Friday, March 16, 2012


It really does look more and more like Democrats laid a trap for Republicans this year.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

Special War On Women Edition
We on the left often chide Democrats for not being more aggressive in counterpunching the right-wing attempts to drag the country kicking and screaming back to the 19th Century. It is pretty annoying to watch President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and, to a lesser degree, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi placate and wheedle Republicans, all to no great benefits.
Part of that, of course, is the intransigence of the far-right Teabaggers, and part of that is partisan politics designed to either win back power or burn the fields and sow salt in the furrows of the nation. Combined, there's no momentum for compromise from the right, and yet the Democrats seem slow to recognize this.
Or are they?
I've looked on with a soupçon of rage, confusion, and hilarity at the way Republicans have tried to make an issue of women's rights: reproductive rights, of course, but also to try to paint women as some sort of helpmeet designed to make a man's life easier, and to be seen and not heard.
I speak, of course, about the current battle over the Violence Against Women Act forming in the Senate, but also the state-level battles in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, among others.
From a strategic standpoint, this war on women makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Let's look at a little recent history for some perspective.
In recent elections, there was a deliberate electoral strategy on the parts of Republicans nationwide to boost turnout of the base by incorporating issues that the base finds repugnant into a broader, more national campaign.
Karl Rove was a master at this, encouraging states to place initiatives on abortion, gay marriage and other sundry social issues that inflame passions on both sides, and then smear such a nasty campaign over the course of the election season that those who would be in favor of, say, gay marriage were actually DIScouraged from voting, thus sealing a smaller electorate of which the Republican base would be a larger proportion.
From a strategic standpoint, it was brilliant. From a political dialogue standpoint, it was a desperate, last-ditch effort to salvage power.
The breadth of this current dust-up, though, brings me pause: could Republican leadership be that stupid, that dense, that they'd be willing to take on the majority gender in this country?
I mean, you take on gays, you take on maybe 10% of the population, tops. You take on abortion, you take on a nominal plurality and that includes people who are wishy-washy on the matter of choice (i.e. who believe in limited choices for women seekign abortions.)
Most people in the heartland don't know many openly gay people, and possibly may have blinkers on when it comes to women in their family circles who have needed an abortion. That makes these abstract figures, easily caricatured and mocked.
But everyone knows at least one woman. And even a Neanderthal knows that women are smaller than men and probably need some protection from a minority of us. He may be in denial that it's he that should be kept away, true.
So why is this the election year strategy of the Republicans? Could it be as simple as the far right hijacking the party agenda and the leadership just shrugging their shoulders and deciding which island nation is best for exile?
Cui bono?
And then it hit me...what if, and I admit this is pure speculation but it sure wouldn't surprise me, the Democrats decided to pull a ninja double-back strategy on the Republican party: turn the tables on them and force an issue front and center that they cannot possibly win on and could only possibly prevent a hemmorage with complete capitulation to the Democratic platform?
And what more appropriate group to focus on than women?
After all, women have decided elections in the past: soccer moms and then security moms. Working moms would be the ideal demographic to sculpt the Obama re-election strategy around because it would provide an huge base to launch campaigns in all 50 states that would secure votes, and possibly recapture the House and Senate.
For example, by including domestic partnerships and same-sex couples under the banner of domestic abuse-- and make no mistake, that's not a political pandering manuever: domestic violence happens in any family-type arrangement, even among roommates-- it turns an old issue the Republican love to throw against the wall, same-sex marriage, into a cudgel to brandish in the interparty battles. It forces Republicans to either acknowledge that same-sex couples are legitimate vehicles (thus paving the way for marriage) or to decide that violence is OK against anyone in any relationship.
Meaning those women you see on Cops hanging out the trailer door in tube tops, screaming at the police to "put that [bleeep] away for the rest of his [bleeeeep]ing life!" will be terrified at the prospect that, indeed, Earl will be getting out a little earlier now.
Not that domestic violence is a problem for the poor only, but that's a very different story.
Note too the inclusion of undocumented immigrants in the bill, too. If Republicans decline to approve this measure, any hope of winning the Latino vote goes pretty much right out the window. You can tell voters things said in the heat of a primary are different than what you'd do, but a vote is forever.
Especially coming on the heels of the Blunt amendment, the attempt to exempt employers who, as a matter of conscience refuse to provide health insurance coverage for birth control, you're talking about a very large number of very angry people.
Put it this way: the current bill for re-authorization as composed and passed in committee has 59 co-signers, which means at least 6 Republican senators have co-signed the bill.
You know what that means? Any opposition to the bill will either have to be quick and polite or the Republicans in general stand to face a very dismal prospect in November, since the bill will flat-out pass.
In truth, this is not the issue the Republicans want to run on, but if the Democrats have decided this is the issue, women's rights, they'll raise over and over again this summer and fall, the Republicans will lose the women's vote and lose miserably. They'll throw it out there and hey, if the Republicans pick it up and play with it, they had it coming, right?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

It Might Even Help Us Communicate With Republicans


Fallout Boy

I suspect that's Greg Smith's new nickname in some circles.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) saw $2.15 billion of its market value wiped out after an employee assailed Chief Executive Officer Lloyd C. Blankfein’s management and the firm’s treatment of clients, sparking debate across Wall Street.

The shares dropped 3.4 percent in New York trading yesterday, the third-biggest decline in the 81-company Standard & Poor’s 500 Financials Index, after London-based Greg Smith made the accusations in a New York Times op-ed piece.

Not that it couldn't happen to a nicer firm, mind you.


Flipping Burghers

So what to make of this latest Mitt Romney doublespeak?

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney told the Chicago Sun-Times on Wednesday he does not want to close Planned Parenthood, just strip it of federal money. Romney’s comments were the subject of Democratic attacks after he said he wanted to “get rid” of the organization.

“Planned Parenthood is a private organization. What I want to get rid of is the federal funding of Planned Parenthood,” Romney said in an interview.

[...] Discussing reducing the debt in a St. Louis TV interview {Tuesday}, Romney said, “Is the program so critical, it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that’s the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that. The subsidy for Amtrak, I’d eliminate that. The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities.”

You know, that's a fair criterion for judging whether a program is worth it or not: can we afford it? Is it worth borrowing from China (and owing them indefinitely) to fund a program?

It's not the criterion I would choose to judge programs that don't necessarily fall into line in a cost-benefit analysis matrix, like any social program like the NEA or Constitutional mandate like voter rights or interstate trade, but it's a platform that has some logic to it and at least allows us to have a debate that goes beyond "Well, what are you basing this judgement on?"

But that's a digression and a different column, allowing another nation to dictate domestic policy. I want to look more closely at this Planned Parenthood flip-flop.

His initial comment in the Tuesday interview, where he says he'll "get rid of" Planned Parenthood, some have said, was a dog-whistle to the evangelical right, which of course views Planned Parenthood as an abortion vehicle only.

I don't agree with this assessment. I think ol' Mitt just got caught up in his elocution lessons and tried to come up with a trifecta of get-rid-ofs in the time honored tradition of reinforcing the message with repetition. His mouth got ahead of his mind (admittedly, not a hard thing to do.)

His walk-back yesterday will have genuine repercussions in that same evanglical community, of course, those who misinterpreted the gaffe as a sign Mitt was moving closer to their views.

If Mitt was capable of such subtlety, we would have seen signs of it long ago. His walk-back comments suggest to me he either genuinely made a gaffe in the first place, or realized he had pandered to the wrong audience. Since evangelicals are not, have not been and never will be his base, this seems to be an unlikely situation. He clearly intended this for the general electorate.

Of course, the logic of de-funding Planned Parenthood has its own complications, if you're looking to stop borrowing money from the Chinese who have their own rather liberal birth control & abortion policies as they try to limit their burgeoning population with their "One Child Policy."

If you can call forced sterlizations and forced abortions "liberal."

Indeed, it strikes me that China would be less likely to loan us a lot money for healthcare for babies born out of wedlock than a few bucks to prevent those pregnancies in the first place.

Mitt made a gaffe, and in trying to fix it, nuanced himself into a corner. If I was Mitt's campaign manager, I'd be figuring out ways to keep him away from microphones. Let the prepared commercials do the talking, because right now, they're spending money to win back lost ground.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Atlantis Is About To Blow Up. Again.

The island of Santorini in Greece is under serious threat from a volcanic eruption
If you have ever studied Santorini or are interested in the Atlantis fable, Santorini is ground zero of interest because it is the site of a city called Akrotiri, blown up in 1650 BCE. Akrotiri was part of the Minoan civilization of Crete (Minoa is more famously known for the myth of the minotaur.)
What is Santorini? Well, if you've ever seen an advertisement for tourism in the Aegean or a model standing in front of the deepest blue water with white houses on a cliffside draped behind her, that's Santorini, most likely.

Boy! That New York Times....


The Medium Is The Massage

Watch Congressmen fall all over themselves to get this into healthcare reform because it means they can write off their visits to hookers as "therapeutic."

Possible Future Headline

A departing Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) employee mounted an unprecedented public attack on its “toxic and destructive” culture in a New York Times opinion piece, becoming the first serving insider to openly criticize the firm.

Greg Smith, identified by the newspaper as an executive director and head of the firm’s U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe, will leave the firm after 12 years, blaming Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein and President Gary Cohn for losing hold over the firm’s culture. Executive directors are junior to managing directors and partners, the most senior rank.

His op-ed piece can be found here (surprisingly, not behind the paywall), and let me pull some quotes for you.

To put the problem in the simplest terms, the interests of the client continue to be sidelined in the way the firm operates and thinks about making money. Goldman Sachs is one of the world’s largest and most important investment banks and it is too integral to global finance to continue to act this way. The firm has veered so far from the place I joined right out of college that I can no longer in good conscience say that I identify with what it stands for.

[...] For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

[...] What are three quick ways to become a leader? a) Execute on the firm’s “axes,” which is Goldman-speak for persuading your clients to invest in the stocks or other products that we are trying to get rid of because they are not seen as having a lot of potential profit. b) “Hunt Elephants.” In English: get your clients — some of whom are sophisticated, and some of whom aren’t — to trade whatever will bring the biggest profit to Goldman. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like selling my clients a product that is wrong for them. c) Find yourself sitting in a seat where your job is to trade any illiquid, opaque product with a three-letter acronym.

Smith would be about 35 at this point (assuming he joined out of his MBA program: he's younger if it was straight out of college), so he's not wet behind the ears and has seen first hand the toxic nature of money. Lots and lots of money.

I suppose it was inevitable that the housing bubble would make more money for Wall Street than nearly every other bubble combined. And that it would turn Wall Street sharks into megalodons, supersharks with no remorse and no thought about anything besides the eyes on the prize.

After all, these same folks grew up in an America that valued money above all else, that put television programs like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous front and center during their formative years. We minimized the collective aspect of what made America great, the clasped hands, the men and women working side by side on the factory floor to make affordable quality products, not necessarily the cheapest, but the best value, the best your money could buy.

We lost sight of that in the rush to profits, egged on by an investor class more and more out of touch with America. Indeed, it's no surprise to me that trading is done by software now, not human beings.

After all, it's a war, and in war it's much easier to kill someone by pressing a button miles away than walking up to them, knife in hand.

I don't envy Smith the backlash he'll receive here, and I offer my services to defend him as best as I can in any way I can, because telling the truth in finance is a rare commodity, and one that there ought to be a trading floor opened for.


The Political Nature Of Television

On the face of it, this seems like a particularly silly story, unless you're the parent or friend of one of the dead girls:
Time travel TV series have come under fire since two schoolgirls in East China's Fujian province killed themselves on Thursday after leaving notes saying the suicides could help them travel back to ancient times.

The two girls, Xiao Mei and Xiao Hua (not their real names), were fifth-grade classmates at a primary school in Zhangpu county, Zhangzhou. 

On Thursday afternoon, Xiao Hua realized she lost the remote control for a rolling door at her house. She was worried and told her friend Xiao Mei.

At 4 pm, the girls each wrote suicide notes and hid them in a closet at Xiao Hua's home. Then they jumped into a pool and drowned themselves.
Here's the tell that there's something not right with this story:
According to a media report in February, a 19-year-old Liaoning province woman, Xiao Dan (not her real name), told police she had paid 1,800 yuan ($285) to a Net friend who claimed she could help her travel to the ancient past but disappeared after receiving the money.

Because of several stories along these lines emerging, the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television banned prime time - 7 to 9 pm - broadcasts of this kind of TV series at the beginning of this year.
Shades of Tipper Gore and the PMRC!
Let me point out that the link goes to the People's Daily, the official house organ of the Chinese Communist party (and therefore, the government).
Cui bono? Who benefits if this kind of programming is banned in China?
Obviously, the government, if only under the guise of preventing teen suicides, which seems an unlikely connection. However, the story itself contains a clue to the real political agenda. Think about where and more important, when the girls wanted to travel to.
The claim is they wanted to travel back to Imperial China, an ancient time of fantasy and glamour, opulence and a clearly rewritten history of wealth and freedom.
Now, these are clearly not poor children, since their parents could afford a house with an electronic door opener. This is not a sign of poverty, of a kid who is desperately trying to escape the crushing burden of being poor with little opportunity to advance her lot.
Or maybe it was. Maybe it's a signal to us that the Chinese economic tiger has fewer teeth than we realize. China will be the largest economy in the world before the end of the century, if not this decade. It's growing at a rate that exceeds an American boom economy, but it has two advantages that America never had, and thus may not see a true bust for decades.
It has a population not very far removed from the government-sponsored slavery of the mid-20th Century and it has such a vast population with so many dialects that communication between regions is difficult.
Think about it: imagine the US (similar size and contours) with four times the population, and instead of regional accents, imagine entirely different forms of English such that many words have different meanings in the South and North, East and West. If I said "mother" in Florida in this scenario, for example, I may understand it as the woman who gave birth to me, but Floridians might take it to mean any woman involved in my upbringing, including sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and perhaps even teachers and nannies.
Those problems will sort themselves out in due time, to be sure, but here's the thing. With a population still working for bottom-dollar wages, the Chinese economy benefits from keeping its people segregated and not sharing information and being unable to communicate as easily as any other nation on the planet can.
As in America, there are income and wealth strata in China (until the 1990s, nearly unheard of) and as in America, the gaps are growing.
And as in America, there is undoubtedly a movement growing in China for income equalization.
Imagine that! A Socialist nation with income inequality!
Television, however, is a great leveller. Like it or not, information and education is passed over the airwaves. That means people without a fact gain a fact.
For China to succeed economically, it simply must control this information. It must control the thought processes in the heads of Chinese. It must discourage thinking of a better life in leaps and bounds and force people to be content with a carefully planned balance between incrementally advancing their opportunities while staying in thrall to the economy.
In other words, the Chinese government is acting the part in China that banks act here. Sure, you can have that second car, but it will cost you four years of emotional investment in paying your loan back and woe betide he who misses a payment! And your kids can have a better life if they get an education (we're still talking about America here, to be clear) but they'll owe us for the following 25 years and they won't be able to discharge this debt even if they can't earn enough in salary to pay us back.
All while putting commercials on the ubiquitous infotainment medium, television, advertising that better job for your kids or better sex through Audi.
Control the dialogue, control the people.
This wasn't about a suicide. This was about recognizing that suicide as a danger to the status quo, one that would make people think about their lives and their children's lives.



Three weeks ago, I mentioned that I had to undergo a particularly brutish routine medical procedure.
On a scale of one to ten, one being the annual checkup at your doctor with the stethoscope and the blood pressure cuff and scale, ten being a cystoscope for an inflamed prostate (in which we learn the Indian fakir secrets of levitation), this particular procedure rates about an eight, maybe an eight-and-a-half.
Mostly for the prep.
I've been sitting on pins and needles these past weeks, literally. Two adenomae were discovered, one of which was big enough that the doctor felt it necessary to do a double biopsy, to get a second opinion right away.
It came back benign.
Given the patterns of my life, I'm skating a thin edge. I've come close to having serious cancers before, only to skate away relatively unscathed. I mean, really, a deformed nose is something to sneeze at compared to what might have been.
But given the fractal nature of reality, I know there's some event lurking in the future that will not be so easy to deal with. There's not much I can do to prevent it, apart from being as scrupulous in my lifestyle choices as I can, and that's no guarantee.
Anyway, I can breathe this week. Just wanted to let you know.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


We all have factotums, signs and signals that mark events or the passage of time. For me, spring truly arrives not with the first push of a daffodil shoot from under the mulch or the first open window on a sunny afternoon, but the day I bring my bike to the shop.
There's a ritual involved. Barring some consequential damage, either to the bike or myself, I carefully twist the retaining bolts on my indoor trainer loose and slowly lift my bike, Saphira, out of the niches that her rear axle has sat in for months.
She's everything I'd want in a woman. She's mellow but not submissive, letting me know when she's uncomfortable with what I'm doing, even reminding me from time to time of my own limitations. She's supportive but never lets me forget that she's there.
I place her gently on the floor, because by now, the air in her tires had leeched out a little and I need to inflate them without pinching a tube. I'm not light, and pinched tubes have provided large surprises, like the unusual view of my handlebars while handstanding on them.
I hook her up to the floor pump, and inflate her to the recommended 100 psi and then a little extra. She has Kevlar tires because, you know, city streets are not bike friendly, and the extra psi helps the Kevlar stay in a structured matrix.
I don't do up the whole kit. I don't put the spandex and wicking nylon, cleated shoes, gloves and helmet. I ride naked, essentially. It's only a quarter mile and while I'm aware of the dangers of city riding (and live in a particularly well-traveled neighborhood,) this ride is for Saphira. I trust her to carry me safely the quarter mile uphill-- seven and a half percent grade-- to the shop. No bike computer necessary. I've made this ride so many times that I can by feel tell you the grade.
I push myself harder on this first ride than usual, because I know I don't have to leave anything in the tank: the ride back is downhill, and even if I leave her overnight, it's a downhill walk. Saphira loves the shop. She knows when she's there she'll be treated well by good mechanics and maybe she'll get a treat, like a new bottle cage or a light.
There will come a day when Saphira becomes my back-up bike. I've already logged something like 7500 miles on her and I've only had her for three seasons (this will be four.) I'll put a kickstand and some panniers on her, and she'll become my town bike. I'll still wash her weekly, and lube her chain and give her a twice-yearly polishing with car wax, and she'll still be my first love, but she'll be the workhorse. A younger, faster, sleeker model will come along, one that's better for my ego.
Typical guy, right?
The first day of Spring 2012? That was yesterday. I kicked up the hill, no glasses on, no contacts in, in gym shorts and a T shirt. On March 12. That's about a month earlier than I ever have before. Spring came early this year.
This is important, because my bike means freedom to me. It means getting away from the office from the four walls of my domicile, the packed fish can of the subway, the tin of the car.
I can clear my mind and think.
See, I'm basically an introvert and this world, and this city in particular, is not designed for folks like me. I prefer my own company if I need to think, if I need to work something out. My bike gives me that, along with the other thing most modern urban dwellers desire: variety. A change of pace. A new vista. Next.
You extroverts can have the bar scene and the gallery openings and the desperate attempts to get out of your head by getting out of your own way, or your TV shows with Kim Kardashian where the best way to ignore yourself is to laugh at some other shlub.
I prefer to get out of my head by going through my head to my heart. My bike provides a challenge to me: each pedal stroke brings a new opportunity or new obstacle into view. Turn a corner, you never know what you'll encounter no matter how many times you've turned that same corner. You have to stay alert because you're at speed, even if that speed is barely faster than a miler running in the Millrose Games.
And in that distraction and focus, I find my thinking is clearer. It's funny how that works, that by making my consciousness direct itself to safe riding, my subconscious is suddenly unburdened and uncensored. I've had some of my best thoughts on my bike.
Hell, I've had times where I've stopped riding, pulled out my iPhone and dictated stories or blog posts to myself so I wouldn't lose the thread if I had to swerve around a truck later. But usually, it's just a stream of consciousness that starts to wriggle its way out, and I find myself talking out loud to myself, trying to corral something intelligible from it. 
The first day of Spring becomes more than just a happy occasion, it becomes my first close encounter with myself. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Scared Straight


Gas Prices Go Up, Subway Ridership Goes Up...


Neighbors Talking Over The Fence


Even I Think It's Too Much

As horrendous as Rush is, as appalling as I believe his recent comments to be, he has the right to spew them. I disagree with any petition to ask the FCC to intervene to silence him. The ad boycott has been far more effective in exposing Limbaugh's shallow-gene-pool misanthropy in general and misogyny in particular.
He has seen a short-term bump in his ratings, much like fools rubbernecking a fatal accident, but over the long haul, he'll wither and drown in his own fetid swamp of corpulent flopsweat.
Don't throw him a life preserver when he's already drowning.

It's So Cute You Think That, Rick

Rick Santorum has said that if he can bring the primary fight to the convention, he can win the Republican nomination.
That's some weapons-grade denial you got going there, Creamcup.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rick Santorum predicted Monday that he would get the Republican presidential nomination if the race remains undecided by the time the party holds its nominating convention this summer.

Though former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has a commanding lead in the crucial race for delegates, Santorum said the race is about to enter a period where he will face fewer disadvantages. To date, Romney has outspent Santorum and had stronger campaign organizations working for him.

"They are not going to nominate a moderate Massachusetts governor who's been outspending his opponent 10-1 and can't win the election outright," Santorum said on NBC's "Today" show. "What chance do we have in a general election if he can't, with an overwhelming money advantage, be able to deliver any kind of knockout blow to other candidates?"

Sure they will, and I'll tell you why: in a general election, you aren't going to win with a fucking religious loon who somehow believes himself superior to the very people whose votes he's trying to win.

Now, that would apply to both Mitt and you, with one glaring difference: Mitt isn't trying to stuff Mormonism down people's throats.

While he hasn't exactly been moderating the tone of the Republican campaign or its many minions and overlords (e.g. Rush Limbaugh) Mitt has at least stopped from all-but claiming women who don't want to be pregnant are an enemy of the state.

Do you honestly think that there's a mainline Republican alive who doesn't privately cringe each and every time you open your mouth and spew forth such seage-like froth? How incredibly egoistical of you to think you are somehow better than the people who will have to live with the consequences of your hate-filled tirades after you've long devolved into the muck to which you have consigned yourself.

Look, I'm a liberal of the most liberal stripe: I make Michael Moore blush. But I'm also painfully aware that my viewpoint and dreams for this nation are premature. We have a significant part of the population that's terrified of things that work: Healthcare. Equality. Opportunity. Fair taxation. Color- and faith-blindness. My POV needs an opposing viewpoint, but as they used to qualify under the Fairness Doctrine, a responsible one.

No country can move forward without someone carefully, sobering tugging on the reins. You want to stop the nation on a dime in a panic, emergency-brake slide, when all we need is to tap the brakes every so often to make sure we're doing the right thing.

We're only human, after all.

You, apparently, believe you are more.