commenter, thimbles, in well-reasoned defenses of that ideology or critiques of conservative and libertarian positions. But click through I did, and oh what a mess.

As there is for African diamonds and other conflict minerals, there may well be a reasonable, even clear case for condemnation of international corporate activities in the African cocoa farming region, but this article doesn’t make it. Instead, they fill 25 paragraphs with one sided interviews, extraordinary assumptions, distorted figures, ominous insinuations, and emotive descriptions of the plethora of troubles faced by Ivoirians, with the implication that Big Agro is at least partially responsible for all of them. The Nation seeks to support a central premise; that giant American (and reluctantly they admit, Swiss) agri-business corporations are unreasonably exploiting poor cocoa farmers, and we who buy chocolate are enabling them. In support they muster criticism in what I see as four key areas:
– The price Agribusiness pays for raw cocoa is unreasonably low compared to international market value, particularly given AB profit margins.
– The cocoa corporations’ negotiation, collection, and payment practices are immoral and corrupt.
– Big Agro does not give back anything significant to the local communities they exploit.
– The farmers’ situation is exacerbated by government corruption, failed systems, and lack of institutional support.

The Price Gouge: This is the heart of the matter. Much of the rest of the article laments the systemic failed state that is the Ivory Coast, with a careless eliding of that into a vague condemnation of international agricultural businesses. But here, with sale prices, we have numbers and facts that are clearly relevant, and it is with these figures that I first suspected The Nation was playing fast and loose.

At the moment, the world cocoa price in London is high, roughly 1,600 West African francs per kilo. But the small farmers here laugh bitterly at that figure; they are lucky if they get half of it for their sacks of beans.

Here’s the thing: The Nation has carefully selected their figures to reflect the worst possible scenario by using a “current value” that is not actually current, but rather a two month old number that represents a historic peak in prices, and contrasting this against a figure paid to farmers last fall during the lowest price slump in 14 months. 1600 West African Francs* is about $3.49. The small farmers claim to be lucky to get half that, so use $1.75/kilo as a working figure for comparison. Actual current cocoa prices are down to $3.05/kilo. In the fall of last year, they were $2.90/kilo. It’s looking a bit less outrageous already.
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