Monday, December 29, 2008

Stanley Fish gets what he deserves:
The first obstacle, of course, was getting through to someone. The prompts did not correspond to any of my concerns, but finally, after pressing a number of zeros, I was rewarded with the voice of a live person who said, “With whom do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

Visions of Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the telephone operator danced in my head, but I bit my tongue and made my simple request.

“I’ve been away for some time and my services were reduced. I’d like to have them restored to what they were when I left in June.”

It turned out that this was not possible. Even though I had paid to retain my phone number, I was going to be treated as a new customer, which meant that I would have to answer a bunch of questions and decline services I had never had. After much back and forth I signed up for a package that included voice mail.

I should have quit when I was (somewhat) ahead, but I couldn’t resist returning to the greeting, with its double and ungrammatical “with.” I explained that the second “with” was superfluous, as the second “to” would be if the offending question had been, “to whom am I speaking to?”, or the second “about” if the question had been “about what are you worrying about?"


I was more exasperated than relieved, and I made the mistake of re-raising the “with-whom-do-I-have-the-pleasure-of-speaking-with” matter. He listened and suggested that I make a complaint. You mean call another 800 number, I wailed. No, he replied, I’ll do it for you, just tell me what you want to say. I went through the nature of the error, but when I talked about the unseemliness of a major corporation managing to sound pompous and ignorant at the same time, he interrupted me and said that he would not transmit that kind of language. I thought about pointing out that this was a complaint, not a love letter, but I just gave up.

This epic was not over. When I got to Florida after a three-day drive I found that I didn’t have voice mail. I called and was told that there was no record of my having placed an order. record of my having placed an order. I was assured that the matter would be taken care of in 24 hours. It wasn’t. I called back the next day, but a mechanical voice informed me that there was no service on Sunday. (Don’t people make phone calls on Sundays and pay for them?) Finally, on Monday, I reached someone who assured me that I would have voice mail the next day, and he turned out to be right.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I thought I'd do a few 30-second Christmas movie reviews, for shits and giggles:

White Christmas (1954, dir. Michael Curtiz): White Christmas is pure war propaganda. It starts off with a stage (scene-within-a-scene) performance featuring Bing Crosby as Captain Bob Wallace, singing the eponymous song, written by Crosby and Irving Berlin, "White Christmas" ("I'm dreaming of a white Christmas..."). Crosby gives a sendoff to the unit's benevolent Major General Thomas F. Waverley (Dean Jagger) as he returns to civilian life and is replaced by General Harold G. Coughlin (Gavin Gordon). Crosby and the squadron sing "The Old Man," ("We'll follow the old man wherever he wants to go... because we love him!"). The next leg of the film takes Crosby and Danny Kaye into civilian life as a popular duet who, in classical Hollywood fashion, meet a sister act, with whom they go on an adventure (to Vermont, where there is supposed to be snow). There, they re-encounter Major General Waverley, who has become an inkeeper, but who will have to quit because there are no guests. Thus, predictably, Crosby and Kaye bring their act to the inn to attract guests. In an effort to get the old squadron to appear for the performance, Crosby goes on The Ed Harrison Show and sings the most despicable, propagandistic song of the entire film, "What Can You Do With a General?" This song makes the demonstrably false claim that G.I.'s after the war have a much easier time reacquainting themselves with civilian life than generals:
When the war was over, why, there were jobs galore
For the G.I. Josephs who were in the war
But for generals things were not so grand
And it's not so hard to understand

What can you do with a general
When he stops being a general?
Oh, what can you do with a general who retires?

Who's got a job for a general
When he stops being a general?
They all get a job but a general no one hires
In an era in which retired generals get paid by the Pentagon to go on CNN and lie, we should rightfully be cynical about this claim. Dean Jagger's constantly pitiful General Waverly is a blatant misrepresentation. White Christmas is nauseating.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas(1966, dir. Chuck Jones and Ben Washam): There seems to be two ways of interpreting this film: either, the Grinch is the pariah, the outsider, the wandering Jew; he lives on the outskirts of Whoville and haunts the inhabitants with his malicious deeds, or, and this seems more accurate, he is a landlord or capitalist living on the outskirts of town who exploits the Whos and takes their property (through mechanisms legal and "etra-legal"). The Grinch is old and green: greed, miserliness. He has a lacky who is at his beck and call. He lives above the town (rather than in the slough or the swamp, which would be reserved for the pariah figure, as in Wagners Rheingold). Granted, his interior decoration is sparse, but his stealing of Christmas seems to stem less from need than from a desire to make others miserable. Furthermore, when he gives back to the residents of Whoville that which already belonged to them (wages), they treat him as a guest of honor and welcome him into their homes.

Christmas Vacation (1989, dir. Jeremiah Chechick):: Critique of the American Dream. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase )desires to play the patriarch; he wants to create the "perfect" Christmas, i.e. the Christmas that most mirrors the Hollywood Imaginary of Christmas. He seems to want to fulfill all of the fantasies that he held as a child: a gigantic tree, lights that illuminate the entire neighborhood, a private swimming pool. He is the model of American infantile consumerism, and he terrorizes his family with his schemes, forcing them to participate, occasionally at great personal risk (e.g., the opening scene in which they go to get a Christmas tree and nearly kill themselves in the process).

Christmas Vacation is a model movie for the current recession: Clark Griswold buys a swimming pool on credit in the belief that his Christmas bonus will cover the purchase, but the owner of the company decides on no bonuses in order to secure the "bottom line." Griswold is the model consumer, going in over his head in debt in order to purchase completely worthless, extraneous material goods. In the end, of course, something happens that would never happen in the real world: the boss is made to feel remorse at his decision and reinstates bonuses with a 20 percent increase. Griswold is ultimately triumphant (the last words of the film are him saying, "I did it"); although the film begins as a critique of the Christmas fantasy, Griswold's triumph is a spur for the viewer to ignore his misery. Nevertheless, it should be pointed out that, in the final scene, the senile aunt begins to sing the Star Spangled Banner as a rocket display (Santa on a sled) takes place. Rather than laughing off her silliness, the entire Griswold family (plus extended family) joins in. The message: sentimental ideology serves the same purpose no matter what the circumstances.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Why is William Kristol so stupid? Martha Nussbaum wrote an article recently, first appearing in the Los Angeles Times, and subsequently appearing on the University of Chicago Law Faculty Blog, in which she points out that what happened in Mumbai may have very dire consequences for India's Muslim populations, and that Muslims have often been the victims of terrorism in India, the most recent example being "the slaughter of as many as 2,000 Muslim civilians by Hindu right-wing mobs in the state of Gujarat over several months in 2002." Kristol responds to this sensible post, which points out that mass violence against Muslims should be prevented by the Indian government, with huffing, bluster, and bullshit:
[Nussbaum] deplores past acts of Hindu terror against India’s Muslims. She worries about Muslim youths being rounded up on suspicion of terrorism with little or no evidence. And she notes that this is “an analogue to the current ugly phenomenon of racial profiling in the United States.”

So jihadists kill innocents in Mumbai — and Nussbaum ends up decrying racial profiling here. Is it just that liberal academics are required to include some alleged ugly American phenomenon in everything they write?
Okay, so far so bad, but it gets worse. In response to former (moderate Republican) senator Jim Leach's claim that we should view the attacks in Mumbai not as an act of war but of barbarism - Leach's attempt to restrain Indian military action in Pakistan - Kristol tells us
if terror groups are to be defeated, it is national governments that will have to do so. In nations like India (and the United States), governments will have to call on the patriotism of citizens to fight the terrorists. In a nation like Pakistan, the government will have to be persuaded to deal with those in their midst who are complicit. This can happen if those nations’ citizens decide they don’t want their own country to be dishonored by allegiances with terror groups. Otherwise, other nations may have to act.
And in case anyone was wondering where the reference to Samuel Huntington was, it comes up in the last paragraph: "Patriotism is an indispensable weapon in the defense of civilization against barbarism." What is it with these realpolitik foreign policy wogs who think that they're being sensible when in fact they're just taking everyone else's moderation and exaggerating it so that it becomes nationalistic bluster. When everyone else is still figuring out the level of Pakistan's complicity in the attacks, Kristol is already contemplating invasion. Perhaps he can personally lynch all of Pakistan's terrorists. Perhaps him, John Wayne, and Rambo can take Pakistan by force and restore to it a functioning democracy. I hope Kristol is enjoying his brilliant vice-presidential pick (Palin) and writing mediocre op-eds, because it's going to be a long time before the Republicans have any power in this country again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

It's been a while since I've posted. I lessened my news consumption following on the heels of the election, and I found myself with less to say. I thought I'd post this, however, from Yale Environment 360. It turns out that the major gas used in the production of numerous tech-products, including thin-film solar photovoltaic cells (not to be confused with crystalline silicon cells) is a huge (HUGE!) contributor to global warming:
It may sound like somebody’s idea of a bad joke. But last month, a study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), with a global warming potential of 17,000 [In contrast, the GWP of CO2 = 1, Alex], is now present in the atmosphere at four times the expected level and rapidly rising. Use of NF3 is currently booming, for products from computer chips and flats-screen LCDs to thin-film solar photovoltaics, an economical and increasingly popular solar power format.
The production method with NF3 allows producers to only produce about 2 per cent emissions; however, most large scale production releases around 8 per cent, and most smaller scale production, not equipped with the appropriate sequestration tools, tends to release closer to 20 per cent. Right now, production of NF3 is around 7,300 tons per year, and it is expected to rise to 20,000 tons over the next four years. Now would be a good time for everyone to read John Bellamy Foster.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Consumerism gone wild: A Wal-Mart employee in New York City was killed by stampeding consumers this morning (Black Friday). I know we would all love to get 75% off of a toaster oven, but this kind of nonsense is utterly ridiculous. There's a reason I don't go shopping on Black Friday. Here's a snippet from the AP Report:
A worker was killed in the crush Friday after a throng of shoppers eager for post-Thanksgiving bargains burst through the doors at a suburban Wal-Mart, authorities said.

At least four other people were injured, and the store in Valley Stream on Long Island was closed.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Bentonville, Ark., called the incident a "tragic situation" and said the employee came from a temporary agency and was doing maintenance work at the store.

"He was bum-rushed by 200 people," co-worker Jimmy Overby, 43, told the Daily News. "They took the doors off the hinges. He was trampled and killed in front of me. They took me down too. ... I literally had to fight people off my back."
Boingboing also has some links discussing union action following this incident. According to the Director of Special Reports for Local 1500, "Wal-mart must step up to the plate and ensure that all those injured, as well as the family of the deceased, be financially compensated for their injuries and their losses. Their words are weak. The community demands action."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One of the classic claims coming from those who believe global warming to be just another scare tactic is that "We had a scientific consensus about global cooling in the '70s. One decade, you have cooling; one decade you have warming. It's all just cycles." Turns out, people who say this are flat out wrong. Over at Climate Progress, Joseph Romm discusses a new scientific review article that shows that not only was there not consensus on global cooling in the seventies, but the majority of scientific articles on climate change pointed to a warming effect.
The survey identified only 7 articles indicating cooling compared to 44 indicating warming. Those seven cooling articles garnered just 12% of the citations.
The myth of global cooling was two things: 1) a man bites dog media phenomenon and 2) something perpetuated by the late and not-so-great Michael Crichton in his novel State of Fear. There's a handy graph (copied below) that shows that there were only two year in the 60s and 70s in which the number of cooling articles matched the number of warming articles.

Friday, November 7, 2008

My Palin Fantasy

I know it's a little late, but I have a Palin fantasy. Here goes:

Now that the election is over, I fantasize that Palin goes back to Alaska with her family. She continues to be governor for the next two years, but loses the race to a no-name Democratic challenger in 2010 because it has come out that she helped doctor the election results in Alaska (in favor of Ted Stevens and Don Young), and she is on trial for felony election fraud. She is ultimately cleared of fraud, but her administration is in shambles. Continuing lawsuits from the McCain camp over the clothing mishap and defamation suits as her rhetoric towards them gets more hostile, ultimately force her, in 2011, to declare bankruptcy (all of my revenge fantasies include bankruptcy). In 2012, no one even considers her for a presidential nomination, and by 2016, she is living in a much smaller home in Wasilla, working as a manager at Wendy's and watching television for six hours a day. In 2011, Track Palin moves to New York and shortly thereafter comes out of the closet. He becomes a successful lawyer and soon is one of the pre-eminent gay rights' activists in the country, ultimately being an instrumental figure in the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. He eventually runs for mayor of New York and becomes their first openly gay mayor. Meanwhile, Bristol and her hubby are perpetually poor and continually draining the modest funds that Tod and Sarah have. As they watch their son on television, giving stump speeches advocating equality for everyone, they sit back and wonder what happened, living a regretful and argumentative life into their old age.

And that is my Sarah Palin fantasy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Election oddities in Alaska, at Open Left. I suspected fraud the moment the results came in (and I commented on it over at Gerry's blog). The pre-election polls just aren't off by that much without something fishy going on.
I'm reading part 5 of Newsweek's "Secrets of the 2008 Campaign", which is a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at everything that went on (an undergraduate working at the coffee shop asked me what I was reading today, and when I told him, he said, "That's really important." Not really. But it's fun to read). Right now, I'm reading about the selection of Palin, and I'm kind of surprised by how accurately Gerry assessed McCain's choice back in August. McCain is a chronic gambler. He is impulsive and addicted to risk. There's no other way to see it:
But McCain didn't want the safe choice. A top adviser would later recall that telling McCain that Pawlenty was "safe" was "like guaranteeing" that McCain would not pick him. Prodded by Schmidt and Rick Davis, McCain began asking about Palin, a first-term governor who had shaken up the Alaska political establishment by taking on her own party elders, who was fearless and defiant, who was … a little bit like McCain. He had called her that Sunday morning while she was attending the Alaska State Fair. It was a quick phone call, only about five minutes, and Palin had trouble hearing McCain over the noisy crowd. But McCain was intrigued. He told Salter and Schmidt to fly her down to Arizona and take a close look.
Needless to say, if McCain had picked Pawlenty, this would have been a closer race. Palin soured so many moderates. She is the embodiement of "The Authoritarian Personality": infantile, paranoid, defensive, aggressive, scheming, uninformed, and self-righteous (I honestly believe that with Palin as President, we would find ourselves in a police state overnight). In any case, I'm both glad and sad that John McCain the gambler ultimately picked Palin. Glad because it gave us that much more of a win. Sad because she really fueled a lot of aggression and hatred in the conservative base, and I worry where that is going to take us in the future.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

11 PM: "Barack Obama is projected to be the next President of the United States of America."
Just got back from Gerry's house. He's liveblogging, if you're interested. Looks like we've routed them. Kay Hagen takes NC; Obama has taken Ohio, it looks like New Mexico, etc. It's a good day.
To watch the Republicans steal votes in real time, go to Our Vote Live, the site of the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition. Most of the voting problems thus far are coming from (surprise) swing states and are in (surprise again) heavily Democratic areas.
A post entitled "Ugh" from a conservative poll tracking site is always a good thing for us:
Before Sunday, McCain was actually in a better poll position than many imagined. Not that he was in a good poll position, but it wasn't hopeless. The tracking poll range was about a 2 to 9 point lead for Obama, which was actually the final ranges for Bush against Gore. As we know Gore ended up winning the popular vote, and about half the country is convinced he won the electoral vote as well. There was also a good case for McCain getting the lion's share of the undecideds, given their demographic makeup and the fact that Obama had spent three quarters of a billion dollars and had still not won them over. Add into that the fact that the difference between the 2-point poll and the 9-point poll appeared to be structural, having more to do with the model for likely voter turnout than simply arising from random variance, and you had at least a straight-faced argument for McCain winning.

Sunday night, that changed. All the the tracking polls moved toward Obama. Even IBD and Battleground, the two polls whose models seemed to be the most favorable toward McCain, shifted from 2-point races to 4- or 5-point races. At that point, even under the best-case McCain turnout scenario, it became much harder to argue that undecideds and error margins could result in a McCain electoral win.

At that point the only hope was that this would be a one-day blip. That's part of the reason that I've held off doing electoral college projections -- I wanted to see what the trackers did today.

I'll tell you, it ain't pretty. Zogby has gone from an 8-point Obama lead to a 13.5-point Obama lead. IBD/TIPP went from O+4.5% to O+7%. Given that tracking polls are rolling averages, and are therefore "sticky," the move is probably even more pronounced than we are seeing. In other words, undecideds seem to be breaking heavily for Obama.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The headline: "Wave of Midnight Regulations Expected". The meaning: "Bush administration plans to finish off environment before end of presidential tenure." Via eenews (subs req'd, but campuses and some public libraries should have access). The Bush administration is planning to put through a number of "minor" regulatory changes after the end of the Nov. 1 rule proposal deadline, using yet another exception clause (for which the Bush administration is so well known). Here's a sample:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued proposed regulations to implement new car fuel-efficiency standards in April 2008, and final regulations are expected soon. "The Bush administration has proposed to use unrealistically low predictions of future gasoline prices for these calculations," the report says.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has a proposed rule changing its environmental regulations to update its "waste confidence" finding, which determines the safety of spent nuclear fuel. NRC is currently deliberating a final rule to require new nuclear reactor applicants to provide an assessment of how the reactor would respond in the event of a large commercial aircraft impact, the report said.

The Interior Department also has a slew of regulations expected to come out before the end of the year. In April, it proposed a rule that would allow visitors to carry loaded guns into national parks and wildlife refuges unless state laws prevent them from doing so. Another Interior proposal would govern offshore leasing for renewable energy generators, such as wind turbines.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has also been rushing to complete changes to Endangered Species Act regulations that would fundamentally change how agencies consider potential threats to protected species from federal projects.

In an environmental assessment released this week, Interior said the rules would have little impact on the environment. Environmentalists decried the report as a rush job by political appointees that does not assess the full range of possible harm to species or court rulings on previous ESA decisions. The agency gave the minimum of 10 days for public comment on the assessment.

The Office of Surface Mining is expected to issue a final rule that would extend the current rule on mountaintop removal coal mining so that protections apply to all bodies of water, not just streams. But the rule would also exempt some practices or venues such as permanent coal waste disposal facilities and could allow for changing a waterway's flow.

The Bureau of Land Management could complete rules on issuing leases for commercial oil shale development now that Congress has allowed a moratorium to expire that had prevented the agency from finalizing such regulations during fiscal 2008. BLM also is expected to come out with a final rule establishing energy transmission corridors that would criss-cross through 11 states in the West. The agency also proposed a rule this month to eliminate a regulation that allows for emergency withdrawals of public land from energy production and mineral extraction to protect natural resources.

The National Park Service plans to change decades-old regulations within the next two months to open more trails to mountain biking. The agency is working on a draft proposal that it plans to release in time to have a 30-day public comment period and have the new rule in effect by mid-December. The service also plans to have a proposed rule for snowmobile use in Yellowstone this winter ready for public comment by early November and in place by Dec. 15, after a federal judge threw out a previous plan.

A federal judge also ruled last December that the Fish and Wildlife Service must reconsider its refusal to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act, and a decision is expected by December.

And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is working on rules that would toss out part of a longstanding environmental law in federal fisheries management decisions.
Make It Simple, Stupid: Richard L. Hansen, at, has an article detailing why congress should pass legislation that makes voter registration automatic. The county-by-county, semiannual registration process is one of the stupidities of the election format in the U.S., which gives rise to immense controversy and numerous court battles, when instead, it could be solved with the cooperation of the post office and the Census Bureau:
The solution is to take the job of voter registration for federal elections out of the hands of third parties (and out of the hands of the counties and states) and give it to the federal government. The Constitution grants Congress wide authority over congressional elections. The next president should propose legislation to have the Census Bureau, when it conducts the 2010 census, also register all eligible voters who wish to be registered for future federal elections. High-school seniors could be signed up as well so that they would be registered to vote on their 18th birthday. When people submit change-of-address cards to the post office, election officials would also change their registration information.

This change would eliminate most voter registration fraud. Government employees would not have an incentive to pad registration lists with additional people in order to keep their jobs. The system would also eliminate the need for matches between state databases, a problem that has proved so troublesome because of the bad quality of the data. The federal government could assign each person a unique voter-identification number, which would remain the same regardless of where the voter moves. The unique ID would prevent people from voting in two jurisdictions, such as snowbirds who might be tempted to vote in Florida and New York. States would not have to use the system for their state and local elections, but most would choose to do so because of the cost savings.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A picture is worth 700 billion words (via boing boing):

Idea: Exxon Mobil, enjoying the largest US quarterly profit ever, should help bail out the next failed banking institution.
Gnarls Barkley makes the best music videos:

Conservative prodigal son Christopher Buckley has now written a concession speech for John McCain, demonstrating clearly that even reprobate Republicans are not funny:

My friends, this is a historic night. Tonight America elected its first African-American president. I’m proud of my country for doing that, though I kind of wish it hadn’t done it on this particular November 4. But no, seriously, I congratulate Senator Obama on a tremendous achievement. And I congratulate the country. Tonight, America has shown that it truly is the land of limitless opportunity. If a self-described “skinny black guy with big ears and a funny name” can become president of the United States – well, my friends, I guess there’s hope for just about anyone. Who knows, maybe next time it’ll be a Martian or some other type of little green man off a spaceship. Well, as that great philosopher, Yogi Berra, said when someone told him a Jewish man had been elected mayor of Dublin: “Only in America.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I'm a little bit burnt out on the race. I don't know if one more belligerent Palin comment, one more voter suppression scare, one more Obama taking a state that he normally wouldn't take (well, maybe that), one more "Kill him," one more "Who is yada yada yada?" is going to register with me. I think I've had enough shock and/or outrage and/or surprise and/or news (which isn't to say I won't keep reading/blogging about it). But for now, I've been reading the blogs of so-called TI's, or "targeted individuals," people who believe that the government is controlling their minds and reading their thoughts. It really is the usual run of paranoia turned up a notch; there's not that much of a gap between a person viewing a misplaced envelope of money as the work of government operatives and a person connecting an acquaintance with a former member of the Weather Underground with active terrorism. Moreover, the individual who writes this blog is not stupid. About police brutality he writes, "Such viciousness by the police is indicative of their being brainwashed into committing the most sadistic and unconscionable of crimes." There's brainwashed and there's brainwashed, right? Are they literally sat down in a chair with waves shooting into their brains? Probably not. Are they indoctrinated with a sense of superiority and self-righteousness? Often, yes. I'll leave you with my favorite illustration from the site.

Monday, October 27, 2008

AFL-CIO's Richard Trumka on Barack Obama and race:

Sunday, October 26, 2008

James Pinkerton, apparently so desperate that he would even establish a link between himself and Obama if it could damage the latter's credibility, has devolved to Church Lady:
Could Lucifer play a role in this presidential election? It may sound crazy, but one of the candidates in this race has publicly praised, even emulated, a writer-activist who himself paid tribute to Lucifer. That’s right, Lucifer, also known as the Devil, Satan, Beelzebub—you get the idea.
I just finished reading State Capitalism and World Revolution by C. L. R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, and Grace Lee [Boggs], the founders of what came to be known as the "Forest-Johnson Tendency," after the pseudonyms that James and Dunayevskaya used in many of their first collaborative projects. The book is incredibly timely because it confronts the question of what socialism is. Right now, there are two public debates running concurrently, both of which use the term "socialism" rather liberally. The first has to do with Obama's plan for moderate tax cuts to the middle and lower classes and tax hikes for the wealthy. The specter of socialism is raised here, and strenuously denied by the Obama camp, simply as a tactic to divert the argument from tax policy to political philosophy. I don't think it is worth discussing. The second deals with the Treasury's billions of dollars in loans to banks and their plan (TARP) to buy up hundreds of billions in bad assets; this move amounts to strong-arming taxpayers into becoming corporate investors in incredibly risky ventures. The claim is that this is state socialism - the state is stepping in to take control of the banks, and becoming de facto socialist. But State Capitalism and World Revolution takes aim against precisely this notion of socialism, i.e. the Stalinist, Titoist model of state "socialism." They argue that centralization in the state and state property is capitalism of a specific kind: state capitalism. Instead of Capitalists, you have bureaucrats, but their function is essentially the same; they are to keep power out of the hands of the proletariat, to keep the workers chained to the factories, and to work at the constant intensification of labor. Russian Stakhanovism is the same as American Taylorism:
With the Stakhanovites, the bureaucratic administration acquires a social base, and alongside, there grows the instability and cirsis in the economy. It is the counter-revolution of state-capital.
In capitalism, surplus value amasses in the hands of individual capitalists and capitalist trusts. Under Stalin, on the other hand, it amasses in the hands of the state. The results, seen from the standpoint of the workers, are identical: constant intensification of labor, prevention of unionization, by force if necessary, the growth of a managerial class to keep workers on pace and prevent worker uprisings. What State Capitalism and World Revolution highlights is that 1) not only can the means of production be nationalized without being socialized, but 2) nationalization manifests itself as the concentration of wealth at the expense of the working majority. In a word, TARP is not socialism except insofar as socialism has been equated with Stalinism in this country, the better to demonize it. James, Dunayevskaya, and Lee confront the claims that nationalization is tantamount to socialism. Instead, they argue that the task for the Fourth International (which is the major anti-Stalinist Socialist body circa 1950, the year of the composition of SC&WR) is to denounce all state dictatorships in favor of World Revolution. The discussions on the possibility for revolution right now (as opposed to 1950, when the world did see various revolutions in the so-called "third world") are numerous, and I will not go into the account here. Virtually every paper written in the humanities makes what has been called by one of my colleagues the "shrug toward Utopia." If nothing else, this book offers a set of principals through which to view the scare-tactics of anti-socialism in our own period, and also a lens with which to view the strategy of Paulson, which I think can only facetiously be called "socialism."

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So one of the more interesting explanations of the McCain camp's move to Pennsylvania is that the Obama camp faked them out:
The Obama campaign is doing a major head fake in PA. They "accidentally" leaked an "internal" poll showing Obama up by only 2 percent in PA. I guarantee you that no such poll exists and that this was done both to motivate volunteers in the state (and maybe elsewhere) and prevent them from getting too complacent and also to sucker the McCain campaign into spending more time there. Ed Rendell has asked Obama to come back and campaign in the state-another major ruse. They know that McCain makes most of the decisions for his campaign and that they can goad him into spending more time in PA by pretending that it is close there. Let's see if Obama actually returns to PA before November 4th, but I sincerely doubt it. They are brilliant.
This was forwarded by a New Republic reader. The idea that Obama leaked fake polls is pretty ingenious. I'm not sure it's entirely accurate. There is the simple electoral math: McCain cannot win this election without turning a blue state red; he probably can't win this election anyway. If the reader is right, however, that would be a very exciting thing.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Ballast looks to be a great film. The reviews from Sundance have nothing but good things to say about it. The trailer is very good, and I hope I get a chance to see this film in the near future. Lance Hammer, the film's director, has chosen self-distribution, which means that it will probably have to get screened mostly at film festivals and university screenings. With any luck, Carolina Theatre will screen it (I have my doubts), but it's not on their "coming soon" list.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The New York Times endorses Barack Obama:
Mr. McCain offers more of the Republican every-man-for-himself ideology, now lying in shards on Wall Street and in Americans’ bank accounts. Mr. Obama has another vision of government’s role and responsibilities.

In his convention speech in Denver, Mr. Obama said, “Government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves: protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.”

Since the financial crisis, he has correctly identified the abject failure of government regulation that has brought the markets to the brink of collapse.
This might turn a few heads. Notice the scarf she's wearing.

Oh, and I forgot to post on this last night. Frontline has a great new documentary on the climate crisis, entitled Heat. You can watch the whole thing online.
Foreclosure Filings Rise 71% 3Q 2008 vs. 3Q 2007. From Naked Capitalism (Yves Smith).
David Sedaris has the following to say about undecided voters. I saw it over at Gerry's website, and while I know that it is likely that anyone reading my blog will already have read Gerry's, I found it too good to pass up:
To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
Benoit Mandelbrot: "I don't know if we're entering the most difficult period, not since the Great Depression [but] since the American Revolution."

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I added some new links to reflect what I've been reading.
I got in an argument tonight with a friend about whether it is worth it to vote for Obama, whether he will represent anything like progressive action in this country and whether, if he won't, it is worth voting against McCain. There are a number of arguments on both sides. Obama has a "squishy" record on NAFTA, for instance (David Sirota,, switching his stance on the issue numerous times. Obama gets most of his funding from law organizations, a large chunk of change from hedge funds, and a not insignificant amount (although half of the Republican amount) from tobacco. Nor does Obama take the firm anti-war, anti-military stance that many on the left desire (and it's one thing we will never get). On the other hand, Obama's health care plan is vastly superior to McCain's, his positions on engaging in large superpower conflict are far less hysterical, his position on education is far more productive, and if global warming is at all important to you then you shouldn't even have second thoughts about voting Obama. Also, for those leftists who have a strong interest in Latin America, it should be hastily pointed out that Obama is unique among leaders of European or Anglo-Saxon nations in not jumping on the coattails of Uribe and even going so far as to confront the Uribe government with its violations of human rights (while France is still giddy about the rescue of Irene Betancourt). Will Obama make miracles? Obviously not. I wouldn't expect miracles of Nader, either. I feel that the left who reject Obama on the grounds that he is not radical enough for them are making a grave error. I have no doubt that, had the European Left had a second chance following the victories of Fascism in the first half of the twentieth century, they would have made a concerted effort to ally themselves with Social Democrats rather than let the Fascists have a solid victory.

About a half hour after my argument, I found the following videos online, and I felt extremely vindicated. Both Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn are voting for Obama and recommend others do the same. They are both, particularly Chomsky, more cynical than myself about the potential of an Obama presidency, but as Chomsky says, "People treat voting for the lesser of two evils as a bad thing. Maybe that's because of the way it is phrased. It's not a bad thing. It's a good thing."

I went on the New York Times website around 5 PM today and saw one of the stupidest financial headlines I've seen in a while: "Despite End of Credit Freeze, Dow Drops 5.7%." The stupidity of this headline wouldn't have been so glaring at CNN or Fox News, but right below it, there was another headline, "Wachovia Reports $23.9 Billion Loss" and next to that "Merck Announces Big Job Cuts." Anyway, the Times must have realized how stupid they sounded, because now the headline reads "Stocks Dive as Crisis Erodes Earnings; Dow Drops 5.7%". People really do have a tendency to mystify the markets, as if rubbing one's hands together and saying "alakazam" (and injecting hundreds of billions in cash) should cure all the problems of the economy in one fell swoop. My only explanation is that the people who don't understand how the markets could plummet after the press and the President had declared that the markets shouldn't plummet anymore are so personally invested in stock market performance that they can't see any other facets of the economy besides the stock market.
Wachovia just released its quarterly. It posted $23.7 billion dollars in quarterly losses! Should I be emptying my accounts?
ACORN just put out a video defending itself and turning the tables on the Republicans, pointing to their voter-suppression campaign. I hope this pushes Republican voter suppression further into the open.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Gerry has a post about North Carolina's election woes: a reporter was assaulted at a McCain-Palin rally, black voters were heckled, an Obama supporter's tires were slashed at a Fayetteville rally, and, the most bizarre and disgusting, a dead bear, shot in the head, was dropped on West Carolina University's campus draped in Obama signs. I hope everything goes okay in the next weeks.

Monday, October 20, 2008

This week is going to be a very bad week for McCain (unless there's something I don't know):

* The press is reversing on ACORN. My guess is that this is the result of the Obama camp requesting that the special investigator who is looking into the attorney firings also look into the FBI's investigation of ACORN. I don't expect a full reversal, but I do think that CNN, among others, will back down from their condemnation of ACORN and point out that registration fraud is a very different thing from voter fraud, and that it's not a centrally-controlled thing.

* Colin Powell endorsed Obama, yesterday, and one imagines this will bring another wave of defections from moderate-right pundits against the McCain camp. The endorsement included Powell's condemnation of the press for letting "Muslim" become a slur and his condemnation of the press and the McCain camp for harping on Ayers. This will dominate the news this week.

* David Letterman seems to have almost pushed the G. Gordon Liddy/McCain friendship out into the open. It was well-known on blogs for weeks, but it hasn't yet made its way to the mainstream press. My guess is that it gets mentioned once or twice this week, but that the press doesn't pull out the stops. This is a man who has plotted multiple assassinations and kidnappings (this is only what we know he did) and has said as recently as 1990 that, if his listeners ever want to shoot an ATF agent, to aim for the head.

* Obama raised $150 Million this month. This will also dominate the news this week.

* The issue of health records is also coming back into the spotlight. The New York Times has a five page story on why candidates should release their health records. This may be ostensibly aimed at all the candidates, but McCain clearly has the most to lose.

(I'll hyperlink all of this later). Update: Hyperlinked.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The best part of a financial crisis is the photos of stockbrokers with their hands on their faces and heads, which is why it's nice to see that there's a whole blog devoted to the subject. I have to admit, a few of them made me feel kind of bad for the guys, especially the one at the bottom of this post, although in reality, the worst that's going to happen to this guy is apartment living, which is what I do, anyway, and which I find not only adequate but preferable.

My favorite part of W., by the way: When George Bush, Sr. lost to Clinton, the Bushes are portrayed sitting in the White House watching the television. Barbara Bush (Ellen Burstyn) says, weeping, "The best man didn't win this time, George. The best man didn't win." A woman in the audience at this point yelled out, "Oh yes, he did!"

The Banality of Empire

I feel like there is something missing from many of the reviews of W. I've read thus far. Yes, the film is a pastiche of quotations from the Bush years fit into a fairly short (for Oliver Stone) biopic. Yes, it is a farce, and doesn't always reflect reality. Thandie Newton as Condoleeza Rice is particularly terrible, mouthing about six lines in the entire movie and standing awkwardly close to foreign dignitaries (leading one to think that Oliver Stone and Stanley Weiser can't write women, unless they are arguing with someone). Yes, Oliver Stone's typical stylistic flare, replete with jump cuts and shots filtered through media, is missing. Admittedly, the film has a lot of bad moments.

But what is ignored is the central aim of the film. Many are disappointed that this film is not Nixon, with its paranoid rendering of a nation under siege. We're letting the nefariousness of the Bush Years off the hook, as the argument runs, by portraying them as the escapades of a formerly-alcoholic fraternity boy turned with a daddy issue. Yet something is being ignored. The film is not concerned with plumbing the secrets of the elite but with the "banality of evil." Every film is an argument, and this film is trying to make the case that destruction is not a heart of darkness. In Nixon, there is a scene in which Nixon meets with CIA Director Richard Helms, played by Sam Waterson, and at one point, Helms looks up, and his eyes are completely black, as though we are looking into the soul of the CIA. This is not the path that W. chooses to take. Instead, we see shot after shot of alcohol being imbibed, food being eaten, groups of old codgers waddling through the forest. Because Stone would never avoid pointing to the path of destruction behind the facade, we also see media footage of anti-war protests, of the shock-and-awe of both Gulf Wars, and of the turnaround in Baghdad, when people started protesting, fighting, and blowing one another up in the streets. Yet what we are supposed to understand is that the entire war unwound under Bush's eyes, and he remained clueless the entire time.

Stone does not include all of the Bush presidency. This seems to have bothered many, but I'm not exactly sure why. Watching it, it seems that it could end at any point and allude to the future: it could have ended with Bush first entering Iraq (although a couple of important scenes would have been lost), it could have ended with Bush declaring "Mission Accomplished," it could have ended with Rumsfeld eating pie. The end would have alluded to this future (which does beg the question of whether this film will make any sense to people twenty years down the road). It didn't go into Katrina, it didn't go into warrantless wiretapping and the erosion of the constitution, but it would seem that it's easy to read those things into it. The same buffoonery and arrogance that got us into Iraq also led to the entire edifice of power under Bush. In the end, we watch the bad men, and their actions strike us as absurd, but their results are all the more clear.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A study by a professor at the University of Georgia interviewed men on their level of disgust with homosexuality. It subsequently had them watch gay porn. Those who expressed the highest levels of disgust in the interview were the most aroused watching the porn. More at the University of Chicago Law Faculty Blog.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

I found this old Cat and Girl strip. It seemed very apropos.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Those damned liberals and their political divisiveness. Forcing the Sacramento GOP to take down their "Waterboard Obama" slogan from their website. Seriously. Can someone be arrested for saying something like that? Does politics get any worse? (Answer: yes. Look at Bolivia.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

If, after this revelation, the right-wing base is still actively boosting McCain and calling Obama a terrorist, then they're even more hypocritical than I would have expected. The head of McCain's transition team lobbied for Saddam Hussein.
The Times Online has a fantastic interview with Oliver Stone on his new film W. There are some really strong statements in this interview. One of the most interesting is on John McCain's war career:
“I think McCain’s a very special story because he was never a soldier,” Stone says coldly. “He’s said he never saw the results of his own bombing. I saw the damage we did, I saw the corpses, the decay, I smelt the flesh, I saw people who’d been napalmed, people who’d been killed by shrapnel, mutilated. I saw horrible things. McCain was a prisoner and he has a siege mentality. He doesn’t see a balanced portrait of cause and effect – there’s something missing in the man, mentally."
Recently, Andrew Sullivan compared Obama and McCain to Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. Obama remains cool and lets his opponents self-destruct. Today, The Washington Monthly has a post that goes a long way toward confirming this pseudo-hypothesis. It seems that the McCain ticket, unsatisfied with the results of the Troopergate probe, decided to launch a different probe, spearheaded by Alaska's Personnel Board. The assumption was that the Personnel Board would play partisan politics, clear Palin of any wrongdoing, and "the new talking point would be, 'One investigation cleared Palin, one didn't, so let's just forget the whole thing.'" It turns out, this may backfire for the McCain camp:
[T]he board ended up hiring an aggressive Anchorage trial lawyer, Timothy Petumenos, as an independent counsel. McCain aides were chagrined to discover that Petumenos was a Democrat who had contributed to Palin's 2006 opponent for governor, Tony Knowles. Palin is now scheduled to be questioned next week, and the counsel's report could be released soon after. "We took a gamble when we went to the personnel board," said a McCain aide who asked not to be identified discussing strategy. While the McCain camp still insists Palin "has nothing to hide," it acknowledges a critical finding by Petumenos would be even harder to dismiss.
The Big Picture has the most scathing critique I've seen yet of the stupid right-wing idea that the liberals and the poor caused the current credit crisis:
Understand this simple fact: In an ultra-low rate environment, where prices are appreciating rapidily, and mortgaes are being securitized, ALL THAT MATTERS IS THAT THE BORROWER NOT DEFAULT IN 90 days (or 6 Months). The goal was to make a loan that did not default in that period of time, it cannot be put back to the originator.

As a mortgage salesman, you only lose your a fee if a borrower defaults within 3 or 6 months. What do you do to maximize your returns? The best way to do that -- to put people in houses that would not default in 90 days -- was the 2/28 ARM mortgages. Cheap teaser rates for 24 months, then the big reset. By then, it was no longer your problem.

Can you grasp what a monumental change this was? Instead of making sure that borrowers could pay back ALL OF THE 30 YEAR FIXED MORTGAGE, you only had to find people who could afford the teaser rate for a a few months. THIS WAS AN ENORMOUS AND UNPRECEDENTED SHIFT IN LENDING.
Being a lefty pinko kook, I'm always suspicious of any good financial news. Yesterday's bounce in stock prices is no exception, and it seems I'm not alone. At the Financial Times, John Authers talks about "Tigger Markets" (they bounce and bounce and bounce and bounce). Wild fluctuations in the market are expected, especially in crisis periods. Authers goes on to argue that this could be a rally, but it depends on whether the money markets unfreeze. Over at Boom2Bust, there is a summary of the writings of economists who are bringing up the specter of recession (can't they let us dance while Rome is burning?). After Paulson's recent injection of capital into banks, Brad de Long, for one, has resorted to prayer as the best means of resuscitating the financial markets. The good news is that another financial shock would rocket Obama in the polls (oops, I'm not supposed to say that).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Ezra Klein has an article directed against tipping in restaurants. I never thought very seriously about this before, but tipping is a very deceitful custom: the premise is that we are being nice and tipping our waiters because we feel some common human bond with them. This is true; I know waiters, I've known waiters; I've never been a waiter, mostly because I'm awkward and clumsy; I've worked in food service. I feel that people deserve tips. But in reality, the custom supports a system in which low wages are supposed to be compensated by tips. Waiters, particularly at places like diners, make dirt. The only reason the state permits them to be paid so low is that tips are supposed to compensate. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But they can continue to receive incredibly low wages on the grounds that they receive tips, as well.

Let's imagine, though, a counter-scenario. We abolish tipping, and instead add that money to the menu price of the food. Waiters are subsequently paid livable wages. Assuming waiters didn't get screwed in the transition, this would arguably be a more honest way of going about it. Then again, it seems that customers would simply be angry and the wait staff would continue to get the short end of the stick. So perhaps tipping remains the best way to confuse people into paying the full value of their meal.

Update: Over in the comments section at Ezra Klein's blog, a reader actually developed a model to explain tipping as a means to transfer risk.
I just found this video, over at Think Progress, of Sarah Palin claiming that McCain is going to reign in abuses of power, days after she was confirmed to have abused her power. Something else I noted in this video, however, is that Palin has toned down her accent; the vowels are not as wide and the tone is not as high-pitched. We still hear some of the down-home, aw shucksness of it, but she's learning to sound like one of them arugula-eating, east-coast liberals.

Move On has a new ad, reflecting that both Elizabeth Dole and John McCain are on the ropes in North Carolina:

The New York Times has an article today on the increasing problems of No Child Left Behind. In the first years of the bill, it tells us, the required gains in student proficiency were relatively modest, but last year they jumped a very large amount, and as a result, the number of schools failing to meet NCLB goals has shot up.
But this year, California schools were required to make what experts call a gigantic leap, increasing the students proficient in every group by 11 percentage points. For the first time, Prairie, and hundreds of other California schools, fell short, a failure that results in probation and, unless reversed, federal sanctions within a year.

“And they’re asking for another 11 percent increase next year and the next, and that’s where I’m saying I just don’t know how,” Fawzia Keval, the school’s principal, said. “I’m spending sleepless nights.”
Given the administration that put NCLB through, I wouldn't be surprised if this was part of the plan: make schools fail so that we can privatize everything. A 100 percent proficiency rate in reading and math, the requirement of NCLB by 2014 (thanks, Gerry), is probably impossible. I doubt that any public school in the country would be able to meet it; in another seven to ten years, were NCLB to continue as written, the public school system in the U.S. would be abolished. I honestly do not think that the bill was ever intended to improve schools by leaps and bounds.

Update:Gerry, in the comments section, clarifies some issues from my post and provides a link to an old Washington Monthly article on the subject.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Three things:

1) Inquiry concludes Palin abused power. Isn't that a gosh darn surprise there?

2) There's no doubt going to be cynicism about the fact that McCain is finally telling his supporters to calm down. I don't doubt that there is political motivation, but because that is precisely what I wanted of him, I respect his decision to do so. I'm glad he wrangled with his virulent supporters, regardless of the motivation.

3) The Republican National Committee sent me a flyer today, presumably aimed at Dems, with the line, "Do you know what the Democratic leadership really thinks about Obama?" Then it had a series of quotes from the primaries. I believe that the Republican National Committee is not actually waging their campaign against Obama. I believe that the entire premise of running a presidential nominee is actually a cover-up for their ultimate goal: trying to piss me off. I believe that, in 2007, Karl Rove got together with a couple of henchmen, identified a democratic voter, and said, "Gentlemen, our aim is to get his goat."

Friday, October 10, 2008

I'm having trouble with my Internets today. I'm wondering if anyone else is having a problem: a) seeing streaming video on typically leftist blogs; b) accessing anti-McCain articles on the web. It's an oddly selective problem, not a general one, so I'm suspicious.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Things I hate:
  • Murder
  • SUVs
  • Grading papers (but not for the reasons you might think)
  • The phrase, "I'm a fiscal conservative, not a social conservative"
  • Fiscal conservatives
  • "24"
  • Non-partisanship
  • The Laffer Curve
  • Feather boas
  • "My Country: Love It or Leave It"
  • Global warming
Yglesias has some music recommendations for McCain:
Thinking about John McCain’s Foo Fighters problem, some of the issue here is that not only are there few contemporary rock bands that are inclined to support McCain, but there are few contemporary rock songs that are thematically appropriate to the McCain campaign. If it were actually the case that “My Hero” is about the need to look up to a war veteran, then I’m not sure that Dave Grohl’s personal opinion would matter. This problem goes back, of course, to Ronald Reagan’s (mis)appropriation of “Born in the USA.” It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but I think conservative politicians would actually do better to turn to the world of commercial hip-hop, where key conservative values like greed and violence are frequently lauded.
Only the dirtiest campaign in history could, the day after calling their opponent a terrorist, refer to his campaign as "the dirtiest campaign in history." Just when you thought the McCain camp couldn't get any worse, Cindy McCain gets co-opted to play second to Sarah Palin.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

One thing that needs to get more play with the debates, foregoing the obvious discussions of McCain's "That one" comment or Bill Ayers, or whatever else we can dredge up, is the fact that McCain is proposing two very, very bad policy suggestions that are also radically new (not to mention all the other bad policy that McCain brought up last night): the first I have already talked about - that is, the League of Democracies. Since that post, Matthew Yglesias has brought the idea up a few times. I am tempted to paraphrase Barack Obama on taxation with regard to the league of democracies: "John McCain supports a league with other democracies, who don't need it and didn't ask for it." Support from other Democratic nations for the League is almost nil: ex-British Prime Ministers might support it, but the only acting head of a country who supports the idea, to my knowledge, is the conservative PM of Denmark. Because, despite claims to the contrary, the League of Democracies would be no more effective in policing global crisis than the UN, the entire idea behind the League seems to be, not to create a positive force for good in the world, but to diminish the influence of China and Russia. McCain would like to use it as a foreign policy hammer. Another example of him, again paraphrasing Obama, this time on the budget, "using a hatchet where we need a scalpel."

The other issue that McCain keeps trumpeting, and that the mainstream press seems to be supporting him on (my only explanation is that they are thickheaded) is a budget freeze. As Yglesias puts it, "a lot of the press’ leading lights seem to think we ought to follow Herbert Hoover off the cliff. Everyone’s been living too high on the hog and we need to liquidate everything. Massive suffering will be good for us." The belief that reigning in government spending is what is going to get us out of the credit crisis is absurd. Again, from Yglesias:
Meanwhile, as you may have noticed, there’s a credit crunch afoot. A lot of people or business who might think they have solid ideas about how to invest some money in new production or sales are finding they can’t get the loans they need to do that. One of the few entities that still can easily raise large quantities of money on favorable terms is the federal government. If the feds don’t take up that opportunity and borrow cash that gets plowed into something or other, then there’s going to be no new economic activity at all. What we ought to be doing is debating not whether to spend, but what to spend the money on since, clearly, it’s much better to have the money spent on something useful than on something pointless.

The low-budget government mantra makes no sense. McCain likes to attack earmarks, and certainly there are absurd earmarks, but if we break down the budget (and our current deficit), it is not earmarks that are the problem. Indeed, many earmarks are very important, and provide good things: the earmark in the current bailout bill that provided funding for renewable energy, for example. But the budget problem is not one of earmarks. For starters, we have a 10 billion dollar-a-month war going on. Defense spending is ludicrous, and it is to McCain's credit that he offered to reign it in (unfortunate as it may be, given his record, that most of the budget cuts will probably be to veterans' affairs organizations and not to military spending).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I'm sure everyone has heard that Sarah Palin is turning political rallies into lynch mobs in Florida, so I won't go into it, although Gerry has a couple posts on the issue. It conjures up some of my worst fears about the Republican party, but I don't want to be accused of jumping the gun, so I'll let them be for now. She's also attacking Obama for his support of the troops, which is utterly absurd:
See our opponent voted to cut off funding for our troops even after saying that he would never do so.


And he said that our troops in Afghanistan are just quote, "raiding villages and killing civilians."


And that's not what our brave men and women in uniform are doing in Afghanistan. The U.S. military is fighting terrorism and protecting us and our values.
What happened is pretty clear: Obama voted against the troop funding bill without a timetable, McCain voted against the troop funding bill with a time table. In other words, they both voted to cut funding for the war (not for "troops"), but the issue was the timeline, not the funding. But to claim that McCain loves the troops is thoroughly dishonest and disgusting. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America just released its congressional scorecard and gave McCain a "D." Like most associations and unions, the IAVA does not use particularly subjective criteria to make its assessments (e.g., "What do our members think of McCain?"). They simply assess how often the candidate, compared to other candidates, voted yes on IAVA issues. Think Progress has more.

Update: Obama got a B, which is not up there with Jim Webb (A+), but it's much better than his "I love the troops" opponent.

Update: The report card does not award F's, which means that McCain got the lowest grade possible.

Update Update: The report card does reward F's. If one were present at all or almost all of the IAVA votes and voted no on every single issue, one would get an F (there are two total).

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Also, Climate Progress points out something I noticed as well: both times that Palin has talked about man-made climate change - first on Couric, now in the debate - she made the same gaff. The first time, she said, "I’m not going to solely blame all of man’s activities on changes in climate." The second time, she said, "I’m not one to attribute every man... activity of man to the changes in the climate." She got the order backwards each time: she's not blaming human activity on the climate. That's good to know. That means that if I'm grumpy tomorrow, it won't be the weather's fault.*

*It will be Sarah Palin's.

To Sarah
From The National Society of Atomic Scientists*:

[*]Doesn't really exist

I just finished watching the vice-presidential debate. People are saying Palin didn't train wreck simply because she didn't give a "fuck you" to the moderator with her facial gestures like she did with Couric. Biden destroyed her; every time she made a substantial claim, Biden refuted her. Most of her claims, being non-substantial, were irrefutable. Biden knows the constitution; Biden knows how many troops are in Iraq; Biden knows how much money John McCain would save Exxon-Valdez. Sarah Palin knows that "John McCain is a maverick."

I also wanted to point out: I would be willing to bet that the McCain debate team has coached both candidates to smile sarcastically when their opponent is talking. Both Palin and McCain were incredibly rude to their opponents while they were talking. About midway through the election, Biden picked up the McCain strategy and started giving little chuckles when Palin said certain things. But he was, being far more poised than her, far more subtle about it. I really do think this is one of their debate strategies. It is a losing strategy for McCain against Obama: people will think he is being a bully. It would be a winning strategy for Palin against Biden if she could also win a few debate points.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

José Saramago, famous writer and stealer of my ideas1 has a blog in Portuguese and Spanish. If you read either of these languages, it is worth checking out; Saramago is very much into writing essays in the tradition of the "autonomous intellectual," commenting on the absurdities of society from a distance. This style has its drawbacks, and certainly doesn't pass muster in academia, but it is very fun to read. I would prefer it if he would use hyperlinks, but I'm sure he has his reasons for not doing so. He's the first major author that I know of who has started a blog (of course, I'll probably find a million more if I just google search).

1I am, of course, kidding. Please don't accuse me of defamation.

Update: I think I was a little ungenerous in my initial description of Saramago's blog. The description of his blog as "commenting on the absurdities of society from a distance" certainly applied to the post I was reading at the time, but many of his other posts show a more engaged, thoughtful style.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

One thing that hasn't got much mention from last night is McCain's so-called "League of Democracies" and just how criminally reckless that would be. Disregarding Russia for the moment, which seems hellbent on estranging itself from global politics, why on earth would we consider, even for a second, estranging China? If good foreign policy is producing World Wars within a year of inauguration, then McCain's "League of Democracies" is brilliant. Such a boneheaded scheme can only be put forward because both the Left and the Right in the U.S. hate the U.N. But substituting a polarizing, isolationist bloc for a corrupt organization seems worse than insane.
One of the points where McCain really shined last night was on Lebanon and his vote against sending marines into Lebanon in 1983. So it's nice to see that he was lying (or, at best, telling a half truth):
McCain seriously misstated his vote concerning the marines in Lebanon. He said that when he went into Congress in 1983, he voted against deploying them in Beirut. The Marines went in Lebanon in 1982, before McCain came to Congress. The vote came up a year into their deployment, when the Marines had already suffered 54 casualties. What McCain voted against was a measure to invoke the War Powers Act and to authorize the deployment of U.S. Marines in Lebanon for an additional 18 months. The measure passed 270-161, with 26 other Republicans (including McCain) and 134 Democrats voting against it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

"Serious but so far undisclosed ailments" - Eric Margolis says this is the word on John McCain from one of his old friends. The line about Palin being a heartbeat from the presidency - never very funny to begin with - is now dead serious. I was guessing something was up with McCain's health recently; since a little before the Convention, he's started to look like someone at death's door. Margolis discusses just how terrifying a Palin presidency would be.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The post from Tuesday has legs (I would love to take credit, but it was Democracy Now! that dropped the story on Monday). Glenn Greenwald at Slate has now posted on it. This current development is the direct result of the 2006 repeal (for all intents and purposes) of the Posse Comitatus Act in the Defense Authorization Act of 2006. The Bush Admin used Katrina as the pretense to push for a law that would allow military units to be deployed in the United States. If Katrina had been their real motive, it seems likely that they would have simply pushed for more funding and troop support for the National Guard.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The title of the post over at Qlipoth, "Excuse me?", sums it up pretty clearly:
Army Unit to Deploy in October for Domestic Operations

Beginning in October, the Army plans to station an active unit inside the United States for the first time to serve as an on-call federal response in times of emergency. The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent thirty-five of the last sixty months in Iraq, but now the unit is training for domestic operations. The unit will soon be under the day-to-day control of US Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The Army Times reports this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to Northern Command. The paper says the Army unit may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control. The soldiers are learning to use so-called nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals and crowds.
If you're not worried about this, you should be.

Update:I just found the Army Times story:
It is not the first time an active-duty unit has been tapped to help at home. In August 2005, for example, when Hurricane Katrina unleashed hell in Mississippi and Louisiana, several active-duty units were pulled from various posts and mobilized to those areas.

But this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.
They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.
The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.“It’s a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they’re fielding. They’ve been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it.”

The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.

“I was the first guy in the brigade to get Tasered,” said Cloutier, describing the experience as “your worst muscle cramp ever — times 10 throughout your whole body.

“I’m not a small guy, I weigh 230 pounds ... it put me on my knees in seconds.”
An Open Letter to the U.S. State Department Regarding Recent Violence in Bolivia (excerpt reprinted from Upside Down World) :
To Dr. Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Secretary of State

Cc: Phillip Goldberg, U.S. Ambassador to Bolivia
Henrietta Fore, Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
Representative Eliot Engel, Chair, Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Committee of Foreign Affairs
Senator John McCain
Senator Barack Obama

Dear Dr. Rice,

We are writing out of deep concern over recent events in Bolivia that have left dozens dead and cost millions of dollars in lost revenue to the Bolivian government and the Bolivian people. We are especially concerned that the United States government, by its own admission, is supporting opposition groups and individuals in Bolivia that have been involved in the recent whole-scale destruction, violence, and killings, above all in the departments of Santa Cruz, Pando, and Chuquisaca.

Since the United States government refuses to disclose many of the recipients of its funding and support, there is currently no way to determine the degree to which this support is helping people involved in violence, sabotage, and other extra-legal means to destabilize the government of Bolivia.

Yet since the democratic election of Evo Morales in December 2005, the U.S. government has sent millions of dollars in aid to departmental prefects and municipal governments in Bolivia. In 2004, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) opened an "Office of Transition Initiatives" (OTI) in Bolivia, which provided some $11 million in funds to "build on its activities designed to enhance the capacity of departmental governments."[1]

The OTI in Bolivia sought to "[build] the capacity of prefect-led departmental governments to help them better respond to the constituencies they govern," and even brought departmental governors to the U.S. to meet with state governors.[2] Some of these same departmental governments later launched organized campaigns to push for "autonomy" and to oppose through violent and undemocratic means the Morales government and its popular reforms.

According to the OTI, it ceased operations in Bolivia about a year ago; however some of its activities were then taken up by USAID, which refuses to disclose some of its recipients and programs. USAID spent $89 million in Bolivia last year. This is a significant sum relative to the size of Bolivia's economy; proportionally in the U.S. economy it would be equivalent to about $100 billion, or close to what the United States is currently spending on military operations in Iraq.

U.S. taxpayers, as well as the Bolivian government and people, have a right to know what U.S. funds are supporting in Bolivia.
For clarification: a "department" is similar to what we call a "state" in the U.S., although because most South American countries do not have the degree of federal control that we have in the U.S., departments are often more autonomous than states. Recently, in Bolivia, there have been a number of direct attacks of aggression against supporters of the democratically-elected Morales, including assassinations of government officials (for more on these issues, look at Upside Down World's extensive coverage of Bolivia). There is ample reason, as this open letter makes clear, to believe that the U.S is actively interfering in Bolivian politics. We don't want to see another Pinochet in Bolivia.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Over at Climate Progress, Joseph Romm asks, "Is the financial crisis more dire than the climate crisis?" Answer: "Not even close." But putting up links about the financial crisis does get me significantly more visitors.
Oh, and in case you're feeling optimistic or hopeful or anything silly like that, things are looking bad on the other side of the Atlantic.
Also, The Onion brings us the latest from the Campaign Trail. Protect our shitty jobs!

Obama Promises To Stop America's Shitty Jobs From Going Overseas
More and more people are pointing out that this bailout deal is a pretty huge gamble for U.S. taxpayers and is not at all the "necessary evil" it's being touted as. It seems that it has a lot of the ingredients of "evil" without the "necessity" being quite as strong as we've been led to believe. According to Robert Reich,
Paulson is right that it makes sense to allow the big banks to wipe their balance sheets clean of as many bad loans as they can identify, and put them into a special agency that then sells them for as much as possible. The agency would bundle or unbundle the risky loans, slice and dice them as needed, with the goal of getting the most for them on world markets by creating a market for them.

But there's no reason taxpayers need to be involved in this.

Whether you call it a reorganization under bankruptcy or just a hellova fire sale, the process should resemble chapter 11 under bankruptcy. Any big financial institution that wants to clear its books can opt in. But the price for opting in is this: Investors in these institutions lose the value of their equity. Executives lose the value of their options, and their pay (and the pay of their directors) is sharply limited. All the money from the fire sale goes to making creditors as whole as possible.
And Sebastian Mallaby points out that it is dishonest to compare this to the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1989:
The first is whether the bailout is necessary. In 1989, there was no choice. The federal government insured the thrifts, so when they failed, the feds were left holding their loans; the RTC's job was simply to get rid of them. But in buying bad loans before banks fail, the Bush administration would be signing up for a financial war of choice. It would spend billions of dollars on the theory that preemption will avert the mass destruction of banks. There are cheaper ways to stabilize the system.
Instead, Mallaby points out a few alternative options:
Raghuram Rajan and Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago suggest ways to force the banks to raise capital without tapping the taxpayers. First, the government should tell banks to cancel all dividend payments. Banks don't do that on their own because it would signal weakness; if everyone knows the dividend has been canceled because of a government rule, the signaling issue would be removed. Second, the government should tell all healthy banks to issue new equity. Again, banks resist doing this because they don't want to signal weakness and they don't want to dilute existing shareholders. A government order could cut through these obstacles.

Meanwhile, Charles Calomiris of Columbia University and Douglas Elmendorf of the Brookings Institution have offered versions of another idea. The government should help not by buying banks' bad loans but by buying equity stakes in the banks themselves. Whereas it's horribly complicated to value bad loans, banks have share prices you can look up in seconds, so government could inject capital into banks quickly and at a fair level. The share prices of banks that recovered would rise, compensating taxpayers for losses on their stakes in the banks that eventually went under.
And here's a nice coup de grace via an email sent to Naked Capitalism by someone who was present at the negotiations:
Anyway, I wanted to let you know that, behind closed doors, Paulson describes the plan differently. He explicitly says that it will buy assets at above market prices (although he still claims that they are undervalued) because the holders won't sell at market prices. Anna Eshoo pressed him on how the government can compel the holders to sell, and he basically dodged the question. I think that's because he didn't want to admit that the government would just keep offering more and more.
And again, Naked Capitalism sums up its antipathy to the bailout:
Losses on the paper acquired are guaranteed. This is not a bug but a feature. The whole point of this exercise is an equity infusion to banks. The failure to be honest about it upfront will lead to a taxpayer backlash (or will lead to the production of phony financial statements for the rescue entity, which will lead to revolt by our friendly foreign funding sources).

Taxpayers have no upside participation.

There is no regulatory reform as part of the package. This would seem to be a minimum requirement for a donation of this magnitude.

There is no admission that deleveraging is inevitable. This plan seems to be a desperate effort to keep bad debt from being written down. Yet the sorry fact is that a lot of these assets simply will not be repaid.

There appears to be no intention to do triage. The financial services industry, on the back of an explosive growth in debt, has reached an unsustainable size. The industry will have to shrink. Yet the Administration does not address this issue; indeed, it appears it intends to forestall the inevitable. Regulators need to decide who will make it, who won't, and figure out what to do with damaged institutions. Instead, the reaction is ad hoc. The stunner was the contemplation of a possible merger between Morgan Stanley and Wachovia. As far as I can tell, the only thing the two firms had in common was coming into crisis on roughly the same timetable. For all I know, their IT systems are not compatible (many an otherwise promising bank merger has been scuttled over IT integration issues).
I would suggest that you send as many congresspeople and senators as you can a hundred or so links explaining why this bailout is not such a good idea. The worst thing about socialized capitalism is it takes the worst aspects of Socialism (rigid central government control) and the worst aspects of Capitalism (freedom for private sphere entities to be as stupid and risky as they want to be) and combines them. Now that the bailout plan is out, I'm expecting the media tide to turn (tomorrow, probably, when the week is up and running). There will be a lot more doubt in the coming days.

Update: At Open Left, there are two emails from anonymous congressional Democrats angry about the Paulson plan. This one is quite enlightening:
Here's the industry's play: progressives will approach Nancy with ideas for reform, and she'll agree to push for their proposals, and she'll really mean it. Then industry lobbyists will go to Dennis Moore, Melissa Bean and a few other Democrats, and tell them how dire the consequences of the proposals would be, and that the members who understand how the economy works need to step up to stop Nancy and the crazy liberals from doing something rash. Then those Democrats will go to Steny and tell him how terrible Nancy's crazy ideas would be, and how we can't rush into something like that without much, much more thought. Maybe Barney will try to talk to Dennis or Melissa, but it will become apparent quickly that they have no idea what they're talking about; they're just repeating by rote what the lobbyists told them to say. Melissa may actually be dumber than Sarah Palin. Barney will realize he might as well talk to the lobbyists directly and save a step. The lobbyists will agree to something inconsequential, but certainly nothing that would really affect the industry's conduct. Then the leadership will do the math and conclude that because the vast majority of Republicans will vote against any bill, we can't get enough votes without the Dennis and Melissa crowd. The only way, our leadership will conclude, to get anything at all passed is to include nothing more than the inconsequential proposals that the lobbyists agreed to. Then we'll all go along because it would be wildly irresponsible not to act when we're staring over the brink of a complete collapse of world financial markets.