Friday, November 19, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Best line I heard about the Bristol/Willow Palin antics this week: "They make the Bush twins look like Chelsea Clinton."
2) Y'know, Google puts this stuff in a cache that last FORevah....
3) An article that points out what we're up against. What say you? Herd the twenty percent or so together, and build a big-ass fence around them?
4) Information = energy. Conceivably, this could alter physics as we know it, but it seems an obvious equation. After all, energy has to be conserved, and information has to be conserved. The only question is, in what form? It turns out that matter may hold the key to both.
6) Only Republicans could turn a twenty years to life sentence into an imminent warning about terrorism. Seriously, how paranoid is this country?
7) I assume this was a trial balloon. May this one float.
8) First, CERN produced what for our purposes was a mini Big Bang. Next up, a stream of antimatter. If we can just get world peace and a one world government, and we can have Star Trek!
9) It turns out, all children got left behind...
10) So how did that Arizona anti-Hispanic law work out for them? Well, there were 800,000 fewer undocumented workers in America than in 2008, but that number seems to have levelled off and since the drop happened before the law took effect, it was a combination of the bad American economy and tougher the Federales! So the law wasn't such a big help. Oh, wait, it did drive $140 million in convention business away from the state. Way to go, you dumb fucks!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Matt Miller, Mensch

Matt Miller triggered a thought in my head about a column I've been meaning to write for a few weeks now, but life has intervened.
America is a deeply paranoid nation. On the one hand, we have this deep feeling of exceptionalism. This grandeur manifests itself in wars of aggression, arrogant foregin policies, treating our allies like assistants and our enemies as nuisances, instead of people to be engaged and either defeated or deflected.
On the other hand, as I alluded to earlier today, we have an equally deep feeling of persecution. So much so that to ask us to sacrifice for the greater good of the nation would be like eliminating Social Security: a political third rail that no one would dare touch unless they were in a tank full of piranha. And even then, I think most politicos would try to reason with the fish first.
It's the fact that we swing back and forth between these two extremes that troubles me. It's one thing to be jingoistic, to really believe you're exceptional and to behave as if its true.
We did that after World War II. Having defeated the Axis alongside our allies, we set about rebuilding both sides. We could be magnanimous, despite being just a few years removed from an economic crisis that saw a huge number of our own citizens suffer famine, dislocation, and deaths both at home and in a war spanning the globe, despite only barely having come of age.
Today, we argue over whether people about to lose their homes should be given a few bucks to see if maybe they can make it beyond the next month. And forget foreign aid. if it ain't got oil, we ain't interested. We've become that old man with the shotgun and the inviting lawn.
Miller says, "Does anyone else think there's something a little insecure about a country that requires its politicians to constantly declare how exceptional it is? A populace in need of this much reassurance may be the surest sign of looming national decline." I'd argue that the decline began long ago, that America for some silly reason got it in its collective head that there was this big-ass target on its back and started looking over its shoulder instead of ahead.

Groping For Consensus

There's a real irony in the outcry over the new TSA body-scanning, junk-touching protocols.
Let's sum up the conservative (and by extension, the purported American) mindset here:
Invading a sovereign people innocent of any wrongdoing against us? Well, that's OK, I suppose.
Bombing the ever-living fuck out of civilians in the name of "fighting terorrism"? Cool. No problem.
Waterboarding and torturing enemy combatants? Bring it on!
Raise taxes a fraction just to pay for all this? NO!
The left opposed all those, of course, and I'm proud to have been among that number.
I part company on this one, however. Perhaps it's the libertarian streak in me.
Flying an airline is a voluntary activity, driven by private enterprise. You pays your money, you takes your chances. The alternative is to let the airlines decide what security protocols to insitute, which means things will range from "Why, yes, Mr. bin Laden, we do in fact have a seat for you!" to "I don't care if you're the President and you're on Air Force One! It's in our terminal, so you'll be cavity searched!"
No one's made the case for any alternatives, although personally I'd prefer the Israeli system, and frankly, I can't see why it hasn't been adopted here. It's efficient and much less intrusive than the American system.
Of course, it would cost real money and involve trained personnel who would require higher pay and benefits and all that goes with that. We could hire Blackwater (or Xie or whatever nym it goes by this week).
But I digress...
Maybe I'm just more comfortable about my naked body. Maybe it's that I ride the NYC subway on a daily basis, so I'm used to having my junk groped, or at least rubbed.
Maybe I'm just an adult. I don't know.
All I do know is, apart from the radiation risk (in my case, a real one, as I've had more X-rays than you've had hot meals, and have already developed at least one cancer), I have no problem with this.
I purchase my ticket to fly to my destination with the understanding that, indeed, I will get there. At 35,000 feet, I do not want any preventable risk. I see enough human error on a daily basis to know my chances are already less than 100% but they'd be lower if I was to drive to where I needed to be.
Especially if I had to cross an ocean!
We just went through eight years of the most egoistically driven administration since, well, Reagan/Bush. In that time, we drove up our national debt six trillion dollars, almost doubling it. We weren't asked to make sacrifices, like the US did in World War II. Instead, we were warned to go shopping, or the terrorists win. We were coaxed into borrowing more money than we could possibly pay back in two lifetimes to buy houses that were way too big for our families. All this time, it was Christmas every day, as companies came out with new toys and gizmos that barely improved our lives.
And we spent. And spent. And spent. And the bill is coming due, right at the time that we can least afford to take our eye off the ball. The national government is in a real struggle between the haves and have-mores, while we the people dread going to the mailbox, not because of anthrax but because of Amex.
And we all get angry at a government that can do this to us, and in the next breath mock a government that can't get its act together over something as simple as the Zadroga bill. You can't have it both ways. Either the government is this well-oiled conspiratorial dictatorship (which I believe is an aspiration, but not a reality) or an incompetent boobish puddle of contradictions (more likely).
As to the National Opt-Out Day, I will be watching the news to see how it breaks. My guess is that there will be a few handfuls of people who will resist, but eventually, the added delay and the realization that it's the single biggest traffic day of the year will either cause fistfights among the would-be passengers, or force most people to chicken out of opting out.
For me, well, I won't be flying next week, but I will be and soon, and I want that TSA agent touching my junk, because for the first time since 9/11, that man will be as uncomfortable screening me as I am being screened.
As Lewis Black put it so succinctly this week on The Daily Show: "I get to fly five hours AND someone's touching my balls?"
Where do I sign up?

UPDATE: Megan McArdle gives libertarianism a bad name by being an asshole.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Frum Down Under

David Frum is a gasbagging little guttersnipe who when he had the opportunity to do something about it, did nothing to try to prevent the very destruction he's whining about today, yet, he makes a few points:
...And while the Bush administration took wise and bold steps to correct the disaster, the unpopularity of its Troubled Asset Relief Program bequeathed the Obama administration a political disaster alongside the economic disaster.

It’s an uncomfortable memory, and until now Republicans have coped with it by changing the subject and hurling accusations. Those are not good enough responses from a party again entrusted with legislative power. If Republicans are to act effectively and responsibly, we need to learn more positive and productive lessons from the crisis.

Yea. "Uncomfortable memory". Somehow, the program that George W. Bush enacted has been painted as Barack Obama's baby. Mind you, this conciliation is handed to us by the same man who handed us the "Axis of Evil", thus giving Bush a neat little hook to hang our economy from.

By the neck.

Frum echoes what more credible commentators like Fareed Zakaria have said: this time might be the Republicans last chance. Frum goes into detail as to why the Republicans have failed so badly in the past, including the eight years of the Bush administration and the four that Republicans held both houses of Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court. 

Lesson 1: The danger of closed information systems. Well before the crash of 2008, the U.S. economy was sending ominous warning signals. Median incomes were stagnating. Home prices rose beyond their rental values. Consumer indebtedness was soaring. Instead, conservatives preferred to focus on positive signals — job numbers, for example — to describe the Bush economy as “the greatest story never told.” ...

Lesson 2: “The market” (the whole free-market system) must be distinguished from “the markets” (the trading markets for financial assets). Perhaps it’s because the most influential conservative voice on economic affairs is The Wall Street Journal. Perhaps it’s because conservatism disproportionately draws support from retirees who store their savings in traded financial assets. Perhaps it’s because a booming financial sector is uniquely generous with its campaign contributions. Whatever the reason, the intellectual right accords a deference to the wants and wishes of the financial industry that is seldom accorded to agriculture, manufacturing, transport or retailing...

Lesson 3: The economy is more important than the budget. During the recession of 1981-82, Democratic politicians demanded that a Republican president set a balanced budget as his top priority. Ronald Reagan disregarded this advice. He held firm to his tax cuts: once the economy returned to prosperity, there would be time then to deal with the deficit...

Lesson 4: Even from a conservative point of view, the welfare state is not all bad. G. K. Chesterton observed that you should never take a fence down until you understand why it had been put up. We should remember why the immediate post-Depression generations created so many social-welfare programs. They were not motivated only — or even primarily — by “compassion.” They were motivated as well by the desire for stability...

Lesson 5: Listen to the people — but beware of populism. Listen to the people and politicians who gather under the label “the Tea Party,” and you are overwhelmed by the militant egalitarianism of their message, the distrust of elites, the assertion that the Tea Party speaks for ordinary Americans against a privileged ruling class.  

 The irony there, of course, is that the Teabaggers will revolt, basically, and as Frum himself has said on many occasions, the GOP fears its base.

As well it should. It has no appeal outside of its base, and in truth, if it wasn't for scaring independent voters since 1980 with lies about liberals and social programs (a point Frum to his credit takes pains to point out), it would be an irrelevant sack of shit moldering in the corner of the country demarked by Texas in the West, Florida in the east, and South Carolina in the north. And maybe Wyoming. Possibly Utah.

Personally, I'd like to see it forced back into that box, but I digress. Frum calls for stability in a society and in a party and by extension in a government that cannot exist again until three things happen.

First, and most important, economic recovery. In a government hampered (and now crippled) by calls for modesty and restraint, this stability will never happen in this century. If you think this is impossible, I direct your attention to Japan which is now heading into its third decade of economic stagnation and instability, and is trying desperately to recover from the last recession it endured as it is being hit hard by this global one. Barring a war, and remember we've just fought and continue to fight wars financed by debt and debt alone, and an annexation of a nation with a good economy, we will not prosper again in our lifetimes.

That's just the facts, folks.

Second, talk radio and the opinionators who ladle out hate from the far right wing of this nation have to rein it in. I'm not sure this will happen voluntarily, but in the past, it has happened as markets have moved beyond them to more entertaining and positive voices. Remember, it wasn't that long ago in the US that Father Coughlin was a credible media figure.  

This time, however, it's going to be more difficult. The Republicans have so strongly tied themselves to the Limbaughs and Becks of the world that to defeat one, you will have to cut off the other. One can only hope that there is so little money left in the GOP coffers after these last few elections that funding will dry up. While billionaires will still abound to pump some money in, they'll have to be more choosy about the recipients...yes, even they hurt in a recession.

Narrow the field and we can focus on eliminating the hate-filled voices that remain. Failing that, the collapse of the GOP will create the same vacuum. My fear there is, cooler heads may not prevail.

Finally, peace between Republicans and Democrats must be achieved but it must be achieved on a basis that allows both parties to look strong. This capitulation that Obama has made to the centrist Democrats in order to pass watered-down legislation looks weak. Period. And it has made him vulnerable, not personally, but it makes his legacy iffy despite the enormous achievements of the last Congress. As his fortunes wane, the Democrats go down with him. As his fortunes rise, the Democrats can rightly claim legitimate equal status in the political dialogue.

Peace through strength. Obama must insist on this and insist on it now. He is the de facto party leader, a position he has been reluctant to use to bully his colleagues in the party. He has to grow a set.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Blast From The Past

Ted Koppel has a point. It's not enough to make me stop watching Olbermann and Maddow (but Matthews???) but it's enough to give me pause to think:
Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.
(Emphasis added)
I understand the need for MSNBC's prime time lineup: SOMEone has to balance out FOX News, which in its most desperate moments (e.g. when faced with a potentially hostile judge in a lawsuit) admits it does not traffic in news
Here's the thing: just as there really is no basis in reality for assuming American exceptionalism, there really is no basis in reality for assuming liberal exceptionalism.
Well, OK, maybe one reason: being the reality-based community does lend a little credence to a willingness to open up to differing opinions, but I digress. Go with me a moment on this...
Liberals are not going to be much more likely to seek out, say, the opinions of even a moderately conservative news outlet than conservatives would show up at a liberal news outlet. If anything, it will be to provoke an irrational response and then giggle and laugh like the little kid who dropped a dooky under the school stairs.
Koppel's point is troublesome for that reason alone: if we assume that liberals are even quanitatively as biased in their news sources as conservatives, then the Madoff analogy is apt, and people are going to get dragged under.
President Barack Obama. 
Here's a man who clearly knows how to play the game of politics, which means he's less an ideologue than a poker player. Whatever moves he would make are going to be firmly based in the mechanics of the moment and not based on some principle, unless that principle is coincident to the mechanism. Yet, liberals bought the "hope and change" mantra. 
Not incorrectly, I think, but if you go back and read carefully, Obama himself was very careful to distance himself from die-hard liberal causes (gay marriage, for example). The media and his supporters and staff created an illusion that he was more left than he was, and that with a wink and a nod to the left, he was running against John McCain as a centrist.
Even in the primaries, he was able to triangulate towards the center-left since Hillary Clinton was perceived, wrongly, as a center-right candidate (support for the war in Iraq). I've followed Hillary's career since just before the Clinton administration (her work with the Family & Work Institute crossed paths with one of my employers). 
Woe betide anyone who spoke in support of Hillary in some quarters! 
Is that any different than the FOX Newsbaggers who smear moderate Republicans are RINOs? I don't see a difference in degree, to be sure. 
Koppel goes on to point out the evolution of "opinion networks" (my term) from the old days of trusted journalists taking on stories that were informative, important and factual, and makes the strong case that news for profit is a bad idea. He offers no solutions except the vague hope that somehow with all the news swirling around us, we'll manage to pick up the facts and the truth of a story.
I'm not sure I buy that, but frankly, apart from independent news sources like FreeSpeechTV and LinkTV, I don't see much hope for a media outlet that I can click my TV onto and get real news. There's a market for it out there, to be sure. People are curious and don't always want to be fed opinion, but if CNN's ratings are any indication, it ain't on cable TV. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Declare Class Warfare Now!

Frank Rich got his freak on this weekend:
...The bigger issue is whether the country can afford the systemic damage being done by the ever-growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, whether poor, middle class or even rich. That burden is inflicted not just on the debt but on the very idea of America — our Horatio Alger faith in social mobility over plutocracy, our belief that our brand of can-do capitalism brings about innovation and growth, and our fundamental sense of fairness. Incredibly, the top 1 percent of Americans now have tax rates a third lower than the same top percentile had in 1970.

“How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?” ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics.” If you want to cry real tears about the American dream — as opposed to the self-canonizing tears of John Boehner — read this book and weep. The authors’ answer to that question and others amounts to a devastating indictment of both parties.

Their ample empirical evidence, some of which I’m citing here, proves that America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap. (Yes, the very rich often have fancy degrees, but so do those in many income levels below them.) Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.


Often, the more strident among my friends wonder how I can support the Corporatocracy Lite instead of opting for a third party. My answer, implicit in Rich's column, is Duverger's Law. We are never going to have a successful three party system. The bias towards two parties is way too strong and with all the money sloshing around out there for both parties, a successful third party bid that wouldn't be co-opted (watch the Teabaggers for proof) by Big Money is simply impossible under this system.

And there's the rub. We can stamp our feet and hold our breath until we turn blue, but the parental units will smile, maybe chuckle, and then turn around and do what they damned well please.

You want to cause trouble in this country, starting a third party is not going to do it. Starting a tax revolt, that might have the needed impact-- after all, if the hedge fund secretary refuses to pay her taxes, who's going to protect that hedge fund managers wealth?-- but it's going to require a coordinated effort that would make the Teabaggers seem like a grass-roots effort.

And we know they'll never be allowed off the leash long enough to join, even if it would be to their benefit.

(side note: As Frank goes on to point out, the lapsing tax cut that Obama proposes to kill off would generate an average $700 annually at the lower and more populated end of the $250,000 floor. Know anyone who would work for that amount?)

So how to beat back this enormous threat to the American way of life, the greed of the uberrich? Ideas?