Friday, May 11, 2012

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase Bank channels Matt Drudge, ends up with a lot of egg on his face. Seriously....$2 billion? In a fund designed to mitigate risk?
3) In case anyone is still of the belief that Barack Obama's "change of heart" wasn't calculated, instead of spontaneous, needs to read this. That this story of Mitt Romney as a teenage thug came out in the aftermath is absolutely not a surprise to me, given his complete disregard for the tens of thousands of American workers he and Bain Capital put out of work because they were "weak links."
Still, I think this may be a bit early to roll out such a sensational story.
Unless there's more-- and worse-- to come.
4) The Obama re-election strategy seems pretty clear, however: energize the youth vote (student loan remedies, gay marriage and gay bashings by Republicans, and the early warning shots about income inequality,) then rely on their energy to persuade their parents and siblings and independent voters-- who were primed with the modest seasoning of the bin Laden victory lap.
You can win an election one of two ways: you can try to pick the carcass of the two or three percent independent voters or you can plump up your base while frustrating and discouraging the other guy's base. The more successful strategy this year, with a weak opponent like Romney, seems to be triggering your own base.
5) I know this is a routine filing, but it looks as though there may be a strong case to be made for dismissal of the charges against John Edwards. I haven't followed the trial that closely, but it sounds like the lynchpin testimony, that he solicited personal gifts to cover his mistakes and not campaing contributions, is fuzzy enough to warrant dismissal.
6) The dude made a billion bucks in his pajamas. Shut up.
7) Hillary in 2016? I doubt it, and she and the Big Dog seem pretty set in this decision, but never say never. Look for her to try to make a big splash in the second Obama administration (whether she remains at State or leaves,) and if that happens, then she's pondering her chances.
8) Up next on the terror watch list: Al J. Fred.
9) Game Over. We tilted the machine.
Happy Mother's Day, all!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What Do You Really "Own"?

In the digital age apparently, not much and everything.

The Inevitable Earthquake

Some may think Barack Obama's hand was forced.
Some may think it was a cynical ploy to garner Gay Money campaign contributions or to pander to the youth vote.
Some may simply shoot themselves and the right wing in the foot, talking about distractions that their own party has raised in the middle of a recovery.
Obama himself has said his feelings have evolved, as he's witnessed gay couples in the netherworld of "civil unions." Marriage-lite, if you will.
And some have treated it like a Romney-sized flip flop.
One thing is for sure: it was a monumental statement to make for any President, but doubly so ahead of a re-election campaign against a party that's pledged its not-inconsiderable resources to limit the president to one term. He very neatly swung away from leading from behind to breaking new ground.
To be sure, this energizes the base of both parties, and how can that be a bad thing if it forces us to confront issues that many on both sides wish would simply lie dormant? Obama needs that base this year as much if not moreso than he did four years ago. He carries a lot of weight in being the incumbent but the past forty years have taught us that a President who doesn't inspire his party's base will lose re-election.
In framing his announcement in this light, we begin to see some other, more clever and subtle things he's done in his first term. The big knock liberals have against Obama is that he's too centrist and that he's turned a deaf ear to the concerns that he addressed in his first campaign.
I've long maintained-- from back in the days when the troika of Obama, John Edwards and Hillary Clinton were in the hunt-- that Obama's liberalism was a bit of a sham. Oddly, I soften that stance somewhat in the face of the evidence. I still believe he's a centrist politician (you can't be a national candidate without being centrist) but I think he's actually governed to the left of what I believed he could have. The Lily Ledbetter Act, repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and healthcare reform are all staunchly liberal positions to stake out.
They are also supremely fair ideals to have: Equal pay, equal rights, equal access to quality affordable healthcare.
This is not to say that Obama hasn't staked out some fairly conservative positions, as well. For instance, he opened some offshore drilling sites in 2010 that previously didn't exist, threatening wetlands on both coasts as well as the Gulf of Mexico. TARP was a near-disaster of epic proportions that didn't address the underlying problems, that progressives pointed out: people, not banks, were hurting. It rewarded the one percent for nearly driving us off the cliff, while leaving the 99% to suffer in agony and torment of mounting bills and disappearing jobs. He caved on the Bush tax cuts, all to get a debt ceiling increase. And so on.
On balance, and a night's reflection, I tend to believe this is an instance where President Obama weighed his options carefully, realized things balanced out, and decided to go with his heart. It is about fairness, something we've seen is an important factor in his administration.
It's up to us to get his back on this. If we want him to be more progressive in his second term, something I have no doubt he wants, its up to us to reward him not only with that second term but with a Congress ready, willing and able to work with him to deliver it.
He's shaken the nation to its foundation. Time to wake up.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

A Sad Day For America

I guess the South really isn't over that whole "Civil War" ass-kicking we gave them over human rights and liberty.

Why Is Conor Friedersdorf Being So Douchey?

After reading his column, I have to scratch my head a little.
Check out Chuck Todd, NBC's chief White House correspondent, openly speculating that President Obama is going to embrace same-sex marriage because he needs money from gay people. "Gay money in this election has replaced Wall Street money," he reported. NBC's David Gregory agreed. For some reason, neither man seemed to think this theory reflects poorly on the president.

Then the conventional wisdom shifted. Observers were basing their guesses on the fact that HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and Vice President Joe Biden had both made statements in support of same-sex marriage. The same-sex-marriage supporters who praised these developments were
as quickly dismayed when the White House walked back Biden's statements, insisting that like Obama, Biden's views on the subject were still "evolving," a euphemism that seems to mean they'll favor either marriage equality for gays or discrimination against them depending on their moment-to-moment judgments about what's best for them politically.

Sounds like Mitt Romney's position!
He goes on to list about a dozen intitiatives that Obama has failed to deliver to progressives on (thus, the snarky jab at "gay money") but fails to list even one initiative that Obama has succeeded with.
Like Lily Ledbetter. Like healthcare reform (such as it is, it's still the first success attempt at passing a fairer system for all.) Like any number of other initiatives that came up and passed in the first two years.
Things like this require political capital and if you have an opposition party who's announced aim is to prevent you from having a second term, you have to deal with the hand dealt you.
Even on the list of things he claims Obama has not accomplished, Obama has accomplished a lot. Take, for example, this ridiculous claim:
  • Obama tricked anti-war voters into thinking that he wouldn't order American troops into battle unless there was an imminent threat to America or a declaration of war from Congress, then went to war in Libya, violating the War Powers Resolution, even though neither condition was met.
  • Sixteen confirmed troops set foot in Libya, and those were to help in the rebuilding of the US Embassy in Tripoli and none of them were anywhere near the battles. Some rumours placed the number as high as 12,000, but that was Alex Jones, the famous conspiracy nut, humping that theory like a chicken.
    Now, he has a point in one regard: Obama made plenty of promises on the campaign trail that he hasn't kept.
    And....your point is? If every politician who ran for office kept all their promises, no one would run for office anymore.
    We'd have a dictatorship. Those are the only folks who can guarantee their promises.
    Friedersdorf is clearly terrified that, OMG!, Obama might actually be free to make good on many of his promises in a second term!


    The Science Of LOLcats

    (Photo courtesy)
    And their role in "haz intellijince"

    It Was Worth It

    ...I think.
    As you no doubt have heard by now, the US foiled a new and improved underwear bombing scheme dreamed up by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (apparently, Al Qaeda has a franchise operation.)
    Jingoistic heel-clicking aside, the counterterror operation involved human intelligence and a double agent:

    (CBS News) NEW YORK - It's a stunning revelation in the foiled plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner: The triggerman chosen by al Qaeda was actually a double agent who was working for the CIA and Saudi intelligence services.

    He delivered the explosive device to U.S. intelligence officials and provided information on the whereabouts of Fahd al Quso, the senior commander of al Qaeda's wing in Yemen, who was killed in a drone strike last weekend. It's an intelligence victory, but it came with a cost.

    U.S. intelligence officials faced a difficult decision. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was looking for a suicide bomber. The target: an American jetliner. The only way for intelligence officials to ensure they controlled the plot was to have their own agent volunteer to be the bomber and then hand the bomb to the CIA. The tradeoff: They would lose a source penetrated deep inside the organization - but they would save lives.

    There is a balance that needs to be struck when battling terrorism. Indeed, there are several balances to be struck, from the balance of individual freedoms versus the safety of the citizenry to trading a deep cover source to save lives.

    Long-time readers of my writings know that I am foursquare against violating individual rights for gaining temporary security and safety. Terrorism is a transient war, at worst, and at it's best, it becomes almost a thing of parody.

    This is not to disrespect the families and co-workers of those who have died in any terror attack anywhere, but apart from a few bombs lobbed at ships and Hummers and one or two lucky strikes on American soil, Al Qaeda has hardly made a dent in our collective-- and I stress, collective-- day to day lives.

    You want to understand what real terror is like, talk to anyone who lived in Belfast during The Troubles.

    Wars against concepts like drugs, or poverty or terror are wars that cannot be won in a traditional sense, but the nomenclature of "war" helps keep the public supporting it. A war against poverty will not eliminate poverty but it can help those who need a hand, and so long as we don't morph "poverty" into "the poor," as the Republicans have, then we might actually have a working society.

    Similarly, a war against terrorism is never going to end terrorism. Even if we wipe out Al Qaeda's operative abilities, there will be other terrorists around, and it won't take long for terrorism to spread once more.

    A war against terrorism justifies any number of atrocities, but just focus on the fact that under the Bush Doctrine, we've announced to the world that we will march into any nation if we feel they are harboring some nebulous terror group that might have a grudge against us and be willing to act on it.

    We've long had the ability to do just that, but until 2001, we've felt it important to respect the sovereignty of most nations, even if we have broken with that vow on occasion, even publicly.

    The war on Iraq and, to a lesser extent have demonstrated even that important restraint can be violated willy-nilly now.

    Parallel to this new wrinkle in America's posture is a willingness to look inward and harass and even kill American citizens whom we feel might bear us ill will and act upon it. The more we learn that disrespecting civil rights and individual sovereignty abroad bears few repercussions, the more likely we will turn those guns domestically.

    After all, look at what two reasonable men have done since 2001. Now imagine someone far more ideological sitting in the White House. It has happened-- John Adams-- and it will happen again. If you think there isn't a possible outcome where a staunch anti-family autonomy President doesn't sit with a Congress willing to do his dirty work, then you have to re-read American history.

    Had the underwear bombing been successful, I have no doubt there would have been increased security measures put in place in US airports, from doubling the number of body scanners and pat-downs at airports to who knows what. We would have lost even more civil freedom in the illusion of safety.

    So is sacrificing a deep covers friends, allies, and possibly family, is sacrificing a fount of intelligence gathering, worth that price, a little more freedom?

    Oh. Hell. Yea.


    Tuesday, May 08, 2012

    Stormclouds Gather


    INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The face of Indiana politics for nearly four decades, Republican Sen. Richard Lugar is battling for political survival against a tea party-backed GOP challenger who says the senator has become more interested in compromising with liberals in Washington than representing conservatives back home.

    You read that right, folks: conservatives have been "compromising" with us.

    If you don't think this spells the death of the GOP, I'm not alone in that opinion. Other Republicans seem to acknowledge this.


    Forced His Hand

    Well, Bibi is broken and will now have to sit down with the Palestinians for reals.
    Now, before we open the champagne, let's note that Netanyahu forced the issue himself, which means he didn't just surrender to the alignment surrounding him: he's still in control which means he's still going to have final say on what transpires.
    But it seems pretty clear that the Kadima Party-- Netanyahu's main adversary in the Knesset-- extracted a price from his flesh, which means he has to at least go through the motions of making overtures to Mahmoud Abbas and the PA in order to keep his own clutch on power.
    The one real bright spot is that Shaul Mofaz, the leader of Kadima, is dead set against pre-emptive action against Iran and as a former military chief and defense minister, has some stroke in this area.

    Tear Down The Wall

    I alluded yesterday to the elections in Greece, in which the EU plan to bailout the nation in exchange for austerity measures to be put in place was symbolically rejected and a new government elected.

    A Greek political party leader who has vowed to rip up the terms of Greece’s international bailout was handed the mandate to try and form a government after Antonis Samaras of New Democracy failed to forge an agreement.

    “This is a great moment for the Left, a great responsibility for me,” Alexis Tsipras, whose Syriza party placed second in May 6 elections, told President Karolos Papoulias in Athens today. Tsipras aims to forge a coalition of “leftist” parties that would overturn current bailout policy.

    Greece’s Parliament is split down the middle on whether to renege on the terms of the two bailout agreements negotiated since May 2010. With the risk increasing of instability in Greece, the epicenter of the debt crisis, policy makers in Europe urged Greek leaders to quickly agree on a new government.

    Austerity measures work only when you can't increase income. If you have a job and owe a lot of money, it's easier to cut your expenses temporarily than it is to go in and ask for a raise. Austerity measures stop making sense when you can take the money you have (or borrow) and get a better economic return on it than you would by holding the line on expenditures.

    That might, and I stress, might, make sense for Greece, whose income has been stagnant for years and who hasn't shown a capacity for growing its way out of debt. A balance of careful investment targets coupled with some moderate shifts in spending might buy that nation enough time to get itself out of trouble.

    But take a nation like Spain, which is already lurching towards default: here's an economy that was vibrant and growing before the worldwide housing bubble. Indeed, up to 2005, Spain created over one-half of the net jobs created in all of Europe, and was poised to overtake Germany in leadaing the EU in per capita income.

    You know the rest: it's the same story as here in the States. Cheap lending rates, people bought and flipped houses they couldn't afford as they were goaded on by the same nefarious criminals as our Wall Street firms employed.

    Shouldn't Spain be spared the austerity whipping? Apparently not, although to be fair the EU has put out signals that it may be more lenient on terms with Spain.

    But then that begs the question, why is Greece being picked on? After all, if it's good for the gander, it's good for the goose. And it's not like Greece isn't too big to fail: estimates are the EU would lose one trillion euros if Greece collapses and is ushered out of the Union.
    There seems to have been blunders made on all sides of this confrontation: the EU underestimating the size of Greece's impact, Greece underestimating the anger of its people to an austerity package as well as underestimating the strength of its bargaining position.
    I think its time for cooler heads to prevail.

    Monday, May 07, 2012

    Y'know All Those Late Night Infomercials For Men?

    The ones that tout those "testosterone-enhancing" pills/gels/penis pumps?

    How Sure Is Obama That He'll Be Re-Elected?

    He's floating the trial balloons he should have floated in 2009.

    On The Fence

    Part of me wants to see this movie in the theatre.
    Part of me wants to wait for the DVD and watch it at home.
    Maybe I've gotten too old to sit for a movie (goodness knows, they're long, loud, obnoxious and soda flies through me like shit through a goose nowadays.) Maybe I'm just cynical that I'm going to sit for long stretches really bored with "plot development" and setting up future sequels and spin offs, like watching one long television commercial with product placements.
    I'll probably wait.

    This Is What A Socialist Looks Like

    Francois Hollande scratched out a victory over Nikolas Sarkozy yesterday in the French elections.
    I say "scratched out," because a three point victory over a wildly unpopular president is not exactly a drubbing, but it's also not exactly a close call.

    Elected, Sarkozy showed himself to be a canny political card player. There was, for example, “l'ouverture” – Sarkozy's carefully-targeted effort to dismantle the Socialist Party by recruiting some of its brightest lights into Sarkozy's new right-wing government as ministers and senior officials. This cut the Socialist Party's leadership off at the knees, demoralized its membership, appropriated some of its best talent, reframed Sarkozy as a big-tent president who would govern for all the French – and left him perfectly free to pursue his policies exactly as he intended to do, validated by some of his most dangerous opponents. Demonstrating, as has occurred many times in politics in many countries before and since (in Britain, in the fate of the Liberal Democrats, for example), that weaving opponents into your team is an excellent way to defeat them.

    However, the collapse of the world financial bubble and then the socialization of its losses (one of the greatest transfers of wealth from the poor to the rich in world history) removed the raison d’être of the Sarkozy presidency. In this, it can be said that France dodged a bullet. The country was lucky that it elected Sarkozy relatively late in the era of the madness of the rentiers. He didn't have time to turn France into, say, Ireland or Iceland. And so France was spared the worst. Sarkozy then attempted to reframe himself as the opposite of himself, but it never rang true. He was never a credible “social market” builder.

    Despite his best efforts, Sarkozy could not wheel France around into a mini-America fast enough before the people realized what happened. Vive la France et les Francaise!

    Sarkozy leaves behind a mess of xeonophobia, of angry workers and young people, and at best a muddled political party with a flimsy and loosely-knit message to oppose the Socialists.

    This sentiment has repercussions far beyond the French borders, of course. As a member of the EU and with Sarkozy one of the most influential figures in that Union, the anti-austerity forces can now point to France as a main reason why attempts to shore up flagging economies by imposing "order and discipline" (read that as tax cuts for the rich and services cuts for everyone else).

    Indeed, the concurrent elections in Greece, which brutalized the political centre, reinforce this perception.

    Que la France va, ainsi va l'Europe. And as Europe goes, so goes America. Think about it.

    After all, it was the French Revolution that truly brought power to the people (the American Revolution brought power to the people who were wealthy white land owners, but that changed after the French Revolution filtered through Europe) which toppled dynasties and empires up and down the continent (eventually) and it was Europe's reaction to the Great Depression that eventually saw America get Social Security and other social programs designed specifically for the working classes.

    It's a clear signal to the world that the left has stirred and is beginning to flex its muscles, en masse. The election of Barack Obama as a reaction to the conservatism of the Bush administration-- it's no surprise conservatives abandoned Bush in 2008-- Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, and now the first real round of elections in Europe since the economic crisis concretized have shown that people are tired of conservatives bleatings of lower taxes and less for the people.