Journalism Accomplished: why aren't news organizations telling the whole truth in Wisconsin and why aren't the state's conservatives demanding secession?

I tend to avoid programs produced by major network news divisions like I would the galloping herpes, but I do occasionally tune into CBS Sunday Morning. In its better moments, Charles Osgood helms a tranquil, reflective magazine foregrounding the people, places and things that define what’s best about American culture. At its worst, of course, it’s just another fair and balanced mainstream media medicine show, with a comment from Ben Stein.

This morning we got a frustrating dose of worst, as the producers decided to have a look at what’s happening in Wisconsin. Continue reading

Moral bankruptcy leading states to financial bankruptcy

How mind-bogglingly crazy is it that several states—including my own New York—are considering bankruptcy?

Of course, states don’t qualify for bankruptcy, but a move is afoot in Congress to create a kind of bankruptcy-like status for states.

Bankruptcy for states would raise huge issues of sovereignty. It would throw the municipal bond market into chaos. It would just downright look bad, undercutting what little public faith remains in government. There are all sorts of reasons why this could be hugely problematic.

But worst of all, it would be a loud-and-clear admission by lawmakers that they can’t get their fucking acts together and behave responsibly.

Has it really come to this? Continue reading

Cyber warriors race to Mars

The Hundred Year StarshipNASA and its spooky Sith-lord counterpart, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, are teaming up to achieve the impossible: interplanetary colonialism. DARPA, known for its role in developing such technologies as the internet and GPS, has also funded cyborg beetles implanted with electrodes that control their flight by radio, battery powered human exoskeletons, and ravenous robots called EATRs which find and consume biomass (read humans) for fuel.

The stated purpose of DARPA is to maintain military supremacy through technological superiority. During the dark nights after Sputnik first blinked overhead, Americans gathered in their bomb shelters and grumbled that we should do something before the other guys do it to us. In our innocence, we had no idea what that something might be, so we put together a crack team of scientific geniuses to discover it. Continue reading

The government’s checkbook too screwed up to audit, says GAO

You know the company’s in trouble when the auditor tells the company that its bookkeeper can’t manage the company’s finances, reconcile balance sheets among different departments, or prepare credible financial statements.

And you know it’s real trouble when the auditor can’t even do an audit and provide the company with a statement of its financial health — or ill health.

That’s what Gene Dodaro, acting comptroller general of the United States and head of the Government Accounting Office, has told the federal government about its fiscal 2010 books: You’re in deep fiscal do-do. Said Dodaro:

Even though significant progress has been made since the enactment of key financial management reforms in the 1990s, our report on the U.S. government’s consolidated financial statement illustrates that much work remains to be done to improve federal financial management.

Apparently, the feds don’t know what to count, how to count it, and how to report the count.
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Yo, GOP: Slash regulation? Or spend up to $27 million to save a life?

Many of the seats the Democrats lost in Congress can be attributed to a tea-party and GOP-influenced desire to shrink the size of the federal government. Presumed goals of conservative and GOP winners: Reduce federal spending. Shrink the deficit. Lessen government’s intrusion into people’s lives.

Well, let’s see what these make-government-smaller politicians do with a cost-benefit analysis of this proposal to further intrude into the lives of people who drive.

By 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants every passenger vehicle sold in the United States to have a rear-view camera. That’s available now as an option for many vehicles. The camera displays what’s behind the vehicle on the navigation screen in the dashboard.

Reason: The agency says back-up accidents kill 228 people a year and injure 17,000. More significant reason: About 100 of those killed are children.
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It's time for progressives to forget about winning the battle and start concentrating on winning the war

It was Sun Tzu, I believe, who first suggested that in order to win the war, you sometimes have to lose the battle. This precept has been on my mind quite a bit since the results of the recent election began rolling in. For instance…

Earlier today one of my political lists was discussing the aftermath of the elections and pondering the future of the progressive movement, such as it is. In response to a couple of thoughtful comments I posed the following question:

In terms of what’s best for the country in the long run, which would be better:

  • Obama gets re-elected in 2012? Or,
  • Obama gets beaten in 2012, allowing Dems to realign and get started gearing up for 2016 assault on Mt. Mitt?

This is a cynical question, but it is not an insincere one.

The always level-headed Guy Saperstein made an important point: Continue reading

Nota Bene #118: VOTE!

“I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.” Who said it? Continue reading

The greatest election ever!

by Terry Hargrove

Last Friday, I received one of those automated calls that has in the last two months given me the illusion of having lots of friends. This one was about a Tennessee politician named Ty Cobb, and what a miserable Democrat/alleged human being he was, and why I should vote for his opponent, Sheila Butt (real names, I promise).

I found the experience confusing for several reasons. First, I assumed Ty Cobb was a great, but dead, baseball player, and given his penchant for sharpening his cleats to maim second basemen and his all-around foul disposition, I always assumed he was a Republican. I mean, he had balls. Second, I haven’t lived in Tennessee for five years, so I’m getting twice as many of these calls as my fellow Connecticutters. Some people might think that’s unfair, but to me it’s glorious. Continue reading

Nota Bene #117: Wake Up!

“Hollywood is so crooked that Mafia gangsters are entirely outclassed and don’t stand a chance. People in Hollywood are smarter. They have more sophisticated knowledge of money and deals and how to steal legally rather than illegally.” Who said it? Continue reading

The root of all evil will rule mid-term elections

Come Tuesday, Nov. 2, it will not matter whether you vote Democratic, Republican, Independent, Green, Tea, or write-in. That’s because the winning entity will not be on the ballot — and hasn’t been for a very long time.

Come Wednesday, Nov. 3, anchors and pundits alike will announce, pronounce, anoint, or castigate individuals wearing the colors of the Red or Blue parties. Few, if any, will comment on the real winner. The newly elected or re-elected will mouth platitudes such as “the people have spoken” or “we’re here to do the work of the American people.”

Nope. The winners will have been chosen, as they have been on average for half a century by less than half of the voting-age population, to serve the corporate dollar.

That’s because come Nov. 3, the winner of the mid-term elections — and statewide races across the nation — will have been well-hidden corporate and billionaire money.
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Hedge funds, sensing profit opportunities, buying distressed newspapers

And now, newspapers’ newest problem: The vultures have descended.

Newspapers continue to lose money and advertising – the New York Times Co. reported print ads would decline 5 percent in the third quarter across all its media. But investors are actually buying newspaper properties, often through bankruptcy sales.

What gives? Are they vultures just picking over already tattered carcasses for spare change? Or do these investors expect to make significant money – somehow?

The New York TimesJulie Creswell reports that

A handful of hedge funds, as well as some big banks, are vying for ownership or have already gained controlling interests in newspapers across the country, including The Los Angeles Times, The Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just newspapers or newspaper companies. They’re buying supermarket tabs, television properties, radio and big publishers. Creswell’s story identifies who’s buying what. But a secretive investor is the most active.

Creswell calls Randall D. Smith a pioneer of vulture investing. Continue reading

Speaker wannabee Boehner recycling platitudes of speakers past

The three pillars of any democracy are the rule of law, transparency, and a functioning civil society. Over decades, all three of these pillars have been chipped away in the people’s House.

A wonderful sentiment, don’t you think?

House minority leader John Boehner, R-OH, spoke these words to conservatives in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute this week. I was moved: If I could be convinced he would adopt the solutions he offered in this speech in a fair, even-handed manner, I’d vote Republican in November. (Well, maybe not … he and 434 other people actually still call their congressional pay-to-playground the people’s House despite their average annual median income of $650,000.)

If the GOP takes control of the House, Boehner would displace Nancy Pelosi as speaker. (There’s even a Boehner for Speaker website.) Given that pundits of many political persuasions believe a GOP takeover is within reach, some of his ideas merit inspection — but he is not their most credible advocate.
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21 expert climate scientists refute Monckton’s House testimony

On May 6, 2010, Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, was invited by the Republican members of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to present testimony that contradicted over 100 years of established chemistry, physics, and climatology. Monckton, a non-scientist who has a long history of making erroneous claims, was seated as and equal beside four scientists with PhDs in their respective climate-related fields.

Earlier this month, a group of climate scientists submitted a detailed rebuttal of Monckton’s testimony to the House. Continue reading

It's the witchcraft, stupid!

The revelation that Delaware Republican Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell admitted to dabbling in witchcraft should not come as a surprise. In fact, it explains everything. The only real question is what constitutes “dabbling.”

Many of us have been hard pressed to find a rational explanation for the rise in popularity of the tea party movement. At first it seemed to be something of a blue collar class thing, but that turned out to be untrue—tea partiers are better educated and better off financially than the average American. Then we moved on to the racism meme, and that explains a lot, certainly—the immigrant bashing, the Obama cartoons. But that in itself didn’t explain the number of otherwise reasonable people who are perfectly prepared to throw the fruits of progressive government of the past seventy years into the trashcan. Of course, white privilege is rebelling against the prospect of modestly higher taxes for the rich, but that doesn’t alone explain the outright glee with which the tea party wants to worsen poverty in America, or take away the recent expansion in healthcare coverage.
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Conservative groups running issue ads with corporate money: how to hang this albatross around the GOP's neck

I read via the AP today that the two conservative groups founded by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, have raked in so much money from donors that this midterm election will likely be the most expensive yet. According to the AP, the two groups combined have raised about $32 million so far this year.

While we don’t know where the money for the supposedly “non-profit” Crossroads GPS comes from, American Crossroads is a registered 527 and so we have some information on its donors. Since its inceptions, American Crossroads has had eight donors of $50,000 or more each, with six of those donors hitting or surpassing the $1 million mark.

That wealthy donors are allowed to give massive amounts of money to political 527s is perhaps not a surprise. What’s new this year is the fact that corporations are allowed to give directly, and of those top eight donors, three are corporations, rather than people: TRT Holdings Inc. ($1 million), Southwest Louisiana Land LLC ($1 million), and Dixie Rice Agricultural Corporation ($1 million). Continue reading

The Pope, Taxation, Competition and Managing the Economic Crisis

The Pope, titular head of an organisation that spans the globe and claims over 1 billion followers, has just visited the UK. He has apologised profusely for the sexual abuse of children by priests, warned against the rise of secularism, and promised greater transparency and openness.

Plainly something is up. This is worlds away from the Catholic Church which the Fern’s Report of 2005 described as having: “A culture of secrecy and fear of scandal that led bishops to place the interests of the Catholic Church ahead of the safety of children”.

The world has changed. The Catholic Church is now an unwilling participant in a competition of ideas which also includes the choice not to have any beliefs at all. Such competition can make even the most stodgy and autocratic of institutions liven up a little. Continue reading

Review: Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis

I recently completed my fifth trip through Joseph Ellis’s indispensable Founding Brothers. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History in 2001, the book provides one of the best all-around glimpses of the Founders, depicting them more like a squabbling family than a collection of wizened sages.

The book has had a profound influence on the way I understand the founding of the Republic, and it’s certainly had a huge influence in shaping my attitudes about the Founders themselves. It’s the book, for instance, that first transformed me into an Adams fan (and, in particular, I like the way the book treats Abigail Adams with the same kind of primacy it gives her husband, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, and Burr). Continue reading

Peering into the Housing Abyss

The New York Times had an interesting article yesterday about the unpleasant prospect facing the Obama administration on housing. The specific problem is that the administration is pretty much out of policy options on housing, which continues to drag. Well, “drag” is perhaps an understatement—July new home sales were 26% below those of July 2009, and, as Bloomberg points out, pending home sales in July were down 19% over the same period. The same Bloomberg article points out that, on average, median home prices are down 26% from July 2006. The market isn’t picking up, and it’s not clear what else the Obama administration can do about it. Given that two-thirds of Americans own homes, and that homes represent some 80% of Americans’ wealth, this remains a pretty big deal as the economy continues to sputter along as the stimulus efforts fade, and as unemployment hovers around 10%, in part from the horrible state of the homebuilding industry.

The Times article discusses one possible, but thus far pretty unwelcome, policy option—just let home prices collapse further. Get it over with. Continue reading

For a political rookie, a devolution to abhor and avoid

A young Afghan war veteran, whose family has lived in my district for eight generations, wishes to be my next representative in Congress. He would succeed the imploded former Rep. Eric Massa, whom I supported, and who taught me the bittersweet consequences of commingling voter naїvete with false hope, as did candidate-turned-President Obama.

This young Democratic candidate has sent me three letters (I’m sure thousands of other District 29 voters received them, too), saying, in effect, this: “I need your help.”

All across America, as savvy political incumbents and their often hapless, outspent challengers belly up to the fundraising trough, they reach out to folks like you and me – the so-called little guys — asking for $10, $25, $50, whatever we can spare to set this country back on the right path. They’re all saying, with false modesty: “I need your help.” (They want our little donations for less than $200, the amount at which candidates must report them to the Federal Election Commission, so they can say they’re supported by real people, real voters, not PACs and pass-downs from the national parties.)

This young man from my district fought in a war with real bullets, bombs, and IEDs. He faced menacing threats each day in theater. Now that he’s home, he’s filed for entry into another war. For that, I commend him – and feel sorry for him. I don’t know if, despite a pair of master’s degrees, he’s sufficiently trained for this kind of warfare.
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