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Archive for June, 2011

Andrew Cuomo is Horrible

[ 99 ] June 30, 2011 |

Despite Andrew Cuomo’s admirable push for gay marriage, he is a horrible governor. As a “Democrat,” Cuomo has declared war on unions, on the environment, and on everything Democrats theoretically stand for, outside of gay marriage. And again, while his stance on that single issue is to his significant benefit, Cuomo is atrocious. After his pro-fracking announcement today, I was going to unload, but Steve M beat me to it and I’ll leave it to him and those Steve links to:

The Cuomo administration is expected to lift what has been, in effect, a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technology used to extract natural gas from shale, people briefed on the administration’s discussions said on Thursday.

Administration officials are discussing maintaining a ban on the process inside New York City’s sprawling upstate watershed, as well as a watershed used by the city of Syracuse, according to people briefed on the plan. But by allowing the process in other parts of the state, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo would open up New York to one of the fastest-growing — critics would say reckless — areas of the energy industry….

Hydrofracking has spurred intense protests from environmental activists, who say it threatens the cleanliness of ground water….

It isn’t just the fracking. There’s a lot more to dislike about the guy if you’re a progressive, as Eric Alterman recently noted:

The same liberal Democrat who fights for gay marriage is presiding over a budget agreement that will cost New York City schools 2,600 teachers, 600 more than estimated, and lay off 1,000 city workers, many of whom work in health care for the poor, at a time when the need for both could hardly be greater. Cuomo, who one must sometimes remind oneself, is a Democrat, also fought tooth and nail to ensure the death of New York’s millionaire tax, at exactly the moment when its proceeds might have been able to prevent exactly the kinds of cuts described above. In his willingness to play “bulldog for the rich,” as Michael Powell puts it, he is distinguishable from Roger Ailes’ favorite politician, right-wing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie only in degree, rather than in kind.

And if you can judge a guy by his friends, here are some of Cuomo’s:

“Looking for a tax-cutting, budget-slashing, fiscally conservative governor? How about Andrew Cuomo?” wrote the Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner back in February.

“Cuomo’s performance thus far has advanced the cause of limited government in the Empire State far more than did his past three predecessors,” enthused Deroy Murdock in April.

Cuomo in 2016? Reihan Salam can get down with that. “Imagine a presidential election pitting a budget-cutting Democratic governor against a budget-cutting Republican governor,” Salam wrote. “That would be, in my view, an excellent outcome for fiscal conservatives.”

Even Carl Paladino has praised Cuomo.

So if he’s the 2016 candidate against Chris Christie, update your passport.

I’ll only add this: Cuomo has a clear vision–to be the ultimate centrist, thinking he can squeak through the 2016 presidential primary against other, presumably real Democrats who actually share the vision of the post-1933 Democratic Party and then triangulate himself into the presidency, where he will make us all long for the halcyon Clinton and Obama days, when a Democrat knew how to stand up to a Republican.

Except that I don’t think he can do it. I don’t think the bastard can withstand a Democratic primary, unless we let his single good and admirable position outweigh the fact that he doesn’t care about working-class people or the environment or essentially any other traditional Democratic issue. Certainly I would not vote for Andrew Cuomo for president, not in a primary and not in a general election.

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Short-Sighted Energy Companies

[ 37 ] June 30, 2011 |

I have long had tremendous difficulty understanding the opposition of fossil fuel companies to new fuel technologies. For instance:

The oil and gas industry gave astrophysicist Willie Soon more than $1 million over the past decade to fund publications that challenge man-made climate change, according to a report released today by Greenpeace.

Soon is a popular figure among skeptics for his assertions that the sun, not greenhouse gases, affects global temperatures. He works at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where energy companies have exclusively funded his research for the past five years, says the report. He could not be reached yesterday for comment on the report.

Among the companies that have provided grants to Soon is Exxon Mobil Corp., which pledged in 2007 to discontinue funding for groups questioning climate change. Greenpeace obtained documents from the Smithsonian observatory through a freedom of information request showing that Exxon gave four grants to Soon totaling $335,000 between 2005 and 2010.

The company said publicly in 2007 that it would stop funding groups “whose position on climate change could divert attention” from developing responsible energy sources.

There’s a huge amount of money to be made in clean energy. Why don’t the oil, natural gas, and coal companies follow the model of T. Boone Pickens and realize that they can also take the lead in developing these new sources of energy, potentially reaping enormous profits?

Their actions seem shockingly short-sighted to me and make me wonder about their long-term viability as powerful corporations. I suppose the strategy is to double-down on our dependence on fossil fuels, thus raising the prices over the long-term, but someone is going to come along and make some serious bucks on alternative energy. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be ExxonMobil. At least, that’s what I would tell their shareholders if I had the chance.

Synecdoche and lese majeste

[ 39 ] June 30, 2011 |

Scott has already noted Jon Chait’s objection to the quasi-royalist subtext of Mark Halperin’s suspension (Halperin is a juvenile hack, but if that were a firing offense there would be no cable news channels). So this seems like an ideal time to review the relative strength and meaningfulness of various genitalia-associated figures of speech in our political discourse.

First, perhaps anthropologists can explain why a penis is an insulting synecdoche but testicles are invariably positive (in English anyway). If Halperin had said Obama had “balls” or “stones” or “sack,” or “cojones” this would be considered a form of vulgar but highly positive testimony on the president’s behalf. (BTW cojones is an extremely vulgar term in Spanish, with a profanity valence roughly comparable to “cocksucker” in English An anglophone should probably avoid using it in front of his Spanish-speaking future mother in law. I am told that a similar problem of cultural translation exists or at least existed with regard to “schmuck”).

Second, it’s clearly better for a male politician to be a dick than a pussy. I suspect Halperin’s calculated little stunt would much more likely have involved the use of the p-word prior to Obama displaying that he had the stones to kill Osama bin Laden. (Of course male Democratic politicians bear the burden of persuasion to display their non-pussy bona fides, which they can do by conducting at least two wars simultaneously, or one war and numerous assassinations).

Third, another oddity of our practices is that it isn’t possible to insult a woman politician — or any other woman — by calling her a pussy (that attempted insult reads culturally as nonsensical on its face), but calling, say, the Secretary of State a cunt would certainly get someone like Halperin fired on the spot.

This is true for American English anyway (strangely to my ears “cunt” is apparently a far less fraught word in British English — perhaps comparable to “prick” in American English).

Jeff Greene: He’s taking a leave of absence from HBO because you called him a cunt.

Larry David: What? It’s what you call somebody when he’s not being manly.

Jeff: It’s a bad word Larry.

Larry: What’s so bad about it? People call me a prick all the time.

Jeff: Cunt is much heavier.

Larry: That’s absurd! Prick, cunt — same thing!

Jeff: I never questioned it.

The Most Oppressed People in America, An Update

[ 30 ] June 30, 2011 |

Granted, birthers are pretty oppressed. But if there’s anybody more downtrodden than the poor sap who has to try to feed a family of four on a mere $500K a year in a desirable urban area, I’d have to say that it’s Bernie Madoff:

Maybe the judge felt, ‘Well, he’s 70 years old, so even if I give him 20 years, he’s going to be 90 years old,’ ” Mr. Madoff said by phone from the federal prison in Butner, N.C.

“But quite frankly, there’s a big difference with dying in prison, you know, and dying outside with your family.”


Judge Chin has said in recent interviews that he considered a sentence that might have allowed Mr. Madoff to be freed when he is in his 90s. But he concluded that Mr. Madoff simply did not deserve it, and in court called his conduct “extraordinarily evil.”

Mr. Madoff, in a recent series of interviews and e-mails, took issue with the judge’s description. To characterize him as “this monster and this evil person,” he said, “I just think that was totally unrealistic and unfair.”

“In my mind, Chin was anything but fair, with zero understanding of the industry,” Mr. Madoff added.

Look, we can quibble over who stole how many billions here and who was responsible for what suicide or death in penury there, but why should little things like federal law prevent a good man from dying with his family? If some other white collar crook goes unpunished, everyone should be free!


[ 35 ] June 30, 2011 |

Apparently, a complete dick has been suspended by MSNBC for one of the least offensive things he’s ever said.

6CA Rejects Radical Challenge to the ACA

[ 24 ] June 30, 2011 |

It’s a bit of an upset, but good to see the 6CA panel do the right thing. It should be noted that while both majority opinions do an excellent job of attacking the bad commerce clause arguments underlying the challenge to the ACA, James Graham’s dissent does a good job of self-refutation. Consider this passage:

Here, Congress’s exercise of power intrudes on both the States and the people. It brings an end to state experimentation and overrides the expressed legislative will of several states that have guaranteed to their citizens the freedom to choose not to purchase health insurance. The mandate forces law-abiding individuals to purchase a product – an expensive product, no less – and thereby invades the realm of an individual’s financial planning decisions. (“Neither here nor in Wickard had the Court declared that Congress may use a relatively trivial impact on commerce as an excuse for broad general regulation of state or private activities.”). In the absence of the mandate, individuals have the right to decide how to finance medical expenses. The mandate extinguishes that right.

Graham starts off with policy arguments that are irrelevant — the fact that the ACA “brings an end to [some] state experimentation and overrides the expressed legislative will of several states” means nothing in itself, since all kinds of valid federal legislation does so, and the stuff about state legislatures suggests that Graham stopped reading the Constitution before he got to Article VI. But the real key is the last sentences, which suggest that what’s at issue here is not really federalism but a desire to return to a radical Lochner-era liberty of contract — a state mandate, after all, would also “invade the realm of an individual’s financial planning decisions” and “extinguishes the right to decide how to finance medical expenses.” And at this point, the whole shaky edifice collapses, because in fact Lochner hasn’t been good law for many decades, and as Graham concedes the federal government could clear create a more centralized and government-controlled system than the ACA does, opening up the frightening possibility that the U.S. could cover more people for less money like every other major liberal democracy.

The quality of the opinions arguing against the constitutionality of the ACA we’ve seen so far have been remarkably bad, but in part that’s because the argument itself is inherently weak. The only coherent argument against the ACA requires reading quasi-libertarianism into the Constitution, a long-discredited project that has vanishingly tiny amounts of political support.

Promiscuity by Nation

[ 36 ] June 29, 2011 |

Those damned Finns–labor radicals in 1911, sex radicals in 2011. What are we to do with them?

America is predictably middling in the promiscuity index. Though interestingly a notch above the French.

Most Prominent Politicians (VII): Maryland

[ 76 ] June 29, 2011 |

Maryland has a surprisingly lame history of prominent politicians. Given its proximity to the nation’s capital and its relatively high population for a small state, one might expect more from Maryland. The top 10 list is pretty thin and includes some pretty unsavory characters. Supreme Court justices lead us off.

1. Roger Taney–Supreme Court justice notorious for writing the opinion in the Dred Scott case.

2. Thurgood Marshall–not really a politician, but as a Supreme Court justice and gamechanger in American racial history, obviously deserves a high place on this list.

3. Spiro Agnew–it’s always good times to think about Nixon’s hippie-punching and race baiting vice president.

4. Samuel Chase–Supreme Court justice from 1796 to 1811; most famous for being impeached by angry Jeffersonians in 1804.

5. Paul Sarbanes–Senator from 1977 to 2007, making him the longest serving senator in Maryland history. Not really all that prominent but is well-known for cosponsoring the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 which reformed securities law.

6. William Pinkney–Long-term Jeffersonian politician, Attorney General under James Madison

7. Millard Tydings–Senator from 1927-51. Most famous for cosponsoring the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, which provided for the eventual independence of the Philippines and ensured that Filipinos could no longer migrate to the United States. I always loved this law–we gave up colonialism in order to prevent Asian immigration! Tydings was later redbaited by Joe McCarthy and lost the 1950 election because of it.

8. Charles Carroll of Carrollton–signer of Declaration of Independence. The only Catholic to sign and the last surviving signer.

9. Gabriel Duvall–Supreme Court justice from 1811-35. Follower of John Marshall and made little name for himself. Averaged less than one written decision a year (17 written decisions in 24 years).

10. James Pearce–Senator from 1843-62. A Whig who switched to the Democrats after the Whig Party’s decline. Not much of a player. Chairman of the Committee on the Library (!). Did serve as Chairman of the Committee on Finance for 2 months in 1861.

Was it as lame as you expected? Probably lamer.

Next: South Carolina. That ought to be interesting.

Hobbyhorse Alert

[ 39 ] June 29, 2011 |

Whether it’s based on racist condescension or some other form of ignorance, the idea that Thomas is Scalia’s sockpuppet was always wrong in an offensive way, and is becoming more obviously so.

A Point That Cannot Be Made Often Enough

[ 139 ] June 29, 2011 |


Let’s agree that what matters isn’t how many jobs you “get caught trying” to create, but how many jobs you actually create. There’s virtually no evidence that if Obama makes more speeches on jobs, his poll numbers will go up or the labor market will improve. There’s lots of evidence that if he passes policies that create more jobs, his poll numbers will go up and the labor market will improve. The question, then, isn’t how Obama can get “caught trying.” It’s how — or whether — he can succeed.

Obama can make the best speeches about the necessity for action on the economy in history, but they won’t matter at all if the economy doesn’t actually improve, and if the economy does improve significantly he’ll win no matter what he says.

Prompt Global Strike and Executive Power

[ 6 ] June 29, 2011 |

My column this week is on the technological implications of the Obama administration’s excuse for avoiding the WPR:

In the future, however, presidents may resort to airpower in order to avoid congressional limitations on their executive power. A longer-range concern is that as the United States continues to develop technologies that increase the distance between “shooter” and target, such as advanced drones and Prompt Global Strike, power over decisions of military and security policy would shift even more radically away from Congress and toward the executive… In the short term, members of Congress concerned about executive control over war-making powers might be best advised to pay closer attention to procurement decisions. If the president continues to claim the right to use certain weapons of war without Congressional oversight, then Congress is clearly within its powers to deny those weapons to the president, or at least to demand accountability.



Wingnutia and History

[ 101 ] June 28, 2011 |

First, she confused her John Waynes, and now her John Adamses.   Shorter Michele Bachmann: I don’t care if John Quincy Adams was only nine, he was a founding father dammit, and my minions will edit his wikipedia page to prove it.

I hope she never goes away.

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