Monday, December 14, 2009

The Short View

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The more I delve into our documented, muddled, historical involvement in Afghanistan, the more incredulous I become at the short-sighted war mongering of hawks like William Casey (former director of CIA under Reagan and the man almost solely responsible for escalating the covert war against the Soviet occupation of the late 70s-80s), Robert Gates (current Sec'y of Defense and former director of CIA), Charlie Wilson (didja see the movie with Tom Hanks?), Michael Vickers, Michael Pillsbury, and a whole slew of self-professed communist slayers playing backroom politics during the Reagan years.

Short-sightedness seems to be America's modus operandi in anything and everything; from internal issues at the municipal levels of government to international foreign policy. We believe more in slapping on band-aids and hoping for a natural wound heal, than applying stitches and nurturing the rift with careful tractability.

To learn about the fervent, Mujaheddin hatred of communism and capitalism equally during the time of Soviet occupation, and to realize that Casey et. al for some reason either overlooked this fact, or didn't have the foresight to anticipate the quick about-face by their beloved, supported Taliban, is beyond mind boggling. It's egregious, political thinking; or lack thereof. It makes a regular citizen like me almost scream outloud: politicians, are you kidding me? You honestly had no idea that once the Soviet "infidels" would eventually retreat (or be defeated), the Mujaheddin or Taliban fighters would re-focus their efforts on the imperialist Gargantua that is the United States?

A lowly schmuck like me can see the Jihadi tsunami coming for miles; and I have nary a course in political science, much less a degree in it like all proper analysts.

Is there a resolution viable in this "graveyard of empires?" Militarily, no. But there might be a small chance of self-governance if both the United States and NATO commit to (wait for it Fox News)...nation building. Yes, the two most awful words in political vernacular since "healthcare reform."

In a way, it's what U.S. military presence has been obtusely attempting with local Afghan ethnic groups---Pashtuns, Tajiks, and Hazaras alike. But it hasn't been altogether successful. How could it be? The high command's version of "nation building" consists merely of hand shaking and exercising good, pro-U.S. public relations. But guess what? We cannot slip these people a couple of packs of chiclets and hope to coax them to our way of life.

The Taliban resurgence, particularly in the southern provinces and on the Pakistani border, has been a sobering by-product of our failure to connect with the Afghan people and provide them with the necessities of a decent life. Indeed, it's our responsibility to do that, if we're occupying.

I realize the prospect of "nation building" sits in the mouth of an American tax payer as snugly as a root canal without anesthetic. But given the failed history of potential conquerors of this geographically-challenging, complex country, we have little choice. If this tactic is not employed by both the United States and its NATO partners, history will once again repeat itself and claim countless lives on both sides as collateral damage.

(Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard) Sheverdnadze had asked for American cooperation in limiting the spread of "Islamic fundamentalism" (after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan). (Secretary of State George) Shultz was sympathetic, but no high-level Reagan administration officials ever gave much thought to the issue. They never considered pressing Pakistani intelligence to begin shifting support away from the Muslim Brotherhood---connected factions and toward more friendly Afghan leadership, whether for the Soviets' sake or America's. The CIA and others in Washington discounted warnings from Soviet leadership about Islamic radicalism. The warnings were just a way to deflect attention from Soviet failings, American hard-liners decided.
--Steve Coll, "Ghost Wars"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama at Oslo

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There are days when the hours pass by with me feeling like I'm swimming in a bi-polar amniotic fluid of sorts. These are the days during which I curse myself for having voted for Obama, for letting him instill hope--all right, not just hope but a ton of it.

Looking at the health care "reform" Congress is slated to pass, I am infuriated at what a hunk of nothing this issue has become. I am on the brink of cynical apathy. I am on the brink of psychopathic pro-action. I am on the brink of desertion of both political affiliation and country. All of those at the same time.

Was Obama a naive Wonderboy who dragged all of us believers along to Washington---a 21st Century Mr. Smith? Or is he the typical Chicago-style politician? It's maddening, what the election of this man is doing to me. On. Off. On. Off. There are days when the only answer for me is to be found in my half-gallon bottle of Seagram's gin (hey, there's a recession going on and we're pinching Abe Lincolns wherever we can).

The latest Afghanistan troop announcement sent me reeling. This is the aptly-named "graveyard of empires." Ask Ghengis Khan. Ask Alexander. Ask Brezhnev/Andropov/Chernenko/Gorbachev. I've been reading Steve Coll's "Ghost Wars" in order to understand our long, complex history of covert and overt involvement in this land, and the further I get into the 700-page account, the more horrified I become at the quick sand in which we're about to drown.

And then, there was this morning. I listened to The Kid give his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech via my computer, and--regarding the possible U.S. negotiations with the Taliban---heard this:

“I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.”

Damn you, Obama. How can anyone not love the line: "...the satisfying purity of indignation." ? Maybe I'm severely blinded by cunning linguists. Maybe that's my problem here. I am, admittedly, a weak man; prone to corruption and much vice.

And so it goes...

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Tale of Two Transportation Political Agendas

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There were a couple of interesting articles in the New York Times this month highlighting the difference between the political wills in the U.S. and other countries when in comes to transportation.

The first was this this article about bus rapid transit in poor countries, specifically looking at the system in Bogotá, Columbia. In case you've never heard of bus rapid transit (BRT), it works similar to a subway or light rail line, with enclosed stations and fare control gates, except the system is run with buses on dedicated lanes that are set apart from car lanes by physical barriers.

Now I'm not one to promote the use of buses over subways or other rail systems, but the use of bus rapid transit in this way is very innovative and a ton cheaper to implement. And I'm all for anything that takes lanes away from automobiles.

Think about what you could do in a lot of American cities with this system. We seem to have a lot of what they call "express" buses in the U.S. that basically just have stops farther apart but still get stuck in the same traffic with all the cars clogging the road. And a bus can sit at a stop for five minutes or more while people pay their fares as they board.

What Bogotá and other cities with BRT systems do is get the cars the hell out of the way and speed up boarding by allowing all doors on a long, articulated bus to be used for boarding. Imagine this system being used on 1st, 2nd and/or 3rd Avenues in Manhattan, Western and Ashland Avenues and Roosevelt Road in Chicago; Aurora and 15th Avenues in Chicago; or any the dozens of wide roads in L.A. It could be done cheaply and quickly. Our city leaders could decide to do it today and have their systems running next year.

There is one other factor that makes the system work in Bogotá - automobile restrictions. Once they implemented their BRT a plan was put in place to get people out of their cars and on the transit system (or at the very least more carpooling). There is a alternate-day driving restriction that uses license plate numbers to decide who can drive in the city on any given day.

Think about what that would mean in a city like New York or Chicago, taking up to half the cars off the road on any given day. Bogotá also removed about a third of their street parking to make room for the BRT, another deterrent to driving into the city.

We could do this here easily, it only takes the political guts of our elected officials to get it done.

But what do we do in the U.S? We protect our single-occupancy vehicle addiction like it is a god-given right.

The other article in the New York Times was about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's study on cell phones and driving. The report found that driving while talking on the phone, hands-free or hand-held phone made no difference, makes a driver as dangerous on the road as someone who has a blood alcohol level of .08. What did our government do with this information? They suppressed it, of course.

We have people on the road causing accidents and fatalities at the same rate as drunk drivers and our government doesn't want us to know it. Public safety be damned, people have the "right" to talk on the phone while they drive if they want. There are only a few states that have laws restricting the use of cell phones while driving, and those only prohibit using your hand-held device behind the wheel even though it is well known that a hands-free phone conversation is just as likely to cause an accident.

Anyone who is a pedestrian in any big American city probably goes through the same crap I do walking the streets of New York. I must come dangerously close to getting hit by a car driven by someone talking on their phone at least three to four times a week. A slow week. (And yes, drivers, I know that pedestrians talking or texting on their phone and not watching where they are going when they cross against a light when cars are coming up the street are a big problem as well. That should also be dealt with.)

And other things that are dangerous distractions are just as likely to cause an accident as drinking and driving, such as smoking or eating in the car. I know of no place that has laws prohibiting these behaviors while driving.

And if you even suggest writing these kind of laws people have a hissy fit. We expect our cars to be a private domain, like our homes, and that anything we do in them is our business alone, no matter how many people it kills. There was a similar resistance to the drunk driving laws back in those days, too.

(This doesn't even get into the subject of our unsafe speed limits - which are casually enforced at best to begin with and then only to raise revenue, not for public safety - or the fact that it is legal to sell cars in the U.S. that can run at speeds in excess of 150 mph despite the fact there is no place that it is legal to drive that fast. One little law on the books about the speed ability of cars sold in the U.S. and you end all those high speed chases once and for all.)

And therein lies our problem. If we don't even have the political will in this country to even pass reasonable laws that are about the immediate public safety, how will we ever develop a public policy that is about stopping global arming, improving our horrible urban air quality and the overall livability and quality of life in our cities? Are we that afraid of people's love of their precious cars?

Public officials in Columbia had the guts to majorly restrict driving to the benefit of their society. New York couldn't even get a bill passed to charge a minimal fee to drive into the city center. (And if you are wondering, it was the Democrats that killed it in the state assembly. Can't blame the Republicans for that one.)

What does it say about us that elected officials in Columbia - Columbia! - are politically braver than any leaders in the U.S?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

While you were lamenting...

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...the passing of Ed McMahon or Farrah Fawcett or Michael Jackson or even that guy who YELLED REALLY LOUDLY ABOUT LOUSY CLEANING PRODUCTS AND SOME OTHER SHITE, the Honduran army swiftly ousted President Manuel Zelaya on Sunday in Central America's first coup since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Soldiers entered the presidential palace in the capital, Tegucigalpa, and disarmed the presidential guard early Sunday, military officials said.

Political tensions had increased in recent weeks, as Zelaya pressed ahead with his Hugo Chavez-like plans for a nonbinding referendum that opponents said would open the way for him to rewrite the Honduran constitution to run for re-election despite a one-term limit.

President Obama said Sunday that he was deeply concerned by the reports from Honduras about the detention and expulsion of the president.

“I call on all political and social actors in Honduras to respect democratic norms, the rule of law and the tenets of the Inter-American Democratic charter,” Mr. Obama said in a statement. “Any existing tensions and disputes must be resolved peacefully through dialogue free from any outside interference.”

Unfortunately I believe Obama is playing this ballgame a bit too safely in his condemnation of this latest infraction on the "democratic system." Zelaya is a close buddy of Venezuelan honcho Hugo Chavéz, enjoying full support and adulation of labour unions and the poor.

That being said, however, Honduras has long been a banana republic puppet controlled by rich corporations with North American interests. And so, as with everything that is the dirty game of politics and wrangling for power, the Honduran people are faced with two awful choices: Communism or Capitalism.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Eeee-rahn, Numbah One

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The iron cleric is now blinking. Get hot water quick.

Iran's Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Somethin' Somethin' Khamenei has agreed to a partial re-count of disputed ballots in Friday's divisive elections, although he ruled out an annulment of the vote.

Despite the Ayatollah's celestial right to govern, the presidency of Iran is far from unimportant. It is a critical part of the "managed democracy" that the ruling clerics have used to govern Iran for the last three decades. Khamenei himself is a former President. The job is important enough to have brought millions of Iranians to the polls on Friday, and thousands into the streets afterward — both supporters of the apparent loser--reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi--and members of the radical volunteer paramilitary forces who support the reelected President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

But the system is tricky. It actually allows the Supreme Leader to present different faces to the world. While he has strongly backed Ahmadinejad, for example, Khamenei also for a time designated one of the president's key pragmatist critics, Ali Larijani, as the point man in negotiations with the West over Iran's nuclear program.

I wonder, though, if the Obama administration wouldn't be under extreme pressure should Mousavi, the reformist, moderate candidate emerge victorious, while Iran's hard line regarding nuclear weapons is still maintained?

In dealing with Ahmadinejad, the administration has been able to gather international support and put enough pressure on Iran to at least soft-arm them into minute concessions. In the political milieu, we need to have a clear, defined enemy at the helm over there in order that we shine as the world's democratic example. And as all political establishments aim for status quo, I am suspicious of the United States' desire to truly oust Ahmadinejad.

In every fairy tale there is a clear good guy and there is a clear bad guy. Mir-Hossein Mousavi would muddy-up the equation enough to cause the administration severe migraines.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Machination

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It's beyond obvious that since the inauguration we've all lost our verve around here. Personally speaking, it took a bit longer than the rest of the contributors, but it's happened. I've turned back to the wall of cynicism and distrust of politics and its actors.

It shouldn't be a surprise. I was raised and went to university in the Washington D.C. area, and the weight and influence of the political machinery churning its soul-sucking cogs drove me away from this most corrupt of disciplines for the two decades I spent in that godforsaken city. Life inside the Beltway is so exclusive and insular, fraught with backroom deals and chest-stabbing followed by luncheons and myriad cocktails at The Old Ebbitt Grill, that I thoroughly believe everyone encircled and entrenched in that insufferable layer of hell has lost track of life outside it.

Having worked within it for six years I can testify to the ignorance of politicians for their constituency outside the Beltway--no matter what they all crow about on C-SPAN. The fact is, a pol's main mission(s) is/are to either get rich (hello corporation lobbying), headline the revered Cocktail Circuit, or get on the list of Ben Bradlee's and Sally Quinn's frequent Georgetown parties. Bob Woodward has become such an elite stalwart on the D.C. circuit that he himself now hosts the second most popular annual shin-dig at his Victorian or Tudor or whatever the hell style townhouse he has on M Street.

But Woody is a...journalist, and we all know journalists have no power to influence, no matter how much access they're given to an administration or how many "inside scoop" - type books they pen. Yes?

Basically, what I'm seeing now is a half-assed push for change by the current administration, which is being met in typical, status-quo fashion by the good ol' boys (and some girls) in Congress. Make no mistake, I knew from the start Obama was Obama--a skilled, intelligent, forward-thinking...POLITICIAN. And so I didn't expect anywhere as much as was promised. But what I'm seeing now is our system's machinations working flawlessly to effectively cut off any and every thing. Sure, you can give me your examples of this and that being passed or worked through, but generally it's business as usual on the old hill.

And if this administration isn't successful in pushing anything through, then I will not see true change in my lifetime. Of that, I am confident. That may be cynicism, but you won't blame me for inaccuracy. You'll see. I'm an old dog with wide open eyes.

On the healthcare issue*, I recently found out that one of the more popular versions (if there exists such a term for this initiative here in the States) of coverage with Congress is the mandatory purchase of the government-sponsored plan (Public Option). That is to say, EVERYONE must at least pay the government-sponsored premium, otherwise they will be fined. So, basically, if you're too poor to afford health insurance to begin with, the government wants to give you the option to pay the mandatory premium for its plan, otherwise be fined--a la the IRS coming after you. In some cases, people have chimed that the government fine for NOT choosing an option is actually more affordable than its premium.

Ladies and gents, this has GOT to be the most idiotic, half-assed scheme I've heard. I was under the impression that "everyone will be covered" meant healthcare is given to EVERYONE who...stay with me here...CANNOT AFFORD A HEALTH INSURANCE PREMIUM OF EVEN $1. But no. In typical American fashion, we're going to make our citizens pay up, or be fined.

My friends, this is why I've said now for over a year that this system here, in this country, does not work for me and my family. It's compromises such as this that succeed in making me want to pick up that M-16, take the Orange Line to the Capitol South station, and pay a little visit to that revered hill. Say hello to my leeetle friend, you elitist, scheming, corporation and central bank-bought swine!

I am reduced to this. And it happens every time I dig down far enough into the nuts and bolts of our system. Fundamentally it doesn't work to help its citizens have a chance at a decent life.

And so I leave you with this cheery column on this soggy, cloudy Monday. I don't know what there is to be done about anything in Washington anymore. At this point, my personal answer to improving my life and my family's is to emigrate. All in due time; there are some loose ends that have to be slowly tied here, but the plan has been put into motion.

*Please note correction of single payer vs. Public Option note in the Comments by Teresa

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Third Hand...

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There’s a concept I’ve been discussing with my Father recently; a concept I’ve given to calling, the “Third Hand”.

When a Political Figure acts against his nature, for whatever reason, there’s usually some other force at work, something we don’t see.

Put a simpler way, you got one hand on Obama pulling him one way, you got another hand pulling him in reverse, and then comes another hand (hint-hint: a Third Hand), which pushes him the way he actually goes.

Think of it like this, if there’s a situation where Obama does something to deliberately anger his base, logic suggests that the alternative, whatever it may be, is far worse.

Thus, we come to the release, or non-release, of those Abu Ghraib Photos, and the President’s reversal on that decision. My fellow Progressives/Liberals are justifiably upset by the decision…or maybe not so justifiably.

Looked at on its own, by itself the decision to withhold those photos is indefensible. Lord knows people I read, admire and respect have been dumping all over it. (Though I will say, David Kurtz in TPM comes very close to the explanation I'm about to give you, and...after all...he's a professional, and got there first, so...kudos.)

But…and I hate to bring the West Wing into anything…but it’s like President Bartlet said in the episode Hartsfield’s Landing (Episode 58, Season 3): “See the whole board…”

What do I mean by that?

Ask yourself, what happened? What made President Obama change his mind, or more to the point, has something changed that would make President Obama change his mind??

I’d say, yes.

Mind you this is just a theory, but at the same time...

Since the last week of April, beginning of May, there has been a considerable uptick in the violence in Pakistan, as the Taliban has moved ever closer to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan (within 60 miles, so it seems). Now, the United States has been using Aerial drones to ice people across the Pakistani Border. The Pakistani Government has been upset about that, but since Pakistani’s Prime Minister is Asif Ali Zardari (aka Benazir Bhutto’s widower) and Islamist Militants were the ones who killed her, I don’t think he’s that upset…you know what I mean?

(In fact, should I mention that the Pakistani Government wants "ownership" over U.S. Drones? God, I hope we told them "hell, no.")

The situation was so bad that General Petraeus said that Pakistan was two weeks from falling, and the President was asked about the security of Pakistan’s Nuclear Arsenal at his last press conference.

But something has happened into the interim. Pakistan’s population has decided that they don’t much like the Taliban, or Taliban rule. In fact now that the Taliban has closed within 40 miles of the Capital, suddenly, we don’t have to bribe the Generals into defending their own country anymore. They’re actually (finally) pulling troops off the Indian border to get into the fight with the extremists. In fact, it’s creating something of a humanitarian crisis as refugees flee the fighting.

So, we are left with a situation where the Pakistani Military has finally gotten off its collective, and ineffective ass to start dealing some payback to the Taliban. There's popular support for the offensive in mainstream Pakistan, and all this is coming off recent American pressure to do so.

...and into this hyper-mega-combustile mix, some folks want to release some 2000 more photographs of Americans torturing Muslims?!?

Can you say…Danish Cartoons?? Times ten??

The President said that these Photographs were "not particularly sensational, particularly when compared to the painful images we remember from Abu Ghraib." Maybe, maybe not. We only have his word on this. I've heard in some quarters, these photos were pretty bad. They were bad enough to have Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman write the President a letter begging him to not to release the photos. (It's too bad they couldn't have gotten a Democrat to sign that letter. I would have been helpful if it was bipartisan.)

With the Pakistani populace finally seeing things our way, why do we want to go and insert into the discussion something that makes the Pakistanis start thinking that the Taliban has a point?!?

Listen, some of the stories I’m seeing are using a specific word: stall and/or delay. I think the Administration is eventually going to release these photos, on their own accord. Either that, or I wonder how far they'll fight the case in court. Either way, they’re not going to release those photos yet, not until Pakistan stabilizes.

Personally, I want the photos released, too, but I'm personally okay with this decision as long as it's only a stall, or a delay...and not an outright cancellation.

At the end of Hartsfield's Landing, Sam Seaborn (in case you don’t remember, played by Rob Lowe), asks President Bartlet (Martin Sheen), a question. The answer is one that is both simple and complicated all at the same time, and is one of the reasons (I trust) we all voted for the President in the first place:

SAM
I don’t know how you... I don’t know the word. I...don’t know how you do it.

BARTLET
You have a lot of help. You listen to everybody and then you call the play.

I think the President might owe us a better explanation than the “safety of American Troops”, which is both true and hollow all at once. But this advice is coming from his Generals (something we all thought Bush didn't do enough of), and its coming from his OLC (who may actually have read a Law Book or two in their careers).

Still, I think the real reasons play across a far wider board...one we all should try to see, but that the President is ultimately responsible for.

Please remember, there was a reason we decided we wanted this man to call the plays.


UPDATE (5:26pm Pacific): For the record, I beat Joe Klein to the punch.



Originally posted at Fort McHenry.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Stupid Chamber

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Among progressives, which I proudly am, a lot of attention and ire gets focused on the extreme right-wing media and their completely fucked-up agenda. I'm talking about your FOX News, WorldNetDaily and Human Events of the world. We spend a lot of our time attacking and exposing their lies, and rightly so. But I really don't think they are the most dangerous part of the media.

The right-wing whack-a-doodles in the general public will continue to believe their crazy nonsense whether there is a FOX News or not. My brother isn't going to suddenly see the light on socialized health care (he says that all the rich people in England come here for their health care, despite, you know, the facts) if Bill O'Reilly no longer has a platform for his bloviating every night. It's called the echo chamber for a reason. My dumb ass born-again sibling would still be an uninformed dunderhead, he just wouldn't have a TV legitimizing his screwed up points of view.

No, I think the most dangerous thing about the media today is the so-called "news" that gets reported in what is supposed to be the "legitimate" media. CNN is often put forward (often by themselves) as the centrist or "slightly left-leaning" (which is really laughable knowing they have Lou Dobbs) 24-hour news network. I could argue against these claims all day long, but that's not the real issue.

No, it is that the media is completely dumbed down and distracting the moron masses from the real important stuff of the day. We see stories about the president ordering a hamburger, live as it happens and called "breaking news." I imagine this whole week we will be enduring a whole lot of nonsense about Wanda Sykes being offensive or not. We already seem to be moving beyond the info-tainment we've had for several years and dropping the info altogether.

Case in point. I was flipping through the channels last week or so and I came across Larry King. I despise Larry King, it is hard for me to believe that anybody likes Larry King and can stand to watch him. I can feel my IQ dropping in just a few minutes of his show. He's like the 24-hour news version of Saved By The Bell. Even though I know better, when I come across him I seem to not be able to turn away from the intellectual car accident on my screen. (Which is also just like Saved By The Bell.)

On this particular episode, Larry started off the show with a short segment on the "breaking news" of the medical student who was robbing hookers in hotel rooms to feed his gambling habit and appears to have murdered one of them. And while I believe the too common violence against women should be highlighted in the media, this was just sensationalistic nonsense that involved Larry having on as guest some "friends" of the accused. These friends turned out to be a couple of guys who maybe sat beside him in a lab one time and most of the exchanges involved Larry asking them if they knew he was crazy back then. It reminded me a lot of the old SNL sketch when Buckwheat got shot. (You know the one. "Did you think he's shoot Buckwheat?" "Oh sure, it's all he ever talked about.")

This was just a prelude. That was only the quick, news of the day, put together segment because he guy just got arrested. No, when Larry went to commercial he announced that he'd be "right back with Perez Hilton and Dennis Prager debating Miss California.

Seriously. Perez Hilton, Dennis Prager and Miss California. It sounded like the Jeopardy answer to the question, "which three people would you most like to see knee-capped in the most painful way imaginable?"

How does this crap make it on to TV at all, much less a supposed "news" channel?

No my friends, the right-wing propaganda machine is the least of our problems as I see it. The mindless drivel that comes from the mainstream media today that is there to sell us crap and make our big concern be whether or not our cell phone makes our toast (props to George Carlin) is destroying us much more than Hannity ever could.

Not that Hannity's not trying to catch up.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Thrifty is Nifty

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I've been reading lately a whole slew about how thrifty Americans have become all of a sudden. The savings rate, according to an article in the NY Times this morning, has risen from zero percent to a bit over 4, in the last year. We went from a savings rate of 14 percent in the 1970s, to negative 2.7 percent in 2005, meaning Americans were spending more than they made.

Corporations had been salivating on the heels of these numbers. They had finally turned us into super-consumers who were actually brainwashed into living on credit. I recall a conversation I had with a friend in 1997 in which I extolled the virtues of paying off your home as fast as possible. My parents paid off their first home in 7 years, and their second in two. My friend shook her head and proceeded to explain how it's "healthy" to be in mortgage debt, and besides...you get to write off the interest at tax time.

Stupid Americans! (I thought). They'd rather pay off a mortgage perpetually and deduct A PERCENTAGE of the interest paid from taxes, than not have a mortgage at all. I never understood it. And never will. Perhaps I'm old school, but my idea is not busting out half my salary on a mortgage for the rest of my life. I'd rather take that $1500/month and store it up for travelling to Italy, Spain, France, Bali, Tokyo, Melbourne....somewhere else.

Now the Econ experts are biatching about how we're all going to railroad the already-struggling economy by not spending. I just shake my head at all of this; they continue to drive into our heads this horseshite that has already bankrupted us. But how to get the economy started again? Spend! Spend what? I think it's time for a new model, fellas.

In any case, I don't believe the majority of Americans have learned their lesson; they'll store away capital out of necessity, not enlightenment. But I am optimistic that our government will regulate bank products such as no-down-payment or no-income-verification mortgage loans and credit lines, thus putting some sort of halt on the Frankenstein that has been created by banks.

And a quick shout-out to all skewed, warped Americans who are now holding their heads in sorrow over the fact that they can no longer afford that third SUV: WAKE UP! "He who dies with the most toys..." still dies.

Let us know how well that overdrive system works in the 9th Circle of the Inferno.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Here comes Employee Free Choice...

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I hope to God this compromise is okay, and doesn't screw the Unions.

I'm getting this from Jane Hamsher's blogpost on HuffPo, but the data really comes from the National Journal (subscriber only).

[Diane Feinstein's] proposal would replace the card-check provision, which would allow workers to unionize if a majority signed authorization cards and strip a company's ability to demand a secret ballot election. "It's a secret ballot that would be mailed in ... just like an absentee ballot. The individual could take it home and mail it in," Feinstein said. If a majority mailed the ballots to the National Labor Relations Board, the NLRB would recognize the union.

...and I did mention the part where Diane Feinstein wants to be Governor of Union heavy California, right?? Being the one to stop EFCA's passage is a good way to make sure you don't become Governor.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Listen to David Plouffe

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From the Huffington Post. David Plouffe speaking at the Panetta Institute in Monterey, California:
"Because we've won so many House seats in the last two elections, we have got more Democrat representing swing seats, so the balance has shifted a little bit," he said. "Right now the Republicans are, I think, at a core in the U.S. House, where there may be four or five House seats that you can plausibly suggest the Democrats have a chance of winning. We've won pretty much all there was to win in the last two elections."

Later in the event, he cautioned that "some people in my party" are "a little over-confident now," after recent sweeping victories.

He's right. I just wish he hadn't said it in front of Karl Rove.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What's In A Handshake?

3 comments

Photo: AP
 
On 18 April, 2009 the world came to a virtual standstill, holding its collective stanky breath, about to be overwhelmed by "the vapors," Scarlett O'Hara stylee.

It wasn't the North Koreans launching their...satellite, which managed the impossible feat of halting earth's axial rotation, nor was it that British lady blessed with an angel's voice (but sadly pummeled by the ugly stick) belting out some shitty musical number from Les Mis. No sir.

What managed to plunge the news outlets and political talking bobbleheads into an analytical aneurysm (yees, I know...alliteration kills) was a simple handshake between our beloved Honcho-in-Chief and that incessant little barking dog down in Venezuela.

The earth-shattering gesture came at the opening ceremony of the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad, where Mr Obama intended to make Cuba a key priority.

The press ran wildly with the story. What's in a handshake with Chavez? What kind of signal was Obama sending? Was this a clear sign of Obama's undying allegiance to Marx's dogma? Was the United States showing weakness in the face of tyranny?

Former Republican Speaker Newt "Galoot" Gingrich was having a shit-fit on "The Today Show": "Everywhere in Latin America, enemies of America are going to use the picture of Chavez smiling and meeting with the president as proof that Chavez is now legitimate, that he's acceptable."

Dick Cheney went on Fox to declare that Obama's encounters with both Chavez and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega were not helpful and "sets the wrong standard." He accused Obama of taking an apologetic tone about past U.S. policy on his trips to Europe and Latin America.

"I think you have to be very careful. The world outside there, both our friends and our foes, will be quick to take advantage of a situation if they think they're dealing with a weak president or one who is not going to stand up and aggressively defend America's interests," Cheney said.

Gents, please! Take your illegally-prescribed chill pills and relax. The world is not going to go to shite because of this. It's getting there, but not aided by some awkward 70s-type pressing of the flesh. And besides, I don't recall any of the top Elephants getting their knickers in a row over this particular encounter back in the day.

Echoing my sentiment, but in a much more civilised and eloquent manner, President Obama defended his show of good faith: "It's unlikely that as a consequence of me shaking hands or having a polite conversation with Mr. Chavez that we are endangering the strategic interests of the United States."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Did Holder just leave himself some Wiggle Room?

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I got this from reading Andrew Sullivan (who was reading Marc Ambinder), so this is hardly a thought I can take credit for, but listen to what Ambinder has to say about Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement on the late and lamented Torture Prosecutions:

Here's what Attorney General Holder said today in his statement: "Holder also stressed that intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct."

The emphasis is Ambinder's.

Now, I work around Lawyers. I work around them every day. My Dad’s new wife is, in fact, a Lawyer herself.

I’m just saying, I know how these guys sound, and I know when they leave themselves wiggle room.

Folks, that ain’t wiggle room, that’s more like a tunnel in which large eighteen wheels can pass.

Sullivan puts it better than I can:

If evidence emerges of bad faith in torture sessions, then those staffers may well face legal consequences. Ditto if the legal advice was given in bad faith, along Nuremberg lines, Yoo and Bybee should start sweating. That's why the internal OPR report on the legal professionalism of the torture lawyers is so crucial and why it is being fought over so fiercely. If Yoo and Bybee's memos were so below legal standards that they can be objectively shown to be a means to get away with torture rather than good faith effort to apply the law to proposed torture techniques, then they too acted in bad faith. And they too are war criminals.

Now, all that said “wiggle room” isn’t a substitute for action (which I think we, the ACLU, Senator Russ Feingold, and civil libertarians would prefer). But it is something, especially when you couple this with action from the Congress. Either Chamber will do.

I think, in the wake of our most recent NSA Spying Story, the Congress might find itself a little more willing to act.

Granted, it has an air of “It’s one thing to have the mob get wiretapped, but now that it’s one of us…” but again, it'll do.

Oh, and in case your fingers were crossed, uncross 'em. Spain isn't going to help:

Despite recent reports to the contrary, Spain’s attorney general has now reportedly decided not to prosecute the Bush Six — the top legal officials in the Bush administration who allegedly approved the torture of terror suspects. Attorney General Candido Conde-Pumpio said that the United States would be the proper forum for such a case.

We can only hope.


Originally posted at Fort McHenry.

News from the Teabag Front in Sacramento, CA

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Kim, a 43-year-old homemaker, bellowed: "You hurt my family!" She argued that, thank to taxes and the stimulus package, "We've had to cut our long distance and caller ID." Her 22-year-old daughter, Ashley, with her baby sister strapped to her chest, cut in: "We even got rid of Netflix!" - War Room, Salon

Now we see why this astroturf movement isn't really connecting with, say, the average Somali.
---

Speaking of which, here's everything you need to know about how the situation in Somalia came to be, but couldn't find anywhere near the MSM. (Courtesy of Foreign Policy magazine, quickly becoming a favorite periodical.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

This is who they are...

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The following is intentional. I have collected a small smattering of images from today's Teabaggin' Parties from the Washington Independents' Aaron Weiner and David Weigel, as well as some stuff from Daily Kos.

These images, of course, show the worst of the worst. Protestors advocating violence, or racism, or toeing that fine line.

These images do not show all protesters. There were those who merely wanted to protest taxation and the deficit. I merely find these people deluded, not dangerous. And it is danger of which we speak here.


Yeah, let's link our deadly enemy, the one we might have to go to war with, with the duly elected President of the United States.

And yes, the sign says "While Some Kenyan tries to Destroy America". Forget the "In Living Color" quote.


Anything to make the President look alien and foreign.

And of course, my "favorite" for the day...

Apparently, it was from Chicago.


Are you sure you want to go there?



Originally posted at Fort McHenry.

"Mental Gymnastics..."

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Even when I disagree with him, Taibbi is always fun.

And, right now, I certainly don't disagree with him.

It requires serious mental gymnastics to describe the Obama administration — particularly the Obama administration of recent weeks, which has given away billions to Wall Street and bent over backwards to avoid nationalization and pursue a policy that preserves the private for-profit status of the bailed-out banks — as a militaristic dictatorship of anti-wealth, anti-private property forces. You have to somehow explain the Geithner/Paulson decisions to hand over trillions of taxpayer dollars to the rich bankers as the formal policy expression of progressive rage against the rich. Not easy. In order to pull off this argument, in fact, you have to grease the wheels with a lot of apocalyptic language and imagery, invoking as Beck did massive pictures of Stalin and Orwell and Mussolini (side by side with shots of Geithner, Obama and Bernanke), scenes of workers storming the Winter Palace interspersed with anti-AIG protests, etc. — and then maybe you have to add a crazy new twist, like switching from complaints of “socialism” to warnings of “fascism.” Rhetorically, this is the equivalent of trying to paint a picture by hurling huge handfuls of paint at the canvas. It’s desperate, last-ditch-ish behavior.

...

But actual rich people can’t ever be the target. It’s a classic peasant mentality: going into fits of groveling and bowing whenever the master’s carriage rides by, then fuming against the Turks in Crimea or the Jews in the Pale or whoever after spending fifteen hard hours in the fields. You know you’re a peasant when you worship the very people who are right now, this minute, conning you and taking your shit. Whatever the master does, you’re on board. When you get frisky, he sticks a big cross in the middle of your village, and you spend the rest of your life praying to it with big googly eyes. Or he puts out newspapers full of innuendo about this or that faraway group and you immediately salute and rush off to join the hate squad. A good peasant is loyal, simpleminded, and full of misdirected anger. And that’s what we’ve got now, a lot of misdirected anger searching around for a non-target to mis-punish… can’t be mad at AIG, can’t be mad at Citi or Goldman Sachs. The real villains have to be the anti-AIG protesters! After all, those people earned those bonuses! If ever there was a textbook case of peasant thinking, it’s struggling middle-class Americans burned up in defense of taxpayer-funded bonuses to millionaires. It’s really weird stuff. And bound to get weirder, I imagine, as this crisis gets worse and more complicated.


Originally posted (such as it is) at Fort McHenry.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Are The Tea Parties Racist??

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I was flipping around Daily Kos today, and they posted a question that’s been on my mind for the last couple of days.

These…Tea Parties (I’m going to avoid calling these people Teabaggers)…

are they for white people only?

‘Cause I’m looking at the photos, and…I ain’t seein' no people of color

Anywhere.

Jim Crow Protest Rallies?

Really?

Are you kidding me?

Fortunately, I am not the first to have this thought. It turns out that a site called Jack & Jill Politics has been on this way before I was.

I'm not 100% percent convinced in the arguments they present in their piece. Still, I think they're onto something.

Are these the same people who were yelling "Terrorist" and maybe even "Kill Him" at some McCain-Palin Rallies not than long ago? To paraphrase the Governor of Alaska, you betcha.

Did we expect these people to simply engage in the debate and suddenly accept the fact that Barack Obama legitimately won the election? If Norm Coleman is any measure...

Does anyone…anywhere see any people of color in any of these photos in a participatory capacity, and not acting as Security Guards, Cameramen...or worse, picking up after these people?

Couple this with a report from DHS says Right Wing Extremism is on the rise thanks to the Economy (and blaming the Black President for it), there is always reason to be concerned.

Whatever reservations I have about their particular arguments, they did offer a handy guide to sniffing out an undercover racist attack on the President. It goes as follows (with corrections for grammar):

1) Is [said attack] unique to Obama. Is it a phrase we’ve never heard before applied to any other president or is it something we haven’t heard in recent memory?

For example: he’s not an American citizen or he’s a socialist who’s planning re-education camps for young people.

2) Is [said attack] illogical or impossible. Does the assertion plainly contradict the facts?

For example: not an American citizen, socialist, tax raiser, re-education camps for young people.

3) Is [said attack] repeated, over and over, by a desperate person whose team lost badly in the last election and who adopts a wide-eyed, credulous, nodding stare pronouncing the lie slowly, precisely, with a watchful eye to see if the listeners are buying it.

For example: not an American citizen, socialist, elitist, drug seller, tax raiser or terrorist. (aka, the entirety of the Glenn Beck Show)

Optional: Does the assertion cause nervousness, embarrassment or confusion among non-blacks (who are listening to said attack)? When other white people such as Tom Brokaw or John Stewart sense something wrong and start to ask questions like "Do you really believe that?," you know for sure you’re in the racist attack zone.

UPDATE 4:49PM Pacific: Michelle Malkin does not count. She started these damn things, and besides, I'd put her personal racially sensitivity quotient at about zero.


Originally posted on Fort McHenry.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Something Deni Will Love

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I know I like it: Obama to announce plans focusing on regional high speed rail.

This on the heels of the trip to Europe and the Middle East, and making moves towards establishing long-overdue relations with Cuba, O is batting .666. Not bad really, and I do like where he is going on a large number of issues; but until he does right by his constituents on the whole DOJ/Wiretapping business, where he's actually behaving worse than W/Cheney, he's not gonna get anywhere near 1.000...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Bo.

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Finally, something to lighten the damn mood.   The first dog has arrived.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Revolution, 21st Century Style

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photo: net.effect
 
"Revolution happens 140 characters at a time."

This is what I recently sent out as my daily "Tweet" into the vast electronica of the Internets. This story holds much interest for me, as Moldova was once part of my Mother Country (and is also my father's birthplace) before it became independent with the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989.

Recent events in Chisinau, the capital of this small, forgotten "new" country in the Balkans, have made the front page of The New York Times, but not necessarily for the cause of the still peaceful, massive student protests against the Communist Party, which is back at the helm of government. This is the first full-on revolution aided by the instantaneous use of technology---mainly Twitter. And the news outlets are buzzing all about it.

For quite some time now I've been explaining to friends that Twitter is best used as a tool for disseminating information, not for banal friend status updates as part of the popular social network it's recently become. Twitter's initial purpose was to keep northern California firefighters informed of rapid-moving wildfires in the region.

I've been following the barrage of information being sent and shared by the Moldovan people right there at the scene---involved in the scene---and it's been an incredibly fascinating experience. Instructions are being given out on where to organize, which buildings to try to occupy (TV, of course), which services have been cut, which rail lines are inoperable, where troops are amassing, etc. I am witnessing live entities (crowds) move about this small country in real time, in real experiences, from real vantage points, sometimes as detailed as certain alleys on certain streets. It's mind boggling. I feel a mix of revolt and interest and desire to join the masses, if I could only board a flight out tonight.

If I could only...

What?

I wonder if the comfort of an ocean and a few thousand miles' buffer zone don't give me the bravado displayed in the paragraph above. I wonder if all of us Americans would be bothered to emulate the Moldovans if unfairly-elected governments came to power amid shenanigans at the polls (2001). Or would we be afraid of missing the next installment of "Lost" ?

I am first to say that I'm a master at doling out excuses of inconvenience. Am I the only one good at running in the opposite direction of the Revolution?

One day I'm gonna...

(update Tweet from one of the protesters: "the people's focus is too much on HOW students got to meet in #Moldova and not why?" )

(More developing events)

(Read an opposing opinion on the role of Twitter in this situation)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Eat that, Glenn Beck (VIDEO)

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Watch the joy.

"Scared for my country?" Not when I see this.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Queen is Dead / Meat is Murder

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The Queen, as in Elizabeth whatever her number, is apparently un-touchable. However, if one should be so lucky that she extend her hand in a friendly gesture, one is expected to take it, but not shake it hard...as obviously she is made of some kind of rare porcelain. Or just flabby, unstable gelatinous head cheese-type mass. In which case, one should always wear gloves when meeting The Queen, is what I propose. But onward o' Defender of the Faith carrying your lousy handbag and your bloody Yorkshires. The Pope and the Vatican say so. Well?

Imagine the collective, flatulence-like gasp released from her loyal subjects yesterday when Michelle Obama commited the unforgivable faux pas of lightly tapping Lizzy's back, in response to The Queen's own amicable tactile act before the world. Hey man, the monarch started it! The press went crazy. 10 Downing Street sent out no less than 4 Tweets on this monstruous infraction. Hundreds of years of protocol were violated in the span of maybe 2 seconds. The Queen herself seemed taken by surprise, and even retreated physically from this abominable act of...human contact.

Blogger, please!

You and I know fully well what was going through the old hag's mind. We don't need to go there. The Monarchy is one of the most racist institutions this side of the Klan, despite its philanthropic work and "modern" facade. These maggots have been brainwashed for centuries into thinking they're some sort of divine entities. I mean, seriously...are you not a laughable swine if you expect, no...demand a curtsy from your loyal subjects? What century are we in? That pre- and post-match shit that goes down on Centre Court at Wimbledon every June drives me insane. Bow before the Royal Box my white, pimply arse. I got yer Royal Box right here, eh? Right here, gagootz!

Dear readers, do you see what this subject reduces me to? Bad Joisey impressions are the sign of the Apocalypse and a last resort for a lousy, struggling writer. Next thing I'll be axing you which exit you live at.

And that's it. You know when you publish sentences ending with dangling modifiers it's time to quit the biz and head down to the pub for a few refreshing pints.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Hard elbows...

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There’s something of a pattern emerging in our collective quest to deal with the seeming imminent collapse of Western Civilization, a.k.a. the 2008-9 Recession.

Something happens. Something’s done about it. And then lots of people freak out.

That's not what I would have done...or...what I would have done was better...or you're not going far enough. Yadda-yadda-yadda...

Of course, it’s happening, again.

My fellow Liberals are indeed freaking out over what the President said today in regards his plan to deal with the American Auto Industry. Double standard is the term I keep hearing over and over again.

But to folks like Robert Kuttner, David Sirota (and basically all the Liberals that even I, another Liberal can’t stand), I have to ask the question…do you even read this stuff??

I hate to resort to a Basketball metaphor, but the Commander in Chief is a fan, and this one story seems particularly apt in for the occasion.

Bill Russell as a young Celtics star was, of course, talented…but also prone to having the snot beaten out of him in games because he didn’t have it in him to throw an elbow.

So one day, Red Auerbach comes up to him, and asks him to throw an elbow…but just one elbow…during a nationally televised game. He guaranteed that once you throw that one elbow, you’ll never have to throw another one again.

Russell did…and eleven championships later, the rest is history.

What we all saw today was our President delivering a nationally-television hard elbow to GM’s Bondholders, the rich bastages holding GM’s debt. Turns out they’re about the only party in this mess who has refused to sacrifice anything at the table. GM owes them a lot of money, and they want protection. They want to be first at the trough. Damn the consequences.

Well, the President just fired the CEO of GM. (He'll be fine, from what I understand he's walking away with 20 Million dollars in Retirement.)

The President also let the Boldholders know, in no uncertain terms, that GM’s plan is not complete, and that they have sixty days to fix it. So until then, no money.

Therefore, [President Obama] said, he is offering GM and Chrysler "a limited period of time to work with creditors, unions and other stakeholders to fundamentally restructure in a way that would justify an investment of additional tax dollars."

He expressed confidence that "this restructuring, as painful as it will be in the short-term, will mark not an end, but a new beginning for a great American industry."

He said he was "absolutely confident that GM can rise again, providing that it undergoes a fundamental restructuring." He stressed that the U.S. government "has no intention of running GM."

If GM is unable to restructure and Chrysler cannot strike a deal with Fiat, they might need to use the bankruptcy code "as a mechanism to help them restructure quickly and emerge stronger," Obama said. He said that could enable the companies to "quickly clear away old debts that are weighing them down," even as their workers remain on the job.

"What I am not talking about is a process where a company is simply broken up, sold off and no longer exists," he said. "And what I am not talking about is having a company stuck in court for years, unable to get out."

I wish Kuttner and Sirota would spend as much time finding out what happened, rather than flapping their gums. Their slavish devotion to Ideology-First is every bit as bad as all the Conservative scumbags we routinely bash on this site, and many others. It’s all there. They just have to keep reading. But I think in both their cases, they are more interested in cornering the market in Liberal Obama opposition than finding out what the hell is going on.

So, in summary: Obama’s message wasn’t so much to GM, but these Bondholders. You have sixty days to give up something, or face a structured Bankruptcy where you lose everything.

Their response?

“Our strong preference is to complete this restructuring out of court,” GM said in a statement issued after Obama’s speech on the U.S. auto industry. “However, GM will take whatever steps are necessary to successfully restructure the company, which could include a court-supervised process.”

Translation? GM is ready to go Bankrupt, if necessary.

We look forward to working with the company and the task force to configure an exchange that will maximize the chances of a successful out-of-court restructuring,advisers to the committee of GM bondholders negotiating with the company to restructure the automaker’s debt said in a statement. “All parties seem to agree that an out-of-court restructuring would be the preferred path to viability.”

Translation? Whooooaaa, slow down there, cowpoke. No need to get all hostile. Let's talk!

Also, it should be mentioned that Obama said Chrysler had 30 days to cut a deal with Fiat, or get nothing.

They cut a deal a few hours later. At least it was the framework for a pact.

Hard elbows in the paint. Seems they're the way of the world.

UPDATE 4:37pm Pacific: Slate's Daniel Gross (Senior Editor at Newseek, and frequent Slate.com contributor) agrees...and best of all has...umm...what do you call them again? Those things, little squiggly lines that didn't appear in the first draft of the GOP Budget Proposal?!?!?

Numbers! That's right, they're called numbers.

[GM] has loads of debt. The most recent quarterly results indicate long-term debt of more than $29 billion. And since the firm's credit ratings have been pushed deep into junk territory, that means most of the holders of this debt are hedge funds, private-equity firms, and other investment vehicles. (Many mutual funds and institutional investors like pensions or insurance companies eschew junk debt.)

GM's debt is trading at what is euphemistically called "distressed levels." As indicated here, bonds due in less than two years are trading at 20 cents on the dollar.

Many of those who bought GM's bonds did so because they hoped to 1) convert the debt into ownership in the case of bankruptcy filing or 2) see the bonds rise in value should the government step in and formally guarantee GM's corporate debt.

Obama made clear today what they suspected: No such guarantee would be forthcoming. While GM had tried to restructure, Obama noted, it hasn't yet done enough. "I'm absolutely confident that GM can rise again, providing that it undergoes a fundamental restructuring. Have they cleaned up their balance sheets, or are they still saddled with so much debt that they can't make future investments?" (If you answered this double question with a no and a yes, you're right!) The upshot: Holders of GM's debt, like other entities to whom GM has made financial commitments—dealers, the auto unions—are going to have to cut a deal, sooner rather than later, and accept less than they think they're entitled to. None of that AIG-creditor treatment for you.

It's been a busy day. Originally posted at Fort McHenry.

Oxymoronic Language

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Really, the entire piece written by Andrew Breitbart for the Washington Times' OpEd page fits that description, but some passages retain that flavor stronger than others. As an example, try this paragraph on for size:

The right, for the most part, embraces basic Judeo-Christian ideals and would not promote nor defend the propaganda techniques that were perfected in godless communist and socialist regimes. The current political and media environment crafted by supposedly idealistic Mr. Obama resembles Hugo Chavez's Venezuela more than John F. Kennedy's America.

Herbert Hoover for 2009

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Who's the real Herbert Hoover in our current financial catastrophe? Is it George Bush...or is it Angela Merkel??

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, an avowed friend of the United States and the leader of the European Union’s biggest economy, is diplomatic about the coming visit by President Obama. But she is clear that she is not about to give ground on new stimulus spending, stressing the need to maintain fiscal discipline even as she professes to want to work closely with the new American president.

The moment in Roosevelt's Presidency I bet he wishes he had back was 1937, when:

F.D.R. wasn’t just reluctant to pursue an all-out fiscal expansion — he was eager to return to conservative budget principles. That eagerness almost destroyed his legacy. After winning a smashing election victory in 1936, the Roosevelt administration cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits and led to a major defeat in the 1938 midterm elections.

So what's Merkel, Amity Shlaes, and other worthless Conservative Ideology-Before-Country types suggesting? The exact same thing for 2009.

To again quote Krugman (and even though I'm pissed at him because he's overdoing it about his Bank-plan complaints, he knows his stuff, and I'll always listen to him):

Like many other economists, I’ve been revisiting the Great Depression, looking for lessons that might help us avoid a repeat performance. And one thing that stands out from the history of the early 1930s is the extent to which the world’s response to crisis was crippled by the inability of the world’s major economies to cooperate.

The details of our current crisis are very different, but the need for cooperation is no less. President Obama got it exactly right last week when he declared: “All of us are going to have to take steps in order to lift the economy. We don’t want a situation in which some countries are making extraordinary efforts and other countries aren’t.”

Yet that is exactly the situation we’re in. I don’t believe that even America’s economic efforts are adequate, but they’re far more than most other wealthy countries have been willing to undertake. And by rights this week’s G-20 summit ought to be an occasion for Mr. Obama to chide and chivy European leaders, in particular, into pulling their weight.

But these days foreign leaders are in no mood to be lectured by American officials, even when — as in this case — the Americans are right.

The financial crisis has had many costs. And one of those costs is the damage to America’s reputation, an asset we’ve lost just when we, and the world, need it most.

If Germany wants to fail, let 'em...but they should sink on their own.


Originally posted at Fort McHenry.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This Is Why I Hate On The Media (A Remix to Beige's Remix)

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Beige raises a couple very good points about the President's lack of Honeymoon. We shouldn't be surprised. The Media is driven now not by...you know...what's it called again?? Oh yeah, news. It's driven by News cycles, things that dominate coverage for a period of time, so the NewsMedia can devote its already scant resources to pounding the living @#$% out of it.

What are you laughing at? It sells papers, and well...someone out there's buyin'.

As far as the Newspapers are concerned, however, I'm not sure it's the Liberal Papers that are buying it in particular.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times decided to make you pay for the privilege of reading some (note, not all) of their online content. If you wanted to read Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd, and Paul Krugman, you had to be a part of their premium access club.

The experiment lasted all of a year. You'll notice that the content is free again.

Weren't makin' no money.

So...it makes you wonder what exactly it is the Newspapers are complaining about? After all, most of them...at least the ones going out of business...are saying that it's the internet that's responsible.

Well, yes and no.

We've lost the Rocky Mountain News. We're about to lose the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Part of the problem is the fact that the Rocky Mountain News used to compete just against the other paper in town, the Denver Post.

Now they're competing against all of them.

I mean, across the planet...every single paper ever published, every day.

If you're a reader, and you want the latest Political News, or latest Foreign Policy News...and you're living in the Denver Area...are you really going to tell me your first choice is the Rocky Mountain News, when the BBC, Washington Post or New York Times is out there?

This happened with the auto industry back in the day. When it first started, there were hundreds of companies trying to make cars. You'll notice that only three survived (and barely that). The Marketplace found its water level. It could support three auto companies, nothing more.

If you lived in Denver and 5000 Newspapers opened up ...chances are 90% of them would fail.

Denver's Newspapers were only competing with each other one second, then Planet Earth the next.

Funny thing is, the Rocky Mountain News should've concentrated on local news, one area the BBC and Washington Post can't touch. They should have cut their budget a little bit, and--

--oh what was that?

They've already done that...all while sacrificing national and international coverage they used to do on their own??

Ugh.

This is going to be an ugly process. It's not the Newspapers' fault...although cutting back on newsgathering couldn't have been a smart move. The Marketplace expanded. The playing field changed. A lot of Newspapers are going to fail, including ones you like and depend on.

Pro-Life Myopia

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Used to be that there was one thing the pro-choicers and the pro-lifers would agree upon (at least among the moderates on both sides): The life of the mother was sacrosanct.

Of course that was before extreme fundamentalist thought became more mainstream; what I like to call the Jesus Campening of the US.

Proof of how far things have progressed (regressed?) lay in the movement to bestow "personhood" upon the fetus; a movement that has found sympathetic minds in the legislatures of various states in conservative frontierlands, specifically the Dakotas, Montana, Idaho and Oregon. In essence, what these states are trying to do is to give the fetus the same inalienable rights as a person, thereby making abortion the same as murder; what isn't said is that this also allows the state to make decisions regarding a woman's pregnancy, regardless of any possible health risks to the mother.

Exaggeration? A bit of hullaballoo to rile up the left? Not so; check out this quote from a video created by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women:

Angela Carder, a Clarksville, Md., woman featured in the video, became critically ill at 25 weeks pregnant. Her family and physician all agreed to carry out her wishes and keep her alive as long as possible -- but her hospital called an emergency hearing to determine the rights of the fetus. A court held that the fetus' right to life outweighed its mother's, and ordered a C-section despite the fact that the surgery could kill Carder. The operation was performed, and neither one survived.


(For more about the video, the NAPW, and further issues relating to "personhood," check out this item from Salon's Broadsheet; the bit about the woman from Florida who wanted a VBAC is just about as scary.)

Meanwhile, I am forced to wonder what's possible on the opposite end of the political spectrum: RU486 in the water? Sterilization at birth? The mind boggles.

This Is Why I Hate On The Media (Beige Remix)

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Just adding to the dogpile currently hosted on SEI (let us not forget, the d-bags deserve it):

Toward the tail end of Salon's commentary on O's press conference on Tuesday, Mike Madden notes "(b)arely two months into his term, Obama's honeymoon looks like it's already over."

There was a honeymoon?

Granted, even SEI hasn't resisted the allure of criticising the moves coming out of the Oval Office, but a) we'd do that for any president, regardless of whether we'd support him or not (and we do - I like to think), and b) we're on the blogosphere...On the left end of the blogosphere at that, no one's paying attention to us.

Compare that to the coverage O has received from the mainstream media and the right wing noise machine ("socialist agenda"; the re-rising of Limbaugh the Hut & The Dittoheads, "I want the president to fail"; the Cheney double-standard). And we haven't even seen the results of O's actions yet! This really does bring to stark relief just how different the media behaves when there's a Democrat in the White House.

W got a 6.5 year honeymoon, O didn't make it 64 days.
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Tangentially, is it just me, or are the lefty-leaning daily newspapers of the world the ones that are dying off first?

It's certainly true of the Rocky Mountain News (lefty for generally red Colorado), and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (which was as lefty as a Hearst publication could get; RIP both institutions).

What about in your hometown?

This Is Why I hate on the Media (Swine Version)

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I've had it up to my thinning, graying crown with the American press corps; and with people in general. I am fully convinced we are the most despicable animals in universal history, and I ain't just sayin' this 'cause I'm the resident curmudgeon here.

This morning is abuzz with the nay-sayers and critics of Obama's press conference last night. The consensus among the swine periodistas is that the Prez appeared too non-plussed, too rational, too "...distant and intellectual" (according to Republican strategist Matthew Dowd, who in the past has extolled Obama's virtues). If we are to believe this excrement---and a lot of us do---then our leader is apparently a disconnected elitist smoking Gauloises cigarettes out on the West Wing porch, without any interest in or concern with the gargantuan economic outhouse in which we, and the rest of the world, find ourselves.

Ladies and gents, this is the type of horseshite that has, over the last thirty years, accumulated and finally tipped me over the edge of reasonable sanity. Never in my life have I seen such anti-education, anti-intellectual backlash as has been practiced in this country. "I" is the new scarlet letter, you hear that Nathaniel? I am baffled by the continuously low standards we are pushing onto ourselves and our children, and remain fully incredulous at what a negative connotation the word "education" continues to have in our vernacular. It's easy to recognize the psychology in this: set the bar low enough and no one stands to disappoint. Everyone wins, right? A nation of mediocrity forging through time and history like a blind donkey. But with guns. Big guns, at that.

I wonder: what exactly would have made the media happy last night? To stand before an irrational, sabre-rattling, fist-shaking rabid dog spewing revolutionary bile and incoherent solutions? If so, may I suggest they migrate their critiquing arses down to Venezuela and take a look at what's happening down there.

At one point during the conference, newly-minted Press Corps Douchebaggius Extraordinaireus Chuck Todd stood and delivered this doozy.

It was nothing less than astounding, considering what we now know about lack of responsibility and accountability from banks and the likes of AIG. But then again, it shouldn't be too outrageous or revolting. News outlets are, after all, owned by corporations. Or insufferable despots like Rupert Murdoch. Oh wait...that's redundant.