Thursday, December 31, 2015

And So This is New Year...

So what have you done? Another year older. A new one just begun.

(Yes, I took license with the lyrics, sue me)

2015 was a weird year, to be sure. I remember writing early on that the year would be defined by marijuana, and while it wasn't as dominant an issue as I thought it might be, the year sure had the stank on it of old weed.

I mean, really...Donald Trump, the front-runner for a major party nomination? Why? Because he speaks his mind?

Yes, he speaks his mind, the trouble is he is half out of his mind. That this low-rent, tin-plated dickless wonder is even taken seriously by anyone is a testament to the failures of Republican education policies.

Libertarians around the nation lifted their snouts from the troughs of crumbs from their overlords and snorted, squealed, and then rose up on their hind hooves and murmured approvingly. Fucking idiots.

Personally, I can't complain. I had a good year. I cut a lot of chaff out of my life, culled the grain, dropped a lot of dead weight and managed to move on. I grabbed life by the throat and let me tell you, there is no more terrifying or liberating thing to do. And 2016 is poised to be fantastic now that I don't have all the hangers-on to deal with.

So, my dear reader....and I hope I still have many of you around, because goodness knows there were times I wanted to give this up and forget about blogging anymore...thank you for 2015. Thank you to my friends, my family, and my casual acquaintances. Thank you even to those who wished me harm, because fuck you, I won. You only hurt yourself, not me.

On to 2016, my preciouses!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

How to Defeat Terrorism

We need to try something different. America has waged a full scale war in South Asia for thirty years.  We've waged a sort of Cold War against Islam for decades longer, going all the way back to Mossadegh and Iran. 

All we've managed to do is inflame the situation. Europe has struggled with Islamic extremists for centuries, and while things were quiet for a long time, the beginning of the twentieth century saw Europe interfere yet again in Middle Eastern affairs, igniting old passions and angers.

Thirty years of war (going back to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) has done nothing but make more rabid dogs. That's a failed policy. This is not a war against people, it's a war against an ideology -- the ideology of jihad -- and every time we've bombed a country, we created more enemies as we've attempted to wipe out that ideology.

One reason President Obama has been correctly circumspect about mentioning Islam in discussing terrorism isn't that he's afraid to call it that, but that by linking it to the religion and not to the morons committing these crimes, he gives our enemy comfort. 

The comfort of having his words slipped into a recruiting video to prove that "America is at war with Islam". A fine recruiting tool, to be sure. ISIS and Al Qaeda appeal to people who are looking for a scapegoat for their problems, and by isolating Islam as a cause of terror (it's not), we give the poor and tormented in South Asia something to vent their frustrations on. 

(It's the same schematic that the Tea Party uses here, I should point out, just not to such an extreme degree. That's a post for a different, more political day.)

All we've done with our "war on terror" is give potential members reasons to hate us, to join their organizations. We in the west have consistently installed dictators and tyrants over them and while those installations have helped tamp down the some of the international violence, it hasn't stopped the anger, only inflamed it. It's like clamping down a lid on a pressure cooker: you'll stop the steam from parboiling your hand over the pot, but eventually, the pressure will release in an explosion and destroy your hand. 

When we've decided to take out one of those tyrants we've installed, it's the people we claim to want to protect that have suffered the most. A hundred thousand Iraqis died in our wars against Saddam, and that's ignoring the collateral damage of the Iran-Iraq war that we probably ignited by weakening Saddam in the Nineties, too. Or the Kurds we abandoned back then. 

I want to be clear, the West is not the main problem here, but we exacerbate the very real problems of starvation and poverty and joblessness and the concomitant hopelessness all that implies.

It's no coincidence that since President Obama's "apology tour" early on in his administration that there have been no organized terror attacks in the United States. That's not to say that terrorists aren't licking their chops thinking about killing Americans, to be sure, but I'm betting it's been really hard to recruit suicidal terrorists to attack us, Obama is just that popular even in the Middle East and South Asia. 

The takeaway, in my view, is that America and the west must disengage from the region and let things settle themselves down, or we're going to end up in a world war, if accidentally. Already we've had frightening incidents that could easily have triggered nuclear annihilation. 

So how to defeat terrorism? Better minds than mine...yes, there are some...have tossed this problem around and come up with nothing. I'm afraid I've done little better. I can imagine a framework that solution might take, however.

1) Economics -- This facet is the easiest one: stop buying crude oil from the Middle East. We've had thirty years of warnings to prepare for this, from skyrocketing gas prices to global warming's effects. It's about time we made a commitment to stop using fossil fuels, but particularly oil. 

This might seem counterintuitive: if people are poor, buying oil can only help them. Well, no. That enriches the status quo, which means it enriches those who are at the top of the economic chain in the Middle East, like the emirs and kings, at the expense of the people. To give the people freedom, we have to defund those who would take that freedom. Note that this would also directly hurt ISIS, who have taken crude oil fields across Iraq. 

But notice something: global warming also directly impacts the people in the region in another way: the troubles in Syria began with a drought in Syria, which forced farmers to abandon their farms and migrate to the cities where they might try to find gainful employment.

But those jobs were non-existent as the economic meltdown of the late Bush administration worked its way through the global economy. 

We need to establish economies across the region that don't rely on the resources of the rich, but on the labor of the poor. Trade with the governments of the region is counterproductive. Trade with the people of South Asia is imperative. 

Trade what? What can replace oil?

Frankly, anything can. Remember, facet one of this discussion is to stop using oil: no oil, no oil economy, no reinforcing the status quo. 

2) The Marshall Plan -- After World War II, and despite the war's far heavier toll on the West, the United States in its capacity as the last man standing extended an olive branch not only to our allies, but to our enemies. We would commit to help them rebuild

Why? We learned the lessons of the interregnum of the two world wars: letting problems fester only made them worse, not go away. 

We do owe it to the people of South Asia, we in the West. We created artificial borders that ignored tribes, rivalries, nationalities and ethnicities in an attempt to be expedient. Literally. The divisions were drawn with a ruler on a map. We reinforced those arbitrary borders with force and armaments, and interfered in internal matters when those matters threatened our interests.

Imagine if the cops taped off your house and prevented you from using the bathroom, then stormed your part of the house if you took a piss in a flower pot. That's what we're doing in the Middle East. 

Some would call this appeasement. Some would call this a waste of resources. I would argue that the trillions the United States alone has spent in the last fifteen years to "defeat terrorism" was a waste of resources and that we have to find a better way. A few billion versus tens of trillions sounds like a bargain to me, even if the outcome might end up being the same (it won't.)

To me, this Marshall Plan redux would involve helping the Middle East and South Asia rebuild their infrastructure. It would bring permanent water to drought-stricken areas. It would rebuild roads that we've bombed to hell and back. It would build better schools and hospitals and it would all be done by paying the local residents to do the work and administer the projects. We'd provide resources. They'd get the credit for the accomplishments. 

And yes, we'd rebuild mosques, too. We have to. 

3) Diplomacy -- To sum this up, we need to get the fuck out of the way. The West has spent the last decade dictating policy to the Middle East and South Asia: you will do this, you won't do that, you'll take this and like it, we'll take that and you'll be quiet. 

What I see happening is a Middle East summit comprised of everyone: the nation-states, the sects of Islam (including the radical Islamists in some capacity), the South Asian states like Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, the Turks, the Russians, the Chinese and the West. 

Obviously, we won't just hold one meeting and be done with it. This will take time and energy and focus. It will require reaching out even as we kill terrorists, or finding intermediaries to understand the problems that we can solve with diplomacy and those we'll just have to let them sort out on their own. We can't settle the Shi'a/Sunni divide, for one thing, but if we can persuade the Muslim people that we'll accept any settlement between them that keeps everyone in the region safer, they'll sort it out.

After all, Northern Ireland seems to be working its Troubles out, and surely they've been more peaceful now than twenty years ago. 

Eventually, these disparate talks can be built upon, bringing factions together in the same room, then bringing the agreements made in those rooms to bigger rooms and higher levels. 

If the West gets out of the way and makes the Middle Eastern nations enforce these agreements -- and frankly, without oil and the commitment to rebuilding, why the hell would we even be there anymore? -- they'll eventually work things out. We may not agree with their solutions, but the point is, we won't have to, as we do now.

4) Stealth -- Let's face facts: we're going to have to cripple ISIS and Al Qaeda (again). We don't have to commit to waging a regional war to do so. We have the tools and ability to decapitate the leadership. As we saw with Al Qaeda last decade, that at the very least buys us time. Time can buy us the space to implement the rest of this plan. It lowers the heat under the pressure cooker of recruitment. It buys us the eyeballs and attention span of the people we want to stop from joining these organizations.  

Clearly, this means an unconventional war fought under the radar. We have national policies that prevent us from interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, but those were state matters, and this is a criminal enterprise. And besides, since when has the United States paid anything but lip service to any international agreement? If we're going to break one, let's at least break the right ones, and not the Geneva Convention.

5) A Thicker Skin -- This applies to the West more than to the Middle East and South Asia.

Americans and Europeans are going to die. There is no way to prevent that. Whether we declare all out war and our soldiers die by the thousands or we fight this fight the way I outline above, and citizens and soldiers die by the dozens, we're going to have deaths. My argument is that there will be far fewer casualties for a far shorter period of time.

We're going to have to mature a bit and shrug them off. A little. We're going to have to put aside the bloodthirst for revenge and retribution and work to understand that these deaths are martyrs for a greater cause: the safety and security of all citizens of our nations. 

We can rattle sabres, to be sure, just as we did after 9/11 (and failed to defeat even the enemy that attacked us, much less protect ourselves from future threats), but remember that on 9/11, we even had the "Arab Street" on our side. And lost it in our monumental hubris. We had the opportunity to exhibit dignity and grace and would have prevented hundreds of thousands of enlistments against us. 

Today, the day after the Paris attacks, even Iran has expressed condolences and condemned the attacks, as they too are in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. It's a glimmer of hope. We can take them up on that gesture. 

The other facet of that "thicker skin" is the more troubling one: we have to present a unified front on this project. In America, that will be next to impossible and we may have to cede leadership here to China and Russia. The old dictum that politics ends at the border was thrown out the window by the yahoos of the Tea Party and any attempt to implement this program will have to shut them up somehow. They'll need to develop a thicker skin and stop betraying our national interests. That's the only way we can be effective in this construct.

I think this five step program may be the only way to defeat an ideology. A good parallel in American history is the Mob. We didn't beat the Mob on the battlefield, we beat them by starving them of them of members, by giving immigrants better jobs, and better education, by assimilating them into our culture and providing the opportunities to attain the benefits of that culture to them, and finding ways of tying up the resources of the Mob so they could no longer wage an asymmetric war. 

After all, it took an accountant to put Capone in jail and effectively end his reign of terror. We won't defeat ISIS or Al Qaeda in the desert, we'll finally defeat them when we get the people in the region to stop joining them. Suicide bombers and jihadists have a very short shelf life, so the organizations are always desperate for new members.

It took decades, and even today, we still have mobs and gangs and violence, but only to the extent that we can now treat them as criminal organizations and not an armed resistance. We'll always have ISIS and Al Qaeda and Hezbollah and Hamas or something like them because there will always be underinformed people who are easily manipulated by charismatic leaders and simplistic solutions. This project will make it harder for them to be effective. 

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Innocent as Children

My Mets are losing the World Series.

I'm OK with that. Truth is,  I've watched about three innings of the Series in total. I may have watched nine all playoffs long.

Which is actually more than I watched all season.

That doesn't mean I don't have an emotional attachment to them. I do, and want them to sweep the next three games and take the trophy out from under KC's feet. They can do it. The one thing this team has demonstrated over the season is the ability to turn adversity into wins (see: Wilmer Flores) and there's no reason to think that a team that should be up three games to one can't win three in a row, particularly one that has ben as streaky as the Mets season suggests.

That I know all that is a testament to my loyalty to the team. That said, it saddens me what sports has become in this country, and I think it's a large part of the underlying troubles we endure right now.

For instance, the reason I'm a wishy-washy fan when it comes to watching my team on the TeeVee. For not the first time in my life, I can't, and not because I'm superstitious or some such, but for a more prosaic cause.

The Mets network isn't carried on DISH and I'm more loyal to people who do right by me than I am to people who present a product and tell me to take it or leave it (In order not to sidetrack this discussion, let me just say that DISH has worked hard in the thirty years or so that I've been with them to keep me as customer, keeping my costs down while putting together programming and service to suit my needs).

SNY is not carried by DISH -- neither is MSG or YES, for that matter, which prevents me from following nearly every other local sports team on a regular basis except football, ironically the most socialist of all sports -- so the only games I can watch are the ones on networks or on the local broadcast outlet, WPIX. Those number maybe a dozen or so.

They were, but the Mets decided to abandon whatever percentage of Mets fans have DISH when DISH didn't buckle into their somewhat outrageous demands. Profit, before product.

The first time the Mets abandoned a significant portion of their fan base, that time was a lot harder to swallow. The team decided to take nearly all games off over-the-air broadcasts and put them on cable TV (first on Cablevision's SportsChannel, which morphed into FoxSports NY, and then ultimately to SNY, the Mets-owned outlet).

The team banked on fan loyalty to carry it through these, and they were pretty much spot on in this. As more and more cable subscribers signed on (that's another story, the roll out of cable in NYC), the team grew a larger fan base.

All the while, every month, nibbling away at the combined pocketbooks of their fans, even when the season was over. Profit, over product.

I wrote all that to personalize the rest of this post, which is really about the business of sports.

I could bore you with statistics and numbers about the growth and mutation of sports from entertainment to a large and wildly profitable business, but let me put it on a human scale for you.

When I was a kid, watching the Mets on a 19" black and white Philco, the average ballplayer made less than the average union worker. He had to take a job to feed his family until training camp opened up, usually blue collar since college sports was what it should be, a sidelight to getting an education, so most players if they wanted a major league career refused to forfeit four years of their prime for a degree.

If he was smart and good looking, maybe he quarterbacked the local team, he could get a white collar job in a bank or a brokerage, entertaining clients. Only the really big stars, the Willie Mayses or the Joe Namaths, made enough from endorsement contracts to tide them over between seasons, or could command a contract big enough to allow them to focus on their careers and not on survival after the season.

And God forbid you have a career ending injury, altho that happened all too frequently. You had no education, no job prospects (because, really, how many jobs require you to hit a 0-2 curve ball?) and an aching body. It's no wonder that, even today, all professional sports unions have to provide charitable help for their forebears, forty years after the explosion of money in sports.

Today? Even a slightly-better-than average player (say, Daniel Murphy, since he's on my mind, who has an average WAR over 162 games...I'll get to the statistics thing in a bit....of 2.27, meaning he'll give you almost three wins more than the average second baseman. A great player can give you ten or more extra wins) can command tens of millions of dollars a year.

The average player doesn't need to work a second job. He has healthcare through his union or his team, is vested in a pension based on his salary after a certain number of years playing (and is partially vested starting on day one of his contract).

None of this is to begrudge large money contracts. I'd rather a millionaire kid who busted his ass and forsook his youth take a few million than let some rich trust fund kid who happened to cobble together enough money from his inheritance or the markets take it.

Indeed, that's the point. The contracts are indicative of precisely how much money there is to be made in sports, if you can afford to take the risk (and once you reach a certain threshold, the risk is zero).

Case in point: my Mets. Concurrent with the launch of the SNY Network, the Mets also built an entirely new stadium, primarily with private funds (there were some municipal funds that targeted renovating the surrounding neighborhood and that's an entirely different story).

The owners, the Wilpons, were also friends with one Bernie Madoff, who suggested many years ago that they invest their money with him. Presumably, an awful lot of that loot was tied up into the stadium and cable channel deals. The Wilpons made money with Madoff, to be sure, so much so that, if not for an arbiter who took a very lenient view to their cause, they likely would be bankrupt today, forced to sell the team and channel.

As it is, they spent an awful lot of the last decade on a very tight team budget, what with building up reserves for the new stadium, the new channel (they lost all that guaranteed income from FoxSports, as well as a lot of fans who had to wait until SNY was carried on their provider), then building a reserve in anticipation of the Madoff decision.

In practically terms, this meant the on-field product suffered, since baseball is a business, not a sport, and athletes expect to be paid, and paid well. They aren't doing it for the love of the game anymore than the Wilpons are giving away a product for free.

The short story, then, is the team sucked, the fans hated it and Citifield, a really beautiful ballpark, was basically empty for five seasons. Money was being lost hand over fist. Attempts to make changes that involved as little expenditure as possible (moving in outfield fences, twice, making the park's best quality, a pitcher's park, one of its worst) were made, but they didn't help. It was a dismal place to be.

Once the favorable decision was handed down -- $75 million instead of $162 million -- things seemed to ease up, and spending commenced. That was in February of this year. Not coincidentally, the Mets made the World Series that same season, even if it was not smooth sailing the entire way.

In 1964, the entirety of MLB made $21 million dollars in television revenues nationally, all teams, including local TV deals. . The average player's salary of $15,000 (adjust to 2002 dollars, respectively, $123 million and $85,000). In 2001, the last year for which figures can be compiled, the national TV revenue jumps to an eye-popping $1 billion (average salary, $2.4 million). Note that, because teams are all privately held, we can't even put together a total television revenue figure anymore. That's just the national contract for FOX and ESPN (among others).

We can't even estimate what the local contracts paid out, but someone has tried and calculated a few billion dollars more annually, making the entire revenue package for baseball upwards of $8 billion dollars (including tickets, merchandising and other sources). Using those same estimates, as recently as 1995, baseball took in about $2 billion in real dollars ($1.4 billion unadjusted). That's about a 7% return every year for twenty years in real dollars.

Staggering. It also explains the rise over the past two decades of the statistical analysis of games and players. I mentioned WAR earlier, or Wins Above Replacement. What this measures is the amount a player contributes to the wins his team gets each year. I don't want to get too technical so let's make this brief.

The average wins a team has each year is 81 (there's 162 game schedule and for every win, there has to be a loss, so the league average is 81-81. It has to be). That hypothetical average .500 team is populated with precisely average players, then. If you replace that hypothetical average player (who hits .250, by the way; again, the league average) with any other player, how many wins does that player contribute to the team (or deducts, as the case maybe. Again, for every above average player, there must be a below average player).

So a player with a positive WAR helps your team be better. Daniel Murphy helps slightly more than the hypothetical average player over the course of a season, giving you 1.6% better team. To put that into perspective, a team with 95 wins, which usually means its playoff bound, is about 60% better than average. He helps. Just not that much.

Back when players worked as grave diggers in the off-season and families owned baseball teams and precious little else, teams could afford to assess players by the seats of their pants. There was a lot of scouting, talk about "five tool players" (run, throw, hit for average, hit for power, and field), and whether a guy had a "good attitude" (e.g. he could be counted on to make curfew). There was some statistical analysis -- batting average, ERA, slugging and fielding percentages -- but they were rudimentary and fairly unreliable for decision making.

Back in the late 1970s, just after the introduction of free agency, and just as sports was becoming a billion dollar business in America and the world and computers were becoming something more than a defense contractor's wet dream, a group of statisticians and mathematicians decided that baseball needed an upgrade. Forming the Society of Baseball Research and led by Bill James, sabermetrics was born.

The goal was simple: to try and understand why some teams win, and some teams lose. What factors play into this? Was there a way to codify differences in the outlying circumstances for a particular player that would allow a manager to assess a player objectively (apply the scientific method to baseball, in other words)?

This could only have been accomplished with computers, of course. The massive amounts of data involved make this physically impossible, even with a good calculator.

Naturally, as the science evolved, it started to attract interest from ball clubs desperate to field a winning team.

Because winning teams attract money. Just ask the Yankees or Dodgers.

Titles are nice, but money is nicer. That really could be the motto of all sports nowadays. But look what happens: once you start to codify precisely how to maximize the utility of your roster of players, you put yourself into a mindset of maximizing the utility of your entire investment.

Sports becomes less game and more business. It becomes less about raising a trophy over your head and more about raising your dividend.

And that sucks the joy out of anything. Just ask anyone who works a job. Or runs a small business.

Once you introduce serious money into an industry, you start to attract serious businessmen. It's like farming: once a businessman realizes that your family farm is underutilized and could make a lot more money, he'll make an offer to buy you out.

If you sell, the farm will stop growing potatoes, and start growing soybeans. Or worse, if it's in a valuable location, it'll start sprouting condos and mini-malls. It doesn't really matter if those potatoes were the best in the business, or if you fed an awful lot of families who needed the food. It only matters how many dollars could be combed out of your furrows.

The same construct happens with sports teams, which aren't so much "teams" anymore as attractions for the mini-mall that a ballfield has become.

Sports is not alone in this, to be sure. Everything has a price tag on it now, right down to the local news broadcast, which increasingly is filled with promotional pieces for the latest premiere from the flagship film company that owns the station, or whatnot.

But sports holds a particular place in the hearts of Americans. Baseball, especially. After all...and I quote:
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. 
Which is why it still hurts to see my Mets losing, even tho they lost me years ago. In the end, I see Wilmer Flores crying at second base and I think back to Bud Harrelson and how much heart he played with. And I see Noah Syndergaard throwing a hundred mile fastball at someone and channeling Nolan Ryan. And I see Jacob de Grom with his wild hair, and Michael Conforto and Steven Matz, and look back to Tom Seaver and Ed Kranepool and John Matlack, heroes of my childhood.

I'm reminded as I watch that this team that I follow has a history with me, and that history was a bigger part of my life than it should have been (even if I was thrilled when a Mets scout once told the adult me I could have been a big leaguer). Sports plays on that nostalgia, baseball more than others. It's long been promoted as a multigenerational game -- a dad tossing a ball with his daughter, a little boy biting into a hot dog at his first ballgame, grandsons and granddaughters arguing statistics with grandpa.

And we'll gladly fork over hundreds or thousands of dollars a year without even thinking about it, for it is money that we have and peace that we lack.

For me, baseball was about the only thing my dad and I shared a passion for. That was an innocent time, a better place. A part of me that was once good.

But never can be again, and I'm having a hard time reconciling myself to that.

Lets Go Mets!

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Fiasco That Is Republicanism

Yesterday's stunning news...stunning in the same manner that getting hit by a clown car is stunning...that the GOP can't even get a candidate to stand for the House Speakership speaks volumes to a terrifying prospect.

A one-party America.

Look, it's clear the GOP is falling apart much like a poorly-built Canestoga wagon careening down a Rocky Mountain pass, but the prospects of the nation after it crashes into the rock slide in the river valley are troubling.

First, let's look at the likely scenario of the Tea Party or some form of it wresting control of the Republicans away. This is a small faction of America, roughly 25%, that lives in an insular bubble. It's well funded by con artists and Kochsniffers who have forgotten how hard it is to be an American.

You could, rightly I think, make the argument that the wealthy in America are no longer American as much as they are transnational, which is not as "Caitlyn Jenner sexy" as that sounds. While the bulk of their corporate and investment empires are firmly planted in American soil, their money vacations in the Cayman Islands and winters in Gstaad, and works in China and Southeast Asia to maximize it's exploitative potential.

They *say* they're American, but the truth is, that nationality will only last as long as it's profitable. After all, when Rupert Murdoch wanted to tame the entertainment frontier of China, he took a Chinese bride...after he became a naturalized US citizen.

These are the people who control the Teabaggers: wealthy corporatist Americans who believed that, through Murdoch's FOX networks and other propaganda outlets, as well as dismantling any worker protections like unions and government labor boards, they could extend the American corporate empire by a few decades until China and India became ripe for exploitation. Now that they have, you'll begin to notice signs of American decay.

This is because the construct that the Teabaggers have craved, a belief that somehow the private sector's patriarchal and patrician "bad dad" attitude is what makes America great -- that somehow individual greed adds up to social responsibility -- is being slipped out from under that small but vocal and violent crowd.

Destroying the party most closely aligned with that construct along with it.

Moderate Republicans, if any still exist, have long been pariahs in their own party, but you'll notice more and more that small voice of relative reason seeping through. Just yesterday, in the midst of the maelstrom of madness, Speaker-Apparent Kevin McCarthy said something very telling:
Asked if the House is governable, he says, “I don’t know. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom.”
The rock slide in the river valley, in other words.

The historical perspective on this is ironic: the Republican party was a splinter faction from the Whigs in the 1850s, when moderate Republicans decided the Whigs had become too batshit crazy even for them. Republicans were for modernizing the nation.

Now the circle has turned. Moderate Republicans are in danger of extinction, leaving the Whigs back in charge. Karma, I suppose, but when you sell your soul to the Devil, he collects when its convenient for him.

The prospects of a Teabagger-owned and operated Republican party means there are very few compromise positions that can be had, and that makes governance next to impossible, at least for the foreseeable future. We've already seen something on the order of twenty years of mismanagement and mislegislation on the part of Congress, ever since Newt Gingrich passed his Contract on America components, an early Koch brothers paean America.

It's starting to look like the American people are about full of the nonsense, tho, and that may be a good thing. What may not be a good thing is that the conservative wing of the country played the long game of chess, and set traps and pitfalls that will be very hard to overcome: gerrymandering, wresting control of local and state legislatures to pass laws sympathetic to a fascistic hegemony of conservative oversight of the minutiae of local politics, all but guaranteeing a competitive advantage for any Republican candidate in nearly every district in enough states to ensure a voting bloc in Congress.

See, it doesn't really matter what the majority of Americans want or even vote for. So long as the manipulation of process, including violating the right to "one American, one vote", can be allowed to stand by the Five Horseman of the SCOTUS, America will not be American again.

We'll have what is effectively one political party, and a faction. And one political party...and here, I have to remind you how much I dislike Republicans...cannot govern effectively. Democrats need an opposition party, lest the country fall into a hive mind. Conflict generates ideas.

Too much conflict stifles them, however. RINOs need to step up and reclaim their party.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Day of Atonement

Today marks Yom Kippur, the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar, the Day of Atonement. It is, for want of a better metaphor, a day of soul-cleansing, when a Jew is supposed to make up for any slights and insults committed against his neighbors by asking their forgiveness.

This is a good tradition to have, and it appears in nearly every major religion. Catholics have monthly confessions, Protestants believe in prayer at night to ask God's forgiveness...Christianity could take a page from Judaism here...Islam has the tawbah, and in fact discourages public confession of sin, altho it does permit the sinner to recompense the offended. Buddhism is unusual in that it is the offended that initiates the act of forgiveness to allow the offender to atone for it.

In all circumstances, atonement requires humility. It requires letting go of one's exceptionalism, if only for a moment, and acknowledging that one is as mortal as anyone else and prone to mistakes, then asking forgiveness for those mistakes. One puts one's soul in another's hands. There are few experiences more equalizing in the human condition than an apology.

As it is Yom Kippur, I want to focus on the Jewish tradition because there's a lesson to be learned here. The faith calls for making the body uncomfortable on Yom Kippur: no food, no bathing, no (leather) shoes -- altho I'm not sure how they view sneakers -- no perfumes or lotions, no sex.

By making the body uncomfortable, the thinking is, the soul becomes uncomfortable, too. The pain one has caused others then registers viscerally in this discomfort. The only way to ease the soul is to unburden it, to cleanse the soul.

I think it's time for America to come to this concept. I think a national day of atonement, both among the citizens as well as across borders, is in order.

America is an exceptional nation, this has long been believed here and in many ways, we are. We have abundant natural resources, safe borders, plentiful land, beautiful landscapes, mostly moderate weather, and have been a beacon of freedom to people around the world.

We are also an exceptionally evil nation. We lord it over everyone else that our way is the best way, the one true way, like Scientologists in a subway stall. Our culture, both the good but more importantly the bad, has infused itself globally -- to the point where more Iranians know who is running for President than Americans. When we can, we position troops to enforce our ideas of power.

Force is not power, by the way. Force is a display of weakness, of acknowledging that you do not have control of a situation. Children use force. Adults use power. If you don't believe me, try not doing your job for a week or so. Your boss isn't going to call in the Seventh Fleet.

For a brief shining moment in world history, we were literally the last nation on earth: Europe was rebuilding from World War II, Russia and China were emerging from internal revolts, Japan was scorched earth, India was a third world nation...only America had an economy poised to take advantage of the post-war expansion and rebuilding.

You know the old saw about being born on third base, thinking you hit a triple? While that's not entirely true of America, it's not that far from true. But for an ocean, we would easily have been England or France. And given that Germany had made such advances in rocket technology as it had, we were maybe a year out from being England.

But for the pairing of a great war and a Great Depression, we would have lingered in recession for nearly a decade longer. Public works were great programs (and we could use those about now, too) but it was the ramp up for war that kicked the economy into gear.

But for our natural resources, we would have had trouble keeping up with our needs.

We were able to exert power across the globe because other nations needed our goods, our products, our services, our resources. We were, quite literally, the Wal-Mart of the world, where you could buy anything, and we forced a lot of other outlets off the page for a while. When that started to dry up, we started throwing our weight around the world.

We're a lucky country, maybe even a blessed country in that we have such bounties, but that's no reason to believe we are somehow divinity. Yet, all too frequently, we act that way. We need a dose, a large dose, of humility.

Look at our Presidential candidates, for instance: how many of them have said "God told me to run"?

Indeed, one, Scott Walker, compared himself to Jesus, saying that he was called to lead by dropping out of the race.

He died for your sins, Ben Carson.

Is it not the height of arrogance to claim that a higher power sought you and only you out and spoke to you and only you about the state of the union? Wouldn't we rather have a President who listened to the people and not the voices inside his own head?

Yet, this is the face we wish to present to the world: the last humble man to sit in the Oval Office was Jimmy Carter -- and saying he's humble is by comparison to the others only. We revel in egoism. We bathe in it. And then when that President does anything to even slightly acknowledge that other nations might be in the same league as America, at least a loud cacophonous portion of us bang empty oil drums and rattle cans with stones about "selling us out".

This is why we have troops in nearly every nation on the planet, enforcing our imperial economic hegemony. We lead not by influence, but by force.

There are 7.5 billion people on this planet of which American make up about 4%. We have to live with these people, too. What we do affects them, and what they do certainly affects us, else why is there a refugee crisis from Syria? From Mexico and Central America? Why does our stock market get crushed anytime China's catches a cold?

America likes to think of itself as the CEO of Planet Earth, Inc. Maybe it's time we picked up a bucket and mop and saw things from the other side.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Adios, Jon Stewart

I'm going to miss Jon Stewart. That final speech (NSFW version) was a valedictory to carry on the torch of enlightenment, something those of us in Blogtopia (© Skippy) must keep burning. We will never be the concentrated force for all that is good and right in the world that he was (and still might be) but for sure, we can in our own ways make a difference.

It's been a tough twelve months for those of us on the left who take great pleasure in ignoring the false narrative of the corporate conservative mainstream media like FOX, and CNN, CBS, et al. We've lost Colbert. We've lost Stewart. We lost Letterman, even if he was light on politics.

And we're losing MSNBC to a madman who somehow believes imitating a network with a dying audience is going to improve his ratings.

Short term? Maybe, but long term, you want us liberals -- no, you NEED us liberals.

Thank god for Larry Wilmore, Bill Maher & John Oliver,  Free Speech TV and LinkTV (both of which stream for free on your computer. Thom Hartman, Amy Goodman, Stephanie Miller, Bill Press...that's a really great line up of progressive voices, beacons in the wilderness all).

And there are rumors...

Back to Stewart. I first noticed The Daily Show when Craig Kilborn was the host. In fact, if you search the outtakes of his tenure there, you'll find my shining face being interviewed by him (ended up in the dining bay, sadly, altho my daughter splashed across the screen).

I've been a fan ever since. I liked the idea of getting my news in an entertaining fashion. What I didn't expect, what I could not have expected, was to be informed as much as I have been. I will miss that. I will miss watching stories that the other "news" outlets had missed completely.

And Jon had his causes, and he worked hard to bring them to the forefront of the American conscience: the Zadroga Bill springs to mind, as does the VA hospital scandal. He was a liberal, but he held Democratic feet to the fire when it was appropriate (see: the VA hospital scandal). His sense of fair play never got in the way of a good story because his stories WERE about fair play.

And I think that's what I will miss most about Stewart: in a sea of bullshit, a cesspool of manufactured crises and FIRETRUCK! warnings, his show was a half hour (OK, eventually an hour, between Colbert and now Wilmore) where you could clamber onto terra firma and laugh at the ridiculousness of it all. "Restore Sanity," indeed!

This is the torch you and I and everyone else we read and comment with must pick up, dust off, and run to the finish line.

In a world where a blowhard egoist can lead presidential polling for one of the two major parties, we have to stand by, prepared to make fun of his pizza-eating habits and to deconstruct his personality, demolishing his ego and its defenses brick by prick. Why? Because it's just fucking insane.

In a world where there is an huge disconnect between morality and morals, we have to stand guard against the invasion of morals into morality -- that is, to ensure that rational thought is held in the highest regard over the emotional gut punch of fear and hatred. Comedy, laughter, can do that.

And in a world where it's way too easy to take yourself too importantly, there's Arby's.

Adios, Jon. You leave us, but you've not left us. Thanks for the laughs.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Best Photo You'll See All Day

Courtesy HuffPo

That's a lunar eclipse, from behind the moon.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Friday, June 19, 2015

Racism and White America

Racism is about power. It's about realizing that each of us in powerless in this great big world, and so we band together, and find some way to grab a little power for ourselves. Strength in numbers.

It's easier to find power if you've got people who are even more powerless than you are. That's where the racism comes in. That's where the bigotry and hate comes in, because at some level, we understand that, but for the grace of God, that could be me. And that terrifies us.

So rather than fight the power -- which would entail actually putting some skin (no pun intended) in the game and putting our necks on the chopping block -- rather than pick up a pitchfork or a torch and go storming the castle and grabbing power where it actually lies, we're content to snipe power where we can find it, even if it means hurting innocent people. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Party like it's 1992

In a hilarious, and profoundly obtuse, op-ed in Wednesday's The New York Times, Peter Wehner, a "senior fellow" at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, asks "Have Democrats Pulled Too Far Left?" And, as with most headlines that end in a question mark, the answer is No, they have not. What has moved to the left is the American people.

Wehner, who "served in the last three Republican administrations,” immediately shows just how out of touch he and the right are by comparing 1992 to 2015. He tries desperately to show that Barack Obama is so much further to the left of -- get this -- Bill Clinton. Alternatively, the GOP "hasn't moved very much from where it was during the Gingrich era in the mid-1990s"; as if that's a good thing.

For Wehner, this is a big problem for the Democrats because they lost BIG in the 2014 elections, which had the lowest voter turnout since WWII. He doesn't  mention that. He also doesn’t mention GOP gerrymandering, or gutted voter ID laws.

What he does mention are a lot of scary things —  if you haven't had a new idea since the 1990s.

"Mr. Obama is more liberal than Mr. Clinton was on gay rights, religious liberties, abortion rights, drug legalization, and climate change," explains Wehner, apparently not realizing that is a new millennium.

I can’t believe I have to explain this but, American thinking on every single one of those things have shifted.

He even claims that at one point that the nation is “more conservative today than it was in the mid-1990s.” This idea is inferred from  a “recent Pew poll’ (that I could not find) that says the country agrees with Republicans on foreign policy and taxes. On Taxes, here’s a Pew poll disagreeing with Wehner and the GOP.  

"[Obama] has focused far more attention on income inequality than did Mr. Clinton, who stressed opportunity and mobility," he continues, not caring that wages have stayed flat for the last 30 years, which include the 23 years he is comparing, siphoning wealth upwards. Way harsh, Tai.

For effect, the bitter, pointless screed goes on to name other lefties like Holder, Hillary, FDR, de Blasio, and Warren, and Ed Miliband for some reason.

But, if you listen to the folks that Wehner does not call out — any of GOP presidential candidates — they are all promoting the same slogan: "Still The Same After 25 Years.” That isn’t what the country wants and that’s why the Right is trying to fix things, one-person-one-vote at a time.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Barack Obama: Two Time Nobelist?

You'll no doubt recall the hue and cry when Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his stand on nuclear non-proliferation and his attempts to engage the Muslim world. Both the right and left in this country had great sport at this -- and here I'll agree -- premature awarding of a prize to a man with few signal accomplishments in foreign policy, apart from being "not Bush".

Six years later and I think it's time to give him the Prize for real this time. Think about this past year: for a man who started his administration hoping to hit singles and doubles in foreign policy (consumed as he had to be by the domestic economic crisis), he's kind of knocked a couple out of the park, provoking admiration from aboard and from mainstream Americans, and consternation from the idiot fringe that will sit on perches and poop all day, parroting "Obama bad, BRAWK!"

In general, his foreign policy across six years has been pragmatic rather than bold: he's taken a backseat in Syria and Libya despite being the single largest presence in either conflict. Of course, this makes the Ex-Parrots all squawk that he's done nothing, despite the fact that America has, if not the largest, certainly a large military and diplomatic presence in both of those conflicts.

He hasn't quite confronted Putin in Ukraine, a potential European Union and NATO member, to be sure, but then Russia has its own internal mess that prevents Putin from being as aggressive as he probably believes he can be. It's hard to invade a neighboring nation when your own people are having a hard time buying bread because you've banned food imports (shades of the Soviet!) Obama really hasn't had to take much action against Putin. You know the old saying: when your enemy is drowning, don't throw him a life saver.

This also served to silence his, critics domestically, as well, all of whom marveled at the magnificence of Putin's strong aggressive display. The traitors. The same traitors who decided to cast their lot with Netanyahu over their own President, only to have it blow up in their faces as Americans decided, "You know? Enough is enough, guys."

The other intractable problem remains ISIS (and their sworn ally, Boko Haram), but here too, Obama has been working quietly in sync with allies in the region. It's a muddle, to be sure, so bad that Jon Stewart has remarked that the United States is actually fighting the United States, but it's better than our boots on the ground and gives political cover to the local nations to solve the problems that were ultimately imposed by western nations on their own terms.

Which brings me to Iran, of course.  Here, Obama has taken bold action, action that scares the living daylights out of his conured critics, so much so that they attempted to undermine any agreement with Iran (and five other nations, I want to quickly add) only to have that, too, explode in their faces like a trick cigar.

A nuclear non-proliferation treaty with a nation that is far smaller than Russia, a treaty backed by Russia and China, one that can now be implemented to if not prevent, delay development of nuclear energy by Iran until we have had a chance to incorporate them into the world at large. Think it can't be done?

Is Iran any worse than Germany or Japan of the 1940s? Yet there we have two thriving members of the global community, trusted allies and partners.

And finally, there's Cuba. A sixty year old Cold War ended with the last regime standing. While de facto this freeze out ended after the Elian Gonzalez fiasco (and I say "fiasco" with respect to the Cuban-American mafia that forced politicians to genuflect to their whims in order to deliver Florida's electorate), it took an additional twenty years and a new generation of Cuban Americans to say "We'd really like to visit our relatives now." It was inevitable. Obama did the pragmatic yet bold thing, and he did it the right way.

Going forward, we see John Kerry making overtures to the what can only laughingly be called "government" of Somalia. I anticipate next on the agenda will be the conflict in Mali (rebel forces there have aligned with Islamist extremists) and perhaps forcing Mugabe out of Zimbabwe, or at least holding his feet closer to the fire.

Obama will not be able to single-handedly in eight years create peace in the world, but the overall arc of his efforts has been towards that goal, reducing violent extremism in the world while creating economic opportunity in places it did not exist before. For instance, his advances in Africa and in South Asia will help make shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean a little safer from piracy when pirates no longer have chaotic ports to seek safe harbor in.

Despite the daily news reports, he's been generally successful in that goal: remember, when he took office, all those extremists had two honey pots to fly to, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the terrible tolls in those nations never really entered our consciousness because we became inured to the numbers and the stories and they all blurred together. Today, the death tolls from extremists worldwide (with the exception of Syria) are down and trending down.

This 2009 Nobel Prize, possibly not his last one, may have been the most prescient pick for the Nobel committee ever.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

The Future Has A Price

NASA, the space agency that has developed such technological wonders as Velcro, braces, Dippin' Dots, and is close to forcing man kind to answering some deeply philosophical questions, is at the mercy of blatant political partisanship and a poor understanding of science.  

The agency's budget for Earth science and research is being reallocated (read: cut) for space flight technologies to the tune of 40%. The National Science Foundation's funding for Earth Sciences will also be slashed dramatically, and will no longer receive any funding for social sciences.

While it may sound obvious for the agency to conduct spaceflight missions, part of NASA's Vision includes "Conduct[ing] airborne remote sensing and science missions." In other words, NASA is responsible for studying Earth, which is in space. This recent budgetary issue appears to stem from the GOP's near-unanimous refusal to accept climate change as real and happening.

This literal denial of climate change can be seen most recently in Florida, where administration officials were ostensibly banned from even uttering the phrase.

For another example, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith wrote an op-ed titled "The Climate-Change Religion." In the piece, Smith rails against Obama for making climate change so scary and claiming that it's even real. The title is especially weird because I thought Republicans were respectful of deeply held religious beliefs, going as far as passing bills to allow people to discriminate against others who do not adhere to those beliefs. But this time it's different because Mr. Lamar (nor his donors) does not share those beliefs, and so he disregards them; despite the fact that there is an ever-increasing amount of data telling us that climate change is real and human activity plays a part. But, then again, these are peer-reviewed science papers, not the Bible or campaign checks, so point taken, I guess.

In the op-ed, Mr. Lamar makes some rather dubious claims about the threat, or lack of, from climate change including, that, over the last 15 years, the warming of the planet has stopped. Data shows that it have slowed, thanks to efforts by governments to curb emissions. He also claimed that climate change does not cause more severe storms, which is wrong. Climate change has been linked to stronger hurricanes and longer droughts, for instance.

It should be noted that Mr. Lamar, like many Republicans, is not a scientist. He was a lawyer before getting elected to the House in 1986. It is strange that he would ignore the advice of the world's scientists at the peril of the country and the world for petty politics. Would you ignore your lawyer's law advice?

What is especially confusing is Mr. Lamar's introduction of the STEM Education Act of 2014 of which he, admirably, says "we have to capture and hold the desire of our nation's youth to study science and engineering so they will want to pursue these careers. A health and viable STEM workforce, literate in all STEM subjects including computer science, is critical to American industries. We must work to ensure that students continue to go into these fields so that their ideas can lead to a more innovative and prosperous America."

Except, of course, if the work of those future scientists hurt some of his donors.

It appears that instead of selling out the planet, Mr. Lamar and his colleagues should start investing in it. Otherwise, some day, it may never be cold enough to enjoy some Dippin' Dots. 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Mike Huckabee vows to fight the modern world

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took time away from selling snake oil to old people to pre-announce his annoucement to run for president. Or his book isn't doing too well.

In a two-minute video, Pastor Mike previews the themes of his candidacy and almost immediately mentions the Clintons. Granted, Huckabee never actually beat Bill Clinton. Huckabee assumed the governorship after Gov. Jim Guy Tucker resigned but that's not the point. Who's going to remember way back to 1996?

Be damned sure that Huckabee will mention religion a lot. Most recently he said the the Supreme Court cannot "overrule God" on gay marriage. Too bad your religion does not trump the rights of others, Pastor.

But that's not the weirdest thing he has said. He has also recently complained that "we are rapidly moving toward the criminalization of Christianity," which, is odd because he's running for president. If Christianity was soon to be outlawed, one would think he'd be in Jesus Jail instead of on national TV all the time. In reality, he's just upset that some Christians can't openly hate on gays without being called bigots.

He has gone further off the deep end, telling potential military recruits to wait to join up until after Obama leaves office. Why? You guessed it, because of the Obama Administration's perceived hostility to the Christian faith. What those two have to do with one another is an excellent question.

Down the rabbit hole we fall.

As a regular contestant on the horrific Family Research Council's Washington Watch program, Huckabee recently claimed that gays won't rest until "there are no more churches." What the actual hell? It's more likely the other way around.

If anything, Huckabee has all the super-right-wing rhetoric down pat: gay marriage is like the ISIS threat; if someone breaks into his home, he calls 911 to tell them where to pick up the body; contraception is tryanny; America is going down the tubes and we should pray for fire from heaven; etc. (I think that last one is a liberals-cause-volcanos reference).

It appears that the world is passing Huckabee by, and I hope flipping him the bird as it passes.

As one 5-star reviewer of Huckabee's book (#62, 954 Amazon Sales rank) says: "Easy read for an older guy like me. Makes a lot of sense about the sad state of our country, not the USA I grew up in!"

Thank God for that.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ted Cruz and the Race to the Bottom of the Barrel

As he runs for president, Senator Ted Cruz is still in the news, even though he will never be president. After the kerfuffle surrounding him and some prominent gay hoteliers, he's back on the stump reminding folks that Barack Obama is black and it is the president's words that are causing cops to kill other black people.

As Politico reports, Cruz, speaking at an event hosted by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, insists that it is not systemic poverty or militarized police forces or unfair drug laws that are inflaming racial divides, but rather the Obama Administration's rhetoric.

"...[Mr Obama has] made decisions that I think have inflamed racial tensions that have divided us rather than bringing us together.”

Similar to his campaign platform, Mr Cruz doesn't give many specifics. He mentions one quote made in 2012 by Vice President Joe Biden, who said that the GOP is trying to put people back in chains. Damning stuff.

He also, for some reason, links the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy to racial and societal divides. Gun are too unfairly treated in this country, I assume.

President Obama, in his inflaming way, recently called police violence a "crisis" and condemned the neglect of the poor. How incendiary! The poor are neglected and unfairly treated by police and the judicial system?! I never. For his part, Mr Obama seemed frustrated that people are more concerned with broken windows than broken necks. A reasonable, sober response, in this blogger's cheeto-stained opinion.

Is this the "incendiary" language Mr Cruz speaks of? Or is he just pandering. Nah, couldn't be: “I think Republicans are and should be the party of the 47 percent," Mr Cruz said with a straight face.

In true Cruz fashion, when pressed to discuss something about his own platform, namely Obamacare and immigration reform, he dodged and weaved like the true pandering asshole he is, saying only: “What you’re hearing me say is, my message is going to be consistent.”

That message being what, exactly?

Thursday, April 16, 2015


It's been a busy winter/spring around Chez212. I've been pursuing multiple career options -- photography, writing and acting -- all while managing a rookie softball team. To boot, I've decided I'm bored and want a job again, so I've been searching for that, too.

I had a dream in the early morning today that I'd like to share:

I was walking with a group of people in some ravine or valley. We needed to climb up to a plateau to get to where we needed to get. We had two choices: walk up the built-in stairway into the cliffside, or climb a fairly treacherous rock face about four or five hundred feet high.

We had already been on the plateau earlier before descending into the valley (there may have been a festival up there. That bit of the dream is really fuzzy.) We wanted to return.

I couldn't see my companions but perhaps six of us were walking.

Anyway, I started to climb the rock. It was a very smooth surface, like granite that time, water and wind had scrubbed smooth. Some footholds and handholds, enough to make the climb doable without lines or harnesses.

Now, I have a terrible fear of heights.

No, let me rephrase that: I have a terrible fear of falling from heights. But unusually for me, I climbed and kept climbing, even after I looked down and swallowed my fear hard.

I reached the top. Almost. I was literally a hand-hold away. I could reach out and grab a pinnacle, but the pinnacle crumbled in my grip. I reached for a hand-hold of granite, and the granite shuddered and fell away. I could almost grip the top, the plateau, my goal, but every time I tried, it fell away.

I slinked back down. As I began to make for the stairs, this being of slime and goop started to climb. He -- because I'm assuming -- climbed the same route I did, but faster and with more confidence.

When he reached the top, he didn't grab hold of anything, he leaped from the pinnacle to the cliff face and hoisted himself up. I woke.

Did you ever have a dream where, when you woke up, even though it was a metaphor and even though the imagery was completely irrelevant to your life, you knew exactly what it meant?

That was this dream. I get my message.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


Noted golden-parachute owner Carly Fiorina is running for president. Or she has a book coming out -- no one is sure. In the meantime, she continues to prove why HP wanted her gone so badly because she knows so little about technology. Somehow, she was able to double-click MS Word and type nearly 800 of the wrong words about the menace of net neutrality.

Ms Firoina's missive has got it all: scare quotes, poor analogies, complaints of laws having too many pages, and, of course, an early mention of her running an $87-billion company. But, strangely, no mention that she was such a hapless, terrible CEO that the company threw lots of money at her to go away.

To quickly recap (and hopefully explain to Ms Fiorina) proponents of net neutrality argue that content owners (Netflix, HBO, Google, terrible bloggers) should all be equal. Internet Service Providers, or ISPs, like Verizon and Comcast, should not treat content differently. And, in turn, they should not charge for content differently. This is the crux of the argument: if ISPs create two different Internets, that could spell trouble for the innovation that Fiorina knows nothing about, because not everyone can afford to be in the alleged fast lane.

In other words, these laws prevent ISPs from throttling or blocking content in exchange for fees

Fiornia's argument that the internet will now be governed by antiquated 20th century laws is bullshit. This have been oft repeated by similarly uninformed opponents/liars of net neutrality.

"Whereas the old Internet was 'permissionless,'" she writes. "The new Internet will require bureaucratic approval for the most mind-numbing minutiae and create huge areas of uncertainty."

This is flat out wrong and shame on CNN for publishing this, even with the standard "the views and opinions are of the author's alone" claptrap.

The Internet was never "permissionless." There are lots of rules regulating the internet. Her assertion is absurd on its face. But, not as absurd as Fiorina's presidential aspirations.

Currently, even with an open internet, there is no innovation or competition. Verizon and Comcast fight tooth and nail to prevent competition. They even wink-and-dod at each for turf; a literal The Wire.

Fiorina also tries to compare the internet access between Europe and the U.S., which is hilarious because net neutrality is all but kaput in the Europe., thanks to the lobbying power of its telecoms.

Then comes the usual whining about financial regulations (some are her best friends/bankers donated mightily to her campagin), Obamacare (how dare the government not let people go bankrupt because of hospital bills), and "everything in between" (which is pretty vague even for Fiorina).

I don't pretend to know how to run a large tech company, but I do understand net neutrality; Carly Fiorina pretends she knows both.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Happy Spring Holiday

I pray for peace to us all, and a renewal of the vow that we are all equals in the eyes of the universe.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Heartland Institute: Reporters Refuse to Report Nonsense Paid for by Our Donors

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research, took to the oil-money-soaked pages of the Heartland Institute to wax pathetic about the lack "of views of researchers skeptical of the theory humans are causing potentially catastrophic climate change" in the news.

Mr. Cohen tells us about a recent study by George Mason University called "Covering Global Warming in Dubious Times: Enviromental Reporters in the New Media Ecosystem". I assume he does not link to the study because he does not know how, but he does know that global warming is not happening.

What is dubious about these times, you ask? I'm not sure. But I guess it has to do with what year Cohen thinks it is.   

The authors of the study interviewed "nearly a dozen journalists" who regularly report on the artist formerly known as global warming and found that the journalists find it "irrelevant" to include denialists in their reporting. I pray there is a fainting couch in the Heartland Instititue's office.

As Cohem complains, news editors urge reporters to deny that there is a debate over climate change. This is because, as Cohen omits, there is no debate; 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and humans contribute it. To most reasonable people this is called "journalism," which is not what Cohen is concerned about. Cohen is concerned about The Witch Hunt.

Jay Lehr, science director at the Institute, is quoted as saying, "What is going on now is a witch hunt, proving there are no longer any supportable facts that indicate mankind has any significant role in determining climate. All that remains is to vilify those in opposition.”

Now, I may just be a blogger hopped up on nicotine and a false sense of entitlement but, it seems that Lehr is projecting. Or lying. To say that the scientific community is all out of facts about the existence of climate change that they are reduced to maligning skeptics in an article maligning writers who won't report unscientific claims seems disingenuous. And stupid.

But hey, who are you to believe? Those egg heads at NASA, or Donner Cohen and his friends in the business of causing climate change?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Other Reason

In the history of the United States, only three Presidents have ever been elected to the office of President of the United States directly out of the US Senate.

Of those, only Barack Obama failed to complete his first term (ironically, the other two, Warren Harding and John Kennedy, were elected as their first term in the Senate was ending.)

As I was writing my most recent post about the frustrations and difficulties either Elizabeth Warren or Rand Paul would face in getting elected (and I mentioned the difficulties Barack Obama had in governing), this post sort of popped up and started coalescing.

It's easy to blame racism for the reaction Republicans have had to Barack Obama. It is undeniable that the Republican and conservative base is racist and they pressure their leaders to conform to their thinking. It is also undeniable that the Congress is, taken as the whole, a white legislation. In particular, the Republican contingent, which if memory serves has precisely three black members.

I mean, it's hard to understand a people if you never ever meet one, except in an elevator or deli. Obama has a lot working against him on the skin color front, to be sure.

But there's another aspect to the abject hatred he engenders, a layer on top of the racism that might even justify the racism in the mind of the racists: a simple truth.

Barack Obama hadn't earned his place in line.

As with so much about this remarkable and historic figure, it's hard to make comparisons. Both Harding and Kennedy failed to finish out their terms, as both died in office.

Harding, however, was under investigation in the Teapot Dome scandal and a raft of other shady dealings and people. Ironically, Harding was accused of being secretly black. These should give a sense of the level of hatred he engendered in the opposition.

Kennedy, too, had a very virulent strain of haters across the country, in large part because he was the first Catholic elected to the Presidency, echoing Obama's dilemma fifty years down the road. Indeed, in the city where he was assassinated, Kennedy was vilified and excoriated in manners that, too, would echo in Barack Obama's administrations.

But let's focus on the microcosm that is the Senate. It's a very traditional chamber, an old boy network that relishes in the fact it is the place where hot-headed measures and rants go to die (lately....? Ted Cruz puts paid to that notion). And there is a very definite pecking order. New Senators are expected to sit in the back, keep quiet and listen.

That both Cruz and Tom Cotton of Arkansas are now perceived amongst their peers as idiots speaks volumes about this system. That Rand Paul is making as many waves as he is says a lot about his chances to gain the support of his Senate peers beyond the obligatory speechifying.

In short, the Senate will not be put in a corner. And I'm sure they've had quite enough of being seen as a step on a career climber's ladder. Should the next President come out of the Senate after less than one term, there will be hell to pay.

Too, spending time in the chamber and paying your dues allows you to create a network that you can work with (altho nowadays...?). On the other hand, it creates a paper trail of legislation that you;ve voted on, along with every amendment. Thus is why you see these bizarre ads about "voting for/against abortion" when no bill about abortion was ever put in the hopper. It's usually tacked on as an amendment to another bill that either gets voted up or down.

Obama suffered a lot for this, I think, because you'll note that some of the opposition to him in the first term came from his own party (Max Baucus leaps to mind). That a Democrat would publicly flout his opposition to Obama's signal accomplishment speaks volumes to the resentment folks felt.

It will take a long time for the Senate to overcome this bias, if it ever does. Obama's skin color merely allows Senators to ignore their more insidious bias.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Reality in Politics

I love me some Paultards.

Some of what I'm going to say applies to another candidate's supporters, but I want to draw a very careful distinction between the believers in Rand Paul and the Elizabeth Warren wing of the Democratic Party and liberals outside the party.

Rand Paul is cuckoo. Rand Paul will never be President, even if he somehow manages to survive the primaries. His dad, Ron, made a great if futile run and so paved some paths for Rand, but Ron didn't have the same personal baggage that Rand has. Ron had some racist and crackpot newsletters, but they were published twenty years earlier, to be sure.

Rand? Well... let's just say "Google 'Rand Paul Aqua Buddha'" and go from there. Or "disabilities". Or the "Civil Rights Act". Or "Israel". Or...

He doesn't stand a chance. Even his political organizers have pretty much given up on him and we're a year out from the first primaries.

Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, would make a fine President, and apart from that annoying "Cherokee" thing, really has no bizarre past that she'll have to spend hours explaining away. If she was to jump in the ring against Hillary (assuming she's running), I would be hard pressed to choose between the two. Both would make great Presidents. Only one would make a great candidate in an era where issues don't matter anymore, tho.

Some of her supporters, whom I'll call Warrenterrorists just to distinguish them from sober, thoughtful folks, are supporting her out of spite for Hillary. Those people are the equivalents of Paultards, I think. My comments apply to them as well.

It's wonderful to live in a world where you can hang your hopes and aspirations on other people. Rand Paul (and with the codicils mentioned above, Elizabeth Warren) represents a fantasy figure, a chimera.

Rand Paul is Tinkerbell and boys and girls, if we all just clap our hands together, clap them real hard and real loud, Paul (Warren) can win! We like him! We really want him!

We can try, but it's not going to happen, less so for Warren than for Paul. But I get the metaphor: they represent some form of purity and morality -- or at least concise thinking that can be easily digested in a bite or two -- that people gravitate to in a nation bereft of truth and lacking a common point that we can all agree upon. We don't have a focus anymore.

Truth is, we've lacked one for many decades now, ever since the Soviets folded up. The American people weren't prepared for what came next, altho we should have been, the signs were there. The war on Americans, by Americans. The class war.

We're finally just waking up now, and if Paultards and Warrenterrorists want to, they can take comfort in the fact they are on the vanguard of that awakening and awareness. Small beer, I know, but I've been there on the edge of political change and it's exciting while you're there but even more exciting to see it take root.

The truth is, I really want a Lamborghini but I'm not willing to mortgage my income until 2119 to buy one so it's a fantasy. Yes, it's a great car to drive, and I could thumb my nose at so many criticisms and concerns because, Lamborghini.

So I buy a Toyota, and bite my tongue about it not being a Lamborghini and yes my Toyota, which I will call "Hillary," has her own issues that anyone else can pick on -- it contributes to pollution, the Clintons Toyota Motor Corporation has safety and quality issues and make massive amounts of money in this corporatist world --  but at the end of the day, it was the car I could afford that was the best compromise I could find.

At the end of the day, we all have to make them. Right now, Warren is my Lamborghini. But she's not going to win the 2016 election, at least not from this far out (things change, so I keep an open mind). I would love it if she did, but she won't. And I won't mortgage my daughter's future to the Republicans to tear the party apart in a losing cause.

This won't satisfy many die-hard Warren supporters, so I'm merely going to say that the frothy support of Warren now reminds me a lot -- A LOT -- of the same starry-eyed support a young man from Chicago had at about the same point in the election cycle of 2008.

How'd that work out for ya?

I seem to recall hearing an awful lot of supporters of President Barack Obama howl in desperation about his weakness and inability to get the campaign agenda put in place (by the way, in two years, he completed more of his checklist than Reagan did in eight), about how even with a (two month long) Congressional majority in both houses he couldn't pass a major policy (um, no, he did) and how now all he does is play golf and issue executive orders that conservatives tear apart.

Let me ask you: do you think any of that would change under Rand Paul? Elizabeth Warren? Paul might get a boost from Congress, but Paul is going to lose the Senate before he's inaugurated. Warren might get a boost from that same Senate (she's played the politics of the Hill rather nicely, it seems) but....well, let's just say that "Warren is the new black" is the mantra for 2017 should she win.

And yes when Hillary wins, none of that changes, and Republicans will make it tougher for her but heres the thing: she's been there, done that, seen it for twenty five years now. And she gives back with a tuned and measured response that not only deflates the criticism, but points out its flaws and foibles to the point of embarrassing folks.

In other words, she'll silence her critics. And then get stuff done. Even the Republicans will have to work with her or be exposed as sitting in Washington for sixteen years on their hands. Weaker Boener doesn't want that to be his legacy. Neither does McConnell.

And then maybe, just maybe, we can all take a long nap. We've earned it after the 24 hour temper tantrum that is the reality of politics today.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Liberal Line Up

In case you haven't heard, MSNBC -- which has always had some pretty shaky ratings but can usually point to one or two juicy plums in their book -- has been suffering miserably since their most recent prime time shakeup:
Amid the cable news network’s declining ratings, insiders tell TheWrap changes are coming soon and “everything is on the table”
When President Obama was reelected in 2012, MSNBC was “leaning forward” and smiling wide as Obama 2.0 propelled it to record ratings and a firm grasp on the No. 2 spot in cable news.
Over two years later, the network has fallen backwards. January ratings revealed double-digit declines compared with January, 2014 in all ratings measurements. During the day, MSNBC was down 20 percent in viewers and 37 percent in the advertising-coveted 25-54 demo. In primetime, it fell 23 percent in viewers and 39 percent in demo.