GOP Debate Ban on NBC and CNN

Brian Beutler in Slate says the ban will fail, but he’s missing the point. 

Republicans have actually been pretty candid about the fact that the CNN and NBC boycotts are really about controlling the primary debates — to avoid repeating the politically damaging clown show the party toured the country with in 2012. They want fewer debates and not just neutral but ideally “friendly” hosts.

What it achieves from the GOP’s perspective is:

1. Punishing the “liberal media” plays to their base.

2. If fewer people see the debates, that’s good because the more people see the GOP the less they like.  

Beutler is right that Republicans will say silly things no matter the venue – the party establishment’s entire raison d’etre is damage control and convincing the base that it’s all the liberal’s fault. But not having NBC or CNN to kick around won’t change anything for them. They’re still defunding ACORN 3 years after they ceased to exist.

What they’re doing is self-marginalizing, which totally reflects what they’ve been doing ideologically.

Family Values Crowd Cheers Breaking Up a Family

The crowd at this Republican representative’s townhall cheered when Scott DesJarlais (R-TN) told a young girl that the law says her undocumented father would have to be deported, separating her family. This Scott DesJarlais has a strong pro-family record as an anti-choice politician who had asked several mistresses to have abortions when they got pregnant by him. Which is what a married man should do to protect his first family, right? Out of respect for your wife alone, of course you’d have your mistress have an abortion, if you’re a good Christian family values guy.

Of course he won reelection last fall anyway because Amurika! And if you get reelected after that, well, you can pretty much do whatever.

You certainly don’t have to worry about the growing Latino vote and their influence, not in your district. And so what if your party never ever ever elects a chief executive ever again? You’ve got yours Jack! And you’re better fighting Democrats in the White House than you are governing anyway.

The Chinese Are More Creative With Watermelon – the watermelon as clothing gap is real and we’re behind!

They’re literally using watermelons for clothes.

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Is this a sign of a disturbing dystopian future of people wearing watermelon? There’s two ways to look at this: 1. the Chinese have grown too lazy to grow cotton, weave it into cloth, and manufacture clothes. So they grow watermelons, which you just have to hollow and wear, or 2. watermelon can be eaten and then the rind used as clothing and then your “clothes” can be composted to grow more watermelon. So this is an ecological efficiency win-win.

I was unsure until I saw this picture. The coming Chinese watermelon kid armies will be devastating.  

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Taibbi on the College Loan Scandal, and it is a scandal

Matt Taibbi is one of the premiere muckrakers of our time. In this week’s Rolling Stone he goes after the college loan industry in Ripping off Young America: The College Loan Scandal. It’s not about the interest rate or who the middle man is, it’s the ridiculous cost of tuition.

In the early 2000s, a thirtysomething scientist named Alan Collinge seemed to be going places. He had graduated from USC in 1999 with a degree in aerospace engineering and landed a research job at Caltech. Then he made a mistake: He asked for a raise, didn’t get it, lost his job and soon found himself underemployed and with no way to repay the roughly $38,000 in loans he’d taken out to get his degree.

Collinge’s creditor, Sallie Mae, which originally had been a quasi-public institution but, in the late Nineties, had begun transforming into a wholly private lender, didn’t answer his requests for a forbearance or a restructuring. So in 2001, he went into default. Soon enough, his original $38,000 loan had ballooned to more than $100,000 in debt, thanks to fees, penalties and accrued interest. He had a job as a military contractor, but he lost it when his employer ran a credit check on him. His whole life was now about his student debt…

… Collinge – who founded the website StudentLoanJustice.org – became what he calls “a complaint box for the industry.” He heard thousands of horror stories from people like himself, and over the course of many years began to wonder more and more about one particular recurring theme, what he calls “the really significant thing – the sticker price.” Why was college so expensive?

How in one generation did higher education go from relatively affordable private universities and virtually free public universities to crazy expensive everywhere you look? The price of higher education has risen faster than housing, energy or health care. The worst part is when young people come out of it so tortured by the debt that they regret having gone at all. 

Talk to any of the 38 million Americans who have outstanding student-loan debt, and he or she is likely to tell you a story about how a single moment in a financial-aid office at the age of 18 or 19 – an age when most people can barely do a load of laundry without help – ended up ruining his or her life. “I was 19 years old,” says 24-year-old Lyndsay Green, a graduate of the University of Alabama, in a typical story. “I didn’t understand what was going on, but my mother was there. She had signed, and now it was my turn. So I did.” Six years later, she says, “I am nearly $45,000 in debt. . . . If I had known what I was doing, I would never have gone to college.”

The article is long, but please read. If this problem doesn’t motivate the young people of this country to be more attentive and active in politics, march, ask questions and VOTE, then short of a draft, I don’t know what would.

White House is Finally Getting Solar Panels Back

Politico (Tiger Beat on the Potomac) reports that the WH is having solar panels installed – well, RE-installed! I’m sure they’re not the ones that were removed by Reagan, probably brand new ultra efficient panels, but it’s about time the 21st century energy source is utilized by the people’s house.

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Absololutely every structure built in the United States of America in the year 2013 should have solar panels installed.

Of course, panels should have been on the WH all this time since 1979 when they were first installed. There have been solar panels AT the White House since 2003 when the Bush administration brought in some to heat water. 

In 2003, solar photovoltaic panels were installed at the White House. Two smaller solar thermal systems were also installed to heat water: one for landscape maintenance personnel, the other for the presidential pool and spa….

The Bush Administration itself never really announced the project. Instead the installation was completed “under the radar;” industry trade journals were the media that picked up the story.

So typical. Bush’s people brought in panels because they were the right efficient tool for the job, but to do so openly, to announce it, would be treason to the cause of fundamentalist carbon defenders. I wonder if Cheney even knew.

This is all so curious because many scholars have observed a lag time of a generation or two in the adoption of the next new technological break through so that it seems as though the latest thing just happened, but in fact was in the works for as long as 50 years.

Steam power was begun in the 1770s, but took the world by storm and changed everything in the 1830s. Electricity, telephones and internal combustion were developed in the 1860s and 1870s, but didn’t really take off until the early 20th century.  Ground work for the information revolution and computers were laid in the 1940’s and 1950s, but it wasn’t until the 1980s that the technology began to be adopted on a widespread basis.

I’m convinced one of the reasons for this is that the soon to be anachronistic industries fight tooth and nail against their betters. And with that political power is arrayed against new technologies.

We’re seeing this with renewable energy even today!

Can you imagine how much further along we might be if those solar panels had stayed on the White House, had been adopted by Reagan, instead of scoffed at and removed to placate his oil and coal patrons? 

If Reagan burns in hell for nothing else, his trashing of the last real comprehensive energy policy we’ve had in this country will be sufficient reason.

Oregon’s “Pay It Forward” idea spreading to more states!

Hallelujah! A good idea can sometimes survive the inevitable bullshit storm deployed to destroy it and thrive despite it. As many as a dozen state legislatures may consider different forms of the Oregon proposal to allow students to go to school tuition free and then pay a small, set proportion of their earnings after college back to the state to go into a fund to pay for other students tuition. I’ve written about Oregon’s process on this a couple of times. 

In the months since Oregon passed the bill, Burbank says he’s heard from at least half a dozen states—including California, Maine, Maryland, and New Jersey (which just established a commission to study it)—that are intrigued by Pay-it-Forward. Larry Seaquist, a Democrat, a state representative in Washington state wants to implement a version of the plan faster than Oregon’s. Lawmakers in states that don’t have a recent history of progressive innovation—Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio—have expressed interest in Pay-it-Forward and many are working on bills. 

There are critics who cite the fact that tuition is only 40% of the cost of going to a four year school for some students. Also, warnings that this shouldn’t erode support for need-based financial aid, or Pell Grants and other financial aid.

There is a good case to make that need-based aid should be maintained even if states transition to Pay-it-Forward: Students starting college from a low-income home will still struggle more than their middle-income peers after graduation—relying on intergenerational wealth as they transition into adulthood isn’t an option. 

Even Dembrow—the sponsor of the Oregon legislation—was cautious about how much promise the idea has. “I don’t think it was ever seen as the solution,” Dembrow, says. “I think it was seen as a solution, and a solution to be explored … We’re obviously not going to do this if, after careful study, it doesn’t pencil out.”

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. No plan to help such a fucked up system is going to be perfect. But my friend with $150K in student debt would have loved to have this plan as an option.

Report From WH Says Fix the Grid ‘Cause WEATHER!

We’ve been talking for years about building a smart grid for more efficient transmission of electricity nationwide, but the urgency of spending money on upkeep became even more in our collective faces after the storms of the last few years.

This week the White House released a 28 page report felicitously named Economic Benefits of Increasing Electric Grid Resilience to Weather Outages.  

This report estimates the annual cost of power outages caused by severe weather between 2003 and 2012 and describes various strategies for modernizing the grid and increasing grid resilience. Over this period, weather-related outages are estimated to have cost the U.S. economy an inflation-adjusted annual average of $18 billion to $33 billion.

As someone who has had their life turned upside down by storms two straight years – YES, PLEASE. I don’t care where the money comes from (the report doesn’t say) and I’m not that concerned with what it costs because whatever it is will more than offset the losses we just have to take each year.

Yes, we need a smart grid that can send wind power from the Dakotas to Florida, send solar power from California to Maine, and keep energy flowing efficiently everywhere with minimal disruption. But to do that you have to make sure that the weakest link in the chain is not a rickety wooden poll in the middle of hurricane.

For crying out loud, the simplest thing to do is bury the damn lines. My area in the Garden State is defaced by power lines and polls everywhere because they won’t spend the money to bury them. So, whenever some idiot backs his pick up into a poll, my lights go out for four hours. If a hurricane takes out dozens of polls I’m living in a cold house for a week. 

Heroes, Villains and the Reality Inbetween

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As an American history nerd I get very annoyed with both the deification and yes, sometimes demonization of the Founding Fathers. Okay, really there’s only one that gets demonized and that’s Jefferson. The author of the Declaration of Independence is often dissed because of his slave holding, Sally Hemings, and (for the more erudite critics) his copious writings on subjects of race in the 18th and 19th centuries that, of course, should never be judged by 21st century standards. But they are. Annoyingly.

The hero/villain thing generally makes me nuts and nothing’s changed as the constant Edward Snowden debate shows. Um, is it possible he’s not either hero or villain, and what he did was neither heroic nor traitorous but instead an act of conscious that will have to be judged in the fullness of time, legality or illegality notwithstanding?

Jefferson was one of the most interesting and complex characters out of a panoply of interesting and complex characters. To single him out as a disappointment or something because of slavery seems to be vastly inappropriate considering where and when he lived and the fact that just about all of the Founding Fathers were slave owners. Even Benjamin Franklin, northerner, the most enlightened of American men, owned slaves! But he did free them.

In the simplistic light of history, the product of our shallow educations and superficial understanding of far away times and places Jefferson was a bad man for having slaves and screwing one of them, Washington was good for freeing his slaves upon his death and Lincoln was great for freeing them.

Or were they? Dun, dun dun!

Jefferson was a brilliant thinker and writer who held extremely common views on race in his time. What always has to be kept in mind for Jefferson and ALL the figures of the revolution and early U.S. history was that they were forging new trails in democratic republican government, starting a country practically from scratch. They believed things and then often changed their minds about them. They conflicted with each other on some issues and then sometimes, in the fullness of their lives, with themselves. They grew and evolved from experience.

By all evidence Jefferson didn’t believe the black race to be inferior (at least later in life), nor did he ever believe in or rationalize slavery as a good. He is said to have had a very common paternalistic bond with his slaves. For him and many others of the time it was just an economic and social reality. The 400 pound gorilla that had to be dealt with, always.

For the most part, at the end of the 18th century the most common belief was that slavery was untenable and would collapse of its own weight. In the North, slave holding was trending downward and many believed that trend would continue to the South as well. It wasn’t until the 1820s that, in answer to growing attacks on the slave power and their belief that it was essential to their economic survival, that the odious propaganda that slavery was a good (and good for the slaves) was put forward and adopted by many in the South.

In belief that they had to compromise to keep the union together – the first of many over the first 80 years of the nation – the Constitution protected the slave trade for 20 years (Article 1, Section 9 prohibited any law inhibiting importation) as a concession to the slave power. Jefferson and Madison, both Virginian slave holders, thought by the end of the 20 year prohibition that the inclination to slavery would diminish. They were wrong. But President Jefferson signed the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807, making slave importation illegal as soon as it could, on January 1, 1808. In his 1806 annual message to Congress (State of the Union) Jefferson said:

“I congratulate you, fellow-citizens, on the approach of the period at which you may interpose your authority constitutionally, to withdraw the citizens of the United States from all further participation in those violations of human rights which have been so long continued on the unoffending inhabitants of Africa, and which the morality, the reputation, and the best interests of our country, have long been eager to proscribe.”

George Washington, did not indeed free his slaves upon his death, as many believe. His heart was there, as early as 1786 he wrote:

“I never mean… to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery may be abolished by slow, sure and imperceptible degrees.”

While his position would make him a wild-eyed radical amongst his fellow planter class of Virginia elites, the “slow, sure and imperceptible” cried out that he was quite pragmatic on the subject. The reality was that Washington had slaves all his life. His wife Martha also had slaves that she had inherited from her first husband. George and Martha’s slaves had intermarried over time creating families that George did not want to break up (good). So George’s will actually stipulated his wish that all of the slaves be freed after Martha’s death. Apparently Martha did not share her noble husband’s feelings and she did indeed break up the families by freeing George’s slaves upon his death, because she thought they might accelerate her death in order to be freed eventually with their families, she “did not feel as tho’ her Life was safe in their hands”. Martha did not free her slaves in life or death (bad).

Abraham Lincoln, for all thinking people who have read anything about the Civil War is understood to have had, again, complex feelings on slavery. By the 1850s slavery in the North had indeed diminished as Jefferson and Madison had thought, but it still existed. The New Jersey census in 1860 still listed slaves. It was a slow diminution in the North, with many defenders of the “peculiar practice” even if they themselves did not indulge, or personally thought it a repugnant violation of human rights. Not everybody in the North who hated slavery was willing to take that right away from the slave holders, either for economic or state’s rights reasons. In the South slavery wasn’t going anywhere.

Interesting tangential fact is that the largest trading partner for the raw materials produced in the South was Britain. Britain was the leading manufacturing power in the world and the battles between the U.S. North and Britain did not end in 1812, they just evolved into a cold war over economic and trade policy fought over tariffs and industrial competition and espionage. Especially after 1830 when Britain freed its slaves, had almost completely de-agriculturalized, and relied heavily on the U.S. South (as well as colonial India) for the raw materials needed for their manufactures. The U.S. North and the U.S. South really were like two separate countries with two separate economies, at odds with each other over tariffs (favored by the industrial North to compete with Britain) and free trade (the British policy used to crush infant industrial societies like the U.S.).

The South had hoped that Britain would side with them in the Civil War, maybe even come into the battle with their armies and navies. When they didn’t, the South was doomed.

Back to Abraham Lincoln, venerated freer of slaves. In one of his famous 1858 debates with Stephen A. Douglas he stated:

“I will say, then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not, nor have ever been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

So 70 years later Abraham Lincoln believed pretty much the same as Thomas Jefferson. What had changed was the politics, which made it impossible in 1860 to continue to ignore the inherent conflict with the slave power. It had become no longer possible to compromise. A final, inevitable, showdown on what the economic direction of the country would be had to occur.

For prosecuting that fight Lincoln is lionized. For having compromised, in politics and in his life, Jefferson is derided. And Washington’s story is simplified in order to clean up his memory. In each case the simplification does an injustice to the lessons of history.

More things everyone would know if we had a liberal media

When we talked about the Daily Kos list of 15 things everybody would know if there were a liberal media, I felt 15 was just the beginning. I think this is going to be a regular thing. 

The good news is that the U.S. Budget deficit is down 37.6%, the bad news is that very few people know it, and most suspect the deficit is still going up

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The perception that the deficit is still growing has been fed by Republicans including House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), who recently said the deficit is growing and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who said last week that we have trillion-dollar deficits.

We understand why Republicans would propagandize about this, they’ve been bemoaning out of control spending forever. But given the amount of sturm und drang about the deficit, you would think that the media might be touting this information a little more loudly. That they don’t is pretty damning evidence not necessarily of bias, but of a form of attention deficit disorder towards news that could be considered positive towards the President.