Kevin Drum

One Billion Calls

| Sat May 16, 2009 12:39 PM EDT

Forget the stimulus package, universal healthcare, and global warming.  This will surely be the Obama administration's greatest legacy:

A federal judge has issued two temporary restraining orders designed to stop what officials describe as a wave of deceptive "robo-calls" warning people their auto warranties are expiring and offering to sell them new service plans.

....The FTC filed suit against two companies and their executives on Thursday, asking a federal court in Chicago to halt a wave of as many as 1 billion automated, random, prerecorded calls and freeze the assets of the companies.

....Besides ordering a halt to the automatic telephone sales calls, Grady's order froze the assets of the two companies. The FTC alleged in its complaints that the calls were part of a deceptive scheme and asked the court to assure the assets will not be lost in case they might be needed to repay consumers who have been victimized.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has more here.  Next up: how about taking on the clowns who keep calling to tell me they can lower the interest rate on my credit cards?

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Quote of the Day - 5.16.09

| Sat May 16, 2009 12:11 PM EDT

From George Will:

"Perhaps it would be restful to give moral reasoning a rest...."

Yeah, I guess it would be for some of us.  Even better, though, would be to stop pretending you can tell fables about the economy based on a single poorly written paper on an absurdly narrow topic.  I don't think the fact that demand goes down as price goes up is going to come as a big surprise to anyone in the economics profession.

Friday Cat Blogging - 15 May 2009

| Fri May 15, 2009 2:44 PM EDT

I sure have been feeling cranky this week.  I'm not sure whether it showed on the blog, but I have been.  Too much torture blogging, too much healthcare mendacity, too much gutting of carbon policy, too much credit card venality, too much wingnuttery — just too much of everything.

In other words, pretty much like every other week.  So why did it seem worse?  Hard to say.  But I'm sure looking forward to being able to hit the reset button in a couple of days.

In the meantime, though, here are the Friday cats!  Yesterday Inkblot suddenly went crazy and started tearing around the house for no reason, the way cats do, and after finishing up with all the ground level rooms he decided to tear up the stairs and — kaboom!  There was Domino, sacked out in a sunny patch at the top of the stairway.  Stopped him cold.  Domino gave him the evil eye, he stood around for a minute looking confused, and finally turned around and slunk back downstairs.  And who can blame him?  After all, what would you have done?

Congress and the CIA

| Fri May 15, 2009 2:12 PM EDT

The CIA says Nancy Pelosi was briefed about its interrogation methods.  Pelosi says they're lying.  Bob Graham, the former Senator with an anal retentive habit of tracking his movements to the minute in a spiral notebook, says they're lying too: the CIA claims they briefed him on four occasions, but Graham's notebook says different — and after he confronted them about this, they caved.  There was only one briefing, and Graham says waterboarding was never mentioned.  Jim Fallows:

Part of the payoff of reaching age 72 and having spent 38 years in public office, as Graham has, is that people have had a chance to judge your reputation. Graham has a general reputation for honesty....If he says he never got the briefing, he didn't. And if the CIA or anyone acting on its behalf challenges him, they are stupid and incompetent as well as being untrustworthy. This doesn't prove that the accounts of briefing Pelosi are also inaccurate. But it shifts the burden of proof.

Agreed.  If the CIA could screw up — or lie, or whatever — that badly in Graham's case, obviously they could have done it in Pelosi's case too.  DougJ has an optimistic view of what this all means:

To me, though, the big take away here is that the right is losing the torture debate. It started with “Dick Cheney was just keeping us safe from teh terrorists, don’t you libtards watch ‘24’?”. Then it became “mistakes were made, but it was a difficult time.” And now it’s “okay, maybe the whole thing was fucked up, but Pelosi knew about it so it’s her fault.” It’s just another variation on “Clinton did it too” and it’s essentially a defensive posture.

I'm not sure I believe this, but it's a nice thought.  Anybody else feel like the good guys are finally making some progress on the torture debate?

Cui Bono Bono

| Fri May 15, 2009 1:01 PM EDT

A few days ago I blogged about a supposedly blockbuster announcement from a group of healthcare executives: they were 100% with President Obama on his crusade to cut skyrocketing medical expenses and figured they could reduce the growth of healthcare costs by 1.5 percentage points a year.  That's a cool $2 trillion over ten years.

That was on Monday, and nobody seemed to have a problem with the announcement.  Ditto for Tuesday and Wednesday.  On Thursday, however, after, um, consultations, the healthcare honchos started rowing things back:

The president of the American Hospital Association said Thursday that a deal with the White House to cut the growth in health care spending has been “spun way away from the original intent.”

....But in a conference call Thursday, President Richard Umbdenstock told 230 member organizations that the agreement had been misrepresented. The groups, he said, had agreed to gradually ramp up to the 1.5 percentage-point target over 10 years — not to reduce spending by that much in each of the 10 years.

I'm sure the reason it took them three days to correct the record is because they were in such a state of shock initially that they could hardly pick their jaws off the ground.  And the reason they all stood around beaming for the cameras when Obama made the announcement is because they were simply paralyzed in The Presence.  And the reason they're changing their tune now, away from the spotlights, has nothing to do with the fact that they never had the slightest intention of seriously following through on their cost-cutting promises in the first place.

And I have a bridge to sell you.

Look: I never believed the $2 trillion number.  But after weeks of work and a big public announcement, it's just pure mendacity to pretend that they were taken by surprise and had never agreed to anything beyond a "general commitment to be part of bending the cost curve."  Spare me.

These guys are never going to be partners in any kind of real reform of healthcare.  Never.  Beneath the smiles and the photo-ops, I sure hope the Obama team understands this.

Ticking Time Bombs

| Fri May 15, 2009 12:06 PM EDT

OK, here's my view on ticking time bombs.  It's not original:

Torture should always be illegal.  But if you're really, truly convinced that a nuke is about to go off in downtown Atlanta and the human filth in your possession can tell you where it is, then do your worst.  I'll cheer you on, the president will pardon you, and the nation will be grateful.  OK?

I wish everyone could just agree on this.  It's not as if it's ever going to happen, after all, and if it does, well, the guy who saved Atlanta really would get a presidential pardon, wouldn't he?

In the meantime, it would allow Charles Krauthammer to apply his allegedly vast IQ to less barbaric sophistries.  And the rest of the pro-torture crowd would have to think up some real reasons for supporting the Spanish Inquisition instead of endlessly bringing up Philosophy 101 arguments as if they were somehow original.  And that would make the world an ever so slightly better place.

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Beckenstein

| Fri May 15, 2009 11:50 AM EDT

Rush Limbaugh?  Maybe not your cup of tea, but his appeal isn't too hard to get.  Sean Hannity?  Sure, he's a buffoon, but ditto.  And then there's Glenn Beck:

Every time I see a clip of his show I feel as though I’m watching a surrealist dystopian epic where the protagonist, prisoner in a world he no longer recognizes, gazes horror struck at the television. Forget the substance of what he is saying, or his rhetorical style. He could be agitating for The Graeme Wood Quarterly or demanding that his viewers fund my blog on California’s best burrito joints near surf spots and I’d still be freaked out by his schizophrenic, paranoid, Willy-Wonka-on-uppers affectations.

Or at least I assume he’s just pretending (about his demeanor if not his views). I understand why he might do that. Look at the ratings he gets. What I don’t get is... why that drives ratings. You’ll see conservative pundits and bloggers go to the mattresses for Rush, defend Hannity, and even on occasion defend Ann Coulter. I’ve yet to come across anyone who defends Beck... and yet astonishing numbers of people are tuning into his show every afternoon.

That's Conor Friedersdorf.  I think he's just jealous.

Newt Losing It

| Fri May 15, 2009 11:17 AM EDT

Man, Newt Gingrich is really losing it.  Here he is on Nancy Pelosi:

I think this is the most despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort I've seen in my lifetime. She is a trivial politician, viciously using partisanship for the narrowest of purposes, and she dishonors the Congress by her behavior.

We all know how much Newt loves his list of "contrasting words" for people he doesn't like, but now he's just sort of stringing them together randomly.  What the heck is "trivial" supposed to mean?  And why use "vicious" twice?  It's like he's getting political Alzheimer's or something.

Trade War Update

| Fri May 15, 2009 1:26 AM EDT

The Washington Post reports on the way modern trade wars are being waged:

Ordered by Congress to "buy American" when spending money from the $787 billion stimulus package, the town of Peru, Ind., stunned its Canadian supplier by rejecting sewage pumps made outside of Toronto. After a Navy official spotted Canadian pipe fittings in a construction project at Camp Pendleton, Calif., they were hauled out of the ground and replaced with American versions. In recent weeks, other Canadian manufacturers doing business with U.S. state and local governments say they have been besieged with requests to sign affidavits pledging that they will only supply materials made in the USA.

Outrage spread in Canada, with the Toronto Star last week bemoaning "a plague of protectionist measures in the U.S." and Canadian companies openly fretting about having to shift jobs to the United States to meet made-in-the-USA requirements. This week, the Canadians fired back. A number of Ontario towns, with a collective population of nearly 500,000, retaliated with measures effectively barring U.S. companies from their municipal contracts -- the first shot in a larger campaign that could shut U.S. companies out of billions of dollars worth of Canadian projects.

....The United States is not alone in throwing up domestic policies assailed by critics as protectionist. Britain and the Netherlands, for instance, are forcing banks receiving taxpayer bailouts to jump-start lending at home at the expense of overseas clients. French President Nicolas Sarkozy initially insisted that his nation's automakers move manufacturing jobs home in exchange for a government bailout, but backed down after outrage surged among his peers in the European Union, of which France is a central member.

This isn't good news or anything, but frankly, it's really not much in the way of bad news either.  If this is as far as things go, I'd say we got through the recession without much damage at all to the international trade regime.

Frankly, I'm surprised there hasn't been more sentiment in favor of protectionism than there has been.  For better or worse, it's a testament to just how strongly the consensus in favor of liberal trade policies has become over the past few decades.  There's really no going back anymore.

Chewing Update

| Thu May 14, 2009 4:46 PM EDT

At the risk of getting my commenters riled up because I'm blogging about trivia, let me tell you what I had for lunch today: a pear, some cut up pineapple, and a bag of pretzel sticks.  Believe it or not, about halfway through I suddenly remembered yesterday's post about how we chew our food an average of ten times these days compared to 25 in the past, and I started counting chews.  The pear took ten chews per bite.  The pineapple about 13.  The pretzel sticks about 15.

This makes me suspicious of the claim that we modern Americans chew our food an average of ten times.  That pear was ripe and soft and each bite still took ten chews.  Short of chocolate pudding, I don't think food comes much softer.  So if it took ten chews to finish up each bite of pear, I have to figure the average is quite a bit higher than that.

Unless, of course, I chew my food more than most people.  Surely, though, this is something the web excels at determining.  So here's your assignment: pay attention today to how many times you chew your food, and then report back in comments.  I want data, people.  Let's get the hive mind cracking.