The Dumb Party, Cont.

Wow.

A significant chunk of Louisiana Republicans evidently believe that President Barack Obama is to blame for the poor response to the hurricane that ravaged their state more than three years before he took office.

The latest survey from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, provided exclusively to TPM, showed an eye-popping divide among Republicans in the Bayou State when it comes to accountability for the government’s post-Katrina blunders.

Twenty-eight percent said they think former President George W. Bush, who was in office at the time, was more responsible for the poor federal response while 29 percent said Obama, who was still a freshman U.S. Senator when the storm battered the Gulf Coast in 2005, was more responsible. Nearly half of Louisiana Republicans — 44 percent — said they aren’t sure who to blame.

Should stealing be legal? Thieves say yes

Not that anyone should be surprised, but it looks like there’s a growing consensus among free market fundamentalists to let insiders screw over investors :

“I want the laws completely erased,” said John Tamny, editor of Forbes Opinions and RealClearMarket in an email exchange.

“Let the markets sort out the information that’s out there.”

He argues insider trading is vaguely defined, and to criminalize it merely blocks the flow of information markets need to thrive. He is hardly alone.

“As sleazy as insider trading sounds, there really isn’t much of a reason to ban it,” Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog wrote last week.

He argues insider trading laws only create “the illusion of fairness.” Small players are convinced they have a fair chance when in fact they are routinely eaten for lunch by large institutional players.

The Dumb Party

Exhibit A :

WASHINGTON — When House GOP leaders abruptly shelved a bill to fund standard federal transportation and housing programs last Wednesday, one of the legislation’s few uncontroversial provisions was a section banning funds for the anti-poverty group ACORN. Had Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) been able to pass the bill, it would have marked the 13th time that Republicans have voted to block federal funding for ACORN since the GOP took over the lower chamber in 2011.

Oddly, however, ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, does not exist. And it did not exist at any time when the House GOP has held a vote on ACORN’s access to government monies — the group disbanded in the spring of 2010.

Exhibit B :

The campaign will likely fail to make a dent with the broader public. But it might be convincing to some hardcore conservative activists, who will go without health coverage they otherwise would have had. And then some of them will get sick, or hurt — and then what?

Over the past couple of years, Republicans have responded to minority status by adopting more extreme political tactics. Chief among them is hostage taking: threatening to shut down the government, or breach the debt ceiling, if they don’t get their way.

But now Republicans have taken themselves hostage. They’re threatening to hurt themselves and their states and their voters and their most committed activists if Democrats don’t give them their way on Obamacare. It’s evidence of their extraordinary dedication to the cause, but also to their increasingly extreme view of how American politics works.

Exhibit C :

No Worries

I may be in the minority among the left, but I’m not at all worried about tonight’s debate (or the election). During the last debate, it seemed clear to me that Obama was deliberately holding back thinking it would be more wise to muddle through the debates in an attempt to preserve his lead than try to be bold and risk shaking up the race. Now that it’s clear a “tie favors the incumbent” strategy isn’t going to cut it, I think Obama will be much more forceful and won’t leave as many arrows in his rhetorical quiver. Add to that the fact that tonight’s debate will be a town hall format and will presumably cover more than two issues, I think there are a ton of opportunities for Obama to reconnect with voters (or at the very least, for Romney to stumble badly and say something patronizing to a poor person).

Let’s face it, with the breadth of issues that could be discussed, the fundamentals still favor Obama. Despite how much he’d likely deny it, Mitt Romney is still the guy who would veto the DREAM Act, wants to make life so horrible for immigrants that they “self-deport”, opposed the auto-bailout, would repeal Obamacare and take away the insurance of tens of millions, wants to transform Medicare from a guaranteed benefit to a “here’s a coupon, fend for yourself” program, gut funding for Medicaid, prevent women from having their birth control covered by private insurance, says a trip to the emergency room is adequate to treat chronic illnesses, denies that poor people die due to lack of health insurance, and thinks that 47% of Americans are “victims” who aren’t willing to work hard.

The facts are already on his side. All Obama needs to do to win is to connect with voters and *say* this stuff.

R.I.P.

It’s a damn shame John Edwards was killed by a freak meteor strike in 2008 and replaced with a sleazy, philandering look-a-like shortly thereafter, because the old John Edwards (and not that other asshole) had some great things to say :

(h/t Amanda Marcotte)

Vampires mostly kill people who were just gonna die anyways…

This bit from Ezra Klein is the most compelling defense I’ve seen of private equity, but that’s not saying much :

On the other hand, many of the companies that Romney closed needed to be closed. It was better for them to die quickly, and for the money to go to productive uses in the economy, than for them to decline slowly. The Obama administration has presided over layoffs in the federal government, not to mention the auto industry, and it would surely argue some of them were necessary.

At its best, private equity acts as an accelerant of needed creative destruction. At its worst, it’s a particularly heartless form of vulture capitalism that kills companies that don’t need to be killed in order to enrich investors who are already very rich. The truth often lies somewhere in the middle.

An “accelerant of needed creative destruction” is an incredibly kind way of describing the modus operandi of companies like Bain. I think Robert Reich puts a finer point on it here :

Guys like Mitt Romney are vulture capitalists. They’re greedy gambling addicts who fool themselves into thinking hoarding wealth is the same as “creating” wealth. They don’t create anything. At all. The “creative destruction” they bring to the economy is a tangential benefit far outweighed by the unemployment they create, the tax burden the rest of us have to share, and the ever-widening income gap.

Mitt Romney may be a friendly person and a loving family man with a terrific sense sense of humor, but beneath that weird laugh is a scumbag who’s unwilling to acknowledge the pain businessmen like him cause and candidates like him let fester. As Ezra Klein put it :

What he could have learned from that experience is that, just as creative destruction is important for moving an economy forward, a safety net is important for catching those who are left behind. As head of Bain, Romney fired a lot of workers who were perfectly good at their jobs, who were committed to their companies, who had families they needed to support. That was his job as head of a private-equity giant. But his job as president of the United States would also be to look out for those workers.
. . .
Romney’s national platform, however, calls for doing less for the victims of the global economy. He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would guarantee that workers would get health insurance even if they lost their jobs in, say, a private-equity led restructuring. He wants to pay for large tax cuts and more defense spending by cutting funds for Medicaid, for food stamps, for worker retraining, and for housing subsidies. He wants to cut Social Security benefits. He has no detailed plans to improve the continuing education system, or worker retraining programs, such that displaced machinists have a better chance to find a new job.

Back from the Dead

This site is back. After losing interest in blogging for quite a while (a subject I’ll write about at some point), my site was hacked and I got too lazy to even bother fixing it. After reinstalling WordPress, I decided to check the old design and just make a few minor tweaks to a standard theme. Pretty much the only thing that survived from the earlier designs is the “Join or Die” snake, but I may tweak it a bit more if I get some free time.

For those who miss the earlier designs, here’s a brief history of the evolution of this site. The first look was back when I threw together an art deco-ish design on (the atrociously-spelled) Blog*Spot :

Once I realized blogging wasn’t going to be something I did for a week and then completely forget about, I got a hosting package and migrated the site to Movable Type. In the process, I got a little carried away with the art deco thing and designed a site that was just horrible to look at. Even now, seeing all of that wasted space is just horrendous.

Shortly after that design launched, I realized it sucked. I started over from scratch, mocking up the site in Photoshop, cutting out each element, tweaking HTML and CSS to get everything to line up just right. I still like how this one turned out.

After a couple of years with that design, I got sick of Movable Type and decided to migrate the back-end to WordPress. Since this would require rebuilding the templates from scratch, I took the opportunity to tweak a few things about the design (got rid of the remaining deco touches, softened corners). Disregard the CSS issue that’s skewing the sidebar.

With the new design, I’m finally getting rid of the Cliff Edwards portrait that started as a nod to tendency of many early bloggers to post a photo of themselves on the homepage, but ended up confusing people more than anything else.

“shall not be questioned”

One would think that a President (and former constitutional law professor) faced with an opposition party that wants to derail the economy would show a little bit of curiosity about whether or not they have the constitutional right to do so.

Systematic Errors in 2010 Polls?

With the midterms a few days away, lemme go out on a limb and say that I don’t think it’ll be *that* bad for Democrats. Oh sure, it’ll suck. Dems spent the last two elections winning in districts that are really conservative, so it’s only natural that many of those seats would swing back to the GOP as the result of 2010′s Tea Party Hate-A-Thon.

But I don’t think the GOP is a lock to win more than 50 House seats or that the Democrats have a less than 20% chance of holding onto the House. Based on what Nate Silver recently wrote, I think it’s looking more like a 50-50 shot :

But suppose that our forecast is biased against the Democrats by one point across the country as a whole, perhaps because pollsters are overestimating the enthusiasm gap very slightly. Just one point. Well, there are 6 seats in which we have the Republican candidate projected to win by less than 1 full point (it might be a very long election night, by the way). If Democrats hold those 6 seats, the projected Republican gains would be down to 46.

Now suppose that the forecast understates Democratic support by 2 points. There are 8 seats in which we project the Republican candidate to win by a margin of between 1 and 2 points; now these would also be wiped off the board. Now the Republican gains would be reduced to just 38 seats — and the Democrats would hold the House, 218-217!

Read that again: it means that if our forecasts turn out to be biased against Democrats by just 2 points overall, the party becomes about an even-money bet to hold the House.

And where might those two points come from? Well, first there’s the cell-phone problem :

The latest estimates of telephone coverage by the National Center for Health Statistics found that a quarter of U.S. households have only a cell phone and cannot be reached by a landline telephone. Cell-only adults are demographically and politically different from those who live in landline households; as a result, election polls that rely only on landline samples may be biased. Although some survey organizations now include cell phones in their samples, many — including virtually all of the automated polls — do not include interviews with people on their cell phones.
. . .
In three of four election polls conducted since the spring of this year, estimates from the landline samples alone produced slightly more support for Republican candidates and less support for Democratic candidates, resulting in differences of four to six points in the margin.

It makes sense that this might underestimate Democratic support since cell-only households tend to be younger, more educated, and urban than those with landlines. Adding to this problem is that some polls, like this one for the Nevada Senate race from CNN, are just undercounting Democratic-leaning demographics entirely :

At the end of the day, it’s all going to be about who’s more motivated to go vote, but I won’t be surprised if the big story next week is about how the media used bad polls to drive a bogus narrative.

Work of Art

Bravo’s new show is awfully similar to an idea I posted a few years ago :

If Bravo insists on beating the Project Runway formula to death, I hope they do a series set in the fine arts world next. I’d love to see painters struggle with a sculpture challenge. Or see some jerk-off insist that they don’t have to have any technique because their work is “conceptual”. Or a challenge that takes everyone to the Crayola factory. Or one in which they have to paint something that’s meaningful to them, only to find out the real challenge is to see who can sell the most t-shirts of their painting. Or a commercial illustration challenge in which the contestants have to redesign a corporate logo or redesign the packaging for some product they find abhorrent. Get a dozen pretentious assholes together like that and you know it’s gonna be a good show. The winner gets a gallery show and a feature in Juxtapoz magazine, the loser has to pack his brushes and go.

I’m happy to say that Work of Art is as awesome as I predicted. It perfectly captures everything I hate about the insular, self-proclaimed gatekeepers of the fine arts world. The judges are a bunch of easily-manipulated phonies and the artists seem evenly split between pretentious, self-obsessed douchebags and self-righteous outsiders who resent other contestants for being better at bullshitting their way through a critique. It’s hi-frickin’-larious.

The Republican Infatuation With CEO’s

It’s funny how candidates who vow to run the government “like a business” always seem to back GOP policies that would run the “business” into the ground and enrich their cronies. Any chief executive who promised to shrink the market share of the company and intentionally reduce the company’s earnings would be laughed back down to the mail room, but the standard conservative tropes of shrinking the size of government and cutting taxes are like red meat to “fiscal conservatives”. Any CEO who ran a company the way candidates like Meg Whitman promise to run government would be a massive failure.

Being a “CEO candidate” isn’t about balancing the books and restoring fiscal responsibility, it’s about making sure rich people get to keep as much of their money as possible, even if it means destroying programs that help children and the poor. That’s how Carly Fiorina did it, cutting tens of thousands of jobs at HP, making the company lose 60% of its value, and securing a $42 million dollar payday for herself. That’s how bank CEOs do it too, bringing the world economy on the brink of a depression, but rewarding themselves with fat bonuses for doing such a great job begging for taxpayer money. CEO’s have a cavalier attitude towards success and tend to take unnecessary risks because, screw it, companies come and go. They get paid either way.

Why anyone would favor this sort of approach to governing is beyond me.

Using A Tactic Against A Tactic…But Not Really

The current debate over the use of the budget reconciliation process is infuriating. The Senate, like every other deliberative body, by default makes decisions based on a majority vote, unless their rules say otherwise.

The filibuster is one of those rules, allowing a 40-Senator minority to keep debate open indefinitely and block the majority from getting to vote. It’s anti-democratic and its abuse has been shockingly nihilistic, but whatever. It’s in the rules.

Another Senate rule, however, allows for budget-related bills to bypass filibuster and pass with a majority vote (ie. “budget reconciliation”). Since it’s restricted to bills that can affect the budget, there are obviously some restrictions, but rules are rules. The filibuster and reconciliation, both perfectly acceptable under Senate rules.

So how the hell did one rule become the de facto standard for passing all legislation and the other a codeword for legislative thuggery? The filibuster is somehow sacrosanct (even among some Democrats with an inexplicable fondness for Senate tradition), but using a loophole to defeat another loophole is equivalent to “jamming” a bill through Congress? Either the rules count or they don’t.

Even worse than all this parliamentary horseshit is the fact that everyone is mischaracterizing the potential use of reconciliation. Health care reform won’t get pushed through the Senate via reconciliation. Reform itself already passed the Senate. On Christmas Eve. After overcoming a Republican filibuster.
What might get passed through budget reconciliation is a much smaller bill with fixes to the Senate bill to bring it closer to the House-passed bill. Fixes, not the overall reform itself. It’s an important distinction. Reform already passed both houses of Congress. All the whining in the world won’t change that fact.