Thursday, February 18, 2010

Last Call

Best comments on the Joe Stack plane crash story today from nurtz Kidd at Rumproast:
Carefully dissect his story—he didn’t like the unfairness of the tax code, so he tried to cheat the IRS—using dodges he believes other organizations get away with.

He got caught, he lost his savings. Boo Hoo.

Then the Government cut back on unnecessary costs (hooray) on account of which he lost his job. (Tough titty.) So he relocates to Austin, where he finds you get worked over by large organizations and don’t get a huge salary.

Boo Hoo number 2.

Then he signs an Income Tax declaration with his wife, not disclosing her under-the-table income. He goes to a hearing of some kind, and the accountant to prepared the phony docs rolls on him. Given his background as a deliberate tax fraud/cheater, he has to pay again. Boo Hoo number 3.

Then, during a recession, he starts a business and is not immediately successful. (Though he’s successful enough to retain a private plane, which most of America can’t dream about buying.)

Boo Hoo number 4.

He’s mad at the IRS because he tried to cheat on his taxes and got caught. He’s a failure as an engineer, a husband, and a tax cheat.
And as a domestic terrorist, I might add. Those who are arguing if he was a Teabagger nutjob or a Leftist crackpot are missing the point: he's a good old fashioned failed domestic terrorist, and America has plenty of them.

Scott Brown Steps In It

Newly minted GOP Sen. Scott Brown really, truly screwed up today.  Aravosis:
The new Republican Senator from Massachusetts went on FOX News this evening and was asked about the nut who crashed his plane into an IRS office building, because he hates the government. Here is what Scott Brown said, when asked about this possible act of terrorism:
"I don't know if it's related, but I can just sense, not only in my election, but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated, they want transparency, they want their elected officials to be accountable and open, and talk about the things that are affecting their daily lives. So I'm not sure if there's a connection, I certainly hope not, but we need to do things better.
The best part is what comes next. Cavuto says, gosh, can you imagine people (read: liberals) claiming that this is what happens when you build up populist rage - isn't that a bit extreme? Brown concurs. After suggesting that the populist rage that led this man to crash his plane into an IRS building was the same kind of thing that got him elected.

Which almost sounds like he's justifying the plane crash.
Almost?  Bullshit.  He is completely justifying itThere's no way any elected official should be trying to find a way to empathize with what Joe Stack did today.  None.  This guy crashed a plane into an occupied building with the intent of causing harm.  That's terrorism, period.

It is inexcusable.  And even worse, he's trying to score points with the Teabaggers while doing it.  "Yes, the anger that made this guy crash a plane into people, well, I don't know if there's a connection but..."

No way.  You lose, Scott.  I'm completely with Aravosis on this one.  Brown needs to be called out on this.

Maybe There's Real Hope After All

Yesterday I mentioned that eight Senators had signed on to a letter calling for Harry Reid to put the public option in the health care bill through Senate reconciliation.  At the time I thought it was a nice gesture, but ultimately it was meaningless.  I agreed with Greg Sargent on that assessment because nobody in the Senate Dem leadership had signed on to the letter.

Another eight Senators signed on today.  Again, it was encouraging, but it ultimately wasn't going to help.

Then the 17th Senator signed on: Chuck Schumer.  And now things get interesting.  Greg Sargent again:
That brings the total number of Senators calling for this vote to 17. But Schumer’s signature is arguably far more important than many of the others.

That’s because Schumer has now become the first member of the Dem Senate leadership to join this effort. As the former head of the DSCC he played a major role in engineering the Dem takeover of the Senate.

Schumer’s voice is highly respected inside the Dem caucus on policy matters. He played a major role in driving support for the public option throughout this process. And, crucially, Dems have trust in his political instincts. So his support implicitly suggests he thinks a reconciliation vote on the public option could also represent good politics.

Indeed, Schumer’s support could give other Senate Dems who might be reluctant to back this effort for political reasons the cover they need to get on board. As unlikely as it is that this vote will happen in the end, it perhaps just got a tad less unlikely. This is a very interesting development indeed.
We just may have a real ballgame on the public option here, folks.   It's time to make some phone calls.

Read My Lips

Peter Orszag just killed the Dems.
President Barack Obama's deficit-reduction committee will consider all options to reduce the government's ballooning deficit, including cutting spending in areas currently protected by the administration's formal budget proposal, or raising taxes for those earning less than $250,000, Peter Orszag, director of the White House's Office of Management and Budget, told CNBC Thursday.
"What the president was very clear about first was that [raising taxes] was not what we proposed, but that we have to let this commission do its work, and that everything's on the table," Orszag said. "All options need to be examined."

GOP is going to have a field day with that.  Jesus hell.  Orszag, it's a goddamn election year.  Are you serious?  You're floating raising taxes in an election year?  Are you high?  Even from an economic standpoint, raising taxes in a recession?  Are you high?

Jesus wept.

Plane Crash In Austin

FAA officials are saying at this hour that the pilot of a Piper Cherokee plane that crashed into an IRS office building in downtown Austin set his house on fire, stole the airplane, and deliberately crashed it.

It's getting very, very crazy.  The owner of the plane, who is at this point assumed to have been the pilot, is a man named Joseph Andrew Stack.

More as updates come in.

[UPDATE 1:45 PM]  Oliver Willis is all over this one.
In relation to the plane crashing into the IRS office in Austin, Texas, this website has a long rambling rant from a guy named Joe Stack with a grievance versus the IRS. If the site goes down the text is here.
And that text is frightening.  Read it. He rails at the IRS and government, the aviation and engineering business, and the capitalist greed that powers it all.  He rails at the system whom he blames for destroying his life over the last 15 years. It ends thusly:
Sadly, though I spent my entire life trying to believe it wasn’t so, but
violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. The cruel joke is that the really
big chunks of shit at the top have known this all along and have been laughing, at
and using this awareness against, fools like me all along.

I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over
and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to
stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take
my pound of flesh and sleep well.
And so, he struck his blow.

What a broken world we live in.

[UPDATE 2:20 PM] Adam Serwer with some much needed perspective to temper my anger:
Let's wait for the facts on the texas plane crash before drawing conclusions. Initial reports always have errors.
Truth.  No reports of any fatalities however...yet.  That is the good news.

[UPDATE 3:50 PM] Alternet has this find:
What appears to be a right-wing Facebook group celebrating Stack already has 89 members. The site features the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and the following description:
Finally an American man took a stand against our tyrannical government that no longer follows the constitution and is turned its back on its founding fathers and the beliefs this country was founded on.
Two people have been hospitalized, and one is unaccounted for. A hospital spokesperson says that one person was admitted with minor injuries and  smoke inhalation, while another is in serious condition and being treated for burns, reports the
Nice. Already a martyr for a violent reaction to the government.  That's the definition of...hmm...what's the word I'm looking for?

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Fails At Math

And fails even worse at defending Wellpoint's insurance rate hikes.
WellPoint's California unit, Anthem Blue Cross, recently informed nearly 700,000 individual insurance customers of premium increases of up to 39%. President Obama jumped on the announcement, claiming in a pre-Superbowl TV interview that the hikes were a "portrait of the future if we don't do something now."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius quickly piled on by ordering a federal inquiry, claiming a company that made "$2.7 billion in the last quarter of 2009" could not "justify massive increases." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ripped WellPoint and other "greedy insurance companies that care more about profits than people." And right on cue, House baron Henry Waxman scheduled a hearing, where he will not blow kisses.
Now, keep that in mind.  Wellpoint made a $2.7 billion quarterly profit in 4Q 2009.
He ought to subpoena California's political class because Wellpoint's rate hikes are the direct result of the Golden State's insurance regulations—the kind that Democrats want to impose on all 50 states. Under federal Cobra rules, the unemployed are allowed to keep their job-related health benefits for 18 to 36 months.

California then goes further and bars Anthem from dropping these customers even after they have exhausted Cobra. California also caps what Anthem can charge these post-Cobra customers.

Most other states direct these customers to high-risk pools that are partly subsidized, but California requires the individual market to absorb the customers and their costs. Even as California insurers have had to keep insuring these typically older and sicker patients, the recession has driven many younger, healthier policy holders to drop their insurance—leaving fewer customers to fund a more expensive insurance pool.

This explains why Anthem lost $58 million in California on its post-Cobra customers in 2009. If WellPoint didn't raise premiums amid these losses, it would soon be under assault from its shareholders, if not out of business. 
Fail.  Even with those "post-Cobra customer losses" in California over the entire year, the company still made almost 50 times that amount in profit in just the fourth quarter.

So we're suppose to believe if Wellpoint doesn't raise its rates on this segment of Californians by almost 40%, that Wellpoint will go out of business because $58 million in losses is more than $2.7 billion in profit.

Right.  But we can't have health care reform because the government is going to rip us off and they are evil.

Jesus wept.

Mixed Messages

Obama has a hell of a rough job, but the fact of the matter is Greg Sargent is right when he says the Dems have no coherent strategy on national security.
The GOP has a very specific strategy in place. Republicans are intent on making national security a major issue in 2010. Their plan: Drive a wedge between the White House and Congressional Dems by relentlessly attacking Obama’s policies for making us less safe.

The GOP goal: To get House and Senate Dems to break with the White House on closing Guantanamo, the Mirandizing of the Christmas bomb plotter, the plan to try terror suspects in civilian courts, and other issues.

The Republican leadership even sent House GOPers back to their districts this week with a very specific set of talking points, sent over by a source, telling them precisely what to say to constituents about those specific issues.

There’s no sign whatsoever that Congressional Dems were given anything similar, or even that Dem leaders have spent any time developing a strategy of their own. Are you hearing any concerted pushback, or any message at all, on these issues from Dems?

The result: Republicans are framing the debate on these issues, and more and more Congressional Dems are breaking with the White House on them. In other words, the Dems are following the GOP script.
Worse, this is happening even as the White House is, in fact, mounting a major effort to engage the GOP on these issues. Obama counter-terror chief John Brennan and Joe Biden have aggressively engaged Dick Cheney and other Republicans in recent days, arguing that Obama’s counter-terror policies are succeeding and are superior to GOP policies.
This all goes back to "your messaging sucks, guys" and all THAT goes back to the fact that Obama is caught defending Bush's national security policy on terrorism.  There's no Dem strategy on the national security fight because the Dems have been using the GOP Bush/Cheney playbook since day one.

You're losing this fight because there's nothing really differentiating Obama from Bush on this particular issue, unlike health care or financial reform.

Books Are For Balancing On Your Head

Via TBogg, I don't know what offends the Wingers more, the fact that Michelle Obama has books about Socialism in her library or the fact that a black woman can read.
I arrived in Washington DC today to cover CPAC and since I was in town, and since CPAC doesn’t really get rolling until tomorrow, I tagged along with some Scott Hennen Show listeners on an extensive tour of the White House as part of the Common Sense Travel Club. One of the stops on the tour (which was wonderful by the way) was the White House library.

Now, according out the person who guided our tour, the library is stock with books picked out by the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Being a bit of a bibliophile, I started to peruse some of the books on the shelves…and lookie, lookie what I found (click for a larger view):

Wingers really, really despise knowledge used for any purpose. Period.

Hippie Punching 101

Even WaPo's E.J. Dionne is going after liberals now and wondering why liberals aren't doing so well as a result.  Eugene Robinson should just go somewhere else so I never have to bother with these hacks again.
If you want to be honest, face these facts: At this moment, President Obama is losing, Democrats are losing and liberals are losing.

Who's winning? Republicans, conservatives, the practitioners of obstruction and the Tea Party.

The two immediate causes for this state of affairs are a single election result in Massachusetts and the way the United States Senate operates. What's not responsible is the supposed failure of Obama and the Democrats to govern as "moderates." Pause to consider where we would be if a Democrat had won the Massachusetts Senate race last month. In all likelihood, health reform would be law, Democrats could have moved on to economic matters, and Obama would be seen as shrewd and successful.

But that's not what happened, and Republican Scott Brown's victory revealed real weaknesses on the progressive side: an Obama political apparatus asleep at the switch, huge Republican enthusiasm unmatched by Democratic determination, and a focused conservative campaign to discredit Obama's ideas, notably his economic stimulus plan and the health-care bill. 
Yeah, welcome to January there, E.J.  What's your plan to fix this?  More Hippie Punching!
But if all the media talk about the "failure of moderation" is nonsense, this doesn't get liberals or Obama off the hook.

While liberals were arguing about public plans and this or that, and while Obama was deep into inside dealmaking, the conservatives relentlessly made a straightforward public case based on a syllogism: The economy is a mess. Obama and the Democrats are for big government. Big government is responsible for the mess. Therefore the mess is the fault of Obama and the Big Government Democrats.

Simplistic and misleading? Absolutely. But if liberals and Obama are so smart, how did they -- or, if you prefer, "we" -- allow conservatives to make this argument so effectively? Why do the mainstream media give it so much credence?

Of course, I think the conservatives' argument is wrong. But at this point, I have to admire their daring and discipline. Moderate and progressive Democrats alike have eight months before this fall's elections to change the terms of the debate and prove they can govern. Otherwise, they'll be washed out by a tidal wave. 
It always makes me laugh to see somebody from the Village complain that the Village is giving too much airplay to Winger lies with all the outrage that only somebody inside our broken media can muster, and then conclude it must be the liberal's fault.

Dionne's article is an absolutely classic example of exactly why the liberals are losing:  because Villagers like Dionne say they are losing and then he compounds the foul by acting like the media's opinion-makers like himself have no pull on the opinions of others and wondering why the opinions are shaped that way.

If it wasn't going to destroy the country in November, I'd be laughing instead of crying.

Teabaggerstock '10: The Moosening

It's CPAC time again, and the annual We Hate Barack Obama festivities are already underway with Marco Rubio this morning.  Upcoming today is Orange Julius:
"Some excerpts from Minority Leader John Boehner’s speech today at CPAC, provided to First Read: "In the months ahead we’re going to tell the nation exactly what we'd do differently if we're entrusted with power. But it won't be a document handed down from on high by politicians, because something like that would land with a big thud. It's going to be built by listening. Congressman Kevin McCarthy will lead this project on behalf of all House Republicans. We're going to listen to things like the 'Contract FROM America.'. We're going to listen to things like the Mount Vernon statement. We're going to listen to the tea party movement. It will come from those who are really in charge of this country: the American people. While the other side is busy mocking the tea partiers and calling them names, we're going to listen to them, stand with them, and walk among them."
Nice.  The Contract FROM America.  Screw the Republic for which it stands, we're one nation under Mob Rule in 2010.  And The Mob wants blood.

But the conspicuous absence of Moose Lady is the real story.
But sometimes what is most interesting about CPAC, says Grover Norquist, antitax crusader and president of Americans for Tax Reform (who says he’s coming tomorrow “with bells on” and has been to every one since ’78) is who is not coming. Norquist is on the board of directors of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC. He says the most glaring hole on the speaking roster belongs to Sarah Palin, who declined to speak at the event. “Palin was paid a lot to go to the other one” says Norquist, referring to the recent Tea Party Convention in Nashville. Her absence this week, he says, is a political sign.

“Is Palin running for president? The answer is no. She could have spoken to 10,000 people, but instead she chose to speak to 600 and get paid $100,000. That’s being a spokesperson and making a living, not running for president.” 
One big dysfunctional family feud, folks.  Oliver Willis is right:  these clowns peaked in January.  It's all downhill from here.

Calling It Like You See It

Barry Ritholtz pulls no punches on the sudden crusade for deficit reduction after eight years of Bush's profligate spending.
While a few honest deficit hawks are out there — the Peterson Institute is a good example of a group looking at long term structural issues, not immediate fiscal concerns — the vast majority of born again fiscal hawks are political hypocrites. They voted for all manner of budget busting programs — unfunded tax cuts, new entitlement programs (i.e., prescription drugs), an expensive war of choice (Iraq).

How is it that they only learned of the evils of deficits after they lose power? How very convenient.

The current group of anti-deficit spenders are pro-cyclical, rather than counter-cyclical. This means that during an expansion, they have no problem with expanding deficits, running big spending programs, giving generous tax cuts. During a recession is where they suddenly rediscover fiscal prudence.

This is ass backwards. During an economic expansion, with employment gaining and GDP growing is when you should be thinking about saving for the next rainy day. Counter-cyclical spending means that governments should watch the budget carefully during the good times, but spend spend more freely during the downturns. What we are hearing from this crowd is the exact opposite of what should be.
It's exactly what Clinton did:  balancing the budget during the dot-com boom.  When that turned into the dot-com bust, Bush did actually do what was necessary and spent into the recession in early 2001.

Then we decided to throw away $3 trillion plus on Iraq and Afghanistan, another $1.2 trillion on the Medicare drug benefit, and another couple trillion or so on Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy as the economy recovered in 2003 to 2007.  Bush more than doubled the national debt and THEN he got us into a massive recession.  Now we need to turn to the government to spend to replace the lost spending from the disaster Bush helped to create, and the GOP (and more than a few idiotic Dems) refuse to let it happen, the hypocrites.  Barry sums it up:
There are few things more annoying the a drinker who just discovered sobriety: Hence, those who have spent the past decade getting drunk on government spending are now suddenly proselytizing a belated sobriety. These calls are occurring exactly when government largesse would do the most good.

I can’t tell what motivates these new deficit hawks — are they merely ignorant, unaware of the historical analogs? Or are they hoping for another recession as part of a debased power grab? (I don’t know).

What I am sure of is that calling for fiscal temperance RIGHT NOW is essentially calling for another recession . . .
And if Obama falls for their advice, cutting government spending right now, we will slam into another downturn.  That's a guarantee.  His econ team should be smart enough to see that.  Apparently they're not.

I'm praying Obama is.  His deficit cutting commission continues apace.  Whether it's a mummer's show or a serious blow, the framing of the debate has already been settled:  Obama has admitted that government spending during a recession is a problem.  It's only a win here for the GOP from this point:  they can continue to attack Obama for not cutting spending fast enough no matter what happens.

I'm begging you, Mr. President, don't fall for it.

Of Streetcars and Stadiums

In other local news, Cincinnati has failed to pick up any grant money for its controversial streetcar program, which is going to put a really big dent in ever seeing this thing created.
Cincinnati was hoping for a $60 million TIGER grant to help fund the first phase of the streetcar project, but Councilman Chris Bortz said it isn’t time to throw in the towel yet.

“It’s a blow to the project, but not the end of the discussion,” Bortz said. “We need to keep moving forward and work toward obtaining other grant money.”

The city is still seeking other federal and state grants to fund the project, including a request to be placed on the state capital budget list, being discussed in a public hearing Wednesday before the Hamilton County board of commissioners.

According to Bortz, the project needs $60-$70 million to get off the ground, but in the meantime the city needs to ask itself some questions.

“First, why weren’t we on the list?” Bortz said. “Was it purely a political decision? And then, are we prepared for the next round of funding? What can we do to ensure we’re in the best position to receive grant money?”

At a press conference with Mayor Mark Mallory, City Manager Milton Dohoney said that the failure to obtain TIGER funding wouldn’t affect the timeline of the project or the “nuts and bolts” of the planning process, such as route planning and environmental considerations. 
And Cincy has has far larger problems, mainly because the city's bleeding money from the stadium fund used to build Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ballpark.  A measure to put a sales tax increase on the ballot was tossed by Hamilton County Commissioners.
Commissioner Todd Portune, who proposed the temporary sales tax increase, decided not to advance the item for a vote because he knew it would fail.

His two colleagues on the three-member board, David Pepper and Greg Hartmann, oppose the tax. Hartmann was absent from Wednesday's meeting, but said Tuesday he would have opposed it.

Commissioners would have had to vote Wednesday to put the sales tax to the May ballot. Thursday is the filing deadline for that election. Commissioners could still choose to pass a tax without a vote or could put it on the November ballot.

Commissioners must find a way to fix a deficit in the fund paying for the riverfront stadiums by the end of the year but a solution remains elusive.

After hearing from about seven speakers Wednesday - some for and some against the sales tax increase - Portune said he wouldn't rule out levying a sales tax later in the year. He thinks that's the best way to guarantee a long term solution. Commissioners need to come up with an additional $30 million or so annually in order to keep the fund in the black.
And $30 million is a lot of money to be short, especially with the streetcar program costing twice that just to get started.   Cincy's facing some serious money problems here. 

But then again a lot of places are in 2010.

The Creation (Museum) Of A Cincy Culture Clash

Vanity Fair's piece on the Creation Museum here in NKY is a must-read, but it also suggests the Tri-State area has "meager pickings" culturally.  That's just not true.  Donald over at Cincinnati Blog is of the same mind I am:
I'm all for being scornful of the strict creationist approach to history, as I believe carbon-dating is a much better method of determining the age of the earth than is the "begat method." So if someone wants to ridicule the Creation Museum, I'll not get in the way; I've done it myself.

But for some reason, a funny thing happened on the way to the museum: the article's author, A.A. Gill, developed (and now expresses) an intense dislike of Cincinnati. I was prepared to do a thorough fisking of Gill's little screed, but Kate the Great has done it better than I would have.

I thought, though, that maybe we could all debunk Gill's swipe at Cincinnati--that the city has "meager pickings to boast about." (He goes on to suggest that if cities had highlight reels, ours would be dominated by the Creation Museum.) So, dear, readers, what do you think Cincinnati has to brag about?
I'll play.  The American Classical Music Hall of Fame, the often overlooked jewel of the city.  Is that one in New York?  LA?  Chicago?  Dallas?  Nope.  Right here in Over-The-Rhine on Elm Street, just next door to Music Hall.

Yeah, I give the Creation Museum a lot of well-deserved crap.  But as annoyingly conservative as this area is, we do have culture and a pretty damn strong background in the arts here.   Yeah, we get laughed at for that, and I'm often the one doing the laughing.  But "meager pickings?"  Having grown up in barely urban western NC, I can honestly tell you that's not the case.  Cincy has a hell of a lot.

Even an IKEA store.


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