Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Is "Benghazi" becoming...

...the new "Whitewater?":

A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing.

According to Ezra Klein's blog...

...today, "The federal government’s average interest rate on its debts is below 2 percent." (Here's a larger picture of that chart.)

So shouldn't the United States be borrowing like crazy right now to rebuild our infrastructure? And, given the high unemployment rate, shouldn't we be running larger deficits, not smaller?

The commissioner of the...

...Big 12 Conference is named Bob Bowlsby? (You can't make this stuff up.)

Hat tip: Kevin Gallagher.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Before you even ask, the answer...

...is "No, I don't have a life."

The Illinois high school football season is set to open up on August 30, with Bolingbrook traveling to Hinsdale Central.

Why is this significant? Because two of the Chicago area's very best players may be facing each other that night: Raider defensive back Parrker (no misspelling) Westphal (at top) and Red Devil tight end Ian Bunting.

While Bunting has already committed to Michigan, Westphal is entertaining offers from just about everywhere, including Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Notre Dame and Florida.

Might the Bolingbrook junior join his old teammate, Antonio Morrison, at Florida?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The quote of the day...

...is from Brian McFadden's cartoon, "The Strip," in the Times this morning:

"The only thing that can stop good guys with an amendment are bad guys with campaign contributions."

Ross Douthat's column...

...on immigration in the Times is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is this quote:

Today, almost 25 percent of working-age Americans are first-generation immigrants or their children. That figure is up sharply since the 1960s, and it’s projected to climb to 37 percent by 2050.

I'm surprised by both statistics. (I'll be 92 in 2050, by the way; that's a year younger than my mom is now.)

Also (my emphasis):

These trends mean that we’re asking low-skilled immigrants to assimilate into a working class that’s already in crisis. We’re hoping that our dysfunctional educational system can prevent millions more children from assimilating downward into what sociologists have called a “rainbow underclass.” And we’re betting that the growing incomes of second-generation Hispanics will outweigh their retreat from marriage and rising out-of-wedlock birthrates. 

So what does that mean? Are we going the way of Latin America, with a tiny upper class and a massive lower class? Or are we headed toward the old South Africa model, with a small white minority ruling over a large brown majority? Either one doesn't sound promising to me.

Good piece, though.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

More evidence (to me, at least), that...

...America has three, not two, political parties. From an article in the Columbus Dispatch, "Tea party threatens to leave Ohio GOP after chairman vote" (my emphasis):

Matt Borges was elected chairman of the Ohio Republican Party this morning as expected, beating back a direct tea party challenge rooted far more in disagreements over policy than in Borges’ personal tax issue.

Those present among the state GOP’s 66-member executive committee elected Borges over businessman and Portage County Tea Party president Tom Zawistowski 48-7 in a meeting at the Westin downtown. Borges, who’s been serving as the party’s executive director, succeeds chairman Robert T. Bennett when he retires May 31.

Borges, 40, was endorsed by all statewide elected Republicans and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, and was seen as Gov. John Kasich’s hand-picked choice for Bennett. Given that Kasich’s political team helped many on the central committee win their seats, Borges’ victory was never really in doubt.

But what happens next is an issue. During his speech and again as soon as he lost, Zawistowski discussed the possibilities of an insurrection by conservative, tea-party affiliates from the party – which if true could devastate Kasich and the GOP ticket’s chances in 2014. 


“I think there’s a chance it could come to that,” Zawistowski said afterward. “Three years ago when we would talk third party, people would say oh, that’s crazy, you can’t split the ticket, you can’t do that. But they’re just so fed up now that they’re really, seriously, considering it. And I mean it, it’s a serious threat. We don’t think that’s the way to go, but we have people who are not satisfied with the results they get from the people they elect.”

Friday, April 26, 2013

Here, in one quote, is the reason...

...that raising the age for Medicare and/or Social Security is a bad idea. From Ezra Klein's (who else?) blog (my emphasis):

“Being unemployed is frustrating, demeaning, and, at this point, frightening. Articles in the paper say we ‘baby boomers’ will have to work for a few more years especially since so many of us have lost half if not more in retirement ‘funds’. Now, you tell me, how can I work for a few more years if I can’t even get a job interview?

P. S. I used to be in the recruiting business. I'll let you in on a dirty little secret: in the real world, employers don't want "experienced" workers. They just don't.

I've been watching "The Sopranos"...

...lately, and I can't help remembering one of my favorite Super Bowl commercials.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

David Brooks takes aim at Obamacare...

...in his column this morning, "Health Chaos Ahead":

It was always going to be difficult to implement Obamacare, but even fervent supporters of the law admit that things are going worse than expected. 

Implementation got off to a bad start because the Obama administration didn’t want to release unpopular rules before the election. Regulators have been working hard but are clearly overwhelmed, trying to write rules that influence the entire health care sector — an economic unit roughly the size of France. Republicans in Congress have made things much more difficult by refusing to provide enough money for implementation.

By now, everybody involved seems to be in a state of anxiety. Insurance companies are trying to put out new products, but they don’t know what federal parameters they have to meet. Small businesses are angry because the provisions that benefited them have been put on the back burner. Health care systems are highly frustrated. They can’t plan without a road map. Senator Max Baucus, one of the authors of the law, says he sees a “huge train wreck” coming. 

I'll let you read the rest of it. (I have a feeling you'll be seeing a lot of articles like this in the near future.)

Oh, well. What did you expect from Mr. Brooks? He hated the ACA from the get-go (without offering his own solution to the health care mess in America.)  

My response to Brooks can be summed up in three words:  

Medicare for all. 

It would be the cheapest and most efficient health care system of all. Not convinced? Here's a great Web site: Physicians for a National Health Program. It's a good place to start.

Don't want to read all that? I don't blame you. How about a recent blog post from David Frum, "Somebody Has to Drive Down Healthcare Costs"? (It's an easy read.) Money quote:

...what American healthcare needs is a merciless Sam Walton figure who will brutally tell hospitals, "That $1200 toenail clipping and test? It's now $87. Take it or leave it. And if you don't take it, I'll find somebody else to take it."
I'd prefer that this hypothetical healthcare Sam Walton be a private company operating in a competitive marketplace. But it's going to have to be SOMEBODY, and if it's not "Mr. Sam," it's going to be Uncle Sam.

Remember the last time...

...the United States got involved in another country's civil war? (It didn't end well.)

From the lead story in the Times today, "White House Says It Believes Syria Has Used Chemical Arms" (my emphasis):

The White House said Thursday that it believes the Syrian government has used chemical weapons in its civil war, an assessment that could test President Obama’s repeated warnings that such an attack could precipitate American intervention in Syria. 

That meticulously legal language did not disguise a thorny political and foreign policy problem for Mr. Obama: he has long resisted the calls to arm the Syrian rebels and has expressed deep doubts about the wisdom of intervening in an Arab nation so riven with sectarian strife, although he has also issued pointed warnings to Syria.

In a statement last summer, Mr. Obama did not offer a technical definition of his “red line” for taking action, but said it was when “we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized.” In Jerusalem last month, he said proof that Syria had used such weapons would be a “game changer” for American involvement. 

Don't look for a "game changer, "Mr. President. Look the other way. (Watch the NFL draft instead.) Or move that "red line" of yours. No one will mind. Do anything; just don't get the U. S. involved in another civil war. After Iraq and Afghanistan, the country doesn't have the stomach for it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The George W. Bush...

...Presidential Library and Museum will be dedicated this morning on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Predictably, the 43rd president is back in the news, with many people saying nice things about him.

But don't let all this revisionist nonsense get in the way of the truth: W. was a well-meaning dolt who failed at everything he tried before getting elected president (sort of) in 2000. Once in the Oval Office, the life-long mediocrity found himself in way over his head.

I won't go through the whole litany of disasters (again) that was the Bush 43 presidency, but just suffice it to say that he'll be lucky if historians don't judge his administration to be one of  the very worst in modern times.

The Tom Toles cartoon of the day:

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

When I was in school, I always...

...suspected I would never use much of the math I was taught. In the Atlantic today, Jordan Weissmann writes:

Remember sitting through math class while the teacher droned on about polynomial equations and thinking there wasn't a chance you'd ever use any of it in life?

As it turns out, less than a quarter of U.S. workers report using math any more complicated than basic fractions and percentages during the course of their jobs. 

I knew it!

Is football doomed?

John Kass thinks so. Writing in the Chicago Tribune today (my emphasis):

But it's not the lawyers who are the death of football. Blaming lawyers misses the point. Like their counterparts in nature, lawyers are merely the cleanup crew. What finishes football are the parents of future football players.
The NFL desperately needs American parents. Not as fans, but as suppliers of young flesh.
The NFL needs parents to send their little boys into the football feeder system. And without that supply of meat for the NFL grinder — first youth teams, then high school and college — there can be no professional football.
And yet every day, more American parents decide they're finished with football. Why? Because parents can no longer avoid the fact that football scrambles the human brain.
In cultural terms, parents who send their 10-year-olds to play football might as well hold up signs saying they'd like to give their children cigarettes and whiskey.

Nate Cohn, writing in...

...the New Republic, argues that the NRA may not be as powerful as everyone thinks (my emphasis):

But real senators with low NRA ratings routinely win Senate elections in culturally conservative states. Bill Nelson has an "F" from the NRA and campaigned on gun control in 2000, yet he always outperforms Democratic presidential candidates in culturally conservative stretches of northern and central Florida. Nelson isn’t the only Democrat succeeding in Dixie with an “F.” He’s joined by Senators Tim Kaine ("F"), Kay Hagan ("F"), Jay Rockefeller ("D"), and Claire McCaskill ("F"). In Ohio, where John Kerry went hunting before the 2004 presidential election, F-rated Sherrod Brown carried much of the southeastern part of the state in 2006 and cleanly won a second term in 2012. Senator Heidi Heitkamp could have peered across North Dakota’s eastern border and noticed F-rated Amy Klobuchar winning rural, conservative, western Minnesota with more than 60 percent of the vote.

Allan Arbus, who played

...the psychiatrist Maj. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H, left, died at age 95. Arbus also had a cameo as Uncle Nathan, right, in the first season of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Christina Amphlett, lead singer...

...for the Divinyls, died at age 53. The Australian rock band gained fame with the 1991 hit "I Touch Myself."

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I agree with Ramesh Ponnuru...

...this morning (which is news in and of itself) when he writes, "New Immigration Bill Has One Terrible Flaw" (my emphasis):

The guest-worker program is where they go wrong. For the Republican politicians who have in the past been its main supporters, this provision is like a dessert with no calories: Businesses get the benefit of the temporary workers’ labor and they get to make some money, but the rest of us don’t have to make room for immigrants in our society, and Republicans don’t have to worry how they will vote.

That’s exactly what’s wrong with the idea. One of the worst things about illegal immigration is that it creates a class of people who contribute their labor to this country but aren’t full participants in it and lack the rights and responsibilities of everyone else. A guest-worker program doesn’t solve this problem. It formalizes it.

E. L. Konigsberg, the author...

...of the award-winning children's book From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, died at age 83.

The book, which won the American Library Association’s John Newbery Medal for distinguished children’s literature, was about a sister and brother from the suburbs who run away from home and surreptitiously camp out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan.

It was also the inspiration, according to Wes Anderson's DVD commentary of The Royal Tenenbaums, for the story of Margot and Richie hiding out in a museum.

Wow! I thought Scott Walker...

...was doing a lousy job as governor of Wisconsin. Turns out, Gov. Tom Corbett (above) is doing an even worse one in Pennsylvania. According to John Hanger's blog, the Keystone State has dropped from 13th in job creation to a dismal 49th. Again, wow!

What's up with these Republican governors anyway? For all their talk about -- and worship of -- the "job creators," they sure don't make it very easy for them.

Why isn't President Obama...

...as effective as LBJ in passing legislation through Congress?

After all, Johnson created Medicare and Medicaid and was able to pass the landmark Voting Rights Act. Obama, on the other hand, couldn't even get a watered-down bill for background checks passed even though it had the support of 90 percent of the public.

So what gives? Can't the president just knock a few heads together and get his way?

Well, for starters, the Eighty-ninth Congress, which met during the third and fourth years of LBJ's presidency, had Democratic super-majorities in both houses. While the Senate had 68 Democrats, the House had an eye-popping 295! Not only was it the last time either party had a two-thirds majority in the Senate, but also the largest House majority held by either party since 1936.

Oh, and the Republican Party? It was led by Everett Dirksen of Illinois in the Senate and by Gerald Ford of Michigan (remember him?) in the House, two moderates. In fact, the GOP was dominated by moderates back then. (And they were still smarting from the Goldwater debacle in 1964.)

So while LBJ may have been good at playing hardball, it sure helped to have more than enough votes to begin with.

Monday, April 22, 2013

This is the most beautiful song...

...you will hear today. Richie Havens is dead at age 72.

You can now put Chris Christie...

...in the un-nominatable (is that a word?) category, with Sen. Marco Rubio. (If Christie wasn't already there.) According to the Washington Post (my emphasis):

The Senate gun control compromise failed, but that hasn’t stopped individual states from pursuing their own solutions. Connecticut, Colorado, New York and Maryland have passed new gun control laws, and joining them soon is New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie has announced his support for a proposal to expand background checks for gun purchases, to require parental consent for minors to buy violent video games, to ban purchases of particular rifles, and to make it easier for courts and individuals to commit “potentially dangerous” people to mental health treatment against their will.

Ding! Disqualified. (Thanks for coming in, though.)

Oh, well; there's always 2020. The GOP may be ready for a moderate by then.

Prediction: Sen. Marco Rubio's...

...support for comprehensive immigration reform will disqualify him from the 2016 Republican nomination.

As a corollary, the eventual GOP nominee will be the most conservative candidate since Barry Goldwater in 1964 (with the same result).

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Anna Merz, "Rhino Guardian...

...and Champion," according to the New York Times, died at age 81.

To Mrs. Merz, rhinos — far from being the stupid, aggressive, ill-tempered sorts many suppose — were, in her words, beautiful and elegant.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Al Neuharth, the founder...

...of USA Today, died at age 89. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

First published in 1982, USA Today featured brief articles, bright colors, bold graphics and light news. Modeled on television, it sought a market of business travelers, transplants and anyone for whom six paragraphs about the Middle East was sufficient and anything less than every last sports score was not.

The experiment nearly failed. USA Today was savaged by critics as junk-food journalism. David Hall, editor of The St. Paul Pioneer Press, said it was “like reading the radio.” Even USA Today’s editor, John Quinn, half joked that it “brought new depth to the meaning of the word shallow.”

I guess it could have been worse. Neuharth could have founded The Wall Street Journal.

Friday, April 19, 2013

From the "You can't...

...make this stuff up" file (my emphasis):

Dunkin’ Donuts? While most of the city was under lockdown early Friday because of a manhunt for the surviving marathon bomber, apparently some of the Dunkin’ Donuts were open. With hundreds of cops patrolling the city of Watertown, everything was closed, aside from four donut shops. A store manager explained it: “There was an automated message going around telling businesses to close, but because we’re Dunkin’ Donuts, we called the police department and they said we didn’t have to [close].” BuzzFeed confirms—some locations were told to remain open to help cops and first responders. And yes, everything was free.

The tweet of the day:

BREAKING: Sarah Palin confirms she can see Chechnya from her house, is keeping an eye on it.

The Boston police seem...

...to be doing an incredible job. Hats off to them!

Speaking of hats, when this crazy thing is finally over we should all pitch in and buy them some larger ones, like they have in North Korea:

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ezra Klein thinks the United States...

...Senate "wildly overrepresents small, rural states." From his blog today (my emphasis):

During the first Congress, Virginia, the largest state, was roughly 12 times the size of Delaware, which was, at the time, the smallest state. Today, California is 66 times the size of Wyoming. 

That makes the Senate five times less proportionate today than it was at the founding.

Lumpy died!

Frank Bank, who played Clarence "Lumpy" Rutherford on Leave It to Beaver, died at age 71.

P. S. Who would name their kid Frank Bank?

Sen. Bob Corker...

...of Tennessee, one of the "moderate" members of the Republican Party (is there such a thing?) said yesterday:

“Like most Americans, I want to keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and dangerous mentally ill people.”

So how did Corker vote yesterday on the amendment requiring background checks? "No."

The Tom Toles cartoon of the day:

I can't buy these...

...in the state of Illinois (because they're dangerous). But I can buy one of these:

Does that make sense to you?

Gov. Bobby Jindal recently called...

...the Republican Party the "stupid" party. That may have been a little harsh. But after yesterday's failure in the senate to approve background checks for gun purchases, is it fair to call the GOP the "crazy" party?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Pat Summerall died...

...at age 82. Here's something about the NFL great that I didn't know:

He was born with a right leg twisted backward. A doctor, trying a novel procedure, fractured the leg, turned it around and then reset it when he was an infant. The doctor thought the child might always walk with a limp and doubted he could play sports.

Though his right leg was shorter than the left, he became a place-kicker... 

According to NRA director Wayne...

...LaPierre, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Could we please dispense with this nonsense? When was the last time you heard of this happening? Never?

From a piece in Mother Jones (my emphasis):

As many commentators noted, it was particularly callous of the NRA to double down on its long-standing proposal to fight gun violence with more guns while parents in Newtown were burying their first graders. But more importantly, the NRA's argument is bereft of supporting evidence. A closer look reveals that their case for arming Americans against mass shooters is nothing more than a cynical ideological talking point—one dressed up in appeals to heroism and the defense of constitutional freedom, and wholly reliant on misdirection and half truths. If only Sandy Hook's principal had been packing heat, the argument goes, she could've stopped the mass killer. There's just one little problem with this: Not a single one of the 62 mass shootings we studied in our investigation has been stopped this way—even as the nation has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of recent laws has made it easier than ever for ordinary citizens to carry them in public places, including bars, parks, and schools.

Attempts by armed citizens to stop shooters are rare. At least two such attempts in recent years ended badly, with the would-be good guys gravely wounded or killed. Meanwhile, the five cases most commonly cited as instances of regular folks stopping massacres fall apart under scrutiny: Either they didn't involve ordinary citizens taking action—those who intervened were actually cops, trained security officers, or military personnel—or the citizens took action after the shooting rampages appeared to have already ended. (Or in some cases, both.)

And here's the best Japanese...

...song you will hear all day -- guaranteed.

Here's the best-written...

...piece about ice cream you'll read all day:

Back then, we knew something was up if our mother returned from ShopRite with a half-gallon of Breyers ice cream. It meant that another 8-year-old first communicant had feigned an understanding of transubstantiation. It meant that someone was celebrating her first birthday, or that someone had seen his last.

Most of all, it meant a reprieve from the cheaper fake version of ice cream that usually defiled our freezer, a store-brand ice milk that tasted like nothing so much as frozen sadness. Ice milk represented dessert as punishment.

The New Yorker cartoon of the day:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Times has an article...

...today, "U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes" (my emphasis):

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it. 

Isn't torture a war crime?

Richard Cohen has a depressing, but...

...all too true piece in the Washington Post today. Regarding the toothless gun "safety" legislation before Congress, he writes (my emphasis):

The Newtown and Aurora tragedies are, in fact, anomalies. They get our attention, but the real threat to us all is day-in-day-out gun violence. Having an estimated 310 million firearms around is a prescription for mayhem. I fear the dreaded assault rifle as much as I do a lightning strike. Handguns are a different story. I imagine them under the seat of the car that cuts me off or in the waistband of some kid who can’t tell the difference between a “diss” and a lethal threat. The sheer ubiquity of guns is frightening.

In 1959, Gallup reported that 60 percent of Americans favored a total handgun ban. Nine years later, Milton Eisenhower, Dwight’s younger brother and the former president of Johns Hopkins University, proposed the confiscation of nearly all handguns. Today, only 24 percent of Americans would support such a ban. The Milton Eisenhowers of our own time read the polls and go quiet or cheer the mere consideration of a bill that would do very little. You could call it a beginning but, as we all must know, it is really the end.

A sincere apology...

...to anyone who saw my "New Yorker cartoon of the day" post earlier today. It was in terrible taste given the events in Boston yesterday and I gasped when I saw it myself. (I scheduled it yesterday to post automatically this morning.)

Again, sorry.

George Jackson, who wrote...

... “One Bad Apple” and “Old Time Rock and Roll,”died at age 68.

"One Bad Apple" was the first hit for the Osmonds back in 1970 and arguably "made" the group. (It was originally intended for the Jackson Five, but according to Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson later told him that they almost recorded the song first, but chose to record "ABC" instead. Oh, well.)

"Old Time Rock and Roll" was made famous in this scene from Risky Business, the 1983 movie that arguably "made" Tom Cruise.

Not bad for one writer.

Meet the new boss, same...

...as the old boss.

From an article in the Los Angeles Times, "Pope Francis Reaffirms Crackdown on U.S. Nuns" (my emphasis):

Pope Francis has backed the Vatican's doctrinal crackdown on a major group of American nuns, reasserting the Roman Catholic Church's conservative approach to various social issues in a move that could cool the warm reception he has received from some liberal Catholics since taking office last month.

The Vatican said in a statement Monday that Francis had reaffirmed the doctrinal evaluation and criticism of U.S. nuns made last year by the Holy See under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The assessment accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization that represents most U.S. female Catholic orders, of promoting "radical feminist themes" and ignoring the Vatican's hard line on same-sex marriage and abortion.
At the time, the Vatican dispatched an archbishop to rewrite the group's statutes and set up reeducation programs to bring nuns back into line, alleging that leaders of U.S. orders had challenged the church's teachings on women's ordination and ministry to homosexuals.

Kenneth Briggs, the author of a book about the Vatican's clash with U.S. nuns, said Francis' backing of the Holy See's unyielding line was "a major blow" to prospects for more dialogue.
"It seems like the Vatican has put a more appealing salesman in charge of the same old product," Briggs said.

That didn't take long.

Monday, April 15, 2013

As for the Kermit Gosnell...

...trial, I say -- as a pro-choice Democrat -- cover it wall-to-wall. Let's have it all out.