Skip to content

Yet another modest proposal 

The Black Lives Matter movement has been criticized for failing to advance concrete proposals to deal with the issues it’s raising. Here’s a suggestion that should, but won’t, give the critics pause. The group should demand the appointment of a special prosecutor in Chicago to pursue the murder prosecution of the cop who gunned down Lacquan McDonald. The elected DA, Anita Alvarez, has proven beyond reasonable doubt that she is in the tank for the cops, and will do what needs doing to secure an acquittal. If you’ve watched the video you know that it shouldn’t have taken her a year to bring charges. Once the identify of the shooter was established (and that was never in question) no reasonable person would take more than 5 minutes to make the decision it took her a year to make, and then only because a judge ordered the release of the video. The community should have some degree of confidence that the person in charge of the prosecution is actually interested in securing a conviction. The Black Lives Matter folks should really push to get Alvarez off the case.

A history lesson

I know it’s a waste of time to bring up facts when talking about Republicans, but sometimes you just can’t help yourself.

Marco Rubio is quoted as follows on the issue of gay marriage:

“The debate is about how do you define an institution, the institution of marriage, which has been defined the same way for all of human history,” [Rubio] said at the Presidential Family Forum in Des Moines on Friday. “That’s what the debate is about. It’s not about discriminating against anyone. The debate is about how do you define an institution.”

via Daily Kos

First of all, let’s cut Rubio some slack, and grant that human history started on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BC, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That still means that human history has a good six thousand years under its belt, during most of which time, in many cultures, marriage was anything but the heterosexual one Adam-one Eve arrangement Rubio espouses. If memory serves, Jacob, from whose seed all Jews are sprung, was duped into marrying poor Leah, though he much preferred her sister Rachel, who he also married in due course. He remained married to Leah, and God, being the vindictive bastard that he was in those days (he softened up a bit, we’re told, after torturing his only begotten son to death and resurrection), chose to curse Rachel with barrenness, because Jacob always liked her best. But the point is that polygamy has been common throughout history, there being multiple other instances of it in the Bible and real history too, and it is still practiced widely to this very day. Nor is same sex marriage a new thing. Just ask Nero.

This is what is called fact. It is a concept that Republicans have a hard time getting their heads around. For them, truthiness is all.

Joe Courtney casts another awful vote

Yesterday I asked Joe to say it wasn’t so. I couldn’t believe he voted with the Republicans to keep refugees out of our country. Well, it was so. When my wife told me about the vote, she wasn’t specific, and I thought she was talking about this, mostly because I couldn’t conceive of him voting against the refugees.

I was confused because a few days ago I got an email from a prominent consumer attorney telling me that it looked like Joe was going to vote to enable racial discrimination in car loans. I wrote to his chief of staff, forwarding the attorneys email and my own hopes that Joe wouldn’t do it. So that legislation was on my mind, and I was still assuming Joe was a safe vote against the unspeakable refugee legislation. The car loan legislation is an attack on Elizabeth Warren’s creation, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has been trying to root out racial discrimination in the auto loan industry:

Most dealerships are authorized to sell cars and make loans to finance the purchase. They send their customers’ financial information to a bank, which then sends the dealer an appropriate interest rate for a borrower with that particular credit profile. But banks also permit dealers to “mark up” the interest rate on the loan to a higher level, and allow the dealership to pocket some of the additional charge.

That, of course, creates incentives for the dealer to charge people higher interest rates. But lawsuits dating back to the 1990s have shown that people of color are more likely to have their interest rates marked up than white borrowers. Black, Latino and Asian-American borrowers also tend to see higher markups than white borrowers.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued regulatory guidance in 2013 instructing companies on how to cope with this phenomenon. Since the markup practice tends to result in overcharging borrowers of color, the CFPB recommended that banks and dealerships ditch the practice. If they didn’t, however, they needed to ensure that borrowers with similar credit profiles weren’t receiving different interest rates due to their race or national origin.

Since issuing the guidance, the CFPB has taken action against Honda and Ally Bank for overcharging borrowers of color, forcing them to return more than $100 million to their customers.

This was apparently too much for banks and auto dealers to handle. They lobbied for a bill that would nullify the CFPB’s regulatory move. The NAACP, the Urban League, the National Council of La Raza, Americans for Financial Reform and other groups opposed the legislation. The Congressional Progressive Caucus urged lawmakers to vote against it, as did Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee. President Barack Obama issued a statement saying he “strongly opposes” the bill, but stopped short of a formal veto threat.

None of the opposition was enough to counter two interest groups that wield tremendous power on Capitol Hill. No Republicans voted against the bill to curb the CFPB’s enforcement of anti-discrimination law this week, while 88 Democrats voted in favor. The legislation cleared by a vote of 332 to 96.

via The Huffington Post

Joe was among the 88.

This is troubling for a number of reasons. First, it adds to the disappointment so many of us feel about Joe’s vote on the refugee bill. Second, it illustrates yet again that we Democrats are getting shafted again and again by the people to whom we contribute our money and time. Not a single Republican voted against this legislation, which tells you all you need to know about how bad it is. I get fundraising emails from the DCCC all the time, telling me they need my money to support progressive candidates, and then they recruit the most right wing “Democrats” they can find. It doesn’t surprise me that many Democrats voted for this legislation, but it does surprise me that Courtney did. I’m hoping beyond hope that both of these votes were aberrations, but I’m beginning to fear that he’s been infected with the Beltway virus that seems to get to all Democrats, sooner or later. Joe doesn’t even have the excuse of needing to ward off a right wing challenge. So far as I know, he has no opponent.

Joe is one of the nicest politicians I’ve ever met, and it would be heartbreaking indeed if he were to go over to the Dark Side.

Red states maintain their lead

I have from time to time advocated for the secession of New England (other blue states invited to join) from the rest of the Nation, on the general grounds that if we were not burdened by the stupid states of the former Confederacy (which, were it not for the need to eradicate slavery, we should have let go in 1860) we could build a decent country, where, right now, Bernie Sanders would be considered a centrist candidate.

Anyway, if further proof is needed, here it is. I believe I’ve already cited a study that found the stupidest states are all deep red, but, if not, it’s now covered, along with cancer rates, unhealthy diets, levels of inactivity, and obesity. The deep red states are undisputed leaders. The linked article concludes:

Every state on the list of the dumb– and unhealthy– states above, though, voted for Romney, and in many cases, by the biggest margins, so they’re not only filled with stupid people who are likely to die prematurely because of bad habits, but they are also states filled with losers. Why do normal people stay in places like Mississippi and Alabama?

via Down with Tyranny

My guess is that normal people don’t stay in those places. They tend to migrate out, leaving the dumb behind, all of whom get their “information” from Fox.

Say it ain’t so, Joe

I won’t go into all the reasons why this was a horrible thing to do. They have been amply covered elsewhere.  All I can say is that I’m ashamed that my Congressman has played into the hands of terrorists and contributed to a culture of fear.

A horrible, very bad idea

Smoking would be prohibited in public housing homes nationwide under a proposed federal rule announced on Thursday, a move that would affect nearly one million households and open the latest front in the long-running campaign to curb unwanted exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.

via The New York Times

I am second to no one in my loathing of tobacco smoke. I vividly remember trying to hold my breath as my mother filled our car with smoke, and I remember too, since almost every adult smoked in those bygone days, all of us kids leaving wedding receptions for the outdoors so we could breathe. I count it as one of our nation’s great accomplishments that we have banished the smoker from our restaurants and other public places.

But, this truly is a terrible, horrible idea.

I happen to represent a public housing authority, so it would be my client’s, and by extension my, sad duty to enforce such a ban. Smoking is an addiction, foisted on many by the tobacco companies that are no better than pushers. It afflicts the poor in disproportionate numbers, so it is statistically the case that a greater proportion of housing authority tenants will be victims of this legal, addictive drug, than in the general population.

There is only one sanction open to the housing authority if a tenant ignores the rules and continues to smoke, and that is eviction. The policy of our housing authority is to avoid eviction whenever possible. If a person is behind in his or her rent, we have a standard repayment policy, allowing for repayment, under a court stipulation, over the period of a year. Miss a payment and you risk losing your house, but most people don’t miss a payment.

If this policy goes into effect, we will have two options: ignore it, or enforce it. If we enforce it, we must enforce it in an even handed manner. One of the reasons we stick to our standard repayment agreement is that it helps us avoid any claim of discrimination. No matter your gender, religion, color or sexual orientation, if you are behind in your rent, you will be offered a one year repayment plan. Take it or leave it. Pretty much everyone takes it.

By the way, not enforcing is not really an option. When people live close together, neighborly feuds tend to develop, and it’s certain as night follows day that some Hatfield will demand enforcement against the McCoy next door.

So, what do we do about smoking? It is highly unlikely that most smokers will be able to simply stop because we impose a rule on them. Once we get them to court we could put them on a sort of probation, but the likelihood is extreme that they’ll fail that. It is an addiction, after all, and a powerful one. So, ultimately, they’ll lose their homes, and to what end? Perhaps the smoke in my next door neighbor’s apartment poses some slight health risk to me, but is it really good policy to inflict homelessness on people because they are addicted to tobacco? Moreover, this is a policy that operates primarily on the poor, and a like policy would never be imposed on the middle class, much less the privileged rich.

It would be bad public policy to outlaw smoking altogether. We need only look a the devastating effects of the “war on drugs” to prove that. But at least outlawing tobacco altogether would be non-discriminatory. Sometimes the best plan is to do nothing.

Big Numbers

As most of us know when we think about it, a million dollars isn’t what it used to be. Not that I would mind having a million or so, but nonetheless..

People have trouble with big numbers. It’s likely an individual thing, but for almost everyone there’s a large number that is emotionally indistinguishable from much larger numbers. This makes it easy for people to be misled into thinking that something is far more important than it truly is. Dean Baker has commented on this frequently, pointing out that more salient information is passed on when numbers are put in context, usually by expressing them as percentages of a whole. The New York Times actually promised to change it’s ways, but it never did.

Which brings us to the subject of today’s post: the fact that the Obama Administration recently gave a $102 million dollar hand slap to Goldman Sachs owned Education Management Corporation, a for profit “education” company. Like the other “educational” for-profits, EDM’s business plan is built upon fraud.

It recently agreed to pay the aforesaid $102 million to settle a fraud claim brought by the Justice Department. The Department loudly trumpeted its great work, and the press for the most part covered it as a triumph of good over evil. But, in fact, the penalty was a fairly tiny fraction of the billions EDM has gained by fleecing taxpayers and students:

If you read that the DOJ required a loan-forgiveness program from Education Management Corporation, you might think that the Obama administration is seriously cracking down on for-profit education companies. However, the pool of students who will share in “the $102.8 million loan forgiveness program” is so restrictive that Education Management will not be held liable for the plundering of federal and personal loans totaling in the billions of dollars over the past few years. In short, the corporation has profited from its fraud, just as Wall Street financial firms – as BuzzFlash has frequently documented – have engaged in deceitful practices that resulted in profits exceeding government fines.

In fact, the overlap between Wall Street and for-profit firms is actually transparent, since the revenue-seeking firms in question are generally traded on stock exchanges. Furthermore, as The New York Times report points out: 

In resolving the federal and state complaints, Education Management, which is owned partly by Goldman Sachs, did not acknowledge wrongdoing. Doing so would have meant that individual students would have had potential grounds to discharge their loans taken out to attend the colleges, potentially costing hundreds of millions [actually billions] of dollars.

Here, then, is a model of how Washington enables fraudulent financial and for-profit educational activity – and how they overlap. Education Management, in which Goldman Sachs has an investment, is allowed to continue to operate, with a lot of its revenue ill-gotten – most of which represents federal loans to students – largely intact. 

via Truthout

When you or I break the law, say by stealing a few billion dollars, odds are we’ll go to jail. When banks and corporations break the law, they pay a fine that is piddling in relation to the amount of the profit they’ve made by doing so, and some of the payments they make can be tax deductible. It’s a cost of doing business and often just a tiny part. Yet because the amounts sound so very big, many of us can be convinced that the government has really meted out a punishment. We wouldn’t be similarly snookered if we read in a newspaper that someone stole a thousand dollars and was fined a dollar for doing so.

Lindsey won’t be silenced, more’s the pity

There are times when I feel like beating dead horses, mostly because there are very few live horses left to beat. So, let us return to a recurring theme: media “balance”.

If future historians ever spend time watching old television news shows, they will surely wonder why so much TV time was devoted to getting the opinions of John McCain and Lindsey Graham, two mediocre men who have, at least to this point, had almost zero effect on what has happened in this country and this world, and who are chiefly remarkable for having been proven wrong about almost every assertion they have ever made.

Now cometh Chuck Todd to tell us that though Lindsey Graham cannot muster enough support from the lunatic fringe to even make it to the JV debate, he “will not be silenced” because Chuck Todd is going to give him yet more airtime to demonstrate why even Republicans find him wanting. He is going to discuss “his strategy going forward”. If Chuck were around in 1876 he’d probably have interviewed Custer on the same subject. Might I suggest that Graham’s best strategy would be to gracefully exit the race, or perhaps gracelessly exit the race by saying he didn’t make the cut because though he is clearly as incompetent as the competition, he is not as clinically insane as the rest of the field.

But I haven’t made my point about balance.

Did you know there is a person running (I think he’s still running) for the Democratic nomination whose support is as wide and deep as Graham’s? His name is Lawrence Lessig. He’s a Harvard professor who is drawing about the same percentage of support as is Graham. Lessig does differ from Graham in one crucial respect: he is not always wrong about everything. Now that’s unfair to Lessig, it’s more fair to say that he is similar to Graham in only one respect: he has no chance of getting his party’s nomination and everyone knows it, including him.

Amazingly, despite Lessig’s snowball chance of getting the Democratic nomination, he is not a regular on the Sunday talk shows. In fact, he is pretty much ignored by the media. Now, I’m not suggesting the media should do anything but ignore him; I’m merely suggesting that as between the two people under discussion, he is actually the superior individual, so if the media (and remember, we’re not talking about Fox here, Todd works for a network that some sane people watch) is going to subject us to Lindsey Graham’s strategizing about his hopeless cause, shouldn’t we be hearing about Lessig’s strategy too? I would submit that at least Lessig would have something different to say; something Todd’s viewers have not heard a zillion times before. What is it that the beltway bozos see in people like Graham, and why is it that they seem congenitally unable to appreciate the fact that the rest of the country doesn’t see whatever they see.

He’s Number One

Hands down, the worst president ever.

Yet, we have 15 potential presidents, all of whom could give him a run for his money, and one of whom will of necessity be nominated. 

How is a Bill O’Reilly like a stopped clock?

Answer: not at all. O’Reilly is only right once a year.

But that rare event may have happened recently.

George Will is in a kerfuffle because in “his” latest book, O’Reilly claims that Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s disease was affecting him during his presidency to such an extent that his advisers were thinking of invoking the 25th Amendment to replace him.

Now, far be it from me to claim that O’Reilly’s latest is anything but fiction (or actually written by him, for that matter), and I have no reason to believe that O’Reilly’s theory that Hinckley’s bullet accelerated the process of the disease has any validity. But the core claim, that Reagan was losing it during his presidency, is, in the humble opinion of this leftist for whom O’Reilly is now carrying water, more likely than not to be true.

I remember watching Reagan’s very early press conferences, and being amazed at how out of it he was. During one of his debates with Mondale, he clearly lost it on camera, when he told a meandering and pointless story about a drive he took near the California shore. And can we forget that part of the claim pushed sub silentio to absolve him of responsibility for the sale of weapons to Iran was that he was not aware of what was going on around him. I’m not saying he was totally out of it; I am saying that the disease was creeping up on him, which made it easier for his handlers to pull his strings, as they’d been doing during his entire presidency. Anyone who listened to him objectively could see that his mind was wandering more than a president’s mind ought.

Of course, this runs counter to the Reagan was god meme pushed by the Republicans, so naturally they’ll go after O’Reilly. The fact that his book is probably poorly sourced will make that easy, which is a shame, because someone really should take an honest look at the underlying question O’Reilly raises.