« October 10, 2010 - October 16, 2010 | Main | October 24, 2010 - October 30, 2010 »

October 22, 2010

why we are here

This sums up most everything that influences my own particular mix of ideologies.
...The top marginal tax rate was 90% (nearly triple today's figure); union membership was 30% (more than quadruple today's figure); the Republican Party, which included plenty of liberals, endorsed massive spending projects; and the economy was heavily regulated -- airlines didn't even set their own prices.

And perhaps most importantly, the chasm between the rich and poor wasn't nearly as wide as it is now.  According to data from the Congressional Budget Office, the gap between the richest 1% and the middle and poorest fifths of the country "more than tripled between 1979 and 2007."  We have greater income concentration at the top of the income scale now than at any point since 1928.

Unions, a progressive tax rate and public spending (including investment in public works projects) are what powered the American economic engine in to prosperity and made it the international juggernaut that it is, while creating a middle class, in which children would do better than their parents, as a side effect.  And the dismantling of this, started by the Reagan Administration, is the reason that the wheels are now coming off.  Small-government, no-tax insaniacs are longing not for a return to the Bucolic Fifties but to the Gilded Age, and they would like to replace the middle class with a Walmart-sized network of privately-run debtors prisons, which, if effected, will be occupied mostly by those who prefer to drink their tea in public while yelling.

That seems simplistic.  That's because it's simple.  A bootstrap America where the great unwashed live off of untenable dreams and the scraps of the ultrarich is not a place that anyone would want to live, except for the ultrarich.  And you are not the ultrarich, no matter how much Ayn Rand you read.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:09 PM

david brooks island

This morning's David Brooks was mostly bewildering.  I saw where he was going — using very broad generalizations about television programming to make some point about How We Live Now — but by the middle third there are weird disembodied examples bobbing there seemingly unrelated to the premise and I thought to myself, is this the point where I've lost it?  Should I be checking this for fnords?  Brooks may be wrong more often than he's right but I'd thought he had mastered the basic skill of coherence.  Maybe it was the aftershave of the straphanger next to me?  Maybe it was the nutritious breakfast I didn't eat?  Something about friendship, or "affinity groups" as we'd call them, and television programs?

Fortunately, Tom Scocca did not experience a fugue state while reading and clarifies the issue:

But David Brooks says TV has only just now started making shows about a "complex web of group relationships," because "something deeper" has changed in society.  So Cheers was probably way ahead of its time, the exception that proves the rule, right?  It's not like there was a hit sitcom where unrelated people just hung around a taxi garage.  Or a police station.  Or a radio stationA TV newsroomA night courtroomA boarding schoolA dinerThe Korean War.

Thank you Tom Scocca.  I forgot: when Brooks writes about How We Live Now what he's really writing about is The Sims Is Fascinating.  I should probably just read you first.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:47 PM

a nation's worth of insecurity

As I imagine it:
AMERICA:  We do not like you, New York City.  People we do not like, or are trying to malign, we accuse as being from you, or even liking to visit.  In fact, you are what we think of as "un-American", because you are not like us, and we think we are American, and so this is where our logic leads us.  You think you are so superior when in fact it is us who are superior.  So there.

NYC:  Sorry, I was busy being awesome and didn't notice you were actually talking to me, what was that again?

My other thought is, if you follow the pro wrestling at all (and who doesn't?), any of the workers will tell you that it is more fun to be the heel than it is to be the face.

So let's heel it up, NYC.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:24 AM

October 21, 2010

adventures in babysitting

Babysat last night for the first time since I was ten.  The target was some friends’ kid, let’s call him “Froofy”.  My wife is his godmother.  Somehow I was not part of the bargain.  Gig only lasted for forty minutes, b/c Dad was prevented from leaving numerous times by Froofy’s panicked shrieking.  “Dude, go,” I said, “otherwise I came out here for nothing.”  Froofy, who normally thinks I’m smart and interesting, was not having me.  It was bleak.  Dad made a break for it.

And bleak it was: Froofy standing at the front door, too little to reach the knob, and too young to put his anxiety into actual words.  So it was full-throated screams.  That was not so bad.  I have at least been around children, and screaming is a standard operational procedure of children.  But as I stood there, trying to talk cheerfully, placidly, Froofy would forget that he was crying for a second, slowly turn his head to me and then fix me with a look of abject terror that looked like what the words “I don’t love you” feel like.  I’m still feeling like less of a person for it.

I’m such a sucker.  But “Hey Gabba Gabba” saved the day.  Thank you “HGG”.  And then Mom got back from the airport and wondered why I looked so ashen.

[Xposted, w/edits, from Tumblr feed.]

Posted by mrbrent at 1:27 PM

first they came for the john birch society

From a NYTimes story on how the Tea Party is all kneejerk opposed to the belief that climate change is imminent and caused by human actions, a Tea Partier puts it all on the line:
“Carbon regulation, cap and trade, it’s all just a money-control avenue,” [TPier Lady] added.  “Some people say I’m extreme, but they said the John Birch Society was extreme, too.”

Yeah, they sure did.  In fact, they still do.  So that would be a factual assertion that is correct, and yet manages to be crazy insane people talk.

And maybe it's not a good idea to point out these quirks, as Ben Smith points out, in an article in which he channels a schoolmarm, warning Democrats of sneering and condescending, trotting out the old "Look at the scoreboard" hack as a kicker.  But wouldn't it be more condescending to pretend to the Tea Party's face that they make a lick of sense, nodding warmly, hoping, "Please of please don't get offended and then go vote half-cocked!"  Maybe yeah it'd be smarter to somehow trick the Tea Party into actually voting in their own best interest, but I'm not sure how that's done.  So: they say stupid shit, and if it rises to funny, I make fun of it.

And as long as we're talking about the Tea Party and the source of their wisdom, whether they're dumb or just purposefully intellectually lazy, the aforementioned NYTimes article pretty much nails it, w/r/t the TP's odd aversion to climate science:

Those views in general align with those of the fossil fuel industries, which have for decades waged a concerted campaign to raise doubts about the science of global warming and to undermine policies devised to address it.

David Brooks may disagree (placidly!), but that seems a whole lot more like cause/effect than money chasing issues.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:52 AM

October 20, 2010

foreclosure crisis needs poster boys

Zachary Roth files a story relevant to the continuing mortgage-pocalyopse: Is David J. Stern the poster boy for the foreclosure mess?  Stern runs a law firm in Florida that filed 70,000 foreclosures last year.  How can a modest law firm manage such a feat?
Among other issues, Tammie Mae Kapusta described alarming problems with the company's process-serving procedure — the formal notification to homeowners, required by law, that a lender is opening foreclosure proceedings.  "People were not served," Kapusta told McCollum's office. "Some of them would go to do modifications on loans, or go to take out other things, and it would come up that they were in foreclosure.  And they would end up finding out that way that there was no actual service on them. ... Service was a complete mess."

But the serving process wasn't the only problem.  Kapusta also testified that once a lender referred a case to Stern's firm, any later payments by the homeowner were simply ignored.

So is David J. Stern the poster boy for whatever we're calling this?  He may not be — maybe the article is entirely made up — or maybe he'll do for now.  Actually, without a photograph, poster boy might be a big leap.

But count me on the side that says that poster boys are a good thing.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:43 PM

anonymous cowards on the march

The truly interesting thing about this alarming defense of anonymous political speech is that it is another example of the ruling class taking appropriating the means of the oppressed.

There is precedent for non-disclosing political cash, the article argues, in both the Federalist Papers and jurisprudence from the Civil Rights Era.  This is tenuous at best.  Eighteenth century political pamphlets (published at a time when anonymous pamphlets were the norm for political speech) and Koch-funded attack ads during midterm elections are apples and oranges.  And as far as the Civil Rights comparison goes, the right being asserted is the right to anonymity in the case of personal danger to the speaker.  In the case of the Civil Rights era, NAACP funders were protected, because, at the time, racists were murdering people.

If some similar danger awaits the suddenly-revealed donors to American Crossroads or the Chamber of Commerce, I would like to hear about it.

It's what passes for right-wing clever: how come only those dirtbags they hate are the only ones that get to have civil rights?  Who exactly is protecting the rights of the empowered?  And so the outright attempt to buy elections without the inconvenience of having one's identity revealed is not only a blatant graft runaround but it is actually antithetical to how we govern ourselves.

There's another vivid word we use to describe those purchase senators and representatives under cover of darkness: cowards.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:35 AM

October 19, 2010

stop suborning hobos

Walking the dog this morning, the AM NPR news magazine ("The Takeaway" they call it, though I like to think of it as "Beep Boop Beep") was closing up a segment on the four ne'er-do-wells who were convicted of planting some bombs, and after dancing around the legal definition of entrapment they get to the point where a good question could be asked.  Namely, is there any use in the Feds finding an endless array of idiots to suborn in to high-profile terror arrests/trials?  And usually this is where the host would drop the ball — a wrong-way leading question, a hectoring hypothetical — but he didn't, he said it and got out of its way: "Does the government's use of informants discourage terrorism?"

And then the guest (some geek from some university I've never heard of) forgets himself and imagines he's on Hannity or in a sports bar: "There's definitely a chilling effect on terrorists.  Recruiting will be much harder if the people they are trying to recruit is wondering if you are actually an informant."  Oh, really, dude?  So you think the terrorists are having ad hoc committees looking into the ongoing problems of this chilling effect?  It was an unimaginably large load of hooey to brook that early in the morning.  And it was ironic that for once the host did not blunder through the interview like a bobo Geraldo Rivera, and the numbskull guest rooons it by trying to Sound Real Smart.

Please bring back "Morning Edition".  Or at least stop entrapping hobos so that the Feds look busy and we all feel safer.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

October 18, 2010

joe miller, a hair away from the jackboot

Changed my mind — Joe Miller for Senate all the way.  Sorry, Alaska, I know he's a Tea Party nutjob with a closet full of entitlements, but he's got style and panache (nice whiskers, Metrosexual!) and he knows how to treat constituents:
Tony Hopfinger, the founder and editor of news website Alaska Dispatch, was pestering Miller about his record as an attorney after the event [at an Alaskan public school].  It's not entirely clear what happened next, but there was some kind of confrontation between Miller's black-suited security guards (who, Hopfinger says, wouldn't identify themselves) and Hopfinger.  Hopfinger pushed someone, and, next thing he knew, was shoved up against the wall, handcuffed, and told he was under arrest.  (Fun fact: He, uh, wasn't.)  Then the real police showed up and—one imagines exasperatedly—told the guards to release him.

Miller GETS it.  He totally understands what electoral representation is all about: private security guards, laying down the LAW (and then being corrected by actual law enforcement).  Don't think of it as nearly-fascist.  Think of it as muscular and forward-thinking.

Bonus side-effects if the people put Miller is our highest deliberative body: first, all the other senators are going to have to get private security details, and second, Alaska trial lawyers get big lift.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:11 AM