Monday, June 28, 2010

Awwww, poor U.S. Army recruiters. . .

The kabuki fuckshow known as Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination has begun! Here's the gameplan:
  • What the Republicans need to do: make speeches pretending to attack Kagan's Ivy League pedigree, play Mad Libs with Kagan's completely unknown judicial philosophy, accuse her of hating the troops because of the Army recruitment dust-up (because helping Obama kill Muslims does not demonstrate clearly enough her commitment to the troops), and finally, pray to GOP Jesus that Kagan says something completely lezz-tastic and therefore disqualifying. 
  • What the Democrats need to do: nothing-- well, nothing that pertains to the nomination. Today they basically bashed the Robert's Court, and they should keep it up 'cuz it looks like they're having fun with that. 
  • What liberals need to do: find out whether she will keep torturing Muslims and holding them in jail forever, find out if she has ever been exposed to a poor person, and get her to say something lezz-tastic so that Andy Sullivan will shut-up already. Also, they should somehow derail the nomination and force Obama to nominate Diane Wood.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Who says liberals are not grizzled patriots who pick fights with terrorists and talk like sailors?

Rushbo. That's who says it. But I have more grizzle and patriotism on just one nut than John Stossel has in his mustache. Don't think that's a lot of grizzle and patriotism? Have you seen John Stossel's mustache? It's exquisite. . .

You know who else has a lot of patriotism of the grizzled variety? Sara Benincasa at Wonkette. Read about how she will single-handedly take down Osama bin Laden, who is hiding out in the Appalachians of North Carolina. Didn't know about Osama's knew hideout? I'm not surprised. Rush "lin Baden" is certainly not gonna divulge it. Good luck Sara!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Rape Vs. Date Rape

This ongoing oil disaster in the Gulf has got me thinking about the conduct of oil companies in the U.S. as opposed to their conduct in the Third World-- for instance, in the Niger Delta. The analogy that best describes the difference is rape vs. date rape. In the Third World, oil companies just sweep in, bribe the entire government, hire thugs for security, and drill with impunity. In the First World, it's more complicated. You've got to "wine and dine" the government first. You've got to determine who can be bought off. You've got to come up with a greenwashing strategy. You've got to study the regulations and determine which can be ignored, which can be defeated, and which ones can be written off as simply the cost of doing businesss. You've got to know when the inspector is coming.

You get the picture. We make it difficult to rape the environment. We make it a hassle. But we don't outlaw it. We've got to change this. Rape is rape.

Michael Jackson died one year ago. Cue hilarious quote from music reporter:

Bill Werde, editor of Billboard Magazine, says Jackson's death was shocking and tragic — and fans' interest in everything Jackson resulted in the strange benefit of digging the singer out of a deep financial hole:
"Not only does it spur an incredible interest in that artist, which of course, drives sales and other revenue opportunities, but it also removes the spending from the estate in a big way," Werde says.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh shit. I can see the headlines now: "Liberal commentator Glenn Greenwald calls U.S. troops terrorists"

Maybe my political sense isn't quite so well tuned, but I've been a loyal Greenwald reader for two years and I don't believe he's said anything quite as radical as this. Here's the whole article, and here's the healthy context:

In many Muslim countries, perceptions of the U.S. -- which improved significantly upon Obama's election -- have now plummeted back to Bush-era levels, while Obama's personal approval ratings, while still substantially higher than Bush's, are also declining, in some cases precipitously.  As Pew put it:
Roughly one year since Obama's Cairo address, America's image shows few signs of improving in the Muslim world, where opposition to key elements of U.S. foreign policy remains pervasive and many continue to perceive the U.S. as a potential military threat to their countries. [emphasis Greenwald's]
Gosh, where would they get that idea from?  People generally don't like it when their countries are invaded, bombed and occupied, when they're detained without charges by a foreign power, when their internal politics are manipulated, when they see images of dead women and children as the result of remote-controlled robots from the sky.  Some of them, after a breaking point is reached, get angry enough where they not only want to return the violence, but are willing to sacrifice their own lives to do so (just as was true for many Americans who enlisted after the one-day 9/11 attack) [emphasis mine].  It's one thing to argue that we should continue to do these things for geopolitical gain even it means incurring Terrorist attacks (and the endless civil liberties abridgments they engender); as amoral as that is, at least that's a cogent thought.  But to pretend that Terrorism simply occurs in a vacuum, that it's mystifying why it happens, that it has nothing to do with U.S. actions in the Muslim world, requires intense self-delusion.  How much more evidence is needed for that?
That could be problematic. Usually Greenwald is pretty good at not making statements that have been cordoned off with bright yellow police tape. If this statement gets traction, he'll probably have to apologize. I already feel like a troll for writing this, because he's been a huge influence on me. Since I would feel like a troll if I neglected to write about what I thought of the statement, I'm going to write about it.

Those in Muslim countries, whether or not they are Muslim or Atheist or Christian, are entitled to be angry at the U.S.. We don't get it. We have known why Arabs, Persians, Pashtuns, and Africans have resorted to terrorism, but we keep on doing the things they hate because we are an empire and that's what empires do. Before Obama, liberals chalked this behavior up to Bush's stupidity, but now it should be obvious to anyone that it does not matter in the least who the president is. We are an empire, and we act accordingly-- that is to say, with complete disregard for human life that is not our own, and with ~80% disregard for American lives. 

That said, when anger engenders a complete disregard for human life, as it does in the case of terrorist attacks, justice must be done in order to try and break the cycle of violence. This is why terrorists must be tried in courts rather than locked away forever or assassinated. 

It is clear to me that Greenwald was not comparing terrorists to U.S. soldiers, but rather he compared the anger of Muslims who resort to terrorism or resort to attacks against soldiers (those "willing to sacrifice their own lives") to the anger of Americans who enlisted after 9/11. So that is my take on what Greenwald said. Let me make this clear: I am not apologizing for him. If what he meant by his statement was what I interpreted it to mean, then what he said requires no apology.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

fun with terrorism material-support statutes

The SCOTUS terrorism support ruling yesterday outlawed consultations with terrrorist groups on how to resolve their disputes peacefully. However, the majority made clear that advocating on behalf of a terrorist group without consulting with them is perfectly legal. Allow me to be one of the first to take advantage of this allowance and advocate on behalf of the PKK vis-a-vis their dispute with what's-his-name. (It will become painfully clear that I did not consult with the PKK before writing this.)

I support the PKK's position on establishing an autonomous region within the region they are in right now, as long as they do so peacefully, or as long as they do so in a multilateral armed conflict condoned by the U.N.. They should NOT terrorize people, however. That would be terrorism, which I do not support with any materials whatsoever. The PKK are a noble people with a culture dating back to that time Christ paid them a visit. They have a proud tradition of establishing regional hegemony-- often in multiple regions simultaneously. Their hobbies include nomadic herding, horn-blowing, and ceramic-working. They probably ride horses. Actually, you know what they're like? They're like the Kingdom of Rohan in Lord of the Rings. So they're pretty kickass. We can trust them. Fin.

judicial activism from the "conservative" wing of SCOTUS

In the latest national security ruling from the Supreme Court, the majority has

Upheld a federal law that bars "material support" to foreign terrorist organizations, rejecting a free speech challenge from humanitarian aid groups. The court ruled 6-3 that the government may prohibit all forms of aid to designated terrorist groups, even if the support consists of training and advice about entirely peaceful and legal activities.

NPR has reported that the majority argued [agreed with] two points [concerning the peaceful, legal support given to terrorist organizations] :

  • It may ostracize allies.
  • It may give terrorist organizations an "air of legitimacy"

These are not legal arguments. Just call balls and strikes, John.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Gapminder World: Coolest Thing Evar!

For a data and graph nerd, this is awesome.

This week's "This American Life" is awful.

Just listened to This American Life. Some background on TAL: It is the one show on NPR that understood that the entire financial crisis was caused by banksters trading stuff they had no conception of whatsoever. It looks like this sanity has worn off. They have now contracted the austerity virus, and they are spreading it. The premise of this latest show was that the WHOLE WORLD (ZOMG JESUS!) is facing a debt crisis-- not necessarily a recession, mind you, but a debt crisis. Now this would not be an issue if our political press were competent. Unfortunately, our lazy, incompetent press has a readymade narrative to deal with political crises and particularly budget intransigence: Those who refuse to slash education or the safety net are being children, whereas those who recognize that a balanced budget is more important than education or economic security are the grownups. We are told that the grownups are being "Serious", whereas the children, who are invariably liberal, only care about "pet projects", "votes", or worse, "pork". Of course, conservative Democrats help to fulfill this narrative by refusing to raise taxes on rich people. Indeed, conservative Democrats are likely to buy into the idea that raising taxes actually decreases revenue, or the idea that rich people can't afford to pay more. This is the real intransigence. It forces liberal Democrats to find money any way they can to keep families off the streets, in the hopes that perhaps next year they will be able to raise more stable forms of revenue.

According to this latest show's first half, the role of "the children" is played by the Democrats in charge of the New York state legislature. "The grownup" is played by Very Serious person Richard Ravitch. Ravitch is one of those great hangers-on in politics. He came up through the LBJ administration, but unlike-- say, Bill Moyers, Ravitch took a very well-worn path to Serious Personhood: (1) stay out of political battles, (2) work on only the most non-partisan projects you can find, and (3) accumulate gravitas. The result of this effort? Behold. Also, Ira Glass will call you a hero.

So what does Ravitch have to deal with? What is the background story, according to This American Life? Interestingly, very little is mentioned about the current recession we are in. Instead, the show focuses on one-time revenue sources called "one-shots" and the political climate that forces lawmakers to resort to one-shots. Now, on the one hand, explaining the standard budget clashes that occurred in every state long before the recession is essential to understanding the budget dynamics of the present. However, the show bolsters the false sense that it was this standard political bickering over budgets that caused the recession. Those who have listened to TAL during the recession have been treated to some excellent, easy-to-understand analysis of what happened to cause this recession. In short, it was banking shananigans, not political shananigans. To the extent that politics was involved, it was the failure to regulate or even pay attention to what was going on on Wall St.. If you are an informed news consumer, you will know this. But if you are not, and if all you pay attention to are headlines and talking points, you may begin to think that deficit spending somehow had something to do with the recession. Worse yet, a Democrat you may have voted for may say something as criminally misleading as this: "We've asked government to take on too many tasks that cost too much money, and here we are, in a quagmire, in many ways because of it." That was a statement from Governor David Paterson that Ira Glass let pass. No mention of whether "quagmire" referred to the recession, mind you. We are just left to stew in this uncertainty. It's what modern political journalism does best.

Another egregious part was when Ira Glass explained that the stimulus money was being used as a "one-shot". Glass said that people might not realize the stimulus was being used this way. This has been a Republican strategy to sour the public on the stimulus money. What they have done, and what Glass has done (most likely unwittingly) is to feign surprise whenever and wherever they see the stimulus money applied. Of course, the fact that stimulus money was being used to plug state budget shortfalls was no secret. That money allowed states to keep on paying for Medicaid and to keep people employed. That money did more to stimulate the economy than one-time payments to individuals did because the Feds knew that the states would actually spend the stimulus, rather than invest it. However, the show failed to mention that the state stimulus money was-- you know, actually spent. Instead, New York's budget director said that the stimulus would actually exacerbate the problem in unprecedented ways. Why? Because the money will run out. Yeah, I shit you not. According to This American Life, money that runs out in two years is not actually money.

To deal with the current shortfall, Ravitch roles out his plan. His "bipartisan" plan, at least we are told, does not include tax hikes on those who can afford it. It only includes cuts and the implementation of standard accounting practices. In lieu of taxes, Ravitch proposes taking out a 2 billion dollar loan. Republicans opposed this because they saw it as a way to enable more deficit spending on the part of Democrats. Some Democrats, supposedly the conservative ones, opposed it as well. Governor David Paterson did not support the Ravitch plan because it was politically unpalatable, though we are not told why. At the end of the day, the listener is left with the impression that a tax hike on the rich would be even less popular than a 2 billion dollar loan. I would like to have seen the polling on this question. We are also left with the impression that in New York state, liberals are children who simply fail to realize that money does not grow on rich people. (Yeah, who knew? Guess where it grows instead!)

The second half was somewhat better. It examined the difference between two small Caribbean islands: Barbados and Jamaica. The show spent most of the time on Barbados. Barbados is doing well; Jamaica is poor. Both countries had to deal with the IMF and its standard imposition of austerity. We learn that how the two islands dealt with fiscal austerity determined their disparate economic fortunes. As I said, most of the segment was on Barbados. The only thing we are told about Jamaica is that their PM basically told the IMF to go fuck itself. He was determined that for once, the poor would not be the ones to suffer the IMF's kiss of death alone. He actually told the upper classes that if they did not want to shoulder their share of the IMF's austerity, they could leave their island paradise. That turned out to be a mistake, 'cuz they did.

Now those who are susceptible to conservative talking points will point to Jamaica as confirmation of all they know and all they will ever know. They will say that John Galt WILL leave you if you tax him. And what can we liberals say? Unfortunately, we live in a world where small countries like Jamaica are at the mercy of rich people who can pick up their capital and leave, thereby devastating the communities that raised them. This sad situation does not confirm conservative philosophy. It only proves that conservatives and rich people are dicks.

In the global recession of 1991, Barbados had its turn at the IMF's chopping block. This American Life tells the story of how, instead of dividing along class, Barbados was able to negotiate a deal whereby the austerity measures would be shouldered evenly across the class spectrum. To this day, there is a culture of cooperation between labor and management that is pretty inspiring.

So that's the story about how we easily forget why we're in a recession to begin with and how the upper classes can use the media (including the lib'rul media) to convince people that the only grown-up response is that everyone, including the poor who have no control over the various whims of our financial elite, must sacrifice. They convince people who cannot give to give more. They guilt them into the poor house, or no house at all.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Suck it, Hummer! The BP Oil spill only gets ZERO miles per 400,000 gallons -- per day!

From the AP:
BP officials previously said they believed the burner system could incinerate anywhere from 210,000 gallons of oil to 420,000 gallons of oil daily once it's fully operational. Work to optimize the new system was still ongoing, and the company did not say how much oil it has burned so far.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Holy crap, someone made it on NPR's "Marketplace" with a good idea!

NPR's "Marketplace" program is usually the worst offender on NPR when it comes to parroting the verbal flood of bullshit that comes from government and corporations, which is why this segment I just heard from Chris Farrel surprised me (skip to 3:57):

The amazing part comes at 6:00, when Chris endorses the idea of removing trade protections for companies and instead providing vouchers for laid-off workers, who they refer to as "free trade losers". NPR usually never talks openly about public policy solutions that would anger corporations. And that one would REALLY piss them off. It's not perfect, of course. Protecting companies does go a long way toward protecting workers. What we should do in addition to the voucher idea is keep hassling China over their exchange rate policy. 

In other news, in the segment just before Chris Farrel, we learn that investors gave BP a boost because of the 20 billion oil leak victim fund. Supposedly investors responded to the uncertainty being lifted. Do they interpret 20 billion as a cap? Is this the new cap everyone's talking about?

I want Alvin Greene in the Senate. I NEED Alvin Greene in the Senate.

Is it too much to ask, voters of Amurica, to have someone who eschews politics as usual-- or politics at all-- in the Senate? This guy is like the Democratic version of Joe the Plummer; he didn't come up through traditional channels, he just came up! I, for one, think it's refreshing. I think he's a diamond in the talus heap of South Carolina politics. So he has some legal troubles, so? If I had a dime for every black man accused of obscenity by a white woman-- well, I would have plenty of dimes.

On a more serious note, Jim DeMint is one moderately fucked scandal away from getting booted out of office. Come on progressives! Let's do this!

Monday, June 14, 2010

9/11? What 9/11?

The Afghan War is now officially about the fuckin' lucre. We will never leave now.

update: Well, I've since learned (see here, and links therin) that the "discovery" of 1 trillion in mineral wealth beneath Afghanistan is not quite so fresh and its importance to the Afghan economy has been exaggerated. Mining companies need an easy way to get the loot out of the country, after all.

Whatevs. Judging by the feverish manner with which the story "broke", I'd say the Pentagon is angling for another justification for war. Afghans are fucked five ways from Tuesday.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

the evolution of elite conservative thought:

John Adams, Federalist: "Let the human mind loose. It must be loosed. It will be loose. Superstition and despotism cannot confine it."

Newt Gingrich, Republican: "I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Speaking of politicians being scum,

Every liberal should read this post twice, and the links therein.

Liberals, just because we believe that government can provide a safety net and can effectively direct public investment, does not mean that we may trust politicians. Politicians, remember, are scum. Even Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich should be treated as if they're about to screw us at any moment. The survival of democracy, at the very least, depends on its citizens not treating politicians like celebrities. The people who cheered on Obama during the election like he was goddamn Justin Bieber might as well have been screaming, "I want you to institute fiscal austerity measures in the middle of a recession because investment bankers come first!!!! Now look at my boobies!!!!"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

our wingnut cousins in the former USSR

This is a good documentary on the growing right-wing/authoritarian movement in Russia and what it looks like on the ground. The best part is at 35:55, which looks like a militia gathering in the U.S. Of course, in Russia, their wingnuts are more influential. Note that during the gathering, the head Y-chromosome talks on the phone with a parliament member.

Helen Thomas, and the real problem with Washington "journalism"

I'm not an apologist for old people racism (OPR). I'm the first to tell my grandma to shut the fuck up when she starts in on the Irish (not true). But it's a damn shame Helen Thomas has to go out like this, because Helen Thomas, unlike most of the DC press corps, actually did her job responsibly. I honestly think she hates powerful people, as any decent journalist should. So it's a shame we're talking about Helen Thomas because this,

is the only problem in journalism worth talking about. Joe Biden and Rahm Emmanuel help command the largest, most powerful military in the world. The economic policies that they help craft mean the difference between life and death for those in the Third World, and between comfort and destitution for those in the First World. We need to stop treating these masters of the universe as fellow human beings. They're domestic tranquility is not ours. They're suffering never compares to ours. They are politicians. They are scum. They are not worthy of representing a pile of shit, let alone me. Few people in DC have the conviction and self-respect to act as proper journalists, so anyone who does so deserves praise. Helen Thomas has been one such person. One outburst of OPR won't change that.

For more analysis of Thomas's offending comments, go here. What made her comments noxious was the notion that Jews should go back to Germany and Poland. All nations are to some extent afflicted with the original (and in many cases, ongoing) sins of conquest and oppression. In Thomas's comments, I doubt she was referring to these children, for instance, who would sew seeds of peace if only their parents would permit it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Eric Cantor needs your help.

His homework project is to cut spending in a recession, thereby weakening the national recovery (such as it is) and providing succor to foreign bond markets. However, he does not know where to start because he is, in fact, only 12 years old. You can give young Eric your ideas on how to cut the budget at this website. But if you ask me, the budget cuts he has featured are pretty miniscule: in the 10-100 million dollar range. In order to counteract Obama's huge stimulus package, for instance, you need cuts on the order of 100 billion to 1 trillion. Here are my ideas on how to approach the appropriate level of cuts:
  • end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
  • end all funding for fancy weapons systems
  • legalize marijuana
  • end mandatory minimum sentencing and three-strike laws
What do you think? If you agree, tell little Eric.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

speaking of money-sucking blood funnels...

I was reading this post, and this financial tidbit deserves repeating: Did you know that China lends us money at 3.3% interest? Well, not just China, but the entire bond market? People all over the world who want to invest in the United States for a period of 10 years only want 3.3% interest. Wow. They're nice. China is nice. Credit card companies and U.S. banks, on the other hand, not so nice. The interest rate on a 24 month personal loan: 10.83%. The average credit card interest rate: 14.26%. This means that American banks hate us approximately 3.8 times as much as the rest of the world. This makes some sense; domestic institutions know us better. But still! Fuck you, American banks!

Thank you, Matt Taibbi, for this post

Goldman Sachs CEO and human/squid hybrid, Lloyd Blankfein, is participating in a too-cute NPR series on summer jobs. Before growing his money-scenting blood funnels, young Master Blankfein worked as a concessioner at Yankee Stadium. He says that he learned the value of a dollar by making 3 cents per drink sold. I believe I speak for all present concessioners at Yankee Stadium when I say, "Go fuck yourself Lloyd." Actually being a productive human being for one summer does not absolve you of the fact that you are presently a parasitic cephalopod.