Thursday, April 30, 2009

Don't forget DL tonight (Thursday)

Veteran newspaper man Nick Coleman will be our guest. Our gathering starts at six, and we expect Nick around seven for a meet and greet. We’ll be at the usual place, the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Milton Friedman is dead

John La Plante on the horrors of a “graduated tax system,” a post that Spot discussed a day or so ago:

A graduated tax system invites bad policy. To paraphrase the late economist Milton Friedman, you're going to be a careful shopper if you buy something using your own money—and rather careless if you're spending other people's money.
For La Plante, the great thing about Milton Friedman is that he is dead, because no one can go to Uncle Milty and ask, “You didn’t really mean what John La Plante thinks you meant, did you?” Friedman’s passing makes him the go-to guy for quotes for conservative commenters, whether in context or out, and even whether made or not.

We’ll get back to Uncle Milty in a minute. But recognize, boys and girls, that La Plante is really mourning for the good old days of yesteryear when you had to be Somebody to vote:
Typically, white, male property owners twenty-one or older could vote. Some colonists not only accepted these restrictions but also opposed broadening the franchise. Duke University professor Alexander Keyssar wrote in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States:

At its birth, the United States was not a democratic nation—far from it. The very word "democracy" had pejorative overtones, summoning up images of disorder, government by the unfit, even mob rule. In practice, moreover, relatively few of the nation's inhabitants were able to participate in elections: among the excluded were most African Americans, Native Americans, women, men who had not attained their majority, and white males who did not own land.
You see, La Plante believes that the lower classes are really unfit to make decisions about spending the public treasury. Rabble. Wastrels. Liable to fall prey to “majoritarian impulses.” Only the monied classes have the judgment to make these kinds of decisions. Harrumpf.

Since we’ve made the regrettable decision to let the rabble vote, the least we can do, says - or at least thinks - La Plante, is levy no more than a head tax, or maybe a “flat tax” if we’re really generous.Just so you know where Johnny’s coming from, okay, boys and girls?

Now back to Uncle Milty. In addition to being dead, Uncle Milty was wrong about many things. The so-called Chicago School spawned malignacies that infected and damn near killed the economies of countries in Latin American and elsewhere (Iraq under Viceroy Bremer being a good example). Uncle Milty’s boyz are the kind of people you would hire if you thought economic decision making was just too hard and that Invisible Hand thing sounded kinda neat. It’s kind of like believing in the power of prayer to remove the boil from your arse. Uncle Milty’s boyz are also good if you’re just looking for shills for monied interests, too.

It is little wonder that Uncle Milty is the tin god for John La Plante, David Strom, and Captain Fishsticks. But here, really, is where Uncle Milty got us:
I'm not going to cut it too fine: I think you can very well blame the Chicago school [where Uncle Milty held court] for the fiasco of growing income inequality in the U.S. Nice triumph for deregulated capitalism, boys! Ronald Reagan listened closely to Milton Friedman and the Chicago school godfather's disciples have been rife in the Republican administrations that have dominated the White House ever since the Californian swept into Washington and started blaming government for our problems. Well guess what? It didn't work so well. The rich got richer and then screwed the pooch.
“Screwing the pooch” is an uncomfortable reference for Spot, of course, but just think of the pooch as a metaphor for the public good.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The beady-eyed Bybee

As he sat is the witness chair at a hearing chaired by Orrin Hatch, judicial nominee Jay Bybee practically squirms with pleasure as he contemplates all the sentences that will come his way to affirm. A war criminal meting out justice: oh the irony!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Can John La Plante even say “equal marginal sacrifice principle?”

Well, if he can, he plainly doesn’t know what it means.

What does it mean, Spotty?

It’s the principle behind a progressive income tax:

Equal marginal sacrifice (where each gives up the same utility from the last unit of income): It is often used to justify progressive taxation. The idea is to examine what a person gives up when the last dollar of taxes is paid. To pay the last $50 in taxes, a low-income person might have to give up something essential, such as a pair of shoes. A high-income person might give up a luxury of little practical value or necessity. Accordingly, taxes should be increased on the high-income person and reduced on the low-income person until both sacrifice equally when the last dollar of taxes is paid.

Now, of course, if we really put the principle into operation, the wealthy would pay a helluva lot more in income tax. But it does explain the notion that wealthier individuals can be expected to pay at a higher rate on the top part of their income – remember progressive income tax rates are only applied to marginal income; you don’t pay the same rate on the last dollar of income as you do the first.

But La Plante thinks this is SO UNFAIR (never mind that the people with the top incomes keep earning a larger and larger percentage of the total income in the country). He’s in favor of the flat tax because it will stop the oppression of the wealthy:

Placing extraordinary taxes on high-income earners is bad for another reason: That fuels majoritarian impulses that imperil our political system. The majority rules, but our national and political institutions do have checks on majority rule, including the U.S. Bill of Rights. These checks are useful—it's a fact of human existence that small groups of people are vulnerable to rough treatment at the hands of the majority.

Indeed, our political history has been marred by majoritarian excesses, including vigilante justice, lynchings, wartime internment of American citizens and, at our worst, slavery.

If that doesn’t make you proponents of the progressive income tax hang your heads in shame, Spot doesn’t know what will. That extra one percent on incomes over a quarter of a million a year, yeah, that’s so much like lynching and slavery it’s scary! What are we coming to as a society?

John says, after all, life is “regressive.” We have another name for that, John; it’s called Social Darwinism.

The incredible lightheadness of being (conservative)

Tracy on the swine flu threat:

The LME has asked this question quite a few times when we are discussing Obama's orgy of deficit spending. This is a very sensible question and one that no one in the Obama Administration has ever discussed. Well, life is predictable in it's  [sic] unpredicability [sic] and now we may have the start of something "really bad" that will require a massive governmental response. Too bad that our government is broke.

* * *

If this continues I'll attempt to layout the massive financial impact of a flu outbreak on the global economy.

Needless to say that this couldn't have come at a worse time. The global economy is already weak from the financial meltdown and the United States which would usually be expected to lead on a issue like this has an in-experienced back bench Senator from Illinois as its President. It's likely that Obama will use this crisis to further his goal of nationalizing healthcare, drug and device manufactures [sic] and other sectors of industry.

While we all wait with bated breath for Tracy to enlighten us as to the worldwide economic consequences of a flu pandemic, consider this from The Nation:

When House Appropriations Committee chairman David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who has long championed investment in pandemic preparation, included roughly $900 million for that purpose in this year's emergency stimulus bill, he was ridiculed by conservative operatives and congressional Republicans.

Obey and other advocates for the spending argued, correctly, that a pandemic hitting in the midst of an economic downturn could turn a recession into something far worse -- with workers ordered to remain in their homes, workplaces shuttered to avoid the spread of disease, transportation systems grinding to a halt and demand for emergency services and public health interventions skyrocketing. Indeed, they suggested, pandemic preparation was essential to any responsible plan for renewing the U.S. economy.

But former White House political czar Karl Rove and key congressional Republicans -- led by Maine Senator Susan Collins -- aggressively attacked the notion that there was a connection between pandemic preparation and economic recovery.

The article continues:

Famously, Maine Senator Collins, the supposedly moderate Republican who demanded cuts in health care spending in exchange for her support of a watered-down version of the stimulus, fumed about the pandemic funding: "Does it belong in this bill? Should we have $870 million in this bill? No, we should not."

As late as Sunday, Collins was still using her official website to highlight the fact that she led the fight to strip the pandemic preparedness money out of the Senate's version of the stimulus measure. On Monday, after her machinations with regard to the stimulus bill were revealed, Collins attempted to defend herself, dispatching a spokesman to declare that, "There is no evidence that federal efforts to address the swine flu outbreak have been hampered by a lack of funds."

Discuss, boys and girls.

Mark your calendars

nick coleman Fresh from another win as City Pages’ “Best Columnist” (his fourth, Spot believes), Nick Coleman will join us at Drinking Liberally this coming Thursday, April 30th. We expect Nick around seven; bring your questions about the newspaper business, the Strib, being Irish, his brother Chris Da Mare, or the “good” Coleman, or whatever.

Drinking Liberally meets every Thursday night from six to nine or so at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Maybe he was at a different rally

Or just wasn’t looking, Spotty!

Here’s the lede in an op-ed by Jeff Johnson in the Strib today:

I've found it entertaining to watch the media and those of a liberal political bent (sorry if I'm being redundant) paint the Tea Parties that took place recently around the country as an amalgamation of seething right-wing kooks carrying "I my AK-47" signs.

I was at the Tea Party in St. Paul. I apparently hung out at the wrong end of the Capital [sic] grounds, though, because I missed all of those angry, extremist, Obama-haters who I'm told were there.

Johnson is a Hennepin County Commissioner.

Well, just for Commissioner Johnson, here’s a slideshow of a few of the signs on display at the rally.

We do miss Katie, but there are others

Shorter Logical Lady:
We never did want the initial stem cell research to have been done, did everything we could to stop it, distorted basic scientific principles to justify defunding it, called those who developed it murderers, but let us pause a moment to thank Jesus for the wonders it has brought us.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

“Actually, we need more carbon emissions”

Echoing Bill Cosby from many years ago, Michele Bachmann answers the question, “Why is there air?” Or part of it, anyway.

Let’s see, urine and feces are the natural byproducts of humans (and the animals we domesticate, too); they’ve been with us for years, and yet we seem to consider them as a problem to be handled appropriately.

Same thing with slaughter house waste. What could be more natural than eating the animals that God gave to us? Following MIchele’s logic, if eating the animals is natural, we should just leave the offal lying around.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Are the Israelis racist, Spotty?

Who said that, grasshopper?

The president of Iran, I’m Mad in the Head, or whatever his name is. He was speaking at a United Nations Conference on racism.

Ah, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. That fellow really has the Midas touch, doesn’t he? No, grasshopper, the Israelis aren’t racist. After all, both the Arabs and the Israelis are Semitic peoples. The Persians aren’t.

Okay, thanks, Spotty; see ya.

Come back a moment grasshopper. When it comes to the Palestinians, the Israelis are eliminationists. They seem pretty well fixed on a course of eliminating the Palestinians from the West Bank settlement by settlement and starving them out of Gaza.

Here are bits of the transcript from the piece that Bob Simon did for 60 Minutes that Spot has embedded a couple of times:

BOB SIMON: Getting a peace deal in the Middle East is such a priority to President Obama that his first foreign calls on his first day in office were to Arab and Israeli leaders. And on day two, the president made former Senator George Mitchell his special envoy for Middle East peace. Mr. Obama wants to shore up the cease-fire in Gaza, but a lasting peace really depends on the West Bank, where Palestinians had hoped to create their state. The problem is, even before Israel invaded Gaza, a growing number of Israelis and Palestinians had concluded that peace between them was no longer possible, that history had passed it by. For peace to have a chance, Israel would have to withdraw from the West Bank, which would then become the Palestinian state. It's known as the two-state solution. But while negotiations have been going on for 15 years, hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers have moved in to occupy the West Bank. Palestinians say they can't have a state with Israeli settlers all over it, which the settlers say is precisely the idea. Daniella Weiss moved from Israel to the West Bank 33 years ago. She's been the mayor of a large settlement.

DANIELLA WEISS: I think that settlements prevent the -- the establishment of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. This is the goal, and this is the reality.

* * *

SIMON: Another crippling reality on the West Bank is high unemployment, now about 20%. So some Palestinians can only find jobs building Israeli settlements. They're so ashamed to work here that they asked us not to show their faces. The settlers now number about 280,000, and as they keep moving in, their population keeps growing -- about 5% every year. But the 2.5 million Arabs have their strategy, too; they're growing bigger families. Demographers predict that, within ten years, Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Without a separate Palestinian state, the Israelis would have three options, none of them good. They could try ethnic cleansing, drive the Palestinians out of the West Bank; they could give the Palestinians the vote -- that would be the democratic option, but it would mean the end of the Jewish state; or they could inflict apartheid -- have the minority Israelis rule the majority Palestinians. But apartheid regimes don't have a very long life. [italics are Spot’s]

BARGHOUTI: [former candidate for Palestinian Authority president] Unfortunately, and I have to say to you that apartheid is already in place.

SIMON: Apartheid is already in place?

BARGHOUTI: Absolutely.

SIMON: Apartheid? Israel is building what it calls a security wall between the West Bank and Israel. The Palestinians are furious because it appropriates 8% of the West Bank. Not only that, it weaves its way through Palestinian farms, separating farmers from their land. They have to wait at gates for soldiers to let them in. Settlers get a lot more water than Palestinians, which is why settlements are green and Arab areas are not.

largest settlement in West Bank And the colonization of the West Bank is continuing [photo is of a large West Bank settlement]:

Despite the state's formal commitment not to expand West Bank settlements, a government agency has been promoting plans over the past two years to construct thousands of housing units east of the Green Line, Haaretz has learned.

The plans, which have not yet been approved by the government, were drawn up by the Civil Administration, the government agency responsible for nonmilitary matters in the West Bank. Details of the plans appear in the minutes of the agency's environmental subcommittee, which were obtained by the B'Tselem organization under the Freedom of Information Act.

The entire  colonization of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem have been ruled illegal under international law by the ICJ. Ditto for the wall, although the Israeli Supreme Court rejects that decision.

The extent to which the Israelis are colonizing the West Bank can be seen on this map:


The map is from 2002, and settlements have increased substantially since then.

The anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was observed recently. It’s a great and stirring story, really, about a small group of Jews, trapped in the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw, Poland who decided to fight instead of simply being rounded up and exterminated.

You see where this is going, don’t you boys and girls?

If you had asked Spot what side he was on in 1948, 1956, 1967, or 1973, he would have answered “the Israelis.” But regarding Palestine, Spot no longer supports the Israelis. The oppressed have become the oppressors. Their actions in Palestine since the 1967 war have been an epic land grab, an effort to eliminate the Palestinians from lands that are historically theirs, too.

Many Palestinians, like many of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto and all over Europe, have shrugged their shoulders and accepted their fate. But not all. They’re the ones firing off the little ineffectual rockets, like the Jewish revolvers in the ghetto. In the words of that famous Philosopher Queen, Janis Joplin, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

And to the righteous bellowing that Spot can already hear, the Israelis have killed orders of magnitude more Palestinian civilians, both before and during the recent incursion into the West Bank, than the Palestinians have ever killed Israelis.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Norm: what part of “appeal” don’t you understand?

01coleman From the lede in a Strib article this monring:

Norm Coleman asked the state Supreme Court on Wednesday to set a slower timetable than his rival seeks in the next phase of the protracted U.S. Senate race.

Coleman, a Republican, proposed to the court that his appeal of Democrat Al Franken's victory in the recent Senate election trial be argued no sooner than mid-May, two weeks later than Franken suggested on Tuesday.

The Coleman camp said in documents that while it recognizes a need to resolve the case "as expeditiously as possible," the two sides and the court "must be given enough time to fully develop and consider the issues on appeal."

Come on, Norm, do you mean “develop” or do you mean “find?” If it’s the former, these are issues that your lawyers preserved properly in the trial record for appeal. They’ve been arguing them for months already. The appeal issues are already identified and quite well “developed.” Spot knows that Ben Ginzberg is saying, “God, I just need more time to think!” But the time for thinking is over. You need something else, but sadly, no amount of meditation, peyote, or other religious rite is going to make things better either. You don’t need more time; stop stalling.

If, on the other hand, you really mean “find,” and Spot thinks maybe you do, it’s too late to try to find other issues to bring up in the appeal, which is, after all, a reconsideration of the record made. At every turn, you have revealed the your undertakings after the recount as a complete “throw everything against the wall and see if anything sticks” exercise.

Face it, Norm: it’s time to walk that long mile.

 losers-with-dirty-faces_thumb[8] Image by Tild.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Offered without comment

Because there really is nothing I can add to this quote from the Senate Armed Services Committee report titled "Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody."
[T]his is my opinion, even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NBBooks visits Drinking Liberally!

stylized 331 Club - DL This Thursday, the 23rd, we’re planning to host Tony Wikrent, also known as NBBooks, at DL. Tony is a well-know diarist at Daily Kos; he is best known, at least recently, for defending the comments of William A. Black, a guest on Bill Moyers’ Journal. Some of you will recall that Black claimed on Moyers’ show that it is the Obama administration’s legal duty to put some of the biggest and ailing banks in to receivership. His criticism of the new Democratic president didn’t sit well with a lot of members of the liberal blogosphere.

We’re hoping Tony will arrive – from Chicago – around seven for a few remarks and then a meet and greet. Tony speaks and writes a lot about the history of industrialization and the economic ruin brought about by the financial sector.

Then next week, on the 30th, we’re planning to have Nick Coleman – fresh from another win as Best Columnist in City Pages’ annual Best Of feature – for a meet and greet.

These should both be great events; hope to see you there.

Update: Link to NBBooks fixed; sorry.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Narcissistic personality disorder

Siggy, did you go to the tea bag protest rally at the Capitol in St. Paul last week?

Nein, grasshopper, but Siggy saw za reports.

Vut did you tink; I mean what did you think?

Are ve making za fun of Siggy, grasshopper?

No, Siggy; it’s just that the accent is so, well, infectious.



Okay zen. Siggy did think zat there was some psychosis at the rally which which indicates zat narcissistic personality disorder may be present in some members of za crowd.


Vell, let’s go to za tape:

I see what you mean, Spotty.

No you don’t, grasshopper; you can’t fool za Siggy, so let him explain it to you.

Narcissism is characterized by “self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem.” Za crowd listening to za Chris Baker was reveling in the praise he heaped on it. How zis praise had anything to do with tax protests or tea bags is not immediately obvious, until one recognizes za it is all part of za wing nut’s investment in zinking of himself as za keeper of za flame; zat’s true whether we’re talking about taxes or za so-called moral values.

That’s seems like a little bit of a stretch, Siggy.

Vell, here’s “Glenallen Walken” talking about the gay marriage issue just yesterday in Salon:

Contrary to what many supporters of gay marriage seem to believe, the opposition to gay marriage is not motivated, as a general rule, in large part or small, by bigotry. I am aware there are many gay-marriage advocates who refuse to accept that there really can be a legitimate difference of viewpoint on the issue.

These are the same people who, let me suggest, are not so much concerned about how they live their own lives as they are with forcing other people to accept how they live, to validate the lives they have made for themselves. And that's what inspires the first conservative objection to gay marriage, the one born out of respect for society and those social traditions that, over time, have demonstrated that they exist for everyone's benefit. [italics are Siggy’s]

Siggy would quarrel about the bigotry issue, but the italicized language hits it on za head. Za author of that was talking about gay marriage advocates, but he’s got it exactly backwards. There are no gay marriage advocates, certainly as far as Siggy knows, who want to keep anyone from having a “traditional marriage.” But there are plenty of people who want to keep gays from making za same commitment that Chris Baker talked about at za rally; it’s about validation of their own choice by the exclusion of any other choice as moral.

Baker’s strokes the crowd with this giant non sequitur about commitment because he is playing to the crowd’s need for attention and validation. That is, in fact, largely what talk radio is about. It’s true on both sides of za aisle, but conservative talk radio is more popular because, vell, Liebschen, you figure it out.

Baker’s other giant non sequitur in the clip, that it’s okay to want lower taxes because “God put you on earth and you owe no man but yourself” is similarly constructed to simply validate the self-absorbed, narcissistic impulses of za crowd.

Which brings us finally to Sue Jeffers’ statement zat za rally was za start “of something big.” Self-aggrandizement is another trait of narcissism. Za crowd roared in approval, but za more sober and honest reaction comes from the fellow at za end of za clip.

Update: Ve vill talk about why zis is so important in a upcoming post. A longer clip of the rally in St. Paul can be seen in za post immediately preceding zis one.

Like square green wildflowers


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Connect the spots

Let’s see if you, boys and girls, can see any connection between these two stories:

The accountants come to their senses!

Chastened after seeing what havoc telling the truth played on the economy, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has decided that smoke and mirrors is better after all:

The Financial Accounting Standards Board agreed to allow companies to use their own judgment to a greater extent in determining the "fair value" of their assets. The board also made it easier for companies to avoid having to take impairment charges when they suffer losses on their investments.

After Year of Heavy Losses, Citigroup Finds a Profit

After more than a year of crippling losses and three bailouts from Washington, Citigroup, a troubled giant of American banking, said Friday that it had done something extraordinary: it made money.

That’s easy, Spotty; the answer is in the next few paragraphs of the NYT article you linked:

Like several other banks that reported surprisingly strong results this week, Citigroup used some creative accounting, all of it legal, to bolster its bottom line at a pivotal moment.

While wisps of recovery are appearing in the nation's banking industry — mortgage lending and trading income are up industrywide — many banks are doing all they can to make themselves look good.

The timing is crucial. Federal regulators are preparing to disclose the results of stress tests that could determine which banks are strong enough to return the taxpayer dollars that they have accepted, and which might need more. Many banks are eager to extricate themselves from the strings attached to the government bailout money, including restrictions on pay.

Meredith A. Whitney, a prominent research analyst, said in a recent report that what banks were doing amounted to a "great whitewash." The industry's goal — and one that some policy makers share — is to create the impression that banks are stabilizing so private investors will invest in them, minimizing the need for additional taxpayer money, she said.

Right-O, grasshopper. Tracy said “We wuz robbed; the banks are doing fine.” Well, the truth is almost more sinister; the new fix is in. Citigroup is in no better shape than it was a few weeks ago, but the accounting rules have changed, see?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Drinking Liberally tonight!

natavism marches in place There will be a Drinking Liberally meeting tonight at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis starting at six. We don’t have a guest scheduled, but the topic will be natavism. The cartoon is from the Southern Poverty Law Center newsletter; perhaps it should have had a panel for the Somalis, too.

Special note: Tonight may be the first top-down, sit-on-the-patio DL of the season.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Baseball’s Judicial Branch?

Spot doesn’t read George Will very much. Even Dave Thul might say that if you’re looking for a pretentious, elitist snob, you couldn’t do better that read the Cucking Stool, anyway. No need to bother with Will!


Both George Will and Spot like baseball, however. It is hard to imagine that a man and a dog who both have affection for the game could be so different. Even Will’s baseball columns seem to bring an actuary’s enthusiasm to the task, however. And so it was last Thursday that Spot was a little surprised to read this one: Baseball’s Judicial Branch.

Was he writing about the drug testers, Spotty?

No, grasshopper; it was  column about umpires and a new book by Bruce Weber on the subject of umpires: As They See ‘Em. Will does wax a little enthusiastic, uncomfortably so for Spot, about the complete authority with which umpires rule:

Umpires are islands of exemption from America's obsessive lawyering: As has been said, three strikes and you're out -- the best lawyer can't help you. But because it is the national pastime of a litigious nation, baseball is the only sport in which a nonplayer is allowed onto the field to argue against rulings.

Will then compares umpires to the judicial branch:

Sport -- strenuous exertion structured and restrained by rules -- replicates the challenges of political freedom. Umpires, baseball's judicial branch, embody what any society always needs and what America, in its current financial disarray, craves -- regulated striving that, by preventing ordered competition from descending into chaos, enables excellence to prevail.

An interesting metaphor, but Will fails to pursue the richness of it. Sure, umpires call balls and strikes, as Professor Ilya Somin notes:

Some of Will's points strike me as stretches. But he is right to focus on the umpires' broad discretionary authority over the strike zone, which is indeed somewhat analogous to judges' broad discretion in exercising the power of judicial review. I drew a similar analogy in this post.

In fact, Will does allude to a larger role for umpires, writing that umpires are  the game’s “custodians of decorum.” Yes, they are. But when they are maintaining decorum, they are as much administrators as judges. They are also administering after a fashion when they decide whether a ball is still in play when it lands close to the foul line: is it fair or foul? If it’s fair, a lot of things can still happen in many baseball situations.

The weakness in the judicial branch metaphor for Spot is that the judicial branch is mostly – not entirely – backward looking. Judicial is what is happening to Bernie Madoff now; the Securities and Exchange Commission is what should have happened to him years ago.

In both baseball and capitalism, you cannot rely entire on a judgment after the fact.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It’s all taxes!

Michele, let’s say that your water and sewer rates go up. What do you think that is?

Tax increase, of course.

What if your private garbage hauler increases his fees?

A tax increase, naturally.

How about if the airline imposes a surcharge for extra fuel costs because Jet A’s price went through the roof?

A tax increase.

What if the cost of milk goes up a dime a gallon?

Tax increase.

Is something stuck in there?

No, everything’s a tax increase.



Well, that explains this:

President Obama has repeatedly said he will not raise taxes on low- and middle-income families, yet his policies do not match his rhetoric. Take for instance, a new tax he has proposed on the use of energy. It's called cap-and-trade or, more appropriately, cap-and-tax. The tax would require energy producers and businesses to pay to emit carbon emissions in the hope of reducing greenhouse gases.

The Democrats need the revenue this will generate to pay for their expensive agenda. But getting it this way would be shortsighted because it will cost far more in the long run than it will bring in. While the president originally estimated that implementing this plan would cost $646 billion over eight years, his deputy director for the National Economic Council, Jason Furman, recently stated that it could cost up to three times that -- bringing the cost closer to $2 trillion.

This is a little dated, but basically this is how a cap and trade system would work:

A cap-and-trade program draws on the power of the marketplace to reduce emissions in a cost-effective and flexible manner. Under the program, an overall national cap on carbon emissions is established. The emissions allowed under the cap are divided up into individual allowances that represent the permission to emit that amount. Because the emissions cap restricts the amount of pollution allowed, allowances that give a company
the ability to pollute take on financial value. Companies are free to buy and sell allowances in order to continue operating in the most profitable manner available to them. Those that are able to reduce pollution at a low cost can sell their extra allowances to companies facing high costs. Each year the number of allowances will decline to match the required annual reduction targets. [from an Obama/Biden campaign document].

Obama’s plan, as originally conceived, would auction off all the permits, with the revenue being dedicated to research to move us toward a low/no carbon energy system. Other proposals would have a mix of give away and auctioned permits, although it is unclear how the beneficiaries of the free permits would be determined.

A threshold question is whether you believe man-man global warming is real. If you don’t, or you think Jesus will take you away to live in the sky before it’s a problem, please stop reading now: you’ve drank, snorted, and mainlined the Kool Aid for too long to be reachable.

If, on the other hand, like virtually all responsible climate scientists and us un-Rapturables do, you think man-made global warming is real, you must address the question: how to we get our carbon emissions down? What is the fairest and easiest to administer way to do it?

We could just blow it off, Spotty.

That’s the conservative approach, grasshopper. It’s like pretending that the unemployed 34-year-old biker dude that your daughter is dating would make a great husband and son-in-law. That’s just denial, and the deniers have all left the room.

We could just impose a limit on everybody, based on historical emissions, square footage of factory, revenue generated, or whatever, and just ratchet that down every year or two. That wouldn’t be a very flexible system, and it would probably favor historic polluters and not allow for any new sources of pollution that might produce more socially useful products or services for each pound of carbon they emitted.

Cap and trade is one way, probably the best way, to allocate the pain. Especially since carbon emission impose costs on the entire society, and this is one way of paying for a way out of this mess. Think of it a collecting the negative externalities of an enterprise, a subject that Spot has addressed, among other places, here, here, and here.

But won’t the costs get shifted forward to consumers, Spot?

Well, yes, grasshopper, but that’s the idea. You see, if an enterprise produces something useful enough that people want it and will pay for it even when the cost of the enterprise’s pollution is included — rather than spread to everybody who has to breathe — well, that seems like a win for the “market mechanism.” Doesn’t it?

Only if you don’t think businesses should be a bunch of freeloaders, Spotty.

Point taken, grasshopper.

But won’t cap and trade cost families over three thousand dollars a year, Spotty?

This is where Michele gets her cap and tax epithet. But it’s a wild, irresponsible claim based on a study, the author of which says that Michele is full of doo doo when she makes that claim. The cost is more like a tenth of that. Here’s Noah Kunin of The Uptake explaining it all:

But what about other countries?

That’s a fair point. But that’s what international diplomacy is for. And the rest of the world is concerned about this, too, even China and India. We’re the laggard. It is juvenile in the extreme, especially as the biggest carbon emitter on the planet, to do nothing because we’re afraid that somebody else won’t do their share.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Licensed idiots

They had more in common than unleashing carnage — nearly every gunman in this monthlong series of mass killings was legally entitled to fire his weapons.

Licensed to kill? Gunmen in killings had permits (AP)

Well, entitled to own and carry the guns, anyway. The article goes on to quote former prosecutor Jeffrey Chamberlain on the state of gun laws in the United States:

Yet, regulations differ only slightly between states, Chamberlain said. "They're fairly typical — don't be a felon, don't be a drunk, don't beat your kids or your wife. Don't be so mentally unbalanced that you need be in an institution."

Well, Jeff, you might get an argument on that last one!

Oh, and don’t for about the idiots. Even Kermit thinks they shouldn’t have guns.

TPaw is not the Decider

Alternate title: Norm on Death Row

Governor Pepsodent, the Eyeore with a mullet, shakes his head ruefully and tells Rachel Maddow that the case of Coleman against Franken is just so complicated and deserves Pepsodent’s caution in issuing an election certificate. Why, there may be federal claims and equal protection issues that haven’t even been thought of yet! You can watch Pepsodent and Maddow here:

Maddow, one of the brightest people in broadcasting, makes a grievous error when she describes Pawlenty as having a “determinative say” in the Coleman against Franken saga. Wrong, Rachel, Pepsodent’s role here is merely ministerial; he is a functionary, a flak, in the matter. Don’t flatter the party apparatchik.

Here’s the procedural posture, as lawyers like to say: within days, the three judge panel, sitting as a trial court, will issue a decision in favor of Franken. We don’t know at present whether that decision will include an order to Pepsodent and to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie to issue an election certificate. Spot hopes that Mark Elias & Co. have at least asked for such an order in their proposed findings and order to be issued by the court.

But let’s assume that the matter is appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Boy, that’s a risky assumption, Spot.

Don’t be impertinent, grasshopper. Let us further assume that the Minnesota Supreme Court affirms the trial court. Clearly, at that point, Franken’s lawyers should be asking that the judgment of the Supremes include a directive to Pepsodent and Ritchie to issue the certificate to Franken.

It is (or will be shortly) a decision of the highest court in Minnesota on a matter that is judicial, not administrative. Coleman started the lawsuit because he was unhappy with the administrative (recount) outcome. He’s the one who threw his lot in with the guys and gals in black robes. Live by the black robes; die by the black robes. This is, in no way, shape, or form, Pepsodent’s issue any more. He must obey the Minnesota Supreme Court or go down in the record books as a scofflaw: lawless and faithless in the discharge of his duties as governor. It would be noted in the Minnesota history class taken by every middle schooler in the state.

Pepsodent would also risk a contempt citation for disobeying the Minnesota Supreme Court – and Elias will doubtless ask for an order to show cause if the certificate is not forthcoming.

But what about the federal stuff, Spotty?

First of all, let’s be clear about something. Pepsodent makes it sound like only the federal courts can handle matters of equal protection. The equal protection issue was raised in the trial court in Coleman v. Franken, and it will be addressed in the Minnesota Supreme Court, too.

If Coleman loses in the Supreme Court of Minnesota, and he thinks he’s got a federal remedy, let him go and apply for it. If he wants a stay of execution pending the outcome of litigating in federal court, let him apply there for the stay, too.

In fact, let’s analogize to the death row appeal a little more – it’s a great metaphor, isn’t it boys and girls? Put Pepsodent in this situation: he’s the governor in a death penalty state, and the state supreme court has just denied the appeal of the defendant. Does Pepsodent defer issuing a death warrant because the defendant might have some federal claims to litigate? Don’ be ridiculous. He schedules the needle ASAP.

Update: Once again, the incomparable Tild creates the perfect graphic to illustrate Norm on Death Row. She calls it Losers with Dirty Faces after the 1938 movie Angels with Dirty Faces. You can see Tild’s original post here.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Give it up, Norm!

If you agree, you can sign a petition here.

Update: You can see more reactions from more people around Northeast at The Uptake.

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What to do? What to do?

baited beck Driftglass has a terrific post this morning about what to do about Michele Bachmann. Well, conservatives in general, really. It has a charming photoshop, a small piece of which is reproduced here.

Ol’ Drifty muses about possible responses to the increasingly festered Bund (Spot’s term); here are a few:

Appeals to the good of the country? Republicans don't give a shit about this country. They give a shit about their country: The Caucasian Free State Of Jesusland. And to whatever extent the actual America and its actual constitution and history and plurality and complexity frustrates and impedes the implementation of the New Confederacy of their dreams, that is the extent to which they will always despise the real America.

Appeals to the good of their fellow human beings? These are people who use the "Axe Essence" cologne inserts that fell out of their "Bazookas, Bunkers & Beyond" magazine to lube up when they masturbate to Sean Hannity reading the Cliff's Notes of "Atlas Shrugged". No, no joy there.

They will never change. Never.

We must pause for a moment here, boys and girls, for Spot to be self-reverential.

Don’t you mean self-referential, Spotty?

Well, maybe. Anyway, here is a question and response in comments to one of Spot’s earlier posts:

"Spotty, help me understand - how could rightwing gun nuts, who can recite the 2nd Amendment (as explained by El Druggo) by heart, be so unconcerned at Gonzo testifying "There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution." "

Spot thinks, TwoPutt, that it is because it is harder to masturbate to an image of habeas corpus.

michele_bachmann_a_la_delacroixian_liberte Let’s see, where were we? Driftglass, like much of the country, is warming up to the charms of local gal Michele Bachmann. One of his links indentifying the nature of movement conservatism was this one from City Pages. In it, Michele makes the argument that AmeriCorps could morph into “re-education camps.”

It is nice to see that Bachmann is becoming identified as an avatar for the movement. But some of us knew her before she got so famous.

Drinking Liberally tonight

The regular meeting of Drinking Liberally is from six to nine or so tonight at the 331 Club in northeast Minneapolis. There’s no guest scheduled tonight, but if you’re a first timer tonight, you’ll feel like a guest. You can see a short video linked to the picture of the 331 Club in the sidebar.

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Kermit’s Apologia

Alternate title: Guns don’t kill people: idiots do

As Charlie recounts, the last several weeks have echoed with a hail of gunfire. Thirty-seven dead in a series of mass shootings. And what, seven cops dead? Something like that. A bunch of American wannabes — immigrants, too.

But it would be wrong to blame America’s absurd, laughable, and lamentable gun culture. According to Kermit. The shooters are just idiots. Well, thanks Kermit, that explains a lot. Here’s Kermit on the recent cop shootings in Pittsburgh:

Friends said 23 year-old Richard Poplawski feared the Obama administration was poised to ban guns.

I would like to propose a simpler, more elegant explanation. Richard is an idiot. He also undoubtedly suffers from some as yet reported mental disorder aggravated by the stress of being "laid off from his job at a glass factory earlier this year".

Well, simpler, anyway. And then, Kermit makes this jaw-dropping claim:

Over the weekend I have heard numerous empty-headed news readers parrot what will undoubtedly become the latest truism, that these shootings are a uniquely American phenomenon. Keep in mind that this is pure bullshit. It is the reporting that is the phenomenon.

Well, of course, you hear about the odd multiple shooting in Germany or Finland; Spot was not aware, however, that many more shooting occur in other countries that are never even reported! Why, it’s comparing apples and oranges! No wonder Kermit is so exercised.

It is silly, really, to claim that the rate of death from gun violence in the United States is comparable to other western, industrialized countries:

Eric Proshansky, deputy chief of the Division of Affirmative Litigation, New York City Law Department. He has been part of Michael Bloomberg’s legal team in his campaign to eliminate illegal guns in New York City.

“The elevation of the gun to sacred political status explains in part why 30,000 annual gun deaths have not given rise to anything like the complex regulation of, for example, the automobile or pharmaceuticals.”

The rate of gun death in the U.S. dwarfs, for example, Japan. According to the link:

Japan, where very few people own guns, averages 124 gun-related attacks a year, and less than 1 percent end in death. Police often raid the homes of those suspected of having weapons.

You can find statistics for other countries at the link above, too. We have something called the Fourth Amendment in addition to the Second Amendment, so the wholesale raid approach wouldn’t be appropriate or lawful here, but it is absurd to maintain that the U.S. hasn’t cornered the market on gun violence.

If they are idiots as Kermit says, how come we have so damn many of them? Here’s why, courtesy of Norwegianity:

Read Digby on the Pittsburgh gun nut who assassinated three police officers because the voices in his head on his radio told him Obama would take away his guns. Then read Dave Neiwert for more facts and figures, Tim F. for the perspective of someone who lived just blocks away, and then read TBogg because at times like this no one’s more bitter than a political humorist writing an obit for those murdered by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck’s listeners.

And here’s Charles M. Blow in his recent column in the New York Times:

And between his tears, Glenn Beck, the self-professed “rodeo clown,” keeps warning of an impending insurrection by saying that he believes that we are heading for “depression” and “revolution” and then gaming out that revolution on his show last month. “Think the unthinkable” he said. Indeed.

All this talk of revolution is revolting, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

As the comedian Bill Maher pointed out, strong language can poison weak minds, as it did in the case of Timothy McVeigh. (We sometimes forget that not all dangerous men are trained by Al Qaeda.)

Sinclair Lewis wrote a dystopian tale of an authoritarian take over of the United States during the Depression in his book It Can’t Happen Here. But it was clowns like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck helping it happen, not preventing it. A cautionary tale.

Was Ted Stevens tortured?

Word has arrived in these remote precincts that former senator Ted Stevens’ conviction has been raptured. You will recall, boys and girls, that Stevens was found guilty last fall of a little prevarication about gifts:

Mr. Stevens was charged in July with lying on Senate disclosure forms by concealing an estimated $250,000 worth of goods and services he received, mostly to renovate a chalet he owned in Alaska. Prosecutors said he had received the bulk of the goods and services from Bill Allen, a longtime friend who had made a fortune by providing services to Alaska’s booming oil industry.

Spotty, was the conviction reversed on appeal?

No, grasshopper. The appeal was underway, and the Justice Department, with its new Attorney General Eric Holder, found out something about how the case had been prosecuted (by prosecutors appointed by George W. Bush, by the way):

But in their filing on Wednesday, government lawyers said they had recently learned that trial prosecutors had concealed from Mr. Stevens' defense lawyers the notes from a 2008 interview with Mr. Allen that raised significant doubts about the charges. Among other things, Mr. Allen asserted in the interview that the work on the Stevens home was worth only about $80,000, they said.

This is prosecutorial misconduct, and the Justice Department asked that Steven’s conviction be vacated.

So Senator Stevens was guilty of only an eighty thousand dollar fib instead of a quarter-milion dollar fib, Spotty?

That’s certainly one reading of it, grasshopper. Or maybe Bill Allen fibbed in the meeting with the investigators about it being “only” eighty thousand dollars when it really was a quarter of a million. But no matter, it would have been a useful item for the defense to use to impeach Bill Allen, and it should have been disclosed.

Holder made the right decision. But to listen to Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Governor (shudder) Sarah Palin, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senator Orrin Hatch, and Stevens’ facile lawyer Brendan Sullivan, you might think that former senator Stevens was entirely vindicated. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

There is still a cloud over Stevens even if it was only eighty thou, and there were other things, like the “borrowed” massage chair that still raise questions about him. As a matter of the criminal law — for which you can do time or be fined — as opposed to the political consequences such as Ted Stevens suffered, his conviction is tainted, but that doesn’t mean he should get his Senate seat back.

It is some kind of harmonic convergence that the Stevens conviction and the revelation that the torturing of Abu Zubaida produced only false leads are in nearly the same news cycles:

When CIA officials subjected their first high-value captive, Abu Zubaida, to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods, they were convinced that they had in their custody an al-Qaeda leader who knew details of operations yet to be unleashed, and they were facing increasing pressure from the White House to get those secrets out of him.

The methods succeeded in breaking him, and the stories he told of al-Qaeda terrorism plots sent CIA officers around the globe chasing leads.

In the end, though, not a single significant plot was foiled as a result of Abu Zubaida's tortured confessions, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Nearly all of the leads attained through the harsh measures quickly evaporated, while most of the useful information from Abu Zubaida -- chiefly names of al-Qaeda members and associates -- was obtained before waterboarding was introduced, they said.

What do these two cases have in common? There was illegality in the investigation and prosecution of both cases. Somehow, Spot doesn’t think that the people keening about Ted Stevens mistreatment have the same attitude about Abu Zubaida.

But if you stand for the rule of law, it ought to at least give you pause.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The accountants come to their senses!

Chastened after seeing what havoc telling the truth played on the economy, the Financial Accounting Standards Board has decided that smoke and mirrors is better after all:

The Financial Accounting Standards Board agreed to allow companies to use their own judgment to a greater extent in determining the "fair value" of their assets. The board also made it easier for companies to avoid having to take impairment charges when they suffer losses on their investments.

This will really help our beleaguered banks!

But you might contrast this, boys and girls, to what kind of a response you would get if you went in to borrow money against your house and “estimated” its value as 50% more than anybody would pay for it in the current market. If they didn’t haul you away in chains, you’d at least get thrown out of the bank.

Update: The tag should have read marked-to-market accounting rules” of course.

The re-christening of Michele Bachmann!

“I want people armed and dangerous.”

“I’m a foreign correspondent on enemy lines.”

"I would say there are probably 30 keepers of the flame over here . . .  .” [out of 535 in Congress]

Obama is planning to abandon the dollar as the US currency.

Finally, Pitchforks and Pistols by Charles M. Blow of the New York Times:

Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, imagining herself as some sort of Delacroixian Liberty from the Land of the Lakes, urged her fellow Minnesotans to be “armed and dangerous,” ready to bust caps over cap-and-trade, I presume.

Well, that last one did it for Spot. So on emergency commission to Tild, Spot presents the new Michele Bachmann a la Delacroixian Liberte de land o lakes:


Requests for full-sized copies of the jpeg, suitable for framing, are available upon request from Spot or Tild. Attribution requested for any use of the graphic.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Hoisted on one's own petard

There will be a great deal written about the Iowa Supreme Court's unanimous decision today holding that a statute that limits civil marriage to opposite sex couples violates the equal protection provisions of the Iowa Constitution. But in looking over the opinion and the Court's own summary of it, one justification for the decision jumped out at me:
“Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them . . . . The statute at issue in this case does not prescribe a definition of marriage for religious institutions. Instead, the statute, declares, ‘Marriage is a civil contract’ and then regulates that civil contract . . . . Thus, in pursuing our task in this case, we proceed as civil judges, far removed from the theological debate of religious clerics, and focus only on the concept of civil marriage and the state licensing system that identifies a limited class of persons entitled to secular rights and benefits associated with marriage.”

The full opinion (big pdf) recognizes at page 66:
As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals. This approach does not disrespect or denigrate the religious views of many Iowans who may strongly believe in marriage a s a dual-gender union, but considers, as we must, only the constitutional rights of all people, as expressed by the promise of equal protection for all. We are not permitted to do less and would damage our constitution immeasurably by trying to do more.

In other words, those seeking to limit marriage because of their own religious views do themselves no favor by continuing to loudly proclaim they know God's will and that their God's will ought to control. By casting the question as one of religious doctrine - not civil institutions - the religious community pushed the Supreme Court into a corner. By relying upon grounds based firmly in their religious views, gay marriage opponents forced the Court to avoid religious justification for the institution of marriage lest they do what would "damage our constitution immeasurably." And when one steps back from religious justification for the limitations on marriage, few arguments remain, especially in light of the equal protection standards in the Iowa Constitution. When one religious sect insists as loudly as American evangelicals do that they call the shots, they do risk forcing a court take an opposite position.

Be careful what you screech for, in other words.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Feeble-Minded Professor

Alternate title: Eat a chicken: fix a pothole

Captain Ahab must be feeling the strain. He’s called in reinforcements in his ideological battle with Charlie Quimby and Dave Mindeman over whether government is just a giant sinkhole or whether it actually sometimes does some good and maybe even facilitates the creation of wealth. Impossible, hisses Ahab.

In his latest installment, Charlie makes this point:

Westover wrings yet one more post out of the notion that progressives fight dirty because they fail to acknowledge "threshold economic principles." This forces conservatives to argue about the details of tax and spending plans, where they lose because... well, free market economic principles have not had a great record when it comes to fixing potholes and helping poor little kids get breakfast.

Here’s where it gets good, boys and girls. Professor Banaian finds this “humorous” and fires back with this:

Actually, Advertising Age reports that the free market is doing a very fine job in fixing potholes, at least in Louisville.

Don't be surprised if you see Col. Sanders out filling potholes. In an unusual cause-marketing push, KFC is tackling the pothole problem in Louisville, Ky. in exchange for stamping the fresh pavement with "Re-freshed by KFC," a chalky stencil likely to fade away in the next downpour.

yes Take that, Charlie! Private enterprise can too fix potholes! Yes we can!

Spot’s not sure whether to laugh or cry that the chair of the economics department at a state university would confuse an “unusual cause-marketing push” with the provision of a public service. Sorry, Professor, but it seems like a major failure of the practice of economics to Spot.

What do you mean by a fine job, Professor? What happens next month when the promotion is giving away, er, Col. Sanders bobblehead dolls? Is KFC obligated to fix pot holes on a continuing basis?

What the professor really does is point out that you cannot rely on volunteerism to accomplish public services. When they get tired, they quit.

Now there’s a economics lesson for you.

Graphic by Tild.