Friday, February 06, 2009

Republicans embrace their Hooverite roots

It is extremely frustrating to think that after winning a huge election victory in November, Barack Obama could be denied the economic stimulus package that he and all the top economists agree is desperately needed to pull the nation’s economy out of its nosedive.
Democrats have a 58-seat majority in the Senate (59 with Al Franken) and could easily pass the stimulus package on an up-or-down vote. But because Republicans have chosen to filibuster the bill, it teeters on the brink of defeat due to the wavering of a small handful of “centrist” Republicans and a couple of Democrats.
The remarkable thing is that the vast majority of Republicans are committed to blocking the stimulus package even as everyday brings more bad news about the deteriorating economic situation.
Obama may be president right now, but until this legislation is passed the country is STILL operating on Bush’s rules and Bushes economic prescriptions. If Republicans want to blame Obama for the economic problems, they need to get out of the way and let his plan go into effect. Then, if it doesn’t work, they will have a case to make next time elections roll around. All they have to do is stop filibustering and allow an up-or-down vote. But instead, they are clinging to the same economic policy prescriptions that have been in place for eight years and that are responsible for bringing us to this point in the first place.

Stupid Letters to the Editor

Sometimes I really hate the Letters section in the local paper. They allow people to publish things that are incredibly stupid, blatantly false and often malicious.
Today, for instance, we have this gem from frequent wingnut letter writer Bud Martinez:
"Let's face it, the economy thrives because of private entrepreneurs, not government intervention. The government can create favorable conditions like favorable taxes for business, but government doesn't "create" jobs."

Nevermind that we have been taking the "favorable tax breaks for business" option almost exclusively for the past eight years and look where it has gotten us. Let's just look at the last staement: The government doesn't create jobs. Got that?
OK, now go talk to any member of the U.S. Military, any company working off of government contracts, anyone working in the schools, the post offices, the court houses, the police stations the fire departments, the road crews, the hospitals caring for Medicare and Medicaid patients, all over this country and repeat that "government doesn't create jobs."

Why does the paper even publish letters like this? Maybe they need to print a warning at the top of the Letters section that says "Beware. Letters may contain statements that are stupid, idiotic, false and have no correlation to the truth and or reality."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Confirmation delays

Republicans have been throwing a huge hissy fit in Washington because Barack Obama actually appointed someone to be Secretary of Labor - Hilda Solis - who is (gasp!) PRO-LABOR! The nerve!!!
And now they have found some new ammunition to throw at her. It turns out that her husband had an outstanding tax lien of $6,000 on his business. A-ha! Failure to pay taxes derailed Tom Dashle’s nomination. So now they can do the same thing to Solis. Except, of course, that it is her husband’s business and not hers. But, whatever!
And next, Leon Panetta’s bid to be CIA Director will be held up after it is discovered that one of his second cousins twice-removed has an outstanding fine for an overdue library book.

AP challenging Fair Use standard

I agree with Kos that this case is ridiculous.

On buttons, posters and Web sites, the image was everywhere during last year’s presidential campaign: A pensive Barack Obama looking upward, as if to the future, splashed in a Warholesque red, white and blue and underlined with the caption HOPE.
Designed by Shepard Fairey, a Los-Angeles based street artist, the image has led to sales of hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers, has become so much in demand that copies signed by Fairey have been purchased for thousands of dollars on eBay.
The image, Fairey has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph, taken in April 2006 by Manny Garcia on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington.
The AP says it owns the copyright, and wants credit and compensation. Fairey disagrees.
“The Associated Press has determined that the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission,” the AP’s director of media relations, Paul Colford, said in a statement.
“AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to Mr. Fairey’s attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution.”
“We believe fair use protects Shepard’s right to do what he did here,” says Fairey’s attorney, Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University and a lecturer at the Stanford Law School. “It wouldn’t be appropriate to comment beyond that at this time because we are in discussions about this with the AP.”

I don’t want to see the AP go under like Kos does, but I think they don’t have and grounds to make a claim in this case.

Republicans take cues from Taliban

Making the rounds this morning is this interesting quote
by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas which compares the Republican Party to the Taliban.

“Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” Sessions said during a meeting with Hotline editors. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes.
“And these Taliban -- I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.”

This is especially ironic as Steve Benen notes because comparisons between the GOP and the Taliban have been made pretty consistently recently by frustrated Democrats, but now coming from the head of the National Republican Congressional Committee it has gained new credibility.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Stimulus Response

Andres Bocanegra at The San Antonio Conservative has a post up listing so-called wasteful spending in the Stimulus Bill that has been identified by Republicans. He adds his comments to each one in italics and I thought I would then add my responses in bold.

• $2 billion earmark to re-start FutureGen, a near-zero emissions coal power plant in Illinois that the Department of Energy defunded last year because it said the project was inefficient. why restart a program we know is inefficient?
We know no such thing. We only know that the Republican administration, which was ideologically opposed to the program, pulled the plug. Democrats, who are now in charge at the Department of Energy, want to restore funding. But does it belong in the stimulus bill?
Well, $2 billion in government spending will create a log of jobs and business opportunities around the coal plant in Illinois.
One of the main reasons that we in San Antonio are not suffering as much as the rest of the country is the $2 billion in government spending associated with the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) out at Fort Sam Houston. That money, spread out over several years, is creating thousands of jobs and is providing a nice cushion for San Antonio during the economic downturn.

• A $246 million tax break for Hollywood movie producers to buy motion picture film. so the support from Hollywood helped out for them … I suppose
Tax breaks provide the least “bang for the buck” compared to direct government spending, and yet the stimulus bill is filled with tax cuts because they are also the quickest way to get money back into the economy. Lots and lots of tax breaks in the stimulus bill, many at the insistence of Republicans who are now opposed to the package at all cost. The Republicans have singled out “Hollywood” here because it is a favorite boogeyman of the far right. But the movie industry is a huge economic generator. Aside from the jobs it creates directly through the production and distribution of movies, think about the other industries that depend on Hollywood. If they stopped making movies and TV shows who would want to go out and buy all those flat-screen TVs and surround-sound systems?

• $650 million for the digital television converter box coupon program.
Money well spent in my opinion. The initial coupon program proved to be very popular and ran out already. That means the money is being turned over very quickly and making its way back into the ecomomy which is exactly what the stimulus is trying to do.
• $88 million for the Coast Guard to design a new polar icebreaker (arctic ship). this might be ok but this is just for the design … whats wrong with the icebreakers we have at this point?
Some company is going to get the contract to design that ship. Another will get the contract to build it. That means jobs, jobs and more jobs.

• $448 million for constructing the Department of Homeland Security headquarters. yeah this is a NO …
Constructing buildings is very clearly stimulus. It is infrastructure. Jobs, jobs, jobs.

• $248 million for furniture at the new Homeland Security headquarters. seriously hit up a WalMart for furniture … but again NO
Wal-Mart does not make furniture. They are a re-seller. Why go through them just so they can take a cut? Some company out there that makes the furniture will get the contract and that means more jobs, etc.

•$600 million to buy hybrid vehicles for federal employees. how does this create jobs or help US automakers
How does it NOT help the auto industry? The government is going to BUY vehicles from the auto companies. This is the most clear example of stimulus for a distressed company that I’ve seen. Whoever put this list together doesn’t have a clue.

• $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control to screen and prevent STD’s. this doesnt stimulate the economy
I agree that this one is questionable. They would have to hire people to go out and provide the screening services and so that is clearly a boon for some medical supply and service companies. But it probably doesn’t belong in the stimulus bill.

• $1.4 billion for rural waste disposal programs.
• $125 million for the Washington sewer system. again how does this stimulate the economy?

By employing people who would build and maintain the waste disposal and sewer systems (i.e. infrastructure).

• $150 million for Smithsonian museum facilities. see above comment
The Smithsonian museum has been badly neglected during the Republican reign in Washington. There are cracked ceilings, water leaks and major structural problems that have forced the closure of some sections of the museum and has even resulted in damage to some of our nation’s most prized treasures. It is a disgrace. I don’t care if you want to call it stimulus or not. I say it is infrastructure that needs to be better cared for.

• $1 billion for the 2010 Census, which has a projected cost overrun of $3 billion. create more efficient census techniques
Fine. What are your ideas? The Census is a huge job that gets bigger and more complex every 10 years as the population continues to grow and diversify. Maybe it doesn’t belong in the stimulus bill, but it is money the government will need to spend anyway.

• $75 million for “smoking cessation activities.” no stimulation here …
When you convince people to stop smoking it saves millions down the road in health care costs. It is a worthy program assuming that it is effective, but probably shouldn’t be in the stimulus bill.

• $200 million for public computer centers at community colleges.
That means jobs for the companies that make and sell computers, jobs for the companies that install and maintain computers and jobs for the companies that build out the spaces where the computer centers will go. Plus it is a boon to education and can help people retrain to get better jobs and so on and so on...

• $75 million for salaries of employees at the FBI. no … this belongs in an budget appropriations bill not a stimulus package
I agree. Don’t know how that got in there. But in a $900 billion stimulus bill, we are essentially arguing about change found under the sofa cushions.

• $25 million for tribal alcohol and substance abuse reduction. no stimulation here
See comment on smoking cessasion above.

• $500 million for flood reduction projects on the Mississippi River.
• $10 million to inspect canals in urban areas.
• $6 billion to turn federal buildings into “green” buildings.
• $500 million for state and local fire stations.
Infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure, infrastructure. Any questions?

• $1.2 billion for “youth activities,” including youth summer job programs.
The key words here are “job programs.” Got that?

• $88 million for renovating the headquarters of the Public Health Service.
• $412 million for CDC buildings and property. how does this create jobs … oh yeah it doesn’t
By employing the people who do construction renovation work

• $500 million for building and repairing National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland. I guess these are considered construction jobs?

The list goes on and it gets a bit repetitive, but I think you get the idea. But as Steve Benen has noted, all the items that Republicans objected to come to just 2 percent of the overall stimulus bill.
So why are we holding up a bill that we are 98 percent in agreement on to squabble over 2 percent?

Welcome to the Neighborhood

A couple of new, local, political/opinion blogs have come online recently.
First, the Express-News Op-Ed page has a new blog called The Arena where the editorial board members such as Jonathan Gurwitz will post brief commentaries.
You have to register on the site in order to leave comments, which is a pain. And it also looks like they have it set so that comments have to be “approved” before they will appear, which is an even bigger pain. But hopefully they will get all the kinks worked out soon and it will become a fun site for debating the issues of the day.

Second, we have a new conservative blogger on the local scene looking to fill the void left by our AWOL friend Bill Crawford.
Andres Bocanegra is a political science student at the University of Texas at San Antonio who is deeply involved in the College Republicans and his blog is appropriately titled The San Antonio Conservative.

So a warm welcome to our new neighbors. I look forward to open, honest and invigorating debates.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

E-N Op-Ed RIP (not quite)

I was about ready to write the obituary for the Express-News Opinion page. On Monday, they slashed the section down to one-page and then on Tuesday it was cut down again.
But then I finally found Bob Richter’s column explaining the change where he notes the cutback is only for two-days a week rather than six, as I had assumed. So we will still have some room in the Op-Ed section to run some columns and commentaries. I assume that means Jonathan Gurwitz will still have his Wednesday slot.
But Doonesbury has been shipped off to the comics pages next to Prickly City and - the best news of all - Mallard Fillmore has been canned. HAHAHA!!! WooHoo!!! YippEEEEEEE!!!
Ahem. Excuse the spontaneous celebration, but no comic was ever more deserving of getting pink-slipped than the obnoxious, horribly-drawn, frequently ass-backwards wrong, humorless garbage churned out everyday by Bruce Tinsley. Good riddance!
So anyway, I hope that one day they will add those pages back to the Opinion section, because I think it is a mistake to cut back on that section. And I hope they don’t chop any more pages out before Obama’s stimulus plan finally gets past all the Republican sniping, whining, pulling of hair and gnashing of teeth.

Power of the Pen

In a remarkable nod to the news media, Tom Daschletold NBC News today that he decided to drop his bid for HHS Secretary after reading this mornings editorial in the New York Times.
It was a good editorial, I have to admit. I hate to see Daschle go and I wish this could all have been washed away, but the reality in today’s political culture is that it would never have gone away and would have hung around like a cloud over the Obama administration from here on out.

Academy to movie fans: Drop Dead

In the “I told them so” category comes this story in the NYTimes the other day about Academy Awards officials fretting that nobody will watch their big show later this month.

The nominations of a still relatively little-seen crop of best-picture contenders — “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Frost/Nixon,” “Milk,” “The Reader” and “Slumdog Millionaire,” which together have accumulated less than half the box office of “The Dark Knight,” which was snubbed — are making it harder for producers of the Oscar ceremony to deliver on an earlier promise: to create a big night for the movies, even if some of the movies are not so big. Operatives of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are quietly scrambling to assemble an event that would make some extraordinary bows in the direction of the crowd while trying to do right by the honorees.

Oh, that’s nice. They will make some “bows to the crowd” after thumbing their noses at them for the fourth year in a row.
This isn’t a new phenomena, as I noted earlier, and it has already been having an impact on the Oscar ratings.

After the American audience for last year’s Oscar show hit an all-time low of about 32 million viewers, ABC cut its rate for a 30-second ad on this year’s broadcast to $1.4 million from $1.7 million, according to Advertising Age.

So how are the Academy bigwigs planning to draw in viewers after snubbing the top 20 box office winners?
By hyping up the one and only caveat they made to popular taste - the supporting actor nod for that dead guy in the Batman film.
I hope that makes all you lowly, movie-watching rabble happy because it’s the only scrap you are likely to get off of the Academy’s elitist, super-exclusive table this year.
Check it out:

The message, on posters and Web sites and in televised ads, aims to tell people that this year’s show has something even for viewers who may not care much for the nominees.
Anyway, Ms. Weiss said in a recent telephone interview, the more pop-minded fans should find a glimmer of comfort in the supporting actor nominations that went to Heath Ledger, as the Joker in “The Dark Knight,” and Robert Downey Jr., for his blackface turn in “Tropic Thunder.”
“The Oscars,” she said, “is a show for them too.”

It’s a show for THEM too, she says. Can’t you just FEEL the love?

Monday, February 02, 2009

Supremely out of balance

The New York Times had a good article yesterday illustrating just how far to the right the Supreme Court is skewed today. A recent study shows that four of the five most conservative justices since 1937 are currently on the Court - No. 1 Clarence Thomas, No. 3 Antonin Scalia, No. 4. John Roberts Jr. and No. 5 Samuel Alito. Anthony Kennedy comes in at No. 10.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the top liberals on the Supreme Court since 1937, we currently have just one in the Top 10 - Ruth Bader Ginsburg at No. 9.
And when you consider that the people most likely to step down from the Supreme Court in the next few years - John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Ginsberg - are all from the liberal wing, that means Obama won’t have much of a chance to correct that conservative imbalance unless he appoints someone who is very, very liberal.
And so that is just what Obama needs to do when the time comes. Appoint a liberal lion in the mold of Thurgood Marshall or William Brennan. Someone who will be as far to the left as Clarence Thomas, Scalia, Roberts and Alito are to the right.
Don’t worry whether the person is “too liberal”. They need to be “too liberal” just to begin to bring back some semblance of balance to the Court.

Odds and Ends

I only watched the last five minutes of the Super Bowl, but that was apparently all I needed to watch. The lead changed twice in the final minutes and had a very exciting finish. I didn’t really care who won, but watching it at the very end I was suddenly torn as both teams struggled for the advantage. From a political perspective, I suppose I’m glad that the Steelers won since they are from a Blue state and Obama was rooting for them, while the Cardinals are not only from a Red state, but John McCain’s home state to boot.

I recorded the halftime show so that I could go back and watch it later and I thought Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were terrific. It was great to see that he was clearly NOT lip-synching and even changed the lyrics to some songs to suit the occasion.

I was disappointed this morning to see that Rudy Park is no longer on the comics page of the Express-News. And I guess I will have to wait until tomorrow, but it looks like their whole, lame “guest comic” thing will turn out to be for not as Rudy Park was replaced on the page by Doonesbury, which had been bumped from the suddenly shortened Op-Ed section.

I guess I’ll have to wait and see if this one-page editorial thing was just for today or if it is a permanent cost-cutting measure. Is it just for Mondays? Or will it be like this all week except for Sundays? That is a real shame. My two favorite sections of the paper are the comics and the Op-ed sections and those are the sections that always get hit hardest during downturns in the economy because they generally don’t allow room for advertising, which is the newspapers’ life blood.

The one bright spot is that while Doonesbury wound up on the comics page, the loathsome Mallard Fillmore was apparently dropped altogether. Ha!!!

I hope that Tom Daschle can weather this confirmation process and still become Secretary of Health and Human Services, but damn! He should have known better on that tax thing.

I was excited when I heard that Obama was tapping Republican Judd Gregg for Secretary of Commerce, but now that it appears the New Hampshire Democratic governor is just going to appoint another Republican as his replacement in the Senate I’m thinking “Why even bother?” What is wrong with these governors and their awful Senate picks anyway? Sheesh!