Later On

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Archive for March 17th, 2010

The Pope’s direct involvement

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Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars:

As I’m sure you know by now, Pope Benedict XVI has now been personally implicated in a case of priestly sex abuse, not as the abuser but as the superior who transferred the abuser to another parish where he merely found new victims. All of this in Germany when the pope was known by his real name, Joseph Ratzinger.

A widening child sexual abuse inquiry in Europe has landed at the doorstep of Pope Benedict XVI, as a senior church official acknowledged Friday that a German archdiocese made "serious mistakes" in handling an abuse case while the pope served as its archbishop.

The archdiocese said that a priest accused of molesting boys was given therapy in 1980 and later allowed to resume pastoral duties, before committing further abuses and being prosecuted. Pope Benedict, who at the time headed the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, approved the priest’s transfer for therapy.

He had already been more than seriously implicated in the scandal of abuse by his more impersonal decisions. As Cardinal, it was Ratzinger who ordered all of the bishops and priests not to turn over any abusive priest to the police but to handle the situation internally. He was the one who brought Cardinal Law, a man responsible for covering up hundreds of cases of sex abuse by priests in Boston, to Rome to serve as one of his closest advisers. But this is the first time he was found to be personally involved in doing the thing that stains the church forever, moving a priest to another parish after raping a child rather than turning him over to the police to be tried and imprisoned.

Andrew Sullivan makes a very important point:

If this person headed a secular organization, or if he were a politician, he would be forced to resign. Why are the standards for the Catholic church so much lower on tolerance of child abuse than the rest of society? On what grounds can this Pope reprimand bishops and priests in Ireland or the US when he seems deeply entangled in the same kind of cover-ups himself?

When, in other words, will the real victims come first? And moral responsibility meaningfully taken?

And, I might add, criminal responsibility as well. If anyone in nearly any other line of work – doctor, teacher, therapist, day care provider, etc – has knowledge of a child being abused and does not report it, they face criminal charges. To actively cover it up and move the offender to another parish is to become, at the very least, an accessory after the fact and to engage in aiding and abetting criminal activity.

Let me make this clear: Pope Benedict XVI and every single other priest, bishop or cardinal who knew of the abuse of a child by another member of the church and did not turn that person in to the police should be charged themselves with aiding and abetting and being accessories after the fact. That is what we would do with anyone in a similar position of authority in a secular institution; it is what we should do with them.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2010 at 9:17 pm

How the GOP handled controversial legislation

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Steve Benen:

Lately, the complaints from opponents of health care reform have been almost entirely about process. Republicans have decided they don’t like reconciliation or the self-executing rule anymore — they loved it when they were in the majority — and the debate over how Dems are working on health reform passage has become nearly as important as whether Dems pass it or not.

But if Republicans wants to talk about process, we can talk about process.

Let’s look back at 2003, when the Republican House and Republican Senate worked on Medicare Part D — a bill Karl Rove saw as a way of creating a “permanent” GOP majority — which was the biggest expansion of government into the health care industry in four decades.

The bill — written behind closed doors with lobbyists — came with a price tag of $1 trillion, despite leaving a “donut hole” that undercut the needs of millions of seniors. How did Republicans pay for it? They didn’t. GOP lawmakers, with the Bush administration’s blessing, financed the bill entirely — literally, 100% — through deficit spending, leaving future generations to pick up the tab.

But that’s not the most interesting part. Consider what happened the night of the vote on the House floor.

A 15-minute vote was scheduled, and at the end of 15 minutes, the Democrats had won. The Republican leadership froze the clock for three hours while they desperately whipped defectors. This had never been done before. The closest was a 15-minute extension in 1987 that then-congressman Dick Cheney called “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.”

Tom DeLay bribed Rep. Nick Smith to vote for the legislation, using the political future of Smith’s son for leverage. DeLay was later reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee.

The leadership told Rep. Jim DeMint that they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina if he didn’t vote for the bill.

The chief actuary of Medicare, Rick Foster, had scored the legislation as costing more than $500 billion. The Bush administration suppressed his report, in a move the Government Accounting Office later judged “illegal.”

If you don’t remember hearing about this much at the time, you’re not alone — the media decided this wasn’t especially interesting. After all, even though Dems were beside themselves, reporters were certain “everyone knows” process stories aren’t important.

And yet, words like “reconciliation” and “deem and pass” are now all the rage — both among Republicans who made a mockery of the legislative process when they worked on health care, and among reporters who seem to find controversial whatever Republicans tell them to find controversial.

Now, it’s not enough to say, “Republicans were worse.” Democrats vowed to do better.

But therein lies the point — Dems have done better. While Republicans worked on expanding the government’s role in health care with almost comical corruption and abuses, the current health care reform process, while hardly perfect, has followed the rules and been largely above board.

A little something to keep in mind while the GOP and its media allies are hyperventilating.

Update: An alert reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, emails to remind me of another detail: the Republican leadership ordered that C-SPAN turn off the cameras while arms were twisted, so GOP leaders’ corruption wouldn’t be seen on television. Try to imagine what the reaction would be if that happened with now with Pelosi.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2010 at 5:18 pm

Mitch McConnell and the Party of No

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Steve Benen:

Starting early last year, Senate Republicans had a decision to make about how they would approach their responsibilities to the nation. The GOP had just suffered another round of humiliating defeats, and found themselves with their smallest Senate minority in a generation.

The chamber’s Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, doesn’t much know or care about public policy, but he has a thorough understanding of how to bring the legislative process to a standstill. A decision was made early on: the GOP would take its chances by simply saying "no" to everything, regardless of merit; blocking Democratic efforts at governing; and pretending that elections should have no consequences.

Before the health care fight, before the economic stimulus package, before President Obama even took office, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, had a strategy for his party: use his extensive knowledge of Senate procedure to slow things down, take advantage of the difficulties Democrats would have in governing and deny Democrats any Republican support on big legislation.

Republicans embraced it. Democrats denounced it as rank obstructionism. Either way, it has led the two parties, as much as any other factor, to where they are right now. […]

In the process, Mr. McConnell, 68, a Kentuckian more at home plotting tactics in the cloakroom than writing legislation in a committee room or exhorting crowds on the campaign trail, has come to embody a kind of oppositional politics that critics say has left voters cynical about Washington, the Senate all but dysfunctional and the Republican Party without a positive agenda or message.

But in the short run at least, his approach has worked. For more than a year, he pleaded and cajoled to keep his caucus in line. He deployed poll data. He warned against the lure of the short-term attention to be gained by going bipartisan, and linked Republican gains in November to showing voters they could hold the line against big government.

McConnell was surprisingly candid with the NYT: "It was absolutely critical that everybody be together because if the proponents of the bill were able to say it was bipartisan, it tended to convey to the public that this is O.K., they must have figured it out." Total GOP opposition, regardless of substance, was absolutely necessary, because "it’s either bipartisan or it isn’t." If Americans saw even a hint of broad support, they’d be more likely to approve of the legislation. And since all Democratic legislation necessarily must be killed, all Republicans necessarily had to stand together against it.

There are, however, two angles to keep in mind here. The first is that there’s nothing especially wrong with an opposition leader opposing the majority party’s agenda. Opposition parties are supposed to reject what the majority wants; it’s why they’re there. The problem arises when there’s an expectation that nothing can/should happen in Congress unless President Obama and congressional Democrats find a way to make far-right Republicans happy. I don’t care that McConnell ensures unanimous GOP opposition to everything Democrats want; I care that their opposition is characterized as some kind of Democratic failure.

The second is that there’s a structural problem in the Senate. Americans can elect a large Democratic majority, and endorse an ambitious Democratic agenda, but then nevertheless see the entire American policymaking process brought to a standstill because Mitch McConnell and his cohorts feel like it. The flaw is systemic — we expect the governing majority to deliver, and at the same time we give the failed minority the tools to prevent the majority from governing at all.

It creates a ridiculous cycle. The electorate gives Democrats power to get things done … so McConnell uses his power to stop things from getting done … which causes voters to grow frustrated by the gridlock … which leads to rewards for McConnell and his party … which leads to more gridlock.

It’s quite a racket.

Post Script: Long-time readers may recall that the Monthly described exactly how McConnell operates in a 2006 profile. Looking back, we got it just right.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2010 at 5:06 pm

Posted in Congress, GOP, Government

Deem and pass

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Norman Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute:

Any veteran observer of Congress is used to the rampant hypocrisy over the use of parliamentary procedures that shifts totally from one side to the other as a majority moves to minority status, and vice versa. But I can’t recall a level of feigned indignation nearly as great as what we are seeing now from congressional Republicans and their acolytes at the Wall Street Journal, and on blogs, talk radio, and cable news. It reached a ridiculous level of misinformation and disinformation over the use of reconciliation, and now threatens to top that level over the projected use of a self-executing rule by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of “deem and pass.” That strategy, then decried by the House Democrats who are now using it, and now being called unconstitutional by WSJ editorialists, was defended by House Republicans in court (and upheld). Dreier used it for a $40 billion deficit reduction package so that his fellow GOPers could avoid an embarrassing vote on immigration. I don’t like self-executing rules by either party—I prefer the “regular order”—so I am not going to say this is a great idea by the Democrats. But even so—is there no shame anymore?

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2010 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Media

Crazy old Michelle Bachmann shows she’s also ignorant

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From a longer report at ThinkProgress by Matt Corley:

.,. On Sean Hannity’s radio show yesterday, Bachmann went even further by accusing the media of “treason” for “not telling this story” that Speaker Nancy Pelosi “would even consider having us pass a bill that no one votes on.” Bachmann then suggested that if health care passed through “deem and pass,” it would warrant calls of impeachment:

BACHMANN: Well, yeah, and the other thing is treason media. Where is the mainstream media in all of this not telling this story? This is a compelling story.

HANNITY: Right.

BACHMANN: That the Speaker of the House would even consider having us pass a bill that no one votes on.

HANNITY: Yep.

BACHMANN: That should laugh her out of the House and there should be people that are calling for impeachment off of something like this. That’s how bad this is. I mean trust me, Dennis Hastert never could have gotten away with this.

.,. Bachmann’s outrage is ridiculous. As AEI congressional scholar Norman Ornstein pointed out yesterday, former Rep. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) did get “away with this” when he was Speaker. “In the last Congress that Republicans controlled, from 2005 to 2006, Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier used the self-executing rule more than 35 times, and was no stranger to the concept of deem and pass,” wrote Ornstein.

Additionally, accusations against the patriotism of people with whom she disagrees is nothing new for Bachmann. In October 2008, Bachmann declared on MSNBC’s Hardball said that she was “very concerned” that then-candidate Barack Obama “may have anti-American views,” calling for the media to investigate whether members of Congress had anti-American views. Despite denying that she called Obama’s views “anti-American,” Bachmann later reiterated her belief that “Barack Obama’s views are against America.”

Transcript: ,.,

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2010 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP

Size doesn’t matter when financial bubbles burst: They all burst the same way

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Laura Sanders at Science News:

Statistically speaking, size doesn’t matter when a financial bubble bursts.

The big crashes may hurt a lot more, but new analyses of “microbubbles” presented March 15 at a meeting of the American Physical Society find that the same mathematical laws underlying massive economic crises are also at work in tiny fluctuations that occur on the order of milliseconds.

The new understanding of economic fluctuations both big and small doesn’t predict when the next economic meltdown will wreak havoc on retirement accounts, said study coauthor H. Eugene Stanley of Boston University. But the results help describe complex financial fluctuations and reinforce the idea that governments ought to have a contingency plan in place for the calamitous collapses that his research describes as inevitable, Stanley said.

The results are intriguing “because what is causing these big bubbles to collapse are some instabilities that start at the local level of the millisecond time scale of traders,” Stanley said in his presentation.

Earlier studies conducted by Stanley and his colleagues showed that the properties of big economic fluctuations in the S&P 500 stock index didn’t seem to depend on the scale — the big ones had similar properties to the normal-sized ones. In statistical parlance, this means that the trades follow a power law. Similar power laws describe the distributions of natural events, such as the number of big and small earthquakes that occur over time on a particular fault.

To see just how far down the time and dollar scales their economic power law applied, Stanley and his team acquired detailed trading information for the DAX, a German analog of the Dow Jones industrial average. The researchers analyzed 14 million trades during a nine-month window. During this time, every trade was recorded with millisecond accuracy. “This makes me salivate, because here is a wealth of data on the microscopic level — the millisecond scale — that we can now analyze,” Stanley said.

When the value of the DAX hit lots of minimums and maximums — lots of bubbles forming and bursting — the time between trades decreased, the researchers found. Conversely, when the DAX’s price was relatively stable, the rate of trading slowed. Stanley proposed that this likely reflects …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2010 at 4:21 pm

Report on the FCC proposal

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Marian Wang at ProPublica:

Since the FCC formally revealed its plan to expand broadband access on Tuesday, the idea has been generally well-received. And really, what’s there to protest so far? The plan’s stated goal is to connect “100 million households to affordable 100-megabits-per-second service, building the world’s largest market of high-speed broadband users and ensuring that new jobs and businesses are created in America.” It also stresses making broadband faster and more powerful.

So far the only group consistently cited as being the “loser” in all of this is the National Association of Broadcasters, which has expressed reservations about losing its portion of the airwaves to make room for the broadband providers. But which industry players stand to win big if the plan moves forward? Here’s what the Post reported on this point:

Mid-size broadband providers, such as TW Telecom and Cbeyond, are shaping up to be the plan’s biggest beneficiaries, gaining access to more subscribers and the rights to federal funds to expand their networks. Makers of network equipment, such as Cisco, and creators of Web-based content, such as Google, could also experience significant boosts in their business. And cellphone carriers could reap big gains from a proposal to allocate a large chunk of airwaves for the next generation of smartphones and portable devices.

The Post went on to draw a distinction between midsize and major providers:

Major providers, such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications, would gain broader subscriber bases, but they could be forced to share their wireless and fixed-wire networks with smaller rivals, exposing them potentially to stiffer competition.

These major providers, while they’re now giving statements of tentative support to the press—with caveats advocating less regulation—are the same ones who’ve been pushing for this kind of proposal for years.

A letter the providers sent to lawmakers in July 2008 details their support. In the letter (PDF), AT&T and Verizon urged Congress to enact legislation to expand broadband access. The letter’s 31 signatories included major broadband providers, but also groups as wide-ranging as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, American Association of People with Disabilities, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and U.S. Cattlemen’s Association.

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, which was the largest lobbying group in the entertainment industry in 2009, also signed on to the letter. Comcast, also one of the biggest lobbyists in the industry, signed on too. Since the FCC announced its plan, both the cable lobbying group and Comcast executives have already written blog posts detailing how they would like the FCC to implement it. Together, the three top groups—in third, the National Association of Broadcasters, which has its concerns about the plan—spent nearly $40 million on lobbying in 2009.

And for concerned consumers, the Post points out that the plan “only sets the goal of ‘affordable’ broadband services,” but does not tackle prices through rules or caps.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2010 at 4:19 pm

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