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Liberal Outrage

Benghazi & Rice

Oh, i really didn't want to get into this. It's so depressing and so stupid and i really thought it would just go away after the debates and the election. But with Susan Rice now a top contender for the Secretary of State position (and i hope Obama doesn't back down on this, and it seems that he isn't), this nonsense isn't going away.

I still can't fully grok what, exactly, the complaint is. But the noise around Rice specifically seems to be that she blamed the attacks on the anti-Muslim video, and it turned out to be the works of {extremists? terrorists?} who were planning something for a September 11th anniversary attack and used the outrage over the video as cover. I haven't seen an adequate explanation as to why, if Rice did indeed say that, it's a vast conspiracy of some kind. I don't understand what the Obama administration is supposed to have gained from it. The whole "did you call them terrorists fast enough" thing just seems completely nuts and straight out of an immediate post-911 mentality where it's very important that we agree to use the word terrorist a lot to scare each other.

But the key here is that even people who point out how stupid all of this is still seem to concede that Rice made a mistake or somehow did something wrong in her press interviews immediately following the attack. Seeing something on the Jon Stewart show yesterday is what got me riled up about this again.

To understand all of this, because it is so in the weeds, you really have to go and read the past two months worth of post at the Daily Howler. If you're not going to do that, here's this quote:

From September 17 on, this has been a Standard Claim from the right: Ambassador Rice went on TV and made her claims "sound crystal-clear." (Gerecht had just offered the same talking-point, saying that Rice had been "so assertive" and so "determined" to advance her specific conclusions.)

In the real world, that isn't what happened. Once again, for the ten millionth time, this is what Rice said that morning on a well-known show, Meet the Press.

By our count, she voiced seven disclaimers in just 170 words:

RICE (9/16/12): Well, let me tell you the best information we have at present. First of all, there is an FBI investigation, which is ongoing, and we look to that investigation to give us the definitive word as to what transpired. But putting together the best information that we have available to us today, our current assessment is that what happened in Benghazi was, in fact, initially a spontaneous reaction to what had just transpired hours before in Cairo--almost a copycat of the demonstrations against our facility in Cairo, which were prompted, of course, by the video.

What we think then transpired in Benghazi is that opportunistic extremist elements came to the consulate as this was unfolding. They came with heavy weapons, which, unfortunately, are readily available in post-revolutionary Libya, and that escalated into a much more violent episode.

Obviously, that's our best judgment now. We'll await the results of the investigation, and the president has been very clear--we'll work with the Libyan authorities to bring those responsible to justice.

Over and over, again and again, Rice said she was offering the "current assessment"-- "the best information we have at present." She said she awaited fuller information from the ongoing FBI probe. But so what? By the next day, Liz Cheney was trashing Rice for "saying with 100 percent certitude that this was all because of the movie."

Just that quickly, all those disclaimers had been disappeared. They remain disappeared to this day.

I think what Rice actually says is generally considered correct. There was a copycat video protest. And then, separately, an opportunistic group attacked the embassy. Rice's words have been cut up to make it sound like she was saying that the attack on the embassy was a spontaneous attack by the protestors. But you can clearly read the full text and see that's not what she's saying.

Beyond that, and more importantly, she was giving the initial assessment based on information that was known at the time, and she said so.

I don't take the attacks on Rice seriously. The whole thing just seems like such nonsense to me. So the attacks just seem like "we're going to fight Obama on everything using whatever flimsy rationale we can make up". And it works because the media is so lazy they just accept the storyline even if it's wrong, and even "liberals" want to at least look reasonable and say "Look, what she said was wrong, but...". So if there's something legitimate to be concerned about here, please to explain, because i'm missing it.

I was going to segue into filibuster reform here (because if the Dems go forward with that they can approve Rice's nomination without any votes from the minority party), but i've gone on longer than i want to anyway.

By fnord12 | November 30, 2012, 3:18 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

We get the tax policy we deserve

Almost as if specifically designed to thwart my recent explanations, Congress is now apparently seriously considering eliminating the concept of marginal tax rates for top earners.

One possible change would tax the entire salary earned by those making more than a certain level - $400,000 or so - at the top rate of 35 percent rather than allowing them to pay lower rates before they reach the target, as is the standard formula. That plan would allow Republicans to say they did not back down in their opposition to raising marginal tax rates and Democrats to say they prevailed by increasing effective tax rates on the rich. At the same time, it would provide an initial effort to reduce the deficit, which the negotiators call a down payment, as Congressional tax-writing committees hash out a broad overhaul of the tax code.

As Matthew Yglesias says, "This would create exactly the kind of super-high marginal tax rates that I'm always mocking confused rich people for believing in." And it creates stupid incentives, like that scenario about the chiropractor going on vacation as soon as they hit $399,999 in income. The only reason to do this - and it's insane! - is, as the NYT article says, "allow Republicans to say they did not back down in their opposition to raising marginal tax rates". And i'm sure that won't even work; Grover Norquist isn't that stupid.

But i guess the upside is that people already seem to think this is the way taxes work. So you're just aligning reality with people's expectations. If we're too dumb to understand a graduated income tax, i guess we don't deserve to have one.

By fnord12 | November 26, 2012, 12:15 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

More business owners should read SuperMegaMonkey

Right on schedule, these idiots (via, via) come out of the woodwork.

Kristina Collins, a chiropractor in McLean, Va., said she and her husband planned to closely monitor the business income from their joint practice to avoid crossing the income threshold for higher taxes outlined by President Obama on earnings above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

Ms. Collins said she felt torn by being near the cutoff line and disappointed that federal tax policy was providing a disincentive to keep expanding a business she founded in 1998.

"If we're really close and it's near the end-year, maybe we'll just close down for a while and go on vacation," she said.

By all means, go on vacation if you'd like. But don't tell me that the additional 2% that you would pay only on your income over $250,000 is the reason why.

The New York Times article does nothing to correct this misconception, but of course you all read about this here last week so you're in the know. Spread the word. As soon as i attract a new audience of wealthy dumb people, i can convince them to fund my Marvel Timeline project so i can stay home all day and write about Ant-Man.

By fnord12 | November 20, 2012, 9:22 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Four More Years of Entrenching the Extra-Judicial Assassination Policy

Glenn Greenwald writes about the Obama adminstration's use of extra-judicial assassinations and how this policy results in the USA having to support its use by allies and makes it the height of hypocrisy when we wish to criticize "rogue" nations on human rights.

Extra-judicial assassination - accompanied by the wanton killing of whatever civilians happen to be near the target, often including children - is a staple of the Obama presidency. That lawless tactic is one of the US president's favorite instruments for projecting force and killing whomever he decides should have their lives ended: all in total secrecy and with no due process or oversight. There is now a virtually complete convergence between US and Israeli aggression, making US criticism of Israel impossible not only for all the usual domestic political reasons, but also out of pure self-interest: for Obama to condemn Israel's rogue behavior would be to condemn himself.

It is vital to recognize that this is a new development. The position of the US government on extra-judicial assassinations long had been consistent with the consensus view of the international community: that it is a savage and lawless weapon to be condemned regardless of claims that it is directed at "terrorists".


That US condemnation of Israel's targeted killing came, by the way, from the George W. Bush administration.

Obama - the killer of Anwar al-Awlaki, Awlaki's 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman, and countless other innocent men, women, teenagers and children - could not possibly condemn Israeli actions in Gaza without indicting himself. Extra-judicial assassinations, once roundly condemned by US officials, are now a symbol of the Obama presidency, as the US and Israel converge more than ever before: if not in interests, than certainly in tactics.

Sadly, i think that if Romney had won, there would have been more pushback, not by elected Democrats, but by Democratic bloggers and journalists, on drone killings, just because it is easier to demonize the actions of the other side than to be critical of the abhorrent actions of your own side.

Dennis Kucinich has his own piece on the Guardian today, as well.

According to news reports, President Obama maintains a list of alleged militants to be assassinated. Some are US citizens. None will get to plead his case. The president tells us to trust that this is all perfectly legal and constitutional, even though Congress is not allowed to see any legal justification. The weapon of choice in these assassinations: remote-controlled planes called drones.

The targeted killing of suspects by the United States is slowly and quietly becoming institutionalized as a permanent feature of the US counterterrorism strategy. Unless members of Congress begin to push back, such killings will continue - without any oversight, transparency or accountability. Victims of drone strikes - including US citizens - are secretly stripped of their right to due process and are arbitrarily deprived of their life, in violation of international human rights law.

The attempted characterization of drones as a precise weapon is irrelevant and chilling because it values the alleged high-tech efficiency of the killing above the rule of law.


These strikes do not occur in a vacuum. They have very real consequences for our long-term national security. In Pakistan, they have fueled significant anti-American sentiment and serve as a powerful recruitment tool for terrorists. According to some estimates, our drone strikes have resulted in the death and injury of thousands of innocent civilians.

We must reject the notion that Congress and the American people have to be kept in the dark when it comes to modern warfare. We must begin with a full and robust debate on the ramifications of these policies. We must insist upon full accountability and transparency.

Didn't Obama promise transparency at the start of his presidency? Between this and the administration's vigorous prosecution of whistleblowers (whilst letting CIA interrogators walk), i don't think i like Obama's version of accountability and transparency. But, i suppose i have another 4 years to get used to it.

By min | November 16, 2012, 11:32 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Graduated income tax

I promised i would explain this. You assume everybody already knows it but then you hear a generally smart person at work say something like, "Yeah, i didn't get a raise but that's ok because it probably would have put me in a higher tax bracket and then i'd lose more money anyway." That's not how it works, people!

By the way, this is also sometimes also called a progressive income tax but the word "progressive" has been co-opted by liberals running away from the word "liberal". In this case "progressive" means "the tax rate increases as income increases", same as "graduated", and doesn't imply a political goal.

I've created a table to show how our taxes work. It's big and ugly but it will make the point, so pop it up and follow along.

(A word on the numbers in the chart. They are based on the current actual rates for a single person, but i'm really just using it as an example. These are the numbers before deductions and Earned Income Credit, so no one is actually paying those dollar amounts. And while i double-checked the numbers, i did this (like most of my posts) in between meetings so it's possible there are errors. Again, this is to be used as an example. Please, please, please don't come back here in April and use this table to do your taxes.)

So the simple fact here is that you only pay the higher rate on the part of your income that falls into that bracket. So take the first guy who makes $20,000. The first $8,700 of his income are taxed at 10%. The rest (20,000 - 8,700 = 11,300) is taxed at 15%. Only the $11,300 portion of his income is taxed at 15%. The rest is taxed at 10%. And it works like that up the chain.

So if you are making $86,850 and you get a $100 raise, only that additional $100 is taxed at the higher 28% rate. So your total income can't go down by getting a raise. When there was talk of adding another tax bracket at $250,000, there really were crazy people who were trying to figure out how to limit their salaries to $249,999, which shows a complete lack of understanding about how this works (how come such stupid people get to earn so much money?).

Using this, we can see that lowering taxes on people making $86,000 or less will also lower taxes on people making more than $86,000, because their rate at the $35-86k bracket will be affected.

And if we raise taxes on the wealthy, it's only affecting their top brackets. So if we were to raise taxes on people earning more than $388,350 to 40%, it doesn't mean their entire salary is now taxed at 40%.

If we were to go back to the top marginal rates of the Eisenhower era of around 90%, what that would mean is that you'd effectively be creating a maximum wage of $388,351. Raising a CEO's salary beyond that number would have limited returns for them. Nowadays that top rate has been seriously relaxed, to the point where it seems odd that our top bracket ends at $388,351 when we have people making millions a year (From Wikipedia: "In 2010 the highest paid CEO was Viacom's Philippe P. Dauman at $84.5 million.[41] That year the top 500 executives earned a total of $4.5 billion in compensation, for an average of $9 million apiece.").

Finally, what happens if we do what flat tax proponents want and assign the same rate to all people. Right now that guy earning $20,000 has an effective tax rate of ~13% (again, remember, this is before deductions and EIC). Replace that with 20% (The Heritage Foundation is recommending a 28% flat rate that also eliminates the payroll tax, so i'm rounding down a bit) and that guy's tax amount is going from $2565 to $4000. That's probably putting him behind three month's rent and some grocery bills. Meanwhile, the $500,000 earner goes from $221,659 down to $100,000. Good deal for him! Now we know why right-wingers like this idea. It lowers taxes for the wealthy and raises it for the poor and/or reduces revenue to the government. "Simplifying the tax code" is just how they sell it.

But the flat tax thing is just an aside. The main point is to understand how our current income tax system works.

By fnord12 | November 15, 2012, 3:37 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Must Be Thursday

(or so fnord12 tells me) Cause Glenn Greenwald's upset with the press corps.

The Petraeus scandal is receiving intense media scrutiny obviously due to its salacious aspects, leaving one, as always, to fantasize about what a stellar press corps we would have if they devoted a tiny fraction of this energy to dissecting non-sex political scandals (this unintentionally amusing New York Times headline from this morning - "Concern Grows Over Top Military Officers' Ethics" - illustrates that point: with all the crimes committed by the US military over the last decade and long before, it's only adultery that causes "concern" over their "ethics").

As this scandal has been unfolding since last Friday, i've been trying to figure out myself just who the hell cares about these people having an affair? I get the "he put himself in a position to be blackmailed" angle, but once he admitted it, that should no longer be a problem. And barely any articles have really even mentioned that angle. They're more concerned with each juicy tidbit that happens to get leaked about who else is involved.

But, i'm with Greenwald in that i want to know why a complaint about harassing emails gets a full FBI investigation and why, when all they knew was that Broadwell had been exchanging sexual emails with some anonymous lover, the FBI continued reading them? Was there really info in those emails that made the FBI worried about a breach in national security or were they just 12 yr olds titillated by sex talk? If harassing emails actually were enough to get the FBI on the job, i think alot of teens would have alot less cyber-bullying with which to contend.

That is the first disturbing fact: it appears that the FBI not only devoted substantial resources, but also engaged in highly invasive surveillance, for no reason other than to do a personal favor for a friend of one of its agents, to find out who was very mildly harassing her by email. The emails Kelley received were, as the Daily Beast reports, quite banal and clearly not an event that warranted an FBI investigation:
"The emails that Jill Kelley showed an FBI friend near the start of last summer were not jealous lover warnings like 'stay away from my man', a knowledgeable source tells The Daily Beast. . . .

"'More like, 'Who do you think you are? . . .You parade around the base . . . You need to take it down a notch,'" according to the source, who was until recently at the highest levels of the intelligence community and prefers not to be identified by name.


So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell's physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime - at most, they had a case of "cyber-harassment" more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people - and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.

It's both outrageous (but not surprising) that the FBI is allowed to conduct this type of warrantless snooping, and disturbing that this type of surveillance has become so accepted in our society that it has caused barely a blip in any reports by the media. It's more important to talk about how many pages of emails were printed out than it is to talk about the invasion of privacy.

Greenwald offers a tiny sliver of hope, though. Or mebbe it's just schadenfreude.

With the private, intimate activities of America's most revered military and intelligence officials being smeared all over newspapers and televisions for no good reason, perhaps similar conversions are possible. Put another way, having the career of the beloved CIA Director and the commanding general in Afghanistan instantly destroyed due to highly invasive and unwarranted electronic surveillance is almost enough to make one believe not only that there is a god, but that he is an ardent civil libertarian.

It's a nice hope, but i think we've gone too far to come back from the brink, as evidenced by the small number of people pointing out how wrong this investigation was. I do hope that something will be revealed at some point that makes any of this the least bit important, because so far, it might as well be an episode of Jerry Springer without the secret baby reveal.

By min | November 15, 2012, 2:38 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

What is the Fiscal Cliff?

I thought i 'splained this to you people, but i must have not been clear enough because i was looking at the comments on a Yahoo News article (i know, i know: Father forgive me for i am a glutton for punishment) and i kept seeing comments like "These politicians keep talking about the Fiscal Cliff but they want to RAISE TAXES instead of GETTING RID OF THE DEFICIT!!!!11".

Forget the fact that raising taxes reduces the deficit. The whole point of the fiscal cliff is that it will reduce the deficit.

What is the fiscal cliff?
The fiscal cliff is a poorly labeled catch-all for a few laws that will be expiring. I'm going to focus on three:

  1. The expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts

  2. Automatic spending cuts in military and domestic spending (This is often called "sequestration" in the press)

  3. The expiration of a Payroll Tax Cut

(A fourth item is an expiration of "temporary" corporate taxes that have always been temporary and Congress always extends anyway.)

Why is there a fiscal cliff?
There are three different and unrelated reasons, each associated with the three laws i mentioned above.

  1. The Bush Tax Cuts were passed through reconciliation and were deliberately made temporary so that they would not have an impact on the long term deficit. Why weren't they permanent? Part of it was so that they would look less damaging to the deficit than they were. Part of it is due to the archaic rules around reconciliation. The tax cuts is supposed to have expired already but they were extended once during the Obama administration.
  2. The spending cuts were part of a deal that was made the last time we raised the debt ceiling. Raising the debt ceiling used to be a routine and non-partisan thing. But the Republicans took a stand on it last time. And in return they got a non-binding agreement that the government would reduce the deficit by some dollar amount in the future, and if they failed to, there would be automatic cuts in spending. The government failed to reduce the deficit (because of Congressional gridlock), so now the automatic spending cuts are going to happen.
  3. The Payroll Tax Cut was a temporary stimulus measure passed in 2009. Why weren't they permanent? Because a stimulus is by design supposed to be temporary. And this was as far as Congress was willing to let them run (some people hoped the depression would be over by now, some were just worried about getting it past election season, and Republicans were hostile to the idea of a "conditional" extension that went away automatically when unemployment reached a certain number).

Is the fiscal cliff a bad thing?
The fiscal cliff reduces the deficit by raising taxes and cutting spending. So if you are a deficit hawk, you should like the fiscal cliff and hope that no one does anything about it. However, just about every politician and pundit that positions themselves as a deficit hawk has been screaming about the fiscal cliff using very contorted reasoning. Why? Because they don't really care about the deficit, they just want to reduce domestic spending. So the tax increases and the military cuts are problematic for them.

Economic liberals don't like the fiscal cliff because of the short-term effects. Right now, with low interest rates and high unemployment, we don't want to reduce spending. Just as spending increases have a large stimulus effect and tax cuts have a small stimulus effect, spending cuts have a large anti-stimulus effect and tax increases have a small anti-stimulus effect. In the long run, when we are out of our depression, liberals would like to see an increase in taxes, at least on the rich, but don't think this is the right time to do it.

The Obama administration has basically given up on stimulus and is hoping that the economy will recover on its own and is strong enough to survive some anti-stimulus. So they don't count as economic liberals in this scenario (if they ever did).

The politics and priorities
Bush tax Cuts
Obama would like to permanently extend the Bush rates for middle-income families (because they are popular and because it will keep the anti-stimulus effect small) and remove them for upper-income families (it's important to remember that we have a graduated income tax; i'll explain more about that later). If the Bush tax cuts expire, they will expire at all income brackets, which is a larger increase than Obama wants. It's also obviously a larger increase than Republicans want (which is zero). So Obama is better off letting the Bush tax cuts expire and then passing a new law that extends cuts for middle-incomes only. Obama will be in a better negotiating position if he lets the tax cuts expire rather than makes a deal during the lame duck session, because the Republicans will feel more pressure from their constituents to get back some of what they lost. This gives the Administration more leverage to create a bill that is favorable to Dem priorities; it is really the only leverage Obama will have to pass anything in Congress until 2014 (at least).

Spending Cuts
Regarding sequestration, if we must have spending cuts, liberals came away with the better side of the deal here. The deal forces cuts in the military, but gives the Obama Administration discretion regarding which domestic programs have to be cut. Medicare and Social Security were excluded from the deal. Of course, liberals prefer NO domestic cuts and most elected Democratic politicians also do not like to cut the military. So the Democrats may use the renegotiation of the Bush Obama tax cuts to reduce the cuts here; the more revenue we bring in from increased taxes, the less they will have to cut to make their numbers.

Payroll tax cuts
Of all tax cuts, the payroll tax cut had the strongest stimulative effect. This is because it affects more people; even working people who don't make enough to qualify for income tax still have to pay payroll tax. So from that perspective, liberals would like to see a temporary extension again. But liberals are also wary of this tax cut, because the payroll tax is what funds Social Security. The Obama administration has assured everyone that these cuts won't affect Social Security, but it's difficult to see how that is true, especially the longer they are extended. I assume the gap is now made up out of the regular budget, and the more Social Security becomes a line item in the regular budget instead of a self-funded service, the more vulnerable it is. But i expect that the Obama administration will seek another temporary extension of the payroll tax as part of the tax cut renegotiation deal as well.

What to watch for
The main thing is to see how far along things get before a deal is made. As i mentioned above, the best thing for the Obama administration to do is to wait until January to make any deals. Anything Obama agrees to during the lame duck session is less than he would get during the next session.

Then it's a question of what's in the deal. Again, if the deficit is your top priority, you really hope that no deal is made. If you're more concerned about short term economic problems, you hope the current status quo is restored and even a new round of spending is introduced (you might as well also wish for unicorns). The compromise position is somewhere in between, and it's just a question of which tax brackets get the increases and which spending programs get the cuts.

Did i explain anything?
This is much wordier and less bullet-pointy than i envisioned.

By fnord12 | November 15, 2012, 1:53 PM | Liberal Outrage | Comments (2)| Link

Voter Fraud Fraud

We've been getting variations on the "if only minorities didn't vote, Romney would have won" theme since the election, but so far no one has tried to lead the way in showing how to achieve that laudable goal. Until now. Here is the co-chair of Mitt Romney's Wisconsin campaign agreeing that Voter ID "would have made a difference" in Wisconsin (you have to click through and get to about 4:10 in the video).

Obama won Wisconsin by over 200,000 votes, so Alberta Darling must think there was a lot of fraud going on. I'm sure the actual instances of voter fraud were closer to 0. More likely she knows that many citizens who are legally entitled to vote, especially older and poorer people, simply don't have photo IDs, and she'd prefer if those sorts of people, who are likely Obama supporters, don't get to exercise their rights.

She goes on to say:

I know people will go, 'We don't have fraud and abuse in our elections.' But why, why can't we have voter ID when the majority of our people in Wisconsin wanted it, we passed it, the governor signed it? Why should one judge in Dane County be able to hold it up?

It's the same reason that the South didn't get to keep their Jim Crow laws even though a majority of people wanted it and the governor signed it.

I do understand why a lot of non-racist and non-partisan people support this law. Logically, it makes sense. We don't want people voting more than once and you should be required to prove you are who you say you are. But people need to realize the motivations driving this, and the fact that there are literally no instances of actual voter fraud*.

And people who have drivers licenses don't think about how onerous it is for a 70 year old lady who lived in the city her whole life and never needed a car to get (and pay for) a generic photo ID. Many don't even have the documentation necessary to get those IDs; that doesn't make them illegal.

And despite the lack of IDs, it's really difficult to actually vote more than once. When i went to vote this time, some idiot from another district with the same last name voted as me; even signed his name with a completely different signature right next to mine. Let's posit that he was actually committing fraud, and he voted in his own district as well. Well, when i got there and tried to vote, the officials clearly saw something was wrong. Granted they didn't know quite what to do about it, and if you asked me right there if i supported Voter ID i probably would have said yes, but in the end they were going to find the guy in his correct district and move the vote. I imagine if they found he voted there too they'd throw his duplicate vote away.

I suppose if this theoretical fraud knew that i didn't intend to vote he could have gotten away with it but it seems like high risk for little reward.

You could get passive support from me on issuing a National Voter ID to everyone when they receive their birth certificate and then requiring people born in 2014 or later to produce them at the voting booth. Republicans have said that even there are no instances of voter fraud today, it's good to require Voter ID as a preventative measure (in contrast to supporting regulation as preventative measures in just about any other area, suspiciously). So presumably they wouldn't mind waiting until 2032 to see this implemented. But it still seems like a lot of time, money, and energy spent to fix a non-existent problem, unless there's some other motive at play, which i think Darling's comments show is the case.

*Please don't tell me about instances of voter registration fraud (like someone filling out a registration card for Mickey Mouse) or cases where someone got arrested trying to prove that voter fraud exists.

By fnord12 | November 14, 2012, 10:08 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Why we shouldn't raise the retirement age

Paul Krugman has a list of four:

1. The relevant life expectancy is life expectancy at or near retirement age. Falling infant mortality doesn't make a case for delaying Social Security -- and that's important, because gains have been much less striking at age 65 than at birth.

2. Gains in life expectancy have been very strongly correlated with income and class; those with lower incomes and lower status -- the very people who depend most on Social Security -- have seen very small gains in life expectancy:

3. The retirement age has already been increased: the Greenspan Commission of the early 80s set it in motion, so that it's now 66 and scheduled to rise to 67, essentially consuming all of the life expectancy gains of the bottom 50 percent.

4. The alleged wise men of DC don't know any of this. When Ryan Grim tried to ask Alan Simpson [of Simpson-Bowles] about it, Simpson replied by denying the facts, attacking the interviewer, and insulting the AARP.

I'll add a fifth: because we can afford it and everybody deserves to share in this nation's productivity gains.

By fnord12 | November 13, 2012, 5:24 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Just move them to Medicare

One of the biggest stakes in this past election was whether or not the ACA ("Obamacare") would survive. According to the law, most of it wouldn't be implemented until 2014. So if Romney and the Republicans won, he would most likely not implement it or implement it poorly even if Congress somehow failed to repeal it. But now that Obama has won, he's free to implement the law without further input from Congress (which is good because we're going to be seeing nothing but gridlock from Congress until at least 2014).

Because the law was designed to appeal to moderate Republicans (even though none actually voted for it) and appease insurance companies, it's not a simple single-payer system but instead a complex system of exchanges.

Sarah Kliff at Ezra Klein's blog has this Rube-Goldberg diagram that represents the exchange system.

And if you land on the same square as someone else, you say 'Sorry!' and send them back to Outreach.

She also describes how the ACA allows states to come up with their own scheme (so there would be fifty variations of the above chart) or let the Federal government do it. And it's turning out that the Federal government will be doing it for a lot of states. That's good because the more consistent this process can be the more sense it will make and the more effective it will be. But it means a lot of work for the Obama administration; almost more than they will be able to handle, according to Kliff.

Now, the worry on the right is that these exchanges, if set up by the Federal government, will be a back door to single-payer (i could link to Free Republic or World Net Daily, but would you want me to?). And i'm hoping that for once their conspiracy theories turn out correct. Because setting up access to a centralized system that is already proven to be effective would be a much better use of time than setting up that mess above.

By fnord12 | November 13, 2012, 3:45 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

You're at the jubilee, or you're all alone

This is potentially really cool.

Now OWS is launching the ROLLING JUBILEE, a program that has been in development for months. OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you're a debt broker, once you own someone's debt you can do whatever you want with it -- traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We're playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)

There's some concern that the banks who actually own the debt packages won't sell due to the moral hazard (not punishing people who defaulted) but let them explain to the press why they won't let Occupy Wall Street crowdfund debt payments at market rates.

There's also some concern that you're actually giving money to the odious people that created these bad debt packages, and there's concern that poor people who just happen to not be in debt aren't getting an equal bail out, but no solution is perfect and i think this could be a really worthwhile effort.

By fnord12 | November 9, 2012, 4:16 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Still Not Safe To Drive Cross Country

I could mebbe get as far as Michigan, take a ferry to Wisconsin or Illinois, and then Iowa, but then i'd be stuck.

Fnord12 tried to sell me on the idea that we could just make a mad dash for Colorado (as if), but then we're still stuck cause there's no way in hell i'm going through Utah or Jan Brewer Country. So it's planes and intrusive body scans for me if i ever want to visit the west coast.

By min | November 9, 2012, 12:12 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

The best there is at what he does, but what he does ain't punditry

Since my last few posts have obviously been leaning towards the Silver-mania that is sweeping the blogopshere, i want to quote from this Washington Post column (via Daily Howler):

The main problem with this approach to politics is not that it is pseudo-scientific but that it is trivial. An election is not a mathematical equation; it is a nation making a decision. People are weighing the priorities of their society and the quality of their leaders. Those views, at any given moment, can be roughly measured. But spreadsheets don't add up to a political community. In a democracy, the convictions of the public ultimately depend on persuasion, which resists quantification.

Put another way: The most interesting and important thing about politics is not the measurement of opinion but the formation of opinion. Public opinion is the product -- the outcome -- of politics; it is not the substance of politics. If political punditry has any value in a democracy, it is in clarifying large policy issues and ethical debates, not in "scientific" assessments of public views.


And so, at the election's close, we talk of Silver's statistical model and the likely turnout in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and relatively little about poverty, social mobility or unsustainable debt. The nearer this campaign has come to its end, the more devoid of substance it has become. This is not the advance of scientific rigor. It is a sad and sterile emptiness at the heart of a noble enterprise.

As the Howler points out, the reason there's a focus on Silver is because the pundits are worthless anyway.

This alleged presidential campaign has been a very bad joke. But guess what? That isn't Nate Silver's fault! And since predictions will be made, Silver performed an obvious service by making predictions with rigor.

In our view, the focus on Silver was overdone, for the reasons Gerson expressed. But that isn't Silver's fault or doing, and Silver performed a rare public service during this campaign.

Incredibly, Silver let people see what it's like to read a journalist who actually knows what he's talking about--a journalist who is working with a lot of data and information in an intelligent way.

Relegating the prediction business to Silver and other number crunchers and freeing up the pundits to talk about policy issues would be a decent step forward. Replacing our current pundits with people who would approach policy discussions with the same rigor that Silver uses for poll analysis is the real goal.

By fnord12 | November 9, 2012, 9:59 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Ohio didn't even matter

Speaking of Nate Silver and "the math", here's this chart of states arranged by Obama's margin.

Chart shamelessly 'preserved' so i can be sure i have it for comparison in 2016.

As Nate notes, the real tipping point state here turned out to be Colorado, not Ohio, meaning all the money and effort spent there (and Virginia and Florida) turned out to be about running up the scoreboard (useful for claiming a mandate!), but not necessary for winning the election.

Before i go further, please go read Tom Tomorrow's cautionary victory cartoon.

Ok, with that wet blanket out of the way, looking at those margins, i really do find it hard to understand how the Republicans recover at the presidential level. Since a lot of this has to do with changing demographics, it does come down to peeling Hispanic voters out of the D column. And that doesn't just mean putting Marco Rubio at the top of the ticket. It means actual party platform changes. And even if the Republicans manage to pull that off, it would be a major step forward for the country.

The other option for Republicans is to start pushing to get rid of the Electoral College (obviously not an easy task, but neither is re-orienting their platform to appeal to their current base and Hispanic voters). And i'd be happy with that outcome as well.

By fnord12 | November 9, 2012, 9:33 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Buying your own hype

TPM links to this incredible 2 pager at CBS that shows that the Romney campaign was absolutely confident that they were going to win the election. The second page has what they think are the three major miscalculations:

1. They "unskewed" the polls (even their own internals) and assumed low minority turnout
2. They didn't understand or believe what was widely known about Republicans identifying themselves as Independents in polls
3. They kept faith in the "undecideds always break for the challenger" rule that hasn't been true recently (see Nate Silver, ofc).

TPM has a great chart illustrating the party identification issue and the post on this is a good follow-up anyway. Josh Marshall has trouble even buying the veracity of the CBS article.

Points 2 and 3 may be technical miscalculations, although while i could see letting those items give yourself hope when the polling is against you, it's a far cry from that to being confident in a win, as the CBS article predicts. But the first point is really just believing your own propaganda. They sold the message that Obama was a failure and had disappointed even his own supporters for so long that they couldn't believe anyone show up to vote for him. In fact Obama increased his turnout in key areas whereas Romney didn't get all of McCain's votes.

(Maybe they just read too many liberal blogs. We bitch and moan a lot, but Obama's approval ratings have always remained high. There aren't enough disgruntled bloggers to change that, and most of us probably come along in the end anyway.)

The math showed a comfortable victory for Obama. Even the misinformed pundits predicted at best a nail biter. I just don't understand how you get to "I don't think there was one person who saw this coming."

By fnord12 | November 9, 2012, 9:12 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy would cost 200,000 jobs

I know i sound like a Republican on this issue, but TPM gets this backwards ("CBO: Expiring Bush Tax Cuts For Wealthy Are Least Economically Harmful").

From their post:

CBO doesn't examine the top bracket Bush tax cuts directly. But it does look at two competing scenarios: One where all of the expiring tax cuts except for the payroll tax cut are extended; another where all of the expiring tax cuts except for the payroll tax cut and the Bush tax cuts for top earners are extended.

The former, CBO says, would increase employment by 1.8 million full time equivalent employees in 2013 relative to allowing everything to lapse. The latter would increase employment by 1.6 million. The difference, 200,000 full time equivalent jobs, is attributable to the expiration of the top bracket Bush tax cuts alone.

I'm all for bringing tax rates back to what they were in the Clinton era (hell, i prefer the Eisenhower era), but not while we're in a depression. That said, the automatic expiration of the Bush tax cuts and the automatic spending cuts built into the debt ceiling agreement are all the leverage Obama has since the Republicans still control the house, so in my fantasy world he credibly bluffs everyone into thinking he'll let these things happen and then reluctantly agrees to $1 trillion in new stimulus money in return for extending the cuts for 2 more years. Then when the stimulus money runs out and unemplyoment is under 5% and everybody loves the Democrats so much that they win back the House in 2014, we can start worrying about deficit reduction (OK, i bet i don't sound like a Republican anymore).

By fnord12 | November 9, 2012, 8:38 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

In which i defend Karl Rove

I'm seeing a lot of gloating along the lines of "Super-PACs spent all this money and they still lost, so ha ha, aren't they stupid?". No.

The implications of this are that Citizens United turned out to be a false alarm and we don't really need campaign finance reform. We shouldn't go there. The billionaires will just regroup and do better next time.

"The billionaire donors I hear are livid," one Republican operative told The Huffington Post. "There is some holy hell to pay. Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do ... I don't know how you tell your donors that we spent $390 million and got nothing."....Rove was forced to defend his group's expenditures live on Fox News on Tuesday night, and will hold a briefing with top donors on Thursday, according to Politico.

This election was closer than it should have been, and the disinformation campaign funded by the Super-PACs was a large part of why. I'm not saying everyone who voted for Romney did so out of ignorance, but clearly these people did, and so does everyone who believes in "Obama phones" (incidentally, watch for the growth of this "Makers and takers" language, straight out of Ayn Rand). Fox News certainly contributes their share, but to really reach the people you need ads and direct mails and door to door efforts, and the Super-PACs funded that. So Karl Rove did his job, even if he skimmed off the top. Luckily, it wasn't enough, but that doesn't mean the money wasn't effective.

By fnord12 | November 8, 2012, 11:49 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Obama won a mandate... to do what they want

Bush in 2004:

Bush staked his claim to a broad mandate and announced his top priorities at a post-election news conference, saying his 3.5 million vote victory had won him political capital that he would spend enacting his conservative agenda.

"I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," Bush told reporters. "It is my style."


"When you win, there is ... a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view," Bush said. "And that's what I intend to tell Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; now let's work."

The media on Bush's mandate:

The Boston Globe (11/4/04) reported that Bush's victory grants him "a clear mandate to advance a conservative agenda over the next four years." The Los Angeles Times (11/4/04) made the somewhat peculiar observation that "Bush can claim a solid mandate of 51 percent of the vote." USA Today (11/4/04) was more definitive, headlining one story "Clear Mandate Will Boost Bush's Authority, Reach," while reporting that Bush "will begin his second term with a clearer and more commanding mandate than he held for the first." The Washington Post (11/4/04) similarly pointed to Bush's "clearer mandate," implying that the election of 2000, in which Bush failed to get even a plurality of the popular vote, was a mandate of sorts, if an unclear one.

Broadcast media also took up the "mandate" theme. MSNBC host Chris Matthews announced at the top of his November 3 broadcast, "President Bush wins the majority of the vote and a mandate for his second term." CNN's Wolf Blitzer (11/3/04) offered his assessment that Bush is "going to say he's got a mandate from the American people, and by all accounts he does." NPR's Renee Montague (11/3/04) also relayed the White House's spin, before quickly agreeing with it: "The president's people are calling this a mandate. By any definition I think you could call this a mandate."

With Obama's win in 2012? No mandate:

OK, conservatives are saying, Obama won, but he didn't win by enough to claim a "mandate." "I think the real story here is that Obama won but he's got no mandate," Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer said on Fox News last night. "So this is not a mandate in the number [of electoral votes], or in the way that he campaigned... He won by going very small, very negative."

House Speaker John Beohner, a bit later in the evening: "With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates." And it's everywhere on Twitter: no mandate, no mandate, no mandate.

Bush won with 286 electoral votes. Obama has at least 303 and will likely get 332 once Florida is settled. We keep hearing that it was a tight race, but anyone watching Nate Silver, whose model was 100% accurate, knows that wasn't true. The "Razor-tight" election only existed in the minds of pundits, either due to laziness or because it's good for ratings. Conservatives are going to push this stuff, but the media shouldn't buy it (and of course the Democrats should push back, but good luck with that).

Even uglier is this quote from Politico:

If President Barack Obama wins, he will be the popular choice of Hispanics, African-Americans, single women and highly educated urban whites. That's what the polling has consistently shown in the final days of the campaign. It looks more likely than not that he will lose independents, and it's possible he will get a lower percentage of white voters than George W. Bush got of Hispanic voters in 2000.

A broad mandate this is not.

Right. If you don't get enough white people men to vote for you, it doesn't count.

Oh wait, someone is saying Obama got a mandate. It's from centrist-fetishist Joe Klein at Time magazine. And it's a mandate for moderation:

It will, and should, be argued that the election was a mandate for moderation. The last month of Mitt Romney's campaign, when he rushed to the center and suddenly made it a race, ratified the real will of the people: a sensible centrism that runs deeper than the overcaffeinated bluster that seems to dominate the media. The election hinted that the third rail of American politics -- the certain death that comes to those who question entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare -- is beginning to lose its juice.

Actually, this insane notion is quite prevalent right now.

By fnord12 | November 8, 2012, 9:08 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Why NOT the House?

Following up on my previous post, this WAS a presidential cycle and Obama won the popular vote and Democrats did surprisingly well in Senate races. So why didn't the Dems also take back the House? TPM says the answer is gerrymandering.

In that article the problem sounds at least partially like a preparedness issue (an anonymous Dem operative says they'll be better prepared in 2014, which raises the question "How did you not anticipate this after 2010?"). Also the fact that so many representatives run unopposed (i'm having trouble finding exact numbers on this but i know it includes John Boehner ); that's just pure negligence. I don't care if you don't have money to spend on a long-shot race - you've got to be able to find someone just to be on the ballot.

But it's more than just a strategy/counter-strategy problem. Having a statewide election and then assigning representatives proportionally makes a lot more sense. Or heck, let's just have a national parliamentary system like every other advanced democracy. I know why we are where we are; it's related to our country's history. But our system was designed to evolved and we're not doing it.

There's also this fact mentioned in the comments of the TPM article: "It's been 100 years since we took the House to 435 members. The population has almost tripled since then as well as giving women the vote".

By fnord12 | November 7, 2012, 2:26 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Election summary

(Because you can't get enough of this crap on every other website today...)

My previous hemming and hawing aside, there's a lot to be happy about with Obama's re-election.

But even beyond the presidential election, last night was pretty big. Elizabeth Warren's election is the biggest thing to be happy about. Tammy Baldwin's win is big. Replacing Joe Lieberman with an actual Democrat (and not Linda McMahon) is great. Independent Angus King is potentially interesting; i heard he was talking about eliminating the filibuster with Harry Reid. Overall, the Senate's make-up has improved quite a bit. We won't see any immediate results from that since Republicans still control the House, but it's a good foundation. There's one Democrat that didn't win in the Senate that i'm glad about, and that's Bob Kerrey. He would have been another in the Lieberman/Even Bayh category that does more harm than good, and i'd rather have a pure opponent than someone the Dems think they can trust but screws them over at the last minute of every deal.

In the House a number of bogeymen were defeated: Joe Walsh (replaced by Tammy Duckworth who seems like she'll be great), Todd Akin (tried for the Senate and failed), Allen West. These are symbolic, scalp-taking, victories since they don't change the fact that Republicans still control the House (as expected), and they could be fleeting: Reps come up for re-election every two years, and elections on the non-Presidential cycle have much lower turnout, which means only the more engaged people vote, and that generally helps Republicans. The Democrats seemingly failed to prepare for that in 2010 and didn't mobilize OFA to get out the vote the way you would expect. So this is potentially an area of concern for 2014. The Senate situation for 2014 isn't looking great for Dems either.

Another area for celebration are the referendums - either legalizing gay marriage or beating back anti-marriage proposals, decriminalizing marijuana, and chipping away at California's draconian anti-tax rule. All good stuff, but again, referendums in the off-cycles represent a vulnerability.

Next up: seeing how Obama handles the so-called "fiscal cliff" negotiations.

By fnord12 | November 7, 2012, 1:11 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

We can't be a nation of doctors

Following up on my socialistic outburst from yesterday...

Kevin Drum has an incredible chart showing how jobs that can be outsourced to automation simply don't come back when a recession ends. As Drum hints at, when you hear politicians talk about this, they grasp for "education" as the cure. Apparently we're all supposed to become doctors. It's just not possible! Not everyone can be qualified, not everyone can afford the twelve years of school, and not everyone wants to be one. Plus i wouldn't be surprised if within a decade or two this automation starts seriously encroaching on doctors as well.

So what's the solution here? Embrace the vision of our 1960s Utopianists! Let our robots do all our work for us and let us reap the rewards!

I know i'm going further and further down a weird path here, but we really are reaching the point where technology is pushing us beyond the economic model of capitalism. It's the same situation with content providers (software, movies, music, comic books!, etc.). You can get anything for free online. "For free" is only part of the reason why; the other factor is that the internet just makes it so damn easy.

As i mentioned in my previous post, we had a choice to make, and we chose a winner-take-all version of capitalism. As technology continues to improve, we're going to have to make the choice again and this time it's going to be the difference between socialism and serfdom.

Ok, that fulfills my quota of overly dramatic posts for the week.

By fnord12 | November 6, 2012, 4:02 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Heads explode

On the day before the election Matthew Yglesias makes the case that Romney will be better for short term growth, something i've also mentioned previously. Bernard Finel at Balloon Juice misses the point and resorts to name calling.

By fnord12 | November 5, 2012, 6:14 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Lying to people works

It's fun to laugh at stupid people, like the people in this video...

...or the people who think Obama's going to put a microchip in your arm, but the truth is these people are victims of a massive and well-funded disinformation campaign.

By fnord12 | November 5, 2012, 2:27 PM | Liberal Outrage | Link

Going Full Socialist

Since i revealed my plans to conquer America and install a socialist dictatorship in the previous post, i might as well comment on this New York Times article that takes a look at industrial decline along the East Coast rail line as well. It's a good article that i recommend that you read, but i wanted to focus on this passage because it called me back to my Noam Chomsky days.

The atrophying of the country's ability to "make real things" has been much lamented, but the truth is that U.S. manufacturing has never been stronger. While there are no universally accepted numbers, the United Nations Statistics Division calculates that the dollar value of goods made in America is at an all-time high of $1.9 trillion, just about even with China. The catch is that the number of American workers needed to create all thatvalue has dropped steadily... a handful of highly trained workers guiding machines that return huge value to shareholders while all the time finding ways to produce more goods with fewer workers.

If you ever go back to articles from the 1950s and 60s and read about the coming wave of automation, you'll be amused by people talking about how the work week will be drastically reduced because of how so much of our jobs will be done by machines (See here: "Perhaps the gains of the automation revolution will carry us on from a mass democracy to a mass aristocracy.... The common man will become a university-educated world traveler with a summer place in the country, enjoying such leisure-time activities as sailing and concert going."). It sounds insanely naive and idealistic but it really was how some people were thinking at the time. We had some choices - we could keep having the same levels of growth and profit and do less work, or we could increase profits by working the same. We chose the latter, and while some people continued to work the same (and in many cases more), others were simply no longer needed (or wanted, or cared about... soup is good food). We had a choice where everyone could share in those profits or whether the profits would only go to the owners of business, even if they weren't responsible for the gains in productivity that allowed them to increase their profits. Again, we chose the latter.

Good paying manufacturing jobs aren't coming back, and they shouldn't have to in order for everyone in this country to share in our country's wealth. We have the highest GDP in the world; it's just that many of the citizens along the Amtrak line (and elsewhere!) don't get their share of it.

By fnord12 | November 5, 2012, 10:00 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

How Amazon is destroying the world and why i don't mind

Matthew Yglesias has the latest in the continuing saga of how Amazon is crowding out all of its competitors. I recommend following the link to the Charlie Stross article for the details (including how publishers screwed themselves on DRM) and also clicking on Yglesias' self-link for a little background.

For those who don't follow links, here's the simplified summary in two points. The first is that Amazon is so successful it's becoming a monopoly, both in book publishing and in retail. The second is that despite its "success" it's not actually profitable; Amazon's stockholders basically just don't seem to mind that Amazon isn't making any money, which allows it to continue on its world domination scheme.

The business model may be the equivalent of how Starbucks would put a store on every corner and reduce prices until every mom & pop coffee shop went out of business, losing money the whole time, and then when all the competition was eliminated they'd close stores and raise prices.

But in the meantime, at least, Amazon is awesome for consumers. Forget the prices; just being able to click and buy anything without having to leave the house is awesome. My supermarket stopped stocking the peppermint tea that i like? I'll just buy it on Amazon and while i'm there why not buy all my dry food goods from them and only go to the store for fresh vegetables?

But of course Amazon can't go on being unprofitable forever. So why am i not worried? Because by the time we have to pay the piper, i'll be Socialist Dictator For Life, and i'll just nationalize the company, pay off its shareholders, unionize the employees, and hand the whole thing over to the post office. Running unprofitable but useful-to-society ventures is just what the government is for, after all.

By fnord12 | November 5, 2012, 9:34 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

The case for price gouging

Yglesias goes there in reaction to the huge lines at gas stations.

These lines of people waiting in lines to get gas for their generators is a new thing to me, and my first reaction is "what a waste; send that gas to the hospitals!". Easy for me to say; i've got power back already. We're very lucky that so far it hasn't been extremely cold.

I'm not sure how Yglesias' "If we allow prices to increase, only those who really need gas will buy it" doesn't turn into "If we allow prices to increase, only the very rich will buy it". Christie's rule against price-gouging is a form of big government control. I'd be supportive of an even more direct "seize and redistribute" approach. I'm not sure what's best.

One thing i do know is that min's employers opened their doors today, and that means more people on the roads for what i would argue is not an essential service (i at least can work remotely) at a time where gas resources are hard to get. Doesn't seem to be a smart move and it's another area i wouldn't mind seeing a crackdown.

By fnord12 | November 1, 2012, 11:56 AM | Liberal Outrage | Link

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