Saturday, March 28, 2009

Breaking News...

guest-posted by Armadillo Joe

...Harry Reid discovers that water is wet:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took a moment Friday to lament Supreme Court Chief Justice John Robert's tenure on the court so far, which in Reid's opinion has been far more conservative than expected. "He didn't tell us the truth," Reid's said
We bloggers out here in Left-Wing-Hippie-stan all tried to tell you fucking people that Roberts was a lying conservatard sack of shit who would smile as he slid the ideological knife between your ribs, tried to get you smug SOB's to stand and fight, fight, fight when that asshole came up for confirmation, tried to get you to do your fucking jobs as representatives of voters who believe that Rethugli-goon ideas about representative democracy amount to undermining it at every opportunity and oppose a guy who was young enough to distort court decisions to more nefarious ends for possibly two generations, tried to tell you. We tried to tell you, but then we're all just a bunch of bitter partisans with no real political power besides being able to vote in large numbers, which ain't nothin' unless some dollars are attached, I guess. We tried, but you people took the scorpions at their word, that they wouldn't sting you.

Jokes on you, eh? Or all of us.


guest-posted by Armadillo Joe

Hey, Blog-O-Maniacs!

Today, I want to talk about what Atrios would call SUPERTRAINS, though not exactly. He means SUPERTRAINS! as a catch-all phrase indicating policies that encourage more widespread use of passenger rail as a means of re-configuring land-use in this country, the current form of which is shockingly unsustainable due to the fact that it is so overwhelmingly car-oriented. Thus, changing it is a program I support and believe in wholly and fully. We can change things now and be ready for the future, or we can let the future over-run us. Personally, I choose action.

What I think is more important in the larger view when generally discussing the idea of rail in this country is that we must think of it as a comprehensive system of passenger, freight and mixed use. And not just these different applications, but on different scales for different purposes, light passenger rail connecting to heavier regional rail connecting to high-speed inter-regional and continent-wide rail and then reconfiguring our cities around these new transportation arrangements. We have a six-decade misallocation of effort to correct as cars become less and less tenable (and, yes, I mean hybrids, too) as the backbone of our national transportation system. It isn't just about reducing our dependence on oil, it's the land-use policies required to accomodate automobile traffic (whether powered by fossil fuels or NiCad batteries) -- from 12-lane freeways to 20-acre parking lots to sprawling neighborhoods laid out to make parking cars easier with wider lanes for street parking and alleys and larger lots to make room for garages -- which all work in concert to destroy our relationship to the land. These accumulated problems must be corrected if we are to ever be able to feed and house ourselves into the future. Only by so conceiving and constructing an overlapping web of differently purposed and differently scaled rail networks will we ever be able to pull ourselves out of the petroleum trap that so distorts our nation's politics both domestic and foreign.

The simple fact is that we simply don't have enough rail (light & heavy, passenger & freight) to supplant automobile and truck usage as petroleum prices spiral into the stratosphere in the next decade and beyond and that impacts not only economic efficiency as we move people and goods around the map, but it impacts our ability to feed, clothe and house our population and THAT goes to the very heart of society, government and the stability of our current living arrangements. We need rail to replace all those cars and trucks and airplanes as a means of moving people and goods around this vast country as fossil fuels get prohibitively expensive in direct costs (to say nothing of the hidden costs already incurred with our skewed infrastructure, international diplomacy and environmental policy prescriptions). Obama's infrastructure budget is geared more towards maintaining the so-called "happy motoring" culture we seem to consider sacrosanct in this country, toward refurbishing and repairing and (sadly) building more car-oriented roads and bridges rather than finding ways to discourage car and truck use and replace it with robust public transportation options. In that way, he is not a trail-blazer but a reflection of the people who voted for him. Most Americans simply cannot conceive of life without cars, of cities and the movement of goods and people without internal combustion engines pushing rubber tires on ribbons of roadway to far-flung big box stores and isolated dots of domesticity plunked down amid vast rings of resource-intensive lawns, everywhere they go requiring that land-devouring eyesore called "parking."

In this rubber-on-concrete milieu, public transportation means slow, lumbering buses slugging their way through single-passenger traffic, only to still have to walk through vastly wide and distinctly pedestrian un-friendly concrete intersections and sprawling parking lots (and back again) to get anywhere, for any purpose. Which is where we bump up against the limits of large-scale steel wheel installation in the United States of America. Sure, we can build miles upon miles of rail criss-crossing this nation, connecting small communities and enormous cities alike, but in most places people will have nowhere to go once they get out of the train station as the land-use around each station is still very much car-oriented. Take, for instance, the station pictured on the left - Poughkeepsie, New York. If one should choose to be earth-friendly and ride a train north out of New York City up the Hudson to this sleepy burgh, what greets you? Acres of parking lot and not a single human-scaled, walkable storefront or neighborhood. Sure, that train kept whatever number of cars off the freeway while moving those people upstate, but they still fanned out into cars to get themselves home to their grossly energy inefficient houses and neighborhoods. Maybe they could be greeted by omnibuses upon their arrival, or jitny buses or overhead-wire street-level light rail, but those solutions only make sense if people have built relatively tightly-knit neighborhoods surrounding the train station, which they have not.

The other part of the current national distaste for public transportation (even put forth by supposedly lefty people like my sister) is that poor people ride the bus, and by poor we mean black and hispanic. She lives in Dallas, which has spent a great deal of money and effort to diminish traffic problems by building rail into its DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) system. Cool, futuristic trains can take a person from the quaint little station in otherwise horrifically suburban Plano (your author's hometown, BTW) all the way to downtown Dallas to see an opera or a basketball game. Sure wish Dallas had sported something like the current DART rail system back when I was in high school there. But as much as I, as a daily public transportation user here in the Big Apple, praise Dallas' system from afar, my sister tells me that the general consensus down there in Dallas is that only poor people use DART Rail and so no general movement to abandon cars is afoot in Big D.

But for a social justice-minded lefty like this cowboy hippie, the idea that poor people ride the bus and light-rail is, of course, the whole fucking point. Providing transportation for the poor and less-abled in our society is a generally desirable social good that ought to be publicly supported and widely encouraged but seems alien in our rugged-individualist fetishizing culture, a culture for which single-passenger automobile transportation (no matter how generally destructive to ecology and civic fabric) seems ideally suited. In France, which has quite possibly the finest overlapping network of trains of all scales in the world, culminating in the ultra high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), the motto of the rail network is "TGV pour tous" or "high-speed rail for all of us."
"As a result, the trains aren’t luxurious, but they’re comfortable and cheap enough for anyone to ride. That’s especially true because of the national rail company’s discounts for the poor, the young, the old, the sick, and large families. There’s little cost incentive in France to take the slow train.

Even so, the national rail company made over a billion Euros in profit in 2007 and half a billion in 2008, even as the economic crisis started to bite. France’s example shows that it is possible to imagine fast railways that are accessible to the rich and to the poor, for travel over short and long distances, that don’t break the national bank."
Now, I should at this point admit a few biases. As you all realize by now, I was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and grew up amid Big D's sprawling suburbs with a car-scaled sense of place: vast parking lots, cavernous shopping malls, wide inhuman slabs of simmering concrete filled beyond the brim with noisy, pollution-spewing, fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks. I used to make fun of easterners who crammed into trains and subways, even while I sat idling in ozone-destroying traffic, and used to bitch endlessly about downtown Dallas where the streets were narrow and I could never find parking. Underneath that anti-social bravado, of course, I was deeply unhappy with having to drive everywhere for everything all the time. Before I was a licensed driver, I hated having to ride my bike just to get to the 7-11 to buy a Slurpee® on a hot summer day to say nothing of having to be driven everywhere anytime I had to go anywhere else. Even after I got my license, I had commutes to my high school (20-30 minutes), commutes to the mall to work (15-20 minutes), commutes to my girlfriend's house (20-30 minutes). Not having much money also meant driving a crappy car always on the verge of breaking down for various reasons or the ever-looming threat of lacking enough money for gasoline to keep the car running. And being lower-middle class in a wealthy suburb also made me sharply aware of my status in a school or mall parking lot filled with BMW's, Corvettes and shiny new pickup trucks. Widely available public transit wouldn't really have solved all of those social problems, and would have unveiled others no doubt, but at least I would have always been able to get myself to school and work.

Then I relocated to New York City about a decade ago and -- after also spending some time in Europe recently -- cannot imagine how I ever lived as I did in that car-centric place. Dallas (and car-centric places like it: Denver, Atlanta, Phoenix, Los Angeles, etc...) is going to have a very short lifespan in the coming post-petroleum world. Experiencing over time a non-car-centric life was very eye-opening. Fewer cars makes for better cities, frankly, and not just because easing congestion makes driving easier for remaining motorists. The answer is not just to reduce the number of cars on the road, but to transform the way we use the land we have so that we don't need cars as much. Which is why I think hybrid cars are also a loser in the long run: they simply reinforce the idea that cars and car-centric living are sustainable and preferable. And not just cars, but also trucks, and all because not only are we using up a precious and irreplaceable natural resource, in so doing we are also rendering all the other natural resources (air, water, land) less and less able to sustain life on earth, all life on earth.

When I say that we must transform our land use, I mean we can no longer abide living arrangements like the eyesore on the right. Look at it. It's horrible. One way in, one way out and one main road presumably connecting to a town or two in one direction or the other. What happens in a few years when the world finally runs out of cheap petroleum and gasoline is $15 a gallon and no one can afford to drive anywhere? How to get food in or garbage out? What about leisure activities besides sitting at home watching the Tee-Vee? What about going to a park? Seeing a show? Gathering with friends at a pub for a brew or coffee shop for some java and a chat? Even visiting a friend in the same subdivision requires driving. A pleasant stroll really isn't an option, is it? Where would you walk? Who'd want to anyway?

A living structure like that one is meant to serve one purpose, to keep it's inhabitants isolated and in debt, slaves to work and a house they can't afford to live in.

What has been built there is a ghetto and in the very near future it will either be populated by poor people cut off from work and leisure activity or it will be abandoned altogether and raided for parts as the coming economic contraction makes inner cities and inner-ring, first-generation suburbs closer to hubs of economic activity much more desirable places to live, with their mixed-use, pedestrian friendly sidewalks and walkable neighborhoods. James Howard Kunstler (author of "The Long Emergency" which all of you should order from RIGHT NOW) called the building of the American suburbs the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world. What he means is not just the paving over of arable farmland, making the goal of eating locally grown food to reduce our carbon footprint harder and harder to achieve, but also the presumption of unlimited cheap petroleum embraced by the very structures of multi-lane freeways and far-flung exurbs, like the one discussed above.

How could such a place ever be retro-fitted with the small grocery stores and five & dimes and bars and pubs and the various support businesses like laundries and dry cleaners that define older, tightly-knit neighborhoods and make them enjoyable places to live? To say nothing of connecting such a neighborhood to some kind of train line that would make it a useful part of some larger regional economy? I don't even know where this place is (a Google image search has its disadvantages, too) but does it really matter? In what possible world, other than one in which oil is cheap, cheap, cheap can such a place even be conceived? We've been building places like this one across the whole nation for decades, instead of using our diminishing supply of petroleum to power the heavy machines to build things like rail lines and smart land-use cities, we've built widely-scattered, cheaply thrown together crap like those houses with no long-term value. How many of those houses, even if we don't experience a petroleum crunch, will still be standing in 50 years? And of those few, how many will really be even semi-decent places to live? What a shame that we've let the older stock of solidly constructed brick factories and houses and mid-rise urban structures rot into oblivion because they lacked decent parking for our infernal machines, instead of renovating them and preserving the inherent value of a well-built stock of older houses.

For instance, look at the gorgeous mansion pictured on the left, sadly located in the failed city of Detroit. How could such a place go unclaimed anywhere? What a magnificent house, left to decay into nothingness, the man-hours and energy (human, animal and mechanical) expended in it's construction dissipating into the universe to never be of use to human life again, surrendered to entropy. Nowhere else on the planet would so much previous effort be allowed to simply waste away to nothing. Whether Detroit or Buffalo, America lets her cities wither and die. That is also what Kunstler meant by waste of resources.

But this post is about trains, and me posting a picture of a mansion decaying in Motor City is irony sublime. Detroit's raison d'tre eventually killed the functioning train system in this country, and in an epic act of literary irony, the monster it unleashed killed it's creator as people fled the dirty, crowded cities for wider spaces and greener pastures, which they quickly paved over and parked their cars on.

The road back (wink-wink) is not a road at all, but steel wheels on steel track. And Philip Longman argues very cogently in this article from the recent issue of Washington Monthly that such a path starts with freight. We look with envy at the sleek modern trains - street-level or subway or high-speed - that, by necessity, keep European cities compact and walkable. It took them most of the last century to build those over-lapping networks and we're not going to catch up anytime soon. But if we can start to move our goods by rail, like we did just two generations ago, the resulting rise in rail infrastructure will pull a corresponding increase in passenger rail along behind it, especially as gas prices soar over the next several decades and people tire of the constant daily fight a car-centered life represents.

First he lays out some important history:
Railroads are also potentially very labor efficient. Even in the days of the object-lesson train, when brakes had to be set manually and firemen were needed to stoke steam engines, a five-man crew could easily handle a fifty-car freight train, doing the work of ten times as many modern long-haul truckers.

In the first half of the last century, railroads used these and other advantages of steel wheel technology to provide services we tend to think of as modern, or in some cases even futuristic. The Pacific Fruit Growers Express delivered fresh California fruits and vegetables to the East Coast using far less energy and labor than today’s truck fleets. The rhythmically named Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul, and Pacific (a.k.a. the Milwaukee Road) hauled hundred-car freight trains over the Cascade and Rocky Mountains using electric engines drawing on the region’s abundant hydropower. The Railway Express Agency, which attached special cars to passenger trains, provided Americans with a level of express freight service that cannot be had for any price today, offering door-to-door delivery of everything from canoes to bowls of tropical fish to, in at least one instance, a giraffe. Into the 1950s, it was not uncommon for a family to ship its refrigerator to and from a lakeside cabin for the summer via the REA; thanks to the physics of steel-on-steel conveyance, appliance-sized items could be moved for trivially larger amounts of money than smaller goods (think about that the next time you shell out an extra $50 to check a suitcase of dirty clothes on a domestic flight).

High-speed Railway Post Office trains also offered efficient mail service to even the smallest towns which is not matched today. In his book Train Time, Harvard historian and rail expert John R. Stilgoe describes the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Fast Mail train No. 11, which, because of its speed and on-board crew of fast sorting mail clerks, ensured next-day delivery on a letter mailed with a standard two-cent stamp in New York to points as far west as Chicago. Today, that same letter is likely to travel by air first to FedEx’s Memphis hub, then be unloaded, sorted, and reloaded onto another plane, a process that demands far greater expenditures of money, carbon, fuel, and, in many instances, time than the one used eighty years ago.

The glory days of American railroads are now beyond the memory of most Americans. Rail service was already in decline during the Depression, and the gas rationing and logistical strains of World War II made train travel a standing-room-only horror. In large part because of that generational experience, most Americans came to believe that the decline of railroads was an inevitable part of the march of progress. But the reality is close to the opposite. Especially for long-haul freight, steel wheel on steel rail is a far superior technology, and its eclipse by rubber wheels is mostly the result of special interest politics, ill-considered public policies, and other factors that have nothing to do with efficiency.
Then he paints a picture of the current situation:
Semis account for roughly one out of every four vehicles that travel through Virginia on I-81’s four lanes, the highest percentage of any interstate in the country. They’re there for a reason: I-81 traces a mostly rural route all the way from the Canadian border to Tennessee, and the cities in its path—Syracuse, Scranton, Harrisburg, Hagerstown, and Roanoke among them—are midsized and slow growing. This makes the highway a tempting alternative to I-95, the interstate that connects the eastern seaboard’s major metropolises, which is so beset with tolls and congestion that truckers will drive hundreds of extra miles to avoid it.

This is bad news for just about everyone. Even truckers have to deal with an increasingly overcrowded, dangerous I-81, and for motorists it’s a white-knuckle terror. Because much of the road is hilly, they find themselves repeatedly having to pass slow-moving trucks going uphill, only to see them looming large in the rearview mirror on the down grade. For years, state transportation officials have watched I-81 get pounded to pieces by tractor trailers, which are responsible for almost all non-weather-related highway wear and tear. To make matters worse, traffic is projected to rise by 67 percent in just the next ten years.

The conventional response to this problem would be simply to build more lanes. That’s what highway departments do. But at a cost of $11 billion, or $32 million per mile, Virginia cannot afford to do that without installing tolls, which might have to be set as high as 17 cents per mile for automobiles. When Virginia’s Department of Transportation proposed doing this early last year, truckers and ordinary Virginians alike set off a firestorm of protest. At the same time, just making I-81 wider without adding tolls would make its truck traffic problems worse, as still more trucks diverted from I-95 and other routes.

Looking for a way out of this dilemma, Virginia transportation officials have settled on an innovative solution: use state money to get freight off the highway and onto rails. As it happens, running parallel to I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley and across the Piedmont are two mostly single-track rail lines belonging to the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Known as the Crescent Corridor, these lines have seen a resurgence of trains carrying containers, just like most of the trucks on I-81 do. The problem is that the track needs upgrading and there are various choke points, so the Norfolk Southern cannot run trains fast enough to be time competitive with most of the trucks hurtling down I-81.
And finally he highlights how all of the above can bring us into a better future, but only if we use the resources we have -- including those in the stimulus bill -- to build the things we actually need:
Thanks to the collapsing economy, a powerful new consensus has developed in Washington behind a once-in-a-generation investment in infrastructure. The incoming administration is talking of spending as much as $1 trillion to jump-start growth and make up for past neglect, an outlay that Obama himself characterizes as "the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s." We’ll soon be moving earth again like it’s 1959.


All over the country there are opportunities like the I-81/Crescent Corridor deal, in which relatively modest amounts of capital could unclog massive traffic bottlenecks, revving up the economy while saving energy and lives. Many of these projects have already begun, like Virginia’s, or are sitting on planners’ shelves and could be up and running quickly. And if we’re willing to think bigger and more long term—and we should be—the potential of a twenty-first-century rail system is truly astonishing. In a study recently presented to the National Academy of Engineering, the Millennium Institute, a nonprofit known for its expertise in energy and environmental modeling, calculated the likely benefits of an expenditure of $250 billion to $500 billion on improved rail infrastructure. It found that such an investment would get 83 percent of all long-haul trucks off the nation’s highways by 2030, while also delivering ample capacity for high-speed passenger rail.


we’re not talking about bailing out a failing industry, but about helping an expanding, more energy-efficient one to grow fast enough to meet pressing public needs. Nor would we be making big bets on unproven technology. Also, it’s important to remember that big trucking companies, facing acute driver shortages and mounting highway congestion, are increasingly shifting their containers to rail and so have an interest in improved rail infrastructure. With trucking companies morphing into logistics companies, it’s a new day in the special interest politics of freight.
As Atrios always says: SUPERTRAINS!

Please go read the whole article. I found it enlightening and even encouraging.

Thus ends part one of my discussion on trains and public policy in the United States. I obviously think trains are a good thing.

Whose with me?

Must Reads

BooMan: I Don't Understand Evan Bayh

Dr. Biobrain: A Typical RedState Day

The Rude Pundit: Why Michelle Malkin Ought to Be Caged Like a Rabid Shih-Tzu (Rank Hypocrisy Edition) & Dear Ex-AIG Guy

Helene Cooper & Eric Schmitt: White House Debate Led to Plan to Widen Afghan Effort

Glenn Greenwald: Britain Responds to the "Rule of Law" Nuisance

Hey You Guys!

guest-posted by Armadillo Joe

Howdy, Blog-O-Maniacs!

Your favorite rabble-rousing cowboy hippie is here once again. Mr. The Broadway Carl has asked me to mind his store for a few days while he and The Mrs. galavant about the country, visiting historic places and family and the like. Happy to help, sez I, but these people like to talk. Or, uh, read and type. How shall I keep them interested enough to ensure that you will still have a readership by the end of next week?

So much pressure.

Well, while Broadway Carl is away, these mice shall play! Whatever shall we talk about? So many topics, so little time. So much going on in this country, in the world. Octo-moms or whether Katherine Heigl will stay with "Grey's Anatomy" or not are important subjects, but I'm guessing not the principle reason most of you folks make this a semi-regular stop on your inter-web meanderings. Now, while I'm always as political as the next guy -- particularly the guy who runs this'n here website -- I'm not always engaged in the particular he-said/she-said's of any given political moment. Though in Michelle Bachman's case, I'm willing to make an exception.

Which is not to say that I won't highlight how much I enjoy some schadenfreude at the expense of our dim-witted opponents in the Party of "No." John "Cray-Baby" Boehner's pathetic "budget proposal" press conference this past week was just too darned precious not to snicker about. I just also, within the realm of serious-topics-we-all-should-be-worried-about, try to find time for bigger picture stuff without getting bogged down in the daily blow-by-blow of political combat.

But, Joe? Whatever do you mean?

For instance, I don't just want to talk about how deeply angry the AIG bonuses make me (which is so-o-o-o-o-o-o, like, last week already -- positively pre-historic in blogging-time) but I want to talk about the way our government (as a reflection and the real-world implementation of our underlying cultural values) reinforces certain economic inequities and social injustices, either by malicious intent or benign neglect, and that as a result the system of work and reward in this country is wildly out of whack. The sense that the bonuses -- orders of magnitude larger than the lifetime earnings of many Americans -- were even morally and socially acceptable after the company dispensing them received tax-payer money to the tune of 80% of the value of the company to even keep the doors open when so many people have been cruelly and heartlessly rendered unemployed, homeless or both or even worse, the complete lack of a sense of shame on the part of the people taking the bonus money, even as "Bushville" tent cities sprout like mushrooms across this country, is indicative of a deeper sickness in our national soul.

Or, I don't just want to talk about the exploded housing bubble and how it is such a damned shame that all those greedy banksters were able to dispense all those questionable loans willy-nilly with no apparent repercussions now that it has blown back on them and the rest of the country, but I want to also talk about how the housing bust is itself also a good thing that finally neutralized a burgeoning problem because of what we as a nation have actually been building these last ten, twenty, thirty or forty or more years of frenzied construction, that we have been building the wrong kinds of houses in the wrong kinds of cities that destroy good lands in the worst possible ways for the long-term health of ourselves and the planet we and all our descendants will have to live on for the rest of our lives. It's the only planet we'll ever get, and we haven't taken very good care of it so far.

Or, I don't want to just talk about our energy policy in this country, lamenting how we use too much petroleum, but I want to discuss alternatives -- not just the hybrid cars Obama and Co. fetishize as a panacea to rescue our struggling automakers -- but a world with fewer cars in it altogether and what that means for transportation options here and abroad not just for middle class commuters, but for all of us rich and poor and what impact our country's transportation policy has on social justice.

Stuff like that, ya know.

What do you guys want to talk about? Have I bored you yet?


guest posted by Armadillo Joe

This one's for Mr. The Broadway Carl on his journey back into the mists of American history today.

We all had to memorize the first paragraph in high school, some of us had to memorize all 279 words of it, but how long has it been since any of you actually read the Gettysburg Address? I mean, really read it, out loud? Do so now, if you haven't already.

I did just now and it choked me up.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Absolutely some of the most stirring words ever penned in the English language.

President Obama's Weekly Address - March 28, 2009

Crisis and Service

Friday, March 27, 2009

GOP Budget Plan: Surprised?

Would anyone really be surprised if they found out that the GOP "blueprint" budget plan as an alternative to President Obama's plan would cost more and actually raise taxes for the poorest families while giving yet more tax breaks to the top 1% of income earners? I didn't think so either.

Citizens for Tax Justice crunched the numbers (PDF). They conclude that a quarter of all households, most of them poor, would pay more taxes under the GOP plan, while the richest one percent would pay $100,000 less.

Here's the PDF.

(H/T DailyKos)

Light Blogging

I'm going on a little vacation to Gettysburg and then visiting family, so I don't know how much blogging I'll be doing these next few days. In the meanwhile, Mr. The Armadillo Joe will be taking care of the store. Hopefully, Fraulein will drop in as well.

This Could Be The Start of Something Big - UPDATED

Since the stalking of Think Progress' Amanda Terkel by the Bill O'Reilly Goon Squad, the website has started a campaign to let advertisers who use his show to peddle their wears know of O'Reilly's stalking tactics that make paparazzi look like upstanding citizens.

Today, UPS has responded by ceasing to advertise during The O'Reilly Factor.

Thank you for sending an e-mail expressing concern about UPS advertising during the Bill O’Reilly show on FOX News. We do consider such comments as we review ad placement decisions which involve a variety of news, entertainment and sports programming. At this time, we have no plans to continue advertising during this show.
To add your name to e-mails being sent to advertisers to voice opposition of O'Reilly's stalking methods instead of just having them appear on his show for an honest discourse, as honest as O'Reilly can be anyway, head to the website and sign the petition.

UPDATE (3/29/09 11:30pm): It looks like Chrysler may be following suit.

We appreciate the diverse audience that television programming allows us to reach. Chrysler buys network cable as a package but we currently do not have the O’Reilly Factor in our media rotation at this time.
Although Chrysler may be out of business soon anyway, so they won't need to advertise anywhere.

Well, THAT Didn't Take Long

I don't know what to make of this. Does it mean that President Obama is taking the reins of this debacle in Afghanistan and picking up the ball that the Bush administration dropped, or is it an attempt to divorce the previous kabal from the mess they left behind by transferring ownership to Obama?

Or maybe I'm just being overly sensitive to 24 hour cable news chyrons.

ADDING... I don't think I am being overly sensitive after the whole "Obama Recession" stuff we've heard over the past few weeks before the market started leveling out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dow Jones FYI

January 20th, 2009: Dow Jones closes at 7949.09

March 26th 2009: Dow Jones closes at 7924.56

President Barack Obama has been in charge of a 25 point plunge in the DJIA.

(H/T Markos Moulitsas via Twitter)


No more "Independent Democrat."

Why Are Conservatives Stupid?

by Armadillo Joe

Or should I ask "why are stupid people so conservative"?

Because my formulation of the GOP membership as "The Stupid, The Deluded and The Corrupt" remains intact and reinforced every single day. In today's edition, the educational braintrust in the Great State (and future Republic) of Texas directing the book-learnin' of the supple young minds in their care have concluded that too much "fact" and not enough "fiction" can be damaging to young minds with regards to, um, science and hard data. Instead of being able to dismiss these drooling Jebus-freaks as yet another bunch of banjo-pickin' toothless-goobers determined to keep themselves and their offspring mired in the intellectual and sociological poverty of 13th Century thinking -- and cheering on their defeat after defeat in court rooms across the land from the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925 to the Kitzmiller v. Dover decision in Pennsylvania in 2005 to their electoral defeat in Kansas a year later -- we actually have to pay attention to this particular group of self-righteous religious kooks because when it comes to high school textbooks in America, Texas is the 800-lb gorilla. Texas buys so many textbooks that textbook publishers generally tailor their entire line of books to Texas state standards, forcing the other 49 to comply simply by narrowing the field of alternatives.

It's scary. From
Textbook publishers demonstrated as recently as last year that they're not immune to pressures to pander to one of their biggest markets. In 2002, in an effort to appease Texas, references to the Ice Age as occurring "millions of years ago" in a history textbook were changed to read "in the distant past" so it wouldn't conflict with literal interpretations of the Bible. In 2001, the board rejected an environmental science book as "anti-free enterprise" and "anti-Christian" for its coverage of global warming.
Just because Barack Obama is our president doesn't mean these people have been vanquished. Not by a long shot. If "Scopes" (and "Inherit the Wind") didn't shame them into forever hiding under a rock (or, I dunno, becoming smart), they know no shame and nothing will ever drive them into permanent hiding. They must be fought at every turn as the mindless, unthinking and (in this specific case) brain-eating zombies they are.

Their relationship with the truth of the modern world is best described by this quote from The Terminator:
"It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."
So, to answer the question posed in the title of this here post: because they choose to be. And they will not rest until they force everyone else to join them in the intellectual sewer.

God help the children of Texas.

Where Are The Ideas? - UPDATED

Contessa Brewer is in a rage over the GOP conference today about the specifics of their alternative budget because... wait for it... they didn't unveil any ideas!

Brewer: "I am very frustrated because we've been waiting for this, we cut away from the President['s live Online Town Hall] to hear the big build up. Republicans have a plan, they have ideas, they're not the Party of No, and all I heard in that news conference was what they don't like about the president's plan.

...We've heard all this before. You get us all hyped up. You have our undivided attention and what happens, but you get up and repeat the same criticism we've already heard. I didn't hear ideas. I heard the promise of ideas. 'And we're going to have more on X, Y and Z' but I didn't hear the ideas."

Mike Viqueira: "So you're saying it's old wine in new bottles, essentially."

Brewer: "Well, that was a much pithier way of saying it."

A much pithier way of saying "Same shit, different day." Contessa Brewer getting her GOP RAGE on! By the way, I could have told you the GOP wouldn't really unveil any alternative ideas. This reminded me of the press conference Duncan Hunter had during his presidential campaign to announce that he was NOT quitting the race.

UPDATE (2:50pm): BarbinMD - House Republicans Unveil ... Nothing

Thanks to DailyKos for the video.

UPDATE II (3:05pm):
BAM! DNC Spokesman Hari Sevugan: "After 27 days, the best House Republicans could come up with is a 19-page pamphlet that does not include a single real budget proposal or estimate. There are more numbers in my last sentence than there are in the entire House GOP budget."

Norah O'Donnell is taking her shot at this hour's GOP punching bag, Mike Pence.

O'Donnell: " order to have a good debate, don't you need you need to be able to say that the president's plan over 10 years is going to add to the deficit, it's going to make it $9.3 trillion and ours would only do this. I mean, you guys haven't even come up with number. So how is your plan credible?"

UPDATE III (4:45pm): Think Progress has more on Mike Pence and Norah O'Donnell.

Thanks, But No Thanks, But Thanks, But No Thanks... But... Thanks...

I can't wait until Palin runs in 2012 with the line, "I said, 'Thanks, but no thanks' to that economic stimulus package money."

You know it's coming.

(H/T Andrew Sullivan)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

An Old Idea

guest posted by Armadillo Joe

I believe very few things are wrong with this current economic situation that can't be solved by installing a guillotine at the corner of Wall Street and Broad.

Because I'm sick of hearing that we're all just supposed to take it. That these overblown payments may be unseemly, but we have to pay them because.... um...

The ugly, unvarnished truth is that we have to pay them because our corporate overlords have said that we have to pay them. We have to pay them because if we don't pay them, the current financial & economic structure will crash to a close because some rich fuck will have to sell one of his houses and maybe his yacht while his bitch of a wife won't get her vacation to the French Riviera this summer and his sociopathic kids might have to hold on to the old Ferrari for an extra year. And the threat of that means that the world's economy must grind to a halt to prevent it.

Especially considering that for many people, the economy has already ground to a halt, that seems like an OK outcome to this dirty fucking hippie. But I find that The Editors have put it rather succinctly, as well:

The problem with close-reading back-and-forths about the fine points of the AIG bonuses is that, however well-intentioned, the AIG bonuses are not The Point. These bonuses, Dubya’s speaking fees, Paris Hilton’s diamond-encrusted dashboard are rounding errors on the $10+ trillion economic clusterfuck, and poor Paris really didn’t help cause it. The Point is that these situations exemplify, for a great many regular people, a fundamental unfairness in American life, which is that the rich get over on everybody else. When times are good, the rich benefit disproportionally. When times are bad, and it’s entirely their fault, they get bailed out by the rest of us. So it goes.

I’m a liberal. I don’t believe in Fairness. Some people are luckier than others, the powerful will get what they want (that’s a fair definition of “power”), none of these asymmetries ever seem to work out in my favor, and I’m pretty sure I’m getting a cold sore. That said, there are degrees of economic inequality, and the last ten years has seen this inequality deliberately exacerbated. It is past time for a pushback. If the AIG outrage is where it starts, then I guess it can start there. I’m not getting bogged down in the details.
We can't make those people be nice or generous or even vaguely human -- no matter how many whiny, self-absorbed editorials they write for the New York Times -- but we don't have to give them our money. Any of it. I would think 80% ownership of AIG would give us some say in who gets paid and who doesn't and, besides, we wouldn't be having this conversation is these assholes were just some low-down, greasy, blue-collar unionized autoworkers. They'd be on their asses, no matter what they'd been promised. Like all the people who no longer have a life's savings because of these guys and guys like these guys. Hey, dudes. Shit happens. "Creative destruction" and "It'll all work out in the long run" and all that other business school claptrap you've been shoveling down our throats for decades. Welcome to the other end of the equation, motherfuckers.

Somebody needs to be made an example of here.

The overlords need to once again become afraid of the people they exploit.

Oh, Henry!

The Bitchslap

To put this in its full context, here is the full question (or questions) that CNN's Ed Henry asked when first called upon.

ED HENRY: Thank you, Mr. President. You spoke again at the top about your anger about AIG. You've been saying that for days now. But why is it that it seems Andrew Cuomo seems to be in New York getting more actual action on it? And when you and Secretary Geithner first learned about this 10 days, two weeks ago, you didn't go public immediately with that that outrage -- you waited a few days, and then you went public after you realized Secretary Geithner really had no legal avenue to stop it.

And more broadly -- I just want to follow up on Chip and Jake -- you've been very critical of President Bush doubling the national debt. And to be fair, it's not just Republicans hitting you -- Democrat Kent Conrad, as you know, said, "When I look at this budget, I see the debt doubling again." You keep saying that you've inherited a big fiscal mess. Do you worry, though, that your daughters -- not to mention the next President -- will be inheriting an even bigger fiscal mess if the spending goes out of control?
What about your daughters, Mr. President? What about the children?! WON'T SOMEONE TAKE CARE OF THE CHILDREN?!

OBAMA: Of course I do, Ed, which is why we're doing everything we can to reduce that deficit. Look, if this were easy, then we would have already had it done, and the budget would have been voted on and everybody could go home. This is hard. And the reason it's hard is because we've accumulated a structural deficit that's going to take a long time, and we're not going to be able to do it next year or the year after or three years form now. What we have to do is bend the curve on these deficit projections. And the best way for us to do that is to reduce health care costs. That's not just my opinion; that's the opinion of almost every single person who has looked at our long-term fiscal situation.

Now, how do we -- how are we going to reduce health care costs -- because the problem is not just in government-run programs; the problem is in the private sector, as well. It's experienced by families, it's experienced by businesses. And so what we've said is, look, let's invest in health information technologies; let's invest in preventive care; let's invest in mechanisms that look at who's doing a better job controlling costs while producing good quality outcomes in various states, and let's reimburse on the basis of improved quality, as opposed to simply how many procedures you're doing. Let's do a whole host of things, some of which cost money on the front end but offer the prospect of reducing costs on the back end.

Now, the alternative is to stand pat and to simply say we are just going to not invest in health care, we're not going to take on energy; we'll wait until the next time that gas gets to $4 a gallon; we will not improve our schools, and we'll allow China or India or other countries to lap our young people in terms of their performance; we will settle on lower growth rates; and we will continue to contract, both as an economy and our ability to provide a better life for our kids.

That I don't think is the better option. Now, have -- am I completely satisfied with all the work that needs to be done on deficits? No. That's why I convened a fiscal responsibility summit, started in this room, to start looking at entitlements and to start looking at the big drivers of costs over the long term. Not all of those are reflected in our budget, partly because the savings we anticipate would be coming in years outside of the 10-year budget cycle that we're talking about. Okay?
Now, you'd think that Henry would have let the AIG thing go, but he insisted on an answer to his "Where's the outrage?" question, as if we're to judge President Obama by emotional outbursts and fist shaking indignation, forgetting that the American people rejected that type of drivel in November when John McCain lost the election. But Henry needed to get is gotcha question answered, and he's the one who was got.

HENRY: On AIG, why did you wait -- why did you wait days to come out and express that outrage? It seems like the action is coming out of New York and the Attorney General's Office. It took you days to come public with Secretary Geithner and say, look, we're outraged. Why did it take so long?

OBAMA: It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak, you know? (Laughter.)
BAM! I can still see the well deserved handprint on Ed Henry's face. And sadly, MSNBC's Chuck Todd's question was not much better.

CHUCK TODD: ...Why, given this new era of responsibility that you're asking for, why haven't you asked for something specific that the public should be sacrificing to participate in this economic recovery?
Seriously, Chuck? You are the Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News and asking what the American people should sacrifice is the best you can do? Are half a million job losses a month, record foreclosures, skyrocketing health care costs for insurance that probably won't cover you, sprouting tent cities across the country, and at the very least losing more than half of your retirement savings in what you thought was a semi-secure 401K not sacrifice enough? Todd must have been taking bets with Henry on who could ask the better "gotcha" question. Either that, or he's been victimized by the "Washington bubble" everyone talks so much about.

(H/T Gottalaff)

An A.I.G. Resignation Letter

The following is a letter sent on Tuesday by Jake DeSantis, an executive vice president of the American International Group’s financial products unit, to Edward M. Liddy, the chief executive of A.I.G.

DEAR Mr. Liddy,

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

Read the whole letter here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Michele Bachmann: Armed and Dangerous

This lady is not playng with a full deck. Is she inciting a revolution?

I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us ‘having a revolution every now and then is a good thing,’ and the people – we the people – are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States.”
Now while it may be funny when, in her cluelessness she claims that RNC Chairman Michael Steele "be da man," it's not so funny when she suggests that there should be anti-American McCarthy-like hearings for "liberal" members of Congress and questions Barack Obama's patriotism.

I also sat dumbfounded as I watched the House Financial Services Committee hearing questioning Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Fed Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Bachmannn's questioning. I think Geithner and Bernanke were dumbfounded by her inane questioning as well. Watch their faces as they listen to and answer her questions.

Seriously? This is an elected representative from the great state of Minnesota. What the hell is she talking about?

What answer did she expect to get when asking them to renounce global currency? And the insanity of asking what provision in the Constitution could they point to that gave the authority to the Treasuty Dept. and the Federal Reserve to act as they did? It's called Congress, Michele. You know, the branch of government you belong to that controls the purse strings.

Michele Bachmann is not only clueless, she is out of her mind.

Flashback: Exxon Valdez

20 years ago today.

In March 1989, the Exxon Valdez supertanker, with an inebriated captain, ran aground on Bligh Reef, ruptured and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, contaminating about 900 miles of shoreline.

The damage to the fishing industry and to native subsistence hunting lasted for years. Exxon originally was ordered by a federal court to pay $5 billion in punitive damages in 1994. A federal appeal in 2006 reduced it to $2.5 billion

On June 25, 2008, the United States Supreme Court further reduced the damages to just over $500 million.

They Have An Anthem?!

Yes, the Tea Party has an anthem. It actually left me speechless for a little while.

It's like getting hit across the head with a frying pan of stupid, isn't it? Mr. Lloyd Marcus has really outdone himself.

I love the line,
"I believe in the Constitution and all that it stands for
Anyone who tramples it should be booted out the door."

But I'm searching for the song Mr. Marcus wrote for President Bush and Vice President Cheney about illegal wiretapping, suspension of habeas corpus and extraordinary rendition, the firing of US attorneys for political purposes, the outing of a CIA operative, well you know the rest... but I haven't found that song. I wonder if he neglected to put it up on YouTube yet for fear of agents coming to his house in the middle of the night and taking him away?

This guy is actually going to be on Fox News at 10:30am today (in about 7 minutes). Fair and balanced.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Stupid Volcano Monitoring

Someone get Bobby Jindal on the phone for a comment.

When Republican wunderkind, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave his party’s response to President Obama’s speech before a joint session of Congress, he decried Democrats for passing a spending bill “larded with wasteful spending,” ...including "$140 million for something called “volcano monitoring.”

...Jindal is the governer of a state dependent on tens of billions of federal dollars to predict, prepare for and recover from natural disasters, and however exotic “volcano monitoring” may sound to his fellow bayou residents, he’s in no position to criticize disaster preparedness expenditures elsewhere.

But in light of today’s
eruption of Alaska’s Mt. Redoubt, I’d say another round of ridicule is called for.

...Dave Stricklan, a hydrometeorogical technician with the National Weather Service, expected very fine ash. … “The heavier stuff drops out very quickly, and then the other stuff filters out. There’s going to be a very fine amount of it that’s going to be suspended in the atmosphere for quite some time, but nothing to really affect anything such as aviation travel. The heavier stuff will filter out,” he said.
Still, Alaska Airlines on Monday canceled 19 flights in and out of the Anchorage international airport because of the ash.
Because ash intake can damage jet engines, causing planes to, you know, crash. But I guess, as long as they’re not crashing in the bayou, it’s no big problem.

Palin/Jindal 2012.

(H/T HorsesAss.Org)

Steve Pearlstein on Krugman Analysis: Flat. Out. Wrong.

Washington Post business columnist Steven Pearlstein vehemently disagreed with Paul Krugman's analysis of President Obama's plan on MSNBC today.

Andrea Mitchell: Let me ask you about Paul Krugman in the New York Times today, because he, really even before the details were announced, he wrote, "The plan to use taxpayer funds to drive the prices of bad assets up to 'fair' levels... but the Geithner scheme would offer a one way bet; if asset values go up, the investors profit, but if they go down, the investors can walk away from their debt. So this isn't really about letting markets work. It's just an indirect, disguised way to subsidize purchases of bad assets."

Steve Pearlstein: Andrea? Flat. Out. Wrong. There is risk to the equity investors here. Obviously he either didn't understand the plan or didn't read it very carefully. Now do we limit their risk? Yes we do. Under the plan, yes we would and the reason for that is because if that wasn't necessary, then these markets would be working already. Clearly they're not working so we need to do something. You might call it a subsidy or you might call it providing some insurance, so yes we're doing that to jump-start these markets. And the hope is, that once these markets start to operate, the government can begin to withdraw, but right now you need something to prime the pump because there's no water coming out.

President Obama on 60 Minutes

Here's why I like my new President. He tells people the truth. He tells people what the need to hear although it may not necessarity be what they want to hear.

President Obama sat down with Steve Kroft for a 60 Minutes interview to take his message directly to the American people. Yes, it's edited by CBS, but an extended interview is better than a 30 second sound bite from the cable chatter news networks.

Here's a question: Do you think another President would be honest enough admit to a fear of further "systemic risks" when interviewer Steve Kroft asked? I don't. I'm also happy that he got a chance to reply to the criticism Dick Cheney has been spewing of late, and exactly the reasons Cheney and the Bush administration were wrong when it came to the detainees at Guantanamo.

Watch CBS Videos Online

Here is the more complete response (bold indicates comments left out of video above):

"I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney. Not surprisingly. You know, I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests. I think he's drawing the wrong lesson from history," Obama said.

"The facts don't bear him out. I think he is, that attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world. I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantanamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against U.S. interests all around the world," he added.

"Some of it being organized by a few people who were released from Guantanamo," Kroft pointed out.

"Well, there is no doubt that we have not done a particularly effective job in sorting through who are truly dangerous individuals that we've got to make sure are not a threat to us, who are folks that we just swept up. The whole premise of Guantanamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that somehow the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists. I fundamentally disagree with that. Now, do these folks deserve Miranda rights? Do they deserve to be treated like a shoplifter down the block? Of course not," Obama said.

Asked what should be done with these people, Obama said, "Well, I think we're gonna have to figure out a mechanism to make sure that they not released and do us harm. But do so in a way that is consistent with both our traditions, sense of due process, international law. But this is the legacy that's been left behind. And, you know, I'm surprised that the vice president is eager to defend a legacy that was unsustainable. Let's assume that we didn't change these practices. How long are we gonna go? Are we gonna just keep on going until you know, the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that's really gonna make us safer? I don't know a lot of thoughtful thinkers, liberal or conservative, who think that that was the right approach."

Of course, the only thing taken out of this interview by the right wing crazies today is that President Obama laughed and smiled through a couple of questions that were no laughing matter. Steve Kroft set them up for it, and the wingnuts swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.
"You're sitting here. And you are laughing. You are laughing about some of these problems. Are people gonna look at this and say, 'I mean, he's sitting there just making jokes about money.' How do you deal with, I mean, explain the…mood and your laughter," Kroft asked. "Are you punch drunk?"

"No, no. There's gotta be a little gallows humor to get you through the day," Obama explained. "You know, sometimes my team talks about the fact that if you had said to us a year ago that the least of my problems would be Iraq, which is still a pretty serious problem, I don't think anybody would have believed it. But we've got a lot on our plate. And a lot of difficult decisions that we're gonna have to make."

Steve Benen notes that this should be put in perspective, and if you did watch the interview, this is exactly the perspective that I drew.
About half-way through, Kroft brings up aid to the auto industry, and public opposition to additional government investment. The two share a laugh at the one-sided polling numbers, which led to Kroft's question about "laughing." As Steve M. explained, "[I]t's obvious -- the chuckling is mutual as they agree about the extraordinary unpopularity of bailing out the auto industry."

When you see reports today about the president laughing at economic hardship, keep this in mind.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Douchebag of the Week: Bill O'Reilly

By now we all know that Bill O'Reilly is unofficially King of the Douchebags and if I really wanted to, I could find something each week that would put him at the top of the list. So I guess you can say being named Douchebag of the Week is judged on a curve. If you're normally a douchenozzle, it should take something pretty extraordinary to have the dubious distinction awarded to you. Well, never let it be said that Bill O'Reilly disappoints in this regard.

Bill O'Reilly's Boston Herald Op-Ed: The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House.

I have but one simple observation: If Cheney really had such a crew, Hersh would have been dead a long time ago, and so would most everybody at MSNBC.
If you can stomach the six remaining short paragraphs, O'Reilly feigns humor with possible "lefty" news headline predictions with a wild swing and a miss; this along with the comments section continue to add justifiable proof to the theory that conservatives have no sense of humor.

Bill O'Reilly: Douchebag of the Week.

(H/T Think Progress)