Friday, October 09, 2009

Push Polling And Its Pernicious Politics

It takes a lot more than money, believe it or not, to keep up a plutocracy. One of those things is fake public opinion perceptions. The days of buying that appear to be numbered, if Rachel Maddow's performance is any indication. Her treatment is worthy of any college course on statistics or social science.

The progressive community has railed for many many years about the pernicious effect of "push polling" -- a poll designed to influence the results that the pollers want to see. But only Rachel can boil it down and slice and dice it like this (with the help of the inestimable and uncompromising Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com):

I have nothing more to say:

video

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Obama Must Clean House... & K-Street

I am not heartened to read Frank Rich this morning, whose piqued beltway-meets-cultural analysis voices much of what has been building in me and I think others like me who vested so much in the president's election.

SNL's opening skit last night captured a gathering sense of a "do-nothing" president:



http://www.hulu.com/watch/99945/saturday-night-live-obama-address

Now Frank Rich this morning puts a finer point on it:

Barack Obama promised a change from this revolving-door, behind-closed-doors collaboration between special interests and government. He vowed to “do our business in the light of day” — with health care negotiations broadcast on C-Span — and to “restore the vital trust between people and their government.” He said, “I intend to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” That those lobbyists would so extravagantly flaunt their undiminished role shows just how little they believe that a new sheriff has arrived in Dodge.

I have patience on ending Iraq completely, I have patience on ending Afghanistan (not escalating it), I have patience - growing thin - on Don't Ask Don't Tell. Frankly I do not have any more patience on health care reform including a Public Option. No patience at all. So I can be a grown-up and have mixed expectations and desires.

However. That Obama has let so many of the regular insider influence-peddling crowd continue feeding at their K-Street trough is absolutely stultifying and beyond any reasonable patience in light of what the president promised in his 2 years of campaigning (and 2 years of accepting my money to do so).

Obama is not a failure. He is not an outrage. I never expected him to walk on water. But 9 months into office, I did expect more than we have.

He let Republicans gut the financial recovery package and now the unemployment rate is the highest in 26 years, surpassing last month's rate. We *always* knew the goal of the package was to create jobs. Now this? 9 months. Too soon? I don't think so. I believe the economy is stabilizing, but the pain isn't. Where are the JOBS?

News flash: tax cuts don't create jobs. And yet the president let Republicans -- for that mythical "bipartisanship" pixie dust -- gut a meaningful reform package. Was he afraid of the tea baggers? A lot of good that did him. And now we don't have JOBS. And people are starting to NOTICE. Seeing a pattern? Me too. Seeing a clusterfk? Me too. Because the financial industry, "health care" industries, congress, and lobbyists are all gathered at and rollicking in the same trough... unbothered.

From Rich:
Elmendorf was chief of staff to the former Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt. A quick visit to opensecrets.org reveals that Elmendorf Strategies’ client list includes Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, among other players in the coming battle over financial regulation reform. Then again, as The Nation details in its current issue, Gephardt has also lobbied for Goldman, among many other corporate clients in opposition to the populist policies he once championed.


Yeah: DICK FREAKIN GEPHARDT! The "liberal" of the 2004 cycle. The Democratic populist to beat all Democratic populists. That would be like Howard Dean joining United Health as its chief spokesperson. Am I blaming President Obama for Dick Gephardt's asininity? No. Should Gephardt have been chased out of town with the rest of the revolving-door-lobbyists by now? Hell yes. But who was Obama's first choice to lead health care reform?

Tom Daschle.

The second Post article... described the scene, as well as the rabbit ragu, at Ristorante Tosca, the lobbyists’ hangout on F Street in downtown Washington. ...

The stars of Tosca’s “Power Section,” we learned, include the Podestas, Tom Daschle (“not technically a registered lobbyist” but, as The Post put it, “a ‘special policy adviser’ — wink wink”) and Steve Elmendorf (who “eats lunch out only at Tosca”). Elmendorf was chief of staff to the former Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt.


Okay, I get it. Not Obama's fault either. Fine. {Growing more impatient...}

But what about John Podesta, the designer of The Obama White House transition and former COS for President Clinton? Do you think the following seems like a president concerned about changing the game of lobbyists in D.C., a president determined to throw a brick in the revolving door between congress and K-Street? Do you think Obama asked the Podestas to even just can the lobbying for a while?
One of the articles focused on Heather Podesta — “The It Girl of a New Generation of Lobbyists” — who lobbies for health care players like Eli Lilly, HealthSouth and Cigna. Podesta is half of what The Post has called a “mega-lobbying” couple. Her husband, with his own separate (and larger) lobbying shop, is Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta, the Clinton White House chief of staff who ran the Obama transition. Back in November, Tony Podesta told The Times that only “very unsophisticated” clients would hire his firm because of his brother’s role in assembling the new administration.


Really? Because both of their client rosters are up about 60%. Mr. President!? Really?!

It's sometimes hard to find the gem quote in a Rich article, but this has to be it, and the most pernicious dark element is that the sheriff we need is one who can deliver health care reform right now and the people needing enforcement are the "health care" lobbyists.

Rich:
Barack Obama promised a change from this revolving-door, behind-closed-doors collaboration between special interests and government. He vowed to “do our business in the light of day” — with health care negotiations broadcast on C-Span — and to “restore the vital trust between people and their government.” He said, “I intend to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over.” That those lobbyists would so extravagantly flaunt their undiminished role shows just how little they believe that a new sheriff has arrived in Dodge.


And yes, this all strikes at the heart of Health Reform and the Public Option -- and part of its demise is being plotted according to Rich by the man who Obama first nominated to champion it and some other unlikely suspects:

The administration’s legislative deals with the pharmaceutical companies were made in back rooms. Business Week reported in early August that the UnitedHealth Group and its fellow insurance giants had already quietly rounded up moderate Democrats in the House to block any public health care option that would compete with them for business. UnitedHealth’s hired Beltway gunslingers include both Elmendorf Strategies and Daschle, a public supporter of the public option who nonetheless does some of his “wink, wink” counseling for UnitedHealth. The company’s in-house lobbyist is a former chief of staff to Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader. Gephardt consults there too.


Could we be getting more Bill Clinton triangles instead of JFK Camelot with this president? Could we be getting "Change We Believed In" but just aren't getting? I am not going to declare Obama sinister, failed, weak, or wrong.

But I am declaring that I do not like what I see... at all. And my patience going into the end of this year and into 2010 is growing very, very thin.

With Democrats like these...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Oh my god: Katie Couric Does It Again

This is chilling. Just chilling. Glenn Beck rants about "white culture" and then can't explain it in an unedited interview. Katie can show some brass when she wants to.

Blackwashing: by Stephen Colbert

This just cannot be seen enough:
The Word - Blackwashing
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorHealth Care Protests

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Generational Theft? It Already Happened. Under Republicans.

I just love charts like this one. The same chart was dramatic when I first started studying economics in the early 90's, but boy howdy has it ever gotten... well, beyond dramatic. I think theatrically this gets to the tragic.

Deficits during Republican and Democratic administrations (labeled on the chart). This one shows the deficit under George H.W. Bush (Reagan's record was bad too, but not as bad as Daddy Bush), then Clinton when America achieved surpluses, and then the W. Bush years...





Sunday, September 20, 2009

NPR & PBS: Who Are We Fooling?

NPR and PBS both have turned themselves into corporate ad channels -- locally and nationally every hour of programming contains probably 6 to 10 minutes of corporate and foundation promos -- we're not stupid, we know it's advertising.

So let's not pretend that PBS is the BBC.

If someone will point to Fox News and the corporate media bias and stand up for public broadcasting, then there should be NO corporate sponsorship in exchange for public grants for PBS and NPR. I know, I know... but this is what we could have if we elected BETTER and more Democrats, hell just plain more liberals.

With the Republican party imploding, lets face it, what will be left is "Conservative Democrats" and "Liberal Democrats." Oh, and a Republican fringe along with the Greens, LaRouche, Libertarians, etc.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Clinton-Bush: The Next Reagan-Bush

Frank Rich writes tonight in The New York Times a scathing cultural critique of our times. In it, he uses a moniker that jumped out at me: "Clinton-Bush."

When one analyzes the roots of our current fiscal calamity, the roots of the crisis quickly come to bear at the feet of Republican congressmen (yes, men) and the Clinton presidency which signed the seeds of destruction into law: namely, the repeal of the Depression era reforms of the Glass Steagall Act (known as the Gramm Leach Bliley Act) and the horrifically disastrous "Commodities Futures Modernization Act" of 2000.

So here's a minor paragraph from tomorrow's Sunday edition of The Times' Frank Rich column:
United States District Court judge in New York, Jed S. Rakoff, scathingly condemned the Obama Securities and Exchange Commission for letting Bank of America skate away with what Rakoff called an immoral and unjust wrist tap to settle charges that it covered up $3.6 billion paid out in bonuses when it purchased Merrill Lynch. How is this S.E.C. a change from the Clinton-Bush S.E.C. that ignored all the red flags on Bernie Madoff?
There's a reason Frank Rich earned his way into the Sunday Times column.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Business Ethics: Doing Well by Doing Better

In the 1990's there was a lot of discussion about "The Third Way" -- something "between" the private and public sectors. I had an opportunity to study the thinking at the time both in undergraduate and graduate school with the preeminent thought-leaders at that time. Truly I now believe that idea was merely an attempt to appease the prevailing dogmatic anti-regulation thinking of the prior 25 years, before Reagan's "government IS the problem" mantra.

Now today, I don't think there's a "third" way. I think we have the private sector, the public sector, and the not-for-profit sector, the third being entities that are exempt from their profit-making mandate legally to serve a social purpose of some kind, but are mostly privately funded with untaxed dollars (deductible) -- all three sectors very well established. Those are the three main entities we need I think and that we can work very well within: public, private, not-for-profit.

So we have the three great pillars we need for the strongest and most competitive economy in the world. But I think since the 80's and before, the past 30 years for this nation now have clearly demonstrated to the world that we need government. We need effective regulation. It's no ideological. It's sound economics. Free markets require a level playing field, and that's where regulation plays a critical role in any great global economic power.

"Government" (such a ridiculously sweeping notion) is NOT "the problem." I began my professional career in business ethics and regulatory & policy consulting to the Fortune 500. We need regulation to function. Business ethics is not about boy scout economics. It's my sense that business ethics is best advanced through a) effective regulation to level the playing field (which politically is an expression of the body politic's shared value system, like the law itself in many ways), and b) as "concerted advocacy" for best practices that achieve the best earnings results from a long-term fundamentals perspective. I think historical case studies taught in business schools around the world about the Ford Pinto, Tylenol, Alcoa and others clearly illustrate these points.


Our firm strives to be a platform from which to launch a) the strictest compliance with both regulation and organizational (National Association of Realtors) code of ethics, and b) advocacy for much higher standards of business practice designed to reform how real estate is transacted in the great State of Texas. There is so much room for improvement, and we think in our private brokerage that we have found so many practices that aren't obvious and yet produce very solid earnings results.

Under-regulated industries, as we all have seen, inevitably fall into a "dive to the bottom," a phenomenon that a marginalized ideologically-driven economics view have unfortunately demonstrated in any number of areas both macro and micro in the last 30 years.

It's not about "The Third Way." It's about "A Better Way." And we can do that already with what we all have. America has the best markets in the world. If we put our minds to it both politically and in our own every day business practices, we will forge that better way. It's hopeful and exciting.And it's a reason why we absolutely love what we do.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Another Family Values Republican Bites the... Dust

Why can Republicans still trumpet their "traditional values" bona fides? It's unbelievable that "sexual conquests" and "loose morals" are lobbed at Democrats from the likes of: Mark Foley, Newt Gingrich, David Vitter, Rush Limbaugh, Bill "loofa" O'Reilly, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Larry Craig -- just to name a few.... Witness this creepy 100%-rated family values California Republican rep bragging near an open microphone about his sexual exploits with 2 women years younger, spanking them, how much sex he's had with them recently... oh, and these ladies are reported to be LOBBYISTS. Nice...

The atrocity:

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sunday, September 06, 2009

FIGHT SOCIALIZED SOCIALISM!!!!!!!!

I AM SICK AND TIRED OF MY TAX MONEY BEING USED BY THE SOCIALIST AMERICA STATES!!! WE NEED COMPETITION FROM PRIVATE COMPANIES, EFFICIENCY, PROFIT, INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY - AND IF SOMEONE NEEDS HELP, THAT'S WHAT CHARITY IS FOR!!!! YOU LAZY SOCIALIST COMMUNIST FASCIST NAZI BASTERDS!! MORANS!!

Socialized Highways

Shouldn't we have 5 or more highways for every major route, all competing against each other? Won't that bring efficiency and the lowest costs overall? After all, government can't do anything so why trust them with highways and our common need to be mobile.

Yes, there should be AT LEAST 5 HIGHWAYS for every route, and at least five roads in any county from any point to point, all privately owned, privately developed, all paid for with tolls. Profit means efficiency!

Why should someone who drives less have to pay for those who drive more? I'm tired of Sunday drivers mooching off my hard-earned tax dollars. It's generational theft!

Socialized Education

Why should childless people have to foot the bill for educating the children of those who made *an individual choice to have kids?* That really chaps my hide. I only have gay sex. I take personal responsibility! There's NO chance I'm going to have a kid that will need schooling. So why do I have to pay for that for OTHER PEOPLE? Screw them. I make a responsible choice, I take responsibility for myself. If they want to have kids, it's their individual responsibility to pay for that kid's school if they want their kid to go to school. That's THEIR CHOICE SO STOP STEALING MY MONEY!

IT'S GENERATIONAL THEFT! THE YOUNG STEALING FROM THE OLD! KEEP YOUR GRUBBY LITTLE FINGERS OFF MY HARD EARNED MONEY YOU LITTLE IGNORANT SOCIALISTS!

Socialized Protection

If someone wants a police officer to drive through their neighborhood and check on their house, they ought to pay for it with their own money, not my tax money. I, for example, have a scary-looking pit bull and CFL outdoor lights. I don't need police. So why should I pay for someone else's protection? I'm a big guy and I'm not worried about getting attacked or into a street fight or mugged. Why should I pay for other people's protection? I don't need it! This is America! I should be free NOT to pay for other people's needs that I don't have!

And my house is not going to burn down. I don't need firefighters! I sprayed that protective stuff all over my drapes and furniture. I don't smoke or use matches or candles. THAT'S MY CHOICE! SO WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S IRRESPONSIBLE CHOICES!? If they want their house to burn down, if they want to smoke and use candles and have gas stoves and fireplaces and "plug things in" -- that's THEIR INDIVIDUAL CHOICE, and they should pay for their own fire departments. Why should they mooch off MY HARD EARNED MONEY! THIEVES!

Socialized Defense

I was never afraid of Saddam Hussein and I didn't care if he did have WMD. I have a gas mask. I have duct tape for my windows and an Ionic Breeze. And if I should get nuked, I don't want to live in a world after it's been nuked, so I'm fine if I die from a nuke. So why should *I* have to pay for OTHER PEOPLE'S perceived security needs? Please! THIS IS AMERICA! STOP STEALING MY MONEY!

I didn't need the government to fight WWII for me either! OUTRAGEOUS! Have we ever paid off all that spending! I could easily have learned to speak German. That's my choice.

I also don't think my neighborhood is going to get bombed by Al Qaeda. I just don't think I live in a risky place for terrorism, and I choose not to use the banking system either so I don't care about cyberterrorism. You can't get your identity stolen if you don't use the banking system! That's MY CHOICE! SO WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S DEFENSE NEEDS?!!?! IF YOU WANT TO BE SAFE AND YOU LIVE IN NEW YORK CITY, YOU CAN JUST MOVE AWAY! GET ANOTHER JOB YOU LAZY BUM! QUIT MOOCHING OFF MY TAX DOLLARS!

Socialized Space

NASA is socialism. NASA. NAZI. Ever noticed THAT?! I don't ever want to vacation in space. I don't use satellites and I don't need a cell phone. THAT'S AN INDIVIDUAL CHOICE and those who use those things should pay for them, not my tax dollars! I also don't want any medicine that may result from "outer space experiments". I'll keep my medicine from earth, thank you very much. I'm young, I'm male, I'm strong, and I don't even need medicine and I never will.

I don't need to know how the universe was created or the nature of physics. I don't benefit from "technology advances." If dresses, sandals, and mule stables was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me! Jesus didn't need "science" to SAVE THE WORLD!!!!! So why should I have to pay for ELITIST people's techno-fetishes? OUTRAGEOUS! This country is on a dangerous dangerous path.

Socialized Utilities

I don't use the Internets!! I never needed the government to create it. If I have something to say to somebody, I can damn well walk through the back woods to their house (or pay a toll) and TELL THEM MYSELF! So why should I pay for other lazy bastards who want the convenience and luxury of telephones! I never needed the government to create the phone lines. OR THE POWER LINES. I show individual responsibility for my power needs - I use a generator! Why should the government lay down power lines or the power grid with my TAXES! OUTRAGEOUS! If I want to be all fancy and "read at night" - hell I can go outside to the outhouse with a candle and read a book. I don't need the power grid! Or sewers! Socialized plumbing!!! OUTRAGEOUS!!!!

I don't recognize this country anymore. The foundling fathers are rolling in their graves....

Health Insurance Corporation Whistle Blower: Wendell Potter

This is all you really really need to know in the health care debate.



The Public Option or Bust

Just this one time, I want to share my personal health insurance story below with you so you know why I'm adamant about real health reform *including* a Public Option choice as part of it. This message is entirely written by me.

I know we must have a Public Option - a CHOICE whether to buy into a government sponsored health insurance plan to keep big insurance corporations honest about competition, price, and access. Universal coverage is the most sound system, like other industrialized nations in some form, but a Public Option as the compromise is a good one.

Because I work in a small business, I am under-insured. I only have catastrophic coverage because I can only get an individual policy. My insurance doesn't even cover prescriptions, and if I wanted to switch to a different individual policy, even with the same company (Aetna), I would have to go through brand new underwriting, which would cause more pre-existing exemptions at this point for example. And while my premiums have raised several times since I've had this policy, I've had this policy since I was 27 or so, and so I can't give up this policy without a significant rise in expense that would come with brand new underwriting on a new policy.

I spend over 10% of my gross income every year on my own health insurance. That's true. When I had large corporate employers, I paid a fraction of that for gold-plated "Cadillac coverage" because large corporations can get and afford large group policies. Not so for small business, generally fewer than 50 employees.

It's not fair that I'm out providing jobs on the ground, but I can't offer health insurance with those jobs, and I also have to personally pay a "private profit tax" for the giant medical companies with my higher expenses on a lousy individual policy - just because I'm a small business owner. Why can't I join some other large insurance pool to get quality coverage? I can't. I've tried - with this much expense at stake, I've tried. It doesn't exist and anyone who tells you it does - is lying or misinformed.

Please help me help those who are holding the President's feet to the fire right now, in any way you can, even if you can just speak the truth to those who will listen.

The White House is still drafting the president's Wednesday speech, and he needs to advocate strongly for the Public Option. The public wants it, every poll shows it (once it's explained in basic terms)! The giant insurance companies -- seeing a potential windfall from mandatory coverage and only private companies offering it -- are the ones against it.

Wanted to share my personal true story with you. I contributed $20 to Act Blue's fund on this issue from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

I stlll just wanted to share my story and give a little "real world" context to what's showing on the ol' boob tube.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Al Franken Schools the Protestors: With Reason & Respect

Wow. Thank you to Anna Marie Cox guest-hosting tonight for Rachel Maddow. She and the show highlighted a stunning video of Senator Al Franken (D-MN) effectively talking down conservative shouters about health care!

I've been telling friends what Rachel has been saying too, that we're not even having the same conversation in this country right now about politics. The right-wing pretends to oppose policy, but they really just oppose Democrats and especially President Obama.

There's a very interesting and effective tactic for these folks however that I've also witnessed and have been talking about and demonstrated by Senator Franken: respect the opponents, and then confuse the hell out of them by talking them down with both reason and fact.

Witness - this is AMAZING:


Long live Senator Franken, a tremendous American Senator already and an up-and-coming Liberal Lion Cub, making Americans proud with the power of reason & respect.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hoyer Now Supports Public Option: "With or Without Republicans"

Brett Zongker at the AP (I know, the "Against Progressives" AP!), has an article today featured by Huffington Post stating that at a town hall (can we retire that silly term already people...) that he now supports the Public Option, "with or without Republican support." This is progress we can believe in... for now. To wit:
"If the question is do I plan to vote for a public option with or without Republican support, the answer is yes," Hoyer said.

A public option would lower insurance premiums for everyone through competition with private insurers, he said. The House, he said, would not pass an alternative calling for nonprofit cooperatives, which has been floated in the Senate.
And then, in a "tell" or a "wink" at his enlightened readers, Zongker goes on to -- gasp, almost "report" -- by including a short episode reflective of the deep insights and awareness that these persistent town-hallers (tea-baggers/deathers/birthers/seceders) bring to the table. HILARIOUS. Like someone on Medicare decrying gov'mnt run health care, this time it's her state that has it covered, so why do we need the government? Sheesh. We are not even having the same conversation in this country. Not even in the same room:
The first questioner who challenged Hoyer directly, April Burke of Mechanicsville, Md., said her son and daughter in law both had lost their jobs and health insurance but were covered by the state.

"So why should I want to have the government get into my business?" she asked Hoyer.

The congressman said Burke's family would benefit from the health care overhaul being proposed. But she shouted back: "We want government out of our business now."


I presume this means she wants everyone to pay out of pocket for their children to go to private-run schools (why should single people subsidize parents who made an individual choice to have children)? Right lady? And we should all pay out of pocket for private protection services - let them compete - and get rid of municipal police and fire departments, right lady? Surely the private sector can be more efficient and provide better teachers, fire fighters, ambulances, police. Oh, and while we're "getting government out of our business," we should get rid of the Defense Department, right lady? Just replace it with Blackwater and Halliburton, right lady? Then it will all go better and cheaper. Hell we already had as many contractors (mercenaries, ahem...) in Iraq as we had patriotic enlisted troops, so we're almost there.

Oh, and no more NASA, no more spy satellites, and no more satellite TV or GPS. No more control over epidemics -- no more annual flu shots, right lady? It's all government in our business.

And why not have 3 of the same road everywhere you go - we should make road builders compete and only the people who drive on them should pay tolls for those roads. That won't hurt quality much, will it?

A Libertarian - er, Anarchist - paradise.

Because that's what these people really are: anarchists. You want government out of our business? It means there's no government. That's anarchy. That's destruction of the nation. Lady, meet the secessionist klan. You want your country back? No lady you want your country gone.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Rachel Maddow: She Doesn't Want It. (Oh & Ridge Is A Good Guy)

For many months I've been saying Rachel Maddow (Dr. Rachel Maddow, that's Rachel Maddow, Ph.D, Rhodes Scholar, Stanford undergrad) would make an excellent choice for the chair of NBC's Sunday's Meet The Press. NBC has a major coup in her recruitment. She slices and dices the politics and the politicians of the day nightly on MSNBC.

In these crazy times, anyone to the left of Attila the Hun is labeled a "liberal" and biased. Not true of Maddow. I've long said, so long as someone is honest about their opinions, that's all I need in any reporter.

I'm convinced after tonight's ASTOUNDING interview of Tom Ridge that Rachel Maddow doesn't see herself with a future of the chair of Meet The Press. I say this tonight because of how she concluded her brilliant, civil, 3-part interview of the deeply human -- and deeply flawed -- Tom Ridge, a man deserving of any reasonable person's respect.

Rachel plants a flag at the end of the interview - her own flag. Like Odysseus escaping the Cyclops & revealing his true identity, she can't resist laying out her own analysis, which is great for her current program, but on a huge "get" like Ridge, seems misplaced if she were at all thinking about showing her chops for a future as a master interviewer on a larger stage. She is already a master interviewer - nobody's given her the job yet. But she's capable. Tonight, though, it seemed to me she's comfortable in her chair as commentator.

(The entire interview is very very worth watching, once it is posted. As of right now, it happened about an hour ago and the conclusion on which I base my post is all that seems to be posted yet).

Hang On To Health Care: Obama's Fall Offensive?

This from comments under Ezra Klein’s Enzi article at WashingtonPost.com (not my comment):

“The Senate Finance Committee should just pass the HELP bill on September 15th on a party line vote. ALL of their work has been worse than useless to this point. Somebody introduce Max Baucus to the concept of sunk costs. He's failed on the biggest stage he'll ever hold. It's better to just start getting over it rather than keep on making the FAIL bigger.”

This would be brilliant. And feasible. The Senate Finance Committee is the most powerful committee on the Hill. Everyone “knows” that all a bill requires is the president and the Senate Finance Committee for success. So everyone “knew” the bright lights would be on that committee. That’s the committee with the “gang of six” from the no-population states where 2 of the 3 Republicans including the ranking member (Grassley & Enzi) have said they’re against any reforms at all now - after negotiating supposedly in good faith into the recess. Really?! That’s what Gibbs was reacting to. Plus now the fundraising letter from Grassley stating he has always opposed reform and calling it “Obamacare.”

This is all today.

Somehow, and this would have been stunningly brilliant strategy if Kennedy was doing this all along, they might have planned to put these stooges at a table and shine the light on them while the other 2 Senate Committees crafting a bill (HELP is one, which Kennedy chaired and Dodd has been assisting, the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions) do their work under less scrutiny. The non Finance committees are the ones with the Senators like Dodd, Kennedy, Boxer - you know, from states with PEOPLE…

(Make no mistake, real reforms will prove as popular as the New Deal once they start going in place - it could be the REPUBLICAN’S Waterloo - THEY could lose their party for a decade, and they know it.)

Then, as the Finance Committee implodes as they have done, the commenter is suggesting that by simple majority (on the committee) the Senate Finance Committee should vote to throw out their version and instead adopt the HELP Committee version as their own, and vote that straight out of committee to the floor. (This would mean the same bill comes out of two committees.)

Sure the filibuster is still there, but who in the public is going to be able to follow that jujitsu before it even hits the floor. It would have almost no impact on the public debate but would get the best bill onto the floor. Hell right now the public doesn’t even know there are multiple versions of a bill in the Senate plus the House versions. So it would be a way to throw out the trash of Baucus’s committee (Finance) and put forth the strongest bill possible in terms of reform, then push it through with a 51+ vote majority while exposing Republicans to all moderates and Dems as clear crazy obstructionists (who haven’t put a single idea on the table and are openly “out to get the president”). We saw a flash of this tactic from The White House today in Gibbs’ conference (if I’m describing their tactic).

This could be the great hope in the end. I have to believe that Obama has had plenty of time to campaign on this and plan this, and I have to believe he knows he simply cannot fail and he must get a big win here - and as he’s shown before, it’s only the end result that really matters (as with November 2008). These are really really great signs we’re seeing today. The “offensive” may be under way. I also received an email from a progressive group about to do a big national ad buy to support the Public Option.

Hang on. These ain’t the Clintons we’re dealing with. I hope.

Gulp…

As The Right Implodes - Setting Free The Left

I am so embarrassed by these numbskull right-wing “secessionist” mouth-breathers. Why don’t they just burn the American flag already? I keep an American flag over my driveway (try to keep it in from the rain too, which I don’t see my Republican neighbors doing). It does help my pride stay strong. Republicans have been wrapping the flag around their christian crosses for so many decades it almost feels like right-wingers own the flag. Ridiculous. Like they’re assumed (this canard may be dead after the Iraq debacle) to be “strong on defense.” Please. More like, strong on defense *contractors*.

In fact I’m growing weary of the Afghanistan war. Again, where are the clear objectives? What does victory mean? We need to end that war I think and let the FBI and intelligence services take over the fight against terrorism. Why do we need to occupy entire nations to fight terrorism? It's absurd on its face. Afghanistan and Iraq are hardly the only two failed states in the world. So NOT occupying failed states is a long-standing pillar of United States foreign policy (espoused).

With a government being run by professionals, I don’t think we’ll have the bizarre confluence of events and string of failures that allowed those 4 planes to be hijacked simultaneously, fly freely through the most protected air space in the world, and crash freely an hour later into three of the most American iconic structures known around the world - two weeks after National Security Anti-Terrorist Richard Clarke in The White House AND the head of the CIA go personally to a month-long vacationing Bush in Crawford and personally warn him “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” and that chatter was to all-time high levels. And what did Dick “we’ve kept them safe for 8 years” Cheeeeney do about that? Nothing. Nothing. What does Bush do about that? Nothing. Nothing.

When Cheney says “8 years safe” - notice he’s starting after when he let the worst domestic attack since Pearl Harbor happen without a glitch after almost a year in office, after having been Chief of Staff to Ford, after having been Secretary of Defense to George H.W. Bush, after having been Vice President and acting President for a year beforehand - and he has to include the same year since Obama has been elected and effectively in charge - he has to take credit for Obama’s time in office too in order to get his 8 years.

These people are ruthless. And make no mistake - it’s about class, money, and privilege. Witness Sunday's fawning Chris Wallace interview of Cheney, what Andrew Sullivan called, “like a teenager interviewing the Jonas Brothers” - which was widely repeated by other commentators. They wore coordinated clothes I saw, light khakis (the same) and a navy blazer, both of them. Like, so preppy. Like two high school girls calling each other and coordinating their clothes. Fox is a joke. What’s been painful to me is that I saw they were a joke in 1999. It’s been 10 years that I’ve known what they’re doing -- it took the ascent of blogs to empower the non-crazies and to finally start documenting the atrocities in an alternate media.

Until the alternate medium of the blogs, which earnestly began only in 2003, this is how the oligarchs (the true ones, not Glen Beck’s crazy rants) ruled and manipulated.

The rightwing tea-bagging protesters -- "the angry right -- are hilarious. Being angry in loyal opposition is what liberals have been doing for 40 years, though let me clarify I don’t consider myself a political liberal. It’s just with the political spectrum so skewed right, any reasonable person these days could be “liberal” by comparison to what’s been passing as “centrism” ever rightward since Nixon (who by the way made a universal coverage bill offer to a young Ted Kennedy who declined it then and spent the rest of his life regretting it - Nixon, for universal coverage).

I guess that makes me as much a Nixonian as a so-called liberal. I agree with Ron Paul on gutting the defense contractors budget (it won’t compromise security) and legalizing prostitution and marijuana (duh…). Does that make me a Libertarian? I want a strong federal education agency and not leave unequal education to the provincial whims of states and local politics. Does that make me a liberal? I am to the right of Scalia on the 2nd Amendment. Does that make me an arch-conservative? I think there should be a constitutional amendment forcing congress to balance the budget in reasonable periods of time so we don’t have structural deficits for decades like we have -- does that make me a much-vaunted “fiscal conservative”? I strongly know that corporations and their “paid speech” are not “persons” as the supreme court ruled over a hundred years ago, with all the same rights as you and me, human breathing beings. Does that make me a populist?

To all these things, the answer to no. I am none of these things except those that I am in only parts.

This isn’t a battle with two sides.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Maddow: The Republican Miniverse

NBC actually did a poll exposing their competitor Fox News for materially misinforming its viewers (or just plain attracting a fringe who cling to false assumptions about "the facts") and the results are striking. Among self-identified Republicans (albeit that's a dwindling base), 60% get their news from Fox News. Fox News viewers are most likely to think that the President wasn't born in Hawaii, they think in surprising numbers that health care reform is about killing off citizens, and they are most likely to think flat false facts about what is (and is actually not) in the health care reform drafts circulating in Congress, such as whether the bill will cover illegal aliens (emergency care subsidized by taxpayers already covers illegals, by the way, by default), that it will fund abortions with taxpayer dollars, and other just flat insane ideas that would and could never be a part of health reform legislation at this point in our history.

But the most fascinating part of it all is something I myself have been grappling with for about a year now: how do you have an honest debate with people who just flat can't get reality correct? Forget precise. Forget honest disagreements. Forget even a bizarre debate about an issue and the facts of that issue. Increasingly this nation is trying to have a debate between people who know the facts (even if only a general set) and others who fall hook-line-and-sinker for special interest lies. This is a conversation from last night definitely worth watching - and feeling good that it happened on national news cable on an increasingly popular and influential program.



And my favorite congress person, and easily the smartest politician in congress (even if a bit gruff), Rep. Barney Frank slices and dices a woman who - to the Jewish Barney Frank - accuses health care reform of being a Nazi effort to exterminate American citizens. This is an answer to Rachel Maddow's brilliant discussion above. Choice quote from Frank: "Arguing with you is like arguing with a dining room table. I just don't want to do it." It's worth remembering in these bizarro political times. Just because someone has an opinion doesn't make it based in fact or worthy of an honest and fact-based response. Sometimes you just have to walk away from, as Frank describes, "the table."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Where is the new center of gravity? With progressives, Mr. President.

Senate Finance Chair, already gutting reform in a "bipartisan" effort, gets stabbed in the back by his partison collaborators. Surprise?

And now Chairman Baucus may be forced out of his chairmanship. The progressives are finding their roar.

In an apparent warning to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), some liberal Democrats have suggested a secret-ballot vote every two years on whether or not to strip committee chairmen of their gavels.

Baucus, who is more conservative than most of the Democratic Conference, has frustrated many of his liberal colleagues by negotiating for weeks with Republicans over healthcare reform without producing a bill or even much detail about the policies he is considering.


Although I love the President's Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel's tenacity and pugnaciousness, he's flat wrong about what's driving Democratic majorities, and he appears to be stuck in the years that made him, the Clinton years when the right scared the pants off all of them and they tucked tails and ran away from HCR, condemning Americans to another 16-20 years of a failed and predatory health care system that is a joke to all other western developed nations. A joke. A farce. A true American tragedy for millions.

I have to think as competitive as Barack Obama is, he knows the score and what has to happen.

Let's see you get serious, Mr. President. Let's see a staff shake-up over this.

Leak to the press, Mr. President, that so-called compromise bent too far, and your home team will now get this into the end zone. Tell them that Republicans stuck a dagger in the back of the SFC chairman and you gave them a chance, like with the stimulus bill, to come to the table, and a few did - but only to poison the effort.

Lay out the final plan Mr. President. Give the Progressive Caucus the final plan, and tell them to drive it home and to your desk.

That will set up the next 3 years for getting your agenda done. And when good-faith moderate Republicans want to come to the table to contribute and not poison, they can always be welcome.

But there are no good-faith players in the Republican party right now, and until they get their shit together, there is no reason to be dealing with them.

Tell the Republicans, Mr. President, to get their shit together before you bring them back to any table.

Enjoy your beer this afternoon. Please use it to talk about the stimulus (municipal jobs) and health care reform.
------------------------------
Texas: Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, Barbara Jordan, Lloyd Bentsen, Jim Hightower, Dan Rather, Ron Paul, Willie Nelson, LBJ

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rachel Maddow: Pulling Their Pants Down

For my friend Denny.

Rachel Maddow is an angel dancing on the head of the pin that is U.S. politics. She has earned her own show on MSNBC at 9PM ET. She is easily the smartest commentator on television, and not surprisingly, she is an unapologetic progressive. Do you think Glen Beck has her credentials? Do you think Lou Dobbs has her credentials? Rush Limbaugh? The other blow-hard entertainers? Rachel Maddow has serious horsepower under the hood:
Maddow received a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Stanford University. She earned her doctorate in political science at Oxford University, which she attended on a Rhodes Scholarship. She is currently working on a book on the changing role of the military in U.S. politics, due out next year. She lives in New York City and Massachusetts with her partner, artist Susan Mikula.

Yeah that's right. She competes and sometimes beats LARRY KING in the 9PM time slot. And she's the smartest person in all of politics, actually, except of course the universally praised for his intellect, Chairman of the House Banking Committee, Rep. Barney Frank (and yes, it's purely coincidence that they're both openly gay).

She's a Rhodes Scholar, like Bill Clinton. She has a degree from Stanford. She's a PhD. Dr. Maddow. Yes, Dr. Maddow. And she filets those political creeps every night.

Why do I harp on this and on her in particular? Because she's a phenomenon, every bit as unique as the first black president -- she's the first seriously smart person ever to anchor a nightly program. You think Cronkite is the gold standard? Watch Rachel at 8PM CT on MSNBC.

With that as prelude, my friend, watch how she absolutely slices and dices the obviously coordinated Republican plan to bill health care reform as a "secret plot to kill old people." You heard that crazy caller, like the crazy "birthers," call into the AARP forum today with Pres. Obama and ask about the [brownshirts] people coming into old people's homes and forcing them to decide how they want to die? You want to see who's behind that exactly? You want to see the evidence layed out on a table like a deck of cards in a Vegas casino? Watch Rachel. She latches on and shakes it all out using a full 12 minutes on her show, calling "crazy 'crazy'". She lays it all out for everyone in the media, in NBC news, in Washington D.C. to see; she's done everyone's homework for them. Watch - this is splendorous, and she gives everyone a firm point on which to pivot. This is what's been missing for 40 years:


My response? I laughed out loud hysterically. A "Three's Company" storyline! Ha! LOL! When I saw it watching Rachel, I fell into hysterical laughter. My dog was worried. Why was I in hysterical laughter? Because Rachel just planted a rod for all of Washington and all of political media. She and her staff did the homework. She exposed the crazy liars. She identified them. (And for some reason they're all white and have southern accents: Southern Strategy anyone?) She played the clips of them live. She reached deep into the cesspool of right wing hater talk radio and even the "Internets" to identify the culprits. She did everyone's homework. And she encourages people to copy off her work. Today? This clip and story are the lead story at the MSNBC homepage.

Journalists hate homework. That's why network news is so craptacular. "Journalists" today don't want to work, they just want to take transcripts and "leaked" talking points and repeat them as their own "political insight." Repeating talking points fed to them on "background" by the partisan leaders - revealing their "playbooks" - that's become the bread and butter of main network journalism. Fine. Let them have it.

Meanwhile, watch how earlier this and last week, Maddow led the charge against the alarming level that "the birthers" had been allowed to rise, to the point where Republican congresscritters were afraid to call them out for the stooopid they are. "Calling crazy 'crazy'" is exactly what Republicans are afraid to do, and until the past year, the crazies were not part of the "polite" network coverage of politics in the past. No more. Watch Rachel lay these creeps flat (with the help of online journalist Mike Stark), and then watch what just happened the next day, thanks to Maddows sunshine on a bed of cockroaches.



It's results like this, a result of her dazzling tenacity and incisive wit, that have made Rachel Maddow a force within MSNBC. That means she's a force within NBC. That means she has a voice in that traditional media I'm criticizing. It means that the fix is in - the bullshit that the haters have been pulling for 30+ years is being called out from a little corner on cable at 9PM ET. By Dr. Rachel Maddow. She packages it together, she's the first to do it on any given day, and then her work drives fair-minded commentators and writers for the following day. That's why she's on at nights and not in the mornings. The spin begins at night, not in the morning. In the mornings all news is old news. If Maddow were not an internal force, then how could she get away with knocking down MSNBC's own and her own guest, Pat Buchanan? Where else have you seen such a thorough smack down with succint, cutting analysis that lays out the naked facts full monty?



So you wanna know which way things are blowing? Watch Rachel. Night after night ever since she got her own show, she reliably and regularly uses her acute intellect to pull the pants down on the scumbag haters of the Nixon school trying to pull the craziest of shit these days because... they... simply... have... nothing... left.

In the end, it's the margin in the middle of the electorate, the "gut" voters who really are fair minded but not deeply involved, who steer the future course. And Republicans are still operating in the old environment when they could keep their neanderthal constituents so critical to their power base (I realize that's unfair to neanderthals) under the radar. No more. The jig is up.

This isn't 1968. This isn't 1980. This isn't 1993. This isn't 2003. It's 2009 and finally...... FINALLY.... the media are getting both the talent and the ratings to secure a cutting read of the bullshit that's been going on from Republican haters for 40 freakin years. It's over.

It might take the old Beltway insider game a bit to catch on, but the election of Pres. Obama is all the proof anyone needs to see that the old game is over. Yeah, the election was too close for comfort and Sarah Palin still gets too much time on tee-vee. But at least Palin gets a lot of "crazy person" criticism in that coverage now. Not so thinkable 6 years ago. Not 16 years ago. God knows not 30 and 40 years ago. But now?

Well, just read the polls. Just watch Rachel. If there weren't enough fair-minded concerned citizens out there to make a difference, Dr. Maddow would be peddling her doctoral dissertation in the petty halls of academia, and not laying out her incisive analysis in prime time on NBC cable to an audience that outsizes the venerable Larry King. Out with the old indeed...

This is some of the funniest political satire I've seen in a while, again from Rachel Maddow, who uses humor to cut through the crazies like Limbaugh uses anger, self loathing, and racism.



Want even more evidence of my theory? Here's a story, not just on MSNBC from the *AP* that's running all day and ran last night about Glen Beck on Fox News calling the president "racist." Again, they're "calling crazy 'crazy'".

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32197648/ns/politics-more_politics/

And here's the video:



Birther Rage & Lou Dobbs -- Getting Called Out (They Think They Can Still Get Away With This)


Here's Maddow on the decades old "C-Street" house in Washington DC, a "secret society" for radical Christian congress rats, the place where the John Ensign affair was "handled." Maddow has been on this story night after night, exposing them and causing the members to obfuscate and run and deny. This isn't something that just popped up. No the Ensign affair exposed them, and unlike even 3 years ago, Maddow and others are there *now* to follow the bigger story of what in the world is this seedy "C Street" boys club ("No Girls Allowed" as Pulitzer winning Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post characterized it on air) - what in the world is going on with this? Maddow decried it as something these people's constituents, including NV Sen Ensign's, did not elect them to do: go to Washington and represent the interests of their secret club first instead of the interests of the people who elected them. Calling crazy "crazy."

The C-Street update is preceded by Maddow's update that her calling out of Lou Dobbs' well-known racism has elicited a forceful defensive response from him. Think about that. Maddow has had her own show maybe a year? And Lou Dobbs? Uh, yeah. That's the power Maddow has already accumulated. Then she moves into Sen. Inhofe (R-Crazyland) and C-Street, 2 minutes in. This is from last night's show.



This stuff is just an easy list of the types of things indicative of a turning of the giant ship of the Fourth Estate. Give it some time and keep the faith. The chapter of the last 40 years is done, and the page is turning.

The President Needs Republicans? No. He Needs Me.

The DC media are saying that Obama needs to win over "moderates" on health care reform, the so-called "Blue Dogs" and so-called "moderate" Republicans (an oxymoron these days if there ever was one).

Really? Because I think Obama needs to win over ME. Because I'm the guy that made monthly and sometimes weekly contributions to the Obama campaign 2007-2008. I campaigned hard in 2006 and 2008 for candidates who promised long-needed reform. FDR first proposed health care reform in 1932 but backed away when he heard cries of "socialism!" (Socialism! Like Canada! Be very very afraid! Like England! Run! Run for your life!) Yes, the same tired old canard we heard in 1993 that made the Clintons turn tail and run.

No more. I'm standing up. I demand real reform, and I'm the one the president has to win over to keep his job and secure a lasting legacy. I'm the one, and the millions like me. I'm the small business owner creating jobs but can't provide health care to my employees, and I won't hire anyone who doesn't have health care from some place. The result? I can hire married people with spouses who have benefits, I can hire retired people, I can hire young healthy men who can afford individual policies. Everyone else probably cannot *afford* to work for me. Tell me in what country in the world is that fair? Is that a democratic employment market? Is that a free market for employment? No.

The Public Option is already a compromise. That IS the compromise. Most every thinking person that looks at both cost and coverage elements of a solid health care system knows that single payer is the only grand design of a sound solution.

But we are not unreasonable people. We will compromise. Even with The White House, The House, and The Senate, even with 60 Democratic votes in the Senate and an enormous majority in The House, even coming off two wildly successful national elections on which winning candidates campaigned on successful health care reform... EVEN WITH ALL THAT, we will still compromise.

That compromise is the Public Option. We won't even compromise the name at this point. It's done. The compromise is there.

If the Public Option can't get done, then we expect our work winning elections for Democrats for the last four years will bring real reform with something *better* not weaker.

Waterloo indeed. And in this fog, I'm looking around wondering who's really on my side in the end and who's on the other - because some of my opponents appear to be wearing my uniform, and I'm not okay with that.

Monday, July 27, 2009

FOX News: Killing the Republican Party?

We live in interesting times, and that's interesting!

The title link is to an article at a prominent website about media. The new authorship here plans to focus more about the media. This article linked is about how the Republican enablers basically cannot help themselves: they are hastening the demise of the Republican party. (?) It's kind of a shame. We need loyal opposition after all. I find this part compelling:
Fox has corralled a stable of the most disreputable, unqualified, extremist, lunatics ever assembled, and is presenting them as experts, analysts, and leaders. These third-rate icons of idiocy are marketed by Fox like any other gag gift (i.e. pet rocks, plastic vomit, Sarah Palin, etc.). So while most Americans have never heard of actual Republican party bosses like House Minority Leader John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, posers like Joe the Plumber and Carrie Prejean have become household names.

So here we are, in the belly of the beast.
By doubling down on crazy, Fox is driving the center of the Republican Party further down the rabid hole. They are reshaping the party into a more radicalized community of conspiracy nuts. So even as this helps Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line, it is making celebrities of political bottom-feeders That can’t be good for the long-term prospects of the Republican Party.

Mark my words, the Republican party has yet to reconcile the crazies they have relied upon since the 1960's with the modern ability now to expose those crazies for what they are with new media.

And if you wonder about how FOX News gains a seemingly disproportionate influence in political media, commit this to wit:
Fox News is fond of boasting about their ratings dominance. It is a daily occurrence and the structural core of their argument that they reflect the mood of America. The GOP has bought this argument in its entirety. So it is important to note here that success in the Nielsen ratings has no correlation to public opinion polling. The ratings only measure the program choices of Nielsen’s survey participants. That is a subset of the population at large, and not a particularly representative one. It is a sample focused on consumers, not voters. And its respondents are just those willing to have their TV viewing monitored 24 hours a day, which skews the sample in favor of people who aren’t creeped out by that. ...So any attempt to tie ratings to partisan politics is a foolish exercise that demonstrates a grievous misunderstanding of the business of television.

Okay, so maybe FOX News isn't as influential as you fear they might be. Find solace in the truth, my friend.

Before you think that reasonable Americans are besieged by the likes of O'Reilly, consider this from the article:
. A mere 3 share (3% of people watching TV) will land you in the top 10. For cable news the bar is set even lower. In fact, the top rated show on the top rated cable news network (The O’Reilly Factor) only gets about 3 million viewers. That’s less than 1% of the American population. It’s also less than World Wrestling Entertainment, SpongeBob SquarePants, and the CBS Evening News (the lowest rated broadcast network news program). By contrast, America’s Got Talent is seen by 12 million viewers - four times O’Reilly’s audience.

So have heart. Keep the faith. You are not besieged. Hold your head high and speak loudly. Preach it! Preach the truth!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

You Can Bet H1N1 Affects Real Estate & The Economy

From The World Health Organization, the public health division of the United Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland:
29 April 2009 -- The situation continues to evolve rapidly. As of 18:00 GMT, 29 April 2009, nine countries have officially reported 148 cases of swine influenza A/H1N1 infection. The United States Government has reported 91 laboratory confirmed human cases, with one death. Mexico has reported 26 confirmed human cases of infection including seven deaths.

The following countries have reported laboratory confirmed cases with no deaths - Austria (1), Canada (13), Germany (3), Israel (2), New Zealand (3), Spain (4) and the United Kingdom (5).

Further information on the situation will be available on the WHO website on a regular basis.

WHO advises no restriction of regular travel or closure of borders. It is considered prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention, in line with guidance from national authorities.

There is also no risk of infection from this virus from consumption of well-cooked pork and pork products. Individuals are advised to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water on a regular basis and should seek medical attention if they develop any symptoms of influenza-like illness.
Notice that the focus continues to be on sensible precaution, attention, prevention... This is not an emergency declaration.

However if things rise to the level of a global crisis, I doubt we will hear many more figures or warnings. Once the barn doors are wide open......

Monday, April 20, 2009

More Gloom Than Doom: Commercial Real Estate

In a general review article this morning by Dees Stribling in www.commercialpropertynews.com, the headline is "Economic Update - Commercial RE on the Edge?" That's a bit, well more than a bit, hyperbolic, particularly from a Texas vantage point.

There is much handwringing in the financial press about the near future of commercial real estate, which so far has fared okay compared to the residential sector. Notes Stribling:

The idea that commercial real estate might be the next big thing to implode--which is all too familiar within the commercial real estate industry--is finally getting some mainstream attention. On Saturday, speaking at a conference at Vanderbilt University, Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank president Dennis Lockhart said that "on our watch list this year, as a risk to the (U.S. economic) outlook, is continuing worsening in the commercial real estate sector."

Oh my. An economist mentioned commercial real estate as something they will watch this year. And it generates a doom and gloom headline. This is a classic Soros investing tactic: identify when everyone else is wrong, then do the opposite of what they're doing. So if there is more fear in the commercial sector than is warranted (and that requires some analysis with horsepower), then investors will find some good opportunities, particularly in markets and submarkets where the fear or "gloom" may be particularly unjustified. I see those all around me where I live and write.

So watch those barometers.

Take this paragraph from the same article:

Whatever else commercial real estate will be in the near- to medium term, it certainly won't see the investment volume of recent years, not only in the United States but almost everywhere in the world. According to Real Capital Analytics, about 1,000 buildings valued at $47 billion traded hands worldwide in the first quarter of 2009, a small fraction--about 16 percent--of the volume during the same period in 2007.

Did you catch that? Only 16% of last year! Yeah, but there were still about 1,000 buildings valued at $47 billion in this past quarter sold. Last I thought about it, $47 billion is still a lot of money. Certainly it's enough for nimble and aggressive investors and brokers with buying power -- and in the right markets such as Houston.

CDS's Strike Again: Screwing Up Bankruptcy

In Felix Salmon's excellent economics blog for Reuters (kudos for a positive indication of adaptation to new media by Reuters), Salmon points out how Credit Default Swaps (the unregulated "insurance" policies investors could take from swindlers believing they were protecting various investments, swindlers who never had the capital to begin with to pay out the claim if it happened and statutorily not subject to any regulatory oversight), anyway these CDS's after bringing capitalism to its knees are now complicating what would be a normal process of pre-bankruptcy negotiation with debt-holders who can normally be wiped out in a normal bankruptcy process. But finance and economics are anything but normal these days.

The problem now? As Salmon points out, bondholders in troubled corporations also hold these CDS insurance policies and some of their insurers are able to pay out. So what's the incentive for these bondholders to negotiate completely with the troubled entity whose bonds they hold if bankruptcy itself could actually lead to a higher payout than offered in pre-bankruptcy negotiations?

Let’s say that I buy $1 million of bonds. In order to protect my downside, I buy $600,000 of credit protection: if the issuer goes bust, I get $600,000, and a healthy 60% recovery value. I don’t want the issuer to go bust — I’d much rather the bonds continued to perform, and to be worth $1 million. But at least I can’t lose more than $400,000 in the event of default.

The issuer then gets into serious difficulties, and the bonds start trading at 25 cents on the dollar: my $1 million of bonds are now worth just $250,000 on the open market. The distressed issuer then seeks to avoid bankruptcy by entering into negotiations with its bondholders. “If we default and are forced into bankruptcy,” they say, “then bondholders will end up collecting no more than 20 cents on the dollar in a liquidation. But if you agree to a restructuring which keeps us out of the bankruptcy court, we can get you a good 45 cents on the dollar in value.”

Normally, bondholders would be well disposed to such an offer. But in this case, I might think twice. If the restructuring doesn’t count as an event of default for the purposes of the CDS contract, then I might end up with just 45 cents on the dollar — $450,000 — if I agree to the company’s plan. If I just let it go bust, on the other hand, I get $600,000.* And so I have an incentive to opt for the more economically-destructive option.


See that? Bondholders with good CDS policies have "an economic incentive to opt for the more economically destructive option." This is definitely something to watch. Oh, a caveat from Salmon - the example actually is worse...
*Update: Hemant, in the comments, points out that I actually get $700,000, not $600,000: I get $600,000 from the hedged portion, and also another $100,000 (25% of $400,000) from the unhedged portion.


I do not agree with Salmon's analysis after his example as to what should and should not happen. But in a response that I normally criticize when it comes from others, my only one is that I don't know enough at this point to offer an alternative.

But when you see mainstream media interviewing regular "Janes and Johns" on the street, just bear in mind how subtle and how very complex this entire economic and Wall St mess really really is.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Brief History of Tea Parties & Taxes

I like to read good blogs as much as I like to write my own. This morning I ran across a post by a user named "Science Teacher By Trade" about the proper understanding of the establishment of federal taxes in the United States by George Washington (The Whiskey Rebellion) following the Revolutionary War. This is a very good recap of that moment in history.

History often has a way of becoming mere folklore over years until the truth of what actually happened is twisted beyond recognition many times. That effect is what creates the space for allegations of "revisionist history" particularly when an accurate recounting of history runs counter to how the folklore has evolved. Consider this phenomenon a quirk of evolutionary psychology in the modern paradigm

Anyway, some truth about the founders and taxes:
The first assumption to dispel is that our "Founding Fathers" were resolutely opposed to taxes, and that the Boston Tea Party was due to this opposition. This is true to a limited extent. Following the Glorious Revolution, parliament established a declaration or Bill of Rights. Among these rights was that reserving the ability to Tax for parliament alone. Since parliament was an elective and representative body, this implied that legitimate taxation was restricted to citizens with representation. This wouldn’t become an issue in the Americas for several decades. Following the French and Indian War, Britain was left with a standing army, something it had not really dealt with before. Because of a sense that it was necessary to continue to protect the colonies, as well as the benefits of maintaining an army to restrain French aggression, it was decided to maintain a large force in the Colonies.

This meant that funds had to be found to not only pay for the extremely expensive war that had just been fought, but also to pay for the standing army in the Colonies. Naturally, parliament decided that it only made sense to use taxation to pay for this, and it seemed to follow that since the colonies were benefiting from having an Army for their defense, as well as a war fought partially for their benefit, that they should pay for a large share of the expenses.

This presumption had two problems: first, it assumed that the colonists would perceive the troops as guarantors of security, rather than occupiers. Second, it violated the idea that taxes were linked to representation. In response, mutterings of anger began in the colonies. To be fair, much of the anger was simply due to the fact that taxes were going up to pay for troops that most people did not feel were necessary, especially since the colonies had voluntarily raised their own internal taxes for the war, and had never been fully reimbursed. As resentment strengthened, however, the colonists began to examine their conceptions of natural laws and rights. Ultimately they would realize that fundamentally, the new taxes violated their rights because they had no representation in parliament.

There would be ongoing protests in the future, many which would echo the mob violence of the Boston Tea Party. Curiously, due to a variety of factors, the Boston Tea Party would have no hint of simple anger at increased prices due to taxes. At this point in time, the East India Company had long been competing with Dutch smugglers for the tea imports market in the colonies. Recent acts of parliament had actually made it possible for the East India Company to import tea into the colonies for less than the smugglers were charging. Unhappily, there was a tax attached to these imports that the colonists refused to pay, even though the overall price was less. Due to opposition to the right to impose this tax, the colonists either forced the authorized resellers of tea to resign, or forced the ships importing the tea to return to England without offloading their cargo.

Finally, in Boston the Governor refused to let the ships bearing tea leave until they had paid the tax on the tea they carried. Since this would have forced the company to take a loss (paying the duty without selling the tea,) the ship captains refused to leave, although hostile colonists would not permit their cargo to be unloaded and sold. After a rowdy meeting led by Sam Adams, a large group of men raided the ships and dumped the tea overboard, declaring they would destroy the goods before they paid a tax on them.

Since price was not the issue, clearly the Boston Tea Party was not about paying extra money: it was almost exclusively about taxation without representation, combined with a dose of drunken mob violence. It still became a symbol of valiant resistance to tyranny, especially in American folklore, and would otherwise lose much of its meaning in terms of the specific grievances of the participants.

If more proof is needed that the founding fathers did not oppose taxation per se, but instead just taxation without representation, we can look at our most famous leader of the period: George Washington. In 1794, while Washington was president, an outraged group rebelled against what they perceived as an unfair tax on whiskey (meant to pay down debts from the Revolutionary War.) In response, Washington ordered the rebels appear in federal court, and summoned an army of militia of more than 12,000 men to suppress the rebellion. Whups! By today’s standards, conservatives would apparently be calling old Washington a fascist/socialist enemy of the United States. (Just for the record, Abe Lincoln also presided over tax increases. In fact, the first income tax was progressive and enacted during his administration. Such socialists, our best loved presidents!)

So much for the founding fathers being anti-tax. ...

Friday, April 10, 2009

From An Executive Producer of Cesar Millan

Okay, so rule #1 about blogging: most non-professional bloggers such as myself are not journalists. We don't have time to fact-check everything or chase down all the articles we link to, etc. Blogging is sort of a citizen sport, more about commentary and opinion than reporting. Nonetheless we have a moral obligation to try at least to be accurate.

My last post took Cesar Millan and his program to task for focusing too much on domination and not enough on the nuances of psychology -- I suppose when you have a weekly show to do, it can get kind of formulaic and frankly that's what I think of the show.

So a web savvy or surfing producer of the show emailed me earlier a long email in their defense, and that's fine, frankly I didn't read it closely but I will try to paste in some of the main points below to help round out the discussion, and lord knows I appreciate the time she took to defend her work and respect that she did so.

I sincerely regret not knowing that the lawsuit mentioned in the previous post was apparently settled in 2007 according to the producer, and I trust her. And I have neither the time nor the interest to research it further - but in the era of Google, you dear reader already have everything you need if you should so choose to do so yourself.

Frankly I'm already bored with this post. So without further adieu, here is I suppose a legitimate email from an executive producer of Cesar Millan's The Dog Whisperer. I told her I would post a follow up including snippets of her email but also that I stand by my post and my opinion, and I do. She was polite in her response. Now to follow through.

We placed our success rate (that is, long-term dog rehab success) at about 80% based on that book, which only covered the first three seasons. We are now filming our 6th season and have had even more impressive successes, primarily because we have been able to do more long-term follow-ups and repeat visits with cases, which we weren't able to do because of budgetary reasons back when we began Season 1.


Not only is the show real, the crew likes to call it "the only REAL reality show on television." Nothing -absolutely nothing - is pre-scripted. Cesar knows nothing (or only a bare minimum of facts) about any case before he goes on the consultation. Cesar won't repeat any of his actions for the camera (as is SOP, even in documentary work) because he says, "Dogs don't understand 'take 2'. He is there for the dog, 100%, and not the cameras - much to the frustration of the crew, but we've learned to adapt to each other over the past several years. ...

I'm not sure the defense above really answers the thrust of my criticism sufficiently, however I do recognize there are many angles to a complicated endeavor like producing a weekly show such as this. I accept results will be at best mixed, and to what degree exactly I don't know, and Ms. Peltier doesn't address fully (nor should she). I know what I know, she knows what she knows, and anyone reading this can think for themselves. More:

[The Humane Society] spent time on the set with us, and now are among our biggest supporters. In fact, they just collaborated with us on a powerful show about rescuing and rehabilitating puppy mill dogs. Ask the representatives of the prominent animal advocacy group Last Chance for Animals, or our thousands and thousands of friends and supporters in the Animal Rescue Community across the United States. Ask Martin Deeley, head of the IACP. You can even ask Ian Dunbar, the grandaddy of "positive reinforcement" training, who has met with Cesar personally (though I don't believe he's been on the set), and found that they share many more commonalities than differences.
Fair enough, I don't know about any of this, but I have no reason to distrust Ms. Peltier. And finally:
Finally, an FYI: the Flody Suarez lawsuit to which you referred was amicably settled in 2007. A read-through of the court records will show that although Cesar was named in the suit, the incident happened on his property only. Cesar was not even present when the incident occurred, but had loaned use of his treadmills to an accquaintance - a trainer not even associated with him. That was back in the day when Cesar would naively do favors for anyone who'd ever done him a favor. Unfortunately, celebrity attracts lawsuits and he has since learned the hard way not to be so blindly generous.


In short, you may or may not agree with Cesar's methods, which he himself asserts are just "options" for rehabilitation - but I assure you, the show itself is indeed "legitimate."


Sincerely yours,
Melissa Jo Peltier
Co-Chair, MPH Entertainment, Inc.

Well again I do sincerely regret not knowing that the lawsuit had been settled, and in my defense (although I don't have much of one on this point), I did say "If true..." I know, I know. I regret not knowing it had been settled (and no I haven't verified that either, I'm hungry, my dog needs to play, I don't really care).

As for the facts of what the lawsuit alleged, it makes no difference when it comes to the thrust of my commentary about the over-use of dominance I have witnessed on the program, my informed commentary about pit bulls (the point I care about the most), nor my notes about using a pinch collar.

The Smoke of Cesar Millan

Well it is a very encouraging sign for the real estate market that I have been positively too busy to blog in recent days. I miss it. Today I post a response to a friend who asked about whether Cesar Millan's "Dog Whisperer" show is legitimate. It is not.

Most alarming is the lawsuit in California Superior Court against Millan's training center by a producer of "8 Simple Rules" (John Ritter's final series).

From the news article:
Hours after dropping the dog off at the facility, Suarez claimed a worker called to inform him the animal had been rushed to a veterinarian. He later found the dog "bleeding from his mouth and nose, in an oxygen tent gasping for breath and with severe bruising to his back inner thighs," the lawsuit claims.

The facility's workers allegedly placed a choke collar on the dog, pulled him onto a treadmill and forced him to "overwork." Suarez says he spent at least $25,000 on medical bills and the dog must undergo more surgeries for damage to his esophagus.
If true, that is unconscionable and Millan should be forced out of his show to clean up his center and techniques. My response to my friend's question is below. Many friends recall I volunteered in the Behavioral Unit of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, where I adopted my 7-year-old neutered pit bull, Tank, and also where I am a member of The President's Council.


There are many better "Whisperers" out there. Do a search on Amazon and find the other popular behaviorists - particularly "The Other End of the Leash" by Patricia McConnell.

Positive dog training is a superior method. Dominance will be part of any behavioral practice because obviously dogs are pack-oriented and just want to know what their role is, what their job is, trust they will be fed and cared for, etc. Much of Millan's basic work is not unique to him. What is unique is his over-insistence on and use of forced domination. As guests of his show will tell you behind the scenes, the show often gets its video of a dog in a good moment but Millan rarely solves any problem.

It's sort of like that fraud John Edward, the purported psychic who communicates with the dead, and the mother of all such fraudsters, James van Praagh (currently a producer of a fictional program I like, "The Ghost Whisperer"). At least he's doing obvious fiction now.

Remember Edward's show (van Praagh had a short-lived show, too) where he just did cold readings on his studio audience? Well eventually it came out from attendees that they actually would film his studio sessions for up to 6 hours just to produce 22 minutes of footage. Now his TV specials heavily rely on a reading of a celebrity or lengthy narratives about a subject - which leaves only a few minutes for his "reading" - and nobody knows how long a session actually lasted and how many things he got wrong.

Millan's show is much of the same. I would call it entertainment, but his show is documentary-style and it misleads his audience, often to the detriment of their dogs. That's morally unacceptable.

Millan likes to parade his pit bulls on the show, but it just plays into the breed stereotype as if it gives him credibility. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that any behaviorist / trainer worth their salt can tame a pack of pit bulls - they're the most trusting, smart, loyal, human-loving breed there is.

It's why fighters exploit them - the dogs aren't vicious - they're just trying to please their human. It's why the Michael Vicks of the world and punks like him stand right next to the dog in a fight to egg the dog on during the fight and doesn't get bitten -- by either of the fighting dogs. If the pit bull shows any instability, it gets put down -- that's always been the history of the breed. You think scumbag dog fighters want to work with unstable and unpredictable dogs? They fight dogs for the money (and the blood).

Point of order - I find pinch collars to be very effective in communicating with a dog on a leash. If used effectively, with a sudden light jerk but not sustained, it can make the dog pay attention and obey better. But it takes super human strength to choke a large dog with a pinch collar -- and despite their appearance, pinch collars are not "sharp" -- the ends of the links are dull.

Pinch collars actually cause less "strangling" than conventional collars because the "quick jerk" method helps snap a dog into attention and compliance, which is safer for the dog when on a leash. Pinch collars are better than "gentle leader" collars which seek to better control a dog's muzzle, which don't work and dogs hate them. (Pinch collars should always be stainless steel and of the highest quality, only purchased from reputable trainers.)

Any sustained pulling on a collar no matter the type and no matter from which end of the leash -- it's a bad thing and must be stopped. You can't just throw a strong dog on a leash -- dogs require leash training so they know what to do.

When dogs understand what to do and what's expected, and if the dog trusts they benefit from obeying, they are all too happy to do it.

Dog psychology is not rocket science. Dog psychology intersected with the foibles of human psychology -- now that's a little more complicated and causes most of the problems.