Thursday, September 30, 2010

The philophy of marginal tax rates

You know it would be a wonderful thing if the New York Times, when covering tax policy, would employ a reporter who actually understood these things. They used to, but evidently no longer.

In Tax Cut Plan, Debate Over the Definition of Rich

Much of the debate about whether to extend the Bush tax cuts has focused on big economic issues: how the decision might affect the fragile economy, the widening federal deficit and hiring by small businesses.

As the political battle drags on, however, it has also veered into a more basic matter of fairness, whether a person who earns more than $200,000 a year should be taxed at rates similar to those who make $5 million.

This is yet another way of approaching the now familiar story of how you just can't make it on $250,000 per year.

And we won't even discuss the fact that the reporter never uses the words, "marginal tax rates." Under Obama's proposal, someone making $250,000 won't see their taxes rise. If they earn $250,001, their taxes will rise. On the extra dollar.

But Dean Baker, not surprisingly, brings the snark -- and the facts -- as only he can.

It might be the case that you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but the NYT is telling us that we need a philosopher to guide our tax policy. An article on the debate over extending the Bush tax cuts told readers:

"As the political battle drags on, however, it has also veered into a more basic matter of fairness, whether a person who earns more than $200,000 a year should be taxed at rates similar to those who make $5 million."

Umm, really? Is the rate at which people are taxed, as opposed to the amount they pay in taxes, really such an important political issue? Do most people even know the rate at which they are taxed? Following the 1986 tax reform, tens of millions of middle income workers paid the same 28 percent tax rate as the very richest people in the country. There was not a big philosophical debate over this issue at that time. (We were lowering rates for the wealthy back then, not raising them.)

The more obvious issue is how much tax people will be paying. The answer for the questionably rich people who are the focus of this article (people with incomes between $250,000 and $500,000) is not very much. The Joint Tax Committee in Congress calculated that the average tax hit for taxpayers with income in this range would be $400 a year. That sort of tax hit would not seem to require very much philosophy.

To be fair, it seems the Times reporters don't read the non-reporters writing at The Times who are less concerned about "philosophy" and more concerned with facts.

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Arthur Penn, RIP

Penn had just turned 88.

Mr. Penn’s direction may have also changed American history. He advised Senator John F. Kennedy during his watershed television debates with Richard M. Nixon in 1960 (and directed the broadcast of the third debate). Mr. Penn’s instructions to Kennedy — to look directly into the camera and keep his responses brief and pithy — helped give Kennedy an aura of confidence and calm that created a vivid contrast to Nixon, his more experienced but less telegenic Republican rival.

But it was as a film director that Mr. Penn left his mark on American culture, most indelibly with “Bonnie and Clyde.”

“Arthur Penn brought the sensibility of ’60s European art films to American movies,” the writer-director Paul Schrader said. “He paved the way for the new generation of American directors who came out of film schools.”

Many of the now-classic films of what was branded the New American Cinema of the 1970s — among them Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Godfather” — would have been unthinkable without “Bonnie and Clyde” to lead the way.

Loosely based on the story of two minor gangsters of the 1930s, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, “Bonnie and Clyde” was conceived by its two novice screenwriters, Robert Benton and David Newman, as an hommage to the rebellious sensibility and disruptive style of French New Wave films like François Truffaut’s “Shoot the Piano Player” and Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.”

In Mr. Penn’s hands, it became something even more dangerous and innovative: a sympathetic portrait of two barely articulate criminals, played by Warren Beatty and a newcomer, Faye Dunaway, that disconcertingly mixed sex, violence and hayseed comedy, set to a bouncy bluegrass score by Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs.

Not only was the film sexually explicit in ways unseen in Hollywood since the imposition of the Production Code in 1934 — when Bonnie stroked Clyde’s gun, the symbolism was unmistakable — it was violent in ways that had never been seen before. Audiences gasped when a comic bank robbery climaxed with Clyde’s shooting a bank teller in the face, and were stunned when this attractive outlaw couple died in a torrent of bullets, their bodies twitching in slow motion as their clothes turned red with blood.

Reporting on the film’s premiere on the opening night of the International Film Festival of Montreal in 1967, Bosley Crowther, the chief film critic for The New York Times, was appalled, describing “Bonnie and Clyde” as “callous and callow” and a “slap-happy color film charade.” Worse, the public seemed to love it.

“Just to show how delirious these festival audiences can be,” Mr. Crowther wrote, “it was wildly received with gales of laughter and given a terminal burst of applause.”

Similar reactions by other major critics followed when the film opened in the United States a few weeks later. The film, promoted by Warner Brothers with a memorable tag line — “They’re young. They’re in love. And they kill people.” — floundered at first but soon found an enthusiastic audience among younger filmgoers and won the support of a new generation of critics. “A milestone in the history of American movies,” wrote Roger Ebert in The Chicago Sun-Times. Pauline Kael, writing in The New Yorker, described it as an “excitingly American movie.”

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cheesin' and grinnin' with Barry

Lots of commentin' on the Rolling Stone interview with Barack Obama, and his thoughts on his administration's accomplishments, what's still left to do, what a bunch motherfuckers the Rethuglicans are (I'm paraphrasing), and how his admin has kept its moral compass even as it targets some Americans for death, yadiyada... It's this passage that reminds me how much I still like the dude.

You had Bob Dylan here. How did that go?
Here's what I love about Dylan: He was exactly as you'd expect he would be. He wouldn't come to the rehearsal; usually, all these guys are practicing before the set in the evening. He didn't want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn't show up to that. He came in and played "The Times They Are A-Changin'." A beautiful rendition. The guy is so steeped in this stuff that he can just come up with some new arrangement, and the song sounds completely different. Finishes the song, steps off the stage — I'm sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That's how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise. So that was a real treat.

The guy just gets it, you know? Most other people in power are so insecure about that power and how they're perceived, Dylan's behavior would, at best, have annoyed them. But Obama knows exactly why he likes Dylan and Dylan's behavior is just what he would have wanted.

Oh yeah, and this.

[Signaled by his aides, the president brings the interview to a close and leaves the Oval Office. A moment later, however, he returns to the office and says that he has one more thing to add. He speaks with intensity and passion, repeatedly stabbing the air with his finger.]

One closing remark that I want to make: It is inexcusable for any Democrat or progressive right now to stand on the sidelines in this midterm election. There may be complaints about us not having gotten certain things done, not fast enough, making certain legislative compromises. But right now, we've got a choice between a Republican Party that has moved to the right of George Bush and is looking to lock in the same policies that got us into these disasters in the first place, versus an administration that, with some admitted warts, has been the most successful administration in a generation in moving progressive agendas forward.

The idea that we've got a lack of enthusiasm in the Democratic base, that people are sitting on their hands complaining, is just irresponsible.

Everybody out there has to be thinking about what's at stake in this election and if they want to move forward over the next two years or six years or 10 years on key issues like climate change, key issues like how we restore a sense of equity and optimism to middle-class families who have seen their incomes decline by five percent over the last decade. If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we'd better fight in this election. And right now, we are getting outspent eight to one by these 527s that the Roberts court says can spend with impunity without disclosing where their money's coming from. In every single one of these congressional districts, you are seeing these independent organizations outspend political parties and the candidates by, as I said, factors of four to one, five to one, eight to one, 10 to one.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that's what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we've got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren't serious in the first place.

If you're serious, now's exactly the time that people have to step up.

The times they are a-changing people, if we want them to, badly enough.

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Narcissist partiers

I don't usually recommend Matt Taibi, the heir to Hunter S. Thompson at Rolling Stone, who lacks Thompson's unfettered glee (the younger one anyway) in reporting even as he covered filth, dementia and Nixon (but I repeat myself). And he surely lacks Thompson's ability to write both clearly and soaringly (I mean, "Steve Forbes, turd billionaire," while accurate, is hardly something you'd copy to improve your writing skills).

But, I gotta admit,he hit the nail here.

The individuals in the Tea Party may come from very different walks of life, but most of them have a few things in common. After nearly a year of talking with Tea Party members from Nevada to New Jersey, I can count on one hand the key elements I expect to hear in nearly every interview. One: Every single one of them was that exceptional Republican who did protest the spending in the Bush years, and not one of them is the hypocrite who only took to the streets when a black Democratic president launched an emergency stimulus program. ("Not me — I was protesting!" is a common exclamation.) Two: Each and every one of them is the only person in America who has ever read the Constitution or watched Schoolhouse Rock. (Here they have guidance from Armey, who explains that the problem with "people who do not cherish America the way we do" is that "they did not read the Federalist Papers.") Three: They are all furious at the implication that race is a factor in their political views — despite the fact that they blame the financial crisis on poor black homeowners, spend months on end engrossed by reports about how the New Black Panthers want to kill "cracker babies," support politicians who think the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was an overreach of government power, tried to enact South African-style immigration laws in Arizona and obsess over Charlie Rangel, ACORN and Barack Obama's birth certificate. Four: In fact, some of their best friends are black! (Reporters in Kentucky invented a game called "White Male Liberty Patriot Bingo," checking off a box every time a Tea Partier mentions a black friend.) And five: Everyone who disagrees with them is a radical leftist who hates America.

It would be inaccurate to say the Tea Partiers are racists. What they are, in truth, are narcissists. They're completely blind to how offensive the very nature of their rhetoric is to the rest of the country. I'm an ordinary middle-aged guy who pays taxes and lives in the suburbs with his wife and dog — and I'm a radical communist? I don't love my country? I'm a redcoat? Fuck you! These are the kinds of thoughts that go through your head as you listen to Tea Partiers expound at awesome length upon their cultural victimhood, surrounded as they are by America-haters like you and me or, in the case of foreign-born president Barack Obama, people who are literally not Americans in the way they are.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The politics of debate

Yesterday, in a typical screed against popular liberals on the teevee, Somerby excoriated Maddow for saying "she did not understand" why Reid wouldn't put ending tax cuts for the rich up for debate. It was all perfectly clear, says Somerby, Reid didn't want to take the political risk to his and his colleagues' re-election -- the 30 second spots saying Dems are for raising taxes just before a mid-term was too great.

The trouble with that logic is that President Obama and Democratic leadership have been talking about letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest 2% for more than two years. Meanwhile, Republicans are telling voters that Dems want to raise their taxes -- that's what Rethuglicans always say at election time.

So sayeth the New York Times.

This particular failure to act was not about Republican obstructionism, of which there has been plenty. This was about Democrats failing to seize an opportunity to do the right thing and at the same time draw a sharp distinction between themselves and the Republicans.

President Obama has been steadfast — and basically correct — in calling to extend the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers and to let them expire for the top 2 percent. But by postponing a vote on the cuts, Democrats are increasing the likelihood of an eventual cave-in to Republicans, who are pushing for an extension of all the tax cuts, including the high-end ones.

We presume that Democrats, especially those in more conservative districts, are doing this in response to the anti-Washington insurgency on the right. But it’s hard to imagine that conservative voters will confuse them for Republicans, and punting on the tax cuts won’t score them any points with the Democratic base.

If Dems are to forestall electoral disaster in November, they need to raise the spirits of Democratic voters. This type of "timidity," as the Times calls it, won't do that.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Barrington Moore and Martin Peretz

Brad DeLong gave an excellent talk on the "Barrington Moore Problem," at the 50th anniversary of Harvard's social studies program that's gotten so much attention of late. Barrington Moore attempted to explain how a Lincoln could arise in one situation, a Mao in another. Or, more closely related, an Adenauer and a Hitler.

Marty Peretz, who proclaimed recently that "Muslims" are not "deserving" of First Amendment protections was there.

DeLong decided that he could not avoid the implications.

Can the Barrington Moore problematic serve a role similar in the next generation to the one it has served in the past two?

Echoing Seyla, I would say not. For one thing, the era of modern history that the BMP was created to grapple with has indeed come to its end. For another thing, the Enlightenment preconditions for the BMP have not yet been secured.

First, Adolf Hitler is now sixty-five years in his grave. Societies in transition to urban-market-mass political-economic modernity and how to keep more Lenins and Hitlers from arising in them does not seem to be the globe's most urgent problem any more.

Second, our most recent modern monsters seem of a different and perhaps older kind: Saddam Hussein always reminded me more of the Caliph Uthman or of Mehmet II than of Hitler. Hamas, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah seem more like updated versions of the Assassins of Syria plus plastic explosives rather than of the Comintern. Rwanda seems more like the Sicilian Vespers with radios than like the terror-famine of the Great Leap Forward.

Third, the Barrington Moore problematic assumes that we have consensus, at least within our own circle of debate, that the hard-won victories of the Enlightenment are the bedrock that we seek to protect and advance. Roosevelt had four freedoms. Freedom from want--that is, freedom to earn a living, freedom to not have to spend one's life frantically trying to avoid penury, what Locke called the right to property. Freedom from fear--that is, freedom from arbitrary arrest, from being beaten up on the street corner by people who don't like who one is, or who don't think you have a right to live here, what Locke called the right to life and liberty. Freedom of speech and expression--saying what you think and making the laws.

And, of course, there is the first of Roosevelt's four freedoms, the oldest of the Enlightenment freedoms, perhaps the most hard-won in the seventeenth century and the pattern for the others, John Locke's toleration, freedom of religion--freedom to peaceably assemble with one's fellow believers to worship one's own conception of God. You cannot even start thinking in the Barrington Moore problematic unless you start with consensus that the Enlightenment freedoms are the bedrock of what we want to protect and advance.

It is at this point in my argument that I found that I could not not notice Martin Peretz. Do I have to pretend," he asked, "that I think Muslims are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which they are so likely to abuse?" That is a speech act that not only asserts that people called "Muslims" don't "deserve" the "privilege" of Lockean toleration, but also that he will be pretending if he ever says that they do.

To this the only appropriate response is: "What the fracking frack?"

So not only are the problems the BMP addresses not our biggest problems here in the North Atlantic--they appear to have been largely solved--and not only are our current monsters arising from other sources than contemplated, but we don't even have consensus in this room on the basic Lockean bedrock which has to serve as the foundation on which the whole structure was built. We thus need something more advanced--that deals with problems we have not yet solved rather than those we have--focused on very real but lesser threats to liberty and prosperity than the high totalitarianisms--but also something more basic as well. We are thus, historically, both too late and too early for that intellectual project to make sense. In his contribution to "A Critique of Pure Tolerance" Robert Paul Wolff could claim that basic Enlightenment issues were settled, that mere Lockean tolerance was not something at which we should aim--that we should aim "beyond pluralism and beyond tolerance." But surely we cannot aim beyond tolerance until and unless we have at least gotten into its neighborhood?

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Young and Lanois

Well, in the words of Mr. Young hisself, this should be inarestin'.

The album’s parameters are strict. Mr. Young performs alone, on electric or acoustic guitar, in eight tracks that total 39 minutes. “I wanted to do the solo record because I didn’t want to teach anybody the songs,” he said by telephone from the Mountain House restaurant in Woodside, Calif., where he and Mr. Lanois were spending the afternoon doing interviews. “These songs are pretty complex, actually. It’s simple, the amount of chords they have, but the way they’re laid out, they’re more complex than they sound like they are. I’ve found that a lot of musicians that play with me all thought that my songs are really simple, until they actually tried to play them with me.”


The real-time performances became raw material for Mr. Lanois. He tweaked and toyed with the guitar sounds, processing multiple signals from each instrument. He also looped, echoed and multiplied fragments of the performances, time-warping the stark realism of vocals and guitar.

“Everything that happened actually happened, but he’ll take pieces of the performance and put them in again and put them in different places,” Mr. Young said. “He does a performance in the mix, and I do a performance in the performance and it comes together to be what you see and hear.”

When Mr. Young claws at one of his venerable electric guitars — the much-altered Gibson Les Paul he calls Old Black or his Gretsch White Falcon, which has separate pickups for upper and lower strings, awaiting manipulation by Mr. Lanois — the tracks blare like his band Crazy Horse. But Mr. Young’s guitar and voice are unmoored from a rhythm section, and they ricochet in stereo through Mr. Lanois’s transformations, meeting their own shadows and ghosts. “Rumblin,’ ” a song about portents of change, merges a hymn and a burgeoning earthquake.

“I don’t want to be a record maker that just puts a lot of sweetening on a man’s work,” Mr. Lanois said. “I’ve never gone this far on any other record, ever. As pure a record as this might seem, on my part of it I think I’ve really stepped way ahead of anything else I’ve ever done with these sonic delights.”

Mr. Young said: “He had all of the room in the world to do it because there was nothing else there in the way. There was no band in the way, no backing singers, no arrangement of instruments — nothing in the way of him doing it. The only thing there other than me was him, and he was using pieces of me on top of me. It worked out real good.”

The results are available on Neil Young's YouTube channel.


Blue Monday, Blind Willie McTell edition


A win changes everything this time of year. Who would have thunk, after four starters in a row couldn't give the team any innings (one was shortened by rain, to be fair), that young master Hughes would come up as the stopper.

And I am still confident, despite recent shockers, that Mariano Rivera will still be unbeatable should his skills be required in the post-season.


Muscular christianity

There is nothing new with interpreting the Bible in such a way as to support your world view.

In 1987, when he took over New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, it had only 300 members and a small building. He adopted a modern image, using slang and dressing like a hip-hop mogul. He borrowed ideas from evangelical and charismatic churches and expanded his reach through cable TV.

He also adopted what has become known as “muscular Christianity,” a male-dominated view that emphasizes a warriorlike man who serves as the spiritual authority and protector in a family. His books on relationships suggest that men get in touch with their inner “wild man” and channel their fighting instincts into taking responsibility for their lives. Women are to submit to their husbands, he says.

Bishop Long has been married twice and has four children.

B. J. Bernstein, a lawyer for the four young men who claim to have been coerced into sexual affairs with Bishop Long, said the pastor exerted a paternalistic and, at times, autocratic influence over young men.

The irony is that this black minister from Georgia is using arguments similar to ones used by southern clergy during the Civil War. From Harry S. Stout's book, Upon the Altar of the Nation (chapter eight):

On behalf of a chosen people, Confederate theologians and moralists had no need to justify the war -- or its conduct -- according to the secular "law of nations." Ancient Israel provided a better model for righteous war. Nor were Confederate moralists willing to invoke Jefferson's "spurious" claim that "all men were created equal.' They were Bushnellians all, grounding their identity and war around sacred texts and transcendent commissions.


Friday, September 24, 2010

I can't for the life of me understand why voters are underwhelmed

Like Steve Benen, I'm trying to wrap my brain around the notion that Dems holding a vote on something with which the majority of Americans agree with them is a bad idea before an election.

"People felt like, Why rock the boat on a good situation?" the Senate source told Greg. "People weren't sure how having a vote would effect that dynamic. We would have lost Democrats on certain aspects of the vote. Who knows if the media would cover that as Democrats being splintered? In a way the good polling gave people faith that we don't need to do anything on the issue because we're already winning."

I've read this a few times, trying to understand the logic, but it eludes me. Dems could have forced a pre-election showdown with Republicans on an issue where voters are siding with Dems. The majority decided not to do the popular thing, though, concluding that supporting a popular idea but not voting on it is enough to curry favor with the public.

Because a few "Democrats," like Nelson and Webb, oppose raising taxes on 2% of the population that's reason to fear a vote? Why vote on anything at all then?

Look, I realize the midterm is important, that the alternative to a Democratic Party majority is a one-way ticket to hell, and that we have to work hard to get out the vote, but I can also understand why a lot of people just don't give a damn this time around. These guys are pathetic.


Billy Gibbons is here to help


This just gets harder and harder

Apologies for the light posting schedule these days. Much of the reason for it is that the day job has been a full time one lately. But a lot of it, I'll admit, is a sense of, what's the point? It's not so much the seeming inevitability of stark losses in the midterms. I've come to terms with our modern politics in which Republicans gain power, screw the pooch, Democrats are elected to clean up the ensuing mess, and are then punished for it by our ADD electorate.

No, it really has come down to the realization -- and I don't think I'm naive, but still -- that the modern GOP has no interest whatsoever in public policy beyond acquiring power. In the past, as Krugman writes today, there was at least some theory beyond their crackpot policy prescriptions. Laffer had his curve. Today, there's not so much as an old cocktail napkin against which to argue.

The approach Mr. Boehner set out is based on a belief that smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation will fuel economic growth, create jobs and ultimately lead to a more prosperous nation. It deviated little from the tenets of mainstream conservatism over the last generation.

But even conservative-leaning budget and policy analysts said that the Republican blueprint, as drafted, would lead to bigger, not smaller, deficits and that it did not contain the concrete, politically difficult steps needed to alter the nation’s fiscal trajectory.

In the agenda, Republicans said they would extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts, which would add roughly $4 trillion to the deficit over 10 years. They also proposed a new tax break for small businesses at a cost of $25 billion over the next two years.

And while they called for quickly slashing about $100 billion in “nonsecurity” discretionary spending, they did not specify how those cuts would be carried out. Moreover, experts said such reductions would not change the long-term budgetary picture.

“I wouldn’t call this a deficit reduction plan,” said Robert L. Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates fiscal responsibility.

“It’s a net increase in the deficit, because extending all of the tax cuts is a huge hit on the deficit, and they are not making anywhere near the magnitude of the spending cuts you would need to justify extending those tax cuts on a permanent basis.”

Critics noted that the Republican plan pointedly excluded military and other security programs from budget cuts — even though Pentagon spending has soared in recent years — and that the plan even called for added spending on missile defense.

In addition, the House Republicans said that repealing the Democrats’ health care law would be the centerpiece of their agenda. But they also indicated they would retain popular provisions that would probably lead to a big increase in health care costs.

Although the seriousness of the consequences are all too real, it's just not all that interesting coming up with arguments against such unserious politics.

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Eileen Nearne

Although she died alone, her anonymity wouldn't follow her in death.

Ms. Nearne, known as Didi, volunteered for work that was as dangerous as any that wartime Britain had to offer: operating a secret radio link from Paris that was used to organize weapons drops to the French resistance and to shuttle messages back and forth between controllers in London and the resistance.

After several narrow escapes, she was arrested by the Gestapo in July 1944 and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp near Berlin, a camp that was primarily intended for women, tens of thousands of whom died there.

Ms. Nearne survived, though other women working for the Special Operations Executive were executed in the Nazi camps.

As she related in postwar debriefings, documented in Britain’s National Archives, the Gestapo tortured her — beating her, stripping her naked, then submerging her repeatedly in a bath of ice-cold water until she began to black out from lack of oxygen. Yet they failed to force her to yield the secrets they sought: her real identity, the names of others working with her in the resistance and the assignments given to her by London. At the time, she was 23.

The account she gave her captors was that she was an innocent and somewhat gullible Frenchwoman named Jacqueline Duterte, and that she had been recruited by a local businessman to transmit radio coded messages that she did not understand.

She recalled one interrogator’s attempts to break her will: “He said, ‘Liar! Spy!’ and hit me on the face. He said, ‘We have ways of making people who don’t want to talk, talk. Come with us.’ ”

From Ravensbruck, Ms. Nearne was shuttled eastward through an archipelago of Nazi death camps, her head shaved. After first refusing to work in the camps, she changed her mind, seeing the work assignments as the only means of survival.

In December 1944 she was moved to the Markleberg camp, near Leipzig, where she worked on a road-repair gang for 12 hours a day. But while being transferred yet again, she and two Frenchwomen escaped and eventually linked up with American troops.

Even then, her travails were not over. American intelligence officers initially identified her as a Nazi collaborator and held her at a detention center with captured SS personnel until her account, that she was a British secret agent, was verified by her superiors in London.

Asked by her postwar debriefers how she kept up hope, she replied: “The will to live. Willpower. That’s the most important. You should not let yourself go. It seemed that the end would never come, but I always believed in destiny, and I had a hope.”

“If you are a person who is drowning, you put all your efforts into trying to swim.”

Ms. Nearne was born on March 15, 1921, into an Anglo-Spanish family that later moved to France, where she grew up speaking French.

The family fled to Spain ahead of the German occupation of France, arriving in Britain in 1942. Ms. Nearne, her older sister, Jacqueline, and their brother, Francis, were recruited by the Special Operations Executive. In March 1944, Didi Nearne followed her sister in parachuting into France, remaining there, under the code name Agent Rose, after her sister was airlifted back to Britain.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

These are not "social issues"

Steve Benen points out that when John McCain says that he opposes amendments to defense appropriations bills he is either lying or senile.

Fair enough, but before he gets there, Steve writes,

Noting, for example, that the bill includes a repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and may ultimately include the Dream Act, McCain says the problem has nothing to do with his animosity towards gays and immigrants. Rather, McCain says it's "reprehensible" to "use the defense bill ... to pursue a social agenda."

At first blush, this might seem half-way reasonable. Putting aside the fact that troop eligibility has quite a bit to do with the Pentagon, it does seem awkward to add extraneous provisions to spending bills that deal with unrelated subjects. Last year, for example, Democrats added the Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the defense authorization bill, though hate crimes and military spending don't seem related.


It isn't "half-way reasonable." As Steve himself points out both issues are very much about troop strength.

McCain has zigzagged so much the "Straight Talk Express" should be pulled over for DUI, but repeal of DADT and passing the Dream Act are "national security" issues. One punishes our fighting men and women while they serve, the other fails to reward them after they served.

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As big as all outdoors

It was a nice ceremony, with all the typical Yankees embellishments. I don't know if anyone else laughed as hard as Madam Cura and I did when Joan Steinbrenner pulled the Yankee banner to unveil the biggest monument in Monument Park.

The 20-minute ceremony was understated, beginning with the introductions of Steinbrenner’s widow, Joan, his four children and immediate family. They piled into four golf carts and followed the entire team, who led them in a procession around the outfield and toward Monument Park. While warming up in the bullpen behind the right-center field fence, Nova took a short break. “I wanted to be part of the moment, too,” he said.

In true Yankees tradition, it was tinged with reconciliation, with Torre’s first visit to either of the Yankee Stadiums since his acrimonious departure from the organization after the 2007 season. It ended with an extravagant touch, with the dedication of the Steinbrenner plaque, which dwarfed the free-standing monuments in Monument Park. The first to be unveiled at the new Yankee Stadium, the plaque celebrates “a true visionary who changed the game of baseball forever.”

Andy Pettitte said: “I didn’t even think about how it would look. And then I saw how big it was, and I was like, ‘that’s probably the way it should be.’ ”

And, as the picture above shows, Mariano Rivera made it all sacred. And added a sweaty save to boot.

Ah, hell. It is the House that George Built, after all.


Monday, September 20, 2010

On being poor

Brad DeLong gazes long and hard at the laments and sad plight of people attempting to make it on $450,000 per year who may see their marginal taxes rise to Clinton-era levels. In so doing, he takes us back a few years, to John Scalzi's 2005 "poem (for that is what it is)," Being Poor. Sad, beautiful, and although I've never been poorer than a poor college student, I have no doubt it is true.

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Expiration date

Daniel Gross details the five things you need to know about the "debate" over the temporary Bush-era tax cuts.

1. They were designed to expire by the same people now wanting to extend them for the wealthiest 2% of Americans;
2. Republicans, when in control of the Exec and Legislative branches did nothing to make them permanent;
3. The same Republicans and some Dems who want to extend the cuts for the wealthiest 2% of Americans are constantly whining about the deficit*;
4. Raising taxes** on the "investor class" won't kill the economy. In fact, the economy's been zombie-like for the past ten years, since the implementation of the temporary Bush-era tax cuts;
5. Erasing the expiration dates requires legislation; Republicans don't want the Democratically-controlled legislature to legislate; so, the tax cuts for everybody are likely to expire.

* UPDATE 1: The same people who brought you two wars and an unfunded expansion of Medicare, costing, literally, trillions

** UPDATE 2: That would be marginal tax rates, I forgot to mention.

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New PC

Rebuilding the bloggedy goodness in the Bookmarks tool bar is a pain.

Be back soon with fresh outrage.

That is all.


Blue Monday, John Lee Hooker edition

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Myths of small business ownership

The Times does some, um, actual reporting and finds that the notion that returning to Clinton era marginal tax rates for those earning more than $250K will hurt small business owners is bullshit.

Mr. Obama wants to extend the cuts for most taxpayers. But he proposes eliminating them for the top 2 percent of wage earners, whose taxes would rise. Opponents of the plan warn that a tax increase would batter hundreds of thousands of small businesses — from Silicon Valley start-ups to mom-and-pop convenience stores — and prevent them from creating the jobs that might lift the sagging economy.

“It’s a body blow to the small-business community,” said Grover Norquist, president of the conservative advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform.

Despite that emotional appeal, Internal Revenue Service statistics indicate that only 3 percent of small businesses would be subject to the higher tax, and many studies of previous tax increases suggest that it would have minimal impact on hiring.

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, 97 percent of all businesses owners do not earn enough to be subject to the higher rates, which would be levied on income of over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for families.

Even among the 750,000 businesses that would be subjected to the higher rates in 2011, many are sole proprietors — a classification so amorphous it can include everyone from corporate executives who earn income on rental property to entertainers, hedge fund managers and investment bankers. Because 80 percent of America’s 32 million businesses are sole proprietorships, 90 percent of the tax cut would be derived from businesses without employees.

Trade groups lobbying to extend the tax break for wealthy Americans argue that when hobbyists and home-based enterprises are removed from the equation, the total number of businesses affected is closer to 8 percent. Those companies are responsible for nearly half of all business revenue generated in the country, and according to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, would be less likely to invest or hire if subjected to higher rates.

But much of the research over the last two decades has found that increases in top tax rates can lead to an increase in the formation of small businesses, as wealthy individuals apparently begin start-ups to avail themselves of the more generous tax breaks offered to businesses.

“Higher taxes may lead individuals to seek self-employment because the opportunities for tax evasion and avoidance are greater,” according to a report released this month by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which surveyed more than 20 studies on the effects of taxes on hiring.

So, we find that statistics show that most small business owners are not among the 2 percent of highest earners in this country, tax increases do not "kill jobs," and that wealthy individuals are more likely to start small businesses in the face of higher taxes.

That settles it, right? Statistics on one hand, but in the nature of traditional journalism, we must look at the other hand. And that is...Charles Grassley.

But Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, warned that eliminating the tax cuts on top individuals would quash many businesses just as they started to grow.

“If you own a 100-worker metal fabrication plant, and your taxes go up 17 to 24 percent, you’ll likely stop hiring or lay off workers to compensate,” he said. “Small businesses create 70 percent of new jobs, so it’s disastrous for job creation to raise taxes on small businesses.”

Pulling such numbers directly out of his ass, the senator did not cite the study that supports that dire assertion.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Do you you

Makes me want to roller skate.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

"I don't care. I want the true conservative"

The shame of all of this, of course, is that Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for NY governor and insane slumlord, is flying under the radar.

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Jeter cheater

I said to Madame Cura, "There's no way he can react that quickly and fake being hit." But then, watching the replay, you could see Jeter, eyes clenched shut in pain, slyly open one eye to look at the home plate umpire's reaction.

Jeter is so respected that he is usually cheered wherever he goes, even in opposing ballparks. But when he was in the on-deck circle as an eighth-inning rally fizzled, fans chanted, “Jeter cheater!”

Fresh in the fans’ minds was the tempest that brewed an inning earlier, when Rays Manager Joe Maddon was ejected after arguing that a pitch from Chad Qualls hit the knob of Jeter’s bat, bouncing into fair territory, and not his left forearm. Asked where the ball hit, Jeter smiled.

“The bat,” he said. And nowhere else? “Well, I mean, they told me to go to first,” he said.

Jeter sold the play well. The bat flew out of his hands, and he jumped away as the trainer Gene Monahan came out.

“Vibration,” Jeter said. “And acting.”

The umpires convened, upholding the original call, as Jeter stood on first base thinking, “Don’t change your mind.” Stunned, Maddon kept arguing, unclear how the ball could have caromed that hard into the infield — the Rays picked up the ball and made the out at first base — if it had struck only Jeter’s arm. Perhaps softened by a sweet victory, after the game Maddon called it a heady play.

“If our guys did it, I would have applauded that, too,” Maddon said. “It’s a great performance on his part.”

An incredible three game set. If these two teams meet in October, I strongly recommend watching the best of seven series.

But first, the Yankees have to start stringing some wins together again.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Tolkein and sexual fetishes"

Now that's a blog title I never envisioned typing. But I have been forced to learn more about the strange obsessions of Christine O'Donnell (and her niece and C-Span, fer chrissakes) than I could ever have imagined only yesterday. Via Weigel.

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"Who do you side with?"

Nancy Pelosi is made of steel.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi tonight implored House Democrats in a private meeting to consider a pre-election vote on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class while letting those for the rich expire, framing the debate in partisan terms.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee told TPM after the caucus that Pelosi ended the meeting with a "resounding" and impassioned speech that fired up the Democrats and might even have brought more on board for a vote.

"She made it clear it's a black and white issue of who do you stand with," Lee told TPM. "It's the middle class and they need to know we are pushing for them. We have to say it over and over again. They've gotta see it, smell it, sense it, taste it."

Lee (D-TX) said that Democrats should be as consistent as President Obama has been, and attempt to define the Republicans as favoring the rich.

I can't even begin to understand the thinking of any Democrat in Washington who doesn't get this. Dems have as a party railed against the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest since the 2000 campaign. It is good politics. It makes fiscal sense. It paints Republicans as opposing middle class tax cuts if tax cuts for the rich aren't extended as well. What is the downside?

I am baffled (again).

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Careful what we wish for

I know I should be thrilled that Republicans, in Jonathan Chait's words, are "reap[ing] the whirlwind" of the red meat they've sowed for 18 months. In Nevada and now in Delaware, Republican primary voters have nominated candidates so extreme that it's turned what looked like a coast to two Senate seats for Republicans into something...else.

But the fact that Republicans -- in Delaware of all places -- have determined that sending a certified nut case to represent them in the Senate gives me pause. The fact that she may still win is disturbing.

That said, maybe these developments will begin to erase some of that "enthusiasm gap," we've heard so much about.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Whither Portland?

Really, the editors should know by now that the only thing to be covered on 9/11 each year is 9/11!!!!!1111. And, oh yeah, how dare they offend anyone; don't they know a newspaper is there to conform and stroke their readers' feelings?

Via Atrios.


Be like Chuck Norris

I have to admit, this is pretty funny. But is that the way the NRA views its supporters?

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How D'Souza thinks

The Economist dismantles Steve Forbes' rag.

Most Americans wouldn’t have a hard time answering the question of why the government ought to guarantee all kids a good education. “Because it’s not the kids’ fault that their parents aren’t rich PhD’s” pretty much covers it… So why would Mr D’Souza perform the moral contortionist’s act necessary to justify elitism in education as integral to a “free society”? Well, here’s an explanation modeled on the one Mr D’Souza provides for Mr Obama’s views:

If Mr D’Souza grew up amongst a tiny hereditary elite desperately trying to protect its privileged status in a huge and bitterly poor third-world country, that would explain why he wants to make sure disadvantaged children are denied the educational opportunities his daughter receives.

What about his weird instinct to dredge up the irrelevant topic of anti-colonialism in explaining Barack Obama’s run-of-the-mill center-left political agenda? Using the same phrasing:

If Mr D’Souza hailed from a tiny Westernised elite that allied itself with the European colonialist project against the national independence movement of his own country, that would explain his monomania about anti-colonialism.

It would, however, be unfair to explain Mr D’Souza’s views this way. First of all, I’m no expert on Indian history or the caste system in Goa, and the description above may be just as shallow a caricature as the one Mr D’Souza provides of post-colonial East African politics in his inflammatory article. Specifically, I know no more about Mr D’Souza’s family’s political views than he does about Barack Obama’s father’s (about which he appears to know strikingly little, given the wealth of information available on the subject)... [A]nybody who wants to know “how D’Souza thinks” is free to look up what he’s written in books and articles over the years, just as Mr D’Souza could criticise the views of Barack Obama by referring to things Mr Obama has said and done.

As the writer notes, it's not Obama who is out of touch with America.


Monday, September 13, 2010

What condition my condition was in

Roy Edroso quote of the day:

He then provided no fewer than 18 videos of 9/11 archival footage, so that interested readers could, over hours of viewing, be inspired to Ace of Spades' level of outrage or PTSD, which he perhaps considers a precondition of patriotism.


Forgotten men and women

As per usual, the New York Times fails to point out that Social Security is not on the verge of insolvency, nor do they mention any alternatives to raising the retirement age to help long term financing for the program. Nevertheless, the story raises an important point overlooked by the elites who have been commissioned to "fix" Social Security: not everyone as it as easy as they do.

In all, the researchers found that 45 percent of older workers, or 8.5 million, held such difficult jobs. For janitors, nurses’ aides, plumbers, cashiers, waiters, cooks, carpenters, maintenance workers and others, raising the retirement age may mean squeezing more out of a declining body.

Mr. Hartley had planned to retire at 58, but he and his wife had high medical expenses, and the company froze one year of its pension plan, reducing benefits. He is, he said, “stuck here.”

Workers like Mr. Hartley present a conundrum for a Social Security overhaul, said Eugene Steuerle, a fellow at the Urban Institute, who favors raising the retirement age. People are living longer, and providing “old age” benefits to them when they are relatively young and healthy, he said, makes less available to them when they are older and frailer.

“We’re close to the point when one-third of adults will be on Social Security and will be retired for a third or more of their adult lives,” Mr. Steuerle said. “It’s true that some people in late middle age have issues of physically demanding jobs, but saying we’re going to give everyone more years of retirement is not an efficient way of dealing with that issue.”

Any changes in Social Security’s retirement age will not affect workers currently in their late 50s and their 60s, who are eligible for full benefits at age 66. But their experiences now are a harbinger of things to come, said Teresa Ghilarducci, a professor of economics at the New School for Social Research in New York, who opposes raising the Social Security retirement age because she says it will have a disproportionate impact on lower-income workers and minorities, who tend to have lower life expectancies and so fewer years of collecting benefits. At the same time, blue-collar workers often spend more years paying into Social Security because they start full-time work younger, she said.

“People who need to retire early — and they need to — are folks that start working in their late teens, whereas people who are promoting raising the retirement age are people who were in graduate school or professional school and got into jobs that would logically take them into their late 60s and 70s,” she said.

A study by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics found that for workers ages 55 to 60, the share who said their jobs required “lots of physical effort” all or almost all of the time declined between 1992 and 2002, to 18 percent from 20 percent, but the percentages who said they had to lift heavy loads, stoop, kneel or crouch increased.

But for our elites, these people are no more than coddled infants, sucking at the public teat.

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Birthers meet the moneyed set

Excellent takedowns of Dinesh D'Souza's rambling, incoherent, shallow Beckian conspiracy theories published in Steve Forbe's mouthpiece have already been penned, so no need for me to do so.

I will only say that if such an excellent example of unhinged Obama hatred ("most anti-business president of all time"?) and anti-intellectualism of the current right hadn't been written, we'd have to ask The Onion to create it.

But I would also suggest that the editors of Forbes -- while certainly trying to sell magazines -- also felt that D'Souza's rant wasn't all that remarkable. This comes as part of a long tradition of rightwing elitism that saw FDR as a Jew. To say so out loud at the Country Club doesn't raise eyebrows, so why should it when published in Forbes magazine?

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Blue Monday, Odetta edition

Friday, September 10, 2010

Honoring the fallen

The New York Post has been ever so sensitive to the notion that building an Islamic Cultural Center a couple of blocks from the site of the World Trade Center will be hurtful to those who lost loved ones when murderous, religious-driven murderers flew jet liners into the towers, which then ultimately collapsed in the resulting fire nine years ago.

So, in that spirit I'm sure the Post decided to publish a map detailing the location of every piece of human remains found in Lower Manhattan after 9/11 to ease their grieving this weekend.

I am positive that Post editors were distraught to learn that no human remains were ever recovered at the Burlington Coat Factory building that may someday become the dreaded ground zero mosque (which is still not a mosque and still not at ground zero). But Post editors do helpfully note that remains were found a mere 348 feet away from the building in question, on top of the post office around the corner. (What if someone mails Qurans to the Ground Zero Mosque and they pick them up at that Ground Zero Post Office? Why won't they be more sensitive???)

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It's too late to say you're sorry


Mission accomplished

Ted Koppel is making sense.

Perhaps bin Laden foresaw some of these outcomes when he launched his 9/11 operation from Taliban-secured bases in Afghanistan. Since nations targeted by terrorist groups routinely abandon some of their cherished principles, he may also have foreseen something along the lines of Abu Ghraib, "black sites," extraordinary rendition and even the prison at Guantanamo Bay. But in these and many other developments, bin Laden needed our unwitting collaboration, and we have provided it -- more than $1 trillion spent on two wars, more than 5,000 of our troops killed, tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans dead. Our military so overstretched that one of the few growth industries in our battered economy is the firms that provide private contractors, for everything from interrogation to security to the gathering of intelligence.

We have raced to Afghanistan and Iraq, and more recently to Yemen and Somalia; we have created a swollen national security apparatus; and we are so absorbed in our own fury and so oblivious to our enemy's intentions that we inflate the building of an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan into a national debate and watch, helpless, while a minister in Florida outrages even our friends in the Islamic world by threatening to burn copies of the Koran.

If bin Laden did not foresee all this, then he quickly came to understand it. In a 2004 video message, he boasted about leading America on the path to self-destruction. "All we have to do is send two mujaheddin . . . to raise a small piece of cloth on which is written 'al-Qaeda' in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses."

Through the initial spending of a few hundred thousand dollars, training and then sacrificing 19 of his foot soldiers, bin Laden has watched his relatively tiny and all but anonymous organization of a few hundred zealots turn into the most recognized international franchise since McDonald's. Could any enemy of the United States have achieved more with less?

Time and again we have acted as his unwitting dupes.

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Cons and carnies circling like buzzards

"Pastor" Jones, "the Donald, Islamic Cultural Centers, and 9/11. I only wish Melville were alive to write about all of this.

When you get to the end of this story be sure to refresh because it’s entirely possible it will change again in the time it takes you to read this, such has been the pace of today’s newscycle. To begin: Pastor Terry Jones‘ “deal” with the organizers of the Park 51 Islamic Center looking more and more like a bluff. NYC Imam Rauf says he will meet with Jones on Saturday, but has no intention of moving the mosque. Meanwhile, earlier today came the news that one of the investors had offered to sell his stake if the money was right. Subsequently, Donald Trump, rarely one to turn a publicity opportunity down, sent a letter offering to pay (plus 25% more) to end the “highly divisive situation.”

I'm just glad that "respect for the families" of the dead is paramount.


Thursday, September 09, 2010

"Bad as Bush"

Kevin Drum articulates something I was trying to put into words during an argument I was having a couple of weeks ago.

This is, needless to say, one of the things I was thinking of yesterday when I mentioned Obama's "weak record on civil liberties." In a way, of course, it's unsurprising. Not, I think, because newly elected presidents "invariably become quite enamored of executive power once they settle into the Oval Office chair," as James Joyner says. But because newly elected presidents routinely find it almost impossible to buck a national security establishment when that establishment unanimously opposes something. And I have little doubt that the entire national security establishment of the United States (and probably a few other countries as well) is dead set against ever allowing the public to know exactly what happened at those black sites. I don't think there's a president ever elected who's been able or willing to stand up against this kind of united front.

That's not to defend Obama. It was still his decision, and it's an odious one. But until, as a country, we come to our senses on national security, it's not going to matter very much who's in the Oval Office. The system is stronger than the man.

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Swishalicious, part 2

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Well,, the pastor's name is "Jones"

The aptly named Dove World Outreach Church -- whose pastor, Terry Jones, plans to have a Koranic bbq on Saturday -- has an "Academy Rulebook."

For instance, students are directed to cut off most contact with family members. “Family occasions like wedding, funerals or Birthdays are no exception to this rule,” the rulebook notes. “No phone calls. Exceptions can be made under certain circumstances but only after receiving permission.”

The Joneses also barred “Singles” from having “romantic relationships to the opposite sex…Except work things, there is no need to talk at all, or even flirt!” Students were barred from “eating out in restaurants” and warned that they would be weighed “once a week to follow the tendency,” an apparent reference to a weight goal established by the Joneses.

The rulebook--which is riddled with misspellings and grammatically challenged--notes that students must “wash or shower at least once a day but not more then 2 a day,” and make sure to cleanse “Mouth, sweat areas, hair, feet hands.”

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To the (presumed) victor, goes the spoils

I'm not much disturbed that former GOP staffers are cashing in on the assumption that Republicans are going to take back the House and Senate. After all, when an Idiot Wind is at your back, go for it, right?

It's just that this image is so disturbing.

Lobbyists, political consultants and headhunters all say that the going rate for Republicans — particularly current and former House staff members — has risen significantly in just the last few weeks, with salaries beginning at $300,000 and rising to as high as $1 million for private-sector positions.

“We’re seeing a premium for Republicans,” said Ivan H. Adler, a lobbyist for the McCormick Group in Washington, which specializes in executive searches. “They’re the new ‘It’ girl.”

Lobbyists, political consultants and headhunters all say that the going rate for Republicans — particularly current and former House staff members — has risen significantly in just the last few weeks, with salaries beginning at $300,000 and rising to as high as $1 million for private-sector positions.

“We’re seeing a premium for Republicans,” said Ivan H. Adler, a lobbyist for the McCormick Group in Washington, which specializes in executive searches. “They’re the new ‘It’ girl.”



The ladies love Nick Swisher. I'm fond of him too, in a totally heterosexual way, of course.


Wednesday, September 08, 2010


Okay, so the Yahoo news alert had this teaser on my screen this morning:

NYC man to divorce wife he claims faked...
Imagine my disappointment when I clicked on the link to learn she'd only faked having cancer.


Promises, promises

A day after Peter Orszag's misguided column in the Times, in which he proposed a (yet another) compromise with Republicans who won't compromise, the president comes out forcefully against any such compromise.

WASHINGTON — President Obama on Wednesday will make clear that he opposes any compromise that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy beyond this year, officials said, adding a populist twist to an election-season economic package that is otherwise designed to entice support from big businesses and their Republican allies.

Mr. Obama’s opposition to allowing the high-end tax cuts to remain in place for even another year or two would be the signal many Congressional Democrats have been awaiting as they prepare for a showdown with Republicans on the issue and ends speculation that the White House might be open to an extension. Democrats say only the president can rally wavering lawmakers who, amid the party’s weakened poll numbers, feel increasingly vulnerable to Republican attacks if they let the top rates lapse at the end of this year as scheduled.

It is not clear that Mr. Obama can prevail given his own diminished popularity, the tepid economic recovery and the divisions within his party. But by proposing to extend the rates for the 98 percent of households with income below $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for individuals — and insisting that federal income tax rates in 2011 go back to their pre-2001 levels for income above those cutoffs — he intends to cast the issue as a choice between supporting the middle class or giving breaks to the wealthy.

In a speech in Cleveland on Wednesday, Mr. Obama will also make a case for the package of roughly $180 billion in expanded business tax cuts and infrastructure spending disclosed by the White House in bits and pieces over the past few days. He would offset the cost by closing other tax breaks for multinational corporations, oil and gas companies and others.

While the speech will be centrist in its policy prescriptions other than the Bush tax cuts, Mr. Obama’s language will be partisan as he seeks to sharpen the contrasts between Republicans’ record and efforts by Democrats to create more jobs, aides said.

This is yet another campaign promise the Obama administration is making good on.

And it comes only a couple of weeks after the president stated flatly that social security privatization is not happening on his watch.

Question is, will anything move the Democratic party base in this election?


The sullen left

I recently had an infuriating discussion with members of the professional left that left me confused and depressed. Basically, their argument was, Obama is a failed president whose policies are no better than the last inhabitant of the White House.

As I said to someone after that conversation, "This is why we lose."

I don't usually turn to Tony Blair for insight on the American political scene, but, via Jon Chait, here you go.

Some insightful commentary on this poisonous dynamic was provided by Tony Blair:

Ironically, Blair says, activists on the left often assist their right-wing opponents by piling on the pols who lean their way rather than defending them against a conservative onslaught that he says is "vicious" and begins from "the word 'go.'" Blair says the politics of the day can leave ostensibly left-leaning leaders like President Obama "in an isolated position," with right-wing opponents eager to destroy them and the activist left (more often than not) happy to help.
"I love my own politics and progressives and all the rest of it," Blair told ABC's Christiane Amanpour in an unaired portion of his This Week interview from Sunday. "But if we have a weakness as a class, when the right get after us and attack our progressive leaders, instead of defending them we tend to say, 'Yeah, well, really we've got a lot of complaints about them, too.'"
Blair said that the tendency of the left to pile on rather than defend its own leaders can leave their politicians alone to face the right wing attack machine, which Blair says is merciless.

As I've stated many times, the overwhelming cause of the Democrats' perils is that they held overstretched majorities while taking control of government at the outset of a massive economic crisis. But the inability of the left to handle majority status is an important contributor to the dilemma. It's not surprising that Democrats would lose independent voters, or that Republicans would be wildly enthusiastic, when they control the government and push agressive reforms during an economic calamity. But they sheer sullenness of the liberal base does seem to be avoidable and puzzling.

I don't want to imply that liberals should reside in a criticism-free zone, but the vehemence of their criticism has no match on the right when Republicans hold the majority. It's a major reason why Republicans have generally held the majority since 1980.

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They can't quit them

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Once again proving, we're in a post-racial America

Maybe his supervisor was just trying to tell him how young he looks.

Last month, for the third time and in the face of a 2006 rebuke from the United States Supreme Court, the federal appeals court in Atlanta said there were no racial overtones when a white supervisor called an adult black man “boy.”

“The usages were conversational,” the majority explained, repeating what it had told the trial court after the Supreme Court ruled, and “nonracial in context.” Even if “somehow construed as racial,” the unsigned 2-to-1 decision went on, “the comments were ambiguous stray remarks” that were not proof of employment discrimination.

Two Alabama juries had seen things differently.

They had heard testimony from another black Tyson worker, Anthony Ash, who recalled sitting in the cafeteria at lunchtime when the plant’s manager said, “Boy, you better get going.” Mr. Ash said the manager’s tone was “mean and derogatory.”

Mr. Ash’s wife was there. “He’s not a boy,” Pam Ash shot back, according to her husband. “He’s a man.”

Ms. Ash testified that the manager, Tom Hatley, “just looked at me with a smirk on his face like it was funny.”

Mr. Ash explained to the jury why the remark stung.

“You know,” he said, “being in the South, and everybody know being in the South, a white man says ‘boy’ to a black man, that’s an offensive word.”

Mr. Hithon testified that Mr. Hatley had once summoned him by calling out, “Hey, boy.”

Mr. Hatley denied using the term and said he had good reasons for hiring the two white managers that had nothing to do with race.

In 2002, the first jury awarded Mr. Hithon more than $1 million, but a unanimous three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in 2005 ordered the case retried. In the process, it made an interesting distinction.

“The use of ‘boy’ when modified by a racial classification like ‘black’ or ‘white’ is evidence of discriminatory intent,” the panel said. But “the use of ‘boy’ alone is not evidence of discrimination.”

Even the Roberts Court wasn't buying that one and sent it back.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed that decision, suggesting that the real world was the right modifier. “The speaker’s meaning may depend on various factors including context, inflection, tone of voice, local custom and historical usage,” the justices said in an unsigned opinion.

And still, the Appeals court overturned the jury verdict awarding the man $1 million, twice.

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"Number 2. Derek Jetah. Number 2"

Joe Posnanski and Michael Schur -- he of Parks & Recreation and Fire Joe Morgan fame -- discuss the impending free agency of Derek Jeter, and what he, and the Yankees will do.

How will the Yankees handle this? How will Jeter handle this? Schur concedes that he thinks about little else. “It’s absolutely fascinating, isn’t it?” he asks. Michael has gotten so little joy and so much heartache in his life out of hating Jeter. “The guy does everything right,” he says, shaking his head sadly. Hating Jeter, for Michael, for many, has been like hating libraries or like hating walkathons for good causes … you can certainly do it, I suppose, but it can’t really make you feel too good.

But now … Michael and others can see it: Terrible Ending cometh. There seems now way for boat to miss iceberg on this one. Jeter may yet have another renaissance, he may yet have another season in the sun. Or he may not. But either way, he is coming to the end as a player … and nobody seems to have an exit strategy. “I’m obsessed with it,” Michael says, and he’s as happy as a Boston fan can be with his Red Sox 8 1/2 games out. “I mean, Jeter is a student of the game. He knows the situation. But I’ve been over and over it, and there’s no way around it. The disaster is coming.”

“Well,” I say to Michael, “what if he signs a short-term deal, or what if he gets hit 3,000th hit and retires, or what if he moves to the outfield and slowly reduces his role as his skills diminish and becomes the spiritual leader of the Yankees?”

Michael Schur looks at me with this funny look of disgust.

“Yep,” he says. “It would be just like him to figure a way out, wouldn’t it?”

Derek lined a double and had a couple of good, Jeterian swings yesterday. Reports of his death may still be premature.


Supremely political

Adam Liptak looks at how Supreme Court Justices have increasingly hired clerks exclusively from one end of the political spectrum or the other, depending on their own ideological leanings.

This is important because clerks have increased their influence over the Court's decisions in recent years.

“The reason why the public thinks so much of the justices,” said Justice Louis D. Brandeis, who served from 1916 to 1939, “is that they are almost the only people in Washington who do their own work.”

These days, respect for the court must be grounded on other factors. Opinion writing is largely delegated to clerks, and Chief Justice Rehnquist candidly acknowledged that the justices’ chambers were “a collection of nine autonomous opinion-writing bureaus.”

With the departure of Justice Stevens, it appears that none of the justices routinely write first drafts of their opinions. Instead, they typically supervise and revise drafts produced by their clerks.

A few decades ago, the court decided 150 cases a term. That number has dropped by about half, meaning each justice must write about eight majority opinions a term. Yet the practice of entrusting much of the drafting to clerks remains entrenched.

“We have created an institutional situation where 26-year-olds are being given humongous legal authority in the actual wording of decisions, the actual compositional choices,” Professor Garrow said.

The justices forbid their current clerks to talk to the press, and most former clerks refuse to discuss the work they performed for living justices in any detail. But Artemus Ward and David L. Weiden received responses from 122 former clerks to a question concerning the drafting of opinions for their 2006 book “Sorcerers’ Apprentices.” Thirty percent of the clerks said their drafts had been issued without modification at least some of the time.

Reviewing the book in The New Republic, Judge Posner, a close student of the court, wrote that “probably more than half the written output of the court is clerk-authored.”


Monday, September 06, 2010


This is brewing to be a fascinating scandal. Allegedly, the former managing editor of the British tabloid, the Weekly News, encouraged his reporters to get dirt on celebrities and public officials -- including the two sons of Prince Charles. The News of the World, owned by Robert Murdoch, is politically influential and made no secret of its preference for the Conservative Party in the last election. The former managing editor, Andy Coulson, is now the chief communications officer of the Tories

Mr. Coulson, who was appointed editor of The News of the World in 2003, said that he had no knowledge of the hacking and that it was an isolated case, but resigned from the paper in January 2007 nonetheless.

Last year, The Guardian newspaper printed an article saying that hundreds of people might have been singled out by The News of the World and providing details about some of them, including Gordon Taylor, former chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, who reached a settlement of £700,000 with The News of the World over the hacking of his cellphone.

The Times Magazine article provided new details, quoting a former reporter, Sean Hoare, and a unnamed former editor at The News of the World as saying that Mr. Coulson was fully aware of the hacking. In an interview with BBC Radio 4 last week, Mr. Hoare called Mr. Coulson’s statement to a parliamentary committee denying that he knew about the phone hacking in his newsroom “a lie.”

More than a dozen reporters and editors formerly with The News of the World, interviewed for The Times article said their employer had fostered a culture of recklessness in which reporters were encouraged to use any means to get exclusive stories. The article also quoted senior Metropolitan Police officials saying that the police had failed to fully investigate The News of the World’s phone hacking in part because of Scotland Yard’s close ties to editors at the paper and executives at its parent company, News International.

Over the weekend, Tessa Jowell, a former Labour cabinet minister who is still a Parliament member, said that the police had told her that her phone messages had been intercepted at least 28 times while she was in the government. And The Independent on Sunday reported that Lord Mandelson, another senior Labour politician, also had his messages intercepted.


Meanwhile, The News of the World denied the Times’s allegations and accused it of publishing the magazine article in an effort to discredit a newspaper belonging to a “rival group” — that is, the media empire of Rupert Murdoch. Mr. Murdoch is the chairman of News Corporation, whose many media holdings include The News of the World, The Times of London and The Wall Street Journal.

Yesterday's story in the Magazine was even more elaborate, with allegations that Scotland Yard limited its investigation and hints of political motivation.

BY THE SPRING of this year, News International’s papers had firmly switched their support from Labour to the Tories. An avalanche of unforgiving coverage culminated on April 8, one month before the general election, in a Sun story headlined “Brown’s a Clown.” Brown’s strategists assumed that Murdoch’s motives were not purely ideological. They drew up a campaign document conjuring Murdoch’s wish list should David Cameron become prime minister. Among the top items they identified was the weakening of the government-financed BBC, one of Murdoch’s biggest competitors and long a target of criticism from News International executives. On May 11, David Cameron officially assumed the position and elevated Coulson to the head of communications. Within the week, Rupert Murdoch arrived at 10 Downing Street for a private meeting with the new prime minister. Cameron’s administration criticized the BBC in July for “extraordinary and outrageous waste” during difficult financial times and proposed cutting its budget.


Blue Monday, Etta James edition

By way of Willie Dixon.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

Sending this out to Newt

Creative solutions for the Burlington Coat Factory Muslim Community Center

Newt Gingrich is a profoundly stupid man -- not Jan Brewer stupid, to be sure -- but stupid nevertheless. We know that. But suggesting that "Ground Zero" be named a national battlefield site is a new nadir for him. I guess he'd prefer a casino.

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Thursday, September 02, 2010

The strange case(s) of Julian Assange

I was in the midst of a very long drive when I first heard the news that the founder of WikiLeaks had been accused of rape by Swedish prosecutors, a charge that was dropped a day later with no more explanation than the Swedish version of "whoopsie." Strange enough.

Today it got stranger still

PARIS — The Swedish authorities announced Wednesday that they were reopening an investigation of rape allegations against Julian Assange, the founder of the WikiLeaks Web site, saying there was “reason to believe that a crime has been committed.”

The announcement by Marianne Ny, director of public prosecution, was another reversal in the convoluted case. Last month, Swedish prosecutors confirmed that they had issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Assange on rape and molestation allegations, but dropped the rape charge after saying it was unfounded.

But on Wednesday, Ms. Ny said in a statement that “considering information available at present, my judgment is that the classification of the crime is rape.” She said additional investigation was needed “before a final decision can be made.”

A WikiLeaks spokesman said Mr. Assange, who has maintained his innocence, was unavailable for comment.

Leif Silbersky, Mr. Assange’s lawyer, said his client was innocent. Mr. Assange was questioned Monday by the police, Mr. Silbersky said, “and they said nothing about rape.”

Mr. Assange, a 39-year-old Australian, was initially investigated Aug. 20 on charges of rape and molestation after separate complaints from two women who had had separate sexual relationships with him. The rape inquiry was dropped within 24 hours, but the women who brought the complaints appealed for the investigation to be reinstated.

According to accounts the women gave to the police and friends, Swedish officials said, they had consensual sexual encounters with Mr. Assange that became nonconsensual. One woman said that Mr. Assange had ignored her appeals to stop after a condom broke. The other woman said that she and Mr. Assange had begun a sexual encounter using a condom, but that Mr. Assange did not comply with her appeals for him to stop when it was no longer in use.

Prosecutors have continued to investigate the lesser charge of molestation, which covers a wide range of offenses and carries penalties of up to a year in prison, and they said Wednesday that they were expanding that inquiry to consider charges of sexual coercion and sexual molestation.

The story goes on to say that one of the women, in an interview, denied that the Pentagon was behind the charges.

James Fallows finds it all pretty weird, too.

It is worth reading in order the series of posts on the Fabius Maximus site -- from earliest to latest here, here, here, and here -- making the case that the "official" story of the rape accusations against Julian Assange of Wikileaks is too strange and coincidence-ridden to be easily believable. The first post in this series, more than a week ago, starts with a summary of his hypothesis: "The CIA used to overthrow governments. Now they cannot even frame a rape charge against the leader of Wikileaks." Nothing is "proven" as of the latest update today; but individually and collectively, the posts do something most newspaper articles haven't. They put the whole story together and say: this part doesn't match that part, and this other part is extremely improbable, and if we're to believe the official version, then the following ten coincidences must all have gone the same way.

I do not know the truth here and am not in a position to dig into it myself. But if his suggestions prove to be true, they would have wide ramifications, and they are worth being aware of now. (Also, see this summary today by the Atlantic's Heather Horn.) So it becomes a test of which is harder to believe: That there was a conspiracy to frame Julian Assange? Or that there wasn't?

If it was a government plot, how far we have come from orchestrating the overthrow of South American presidents to broken condoms.

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