President Obama: stand-up-comic in chief

In case you missed it, here’s President Obama at the White House Correspondents Dinner:


Who’s at fault politically, and other ventures into the obvious

A lot of us have been saying this for years now.

Let’s just say it:
The Republicans are the problem.

Of course, a lot of us have been ignored for years now.

But now that the statement appears in the opinion pages of the Washington Post, a lot of people are going to be saying: “My goodness, I never realized that.”

Except for Republicans. But then they’re the problem.

Why are they the problem? Well, the writers of the piece (Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman J. Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute) say:

We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional. In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges.

Well, no manure, Mr. Holmes!

You just figured that our yourself? Is this officially the mainstream’s “Eureka” moment? Pray tell, what more do you have to pontificate to us lesser intellects?

Today, thanks to the GOP, compromise has gone out the window in Washington. In the first two years of the Obama administration, nearly every presidential initiative met with vehement, rancorous and unanimous Republican opposition in the House and the Senate, followed by efforts to delegitimize the results and repeal the policies. The filibuster, once relegated to a handful of major national issues in a given Congress, became a routine weapon of obstruction, applied even to widely supported bills or presidential nominations. And Republicans in the Senate have abused the confirmation process to block any and every nominee to posts such as the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, solely to keep laws that were legitimately enacted from being implemented.

Uh, yeah. I think in order to come to that conclusion, you, like, had to be … oh, I don’t know … AWAKE?

There has to the some hint at the both sides do it argument, though I give these guys credit for not going full false equivalents.

Democrats are hardly blameless, and they have their own extreme wing and their own predilection for hardball politics. But these tendencies do not routinely veer outside the normal bounds of robust politics. If anything, under the presidencies of Clinton and Obama, the Democrats have become more of a status-quo party. They are centrist protectors of government, reluctantly willing to revamp programs and trim retirement and health benefits to maintain its central commitments in the face of fiscal pressures.

No doubt, Democrats were not exactly warm and fuzzy toward George W. Bush during his presidency. But recall that they worked hand in glove with the Republican president on the No Child Left Behind Act, provided crucial votes in the Senate for his tax cuts, joined with Republicans for all the steps taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and supplied the key votes for the Bush administration’s financial bailout at the height of the economic crisis in 2008. The difference is striking.

And a lot of us were pissed off that the Democrats folded the way they did during the Bush administration. But let’s get one thing straight. The Democrats didn’t just supply the key votes for the 2008 financial bailout. They provided the ONLY votes. I remember how shocked the world was when the GOP trashed the bailout. The Republicans were going to … (here I go again) … drive that bus off the cliff and into a river of hungry crocodiles next to a nuclear plant during an earthquake just as the tsunami wave reaches 50 meters carrying a school of piranhas being chased by great white sharks with al-Qaeda tatooed on their dorsal fins and plutonium bombs between their teeth.

Now, when you consider all this, why will this opinion piece get more attention than the things a lot of us have been saying to each other in our living rooms throughout America since George the Dumber was president?

No. 1: We don’t work for a place that has “Institute” or “Institution” in its name.

No. 2: We didn’t write a book.

This essay is adapted from their book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” which will be available Tuesday.

Anything to make a buck, I guess.

Notes from the underground

This is why infrastructure matters:

A hole opened up in the ground in China because of rain and a girl on a cellphone fell through the sidewalk. Things like this shouldn’t happen in a well maintained city.

You wonder how bad things can get when th ground beneath you erodes. But this has already happened in the U.S. In fact, it’s been going on for more than 50 years.

There’s a place in Pennsylvania called Centralia. When I was working in Pennsylvania, the most unusual story was about a mine fire that had been burning under the city for decades. No one knows how it started, but it was estimated it began in the early 1960s, apparently when the fire department didn’t fully put out a blaze at a landfill. The landfill was at an abandoned rock put, which was over an abandoned coal mine. Over time, the fire burned through the rock pit and went through the ground, igniting a coal seam. The town was above abandoned mines, which meant it was above a perpetual source of fuel.

So by the late 1970s/early 1980s, the fire was still burned. There were stories about the people of Centralia trying to get the state to do something to extinguish the blaze. The federal government was also called in. But nothing could be done. In subsequent years, the blaze released poisonous gas in the area. At odd times, the ground would open up. In one case, it sucked in a kid who would have died from carbon monoxide poisoning had someone not been around to get him out of the hole.

I left Pennsylvania in the early 1980s and figured that the fire surely had been put out by now. Instead, a town of about 1,000 was formally evicted in 2009. The fire still burns today.

Probably 10 people still live in Centralia. A couple of months ago, the relocated residents lost an appeal to prevent the condemnation of their land.

That’s an extreme, but it shows what can happen when a town’s infrastructure is ignored. Places become uninhabitable. People have to leave before they die.

China is a minor example of what can happen when infrastructure is left to deteriorate. Centralia is an extreme. And now, we’re fracking another energy source. The consequences of that: earthquakes. You can’t prevent the rain from falling. It looks like you can’t prevent a coal mine from burning forever. But it seems you can prevent earthquakes. If you want to.

Women’s rights rallies

I guess this is the place to be today:

Help defend women’s rights and pursuit of equality. Join Americans all across the United States on April 28th, 2012, as we come together as one to tell members of Congress in Washington DC and legislators in all 50 states, “Enough is enough!” strongly supports diversity and welcomes men and women of all ages without regard to their race, color, creed, political affiliation, disability, religious or spiritual beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, education or income level, marital status, employment status, or immigrant status. Everyone is invited to join, plan, and rally as we unite to demand that every person be granted equal opportunities, equal rights, and equal representation.

Here’s the link to the rally in your area

(No rallies in Delaware, Maine, Mississippi, North Dakota and West Virginia. Either women don’t need rights there, or those states suck.)


I didn’t realize YouTube was running full length movies!

Years ago, I bought a DVD of Fritz Lang‘s “M” at a video store in Brussels. But the photo quality was grainy, and since I wasn’t in an English speaking country, the subtitles were in French (which is fine, because I can read French).

But this version on YouTube has a great picture, and the subtitles are in English.

And if you’re up on film history, you know that this is a classic.

Peter Lorre, in the role that made him a star, is a child murderer in 1931 Germany. This is probably one of the most despicable characters ever to appear in film, and yet by the end there is something incredibly pathetic about him. Lorre makes you feel sympathy for a totally evil psychopath. Nevertheless, every time I see the movie, I want the guy dead. And so does everyone else in the movie. Which brings us to an even more profound issue.

The movie never says it, but Adolf Hitler is on the rise (he doesn’t take power until 1933, but historically, he’s a well established political figure in Germany in 1931). The story of the child murderer is horrifying enough, but when you consider what was happening in German society at the time, and you see the reaction of the public, this oddly predicts which way the country is headed, and what the power of the mob will lead to.

So, if you have a couple of hours to spare, here’s “M.” It is definitely worth your time:

Debtors prison: Welcome to the 19th century

States are putting people in jail for being poor!

Jailed for unpaid debts? It happened to breast cancer survivor Lisa Lindsay.

She got a $280 medical bill in error and was told she didn’t have to pay it. But the bill was turned over to a collection agency, and eventually state troopers showed up at her home and took her to jail in handcuffs.

Debt collectors have become so aggressive in some parts of Illinois that they commonly use taxpayer-financed courts, sheriff’s deputies and county jails to squeeze poor people who fall behind on small payments of $25 or $50 a month, according to supporters of the proposed legislative reforms. Lawmakers in Springfield are pushing to make it harder to jail poor people who miss court dates or are found in contempt of court as they struggle with unpaid debts — an aggressive practice that got worse, some say, during the recession.

Lindsay, a teaching assistant from Herrin in southern Illinois, ended up paying more than $600 because legal fees had been added to the original amount.

“I paid it in full so they couldn’t do it to me again,” Lindsay said.

The idea of a debtor’s prison is so Dickensian. Literally:

[B]ecause of financial difficulties, the Dickens family moved from Kent to Camden Town in London in 1822. Prone to living beyond his means, John Dickens was eventually imprisoned in the Marshalsea debtors’ prison in Southwark London in 1824. Shortly afterwards, his wife and the youngest children joined him there.

So we’ve gotten to the point where if you can’t pay a debt, you’re going to jail. Thought that went out of fashion a century ago. Of course, I was wrong. I hate to quote Wikipedia, but this part does come from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal:

More than a third of U.S. states allow borrowers to be jailed for non payment of debts. “Judges have signed off on more than 5,000 such warrants since the start of 2010 in nine counties.” Because of “sloppy, incomplete or even false documentation,” many borrowers facing jail time don’t even know they’re being sued by creditors.

Meanwhile, the idiots at Fox News are still falling over themselves blaming the poor for all the nation’s ills. Maybe jailing the poor will keep the fair and balanced crowd happy.

Given that American has more people in prison than any other nation on the planet, it’s a safe bet to say that we’re going to continue to be No. 1 in incarceration.

Portrait of Lotte

Dutch photographer Frans Hofmeester filmed his daughter every week from birth to 12 years old. This is the result: 12 years in less than three minutes.

As a parent, you constantly say your kids are growing so fast. I guess in our minds, this is how we see it. At least that’s the way I do after 21 years.

UPDATE: And this appears to be Lotte’s brother, Vince:

Romney: The Etch-A-Sketch in action

I wonder what the right wing blogs are saying about their Republican presidential candidate? Here’s something from Rightly Concerned:

Gov. Mitt Romney stepped on a landmine by appointing Richard Grenell, an out, loud and proud homosexual, to be his spokesman on national security and foreign policy issues. Grenell has for years been an outspoken advocate for homosexual marriage. In fact, word is that he left the Bush administration because President Bush would not formally acknowledge his homosexual partner.

Since, as the saying goes in D.C., personnel is policy, this means Gov. Romney has some ‘splaining to do. This clearly is a deliberate and intentional act on his part, since he was well aware of Mr. Grenell’s sexual proclivities and knew it would be problematic for social conservatives. It’s certainly not possible that there are no other potential spokesmen available, men who are experts in foreign policy and who at the same time honor the institution of natural marriage in their personal lives. …

As I explained in a much-discussed Tweet over the weekend, the message Gov. Romney appears to be sending to the pro-family community through his Grenell appointment is “drop dead.”

This is not just an Etch-A-Sketch moment for the governor, it is a crossing-the-Rubicon moment. It appears to be a dog-whistle to the homosexual lobby, a way of saying to them I’m with you, not with them. It appears to be his way of saying to gay activists that when push comes to shove you can count on me. I’ll be in your corner, not theirs.

OK, it’s a blog from the right, so maybe it’s exaggerating the guy’s sexuality? What does someone who this week the mainstream considers a leftie, like Andrew Sullivan, say?

A fact that doesn’t make it into the Washington Post. But I’m in no way outing Ric. He has lived with his partner, Matt Lashey, for the past nine years, and is a frequent advocate for Republicans and gays. Which is why this pick is interesting. For Romney to have an openly gay spokesman is a real outreach to gay Republicans, a subtle signal to moderates, and the Santorum faction’s reaction will be worth noting.

Contrary to the earlier reference, looks like someone is shaking the Etch-A-Sketch. But this can’t possibly mean gays are going to rally in favor of Romney and the GOP, can it?