Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Atheist takeover? Inshallah

Newt Gingrich (pbuh) explains the likely outcome of an atheist takeover of the United States:

"I am convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America, by the time they're my age they will be in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American."

No understanding of what it once meant to be an American? Is that as bad as no understanding of what it means to be an atheist or a Muslim?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Rule of Law

We actually think it's pretty important in the United States. We may have discovered the idea at Runnymede, when the barons stood up to the king and made him acknowledge that the law was more than whatever the king felt like.

Only they haven't learned that lesson in Wisconsin yet.

You know what they've done so far: they screwed around with the rules to pass Scott Walker's union-busting legislation, then they decided that if you were a Democrat your vote wouldn't count.

The violations of law were so clear that the opponents of the law went to court and got an injunction prohibiting publication of the law, an essential prerequisite to implementation under Wisconsin law.

So what did the Republicans do? They went ahead and published the law anyway.

If I had been the judge, I'd be some pissed by this time, and apparently the judge who issued the order is. She really did say "Maybe you fuckers didn't understand what I was saying."

Well, pretty close anyway:

"Further implementation of the act is enjoined," said Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi.

"Apparently that language was either misunderstood or ignored, but what I said was the further implementation of Act 10 was enjoined. That is what I now want to make crystal clear," she said.


"Now that I've made my earlier order as clear as it possibly can be, I must state that those who act in open and willful defiance of the court order place not only themselves at peril of sanctions, they also jeopardize the financial and the governmental stability of the state of Wisconsin," Sumi said.

We'll see what the next round brings, but I, for one, am looking forward to seeing Scott Walker frog-marched out of the state house to start serving his term for contempt of court.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Don'cha love these constitutional Republicans?

Here's a new guy, pizza magnate Herman Cain.

Like most Republicans, his reading of the Constitution is a little, well, idiosyncratic.

KEYES: You came under a bit of controversy this week for some of the comments made about Muslims in general. Would you be comfortable appointing a Muslim, either in your cabinet or as a federal judge?

CAIN: No, I would not. And here’s why. There is this creeping attempt, there is this attempt to gradually ease Sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government. This is what happened in Europe. And little by little, to try and be politically correct, they made this little change, they made this little change. And now they’ve got a social problem that they don’t know what to do with hardly.

Oops. I guess I spoke too soon when I talked about his reading of the Constitution, because that's obviously something he's never done. If he had, he might have noticed the Religious Test Clause.

all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Yes, sir, even though he wants the opportunity to take the oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, apparently that doesn't apply to the parts he doesn't like.

Follow the link and watch the video soon, because we have a hunch he may not be in the race too long.

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Birther time!

You may have heard that as part of his birther campaign, the Donald has released copies of his birth certificate. He doesn't actually embrace the birther label, but he is parroting the birther line.

"Ronald Reagan, George Bush have produced their birth certificates. Why doesn’t Obama?"

Take a closer look at this birth certificate, though.

First off, is this the long form birth certificate? What about the footprints that birthers have been demanding to prove the validity of Obama's birth certificate?

But I think I see an even bigger issue here. This certificate says the Donald was born in Jamaica! I thought the president has to be born in the United States. Are we really ready for the ">first reggae president?

Of course, I'm really not that interested in Trump's pedigree.

Now, if we can get some information of the pedigree of whatever he has on top of his head, now that would be something.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Not good news for the Times

Bob Herbert writes in his resignation letter: “I have been writing a column for 25 years, nearly 18 at The New York Times. The deadlines and demands were a useful discipline but for some time now I have grown eager to move beyond the constriction of the column format, with its rigid 800-word limit, in favor of broader and more versatile efforts.” He says he’s writing a book about “some of the great challenges facing the United States.”

And just a few weeks ago:

Frank Rich quits NYT for New York magazine

This is a real loss for the readers, and potentially a problem for the Times.

A few years ago they tried Times Select, an attempt to squeeze revenue out of their online publication by putting some of their most popular writers behind a paywall. Their writers hated it and they wound up having to scrap the whole idea. Now they're just announced a new paywall rollout and two of their best columnists have departed.

I know the new model is different, but doesn't this seem like one more disincentive for people to visit their site, or to accumulate enough page views to get into the pay zone?

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Democracy, Wisconsin style

We already know the high regard in which Wisconsin Republicans hold the sacred forms and traditions of democracy, right?

If you recall that they railroaded Walker's union-busting bill through the Assembly and Senate, likely nothing will surprise you.

But here are some new rules from the Republicans:

1. If you're a Democrat, you don't get a vote in committee.

2. If you're a Republican, you don't have to live in the district you are elected to represent.

Let's go over that once more.

The majority leader of the Wisconsin Senate has ruled that the Democrats who boycotted the proceedings to avoid giving the R's a quorum are in contempt of the Senate, and that consequently their votes in committee don't count.

They are free to attend hearings, listen to testimony, debate legislation, introduce amendments, and cast votes to signal their support/opposition, but those votes will not count, and will not be recorded

Nice, huh?

Now, Number 2: Like every other state, Wisconsin's legislature has a system of districts. The voters in those districts turn out and vote for their representatives, who live in and represent those districts.

Except that that's not how it works for one of the Republicans in the Senate. Last year Randy Hopper, R, Fond du Lac, left his wife and took to living with a 25-year old aide.

As you can see from the picture, Randy is not 25 years old. If it matters to you that his new paramour is twenty years younger than he is, that is.

And if it matters to you that she now works for the lobbying firm that represents some very nasty right-wing groups.

It's certainly not unheard of for an elected official to set up housekeeping outside of his district, or even to have an extramarital affair.

What seems to cross the line for me is that not only did he move out on his wife and out of his district, but he ran for re-election. That means he undoubtedly had to sign papers with the Wisconsin Secretary of State, probably under oath, verifying his place of residence. (He conveniently includes a map of his district--I mean the one he used to live in--on his legislative web page.)

And whatever he swore to on those papers was a lie.

So it's not the sex, and it's not just the hypocrisy (nothing like those bible-believing, family values Republicans, huh?), it's the whole package of sleeping with a scummy lobbyist, leaving your wife for her, and lying about where you live when you run for reelection.

In case you're wondering, his wife says she'll sign the recall petition. His maid already has.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hey, NPR, slow down!

Shouldn't people know better by now?

The scandal of the week was that James O'Keefe, the guy whose lies and distortions brought down ACORN and Shirley Sherrod (temporarily), had struck again. This time his target was another of the favorite punching bags of the extreme Right: National Public Radio.

I'll give you NPR's initial story on this, since this became the canonical version of the tale:

The top fundraiser for NPR has resigned after a videotape became public showing him openly disparaging conservative groups during what he thought was a fundraising meeting. The video was recorded secretly during a lunch Ron Schiller had with two people who claimed to be eager to contribute to public radio.


The top fundraiser for NPR, who had already announced that he was leaving NPR for another job, officially resigned last night. A videotape became public showing him disparaging conservative groups during what he thought was a fundraising meeting. The video was secretly recorded during a lunch with two people who claimed to be eager to contribute to public radio.

Eventually the fundraiser and the president of NPR were fired because of this, providing two more trophies for O'Keefe's wall.

The rest of the story came out Sunday, and it comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with O'Keefe's modus operandi.

Wait for it . . .

That's right: O'Keefe lied.

And he did it the exact same way he has lied to create these other stories: by creative editing to create a fictional account of what happened.

Keep in mind what Schiller said, as reported by NPR:

ABRAMSON: Schiller says the Tea Party, in particular, is, quote, "not just Islamaphobic, but I mean xenophobic. I mean, basically they believe in sort of white, middle America, gun toting - I mean, it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people," unquote.

This wasn't a big deal to some of us, except that we were pissed that NPR was firing people for telling the truth.

People at NPR lose their jobs for telling the truth? I guess that's why people at Fox have job security. #teaparty

It turns out that it was even worse than that. The Blaze reports what really happened.

4. The “seriously racist” Tea Party

NPR exec Ron Schiller does describe Tea Party members as “xenophobic…seriously racist people.”

This is one of the reasons why he no longer has a job!

But the clip in the edited video implies Schiller is giving simply his own analysis of the Tea Party. He does do that in part, but the raw video reveals that he is largely recounting the views expressed to him by two top Republicans, one a former ambassador, who admitted to him that they voted for Obama.

This is the key point right here: Schiller and his boss, Vivian Schiller, were fired largely for the claim that he was expressing his own views of the Republican Right, which confirms the right-wing view of NPR. What we now know is that he was quoting some large Republican donors, not expressing his own views (although it does appear that he was endorsing those views).

Still, if the headline had been, "According to NPR executive, top Republicans accuse Tea Party of xenophobia" it would have been no big deal.

What made it a big deal was the way O'Keefe used editing to lie about what Schiller said.

So this raises a big question in my mind: why haven't people learned yet? We know now that the very fact that James O'Keefe says something, that is prima facie evidence that it's a lie?

And why do serious people and organizations get their panties in a twist, and immediately take precipitous and irrational action, when we hear one more of these lying stories from O'Keefe?

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Remember the American Dream?

It's not just a dream for individuals. We grow up in the United States with the idea, hope, or plan to own our own home. Not everyone expects to do it, but it's definitely part of the American idea,, what used to be called without irony the American dream. Even if your vision of the dream isn't a house in the suburbs with a lawn, a swing hanging from the tree in your front yard, and you grilling burgers out on the deck, it's still a big thing for Americans. Why else would we have shows on cable around the clock showing people looking for that perfect house to buy?

Public policy for years has supported homeownership. In fact, our biggest subsidized housing program is the mortgage interest deduction. We spend $117 billion a year on it. The idea is that homeownership leads to stable communities, which may have some legitimacy to it.

But when you buy a house, or try to buy a house, you're not thinking about building a stable community, or public policy. You're thinking that you'll have a place to call your own, or that you won't have to move every year when your lease is up, or you won't have a landlord to deal with and tell you whether you can paint, or hang pictures, or have parties.

The dream's taken a beating the last couple of years. We've had the subprime mortgage crash, people losing their jobs, and millions of foreclosures.

Oh yes, we've had one other thing: fraud.

First off, we know now that the entire subprime industry, and the crash of the subprime bond market was built on fraud.

We also know that a lot of the foreclosures have been the product of fraud, and it's worth going into a little detail about that.

A mortgage is really two different transactions: the loan, a contract between the borrower and the lender, and the mortgage, whereby a property owner gives the secured party (remember: mortgagee rhymes with Simon Legree) the right to take the property away by foreclosure if the borrower doesn't pay. These mortgages get traded around, sold, so that the bank who gave you your loan might not be the bank you send your payment to every month; and if you fall behind the bank or mortgage company who owns the right to foreclose might be someone you've never heard of.

One thing we've learned lately is that the foreclosure system has been rife with fraud. If the bank forecloses on your mortgage it's like any other court case: the bank has to prove that it owns the right to foreclose, that it is the owner of your mortgage. This can be tricky if your mortgage has been bought and sold a few times between the day you signed the mortgage and the day the bank takes you to court. What has become obvious is that there are many, many foreclosures based purely on fraudulent affidavits. Banks have employed people, now referred to as robo-signers, whose job has just been to sign affidavits that establish the chain of title for these mortgages. These are essential to these foreclosures, because if the foreclosing bank can't establish that each one of the transactions in the chain of title happened the way they claim, the bank isn't entitled to foreclose.

As it happens, a lot of these affidavits are just lies. The banks and other financial institutions doing these foreclosures, including big institutions like Wells Fargo (it's not just stagecoaches any more!) J.P, Morgan, and GMAC, have been routinely going into court lying about their ownership of the mortgages.

It was so bad that even the Federal Reserve woke up and took notice. This week a special panel of the Federal Reserve released its report on mortgage foreclosures. They actually looked in detail at 500 foreclosures, and guess what: they found that 100% of the foreclosures were justified. Not a single wrongful foreclosure was wrongful!

But what about the robo-signers, you ask? It turns out that the standards of this study were so lax that no matter what improprieties, fraud, and lies were committed by the foreclosing lender, if the homeowner was behind in their mortgage payments the foreclosure was considered to have been justified.

But all 50 state attorneys general joined together last fall to probe banks' foreclosure practices after several companies halted home repossessions when improper paperwork practices -- like the so-called "robo-signing" scandal -- came to light. The law enforcement officers have said they've found banks violated numerous state laws. State and federal officials are considering a large-scale settlement with banks and mortgage servicers that could include penalties totaling up to $30 billion and requirements to modify more distressed mortgages.

I guess nobody needs to concern themselves too much with billions of dollars' worth of fraud in millions of foreclosures.

In related news, the Republicans in Congress also took action on foreclosures last week. Never let it be said they are blind to the suffering of their fellow Americans.

So what did they do? The Republicans in Congress voted to defund the federal program set up to provide relief to homeowners in foreclosure so they could keep their homes.

Should I repeat that?

According to Congressman Chaka Fattah, who is continuing to fight for the homeowners, "House Republicans today took another pound-foolish step by voting to de-fund the Emergency Mortgage Relief Program. This bridge-loan program provides a lifeline for middle-class homeowners who face foreclosure through no fault of their own because of the predatory and economy-wrecking policies of Wall Street".

And the Republicans never tire of accusing us of using "class warfare" when we point out who's winning the class war, and whose side the Republicans are on.

Congressman Fattah is obviously too polite to say this, but the most appropriate response to the Republicans in the face of this latest outrage is very clear.

In the words of the late Ashley Morris: Fuck you, you fucking fucks.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Does this mean David Brooks's time has come?

I don't take pleasure in the death of David Broder.

Nevertheless, it would seem that the pinnacle of High Broderism is now all warmed up and ready for David Brooks, no?

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Monday, March 07, 2011

The wit and wisdom of Margie Phelps

Okay, I can't let go of this.

First off, as I pointed out the other day, the Westboro Baptist Church's case at the Supreme Court had to be a slam dunk if someone this stupid could win it.

She was on TV again yesterday and even Chris Wallace was incredulous at her theological position that Obama is the Beast of Revelation--yes, Mr. 666 himself.

Still, what I find interesting about her is her choice of language. For instance, if you listen to the tape from yesterday, you'll see that her way of expressing agreement with something Wallace said was "That's a big 10-4." And you may recall that her favorite locution when she talked about being confrontational, a phrase she used repeatedly when arguing at the Supreme Court, was "up in their grill." She really uses that exact phrase every time she talks about it.

What about you? Do you have a favorite Margie Phelps phrase I haven't mentioned yet?

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Nobody went to jail, everybody got rich

The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday MachineThe Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine by Michael Lewis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've written before about the subprime mortgage crash and how it happened. We learned shortly after it happened that a major element was the Republicans' insistence on the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which they snuck into the budget at the end of 2000. This act prohibits the federal and state governments from any regulation of derivatives, and this led to the creation of the credit default swaps that were the direct cause of the collapse of AIG and the other mortgage-backed bond funds. (An interesting sidelight is that the provision was inserted at the insistence of Texas senator Phil Gramm, whose wife Wendy directly benefits from this kind of trading.)

The Big Short looks at this from a different perspective. Author Michael Lewis, whose first book, Liar's Poker, was a view of Salomon Brothers from the inside, set out to find out if any of the people who were claiming, after the crash, that they had seen it coming really had.

What he found was that there were a very few, literally a handful, of investment analysts and investors who had seen the crash coming, and had made major investments that took advantage of the vulnerabilities they were able to find in the mortgage bond sector. What he also found was that these mortgage bonds, which were supposedly Triple A, virtually risk-free investments, were in fact based mainly on what we now know were mortgages that were guaranteed, and even designed, to fail. And finally, all the information needed to find these vulnerabilities was in the public domain, and it was only by a combination of corruption and gross incompetence that the market swallowed up these worthless bond instruments.

This is a fascinating account of how people who supposedly know what they're doing, and supposedly know way more about investments than you or me, conspired to cause the collapse of the American economy and throw millions of people out of their houses. As such, it is required reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got into our current economic situation.

View all my reviews

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Friday, March 04, 2011

Another round in the war against women

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A voice from inside

Just a short post tonight. I came across a blog you may find interesting, written by an activist involved in the occupation of the Wisconsin State House.

The information is fragmentary, but it appears that the protesters have taken the governor to court for his actions in barring access to the capitol in violation of the state constitution.

The Blog from Inside the Capitol Endures...

My name is Jonathan Scott. I have been living inside of our Capitol Building in Madison, Wisconsin most days and nights since February 22, 2011. I want to give everyone a window into the real situation inside of our Capitol Building.

Keep checking back for updates.


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

It's official

To anti-choicers, a woman is nothing but a container for a fetus.

From the Plain Dealer:

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Two fetuses will be presented as witnesses before an Ohio legislative committee that is hearing a bill to outlaw abortions after the first heartbeat can be detected inside a woman's womb.

Don't worry, kids. If you wind up being born you can look forward to having your rights trampled and your needs ignored.

What's good for the Westboro Baptist Church is good for . . .

You, me, and every other political dissident.

Let's be clear about this: Fred Phelps and his whole family are scum. They should get cancer and die.

The Westboro people brought their circus to Montpelier a couple of years ago and I think the people of my town, particularly the high school students, handled it very well. In other words, treating them with the ridicule they deserve.

Still, they were right in the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court was right in ruling in their favor.

You know the facts, so I won't spend a lot of time on them. To gain publicity for their vile ideas, these people go to events, like military funerals, and hold up their vicious signs, and they hope they will either get on TV or provoke some kind of reaction from the sane people in attendance, who are justifiably offended by their odious display. When they did it at the funeral of Matthew Snyder his family sued them and got a judgment for five million dollars.

Now the Supreme Court has overturned the judgment, holding that their actions are protected by the First Amendment. The legal questions in this case were so easy that even Scalia and Clarence Thomas got them right.

You don't have to like it, but here's the thing about the First Amendment: we don't need it to protect our right to say things that don't bother anybody. We don't need it except when we're pissing people off.

And if you're reading this, odds are that you find that you need to say things that piss people off.

What the Supreme Court said today is that you can piss people off and the government isn't allowed to stop you.

We all need that.

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