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Good afternoon, Daily Kos readers. This is your afternoon open thread to discuss all things Hill-related. Use this thread to praise or bash Congresscritters, share a juicy tip, ask questions, offer critiques and suggestions, or post your manifesto. We'll be checking in all weekend.

On a programing note, we are still looking for a volunteer or two to take the load off of us as we do this project. There are no particular requirements other than posting some important Congress-related news.

This is an open source project, so feel free to add your own insights. Here's the news I found lurking around the Internets...

Pwned

Just in case you missed it, here's the video of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid poking fun at Sarah Palin. The key parts:

"I was going to give a few remarks on the people who were over here a week ago Saturday," Reid told a crowd Monday night, "But I couldn't write it all on my hand."

When the supportive audience roared with approval, Reid added a "You betcha!"

More from the Las Vegas Sun:

Harry Reid kicks off campaign tour in Searchlight

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kicked off his re-election campaign this morning with a speech to supporters in his hometown of Searchlight, before embarking on a statewide bus tour. He capped off his day in Las Vegas.

Facing a tough re-election campaign, Reid argued that Congress has worked to turn around the economy. He told supporters at the Searchlight Nugget Casino that while congressional efforts to save the economy from collapse were cold comfort for the unemployed, projects like the "smart grid" will put Nevada back on the right track, generating jobs and making Nevada an energy powerhouse in the next three years.

Reid also said that health care reform will reduce the national debt by $1.3 trillion over the next 20 years.

Of course the Republicans, using their rock solid logic, claim that Nevada's unemployment has increased from 4.4 to 13.7 percent since Reid took over as majority leader. Sadly for the Party of Hell No, correlation does not prove causation. One of my favorite correlation/causation problems was discussed in this article:

Correlation vs. Causation

Let's take some other ludicrous examples to explain the problem of correlation vs. causation. Define T as the temperature of a day in Manhattan, and I as the number of ice cream vendors out on that day. The correlation coefficient between these two is almost certainly quite positive. (How many vendors are out there in January?). Does this prove that ice cream vendors cause it to be hot? Obviously causation goes the other way. Common sense tells you that. Unless of course you believe in conspiracy theories.

In other words, maybe people elected Democrats to fix an economy that was already starting to turn south in 2006. Too bad the Senate Republicans have resorted to an unprecedented use of the filibuster to do things like allow unemployment benefits to expire.

In semi-related news, Tina Fey will revive her Sarah Palin impersonation when she hosts Saturday Night Live next month.

****

Budget Deficits and the Media

Does everyone remember the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003? Those were the ones that were rammed down our throats via reconciliation. While the ultra rich got their huge tax cuts, the rest of us had to be content with our government checks for $300-$600 and that passed for stimulating the economy.

The Bush people rather artfully structured the tax cuts so that their full effect would not be seen for years. Now that the Democrats have taken over, they get to clean up the mess. Guess who isn't helping.

The traditional media. Via Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR):

Deficit Fascinates Media—Its Causes, Not So Much
Bush tax cuts seldom mentioned as source of red ink

The role of George W. Bush’s tax cuts in the current federal deficit is tremendous. Their role in corporate media’s current round of deficit obsession, however, is tenuous at best. Sometimes acknowledged in editorials or op-eds, the cuts generally only make it into news reports as assertions from the White House or Democrats, rather than established and relevant economic fact.

Elite papers lately issue near daily alarms on the deficit—"gargantuan," "unprecedented," "unimaginable a few years ago." Virtually all accounts speak portentously of the costs of benefit programs like Social Security, often described as "the main causes for expanding federal spending and deficits" (Washington Post, 3/1/10) or "the major factor behind projections of unsustainably high deficits" (New York Times, 1/26/10)—and sometimes, dismayingly, as "goodies" (New York Times, 2/7/10).

But even the most discerning reader might not suspect that, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains (2/17/10), "just two policies dating from the Bush administration—tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...will account for almost $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019," impacts that "easily dwarf the stimulus and financial rescues."

It's like they want to keep believing the GOP meme limiting federal spending will magically make the deficit go away. In reality, they raided the Treasury to give healthy tax cuts to their rich friends. Why did they get away with it? We didn't yell loud enough.

Princeton Political Scientist Larry M. Bartels wrote a brilliant piece about the situation called Homer Gets a Tax Cut which should be required reading. Prof. Bartels' argument is that Bush and the Congressional Republicans used the $300-$600 rebates to mute criticism from the poor and middle class. By offering most people a check that is not insignificant but still paltry, they were not motivated to protest the entire tax cut proposal.

For what it's worth, President Obama's FY 2011 budget allows the Bush tax cuts to expire. Unfortunately, the damage is already done.

****

Net Neutrality Dead?

This is bad news at least in the short term for Internet junkies. (And if you are reading this post, I have some news for you...)

Court: FCC has no power to regulate Net neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission does not have the legal authority to slap Net neutrality regulations on Internet providers, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. unanimously tossed out the FCC's August 2008 cease and desist order against Comcast, which had taken measures to slow BitTorrent transfers and had voluntarily ended them earlier that year.

Because the FCC "has failed to tie its assertion" of regulatory authority to any actual law enacted by Congress, the agency does not have the authority to regulate an Internet provider's network management practices, wrote Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The good news is that this is not a Constitutional question. A simple act of Congress could allow the FCC to regulate the operation of Internet service providers (ISPs). The bad news is that there is no such thing as a simple act of Congress and it's not just the Republicans causing the problem. From the article linked above.

In 2006, Congress rejected  five bills, backed by groups including Google, Amazon.com, Free Press, and Public Knowledge, that would have handed the FCC the power to police Net neutrality violations. Even though the Democrats have enjoyed a majority on Capitol Hill since 2007, the political leadership has shown little interest in resuscitating those proposals.

If you are so compelled, the member of Congress to contact is Congressman Edward Markey of Massachusetts. He has taken the lead on Internet issues and chairs the subcommittee that deals with telecommunications policy.

****

Another mine disaster

Speaking of regulations, Massey Energy, the owner of the mine where 25 people died and four are missing, doesn't really seem to care about its workers, who are not unionized.

via Think Progress:

Deadly Record: Massey’s Mine In Montcoal Has Been Cited For Over 3,000 Violations, Over $2.2 Million In Fines

Massey Energy is actively contesting millions of dollars of fines for safety violations at its West Virginia coal mine where disaster struck yesterday afternoon. Twenty-five miners were killed and another four are missing after a explosion took place at 3 pm Monday at Massey subsidiary Performance Coal Co.’s Upper Big Branch Mine-South between the towns of Montcoal and Naoma. It is "the most people killed in a U.S. mine since 1984, when 27 died in a fire at Emery Mining Corp.’s mine in Orangeville, Utah." This deadly mine has been cited for over 3,000 violations by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), 638 since 2009

And check the link for some shocking graphics as well as this bit of information:

In 2002, President George W. Bush "named former Massey Energy official Stanley Suboleski to the MSHA review commission that decides all legal matters under the Federal Mine Act," and cut 170 positions from MSHA.

And Crooks and Liars dug up the facts that Massey CEO Don Blankenship is a Global Warming denier and a friend of the Teabag brigade.

This, my friends, is why progressives are pro-union, even if they are not supporting our candidates. This is also why we regulate business -- at too many companies, profit trumps worker safety. I highly recommend dsteffen's series on "How Regulation Came To Be."

Quoting Mother Jones:

Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living

****

Remember when I asked about the definition of irony?

Ya know what's really Mavericky? Claiming to have never been a Maverick even after building two presidential runs around that theme.

Newsweek reported Senator John McCain as saying:

"Maverick" is a mantle McCain no longer claims; in fact, he now denies he ever was one. "I never considered myself a maverick," he told me. "I consider myself a person who serves the people of Arizona to the best of his abilities."

So what is the "lamestream" media to do? Report that bloggers are looking for instances of this obvious contradiction.

BlogTalk: Of Mavericks, Justices and Counts

Not so long ago (in fact, less than two weeks ago), Sarah Palin was calling her former running mate — or rather, the person whose running mate she was — a "maverick.’’ "For the sake of your state, for the sake of our country, send a maverick back to the United States Senate," Ms. Palin told a rally audience at the Pima County Fairgrounds in Arizona, according to our colleague Jeff Zeleny.

~snip

His remark sent bloggers jumping all over one another to find instances of when Mr. McCain had called himself a maverick during the campaign. Turns out it wasn’t hard.

Ya know, the traditional media could have come up with that idea, too. Just sayin'.

****

IBM > iPad

Maybe it's just my lifelong obsession with doing things the hard way, but I have always favored PCs over Macs. Maybe the fact that I just bought a Kindle a few weeks ago has something to do with it. Whatever it is, I am so wanting this new toy:

Via The Sunlight Foundation:

IBM introduces Many Bills

IBM Research recently released Many Bills, a new companion project to their wildly successful Many Eyes visualization tool set. Many Bills is billed as a visual bill explorer. More accurately, Many Bills is a web based, color coded visualization of 2009 U.S. congressional legislation. At its very heart the site tries to reveal what the different parts of a bill may be about by using computer learning to analyze and categorize the text of a particular piece of legislation. Because the analysis comes from a computer, they assign confidence scores to each section based on the likelihood that the categorization is correct.

This a potentially very powerful tool, especially if something like this could be updated in real time on line for current legislation. In its present form Many Bills can, for example, show  you where the provision allowing for firearms in national parks was sneaked into the Credit Card reform act. As the technology improves, this tool could also help unravel the legalese that often seems like a language all its own.

And as for the iPad, Macintosh has some suggestions for that pesky problem of not connecting to the Internet properly.

****

Whose rights?

The Most Important News of the Day™ traditionally mocks the ludicrous in politics. Sadly, the Internets seem to be devoid of the traditional political idiocy, so we will mock someone who is being deadly serious.

I'm sure you have all hear of Constance McMillen. She is the high school senior in Mississippi who wanted to bring a female date to the prom. Oh, the humanity, right? The ultimate deal was that some people in her town agreed to set up an alternate prom, presumably so the good Christian kids wouldn't have to deal with teh gay. She told The Advocate:

McMillen: I Was Sent to Fake Prom

To avoid Constance McMillen bringing a female date to her prom, the teen was sent to a "fake prom" while the rest of her class partied at a secret location at an event organized by parents.

McMillen tells The Advocate that a parent-organized prom happened behind her back — she and her date were sent to a Friday night event at a country club in Fulton, Miss., that attracted only five other students.

~snip

Two students with learning difficulties were among the seven people at the country club event, McMillen recalls. "They had the time of their lives," McMillen says. "That's the one good thing that come out of this, [these kids] didn't have to worry about people making fun of them [at their prom]."

I'm glad to hear that someone had fun.

With that in mind, Adam Weinstein of Mother Jones Magazine reprinted a particularly hateful letter to the editor in his story Fear and Loathing in Mississippi, which is also a good read.

The original letter in question appeared in the Clarion-Ledger. Here's the most disgusting paragraph:

The fact is: Your rights end where my nose begins. She could have played by the rules and attended her prom. Instead, she wanted to put her self-interest before others by dragging them down, i.e. no prom. They are claiming that an outrage on morality is protected by law, and some judges are wicked enough to inflict penalties on truth.

I guess the reasoning here is that being gay is a violation of someone else's civil rights or something. I just can't grasp the hatred of these anti-gay bigots. The truth is that this wouldn't have been an issue had the school just allowed the couple to go to the prom. Kids being kids, I'm sure they would have mocked the otherwise happy couple mercilessly until they left of their own accord. On the other hand, some of those students probably would have accepted the same sex couple and realize that it's just not that big of a deal.

At any rate, Itawamba, Mississippi has earned the title of Most Despicable Town in the Country.  

Originally posted to Casual Wednesday on Tue Apr 06, 2010 at 11:29 AM PDT.

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