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Rhode Island, March 10, 2016

[ 25 ] March 10, 2016 |

God bless this state.

A Rhode Island state representative has pulled his name from legislation that would put a 10-year statute of limitations on the collection of state taxes after acknowledging that he may owe the state more than $120,000 in back taxes.

Rep. Thomas Palangio, a Providence Democrat who has represented District 3 since 2013, told Target 12 he co-sponsored the legislation because he was told it was a “good pro-business bill,” but acknowledged he didn’t read the two-page proposal “as carefully as I should have.”

“It has been brought to my attention that this bill could be perceived to benefit me and a tax situation that I am currently working to address,” Palangio said. “Today, I asked for my name to be withdrawn as a sponsor of the legislation.”

The legislation, which requires state tax officials to commence civil actions on delinquent taxpayers within 10 years of the tax first becoming due, is sponsored by House Majority Leader John DeSimone, D-Providence.

Palangio owes the state $127,000, according to a list of the state’s top 100 income tax delinquents published by the R.I. Division of Taxation. He said he has been working with his accountant for several months to address the debt.

In other words, Thursday in Rhode Island.


The Decalogue

[ 28 ] March 10, 2016 |


Twenty years ago, the wonderful director Krzysztof Kieślowski died. His most famous work is the Blue, White, Red trilogy made in France. Those are great films, but his best work is the 10-part Decalogue, made for Polish television in the 1980s. Shot in a single apartment complex in Warsaw with each film inspired by one of the Ten Commandments, Kieślowski provided a brilliant look at late-communist Poland and the everyday lives of its residents, with crises ranging from whether to have an abortion to peeping toms to fathers who believe they have mastered frozen ponds but have not. Piotr Florczyk has an excellent essay on the series, using it as his launching point for visiting the apartment complex where it was filmed and musing on what has changed in Poland and what has not.

If you haven’t seen Decalogue, do so.

How Republicans Govern

[ 30 ] March 10, 2016 |


The Senate nearly unanimously passed a bill for new programs to fight against opioid addiction. Something can be bipartisan! Well, sort of. Republicans did much of the legwork on this, particularly Rob Portman and Kelly Ayotte, both of whom really need to show they have actually done something in the last 6 years. So Republicans are finally see that spending resources on social programs can be a good idea, right? Ha ha, no. Of course these programs are unfunded.

It was threatened by Democrats who were angered that Republicans turned away an accompanying measure to provide $500 million in extra funding to pay for what the bill authorizes.

“What good are additional programs if they aren’t adequately funded?” asked Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania. “We can’t ask medical professionals to do more to treat addiction if they don’t have the resources.” (Mr. Portman and Ms. Ayotte were among five Republicans to vote for the extra funding measure.)

But in the end, the bill was considered too urgent to dismiss over a funding fight.

But at least now Republicans can blame someone when this doesn’t work–lazy case workers and ineffective government. Better to devolve it all to the states where Bobby Jindal and Rick Snyder can lead!

The Washington Playbook

[ 323 ] March 10, 2016 |


Jeffrey Goldberg’s profile of Barack Obama’s foreign policy is enlightening, showing the president’s great personal confidence in bucking “the Washington playbook” that had dominated administrations from both parties since the Reagan years. Rejecting those who would draw lines in sand and start wars to defend American prestige–including Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Joe Biden, among many, many others–Obama instead has operated at a higher level than most of his advisors, seeking to defuse conflicts and, in his words, “not do stupid shit.” This is the post-Bush presidency we needed. Of course, Hillary Clinton is all about doing some stupid shit.

Obama’s reticence frustrated Power and others on his national-security team who had a preference for action. Hillary Clinton, when she was Obama’s secretary of state, argued for an early and assertive response to Assad’s violence. In 2014, after she left office, Clinton told me that “the failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad … left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” When The Atlantic published this statement, and also published Clinton’s assessment that “great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” Obama became “rip-shit angry,” according to one of his senior advisers. The president did not understand how “Don’t do stupid shit” could be considered a controversial slogan. Ben Rhodes recalls that “the questions we were asking in the White House were ‘Who exactly is in the stupid-shit caucus? Who is pro–stupid shit?’ ” The Iraq invasion, Obama believed, should have taught Democratic interventionists like Clinton, who had voted for its authorization, the dangers of doing stupid shit. (Clinton quickly apologized to Obama for her comments, and a Clinton spokesman announced that the two would “hug it out” on Martha’s Vineyard when they crossed paths there later.)

Given the fairly high likelihood (or at least reasonable possibility) that Power would be Clinton’s Secretary of State, we can likely expect a return to the older version of American interventionism, which will probably do harm in the world and to the U.S. Ah, if only Bernie Sanders had any articulated foreign policy at all to which we could reasonably compare this.

The transformational issue for Obama was bombing Syria, where he declared a “red line” and then didn’t bomb when Assad crossed it. But does anyone think Syria would be better off today if the U.S. bombed it to smithereens? When has that worked? When has the supposed hit to American prestige if we didn’t bomb actually manifested itself? Seems to me the hit to American prestige was starting a stupid war in Iraq that we weren’t even prepared enough for to understand the difference between Shi’a and Sunni Islam. Obama went down this road in Libya. It didn’t work. And unlike Hillary, he learned from it.

And, my God, he even has a clue about the history of America’s terrible foreign policy of the past and it influences his actions.

The president also seems to believe that sharing leadership with other countries is a way to check America’s more unruly impulses. “One of the reasons I am so focused on taking action multilaterally where our direct interests are not at stake is that multilateralism regulates hubris,” he explained. He consistently invokes what he understands to be America’s past failures overseas as a means of checking American self-righteousness. “We have history,” he said. “We have history in Iran, we have history in Indonesia and Central America. So we have to be mindful of our history when we start talking about intervening, and understand the source of other people’s suspicions.”

Now, I certainly have my criticism of Obama’s foreign policy, especially around trade. But when was the last president with a better foreign policy? Grover Cleveland, who for all his faults was at least anti-imperialist? FDR I suppose is the better answer. But it’s been a long, long time. It may be a low bar but Obama has easily cleared it. The deals with Cuba and Iran are tremendously important and change the trajectory of the nation.

Going After Franchising

[ 34 ] March 10, 2016 |


Lydia DePillis has a good profile of David Weil and Richard Griffin, the NLRB appointees seeking to hold companies accountable for their franchisers. This is freaking industry out and they are siccing their dogs on the NLRB, which I expect will be utterly eviscerated and perhaps even eliminated the next time the Republicans control the presidency and Congress simultaneously.

Their harmonious approaches have raised suspicions on Capitol Hill that Griffin and Weil are mounting a coordinated assault on businesses that depend on all forms of subcontracting, a push that has now surfaced at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Republicans on the House Education and Workforce Committee demanded to see any correspondence between the two, which they said would be “inappropriate.” And indeed, some evidence of communication between the two agencies was produced, although the Department of Labor says that’s entirely above board.

“Federal agencies can foster a more efficient and effective government by working together to learn best practices and to broaden understanding of topical developments in relevant legal issues,” said a spokesman for the department.

Weil and Griffin’s actions have prompted yelps of protest from a broad range of industries that rely on “fissuring,” as a broad range of contracted work has come to be known. But none has resisted as loudly as the franchise industry, through its trade group the International Franchise Association, which sees the action around joint employment as simply an indication that the administration is following organized labor’s agenda.

“When you have an administration that is pro-union, and appoints people who are pro-union, and you have unions spending a tremendous amount of money, it provides a fertile environment for unions and employment-related causes to take on high visibility,” says Stuart Hershman, a longtime franchise lawyer who advises the IFA.

The problem, Hershman says, is that franchisors don’t know what kinds of assistance they can provide to franchisees without becoming a joint employer. Franchisors are already spending more on lawyers to try to adapt to the new rules, he says, but they fear it won’t be enough. According to Ruckelshaus, of NELP, the number of cases being filed against companies as joint employers is rising as well.

In response, the association has built a grassroots lobbying network to try to push Congress to stop the Department of Labor and NLRB from pursuing franchisors as joint employers of their franchisees’ workers.The trade group has also recently advocated for laws adopted in a handful of states that formally state a franchisor can’t be held responsible for the actions of its employees — that doesn’t protect them from federal law enforcement, but it’s something.

This is great. Appointees like this are we will remember the Obama presidency very fondly in the future, even if we can criticize some aspects of it. Taming the franchising industry, an industry that exists so that corporations can obscure responsibility in an opaque labor system while actually maintaining a significant amount of control, would be a tremendous boon to labor. Let’s hope the next president continues with these policies.

The GOP Still Has a Collective Action Problem

[ 68 ] March 10, 2016 |


Chait has an amusing rundown of conservative pundits who urged Marco Rubio to unleash his Don Rickles impression on Donald Trump, praised Rubio for his political genius when he adopted their strategy, and are now urging Rubio to drop out because their advice was a catastrophic failure when put into practice. And it’s certainly true that Rubio staying in the race at this point is excellent news for Donald Trump. But I think it’s not at all surprising that Rubio is apparently staying in to get humiliated in Florida.

First of all, Rubio may still think he has a chance — after all, Mitt Romney’s people apparently convinced themselves that he had it in the bag, and as Bernie Sanders showed earlier this week primary polling is not terribly reliable. But even if he knows he’s probably drawing dead, I’m not sure why he would drop out. A key problem is that at this point stopping Trump means Ted Cruz. And one has to assume that, as is the case with every other member of the Republican Senate conference, Rubio wouldn’t piss on Cruz if he was on fire. Rubio presumably doesn’t want Hillary Clinton to become president, but while Trump is a terrible general election candidate it’s not exactly obvious that Cruz — who’s Barry Goldwater without the charm — is much more electable. Rubio losing Florida badly will certainly look bad for him, but it’s not as if preemptively dropping out before the votes are even cast would be any less humiliating. So what incentive does he have to drop out now? None, as far as I can see. The nearly identical substantive views shared by all of the major Republican candidates are going to be represented in a particularly unattractive package either way. I can understand why conservative pundits prefer Cruz to Trump if that’s the choice they’re left with, but it’s not Rubio’s problem.


[ 160 ] March 10, 2016 |

Ben Shapiro provides yet more proof (because it’s really needed) that being a bigoted ass makes one’s brain an unsafe space for rational thought.

Also lost – the ability to understand concepts such as personal choice and consent. It is possible these abilities are replaced with an aptitude for being a whiny schmuck at every opportunity, but who cares?

You Can’t Spell “Reformicon” Without “Con”

[ 60 ] March 10, 2016 |

David Brooks recently asserted that the Republican Party is metaphorically drunk: “It’s 2 a.m. The bar is closing. Republicans have had a series of strong and nasty Trump cocktails. Suddenly Ted Cruz is beginning to look kind of attractive. At least he’s sort of predictable, and he doesn’t talk about his sexual organs in presidential debates! Well, Republicans, have your standards really fallen so low so fast?” As we found out on Tuesday, apparently yes! But as I argue at TNR the bigger problem is that the moderate, reasonable, thinking person’s alternatives to Cruz and Trump Brooks proposes are just very slightly lower-proof versions of Cruz and Trump:

The alternatives to Trump and Cruz that Brooks touts, in other words, fully reflect the Republican orthodoxy that turned Trump and Cruz into frontrunners. Like Cruz, they’re all committed to radical and unpopular fiscal plans that, in a time of increasing inequality and economic insecurity, would gut cherished programs for the poor and the middle class to pay for a huge redistribution of wealth to the top 10 percent. Like Trump, they’re also completely unserious about policy, making ridiculous claims about the economic magic of tax cuts that have left the finances of states like Louisiana and Kansas in utter ruins. They are barely even pretending to offer an alternative to the 20 million people they want to deprive of health insurance. (Trump’s health care “plan” is essentially cut-and-pasted from the non-plans of his allegedly more serious rivals.) And for good measure, they’re all climate-change deniers.

It will be entertaining to see what happens with pundits like Brooks after Trump or Cruz gets the nomination. In most cases, they will ultimately decide that supporting Trump or Cruz is necessary to stop the menace of Clinton or Sanders, and since both fairly represent where the party actually is right now it won’t even be difficult. Why, Camille Paglia has provided them a handy template when they learn to love the Donald.

Go on in, the water’s probably fine!

[ 101 ] March 10, 2016 |

In response to a NYT article noting that federal authorities continue to say the water in Flint, Mich. isn’t safe, a man who has written extensively about the dangers of lead exposure stoked his chin with great care.

I understand the need for caution, as well as the obvious distrust that Flint residents have for official pronouncements that everything is now hunky-dory. But

Having ignored the warning that was the headline, I really ought to have turned back here. But commentotator Marduk went to the trouble of sharing it, so I continued.

I wonder if this has paralyzed us in a way that’s now causing more harm than good?

I wonder what dude living in California where the tap water isn’t poison means by us?

There have been more than 13,000 residential tests of Flint’s water since the beginning of the year, and it sure looks to me like the water is now pretty safe.

And try this Dole salad, it’s pretty safe too!

Actually, the latest listeria outbreak is a rotten analogy. People don’t have to eat Dole salads. Water isn’t optional and when one has to hedge while discussing the safety of water, one had better not be suggesting anyone drink it.

But Drum mentioned harm. Perhaps he found that not drinking Flint’s water creates some terrible deadly danger that can only be mitigated by drinking it.

Perhaps you’d like to try these deviled eggs that have been sitting on top of the fridge all day. (They look pretty safe to me!)

Drum never gives an example of the harm. Instead, he gives us a chart.

The chart below shows weekly lead readings compared to the end of 2015 and early 2016. The only thing I’ve done is remove eight readings over 3,000 ppb, since those outliers can affect the averages in misleading ways. Since the middle of January, there hasn’t been a single week in which the average was over 15 ppb, which is the usual level of concern. The average over the entire period since mid-January is 9.05 ppb.

The chart shows that during the first half of January the average level was at 19 ppb (parts per billion). The EPA’s action level for lead is 15. The average dropped to 6 for the latter half of the month, but trended upwards to 15 ppb at the end of February.

In other words, the average level of lead in the tap water is fluctuating between safe and not safe in short periods of time. Suggesting it is OK to drink is something that should be left to the libertarian bunny stranglers.

Camille Paglia is Trump-curious

[ 111 ] March 10, 2016 |

sinatra gardener

This is pretty shocking stuff (by which I mean the most predictable thing ever):

Trump’s fearless candor and brash energy feel like a great gust of fresh air, sweeping the tedious clichés and constant guilt-tripping of political correctness out to sea. Unlike Hillary Clinton, whose every word and policy statement on the campaign trail are spoon-fed to her by a giant paid staff and army of shadowy advisors, Trump is his own man, with a steely “damn the torpedoes” attitude. He has a swaggering retro machismo that will give hives to the Steinem cabal. He lives large, with the urban flash and bling of a Frank Sinatra. But Trump is a workaholic who doesn’t drink and who has an interesting penchant for sophisticated, strong-willed European women. As for a debasement of the presidency by Trump’s slanging matches about penis size, that sorry process was initiated by a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who chatted about his underwear on TV, let Hollywood pals jump up and down on the bed in the Lincoln Bedroom, and played lewd cigar games with an intern in the White House offices.

Primary voters nationwide are clearly responding to Trump’s brand of classic can-do American moxie. There has been a sense of weary paralysis in our increasingly Byzantine and monstrously wasteful government bureaucracies. Putting a bottom-line businessman with executive experience into the White House has probably been long overdue. If Mitt Romney had boldly talked business more (and chosen a woman VP), he would have won the last election. Although the rampant Hitler and Mussolini analogies to Trump are wildly exaggerated–he has no organized fascist brigades at his beck and call—there is reason for worry about his impatient authoritarian tendencies. We have had more than enough of Obama’s constitutionally questionable executive orders. It remains to be seen whether Trump’s mastery of a hyper-personalized art of the deal will work in the sluggish, murky, incestuously intertwined power realms of Washington.

These two were made for each other. (While Paglia merely trolls the internet, Trump manfully trolls an entire nation.) Perhaps he will name her Minister of Kulturkampf.

*There are also some very fresh mangoes toward the bottom of the piece involving Paglia’s assessment of the relative erotic charms of Lena Dunham and Suzanne Pleshette, although I do not, needless to say, actually recommend getting out of the boat.

Chip Kelly, SUPERGENIUS: The Garage Sale Years

[ 119 ] March 10, 2016 |


The Eagles have been busy relieving themselves of players acquired during the strange year in which they gave someone with 2 years NFL experience and another more-than-full-time job full control over player personnel. Without dissing the moves, Barry Petchesky sees this as largely a power play on the part of Howie Roseman:

Roseman’s best skill may be politics. He’s outmaneuvered Banner and Kelly, always keeping Lurie’s ear and always lurking nearby ready to re-take the reins when the new guys inevitable falls out of favor. He’s good at holding power. That hasn’t necessarily translated to on-field success—the Eagles have been occasionally very good, rarely very bad, but never quite great under his rule—but he’s a master of convincing his boss that whatever the organization’s failures are, they’re not his. Now he gets another chance, and the purge of Chip Kelly’s big acquisitions is consolidation of that power as much as it is any impartial talent evaluation.

But I think this is closer to the mark:

That quote may be looked at skeptically now in the wake of Monday’s moves, which effectively undid  much of Kelly’s GM handiwork. Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso are expected to be shipped to Miami, DeMarco Murray is off to Tennessee, and it’s being portrayed by some as Roseman getting his revenge after a year of exile at Kelly’s behest.

It would be naive to think that human emotion doesn’t factor into business decisions — whether it be in the NFL or otherwise — but there’s a strong case to be made that this is more savvy than spite.  Kelly had $31.5 million guaranteed dollars tied up at running back, which is out of whack in the current environment where RBs have been devalued; he sank $25 million guaranteed into Maxwell, paying a mid-level corner shutdown money. It’s reasonable to venture that Roseman recognized the need to reallocate resources — and in a pretty significant way — to get the roster back to a stable state both financially and otherwise.

Few will argue that the performance matched the dollar amount when it came to Maxwell and Murray. And even fewer will suggest that any of the players dealt Monday were essential to the chemistry of the team. The fits were awkward and the Maxwell/Murray contracts were cumbersome. Roseman freed the Eagles of those issues while potentially adding about $10 million in cap space.

Roseman’s motivations are ultimately beside the point: the key takeaway is that he was able to dump two of the very worst contracts in the NFL. The Murray trade was just a flat-out coup, moving up in the 4th round in exchange for the privilege of being the idiot massively overpaying someone who last year was a replacement-level player at a marginal impact position. (What’s especially odd is that the new Titans fleecee Jon Robinson spent more than a decade in the Patriots scouting department. Apparently what he learned was “do the opposite of what Bill Belichick would do.”) The Miami trade isn’t quite as lopsided — while the Maxwell contract is ridiculous, elite money for a passable #2 corner, Alonso is on his rookie deal and has some value. But still, Alonso is more than a fair price to pay for dumping Maxwell and moving up 5 spots in the first round in the bargain. The Eagles are in a rough spot, as Kelly left them with one of the weakest collections of talent in the league, but the cap space Roseman just cleared out will make the rebuild easier.

Meanwhile, at Kelly’s current gig it seems there’s a good chance that Colin Kaepernick will be headed to Denver since the Broncos (smartly) let Osweiler walk. Fortunately, a quarterback with four road playoff wins is almost certainly available! In conclusion, as a Seahawks fan let me say I hope that Jed York and Trent Baalke run the 49ers in perpetuity.

This can serve as a day one of free agency open thread.

Talking Venture Bros with Elana @ Graphic Policy Radio, Live!

[ 5 ] March 9, 2016 |


Science Fiction Double Feature! After a week off, Elana and Steven are covering the fifth and sixth episodes of Season 6 of the Venture Brothers: “Tanks for Nothing” and “It Happening One Night.”

As usual, player is below the cut:

Read more…

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