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    • Rationality Is A Process, Not A Conclusion (Nuclear Weapons Edition)
      A lot of mistakes come from assuming rationality means “thinks the same way I do” rather than “reasons from premises I might not share.” Left than 1/1000 economists predicted the financial collapse, because they reasoned from assumptions like “the market is self-correcting” or “housing prices never go down.” (Sometimes both at the same time, which is rarely […]
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Damn you, Ken Burns

You’ve created another maddeningly addicting documentary, this one on The Roosevelts.  I’m going to be tied to this computer for every spare moment until the final minutes of the whole fourteen hours.  I have rooms to paint and lawns to mow.

How did you get George Will to talk in favor of government regulation?  Did you torture him first?  Was it a trick of clever editing?

Highly recommended.  Check your local PBS station for scheduling or watch it online at pbs.org.

Thursday: Perplexed by Pork Roll

Update: Atrios’ Lucky Ducky list is out!  I am one of 412K in new unemployment insurance claims.  I have arrived!

I’ve been living in NJ for two decades and have never eaten pork roll.  My former colleague, Ralph, a New Jersey native, used to wax eloquently about pork roll in the same way my old Sicilian Spanish teacher used to pine for marzipan while stuck teaching in the boondocks of upstate NY.  Ralph’s eyes would shine as he looked back to his last encounter with pork roll, his fingers rubbing each other as if trying to recapture some elusive quality.  But then again, he’d get all misty eyed over the memory of the grease wagons that lined up on the street near Rutgers where he went to school.  So, I just wrote pork roll off as some weird local right of passage, like Philly cheesesteaks or Pittsburgh hot sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions.

The other day, the pork roll called to me from the dairy case.  I’d passed on it so many times before.  What the heck.  I bought some “Tangy Pork Roll”.  OoooOOoo.  Tangy! It comes in flavors.  It looks like thick slices of bologna but has the appearance of a finer grade of Spam.  Assuming it wasn’t cooked, I looked all over the package for cooking instructions, hoping there would be a “Trenton Style Tangy Pork Roll Sandwich” recipe somewhere.  Nope. Having no idea how to prepare this sucker, I stuck it in the microwave for a minute.  (Someone out there is going to tell me this is sacrilege)  The result was a hot and greasy round of pork product with the right mouth feel of fat and plenty of salt.  The tangy comes from what tastes like vinegar.  If you’ve ever been to a dive bar and had one of those pickled sausages that come in a giant glass jar with your beer, that’s what it tastes like.  So anyway, preparing pork roll is not a hard job even without instructions.  What does this have to do with anything?  I don’t know.

Gretchen Morgenson and Louise Story recount how the bankers got away with the financial crisis of 2008 with no punishment or prosecution.  Right from the start of this piece, it becomes clear that there was not going to be any serious attempt to bring the bastards to justice.  Tim Geithner (him again) sets the narrative early on by putting out the theory that attempting to prosecute the evildoers would further destabilize the markets in a time of crisis.

Answering such a question — the equivalent of determining why a dog did not bark — is anything but simple. But a private meeting in mid-October 2008 between Timothy F. Geithner, then-president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Andrew M. Cuomo, New York’s attorney general at the time, illustrates the complexities of pursuing legal cases in a time of panic.

At the Fed, which oversees the nation’s largest banks, Mr. Geithner worked with the Treasury Department on a large bailout fund for the banks and led efforts to shore up theAmerican International Group, the giant insurer. His focus: stabilizing world financial markets.

Mr. Cuomo, as a Wall Street enforcer, had been questioning banks and rating agencies aggressively for more than a year about their roles in the growing debacle, and also looking into bonuses at A.I.G.

Friendly since their days in the Clinton administration, the two met in Mr. Cuomo’s office in Lower Manhattan, steps from Wall Street and the New York Fed. According to three people briefed at the time about the meeting, Mr. Geithner expressed concern about the fragility of the financial system.

His worry, according to these people, sprang from a desire to calm markets, a goal that could be complicated by a hard-charging attorney general.

Asked whether the unusual meeting had altered his approach, a spokesman for Mr. Cuomo, now New York’s governor, said Wednesday evening that “Mr. Geithner never suggested that there be any lack of diligence or any slowdown.” Mr. Geithner, now the Treasury secretary, said through a spokesman that he had been focused on A.I.G. “to protect taxpayers.”

My gut reaction says that’s bull.  If anything, crackdown on the bankers might have signalled to the global financial market’s hostage takers that the government was not playing games and might have averted further threats and destabilization.  And let’s not forget that now these assholes have us and our 401k portfolios by the short hairs.  They weren’t punished so they will feel free to act with impunity again.  The other bizarre notion was that taxpayer money would be used to pay for settlements.  Ok, it is not clear to me why this would be a problem.  If the settlements were *to* the federal government, wouldn’t that mean the taxpayer money would be returned?

Is anyone getting the sense that Geithner is one nasty guy with a silver tongue and a benign appearance?  If there’s one thing we have not learned from recent years it is not to automatically trust men in suits.  We don’t have to worship them or defer to them or treat them as authorities.  They shouldn’t get a pass just because they went to the right school or know the right people.  They should have to earn our respect.  No, if anything, the election of Obama shows that merit, exprience and responsibility can easily be trumped by the oily charisma of the company man.  The whole piece makes me outraged, as if that is even possible these days after all of the other outrages.  We walk the unemployment lines while the bankers walk away with millions and barely a slap on the wrist.  This will really burn your oatmeal:

But Mr. Alvarez suggested that the S.E.C. soften the proposed terms of the auction-rate settlements. His staff followed up with more calls to the S.E.C., cautioning that banks might run short on capital if they had to pay the many billions of dollars needed to make all auction-rate clients whole, the people briefed on the conversations said. The S.E.C. wound up requiring eight banks to pay back only individual investors. For institutional investors — like pension funds — that bought the securities, the S.E.C. told the banks to make only their “best efforts.”

Isn’t that nice?  Read the whole thing.

Whoo-Hoo! The editorial page of the NYTimes is finally telling the truth about tax cuts and their effect on the budget deficit?  In Budget Battles-Tax and Spending Myths and Realities, the editorial states:

President George W. Bush and Congress undid that progress with $1.65 trillion in tax cuts, heavily skewed to high earners. The economic recovery of the Bush years was extraordinarily weak by historical standards. By early 2009, shortly before Mr. Obama took office, the Congressional Budget Office projected a budget deficit for that year of more than $1 trillion.

These are the economic facts, which Americans need to hear. The Republicans certainly won’t tell anyone. And, so far, the Democrats haven’t had the political courage to challenge them head-on.

President Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal-year 2012 does call for a mix of tax increases and tax cuts, but he hasn’t made a serious effort to explain the need for substantially more revenue.

[…]

As a matter of fairness, raising income taxes must start with requiring the richest Americans — who have been the biggest beneficiaries of Bush-era tax cuts — to pay more. But even that won’t dig the country out of its hole. The middle class is also going to have to pay higher taxes. That is the only way to pay for needed services, tackle the deficit and slow the borrowing and the rise in interest payments.

I don’t know about raising taxes on middle class people.  I already pay a ton of money in taxes and live a very modest lifestyle for my salary.  Honestly, I don’t think I could pay any more without severely jeopardizing my savings for retirement.  Saving for college is already next to impossible.  So, let’s start with soaking the rich first and see how that goes before we ask anyone living in Central NJ on one income and a kid to support to pony up.

Did Krugman finally get through to the serious people on staff?  Is this message coming too late to make a difference?  Will the editorial board get cold feet and issue a retraction after a few nasty emails from Grover Norquist’s secret shock troops? Stay tuned.

Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline has two interesting posts about Foxes vs Hedgehogs here and here and how they apply to researchers.  Hedgehogs are researchers who delve into one particular subject in depth for most of their careers, like mathematicians studying a particular theorem. The other type of researcher, the fox, likes to be stimulated by many different problems.  Chemists and biologists tend to fall into this category.  I like to think of myself as a combination of fox and squirrel, storing away little bits of what looks like useless trivia until I find an interesting problem to apply it to.  It doesn’t always work and it can be distracting.  But you never know when something you read or did somewhere a long time ago might be useful.  Last year, I went back to the lab after a long time’s absence and learned to make proteins from ecoli and insect cell cultures.  Up to that point, I never had any use for the microbiology course I took decades ago.  Very handy.  “Luck favors the prepared mind.”  Derek’s illustration of how a researcher can be happily engaged in interesting research in industry is refreshing and mirrors my own experiences.  You don’t have to be in academia to get your problem solving fix.

A little something from Atrios the other day has been twitching my tin-foil antenna:

That Can’t do Spirit

I’ve commented on this before (as with most things), but I continue to be amazed at the completely pervasive can’t do spirit that seems to have gripped the country. Maybe we need to win a hockey game against the Soviets or something to bounce back.

I don’t think this is accidental.  I think it’s deliberate.  What better way of entrenching the idea that the country is run by a small evil group to which no one we know belongs than to reinforce learned helplessness.  There is a tangible inertia about the election next year.  I predict a disaster unless we get an Eleanor Roosevelt type to perk things up and help despairing Americans find their dignity.  Obama can’t do it.  He is more aspirational than inspirational.  If you’re not already at his level, he has very little to offer. And he intends to continue offering very little.  If you’re a well educated unemployed person with a kid to put through college, a house to pay for and a retirement to save for, Obama stands in your way.  What the inert want right now is a recipe for getting him to move, either forward or out.

Happy President’s Day! Er, First Ladies Day!

Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate some Presidents with strong wives who would have made fine presidents in their own right:


The marriage of John and Abigail truly was one of equals and he had deep and abiding respect for her fine intellect. She held down the farm while he was creating a country, lived through a devastating small pox epidemic, tended to the casualties of the Revolutionary War, accompanied her husband to France and was friends with Thomas Jefferson. Her letters to John are a thing of beauty and are a rich addition to our history of that period. This year, I hope we will have a chance to “Remember the ladies”, as Abigail told John in a “kidding on the square” way. Go, Abby!

  • James Madison and Dolly Madison: He was a visionary and she was a feisty, party girl who loved to dress up in feathers and do snuff. But Dolly was no airhead. She was prescient enough of the dangers around her that she sometimes slept with a sabre by her bed and had the presence of mind to save many valuable papers and works of art as the British descended on the first White House to burn it down. Our national archivists owe a debt of gratitude to Dolly. Take a bow, Dolly!
  • Woodrow Wilson and Edith Galt Wilson: Edith was Woodrow’s second wife, his first wife, Ellen, having died in 1914. Unlike the reclusive Ellen, Edith was a woman who was not afraid to intercede on her husband’s behalf, a role she took on after Woodrow suffered a stroke in 1919. Edith was called the “First Woman President” although she would have preferred to term it stewardship. She was credited and blamed for various diplomatic events. So, what else is new? For a country coming out of a massive war unlike any the world had ever seen, Edith stepped in to leadership when things might have spiralled out of control. Thank you, Edith.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt: One of the only times I ever saw my grandmother furious at me was when I said that Eleanor Roosevelt was kinda plain. “Don’t you EVER say that about Eleanor!”, she screamed at me, “She was a beautiful woman and you would be lucky to ever grow up to be like her.” She didn’t talk to me for the rest of the day. (Sorry, Gram) For people who grew up in The Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt was the very essence of compassion, dignity and inner strength. She was a champion of civil rights for African-Americans and after her years as First Lady was appointed to the United Nations as a delegate by President Truman. I don’t think there is enough praise we can heap on this fine lady.
  • Lyndon Baines Johnson and Ladybird Johnson: While Lyndon took on poverty and the war, Ladybird fought her own battles for the environment. Her motto, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope” was put into action with the Highway Beautifcation Act limiting the number of billboards and planting wildflowers along our nation’s highways. She was also an advocate of the Head Start program. Ladybird was a successful businesswoman as well and owned substantial media outlets in Texas. She knew the value of good press and put it to use in getting Democrats elected. This astute woman would have made a great blogger.
  • Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter: Rosalynn always struck me a soft spoken person who carried a big stick behind the scene. She is a focussed individual who has turned her attention to insurance for the mentally ill and was working with Daniel Wellstone last year on the “Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act”. She is on the board of Habitat for Humanity where she and her husband still volunteer their time. Rosalynn shows that just because you’ve left the White House doesn’t mean your responsibilities as a First Lady have ended.

Those are a few of my favorites. Tell me about your favorite First Lady in the comments. Of course, my current favorite will create quite a splash in the history books. Why not throw a couple bucks in her tip jar to help make it happen?

Help Hillary Make History!