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The Obama Administration Has Numerous Failures. The ACA Isn’t One of Them.

[ 194 ] October 13, 2014 |

I agree with some of Sawicky’s critique of Krugman’s Rolling Stone defense of the Obama administration. The point about the kiss up/kick down nature of the criminal prosecutions, in particular, is unanswerable. I don’t agree with the Cornel West argument that he pretended to be something he wasn’t — he strikes me as exactly the moderate liberal Democrat he’s always posed as — but I don’t think anything meaningful or interesting turns on the distinction. The record is what it is, and I think despite some oversimplifications Krugman’s bottom line is correct (only two presidents of the last century could even plausibly claim to have a more substantial record of progressive achievement, which is a successful presidency where I live.)

I can’t say, however, that Max’s attempt at a non-Green Lantern critique of the ACA succeeds:

On the big fucking deal of health care, PK tries to get the best of both sides of the argument. He acknowledges the left criticism of relying on health inscos to fill the coverage gap, then implies that the stupid left doesn’t understand a single-payer plan would not have gotten enough votes to pass. What the not-actually-stupid left really wanted and had a right to expect was the inclusion of some kind of public option, which was arguably not a manifestly disabling feature from a political standpoint. And even if it proved to be so, there is no reason to make a rhetorical virtue in the form of bogus celebrations of “the market” out of a political necessity.

First of all, sad as it is the single-payer argument isn’t a strawman. There are otherwise very smart liberals, not just on the intarwebs somewhere but in the New York Review of Books, that we could have had single payer had Obama only Bully Pulpited the Overton Window Under the Bus on Steroids. (There’s a variant of the argument that concedes that single payer probably wasn’t viable, but Obama should have made it his opening bid, on the theory that if you walk into an Audi dealership and offer $500 for their best car they have no choice but to sell it to you for $1,000.)

But I agree that the more common critique was the failure to include a public option. On that, two points. First of all, a public option was worth trying, but I don’t agree that it was a magic bullet that would have transformed the ACA from hopeless neoliberalism to real progressivism. The public option passed by the House would have had, at best, a minor impact on the exchanges. It was not the road to nationalizing the health care industry. But the policy merits are moot, because it’s pretty obvious that the votes even for the weak House version weren’t there in the Senate. I don’t know how anyone could see how Lieberman acted and still think that it could have gotten 60 votes. Max doesn’t even try to outline what leverage Obama had over the many Senate Democratic opponents of a public option, which given how such conterfactuals tend to go is probably for the best.

The fact that Max doesn’t. even. try. to explain how a public option could have passed suggests that this isn’t his biggest issue with the ACA. The more important one seems to be his objection to Obama “mak[ing] a rhetorical virtue” out of the exchanges. (He’s been even more explicit about this before, conceding that Obama got about as much as could have been expected out of Congress but criticizing him for various alleged Bully Pulpit failures.) The theme continues here:

This problem of turning a practical limitation into a rhetorical virtue afflicted the inadequate stimulus plan as well. Instead of taking what could be gotten but acknowledging the level was insufficient, the Administration acted as if it was all good. It wasn’t. PK again agrees. He can say it but you can’t.

Well, anyone can say it; the question is whether the inadequacy is plausibly Obama’s fault, and Max doesn’t really argue that it is. But leaving aside that I don’t think that presidential rhetoric matters very much, I don’t understand this particular criticism even on its own terms. Obama is supposed to run down the important legislation he signed? I’m not really inclined to urge that presidents demonstrate political incompetence.

On a final point, on the ACA I continue to reject the idea that it reflects “neoliberalism.” As always, missing from these arguments is the Medicaid expansion. As far as I can tell, none of Obama’s critics from the left would disparage the original Medicaid that covered a fraction of a fraction of the poor as “neoliberalism,” and yet a Medicaid that covers everyone within 138% of the federal poverty line is not seen by Obama’s left critics as an accomplishment worthy of any particular note. The focus is on the exchanges, suggesting that had Obama (like Great Society Democrats) just done nothing for the uninsured who don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid he would somehow be more progressive than he was because he used more regulated and subsidized markets to insure people. This doesn’t make any sense. If the U.S already had single payer or national health, you could call it “neoliberal” reform. If single payer could plausibly have passed, you could call it “neoliberal.” But given the actually existing status quo ante, it’s not “neoliberal” in any sense. When Obama touts it a a major progressive achievement, he’s not just doing what any politician would, he’s right on the merits.

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[ 7 ] October 13, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at efforts to broaden the naval canon:

Last week, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), on online think tank on maritime affairs, published a series of articles on forgotten naval strategists. Posts thus far have included discussion of the Athenian statesman Themistocles, Soviet AdmiralSergei Gorshkov, and Portuguese priest Fernando Oliveira. While no one should take this as an excuse to stop reading Alfred Thayer Mahan or Julian Corbett, it’s well past time to inject different voices into the seapower conversation.


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The L.A. Cudgel

[ 43 ] October 13, 2014 |

The NFL says it wants a team in Los Angeles. And maybe it does. But it may well not because if it puts one there, it loses its favorite tool to beat cities over the head until they cough up money for new stadiums. If a team does go to Los Angeles, I guess teams can still threaten to move to San Antonio, but that may not have quite the same power.

Of course, opposing the stadium ripoffs is a LGM staple. But even within the world of publicly funded stadiums, NFL stadiums are a spectacularly stupid investment. A baseball stadium gets a minimum of 81 days of use a year. An NBA stadium gets at least 41. An NFL stadium gets 10. Even if it hosts the occasional outside event, no one is in this stadium the vast majority of the year.

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Happy Genocide Day!

[ 150 ] October 13, 2014 |


Everyone have a Happy Genocide Day (observed) today. 522 years ago, Christopher Columbus arrived in Hispanola. The terrible treatment of Native Americans began almost immediately.

On Christmas night, his biggest ship, the Santa Maria sank on a harbor of the island. With its remnants, Columbus built the fortress of the Navidad. He left thirty-nine men at the fortress and sailed to Spain on January 16, 1493 taking with him six Taino captives and a cargo of parrots, plants and gold. The purpose of Columbus’s second voyage was to colonize, control and exploit the island. His goal was to bring to the Spaniards “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask.” His fleet thus comprised 17 ships and 1,300 men as well as 20 horsemen to terrorize the native people.

When Columbus returned to Española, he found that the thirty men he had left on the Navidad were all dead, killed by the Indians after they had invaded the kingdom of the Maguana governed by the intrepid Caonabo. Guillermo Coma who had accompanied Columbus wrote that “bad feeling had arisen and had broken out in warfare because of the licentious conduct of our men towards the Indian women, for each Spaniard had five women to minister to his pleasure.” Columbus then built a new town, Isabella, forty leagues east of Navidad, near the river where Pinzon had found gold in the Cibao. After Isabella was built, Columbus set out for the gold mines of Cibao with his horsemen and infantry. Several forts were built on the way, especially in the plains of the Yaque River, which he named Vega Real. During their invasion of the interior of the island, thousands of Indians were killed. By the end of 1494 the Taino were in open revolt. Columbus had hoped to put down the resistance by kidnapping Caonabo the chief of the Cibao region and making an exemplary spectacle of him.

Columbus sent troops to occupy the north east of the island and had more forts built in the Cibao region. He immediately instituted a system requiring a quarterly tribute in gold from the Taino, which was calculated according to the number of people over the age of fourteen. He introduced Indian slavery suggesting that it would be lucrative enough to compensate for the meager supply of gold found. In 1495, he and his men went on a raid in the interior of Española capturing as many as fifteen hundred Taino, men, women and children. Columbus picked the 500 best specimens and sent them to Spain. Two hundred of these five hundreds Taino died en route to Spain. Columbus’s reaction was to exclaim: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

Columbus and his brother Bartholomew as well as Alonso de Hojeda undertook a series of military expeditions all over the island. Villages that could not pay the tribute imposed on the Taino were brutally repressed. Las Casas charged that two thirds of the population was thus wiped out. On July 22, 1497 the Crown authorized the distribution of lands to the Spanish colonists (Repartimiento) to sow grain and plant gardens. This land was designed to encourage permanent Spanish settlers in Espanola who were expected to establish small farms with Spanish labor. Columbus on the contrary instituted a Repartimiento where native communities were allocated to Spaniards for their own use. This system was the first concrete measure to colonize and annihilate the Taino population of Española.

Highlights of European-indigenous interactions in what became the United States include Juan de Oñate chopping off the feet of the Acoma, the Puritans committing genocide against the Pequot in 1637, Nathaniel Bacon massacring friendly Indians in his campaign against William Berkeley in 1676, the Trail of Tears, the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, the Dawes Act in 1887, Wounded Knee in 1890, the repression of indigenous languages and cultures at the Indian Schools, termination in the 1950s, and well, the list could go on and on and on.

But it’s Columbus Day because that guy was awesome.

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Not All Local Officials Prioritize Football Over Sexual Assault Victims

[ 57 ] October 13, 2014 |


At least six members of the Sayreville High School football team were taken into custody by police this evening on charges in connection with a series of locker room sexual assaults on four victims, NJ Advance Media has learned.

A seventh player was charged, but not immediately taken into custody. He was being sought by police.

The detentions — on a night the team was scheduled to play Monroe High School for its homecoming game on its home field — came less than a week after its season was abruptly canceled by school officials in the wake of allegations of what was first called “serious bullying and harassment” of younger players.

The parent of one victim later described what occurred as a violent ritual involving anal sexual attacks by seniors who routinely preyed on freshmen.

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The Worst, And Most Inexplicable, Radio Ever.

[ 48 ] October 13, 2014 |

I generally listen to NPR while waking up and working in the morning and late afternoon news periods. But last week, my exposure was limited only to the time it takes me to turn off the clock radio I’ve forgotten how to program properly. This is because of WAMC’s bizarre pledge drive srategery. Your typical NPR or PBS sandwiches the begging for money around programming that people may want to hear. When I moved up here and the first pledge drive started, I realized to my increasing horror that WAMC’s pledge drives cut out the carrot and rely solely on the stick. No programming at all — not even news updates on the half hour! — just people asking for money, with maybe a brief interview with an author plugging a book that’s being used as bait or something.

That this creates radio that’s well beyond unlistenable goes without saying — without hesitation I can say that I would rather listen to any wingnut talk radio or all-bands-who-sound-like-Creed station or even a station consisting of nothing but Cokie Roberts editorial comments. What I don’t understand is how this could be even in the self-interest of the station. The canonical public media fundraising model seems to be theoretically sound — people will sit through the fundraising pitch to get to the news stories or Monty Python movie or whatever, and will therefore likely hear several while being reminded of why they like the station. Telethons bring in the Fabulous Baker Boys to try to maintain viewer interest. LGM blegs are, for better or worse, interspersed among the usual complaints about bad cocktails and local public radio stations. But who the hell could listen to someone read a 1-800 number hundreds of times an hour with nothing to break up the tedium? The fact that the pledge drives still go on forever suggest that the pitches can’t be very efficient on a per-minite basis.

I gather from a Facebook inquiry that this model is unique — does any other NPR station do this?

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“It is a tribute to this great country, that a man who once took a shot at Teddy Roosevelt could win back your trust”

[ 10 ] October 12, 2014 |

The pledge drive to help compensate for the items burglarized from Erik’s home amounted to roughly $1995.  Your generosity was remarkable; who knew that so many of you could tolerate Loomis and his dead horses?  Everyone at LGM is deeply grateful for your assistance.  I’m going to hold open the Loomis-centric drive until midnite tonight (hit the button on the near right sidebar), after which any donations will shift back to supporting the entire LGM community.


The Management

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Keep Cell Phones Banned on Planes

[ 200 ] October 12, 2014 |

There are several reasons to keep talking on cell phones banned on planes. Among them is that it is rude to other passengers. Those who don’t care about the passengers around them evidently don’t care how they affect other people, a sad statement. Yet even in airplane mode, having the phones on during take off and landing causes problems. For one, it can be a safety issue. Another reason is that it makes the job of flight attendants much more difficult. The flight attendants union has sued the FAA to reverse the ban of their use in airplane mode during take off. And I think that even in airplane mode, the ban does make sense when explained:

The flight attendants union, however, believes that not only was the ban removed without going through the proper channels, it also decreases airline safety. The union argued the devices could become projectiles during turbulent takeoffs and landings, and that they distract from the safety demonstration at the beginning of the flight.

George Hobica, an air travel expert, explained that the flight attendants make their strongest point when it comes to safety. “If you asked 100 fliers about the demo, where their life vest is, they wouldn’t know. When the plane landed in the Hudson, people left without their life vest—of all planes to leave without your life vest! It is bad enough when people are reading their newspapers, and it is rude for one thing, but it is also dangerous,” he said. Cell phones just make their jobs even harder.

One lawyer on the case, addressing the union’s concern that the devices can become projectiles, said it was no different than if a book began to fly around, however, Hobica is unconvinced, “It is not the same as reading books. You can read a book and not distract other passengers.”

The flight attendants are having a hard time making their case in court, however, as a judge on the case noted, the FAA is simply allowing the use of these devices during takeoff and landing as an option. They are not making a demand of the airlines.

If the flight attendants are not successful in their appeal, they will have essentially no choice but to perform a safety demonstration in front of a group of passengers who are entirely distracted and possibly talking over them. “They don’t have any legal standing, they can’t even tell people to listen to the safety demonstration,” Hobica told me, referring to FAA regulations, “They can say to put down something but they can’t enforce it.”

I know that flying is an unpleasant experience for most of us. That is not the fault of the flight attendants and treating them poorly is helping no one’s experience. Staying off the phones for 5 extra minutes really doesn’t hurt anyone.

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#GamerGate: Opinions Differ

[ 55 ] October 12, 2014 |

Yes, more #GamerGate.

And, for balance, one of the best things written on the subject to date.
Pay close attention to the stuff the author says about de-politicizing game reviews. Yes, this, a million times THIS.

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A Reaction to the Excesses of the Cocktail Revolution?

[ 108 ] October 12, 2014 |

By and large, the cocktail revolution of the early 21st century has been welcome. A lot of great historical drinks have been uncovered, many people have moved beyond the chocolate vodka martini bar days of a decade ago, and an expanded range of ingredients have made for some awfully interesting drinks. But like any revolution, there is excess and a necessary backlash. I thought Pete Wells’ essay the bad, over-fancy drinks served at so many bars and restaurants pretty much right on. A brief excerpt.

Several forces conspire against restaurants that try to serve knockout drinks. The demand for talented bartenders far exceeds the supply these days. The few who are on the job market are often more tempted by offers from high-minded bars where they can focus on their ice-pebble techniques without having to go back to the kitchen to tell an intemperate cook that the man at the end of the bar thinks the tuna tartare is undercooked.

Those bartenders who don’t mind the extra hassles of restaurant work may be asked, for the first time in their lives, to write a cocktail menu. “And they are being influenced by others telling them what to put on there, a sommelier or wine director or a chef,” Mr. Freeman said. “Those things can be very positive, but it can also be very confusing to be told, ‘I want you to make this drink I had at Death & Co.’ ”

To make life more complicated for these bartenders, the cocktail menu is supposed to reflect the restaurant’s point of view, which may be obvious (Havana in the ’50s) or more abstract (the Weimar Republic filtered through contemporary Bushwick). Oh, and all the recipes need to be original. Almost every restaurant with a liquor license now insists on a menu of proprietary drinks, not classics.

Do the math on this, and you quickly run into thousands of new cocktails being cranked up solely to fill these menus. What are the chances that every single one rolling off the factory line is going to deserve a place on the fireplace mantle next to the Hemingway daiquiri and the Negroni?

This is logical. Basically, people are demanding fancy drinks and bartenders aren’t competent enough to make them. Nor are most drinkers evidently competent enough at drinking them to care. Although if customers are happy with it, who cares. A fairly straightforward supply and demand situation. Still, a return to just making a really great Manhattan or Negroni would also be a wonderful thing. In fact, I find that these are often the cocktails I go to at a bar with a cocktail list because unless the place has a preexisting reputation for making great drinks (like this place in Providence), it’s a good way to test whether they know what they are doing.

On the other hand, the excess also often takes an awful form. Exhibit A: artisnal ice.

A Manhattan will set you back $14 at forthcoming downtown restaurant and bar Second State. Want it on the rocks? That will be a dollar more—for a total of $15.

The Pennsylvania-themed spot, which is set to open in the former Mighty Pint space at 1831 M St. NW on Oct. 21, will be the first place in D.C. with an ice surcharge listed on its cocktail menu. (Most bars eat the cost or build it into the price of the drink.) Granted, these are no freezer-burned, generic tray cubes. This is the fancy, unclouded artisanal stuff from D.C.’s boutique ice company, Favourite Ice, founded by local bartenders Owen Thomson and Joseph Ambrose. Second State bartenders will chip off the eight corners for a more spherical shape that sits in the glass like an iceberg.

“It’s worth it,” says bar manager Phil Clark. “When it goes into a cocktail, it’s crystal clear. It’s purified water, so there’s no minerally taste.”

Bring your own pitchforks and torches.

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Sorry, Loomis, but Halloween Is Mine

[ 14 ] October 12, 2014 |

Apologies to my co-blogger, who is probably attending to his actual life now…but I must direct everybody’s attention to these horrifying historical Halloween (say that 5 times fast!) photos RIGHT. NOW.

DISCLAIMER: bspencer is not responsible for any nightmares that result from looking at photos.

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Republicans Want to Send Your Job Overseas

[ 14 ] October 12, 2014 |

In July, Republicans filibustered a bill that would take away tax breaks that encourage jobs to be outsourced overseas.

The bill would have cost U.S. companies that move overseas $143 million in additional taxes over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which analyzes tax legislation for Congress. Companies moving into the U.S. would have seen their tax bills drop by $357 million over the same period.

The difference — $214 million — would have been added to the budget deficit.

The White House and some Democrats in Congress have been making the case that a growing number of U.S. corporations are using international tax loopholes to avoid paying U.S. taxes.

On Wednesday, Obama criticized U.S. companies that reincorporate overseas as a way to lower their U.S. tax bills. Many of these companies keep most of their operations in the U.S., including their headquarters.

The process, called an inversion, allows firms to shield more of their foreign earnings from being taxed in the U.S.

“You know, they are renouncing their citizenship even though they’re keeping most of their business here,” Obama said in a speech in Kanas City, Missouri.

“They shouldn’t turn their back on the country that made their success possible,” Obama added.

Turning their back on America is central to 21st century corporate philosophy!

I have no doubt the Denver Post is correct–Republicans winning the Senate will moderate the party and sensible legislation to end this obscene practice will result quickly. And I’m sure likely new senator from Georgia David Perdue will lead the charge:

During a July 2005 deposition, a transcript of which was provided to POLITICO, Perdue spoke at length about his role in Pillowtex’s collapse, which led to the loss of more than 7,600 jobs. Perdue was asked about his “experience with outsourcing,” and his response was blunt.

“Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that,” Perdue said, according to the 186-page transcript of his sworn testimony.

Perdue’s response to this was the best:

Georgia Republican Senate candidate and ex-CEO David Perdue isn’t shrinking from any part of his business record, even when it comes to outsourcing. During a stop on Monday Perdue said he was “proud of” his record on outsourcing.

His comments came after a scathing Politico article reported Perdue saying that he was hired as the CEO of the failed Pillowtex Corp. in large part, to outsource much of the company’s manufacturing.

“Defend it? I’m proud of it,” Perdue said during a press stop in Buckhead, Georgia on Monday according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This is a part of American business, part of any business. Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day.”

Now that’s the kind of moderation we can expect from a Republican Senate!

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