SocraticGadfly: 6/10/12 - 6/17/12

June 15, 2012

Newt Gingrich vs. Jim Wright

From my book review of "The Ambition and the Power" on Goodreads:

The only reasons I didn't five-star this book is because it got a bit long, a bit or more repetitive, adn I would have appreciated a bit more history on how Wright became Majority Leader before he became Speaker.

That said, John Barry has a very good book overall. The 100th Congress, the one Congress fully led by Wright during his short tenure as Speaker, was outstanding for its accomplishments. For example, for the first time in nearly 40 years, a Congress passed all 13 normal annual appropriations bills on time for the start of a new budget year. Wright personally, and fairly successfully, intervened in the Sandanistas-Contras conflict in Nicaragua, and upset Reagan's early-era neocon applecart there, especially that of Elliot Abrams.

For all this success, and the fear that he would continue it in the future, Newt Gingrich decided Jim Wright had to die, politically. So, already becoming a master of sleaze himself, he decided to push some ethics claims. Some were bogus, some were on the edge, and even the more legit ones weren't that serious.

That said, Wright had been so successful for two reasons. One was riding a tight, often fairly partisan herd, over Congress, which pushed away many Republicans. The second was his focus on procedure to the deficit of friend-building. Coming right after Tip O'Neill, that second issue, especially, was notable. (For that matter, given how much Tip got steamrolled at times, the first was also a notable difference.)

Add to that the fact that Newt's scorched-earth + CSPAN blab tactics were all new to the House. Democratic friends that he did have largely gave him bad advice, in hindsight,  to not fight publicly. And a few bits of good advice weren't followed through on by staff at the time, which also had its effects later. (On the lack of friends Dem power broker Bob Strauss once commented on how hard it was to help Wright.)

Finally, add in an enormously ambitious special legal counsel to the House Ethics Committee, one who lobbied to get the job, and the juggernaut headed Wright's way was clear in hindsight.

Also clear is that Wright was correct on the Constitutional role of the Speaker. Finally, also clear is that Wright is pretty much the last national-level Democrat to stand up to top Republicans on a regular basis.

June 14, 2012

Newspapers once WERE #Facebook

And that, more than anything, is why newspapers will continue to lose relevance (and, both in print and online, a cut of advertising dollars).

Other people have written about how the Internet means that the local newspaper's "bundling" of sports, entertainment, advise, news, commentary, etc., simply isn't totally viable any more.

But they haven't commented on how that came to be in the first place.

Answer is simple.

Newspapers in the 20th century became what they did precisely because, in the developed world, labor laws gave more people more time to read more often.

Result? Newspapers, for the "middlebrow," if we will, became diversions. Something to while away the day, in part.

Just like much of the Internet in general is today, and very much like Facebook is today.

But, if the new Facebook, the actual Facebook, has an IPO that sank like trash, and has little idea of how much or how well it can further monetize advertising, what should that say to Facebook version 0.3, the online/offline, or even now, online-only in some cases, modern newspaper?

It should be precautionary at least.

Publicly traded newspapers probably should take a deep plunge risk and be honest with shareholders now, rather than later. And, if a Warren Buffett still wants to speculate, know that it's probably for financialization move, not a belief in newspapers' future. There's money, and tax write-offs, after all, in debt servicing.

Anyway, newspapers, with linking to outside PR websites, etc., are trying more and more to be Facebook. But, they just don't have the social networking reach.

And never will.

Learning those limitations, and living in reality, is key. Going forward from there may vary from paper to paper, but it's the bottom line.

Eventually, the social media world will become more diffused, and that, too, will likely hurt papers more than help.

That's the world we're in, though.

The newspaper as diversion simply is a back-burner item.

Texas small biz — many like Obamacare

Posted below without comment is an in-depth email about that:


Erin Musgrave
Communications Director
Small Business Majority
(831) 477-0453

Plurality of Texas Small Business Owners Want Healthcare Law Upheld; Only a Third Want it Overturned

Opinion polling released today shows nearly half of Texas small businesses believe the Supreme Court should uphold the Affordable Care Act, either as is or with minor changes; poll finds strong support for key provisions in the law

June 14, 2012

Nearly half (48 percent) of small business owners in Texas want the healthcare reform law upheld—either as is or with minor changes—while only 36 percent want the Supreme Court to overturn it, according to opinion polling released today by Small Business Majority. However, once small business owners in Texas learn more about the law, their support for keeping it intact, either as is or with minor changes, rises to 54 percent, while opposition falls to 32 percent.

The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision any day in the case against the healthcare reform law, filed by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and state attorneys general.

“Contrary to popular belief, small business owners in Texas do not want the high court to throw out the Affordable Care Act,” said John Arensmeyer, Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority. “They see this law as helping everyone have coverage and bringing down healthcare costs—something that has been one of their top concerns for years. We hope Supreme Court justices understand how important this law is to small businesses who need relief from high healthcare costs.”

Key provisions of the law also have strong small business support, including one of the most crucial components for small businesses—the health insurance exchanges. The Affordable Care Act calls for exchanges—online marketplaces where small businesses can pool their buying power when purchasing coverage—to be up and running in every state by 2014. Nearly two-thirds, or 62 percent, of owners in Texas say they would use their state exchange or consider using it to provide their employees with health benefits. What’s more, the majority of entrepreneurs find potential features of the exchange very appealing, including employee choice (74 percent), the exchange educating employees about plans (71 percent) and the exchange providing plans that offer prevention and wellness programs (68 percent). And a majority (59 percent) support Texas applying for federal funds to set one up.

“We’re incredibly proud to be able to offer insurance to our employees, but if the healthcare law is overturned we’d be priced out entirely. That would be unacceptable after struggling to provide it for more than 16 years,” said Larry Emerson, co-owner of Results Video, Inc. in El Paso, Texas. “I hear a lot about small businesses wanting this law struck down, but that’s not true for me and it obviously isn’t true for many of my fellow entrepreneurs. I sincerely hope our Supreme Court justices listen to what real small businesses are saying about this law and uphold it. Going back to the status quo would be unthinkable.”

Other key findings from the poll:

47 percent of small businesses who support upholding the law believe it should be kept because we need to make sure everyone has health coverage; 29 percent say it’s because it will make it easier to purchase insurance
66 percent support the medical loss ratio requirement, where insurers are required to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on healthcare claims and quality improvement efforts
69 percent support “rate review,” where state regulators are allowed to review and approve or reject insurers’ increases they deem excessive
64 percent support prohibiting insurers from denying coverage based on preexisting conditions
 59 percent support preventing insurance companies from basing insurance rates on health status; 69 percent support preventing insurers from charging women higher rates than men
62 percent favor allowing young people up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ plans
53 percent of small business owners provide insurance to at least some of their employees, but of those who don’t offer it, 74 percent say it’s because they can’t afford it
Of small businesses who do offer benefits, respondents said the two most compelling reasons to offer were because they felt they had a responsibility to offer it (52 percent) and because it helps keep employees healthy and productive (45 percent)
Nearly half of all small businesses (48 percent) said they’d be more likely to offer insurance if they qualified for a tax credit and 47 percent said they’d be more likely to purchase insurance through an exchange if they could receive a tax credit

To read the full report go online here.

June 13, 2012

Is the old 'hot' the new 'normal'?

We all know it was mega-hot in the U.S. this spring, as U.S. measurements of five-month/year-to-date temperature reports from NOAA make clear.

More here on how hot it's been, over the last 12-18 months, too, as also illustrated by the graphic. The background behind the graphic is detailed by NOAA; every one of the states in red had its hottest 12-month period since record keeping began.

A lot of those anomalous (or what used to be anomalous, perhaps) temperature reports have at least three full sigmas of variation from the norm. And, the "degrees above normal," take note, is just from the years of 1981-2010, after we really started seeing temperature rises.

But, maybe that's part of why I said what I said in the header may be true. Perhaps a just "hottish" year like, say,  2007 now seems "normal." It's perhaps on the high side of average for the last 30 years, but it's not 1998 or 2005.

Of course, a year like this year, or last year, can be played like a cheap violin by global warming denialists. If 2013, for example is "just" a 2007, then it's an easy claim to say, "it's not that hot."

Meanwhile, a lot of the burden's going to hit the Southwest, including Texas, per NPR. Since this area depends on dams for a lot of its water, with lakes that evaporate more the hotter it gets (setting aside the likelihood of climate change cutting precipitation in much of this area, and cutting snowpack in the Colorado River drainage), it's going to get uglier in some boom states.

My suggestion? Move the hell out of Phoenix and Las Vegas. Move back to Des Moines, St. Louis and Cleveland. Where the water is.

Yankee homerism at ESPN

How can Don Denkinger's blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series not be the worst blown umpiring call in Major League Baseball history?

When you're David Schoenfield, you're at ESPN, and on your list of five worst calls, you want to put one in a Yankees-Orioles playoff game at No. 1, and Denkinger's in the 1985 Cardinals-Royals World Series at No. 2. 

Todd Worrell was robbed. I don't care about Jack Clark and Darrell Porter mutually missing the foul pop-up by Steve Balboni after that. The team had been rattled.

Oh,  and this was a Game 6, not a Game 1, unlike the 1996 ALCS game that Schoenfield has at No. 1.

Other than Jim Caple's weekly "Off Base," with its box score from the past trivia, ESPN's baseball writing gets worse all the time, I think. If it's not Yankee homerism, it's Hall of Fame fluffery.

Kenny Boy Salazar caves again; will he do it on #hunting?

So, the dunes sagebrush lizard isn't going to get an Endangered Species Act listing. Shock me. Although Ken Salazar is not Gayle Norton, nonetheless, he's the most oil-friendly Interior Secretary besides her since, say 1964 and passage of the Wilderness Act.

Meanwhile, the GOP is now making noise about hunting in national parks. Given that Dear Leader "caved" on guns in national parks, who knows what he and Kenny Boy will do on this issue if it gains traction?

Per an email alert from the National Parks Conservation Association:
Senator Jim Risch of Idaho has filed an amendment to the Farm Bill which the Senate is debating this week. This amendment could open most of the 397 units of the National Park System to hunting--same as the bill passed by the House of Representatives in April, the Sportsmen’s Heritage Act (H.R. 4089).

The bill includes language that purports to exclude national parks and national monuments like Yellowstone and the Great Smoky Mountains from hunting and recreational shooting, but it does NOT provide a guarantee. According to our recent legal analysis, the bill would open parks to hunting--where currently these activities are prohibited--unless the National Park Service goes through an exhaustive, time-consuming, costly process to close them.
Do we trust gun nuts to be satisfied with a mile when they can claim 10? And, do we trust modern national Democrats to ever have a spine on guns issues? No and no.

If you don't live in a total gun-nuts Senators state, click this link to contact your Senators to oppose this.

June 12, 2012

Germany to US: Don't lecture us on bailout; and #Krugman may not be all right

Actually, it's a German academic/think-tanker, but Hans-Werner Sinn has some interesting, and at least partially valid, points on why Germany won't bail out Spanish banks.

First, the obvious one, that the eurozone, or even the larger EU isn't a single country. HEck, it's not a single economic polity, even. If it were, perhaps Germany would take the lead in a 1990s Sweden-style nationalization of some of the banks, which would trump both current EU action and US action four years ago. But, without at least a true single economic polity, Germany can't nationalize Spanish banks, and it won't float the money for Spain to nationalize its own, I'm sure.

Sinn then raises the "moral hazard" issue with a name from American history guaranteed to strike at U.S. Republican-Democrat issues:
When Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton socialized the states’ war debt after the Revolutionary War, he raised the expectation of further debt socialization in the future, which induced the states to over-borrow. This resulted in political tensions in the early 19th century that severely threatened the stability of the young nation.
Sinn notes that several U.S. states went bankrupt in the 1830s and 1840s because of this. (As did the independent Republic of Texas, or nearly so. Part of its "price" for annexation (the threat to become allied with Britain was bogus) was U.S. assumption of its debts. So, any time you hear a Texas Republican talk about fiscal discipline, he's probably full of shit.

Third, Sinn says it would be unconstitutional for Germany to do a true bailout of Spain. (That's no never mind to U.S. leaders who don't respect our own constitution.)

Finally, though the initial comparison is apples and oranges anyway, Sinn says Greece has gotten 105 Marshall Plans from Germany already.

I don't totally agree with all Sinn's arguments, and don't know that, if the eurozone were at least one economic "country," if he and most Germans would support a Swedish move.

That said, Germany could leave the eurozone instead of trying to boot out Greece. Would probably change its relations with Russia and Eastern Europe at least as much as with Western Europe.

And, while "austerity" isn't the answer ... maybe Germans are right to worry about overcommitment. If the likes of a Krugman favors massive Keynesianism across borders, within the eurozone "project," does he think Germany is, in turn, entitled to some "guarantees"?

Some "collateral" from Spain, to use a banking term?

I kind of do. And, I'd like to see Krugman address this issue. I think it's a flaw in his thinking.

Help the Green Party equalize the financial footing

The Green Party has until June 30 — just 17 days from now — to qualify for federal matching funds.

To do so, it needs to raise at least $5,000 in each of 20 different states.

That's not that much. It's just a few $$ each from each of several hundred people in those states. Here in Texas, the party is already at almost $3,500. But, don't stop.

Here's details on where the party is at on the funding drive, ballot access and more.

Secularists to start Texas lobbying organization drive

From an email:

The Secular Coalition for America is excited to announce the initial organizing efforts for a chapter in Texas this month. The state chapter will lobby state lawmakers in favor of a strong separation of religion and government.

The initial organizing call for the Secular Coalition for Texas will be held on Tuesday, June 26, 2012 at 3:00 PM ET (2:00 PM CT). ...

The Secular Coalition for America—a lobbying organization representing nontheistic Americans and advocating for a strong separation of religion and government—will launch chapters in 48 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico by the end of 2012. Two state affiliates, the Secular Coalition for Arizona and Secular Coalition for Alabama, are already operational – the SCA has elected to adopt a chapter model, instead of the affiliate model, for the subsequent 48 state groups.

“Some of the most egregious violations of church state separation are being promoted and passed at the state level, and we absolutely must act to stop it,” said Edwina Rogers, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “There are 40 million Americans who don’t identify with any religion, but our political influence has been limited because we have not been organized. This year, that changes.”

A recent Pew Forum study indicated that 23 percent of Texans do not express an absolute belief in God, and 33 percent disagreed that “religion is very important to their lives.”  Another Pew study found that the majority of Americans (54%) say that churches and other houses of worship should keep out of political matters, and 38% says that there has been too much expression of religious faith and prayer from political leaders – a number that has grown to its highest point since the Pew Research Center began asking the question more than a decade ago.

Among current law and recent religiously-inspired legislation the Texas legislature has considered are:

The Texas state constitution bars atheists from holding public office. “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” (Texas, Article 1, Section 4)
SR 141: "In God We Trust" added to the wall behind lecterns in both Texas chambers. (2007)
HR 465: Recognizing May 5, 2011 as National Day of Prayer in Texas. (2011)

Of course #Reagan would be a Republican today

I love Jeb Bush and other not-quite-nutbar Republicans wondering if Ronald Reagan would be a member, let alone a welcome one.


Why is the mainstream media even indulging claims like this? Of course Ronnie would be. Why?

1. He lied about Republicans' part in causing deficits.
2. He lied about Democrats' part in causing deficits.
3. He lied about supply side economics and its role in causing deficits.

That's in the sweet spot of modern Republicanism. Within presidential Republicanism, he'd be less smirky than W (funny how Jeb talked about how Poppy, along with Ronnie, might be excluded, but said bupkis about his brother), less paranoid than McCain, and less obviously rich than Romney. But, he'd be just as Republican.

And, I used the word "lied" deliberately. Reagan of 1988 may have been sliding down the memory hole, or maybe not. But, he lied about Iran-Contra in 1987, that was clear. He may have lied to himself about arms for hostages before that, but that was still a lie. He may have lied to himself about supply-side economics, but that was still a lie. He may have lied to himself when confronted with David Stockman's original version of "starve the beast," but it was still a lie.

Hell, Reagan was lying about taxes, including his own tax hikes, when he was governor.

But, you know who I really blame for this attempted "rehabilitation" of Reagan?

Barack Obama.

Remember how, even before he was elected, Dear Leader talked about how he admired Reagan? It was in part neoliberal pandering of a type worse than Slick Willie Clinton's. But, to some degree, Obama believed it. Whether it was because he wished he were that "smooth," or what all motivated him to talk about admiration, and with little nuance, I don't know. But, if not with Democrats, at least with many independents, his stance left the door open to today's claims that Ronald Reagan might not be a Republican today.

I'm reminded of an old Saturday Night Live skit, late 1980s, where, after the cameras go dark, at a White House dinner, Reagan goes "Mafia enforcement" with a baseball bat on a Cabinet member after a screwup.

Don't fall for his affability.

June 11, 2012

What's wrong with #Pujols?

Update, June 11: There's nothing wrong with Pujols now. Split stats have him with an OPS above 1.000 for June, and I'll guess above .900 from mid-May to today. Sorry,  Pujols haters. Now that he's got halfway up to speed on AL pitchers, and may stop pressing so much, all that he needs next is his comfort zone with Mike Scioscia. 

Before the start of the season, I predicted Albert Pujols would have a bounce-back year indeed. I said expect about a .320 BA, 45 or so HRs, an OPS of above 1.000, etc., and lead the Angels to win the AL West and more; details here. (Note to semi-regular blog readers: I republish this post to go to the top post on the blog as new information/analysis/discussion pops up.)

There were several reasons for this.

First, I thought that he had been "pressing" early in the year last year, with Wainwright out and other things, as far as how much he was trying to carry the team. Second, I thought he might have been "pressing" a bit over the contract issue, even though he denied that he was, for any reason.

There were other reasons I made the prediction.

Pujols was moving to a park that was more hitter-friendly. He would be in the AL, with occasional games at DH to rest a bit, and the deeper lineups for which that makes. The Los Angeles Angels would field a lineup that seemed to be the overall equal of the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals. Beyond his pitcher-friendly home stadium, he'd have plenty of games in Arlington, and a few in Boston, New York, etc. to offset Oakland's pitcher-friendly site.

So far, though, he's on the longest homerless drought of his career, which leads me to wonder if I should change my current poll on his projected homer totals, or add one about his first dinger's date.

And, now, May 4 (update), it's not just taters. Did you ever think Albert Pujols would be flirting with the Mendoza line? (It's related to the HR drought, I'm sure, but still; heck, since April 20, through May 5 and counting, his slugging percentage is below the Mendoza line!)

And, a day later, May 5, he's now below the Mendoza, and benched ... and booed! Guess that second poll will have to come right back down.

So, what's the problem?

Well, Kendrys Morales behind him has yet to set the world on fire in his return; I don't know if that means Pujols is getting nothing good to hit or not, but it's a possibility. Maybe he's pressing, just like last year, though he would deny it. Maybe, if he is, it's in part because Vernon Wells is again the Wells of 2011.

Maybe the adjustment to AL pitching on a regular basis, despite several years of interleague play, has been tougher than expected.

Maybe he's lost a modicum of what modest foot speed he has. Or maybe, like fellow Dominican David Ortiz, it's time for the age questions to start popping up more.

Or maybe we're still on a smallish sample size. Or a mix of all of the above.

That said, Pujols can start slow, and did before last year. But not always.

Call me back, say, around Mother's Day or a week later, and let's take another look. Speaking of additional looks, there's further, follow-up thought below the fold.

June 10, 2012

There's still a 'Bradley effect' out there

The "Bradley effect" is named after former Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, after he failed to win California's gubernatorial race a number of years ago, in which polling and voting reality didn't match up. It appeared that, even though polling is anonymous, many voters couldn't tell a pollster that there was no way in hell they were going to vote for a black man.

Well, theoretically, the election of Barack Obama as president, Deval Patrick as governor of Massachusetts, etc., was putting paid to this idea. Dear Leader himself would have us believe that we live in a post-racial America.

Well, you and I know that's not true.

And, now, thanks to Google, we have proof that the Bradley effect is probably still alive and well. And strongest in Appalachia. Dear Leader should remember he lost Pennsylvania's Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton; the "discrepancy" is high in western Pennsylvania.