Commentary

Show Me Your Papers

The Trump Regime's promise during the election to ban Muslims entering the United States has affected local law enforcement. This happened BEFORE the ban went into effect, but make no mistake about it--this is the country in which we live right now. 

There's no way a beat cop in Bel Air, Maryland should be accosting citizens and asking for their papers. The woman in question is just as American as you or I. The Bel Air police department should have fired that officer immediately. What an outrage. 

This shit will get out of hand fast. We are headed for panicky days ahead. If you're not ashamed of your country right now, you oughta be. This is not why I served in the Army. This is not what Americans should have to face when walking in their communities. And this is the logical extension of decades of subtle racism, courtesy of the Republican Party. White nationalism won the presidency and way too many people are cheering it on right now.

Republican Hypocrisy is Eternal

Edwin D. Williamson, today:

President-elect Donald Trump’s attempt to put the conflicts issue behind him has failed, at least according to the mainstream media. His announcement that he would resign from all positions with companies in the Trump Organization, put the Trump Organization in a trust run by his two sons and a Trump Organization employee, and not communicate with the trustees on the business did not stifle the howl from the media and such self-appointed ethics watchdogs as Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, who continue their dire warnings about the new president's potential conflicts of interests. Even the supposedly nonpartisan director of the Office of Government Ethics has chimed in, saying that Trump's "plan does not comport with the tradition of our presidents over the last 40 years" (which is incorrect with respect to President Carter; the others did not have financial interests that came close to the extent and complexity of Trump's).

The media and the watchdogs insist on a full divestiture by Trump of all financial interests in the Trump Organization (he will be the principal beneficiary of the Trump trust). For a variety of reasons, divestiture probably cannot be done at all, but it certainly cannot be done without creating an entirely new set of conflicts. What the president-elect has done would not satisfy the requirements of the federal conflicts law if they applied to him (they do not), but he has made a good-faith effort to distance his role as president from his financial interests.

Edwin D. Williamson, November, 2008:

An MSNBC article discusses ethics issues that former President Bill Clinton's extensive charitable activities could present if Barack Obama nominates Hilary Clinton to be Secretary of State. Here's an excerpt:

[V]ast amounts of money and prestige are involved, and those factors could pose problems for lawyers at the State Department who work to prevent ethical conflicts from corrupting the nation's foreign policy.

Edwin D. Williamson, who served as the State Department's chief legal adviser under President George H.W. Bush, said he does not know how the agency would resolve the potential conflicts. "If a client came to me with this set of facts, I would describe it as nightmarish," he said.

The gall of these people. Their moral compass disappears as soon as a Republican gets near the White House. Every single legal argument used against the Clintons for over 25 years is simply flushed down the memory hole.

You may remember how both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W, Bush placed their personal assets in blind trusts in order to ensure that they could not be accused of anything unethical, but that's not enough. You may remember how Presidents Clinton and Obama did the same thing, but you'd be sneered at for bringing it up. You might remember how all other candidates have released their tax returns, but now you're just being shrill.

Trump has made a "good faith" effort. Except that he hasn't used a blind trust in any way, shape or form. That's not good faith. That's thumbing your nose at the whole idea that a president should comport himself in an ethical manner.

The Republicans have set up a dangerous precedent. In the future, be prepared to laugh in their face if they ever raise a concern for the "appearance of a conflict of interest" with regards to any Democrat.

 

Your College Degree is Why America is Horrible Right Now

I am probably being ridiculous, but oh well:

Both geographically and demographically, the British referendum split the U.K. along lines familiar in America. An extensive election-day survey by Lord Michael Ashcroft, a British pollster, found that the leave campaign carried over three-fifths of those without four-year college degrees, a comparable number of seniors, and a narrow majority of all whites. Election results showed the leave campaign amassing big margins outside of major cities. The campaign to remain won over two-thirds of non-whites, about three-fifths of college graduates, and big majorities among younger and urban voters. In London, which recently elected one of the western world’s first Muslim mayors, 60 percent voted to stay.

All of this replicates American patterns. Democrats now rely on an urbanized coalition of Millennials, minorities, and socially liberal college-educated and single whites (especially women). Republicans thrive among older, non-college educated and religiously devout whites, especially outside of major cities. In 2012, President Obama carried less than one-fourth of America’s counties; he won fewer counties than any presidential winner since at least 1920. But because Obama so dominated the nation’s population centers, he triumphed by 5 million votes.

In a way, having a college degree means I can't join the racist, belching rabble and vote for Donald Trump. I have too much information--I'm a high information voter--and I can't just sit here and write stupid things all day long (since when has that ever stopped anyone, including me?).

What I think gets left out of the equation is that we are faced with choices that have not energized the populations of either Britain or America. President Obama was a once-in-a-lifetime bolt out of nowhere. He energized millions and he promised renewal. His legacy will be that of a largely successful president who could have done more with a reasonable opposition party. The fact that he accomplished anything at all was entirely in spite of the hate expressed towards him as the first black president. 

With Hillary being the first female president, we'll see some renewal of hope and we'll see more women participating in public life, I would imagine. What we'll also see is a mirror image of the racism expressed towards Obama in the misogyny that will be directed like a broadside at Hillary. 

Like Obama, she'll advance the movement towards a more equitable and fair United States of America. And she'll be denied any credit for doing her best to make people's lives better, just like Obama.

Hillary Ruined Haiti? Give Me A Break

Come on, try harder:

Much of the blame for Haiti’s chaotic political scene can be pinned on Hillary Clinton’s State Department, whose handpicked president has only made things worse.

Last week Haiti’s Electoral Council postponed the nation’s current presidential election indefinitely. The present chaos is a fitting coda to the recent presidency of Michel Martelly, a novice politician who governed accordingly.

Amid the current upheaval, the name Mirlande Manigat is well worth recalling. As Haiti struggled to dig out from the disastrous 2010 earthquake, Manigat stood poised to become its first elected female president—until Hillary Clinton’s State Department intervened.

A former First Lady of Haiti and a respected university administrator, Manigat invoked Brazil’s Lula as she ran on a moderately left-wing platform championing universal public education. Manigat, who holds a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne, also campaigned in the U.S., detailing at length her vision for Haiti.

This is another ridiculous hit piece on Secretary Clinton's tenure at State. First of all, no one ruined Haiti - Haiti was already ruined. Second, she championed someone who let the NGOs come in and try to help. Third, she opposed a Sorbonne-educated candidate who, umm, went to New York City to campaign for the presidency of Haiti because that's where the money was. She made a judgement call based on what she was being told by the State Department's people in the region--the professionals who understand diplomacy.

So, in effect, you have someone criticizing Hillary because she rejected the candidate who was wallowing in outside money raised in another country. Tell me again how her ties to corrupt people are supposed to "disqualify" her from the presidency?

When it comes to Haiti, steel yourself for heartbreak. There have never been any great options for the place so blaming Hillary is really stretching it. Next up- an expose from Slate on how everything that went wrong everywhere in the world until modern times was also Hillary's fault.

There is No Path to Victory for Jim Webb


A decent man has been listening to fools:
Former presidential candidate Jim Webb may be ready to get back in the race. He’s expected to discuss the possibility right here in North Texas today.
CBS 11 News has learned Webb will discuss his intentions to make another run for the White House when he addresses the Dallas World Affairs Council at the Belo Mansion this afternoon.
On February 9, the World Affairs Council tweeted happy birthday to the former senator and said he would be sharing his “5 Most Important Principles for Foreign Policy” at the luncheon today.
You have to have a party apparatus behind you to run for President unless you're--

1. Running to elevate your name recognition so that you can increase your speaking fees
2. Hearing disjointed voices screaming through pillows made of cheese

In Webb's case, there's no clamor for his leadership and no reason to expect that there is a different group of people out there who would give you millions of dollars to run. You might find people willing to give you thousands to run, and that's a pretty good grift, but you'll never be able to sleep at night.

Shake enough hands with fish and you will look very tasty to bears. That's all I'm saying, and that's the wisest thing you'll hear all day.

UPDATE: Webb decides that it isn't his time.

America Wants Nothing to do With Libertarians


Senator Rand Paul has been chased out of the race for the presidency:
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announced Wednesday that he is suspending his presidential campaign, bringing an end to a bid that began with aspirations of expanding the libertarian base that his father, Ron Paul, built into a powerful national coalition.
"It's been an incredible honor to run a principled campaign for the White House," Paul said in a statement. "Today, I will end where I began, ready and willing to fight for the cause of Liberty."
The low-key senator, as apt to quote a philosopher as to quote Pink Floyd, struggled in a year dominated by hard-line outsiders such as Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and businessman Donald Trump. In a call with reporters, his campaign strategists bemoaned that the mogul had sucked the "oxygen" out of the race, and admitted hat his non-interventionist views on foreign policy were not embraced by Republicans as terrorism and unrest raged abroad.
Here's a guy who would make a great vice-president if he wasn't a libertarian. And, really, what does he have to offer? He's another short-term United States Senator who doesn't like doing his job enough to actually show up. He was running for president because why not? America pretends to believe in libertarianism right up until the moment when it is time to vote. Then, they vote for someone else.

Rand Paul was vice president material the moment he won his Senate seat. He has that weird charisma that will make it look like he's able to help the ticket. He energizes a shrinking pool of weirdos who would gladly vote for him.

And really, "shrinking pool of weirdos" would apply to half the Republican Party right now, wouldn't it?

A Transfer of Wealth


I don't have a huge take on this, except for one little thing I'll add at the end:
Economists are still hotly debating whether the oil crash has been a net positive for advanced economies.
Optimists argue that cheap oil is a good thing for consumers and commodity-sensitive businesses, while pessimists point to the hit to energy-related investment and possible spillover into the financial system.
A new note from Francisco Blanch at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, however, puts the oil move into a much bigger perspective, arguing that a sustained price plunge "will push back $3 trillion a year from oil producers to global consumers, setting the stage for one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history."
This transfer of wealth will help accelerate the destabilization of the gulf oil states. You could see the fall of governments in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar, just to name a few. This, in turn, will force the United States to prop up those countries and deal with more and more radicals. Our military should be looking at these trends. How do we structure our military to deal with countries destabilized by the fall of the price of oil?

Oh, and if people drive more, won't that increase the possibility that we're headed towards more climate change and higher sea levels?

Jeopardy


I actually watched this episode:
As much as we might all enjoy a night of trivia at our local watering hole, answering questions about everything from potent potables to whatever punning-on-history category the writers come up with on Jeopardy! is a different beast altogether. Contestants are racking their brains for multiple games a day (assuming they make it that far), and eventually, everyone’s time is up on the show. But on Monday evening’s game, all three contestants were shown the door after providing three wrong answers to the final Jeopardy! question.
Claudia Corriere and Mike Drummond, the co-returning champions, were tied at $13,800 going into the Final Jeopardy! round, with Randi Kristensen bringing up the rear with $6,000. Then came the final clue: “A 1957 event led to the creation of a national historic site in this city, signed into law by a president whose library is now there too.” Everyone picked a different U.S. city (though Kristensen wasn’t able to finish writing “Springfield”), and they were all wrong. But they had also all bet everything, which created a three-way tie for last place.
Host Alex Trebek wryly carried out his Solomon-like duties following the surprising conclusion of the game, informing the contestants (and viewers) that they had all lost and that Tuesday’s game would start with three new tributes, er, contestants. This is only the sixth time that all three contestants have choked in the final round; the most recent instance was a three-way loss during 2013’s Teen Tournament. You can watch the dismay slowly spread across all three contestants’ faces below, but try to keep your schadenfreude in check (we can’t all be Turd Ferguson). And in case you were wondering, the event and president in question were the desegregation of the schools and Bill Clinton, so the correct question-answer was actually “What is Little Rock, Arkansas?”.
Even though I was stumped, I focused on a couple of things. I was prepared to answer "Austin" because that's where the Lyndon Johnson library is located. I thought, well, Johnson signed Civil Rights legislation into action after...what? That's what the problem was, because the 1957 event was clearly the desegregation of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas. And from there, you go to Bill Clinton and his library is in Little Rock, so, there you go.

Expecting three white people to know the history of the Civil Rights movement is too much to ask these days. I'm not sure if there's an overtly racist aspect to this, but there certainly is a strategic problem with ending up broke on Jeopardy. If you don't know the answer, bet nothing! You could have won!

This reminded me of what's going on in Oregon. President Eisenhower took the Arkansas National Guard away from the former governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus, and called out a thousand U.S. troops to forcibly desegregate the schools in Little Rock. Surely, there's a Ranger battalion that wouldn't mind restoring good order and discipline to a Federal bird sanctuary.

This is How I See the Road Ahead


I was commenting on Facebook when I realized I should be putting something on my crappy blog that no one reads:
"The argument for Clinton is that she's the Democrat most likely to make progress on progressive priorities because she's the Democrat who best understands both the issues and how unbelievably difficult it actually is to get anything done in a divided political system. Sanders can talk all he wants about political revolutions, but no one seriously doubts that the next Democratic president will face a Republican House, a 5-4 Republican majority on the Supreme Court, and a country that mistrusts government action." 
So, in other words, she's the only adult in the room? 

How is any of that a bad thing? Knowing she's the only person running who sees things as they are as opposed to what she's going to promise to people and then have to lie about later? Hillary has to lie because this is a country made up of toddlers, bullies, and people tired of lame attempts to categorize a broadly diverse electorate.

We are not going to get the House back any time soon. We are going to experience a blinding level of partisan obstructionism if she wins the election. The mere fact that she's running is proof that we don't have a choice this year. We have an obligation to put her in office and to keep hammering away at all attempts to destroy Obama's legacy.

I don't understand Ezra Klein at all. He's against Clinton. But there's nobody else. There is no one running who understands the reality of American politics, circa 2016, better than she does. I mean, full stop. This is what we face--oblivion or an annoying habit of trying to get as much as possible within the confines of a heavily divided political climate. Grow the motherfucking fuck up and just accept the fact that everyone self-identifying as a Republican is living in a batshit crazy fantasy world where they can magically make the government do things it does not do and never has done.

Hideous and Cheap


It would appear that the Chinese took down this statue of Mao because it did not do him justice. Someone working as a monolithic statue contractor fleeced these poor businessmen out of their hard-earned cash and put up a monstrosity. The thing was hollow at the base, allowing teenagers the chance to hide underneath and make fart noises. Was all of that scaffolding part of the plan? Goodness.

Very undignified. Next time, chip in for the solid foundation.

Get This Young Man Some Help


Honestly, this is not as funny as it sounds:
Were you on the strip in Las Vegas on Saturday night?

Did you see anything suspicious? Say, a guy who looked likeJohnny Manziel if Johnny Manziel pasted on a mustache and stole the hair off Mark Davis' head to use as a wig?
I ask all this, because it's the picture being painted by ESPN Las Vegas radio personality Mitch Moss, who reports the Cleveland Browns quarterback was in Las Vegas on Saturday night through early Sunday morning gambling, dining and partying in disguise.
The ESPN host says that Manziel was in town wearing a blonde wig, fake mustache, sunglasses and a hoodie. Moss also alleges thatManziel was telling people his name was "Billy."
The kid has a drinking problem. As in, he needs to be in a substance abuse program, not the National Football League. At the ripe old age of 23, he has a problem with alcohol. In the past, we would laugh this off because we all know how lovable Ken Stabler was. But Stabler should have gotten some help just like Manziel should get some help.

I mean, damn. It's funny but it isn't.

Why this isn't more apparent, and why there isn't anyone in his life who can provide help and assistance is beyond comprehension. The Cleveland Browns have one obligation here--Manziel is signed to a contract to play for their team. The Browns and the NFL should help Manziel get into a treatment program. Nothing else matters.

Yeah, Elections Matter


Paul Krugman says what needs to be said:
[...] some widely predicted consequences of Mr. Obama’s re-election — predicted by his opponents — didn’t happen. Gasoline prices didn’t soar. Stocks didn’t plunge. The economy didn’t collapse — in fact, the U.S. economy has now added more than twice as many private-sector jobs under Mr. Obama as it did over the same period of the George W. Bush administration, and the unemployment rate is a full point lower than the rate Mr. Romney promised to achieve by the end of 2016.
In other words, the 2012 election didn’t just allow progressives to achieve some important goals. It also gave them an opportunity to show that achieving these goals is feasible. No, asking the rich to pay somewhat more in taxes while helping the less fortunate won’t destroy the economy.
So now we’re heading for another presidential election. And once again the stakes are high. Whoever the Republicans nominate will be committed to destroying Obamacare and slashing taxes on the wealthy — in fact, the current G.O.P. tax-cut plans make the Bush cuts look puny. Whoever the Democrats nominate will, first and foremost, be committed to defending the achievements of the past seven years.
The bottom line is that presidential elections matter, a lot, even if the people on the ballot aren’t as fiery as you might like. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

But...but...I didn't get the public option so now I'm not going to vote and that'll make the Democrats sorry they ever pissed me off. And then, something something, I'll get what I want and everything will be the way I want it.

Seriously, though--if you're disappointed in President Obama, I understand why. It's hard to live in a world where you don't get everything you want right now. But, if you're a functioning adult, I don't see how you can be unhappy that we're living in a country where gas is cheap, unemployment is down, and people have health insurance. I seem to remember times when this was just not the case and it sucked for a lot of people. Yes, things still suck. But they don't suck as bad as they could and they suck because people aren't voting for their economic self-interest. If you live in Kansas and Kentucky, I feel for you, but you brought it on yourselves.

You Should be Able to Refinance Your Student Loan Debt


It took me a while to figure this out, so bear with me. Megan McArdle tries to pooh-pooh a very good question asked by Bernie Sanders:
The day after Christmas, Bernie Sanders asked a question on Twitter: “You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?”
Finance types may snicker. But I’ve seen this question asked fairly often, and it seems worth answering, respectfully, for people whose expertise and interest lie outside the realm of economics.
The short answer is: “Loans are not priced in real life the way they are in Sunday School stories.” In a Sunday School story, the cheapest loans would go to the nicest people with the noblest use for the money: single mothers who need money to buy their kids a Christmas present, say.

That’s splendid for the recipient. But what about the lender? Let’s say you had $150 that you really needed to have at the end of the month, say to pay your rent. Would you want to lend it to the single mother whose income is stretched so tight that she needs to borrow money for Christmas presents, or would you want to lend it to some heartless leech of a securities litigator with an 800 credit rating who happens to have left his wallet at home? C’mon. You know the answer; you just don’t want to say it. If you really need the money -- if you cannot afford to turn your loan into a gift -- then you lend it to the better credit risk with the higher income, not the person who may find themselves too short to pay you when the loan comes due.
In aggregate, most of the money in your savings account is loaned out using this cold calculus, and unless you could afford to have that contents of that account suddenly vanish, you want it to be. That’s why poor people, on top of all the other unfairness heaped upon them, pay higher interest rates. And that is why secured loans, like mortgages, get lower interest rates than unsecured loans, like credit card balances and student loans.
Student loans are two-for-one in terms of risk: They are frequently made to people with no income, no credit history, and somewhat imperfect prospects; and they carry no guarantee of payment other than the borrower’s signature. If someone fails to pay their auto loan, you can take their car away. This ensures repayment in two ways: first, you can auction the car and recover some of the money that you lent out; and second, people need their car, and will scrimp on other things in order to keep it from losing it. The immediate personal costs of failing to pay your student loans, on the other hand, are pretty minimal, and people are going to take that into account when they decide whether to pay you or the auto finance company. That’s why the government has to guarantee these loans; the low-fixed-rate, take-any-course-of-study-you-want-at-any-accredited-institution, interest-deferred-in-school is probably not a financial product that would exist in the wild.
Secured loans have thus always carried lower interest rates than unsecured loans, and will do so until the heat death of the universe renders moot such questions.
And so on, and so forth. McArdle tries to demonstrate competence and knowledge here, but let's go back to the question that kicked off this discussion:
Bernie Sanders asked a question on Twitter: “You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?”
Let's ignore McArdle and really answer the question. Let's say a family, who refinances their home, takes a look at their student debt and makes an honest effort to refinance that debt. They can't! And that's why the question needs to be answered from the viewpoint of a family with student loan debt as opposed to a recently graduated student with student loan debt.

McArdle is basically right about why a student who just gets out of college is charged a higher interest rate--they're a riskier proposition. But the family, with their home as an asset, is a much lower risk. Why wouldn't you allow them to use their home as collateral so that they could refinance their existing student loan debt?

That's the part that makes no sense. You have two people who are married and, if they're at a point where they own a home and refinance it, let's say they're also ten years into the thirty year process of paying back their student loans. They've been making ten years of payments on that debt at 7 or 8 percent while their home is financed at 3 percent. You could say that the only reason why they own their own home is because of the degrees they earned. 

As a condition of refinancing their student loan debt, you could minimize the risk and reduce the interest rate on their student loan debt by using the equity in their home as collateral. You're telling me that someone who has paid off a third of their mortgage is the same risk as a kid just out of college? Hell, no. They're a damned good risk and they deserve an interest rate cut. That would mean huge savings for the family and bring them greater financial stability in the long run, making it more likely that not only would they pay back their mortgage but that they would pay back their student loan debt.

And wouldn't that help bring down interest rates? Or am I being an idiot on purpose?

These are the kinds of scenarios that Sanders is really pushing--common sense changes to how we do things so that Americans can get out from under crushing levels of debt. And no one currently self-identifying as a Republican would even dream of such a thing--it runs against the economic self-interest of their primary voters as well as their donors.

Tell the Libtards that Obama Still Sucks


Jobs? What jobs?

Look, here's how the modern American economy works. If a Republican is in office, the deficit doesn't matter.

If a Democrat is in office, the deficit is the ONLY thing that matters.

Here's proof, via Paul Krugman, that Obama has been a far better president than we're being told.



It's hard to argue with the proof at hand, but that's all they have--an argument. The fact that it doesn't hold water is a feature, not a bug.

Cheap Oil


A barrel of oil goes for about $39 right now:
Oil fell below $37 a barrel on Thursday, after new data showed OPEC is still pumping like there is no tomorrow.
The mighty oil cartel produced 31.7 million barrels a day in November, its latest monthly report shows. That is the highest output in over three years and 1.7 million barrels a day over its former production ceiling.
Oil hasn't been this cheap in a long time. About a year and a half ago, it was $108 a barrel.

The implications of this probably aren't well understood. There are a number of countries--Iran, Venezuela, Mexico, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia that face unique circumstances at home. They have restive, unhappy populations that are trying to live in struggling economies. The governments of those nations (only Mexico is a non-OPEC state) are forced to chase revenue and produce oil in abundance, working against their common interests in the name of maintaining a revenue stream that is drying up.

If those countries come apart at the seams because of cheap oil, we'll have interruptions in supply and the possible intervention on the US military as a result. Sure, I like paying less than $2 for a gallon of gas, and I laugh about it all the time because what else could be more hilarious, but there are some really difficult choices here. Do we continue to live like this and hope the oil producing states can remain stable or do we welcome a modest price hike? It would seem to me that someone has to figure out how to cut production, bring the price up, and do this quietly.

Voter Fraud


This dingy image verifies, once and for all, that the only substantive voter fraud being practiced in the United States of America is carried out by wealthy, privileged white people.

John Ellis Bush is the son of President George Herbert Walker Bush and the brother of President George W. Bush. Somehow, in the course of his life, he became convinced of his Hispanic heritage, which does not exist.

And, just to recap--if a Democrat had done something like this, the howls of outrage would lift the roof off the joint.

America Will Never Be Rid of the Palins


When things like this happen, all you can do is wish the best for the lucky couple and imagine what the next few years are like, what with the death of irony and the elimination of self-respect from American political discourse.

The Palins are forever and you're just living in their world.

Change


The answer, my friends, is no.

People can vote for "change" but they won't actually get it and then they'll be all mad and promise not to vote again and then they'll go ten years without giving a crap and then someone will market change at them and they'll go what the hell and then they'll vote for change and what they'll get is some version of change they didn't want and then they won't vote anymore and then, the next thing you know, someone is elected a Bush or a Clinton for the eighth time.

We are well and truly fucked but we forgot how it happened and that means we'll just get fucked again.