Monday, December 21


Almost everyone's had to go to the car dealership and buy a new car. When you go, you go with a basic premise in mind; that both you and the salesman want you to walk out with a new car. Both of you want your situation to be different when you leave than when you came in. Starting from that premise, the negotiations are pretty easy. There about things like warranties, accessories, and price. When you leave with a new car you might say to yourself, " I paid a little bit more than I wanted too, but, I got an extended warranty and a new mp3 player installed. All in all, I'm happy with the deal." The salesman, after you walk out, might say to themselves, " You know, I didn't get them to spend as much as I wanted. However, my commission will still be nice, and, I got another sale so I'm closer to getting that ' Salesman of the Month' bonus. All in all, I'm happy with the deal." This is possible because both you and the salesman on the otherside of the table knew you would both benefit from getting you into that new car.

Now imagine that salesman doesn't want to sell you that car. Imagine he thinks that you'll just make the car dirty if you get it so he's determined to make sure none ever leave the lot. Negotiations are gonna go a little bit differently. You ask if you can have an extended warranty, NO. You ask if you pay above sticker price if you can have a new and better stereo, NO. If you can pay under sticker price and let them off the hook for the warranty, NO. After awhile your gonna get fed-up and say, " Forget you then! I'll just go and build my own car." Now how many of us know or could afford to build our own car? Probably not many. So, you have to go ask someone to build it for you. They say, " Sure, but I wanna use it 3 days a week." You need a car so you agree. You borrow money to buy the engine, but the person you borrow the money from says they don't like speeders, so their only gonna give you enough money to get an engine that tops out at 60 mph. You agree. You go to buy the spark plugs, but you can only afford the economy ones that don't fire well so it's always rough to start the car. Lastly you get the shell but you can only afford an ugly rusty one. So what have you got: An ugly piece of junk that's hard to start, won't go past 60 mph, and you only get to drive 4 days a week. Now there's an argument to be made that you should scrap the car, get your money back, and come back at the endeavour when you've got better means. There's also an argument to be made that at least with a car you'll be able to get around better, thereby increasing your possibility for getting the means you need to improve upon your crappy car. There are valid points on both sides. However, let's not forget the reason for this predicament, i.e, the salesman being completely unwilling to negotiate with you for a good car in the first place.

Democracy is based on one unchangeable principle: Nobody gets everything that they want. We are all free and equal because we are all equally disappointed in what we get from the bargaining table. But if you want a seat at that table, you have to be willing to lose a little bit. Does anybody think that if 10-20 House Republicans had come up to the Speaker and said that they would be willing to vote for Healthcare Bill as long as there was no Public Option, that the House would have one in their bill? Does anyone think that if 1-2 Senate Republicans had been willing to cast their votes in favor of the bill if their was Medical Malpractice caps, that the Democrats wouldn't now being telling their trial lawyer friends to please not be mad at what had to happen? You sacrifice some things you want in order to get others. You want good grades, your not gonna be able to party 24/7. You want a nice house and money to spend, your going to have to be at a job that for most people isn't greatly satisfying. You want a family, your days of doing what you want, when you want, are going to have to go out the window. The ability to sacrifice some things in order to get other, more important things. There's a word for it: Adult. Let's hope that those in Congress who would rather say 'No' then ' Maybe' acquire this ability before the country turns into a slow crusty lemon that only works 4/7 of the time.

Wednesday, November 18

Telegraph: Encyclopaedia Britannica 1768

A few weird and interesting facts circa 1768:

Homo sapiens were sub divided into five varieties: the American, the European, the Asiatic, the African and the monstrous.

Cures for flatulence included drinking chamomile tea and blowing smoke from a pipe ‘through the anus.’

The US state of Callifornia was spelt with two ‘L’s’ and is described as ‘a large country of the West Indies. Unknown whether it is an island or a peninsula.’

Side note: Apparently in 1768, words were "spelt" and not "spelled". Hmm.
(In honor of my "Rent-a-Muse" know who you are.)

Saturday, October 31

MediaMatters: Comparing FOX/MSNBC

Jamison Foser of Media Matters wrote a great piece about the FOX/MSNBC/White House nonsense. In a nut shell, the White House has come to the conclusion that FOX News is not a real news organization, FOX says that MSNBC is the left version of them, and a ridiculous amount of people in journalism have decided to not only defend FOX, but also accept that equation. This is something Aaron Sorkin would pitch as a movie idea. Foser puts it all into a perspective that ignores the petty pundit soundbites and gets to the heart of the controversy.

First, he discusses the actual programming content and the time allotted to partisan ideals on both networks:

But hey, guess what? Maddow, Schultz and Olbermann account for three hours of original programming a day -- exactly the same as Joe Scarborough, who hosts the agenda-setting Morning Joe. That's conservative Joe Scarborough. Former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough. And if you watch MSNBC during the day, you'll see a parade of anchors and reporters who frequently adopt conservative frames, pass along GOP spin, and routinely fail to challenge obvious falsehoods from conservative guests. I'm not saying these daytime reporters are conservatives, but I am saying they frequently (unknowingly, I'm willing to assume) traffic in conservative misinformation. Taken as a whole, it's awfully hard to say with a straight face that MSNBC leans to the left.

And yet reporters keep insisting that not only does MSNBC lean to the left, it leans as far to the left as Fox. (And, in the process, they ignore or downplay the central truth that the real problem with Fox isn't merely that it leans to the right, but that it is fundamentally dishonest; that its goals are not to inform the public, but to destroy people it sees as its enemies.)

Next, Foser demolishes CNN's Campbell Brown for attempting to capitalize on this feud by agreeing with the FOX/MSNBC comparison:

And in Brown's telling, MSNBC "leans left" just as much as Fox "leans to the right." Of course, Brown doesn't actually provide any examples; doesn't even name any names. In a segment that ran nearly 1,000 words, Brown didn't provide a single example of slanted commentary, flawed journalism, false claims, or anything else at all. No facts, no details, nothing.

It sure is easy to insist that Fox and MSNBC are equivalent when you don't have to actually assess what they do, isn't it? But that isn't really journalism; it's just pontification and spin.

But Brown can't offer examples; can't get into details, because if she did, the fantasy she constructs that Fox and MSNBC are polar opposites would fall apart.

She'd have to try to find MSNBC equivalents of Fox -- not just Hannity, but Bill Hemmer and Brett Baier, too -- falsely accusing an Obama administration official of covering up statutory rape. And of Hemmer falsely claiming Democrats "voted to give special protection to pedophiles."

She'd have to find the MSNBC equivalent of Fox reporter Jon Scott repeatedly being caught passing off GOP talking points (typos and all) as his original reporting. She'd have to find the MSNBC equivalent of Fox anchor Martha MacCallum having to apologize for passing off a six-month-old Joe Biden quote about the economy as a current comment -- a clip Fox deceptively cropped to make it appear Biden was saying something that he was actually criticizing John McCain for saying. And of White House correspondent Wendell Goler cropping an Obama comment and taking it out of context, completely reversing the statement's meaning in the process. Not Sean Hannity, not Glenn Beck -- Wendell Goler.

She'd have to find the MSNBC equivalent of Chris Wallace calling the Obama administration the "biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington." Anyone think David Gregory ever said anything like that about the Bush administration?

Campbell Brown knows she can't find any of these things, so she doesn't even try. And I haven't even scratched the surface of Fox's malicious and deeply dishonest attacks on those they disagree with; their assault on fact and reason, or their cheerleading for pet causes.

But even if Brown could find the MSNBC equivalent of all that and more -- which, again, she simply cannot do -- she'd still have to find the Fox equivalent of MSNBC handing over three hours a day to former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough. And of MSNBC employing Pat Buchanan, the nation's most famous bigot. And of raging Clinton-hater, liberal-basher and on-air misogynist Chris Matthews hosting one of MSNBC's signature shows. And of MSNBC's "straight news" reporters regularly adopting conservative frames and failing to challenge right-wing lies during interviews. She'd have to find the Fox version of MSNBC's use of Michelle Bernard, a right-wing activist who has been sending out false and despicable anti-health care reform attack emails, as host of a special forum dealing with health care.

Campbell Brown can't do that, either.

Read the whole thing here.

100 Hilarious College Courses

I find this list fascinating for many reasons. First, the list is in subsections that do not prepare you for the actual class titles. For example, under the section reasonably titled "Life Skills", there is a Princeton course called "Getting Dressed". Furthermore, the section titled "Literature and Language" has a course called "Those Sexy Victorians". I'm willing to bet that class has a wait list.

I also like the way the list was set up. Not only is there a brief description of every class, but each course title is linked directly to the school's actual catalog description. This way, you don't have to hunt for that Temple University course about UFOs in America. Instant gratification.

The biggest reason this list fascinates me: I would definitely take a few of these classes. As odd as they sound, I have to admit I would take them. A few that stood out to me:

Comparative History of Organized Crime. Henry Hill, Donnie Brasco, and more. Sign me up.
Purity and Porn in America. Because, well, you have to take a class in porn, right?
Nuthin' but a "G" Thang: I don't listen to Gangsta Rap. I want to embrace my inner thug.
The Office: Awesome, Awkward, & Addicting: I watch the show so might as well get credit.

Which classes would you take?

Saturday, September 19

What Cocktail Are You?

Curious? Take the quiz.

Apparently, I should be drinking a Martini. Who am I to argue? Where's the gin?

Make Up Your Mind

This picture from is associated with an excellent post regarding taxes and the military. For those of you who hate snark, do not click the link. Oh, and get a sense of humor, dammit.

Sunday, August 23

Taliban Cuts Off Fingers Of Voters

For the purpose of intimidation, the Taliban announced their plan for violence during the Afghanistan Presidential elections. They were not kidding.

From CNN:

Making good on a threat of election day violence, the Taliban sliced off the index fingers of at least two people in Kandahar province, according to a vote monitoring group.

After they cast their ballots, the fingers of Afghan voters are stained with ink to prevent them from voting multiple times. The fingers of the two women in Kandahar, a stronghold of the Taliban, were cut off because they voted, said Nader Naderi of the Free and Fair Election Foundation.

So, the next time Election Day comes around for you and all you can think of is the many excuses not to vote, think of this story. Think about these two brave women and the many more who voted knowing they were risking their lives. Then vote.

Saturday, August 22

Time:High Price of Cheap Food

Brian Walsh has written a disturbing yet informative piece about the high price of cheap food here in America. The article covers many aspects including farming techniques, price-to-calories ratio and environmental costs:

But cheap food is not free food, and corn comes with hidden costs. The crop is heavily fertilized — both with chemicals like nitrogen and with subsidies from Washington. Over the past decade, the Federal Government has poured more than $50 billion into the corn industry, keeping prices for the crop — at least until corn ethanol skewed the market — artificially low. That's why McDonald's can sell you a Big Mac, fries and a Coke for around $5 — a bargain, given that the meal contains nearly 1,200 calories, more than half the daily recommended requirement for adults. "Taxpayer subsidies basically underwrite cheap grain, and that's what the factory-farming system for meat is entirely dependent on," says Gurian-Sherman.

So what's wrong with cheap food and cheap meat — especially in a world in which more than 1 billion people go hungry? A lot. For one thing, not all food is equally inexpensive; fruits and vegetables don't receive the same price supports as grains. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a dollar could buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or 875 calories of soda but just 250 calories of vegetables or 170 calories of fresh fruit. With the backing of the government, farmers are producing more calories — some 500 more per person per day since the 1970s — but too many are unhealthy calories. Given that, it's no surprise we're so fat; it simply costs too much to be thin.

This leads to a discussion I recently had with my brother about health care reform. The debate about reforming our health care system has been about cost from the very beginning: insurance premiums, deficit control, etc. This is understandable and expected. However, the strong (and sometimes twisted) debate has yet to turn to actual health care issues. The money aspect of the debate is important, but so is disease prevention, obesity control and exercise options. Food production and consumption plays into all of these issues. But this has yet to enter into the discussion. It is past time that it does. Health care reform without debating health is just health insurance reform. Just read the article. Money does not solve the whole problem.

Wednesday, August 12

Perseids, Rat-Eating Plants and More Random Links

Just a few quick hits before work:

Have you checked out the Perseids yet?

Do you remember the movie "Little Shop of Horrors"? Disturbingly funny flick about a man-eating plant and his owner? Well, a recently discovered pitcher plant eats meat. Not just flies and mosquitoes. Rats. The plant eats rats. Creepy.

It turns out, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota can draw the U.S. freehand in about 3 minutes. No kidding. Very cool.

Thursday, July 30

The Health Of Nations: A Comparison

Canada has earned a steady “B” on this indicator for nearly five decades. Japan’s impressive increase in life expectancy has set a high bar for attaining an “A” grade on average in this decade, a standard that only Switzerland has met. Moreover, Japan, which had among the lowest life expectancies in the 1960s, has been a steady “A” performer ever since. Of the five top-ranked countries in the 1970s, only Japan has been able to consistently maintain its “A.” Switzerland lost its “A” in the 1990s, regaining it in the current decade.

The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, on the other hand, have all lost their top-ranking status.

The U.S. has also seen a decline in its relative performance. It earned a “C” in the 1960s and 1970s and dropped to a “D” in the 1980s, where it has remained.

More links and charts here.

Wednesday, July 29

The Stimulus Is Working

From Fast Lane, the Department of Transportation blog:

Here's the scorecard:

•$22 billion--nearly half of DOT's stimulus money--made available to the States;
•Over 6,600 projects approved
•Over 3,200 projects underway right now

And the future promises even more boosts to economic activity:

•$8 billion in high-speed rail development
•$1.5 billion in TIGER discretionary grants

Sounds great to me. Let's remember, there was never a promise of immediate relief. The President never said that no one would ever lose their job ever again. The stimulus is about creating and sustaining jobs as well as rebuilding our national infrastructure and expanding green technology to have a more robust economy and a better national future. There is a long way to go, but we could not have started without the stimulus.

Ray LaHood, the Secretary of Transportation, says it more succinctly:

I know the stimulus can't make up for every job our economy has shed. But we have supported over 5,000 jobs already, with up to 500,000 more on the way once the full effect of this landmark program is felt in the transportation industry.

And every job we do create or preserve should be counted as a victory.

Saturday, July 18

PopSci: 10 Facts About Apollo 11 Moon Landing

With the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing approaching, I thought I would present this post from Popular Science. It is a list of 10 interesting facts about the mission. Personally, #2 really caught my eye: "The Apollo computers had less processing power than a cellphone."

One can only imagine the possibilities if we, as a nation, had continued our initial investment in space exploration and massive science education. Hopefully, the upcoming 40th anniversary of man's first steps on the moon will renew that spirit of challenge and curiosity.

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win... President John F. Kennedy, September 12th, 1962

Monday, June 29

Random Stories That Intrigued Me

NPR: Soldiers are not alone in their suffering of PTSD. Dr. Anthony Feinstein estimates that up to 12% of combat journalists suffer as well. Word of the Day: clandestine. Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: skimble-skamble. M-W wins.

UPI: There is a major radio ad campaign happening that you probably haven't heard about. People in Nova Scotia are being asked to not flush certain items down the toilet. Why? Due to a major failure at a sewage treatment plant, the beaches in Halifax are littered with tampon applicators and other "floatables". Gross.

Reuters: Queen Elizabeth wants to know how many swans she actually has. This involves her Swan Marker and her Swan Warden and skiffs. There is a lot of prep work involved so the official count is in three weeks. A swan census. This is serious business, folks.

Gay Marriage Flowchart by Patrick Farley

Compiled by Patrick Farley

Friday, June 19

Links About LGBT Issues, Jailed Journalists, Cookie Dough and More

The Advocate: 2008 saw a 28% increase in killings of LGBT people. The 29 murders represented the highest number recorded since 1999.

The Business Insider: Lara Ling and Euna Lee are not the only journalists jailed in foreign countries.

The Wall Street Journal: Will someone please explain to me how the government will count married same-sex couples in the Census if same-sex marriages are not federally recognized.

Treehugger: Phoenix light-rail is exceeding daily ridership expectations.

The New York Times: Nestle has voluntarily recalled its Toll House cookie dough because a few dozen people got very sick after eating it raw. Interestingly, the recall does not include its ice cream products with raw cookie dough. Go figure.

Friday, June 5

Great Show By Rachel Maddow Last Night

The Rachel Maddow Show was excellent again last night. The clip below is the first 15 minutes Rachel spent talking about President Obama's speech in Cairo yesterday. We get the fantastic Rachel Breakdown and, to wrap it all up, the great Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Also, classic snark:

Knowing Someone Gay Helps With Perspective On Marriage

Recently, Gallup asked people about their feelings regarding gay marriage. What makes this poll different than most? They broke down the results based on whether people were personally associated with gays and lesbians.

From Gallup:

The Gallup Poll data reviewed above show conclusively that many views toward gay and lesbian issues are related -- in some instances, strongly so -- to personal experience with individuals who are gay or lesbian. There are two plausible explanations for this relationship. One is that exposure to gays and lesbians leads to greater acceptance, regardless of one's ideological leanings. The second is that people who are more accepting of gays and lesbians are more likely to put themselves into situations in which they are exposed to gays and lesbians -- in terms of cities and regions of residence, as well as workplace and social choices. Both of these processes are at work, though it is difficult to say which is more important.

Whatever the direction of causality, the data do make a strong case that knowing someone who is gay or lesbian fosters more accepting attitudes on many of the issues surrounding gay and lesbian relations today.

To see more charts, go here

Tuesday, May 26

NYT: CA Awaits Prop 8 Ruling

Today at 10am Pacific, the California Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality and implementation of Proposition 8 which narrowly passed in November 2008. Why does the CA Supreme Court need to get involved again? Well, it's complicated. From the NYT:

Previously, in May 2008, the court legalized same-sex marriage, and since the election, several groups have sued, saying the proposition’s revocation of that right was unconstitutional.
In addition to answering that legal question, however, the seven-member court is expected to address the legal status of some 18,000 same-sex couples who were married in California between June — when the legalization took effect — and Election Day in November.
The state’s attorney general,
Jerry Brown, said last year that he believed those same-sex marriages would be legal regardless of Proposition 8. But opponents of same-sex marriage argue that it is illogical to continue to recognize marriages that can no longer be legally performed here.

Want to know where same-sex couples stand legally now?

Since the passage of Proposition 8, several states have legalized same-sex marriage, including Iowa, Maine and Vermont. Connecticut, where a court decision legalized same-sex marriage shortly before Election Day, began performing ceremonies shortly after California banned them. At the moment, married same-sex couples in California have the same rights as straight, married couples under California law, though same-sex couples have no federal recognition.
Like several other states, California allows members of the same sex to enter into domestic partnerships, which afford many of the same rights as marriage. But Kate Kendell, the executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, says domestic partnerships are not equivalent to marriage.
“It is more than symbolism to say that an entire category of recognition is off limits to one class of people,” Ms. Kendell said. “And the category that is off limits is the one that is most culturally desirable.”

Confusing, huh? Maybe it should just be absolutely equal for all. You know, for simplicity's sake.

Monday, May 25

My Question to the President for the C-SPAN Interview

Recently, C-SPAN interviewed President Obama about an array of topics. They also asked the viewers to submit our questions to the president for the interview. Since question was not included in the interview, I'm just going to post it here. Maybe it might still find its way to him somehow...hope springs eternal.

Mr. President,
My question is in regards to the Don't Ask, Don't Tell law. I understand that there is a lot happening in the world and the country today that requires your immediate and continued attention. National security and commander-in-chief of the military is a major part of your duties as president. Both of these issues are directly affected by the DADT policy. Committed soldiers, marines, sailors and pilots are still being discharged by this policy under your administration. Furthermore, gay and lesbian military personnel who have not been discharged are being forced to break their oath to be honest and ethical because they have to lie to help protect this great nation. This is especially disheartening because you have stated that you do not agree with the policy. So my question is this: why have you not, at the very least, stopped the discharges from continuing while you wait for whatever you are waiting for to have the law changed?
I look forward to your answer and leadership on this issue and I thank you for listening.

Saturday, May 16

Star Trek: Where JJ Abrams Should Never Go Again

First off, let me say this post will contain spoilers, but as another dissappointed Trek Master said " the whole movie is spoiled" so what's the difference. JJ Abrams just proved to me why he was so successful with a show about a bunch of people not knowing what the hell is going. He just looked in the mirror and divided by 9. Not to copy Keith Olbermann, but WTF?! I don't even know where to begin. First off, the technical. The ship in that movie was NOT, repeat NOT, the original Enterprise. The original ship had a satellite dish atop its deflector array( that's in front of the bottom section to you non-nerds.) The ship in this movie was the NCC-1701-A, which was not created until Kirk was already an Admiral in his late 40's. Two, Uhura and Spock? Just, NO! Three, and most important, the timeline. If you make a movie about Colonial America, and then have everyone loving ol' King George and flying Jetsonmobiles, than at least have the common decency not to call it "Colonial America." Call it " This Ain't Real But It's Got Really Cool Special FX So Shut Up And Suck It!" At least then the people know what they're walking into. However, if you name a movie Star Trek, then you have to have everything happen within the already agreed upon timeline. You can't have Kirk becoming Captain of the Enterprise right out of the Academy. Hello, you missed a little thing like, oh, I don't know, HIS CAREER! Also, after 3 seasons of the original, 7 seasons of Next Generation, 7 seasons of DS9, 7 seasons of Voyager, 4 seasons of Enterprise, and 10 movies before this one, I think we would have heard about Vulcan being obliterated. I think it would have come up, maybe, over some Earl Grey or something. And what's worse, JJ knew that everything I just wrote was going to be said by a plethora of Trekkies. So what does he do? He slips in that because the timeline was altered, everything we're watching is actually an alternate reality. That way he's free to completely mess up the Star Trek universe, since technically, it's not the one we all know and love, but some weird alternate one, like that one burnt Cheez-It that comes in every box. Only there's a question that immediately pops into my head due to this approach: what do you do for an encore? Do you continue on in this alternate reality that bears no resemblance to the true Trek universe? Or do you admit you were wrong in to do this in the first place and come back to your senses? I'm hoping it's the latter. One heaping pile is already one too many, no need to duplicate.

For all you non-Trek fans out there, this movie is what you want to see. It's full of beautiful people doing cool stuff amid explosions and phaser fire. However, if you're a true Trekkie like me and many others, either forget everything you've ever seen with the title Star Trek attached, or, before you go see this movie, make an appointment with your eye doctor, because as many times as your going to roll them, your going to want to get them checked out as soon as possible.

Wednesday, May 13

Pres. Obama and the DADT

The Daily Beast has a post by Matthew Yglesias titled "Obama's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Hypocrisy". It is a short post but here is my favorite part:

The game being played here is easy enough to understand. Obama's decision on a variety of fronts has been guided by a clear desire to avoid some of the early missteps made by Bill Clinton. And conventional accounts of Clinton’s early presidency put the way he got into an early dispute with the military brass over treatment of gay and lesbian servicemembers high on the list of missteps to be avoided.
But while the political logic behind the administration's thinking is understandable enough, the moral logic is contemptible. The dismissal of gay and lesbian soldiers was unjust when undertaken by administrations that believed in the policy. But disagreement about policy is inevitable in a democracy and sometimes injustice reigns. What we have today, however, is an absurdity—an administration that clearly does not believe in the policy, that is on record as opposing the policy, that campaigned explicitly on changing the policy, and that nevertheless declines to change the policy.
Tsao and Choi are being dismissed, in other words, not because the president of the United States feels they should be discriminated against, which would be bad enough. Instead, they're being dismissed because the president doesn't feel like doing anything about it.

Read the whole piece here.

Monday, May 4

NYT: Going Dutch

I read this fantastic New York Times article on my lunch break yesterday. It is about the Dutch economic and financial system, written by an American living in the Netherlands. After reading this article, my brother's words seem more potent: If everyone truly understood real socialism, nearly everyone in America would be all for it.

For the first few months I was haunted by a number: 52. It reverberated in my head; I felt myself a prisoner trying to escape its bars. For it represents the rate at which the income I earn, as a writer and as the director of an institute, is to be taxed. To be plain: more than half of my modest haul, I learned on arrival, was to be swallowed by the Dutch welfare state. Nothing in my time here has made me feel so much like an American as my reaction to this number.
And yet as the months rolled along, I found the defiant anger softening by intervals, thanks to a succession of little events and awarenesses. One came not long ago. Logging into my bank account, I noted with fleeting but pleasant confusion the arrival of two mysterious payments of 316 euros (about $410) each. The remarks line said “accommodation schoolbooks.” My confusion was not total. On looking at the payor — the Sociale Verzekeringsbank, or Social Insurance Bank — I nodded with sage if partial understanding. Our paths had crossed several times before. I have two daughters, you see. Every quarter, the SVB quietly drops $665 into my account with the one-word explanation kinderbijslag, or child benefit. As the SVB’s Web site cheerily informed me when I went there in bewilderment after the first deposit: “Babies are expensive. Nappies, clothes, the pram . . . all these things cost money. The Dutch government provides for child benefit to help you with the costs of bringing up your child.” Any parents living in the country receive quarterly payments until their children turn 18. And thanks to a recently passed law, the state now gives parents a hand in paying for school materials.
Payments arrive from other sources too. Friends who have small children report that the government can reimburse as much as 70 percent of the cost of day care, which totals around $14,000 per child per year. In late May of last year an unexpected $4,265 arrived in my account: vakantiegeld. Vacation money. This money materializes in the bank accounts of virtually everyone in the country just before the summer holidays; you get from your employer an amount totaling 8 percent of your annual salary, which is meant to cover plane tickets, surfing lessons, tapas: vacations. And we aren’t talking about a mere “paid vacation” — this is on top of the salary you continue to receive during the weeks you’re off skydiving or snorkeling. And by law every employer is required to give a minimum of four weeks’ vacation. For that matter, even if you are unemployed you still receive a base amount of vakantiegeld from the government, the reasoning being that if you can’t go on vacation, you’ll get depressed and despondent and you’ll never get a job.
Such things are easy for an American to ridicule; you don’t have to be a Fox News commentator to sneer at what, in the midst of a global financial crisis, seems like Socialism Gone Wild. And stating it as I’ve done above — we’ll consume half your salary and every once in a while toss you a few euros in return — it seems like a pretty raw deal.
But there’s more to it. First, as in the United States, income tax in the
Netherlands is a bendy concept: with a good accountant, you can rack up deductions and exploit loopholes. And while the top income-tax rate in the United States is 35 percent, the numbers are a bit misleading. “People coming from the U.S. to the Netherlands focus on that difference, and on that 52 percent,” said Constanze Woelfle, an American accountant based in the Netherlands whose clients are mostly American expats. “But consider that the Dutch rate includes social security, which in the U.S. is an additional 6.2 percent. Then in the U.S. you have state and local taxes, and much higher real estate taxes. If you were to add all those up, you would get close to the 52 percent.”

Friday, May 1

House Passes Credit Cardholders' Bill Of Rights

The Huffington Post has a great piece by Caleb Gibson on the details of the bill and why even more is needed:

Pushback against egregiously unfair lending practices in the credit card market is mounting. And it looks like Washington is finally getting the message. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights by a landslide vote of 357-70. The bill, championed by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), would enact basic standards that eliminate some of the most exploitative practices in the business. Card companies will no longer be able to retroactively raise the interest rate on existing balances--except under limited circumstances, such as a 30-day delinquency. (This will put an end to "any time, any reason" rate increases) When the credit card companies do increase an interest rate, they will be required to give customers 45 days' notice. In addition, interest may only be tallied on balances in the current billing cycle, statements will be mailed earlier in the billing cycle, payments will always be allocated to the portion of the balance with the highest interest rate, and hefty fees for over-limit transactions will be banned unless cardholders explicitly permit it ahead of time.
Well, not so fast. Unfortunately, there is a 12-month lag between enactment and implementation. Congress is essentially outlawing these practices as harmful to consumers and then allowing them to continue for a year. Indebted Americans cannot wait a year for fair treatment when every day brings more bad news for the family bottom line.

Gibson works for the excellent advocacy organization Demos.

Saturday, April 25

Kindle 2 Is Cheaper Than You Think

Apparently, Kindle 2 owners are paying double the cost:

ISuppli estimated that the cost of parts to build the Kindle 2 totals $176.83, with $60 going toward an E-Ink Corp. display and $39.50 toward a module from Novatel Wireless Inc. to permit wireless downloads over Sprint Nextel Corp.'s EV-DO data network.
ISuppli believes that, when including manufacturing and battery costs, the device costs $185.49 to build.

Maybe it can be justified as a convenience fee?

Tuesday, April 21

Builders As Lenders

This is an interesting editorial in the New York Times about an unmentioned cause of the housing crisis in California: home builders doubling as lenders.

The industry promotes the practice as a one-stop-shopping convenience that saves time and money. Too many homeowners found it did neither. They were pressured into buying overpriced homes with interest-only loans that they didn’t understand and couldn’t handle. When the bubble burst in Southern California, that was it for their dreams and homes.

Homeowner advocates say that the system is rigged against the consumer, riddled with inherent conflicts of interest. What in-house appraiser is going to scrupulously and honestly assess a home’s value, especially if the market begins to tank? If a lender is connected to a home builder, it is going to try to find any way possible to make that loan, since making that loan means selling that house.

Progressive Quiz

The Center for American Progress has an interesting quiz to determine how progressive you may be. There are 40 questions and you answer them by responding on a scale of 1 to 10. Only takes about 10 minutes so give it a try. My score: 339.

Saturday, April 11

Sac Bee:Citizenship Of Undocumented Immigrants To Be Challenged At The Polls

The Sacramento Bee is reporting that a conservative group wants to vote to make it harder for a child born in the United States to undocumented parents to have citizenship.

The initiative, which proponents tout as the California Taxpayer Protection Act, is aimed for the June 2010 statewide ballot.
For undocumented parents to obtain the new "Certificate of Live Birth with Foreign Parent," they would have to be photographed, fingerprinted and pay an additional $75 fee.
Beyond the birth certificates, the measure also would limit welfare payments for the children of undocumented immigrants, as well as require that any application for public benefits submitted by illegal immigrants be handed over to federal authorities.

The initiative, according to the proponents' Web site, appears to be the first step to try to end citizenship rights for children of illegal immigrants.
That would bump up against the 14th Amendment of the
U.S. Constitution, which guarantees that every child born in the United States is a U.S. citizen.
"Our citizen's movement will launch the national debate we need to bring an END to 'birth tourism' and AUTOMATIC CITIZENSHIP in the United States of America," the site reads.
The initiative itself "does not say that," noted Dolz, who said that "personally we might feel one way or another."

I'm not sure how this is possible considering what the 14th Amendment states:

Amendment XIV: Civil rights
The Fourteenth Amendment was proposed on June 13, 1866 and ratified on July 9, 1868.
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Seems clear cut to me. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Friday, April 10

Easy Home Gardening

Tina McCarthy at lists the ten easiest vegetables to grow at home. She offers a lot of information regarding optimal pH levels, depth of seeds and watering tips.

Do The "Teabaggers" Know What Teabagging Means?

Republican citizens across the nation are forming "Tea Parties" in opposition to the Democratic budget. I guess they think this is a clever reference to the Boston Tea Party during the American Revolution. The major problem with this is that the Boston Tea Party was based on the idea of taxation without representation. The budget proposed by the Democratic majority has middle-class tax cuts and only raises taxes on the top 3% of the population to Clinton-era levels. Also, Republican citizens have representation - it's called Congress. Yeah, there are fewer Republicans but that is due to the voting decisions by citizens during the 2008 election. We, as a nation, voted for more Democrats to represent us.
So, what does the Republican minority do? Nothing. Well, I shouldn't say nothing. They voted against the stimulus. They voted against the budget. They came up with an alternative budget that offers tax cuts to the rich. They support "tea parties". People are sending teabags to D.C. and Fox News is promoting "teabagging". This is a joke. Or, more sadly, it is not a joke. It is the Republican opposition's grand idea to have people get together and complain about taxing the rich. The bright idea is "teabagging".
Look up the definition of teabagging here. Then watch the video below of Rachel Maddow and Ana Marie Cox trying desperately to take this seriously. An "A" for effort, for sure.

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MADDOW: The Republican Party controls no real levers of power in Washington. They have yet to settle on any national leadership at all. They did come up with a Republican budget proposal in the House of Representatives, and 38 House Republicans even voted against that.
The GOP, in other words, is clearly in exile. But the conservative movement has found a reason to live. They have found something about which they feel very positive, something which they are ready to rally around. I speak of course of teabagging.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, “ON THE RECORD”: Angry taxpayers, or at least some of them, are taking to the streets in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party.
BRET BAIER, HOST, “SPECIAL REPORT”: More than 250 locations in all 50 states will hold rallies April 15th.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST, “YOUR WORLD”: Americans sick of government ballots and wasteful spending, taking their message to the street and it‘s spreading fast. We‘re all over it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They‘re going to try and send teabags to D.C.
D.C. - teabag the White House.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Teabag the fools in D.C.
MADDOW: Teabagging. After spending weeks mailing teabags to members of Congress, conservative activists next week say they plan to hold tea parties to proverbially teabag the White House. And they don‘t want to teabag alone, if that‘s even possible. They want you to start teabagging, too.
They want you to teabag Obama on Twitter. They want you to, quote, “send your teabag and teabag Obama on Facebook.” They want you to teabag liberal dems before they teabag you. And all this nonconsensual conservative teabagging is just the start.
All across America on Tax Day, Republican members of Congress are lining up to speak at teabag tea party events. Even Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina is getting in on the hot teabagging action.
Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, previously most famous for his self-admitted very serious sin with prostitution services - he wants to give teabagging the Senate seal of approval. He has asked the Senate to commemorate the day of anti-Obama protests in law.
In terms of - now, no laughing offset or I will lose it. I‘m only barely making it through this as it is. All right. Ready? In terms of media, our colleagues at Fox News are not just reporting on teabagging, they are officially promoting it.
GLENN BECK, HOST, “GLENN BECK”: Celebrate with Fox News. This is what we‘re doing next Wednesday. We want to be with you and your tea party, if you have a tea party any where that we‘re not covering one of those, E-mail me at We may cover your tea party live on April 15th.
MADDOW: Fox News Channel has described the Tax Day events on screen as FNC Tax Day tea parties. And they are dispatching some of their hosts to take part of in the teabagging. But amid the celebration of inchoate right-wing bad feelings and the denunciation of taxes, spare a thought for the man who you‘d think might have the most to gain from harnessing the power of mass-organized public teabagging.
That of course would be Republican Party chairman Michael Steele. Mr. Steele apparently asked to address a teabag tea party event in Chicago next week. But organizers turned him down, saying he is welcome to show up at the event but not welcome to speak. The organizers said they did think the event would be, quote, “a fantastic time for Chairman Steele to listen to what we have to say.” Though, presumably, if he is being teabagged while doing so, the message will be a bit muffled.
Joining us now, Air America‘s national correspondent and “Daily Beast” contributor, Ana Marie Cox. Ana Marie, thank you for being here.
CONTRIBUTOR: Good to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: The Boston Tea Party was about taxation without representation, right? The protests planned for Tax Day are about the plan to go back to the Clinton-era tax rates for rich people. Is that the purpose of these and is this a parallel they‘re trying to draw?
COX: Well, it‘s the parallel they‘re trying to draw, Rachel. But you know, it is true that teabaggers are grossly unrepresented in Congress. I‘m trying to work on that personally. But one can only do so much. I think David Vitter really is the right spokesperson for the movement, though.
MADDOW: Well, that‘s a point well-taken and which I was afraid to allude to. And that‘s why you‘re here because you‘re braver than I am. So many Republicans are addressing the Tax Day teabag parties. Michael Steele has been rejected. Is he not considered a true teabagger by the movement?
COX: Well, you know, he said in that “GQ” interview that he thought teabagging wasn‘t a choice, that you couldn‘t change whether or not you would be a teabagger. I think the teabaggers now really believe that it‘s something they‘ve chosen to do, that they could change if they wanted to. But they won‘t.
MADDOW: Well, in terms of what‘s going to happen on Tax Day and what‘s been happening with the teabagging of Congress, which has been happening through the mail, which I didn‘t even know was possible, I sort of never believed you can be held responsible for the people who say they agree with you.
So we had this enthusiasm expressed for the teabagging events by white power groups like storm front and by the secessionists and by the armed militias. And I don‘t think you can really hold the teabaggers responsible for that. But is there a radical message here? I mean, the whole idea here is about revolution, sort of, right?
COX: Well, yes. I mean, I think that the people - the teabaggers would like it to be more radical than it is. But the fact is people have been teabagging for a long time and they probably will continue to do so.
MADDOW: Fair enough. Most of the energy of these events seems anti-Obama. You saw all, you know, the Facebook and Twitter things, “Teabag Obama. Teabag Obama.” But then, there‘s the rejection of Michael Steele and I wonder if there‘s also a chance that this sort of gets channeled into being teabag Arlen Specter, teabag John McCain, against Republicans who voted for any of the bailouts.
COX: Well, who wouldn‘t want to teabag John McCain - that‘s all I have to say. But I really think actually it‘s probably going to be more directed at Obama. And this is actually very much a part of, I think, the midterm strategy. You know, it‘s going to be teabagging like 24/7 when it comes to midterms.
MADDOW: Well, is there an effort to divide the conservative movement from the Republican Party once again, though? Because there is something about the origin of the current Republican Party that owes very much to the conservative movement which was not organized within the party. It was sort of organized without and took it over.
I wonder if they‘ve trying to cleave themselves again and say, “No, we‘re teabaggers, and you‘re not. And we‘re, therefore, the future of the right wing”?
COX: You could say there‘s a big split between the teabags. I think that you‘re right. I think the social teabaggers and sort of the fiscal teabaggers are really starting to move apart from each other.
MADDOW: Actually I just heard from standards we‘re not allowed to talk about fiscal teabags. But thank you for bringing it up. Ana Marie Cox of Air America Radio and “The Daily Beast,” it is always wonderful to have you on the show, particularly more tonight than ever. Thanks.
COX: All right. Thanks, Rachel.

Tuesday, April 7

Making Work Pay

Have you noticed the extra money in your paycheck yet?

Since the enactment of the Recovery Act, American workers have seen increases in their paychecks reflecting the new credit and the Administration’s commitment to the middle class. IRS guidance asks that, by April 1, employers must have instituted the lower withholdings for their employees.

The Making Work Pay tax credit is the tax reduction centerpiece of The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (The Recovery Act) of 2009. The credit provides the most households ever with a tax cut—over 110 million or about 95 percent of working families.


For 2009 and 2010, the “Making Work Pay” tax credit provides a refundable tax credit of 6.2 percent of earned income up to $400 for working individuals and $800 for married taxpayers.
Families should see at least a $65 dollar per month increase in their take home pay.
The credit will phase out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income in excess of $150,000 for married couples filing jointly and $75,000 for other workers, and thus is fully phased out for taxpayers with modified adjusted gross income in excess of $190,000 for married workers and $95,000 for other workers.

Our President wants to help those of us who are not rich. This will take time to get used to.

Monday, April 6

FT:Is There A Bit Of OCD In Us All?

The Financial Times has an interesting piece about obsessive compulsive disorder. Richard Thomkins goes into depth about the history of the condition, celebrities with OCD, and the different stories of people who are dealing with it.

But even those statistics could be only part of the picture. According to a paper appearing in last month’s American Journal of Psychiatry, an estimated 21-25 per cent of individuals could be said to have borderline OCD, meaning they have obsessions or compulsions that meet at least some of the diagnostic criteria. Admittedly, more than one-third of these people are also suffering from another anxiety disorder or depression – but according to the paper, that still leaves an estimated 13-17 per cent of otherwise “normal” people – about one in 15 of us – suffering from at least some symptoms of OCD.
So, what is this disorder? And could someone you know be at least partly afflicted?
The term “OCD” has recently displaced “anal” in contemporary slang as a way of describing people who are more than usually meticulous, pernickety or pedantic – the sort of people who are never satisfied unless things are just right. If this reflected a greater understanding of obsessive compulsive disorder, it might be no bad thing. In fact, it has simply increased the degree of misunderstanding by confusing two different conditions with almost the same name. “Anal” people do not usually have OCD at all; they simply have an obsessive compulsive personality type, meaning they’re a bit fussy. People with OCD, in contrast, are suffering from a serious anxiety disorder that greatly impinges on their lives.
While being “anal” can be an asset in some circumstances, as in a job that requires attention to detail, there are no advantages in having OCD at any level. All it does is cause distress by introducing obsessive, irrational anxieties into the sufferer’s mind, typically involving perceived dangers or appalling images of one sort or another. A defining characteristic of OCD is that sufferers believe just thinking about bad things will make them happen unless they act to prevent it; so they feel compelled to carry out little rituals which to other people look odd and unnecessary but which to them have the magical power to counteract the perceived threat. Typically, the obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour reinforce one another in a vicious circle, causing the condition to become ever worse until it starts to interfere seriously with the sufferer’s life.
Although there are many possible obsessions, the most common of them fall into a surprisingly small number of categories. The best known is Howard Hughes syndrome – the fear of dirt and germs, commonly linked with compulsive handwashing and cleaning. Another common one is the fear of harming others or coming to harm oneself, often accompanied by compulsive safety checking – repeatedly making sure the door is locked, the cooker is turned off and the iron is unplugged. Many sufferers are obsessed with a need for symmetry, which results in compulsive rearranging of things. Others are tormented by thoughts that they will carry out some horrifying act of a violent, sexual or blasphemous nature, and often try to block out or neutralise these thoughts with mental rituals such as counting or the repetition of certain words or phrases.


Obsessed, obsessive and obsession are over-used words. People talk about someone being obsessed with recycling or being an obsessive gambler; there is even a perfume called Obsession. But it is not enough to be preoccupied or infatuated with something to qualify as an OCD sufferer. With OCD, the obsessions have to be unwanted, unwelcome and anxiety-provoking – they can never bring satisfaction or pleasure. They also have to cause a repetitive behaviour or ritual aimed at preventing some dreaded event or situation, and this behaviour must be irrational or excessive. On top of that, the obsessions and compulsions have to interfere significantly with the sufferer’s life and/or take up at least one hour a day.
These criteria are laid down in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published in the US and used to a varying extent around the world. But as Mataix-Cols points out, “The definition’s entirely arbitrary. It’s just some blokes getting together in America and saying that if you spend more than one hour a day doing rituals, and if those rituals are distressing and interfere with your everyday life, then you’ve got it. If not, you don’t. But what we’ve found is that there’s a very large prevalence of OCD symptoms in people who don’t fit this definition.”

The personal stories in this piece are extraordinary. I was unaware of the true intensity of the disease for some people. The entire article is worth checking out.

Thursday, March 26

Where's The Beef?! GOP Budget Plan Lacks Details

So, the Republicans were called out by the President on Tuesday for criticizing his budget plan without having an alternative. Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner tried to announce their budget plan. According to The Huffington Post, Rep. Boehner had a hard time backing up the 19-page proposal:

Reporters -- mainstream, liberal and conservative -- greeted the Republican document with a collective scoff.
"Are you going to have any further details on this today?" the first asked.
"On what?" asked Boehner.
"There's no detail in here," noted the reporter.

Answered Boehner: "This is a blueprint for where we're going. Are you asking about some other document?"
A second reporter followed up: "What about some numbers? What about the out-year deficit? What about balancing the budget? How are you going to do it?"
"We'll have the alternative budget details next week," promised Boehner. Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had wisely departed the room after offering his opening remarks. ("Today's Republican road-to-recovery is the latest in a series of GOP initiatives, solutions and plans," he had offered.)
A third reporter asked Boehner about the Republican goal for deficit reduction, noting President Obama aimed to cut it in half in five years. "What's your goal?"
"To do better," said Boehner.
"How? How much?"
"You'll see next week."
"Wait. Why not today? Because he asked you to present a budget."
"Now, hold on," said Boehner. "The president came to Capitol Hill and laid out his blueprint for his budget during the State of the Union. He didn't offer his details until days later."
"In general, where do you see cuts coming?" the Huffington Post asked.
"We'll wait and see next week," he said.
Another reporter reminded Boehner that he has "criticized Democrats for throwing together a stimulus quickly and nobody knew what they were voting on. Are you saying that your budget will be unveiled on the same day that the House is expected to vote on it?"
"No, I expect it'll be out next week," he said, though the House is expected to vote on the budget next week. "But understand that a budget really is a one-page document. It's just a bunch of numbers."
Though not today, of course.

This is our fault, of course. We, the non-politicians, think that a budget plan should have budget details. You know, numbers and dates and whatnot. Silly us. What the republicans did was offer a plan to eventually show us a budget. That was the idea all along, I'm sure. It's nice that they have the time for wordplay. So cute.

Turley Talks To Maddow About War Crimes

Jonathan Turley talks to Rachel Maddow about President Obama's resistance to war crime prosecutions of the Bush Administration.

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Here is the transcript of the conversation:

Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University Law School. Professor Turley, thanks so much for coming on the show tonight.



MADDOW: So President Obama says all the right things to “60 Minutes” about the Bush administration‘s torture policy. And the Obama administration is planning on releasing these torture memos, repudiating the policies, promising to work to change them going forward.

In terms of lining themselves up with the Constitution, how substantive are these moves? Where would you put the Obama administration‘s policies on these issues as we speak tonight?

TURLEY: Quite frankly, I have to put it very, very low. Yes, the fact that he is having a dialogue with Dick Cheney that he finds irritating is understandable. I mean, Vice President Cheney comes off as sort of the cranky uncle you can‘t get rid of at Thanksgiving dinner.

But there is more to it than that. And the reason Obama seems very irritated by it is that he is responsible for the conversation. Because he‘s the one that is blocking a criminal investigation of Vice President Cheney and President Bush and other Bush officials. It is like a bank robber calling up and asking him to debate bank robbery.

President Obama would say, “Listen, fellow. That is a crime.”

But of course, he hasn‘t said that with Dick Cheney. He can‘t say that.

Instead, he says, “How long will it take for us to reconcile our values?”

These are not just our values. They are the law.

He should be saying what you are describing is a crime. And if he would allow an investigation to well-defined war crimes, Dick Cheney would not be making public statements. He would be surrounded by criminal defense counsel.

And yet the president refuses to allow the investigation of war crimes. And we just found out the international Red Cross, also the definitive body on torture, found that this was a real torture program. And yet, the president is having a debate with the guy over whether it was good policy.

MADDOW: In this case, we keep running up against politics versus law, politics versus law. For the legal case here, is all the president needs to do - the only thing he needs to do is get out of the way of prosecutors who would take this as a matter of law regardless of the politics here?

TURLEY: Rachel, let‘s be honest here. It is just as bad to prevent the investigation and prosecution of a war crime as its commission because you become part of it. There‘s no question about a war crime here. There is no need for a truth commission.

You know, some people say, what do you need, a film? We actually had films of us torturing people. So this would be the shortest investigation in history. You have Bush officials who have said that we tortured people. We have interrogators who have said we tortured people. The Red Cross has said it. A host of international organizations have said it.

What is President Obama waiting for? And I‘m afraid the answer is a convenient moment. The fact is he has been told by his adviser that it would be grossly unpopular to investigate and prosecute Bush officials. Well, that is a perfectly horrible reason not to follow principle.

When we talk about values, the most important one is that the president has to enforce the laws. He can‘t pick and choose who would be popular to prosecute.

Should he be appointing a special prosecutor? What should he be doing?

TURLEY: He should be appointing a special prosecutor. There is no question about that. This is the most well-defined and publicly known crime I have seen in my lifetime. There is no debate about it. There is no ambiguity. It is well known.

You‘ve got people involved who have basically admitted the elements of a war crime that we are committed to prosecuting. We don‘t need a truth and reconciliation commission because we are already reconciled to the rule of law. There is nothing to reconcile to.

What the people have to reconcile are the people who broke the law. They need to reconcile with the law. And he happens to be having a debate with one of those people as if they are talking about some quaint notion of policy.

MADDOW: I wonder, ultimately, if the fact that Dick Cheney continues to talk about this issue and continues to promote it as if it is a solution and something the Obama administration ought to feel ashamed for not having continued will ultimately be the thing that creates the political room the Obama administration feels that they need in order to proceed legally. They may just need to get that mad.

TURLEY: Rachel, I wish that were true. But you know, it is sort of like every great villain in every bad movie, dialoguing to prevent something happening. You know, Cheney is dialoguing. He‘s trying - the more he talks in public, the more he makes this look like a policy and not a legal issue which is exactly what he wants.

And the reason that the Obama administration is now pulling back on the truth commission is because they have finally realized that if the truth commission actually investigates, it will be the shortest investigation in history. There is no question there is a war crime.

And at the end, people are going to wonder how and why did you block this? It is like a live torpedo in the water and it is going to come back and hit him. And that is why President Obama is beginning to pull back.

The easiest thing to do is get out of the way, say, “You know what, this is not about values. This is about the law. I took an oath to God to enforce the law. And you know what, fellow? You are going to be a target of an investigation. And maybe you are not guilty. Maybe you are. But it is not for me to decide it. It‘s for a special prosecutor.”

MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington Law School, thank you for joining us tonight.

TURLEY: Thank you, Rachel.

Thursday, March 19

HuffPo: NY AG Cuomo Details AIG Bonuses

This made me angry all over again:

• The top recipient received more than $6.4 million;
• The top seven bonus recipients received more than $4 million each;
• The top ten bonus recipients received a combined $42 million;
• 22 individuals received bonuses of $2 million or more, and combined they received more than $72 million;
• 73 individuals received bonuses of $1 million or more; and
• Eleven of the individuals who received "retention" bonuses of $1 million or more are no longer working at AIG, including one who received $4.6 million;
Again, these payments were all made to individuals in the subsidiary whose performance led to crushing losses and the near failure of AIG. Thus, last week, AIG made more than 73 millionaires in the unit which lost so much money that it brought the firm to its knees, forcing taxpayer bailout. Something is deeply wrong with this outcome. I hope the Committee will address it head on.
We have also now obtained the contracts under which AIG decided to make these payments. The contracts shockingly contain a provision that required most individuals' bonuses to be 100% of their 2007 bonuses. Thus, in the Spring of last year, AIG chose to lock in bonuses for 2008 at 2007 levels despite obvious signs that 2008 performance would be disastrous in comparison to the year before. My Office has thus begun to closely examine the circumstances under which the plan was created.

My first job was in 1991. I worked in an office with my mom. Since then I have been without work for a combined total of about 2 years off and on in my life. My point? I still have not made $1 million. Also, any pay raises I receive are based off of a job well done - not profit-losing idiocy and greed. Furthermore, I have friends who have taken lieu days and pay decreases despite how hard they work everyday. But AIG executives - working or not - get bonuses for bringing down the financial system. Disgusting.

2008 Chargers Season Inspires Possible Rule Changes

Do you remember the call by Ed Hochuli during the Chargers/Broncos game last season that caused alot of uproar? It turns out, the NFL might change the rules to make sure that never happens again. (H/T)

During Week 2 of the 2008 season, referee Ed Hochuli admittedly made a bad call that cost the Chargers a win, ruling that Denver Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler threw an incomplete pass on a play that should have been called a fumble.
Under current instant-replay rules, Hochuli's call was not reviewable because of a line of thinking that players stop playing when a play is whistled dead, which makes it difficult to tell which team would have recovered the ball.
The Broncos went on to win that game, nearly costing the Chargers their AFC West crown. The league's competition committee will consider the change ---- allowing instant replay to determine whether a quarterback fumbles or throws an incomplete pass ---- among other proposals and league matters at the NFL annual meetings beginning Sunday in Dana Point. The meetings conclude Wednesday.

As a Charger fan, that call was devastating. I remember feeling angry when Hochuli announced that the Broncos could keep the ball. Then nauseous when they scored the touchdown. Hochuli apologized profusely and even answered angry emails personally, but the situation was horrible.

Another proposed change involves the draft:

The Chargers, who won their division with an 8-8 record and advanced to the AFC divisional round by beating Indianapolis, will draft well ahead of the Colts based on their regular-season record. The Chargers own the No. 16 slot in the draft, while the Colts, who finished 12-4, will pick 27th.
That circumstance won't happen beginning in 2010 if the proposed draft bylaw is passed. The new proposal, which will not affect this year's draft, states that the top 20 slots of non-playoff teams will be determined by regular-season record. Playoff teams, however, will be reseeded in slots No. 21-32 based on postseason performance.

Seems fair. However, I am glad it will not affect the upcoming draft. Selfish? Yes. Biased? Absolutely. Go Chargers!

Tuesday, March 17

Reich: Real Scandal of AIG

Robert Reich explains on his blog the true reason so many of us feel angry and betrayed about the AIG bonuses.

The real scandal of AIG isn't just that American taxpayers have so far committed $170 billion to the giant insurer because it is thought to be too big to fail -- the most money ever funneled to a single company by a government since the dawn of capitalism -- nor even that AIG's notoriously failing executives, at the very unit responsible for the catastrophic credit-default swaps at the very center of the debacle, are planning to give themselves over $100 million in bonuses. The scandal is that even at this late date, even in a new administration dedicated to doing it all differently, Americans still have so little say over what is happening with our money.
The administration is said to have been outraged when it heard of the bonus plan last week. Apparently Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner told AIG's chairman, Edward Liddy (who was installed at the insistence of the Treasury, in the first place) that the bonuses should not be paid. But it turns out that most will be paid anyway, because, according to AIG, the firm is legally obligated to pay them. The bonuses are part of employee contracts negotiated before the bailouts. And, in any event, Liddy explained, AIG needs to be able to retain talent.
AIG's arguments are absurd on their face. Had AIG gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy or been liquidated, as it would have without government aid, no bonuses would ever be paid (they would have had a lower priority under bankruptcy law that AIG's debts to other creditors); indeed, AIG's executives would have long ago been on the street. And any mention of the word "talent" in the same sentence as "AIG" or "credit default swaps" would be laughable if laughing weren't already so expensive.
This sordid story of government helplessness in the face of massive taxpayer commitments illustrates better than anything to date why the government should take over any institution that's "too big to fail" and which has cost taxpayers dearly. Such institutions are no longer within the capitalist system because they are no longer accountable to the market. To whom should they be accountable? As long as taxpayers effectively own a large portion of them, they should be accountable to the government.
But if our very own Secretary of the Treasury doesn't even learn of the bonuses until months after AIG has decided to pay them, and cannot make stick his decision that they should not be paid, AIG is not even accountable to the government. That means AIG's executives -- using $170 billion of our money, so far -- are accountable to no one.

Saturday, March 14

Happy Pi Day!

Rachel Maddow shows her awesome geekness.

Friday, March 13

Random Movie Post

Unlike most people I know, I am not a huge fan of watching new movies. For example, when the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out, it was the first movie I had seen in a theater in two years. The next movie I saw after that: Star Wars III. Which by the way is the last one so far. Some people might find that odd. It's not like a hate the medium; I do occasionally watch movies on DVD.
Recently, I came across a guy's website that is all about movies and it got me thinking-do I even have any favorite movies? The answer is yes and to my surprise, quite a few of them. I can even put them into weird categories which I will attempt to do presently.

Movies I Loved as a Kid and Still Love Today

1. The Princess Bride - Modern classic if there ever was one. This movie has so many memorable lines that parts of the script will be randomly inserted into everyday conversation. As a matter of fact, I can't think of one person who has seen this movie who did not like it. That would be inconceivable!
2. The Neverending Story - Another movie with a plot line surrounding one of my favorite pastimes: reading. Great fantasy story, terrific characters, and I will still feel weepy at the end when the princess screams "Call my name!" Pathetic, yes, but I don't care.
3. The Secret of NIMH - My favorite cartoon film. Based on the book Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. A clutzy crow, a cat named Dragon, Nicodemus, and a momma just trying to keep her sick kid safe. This reminds me - I think my VHS copy is still at my grandparents house. I will have to look for it the next time I visit. Along with my copy of...
4. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory - As an adult, the songs can be a bit pushy at times but all in all, still an entertaining film. The remake, on the other hand, was downright disturbing.
5. Star Wars IV-VI - I saw Star Wars: The New Hope 30 times before I was 10 years old. I still remember watching Return of the Jedi in the theater with ten of my closest daycare fans. But I absolutely loved The Empire Strikes Back. I still do.

Old Classics That Rule

1. The Godfather I and II - Never ceases to amaze me how fascinating these films are. If they come on television, it never occurs to me to try to find something better because most likely, there isn't anything better on at any given time. I think I like Part I the best although you learn so much from Part II that it is too hard to choose. Having said that, Part III was horrid and I will never watch it again.
2. The Manchurian Candidate - This movie got me interested in learning about spies. It is because of this movie that I found The Sandbaggers series and for that, I am eternally thankful.
3. 12 Angry Men - Genius. Great actors, brilliant script, simple set with a complicated undertone of hostility and confusion. Just genius.
4. Annie - Yes, that Annie. I know it's weird but I do consider it an old classic and it's a great flick. Maybe it's because I'm a huge Carol Burnett fan. Or I can relate to having a big curly afro. Or maybe I'm just a dork. Yep, that's it. I'm a dork.
5. Dog Day Afternoon - Al Pacino as a bank robber who really sucks at it. There's a transvestite, a media circus, and the fact that it was based on a true story. Funny without being a comedy.

Movies That Are Just Plain Good

1. Kingdom of Heaven - Beautiful in both cinematography and story. I could watch it over and over. And I have.
2. Almost Famous - A movie about a kid who genuinely loves genuine music. He travels with a band to write an article for Rolling Stone, falls in love with a groupie and falls out of love with the whole "musicians as heroes" crap. Great soundtrack also. The Who, Elton John, and more.
3. Primary Colors - Based on a book anonymously written about the presidential campaign of Bill Clinton. John Travolta was surprisingly excellent as Jack Stanton. Emma Thompson played his wife. Kathy Bates plays his strategist. Stanton cheats every chance he gets, eats everything he can, and generally relies on others to make him look good. Great movie.
4. Thirteen Days - JFK during the Cuban Missile Crisis. I loved this movie because it helped me better understand the constant strategy necessary to do the right thing in government. And do it while fighting your own military brass who have other ideas of what is right. Complicated situation conveniently narrowed down to three hours. I did a lot of extra research after seeing this movie, but I loved it.
5. Natural Born Killers - I saw this in the theater, then bought the director's cut on VHS. Great film. What happens to abused children when they grow up. What happens when the media becomes the story? What happens when the two meet? Oliver Stone's twisted take on the answers caused a lot of ruckus if I remember correctly. It was great.

The 80s

1. Stand By Me - I am a huge River Phoenix fan and have been since I saw the movie Explorers (Which I have on DVD by the way). Not much needs to be said about this one.
2. The Breakfast Club - If you could relate to one of the characters, you liked it. If you couldn't, you didn't. If you related to a little bit of each, you loved it. Simply brilliant.
3. Some Kind of Wonderful - Rich kids versus poor kids. Privilege versus angst. Fancy cars and special treatment versus tomboys in boxers and working in a car shop. Love, drums, and T-bills at 7%.
4. Weird Science - Two geeks use a computer to create a perfect woman. Like Frankenstein. Because in the 80s, that's what we thought computers could do if you hook into the right modem and use the right floppy disk, right? Yeah, silly in it's context but an entertaining flick I must have seen a dozen times. Plus, how could you go wrong with Kelly LeBrock in lace and a denim jacket. With a popped collar no less.
5. The Secret of My Success - Michael J. Fox moves from Kansas to NYC to make it in the business world. His aunt falls for him, he falls for his uncle's mistress, and pretends to be an executive while simultaneously working in the mailroom. Fox's charisma carries the film but it's enough to make it a hit in my book. Plus, the elevator scenes are great.

I'm sure I missed a few but this is my list of favorite movies. What's yours?

Tuesday, March 10

GCFL: Astronomers Declare February No Longer A Month

This is a funny piece by Michael Haber:

Emboldened by their success in declaring Pluto not a planet, the International Astronomical Union determined this week by a close vote that February is too short to be considered a true month. It has, however, been granted the newly created status of "dwarf month." It shares this dubious distinction with several other calendar time spans, including Labor Day Weekend, Christmas Vacation, and the Time Between When You Were Supposed to Get Your Oil Changed and When You Actually Did.
"It only seems fair," said IAU President Ron Eckers. "February reaches a peak size of 29 days, averaging only 28 days for 75 percent of the time. Recent research has shown that other periods, such as the Time Between When You Were Supposed to Get Your Oil Changed and When You Actually Did, often exceed this meager time frame. In fact, this erratic behavior only strengthens our case that February does not belong in the same classification as the eleven 'true' months."
Eckers also warned that the crop of 30-day "so-called" months should be careful to maintain their number of days. "They're already cutting it pretty close in my book."

Monday, March 9

Earmark Education

It turns out I never truly understood the earmark debate. I thought I did but I just read a piece by Stan Collender that schooled me (for which I am thankful). h/t Matthew Yglesias

Second, the talk that you can reduce federal spending by eliminating earmarks is flat wrong.For years, lawyers and analysts have tried and failed to come up with a standard definition for “earmark.” But there is no dispute about one thing: All an earmark does is allocate part of the funds being appropriated. That means that eliminating an earmark only eliminates the allocation and not the spending. The appropriation, the law that actually provides the funds for the government to spend stays at the original level regardless of whether the earmark stays in place. The only thing that changes is that the decision about how and where to spend the funds shifts from Congress to the executive branch agency that administers the funds. And that, rather than lower spending, is what the earmark debate really is about. Regardless of what is said about “fiscal responsibility” and spending the people’s money wisely, the issue is not about how much to spend. The dispute is over who gets to make the decision.


Third, eliminating earmarks doesn’t automatically mean that the decisions about how and where to spend the funds will be any less political or more objective. The notion that executive branch departments and agencies make spending decisions solely by applying rigid criteria about which projects are more worthwhile than others is naive.


It makes no sense to think that a bureaucracy headed by an appointee who was selected to implement the president’s agenda will do something different than what the administration wants ... or that the White House would allow it. The decision about how and where the funds will be spent will be just as political as if it was made for an individual Member of Congress. Fourth, the ultimate irony of the earmark debate is that the fiscal conservatives who are the biggest supporters of eliminating earmarks are also the ones who typically express the greatest dissatisfaction with the federal bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy making the decisions would be the result if the campaign to end earmarks were successful. Federal departments and agencies would end up having the sole power to decide how to allocate the funds included in appropriations, and the decisions would be every bit as political as the ones made with earmarks.

I wish I knew all of this during the campaign. I wish others knew about it as well. Especially you-know-who.

Open Left Calls Out Rep. Eric Massa

Chris Bowers at Open Left has a post about Democratic Congressman Eric Massa (NY-29) and his vote against the recent housing bill. Here is his statement on why he voted against it:

"I campaigned on a platform of standing as an independent voice and voting in the interests of my constituents, not a political party. Today I did just that because I didn't think the Housing bill delivered a proportionally fair amount of relief to the families of my district," said Congressman Massa moments after the vote. "With this in mind, I could not rationalize further deficit spending in the face of minimal assistance to the working families in our district. While there are a number of things that I did like in this bill, the projections in it demonstrated that it was largely targeted to States like California, Nevada and Florida where the housing crisis has hit the hardest, not Western New York. I support helping families refinance their adjustable rate mortgages to stay in their homes, but compared to many other states, Western New Yorkers would not benefit enough to warrant my vote."

Wow. That is an amazingly obnoxious and ignorant point of view. I have no problem with politicians who vote against their party leadership. If you genuinely feel that doing that helps your constituents and gives them what they need, so be it. As a matter of fact, Rep. Cao of Louisiana would have done well to go against his Republican leaders on the stimulus bill. However, Massa knows the bill would help his constituents. He voted against it because in his view, other districts get a better deal than his. He admits that these districts were hit harder and could use the help but that doesn't matter to Massa. This guy voted no because he feels his district is in need of more help than offered. Seriously.

Here is Chris's take:

Someone who thinks like this should not be in Congress. Members of the legislative branch should not only vote for legislation that disproportionately benefits their own districts. If you say that a piece of legislation will help people, but you oppose that piece of legislation because your corner of the country does not disproportionately benefit from it, then you have displayed not only an abusive relationship to members of your own district, but a rather shocking level of antipathy toward the residents of the other 434 congressional districts. Does Eric Massa actively dislike the people who live outside of his district? Given that he said that the housing bill will help them, but that he voted against it anyway, it is hard to conclude otherwise...It is more than a little hypocritical for someone who raised $386K from Act Blue, and $554K from PACs to be so willing to give people outside his district the middle finger. If even 5% of that money came from the NY-29, it would be a shock.

Great point. It will be interesting to see how well his future fundraising efforts go. In the meantime, Rep. Massa proves that hypocrites are not only on one side of the political aisle.