I started out by saying that Democrats subtract value from the political work that ordinary citizens do; what the Democrats did to the people who stood in the snow in the Wisconsin recall is a clear example. An even more clear example is the betrayal of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of first- and second-time voters with the “hope and change” con in 2008 (though fortunately not all of them are disillusioned, and some of them moved on to Occupy). In both cases, the apparatus of the Democratic Party turned into a roach motel for progressive energy; a “process decoy” as some would say. In Ohio, SB5 worked exactly because the election was not personalized in the form of a party candidate, and the message stayed crisp because the Democrats were not there to blur it.I'd add most of the captive progressive organizations like MoveOn.org and Media Matters to that list of time and energy sucks, but it's the lesson of these last few years. If you want something screwed up, at least from a progressive perspective, let the Democrats get involved in it.
Trip Report: Netroots Nation (part II)
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Image credit: Carol Guillaume/Photopedia
Glenn Greenwald published an interesting article yesterday on an opinion piece by CNN reporter LZ Granderson. Granderson's essay extols the virtues of government secrecy, and the respect that journalists like him, apparently, have for it:
Greenwald referred to this as a "self-mocking" column. What he meant by that isn't that Granderson is being sarcastic writing what he did. Rather, he thinks that Granderson really believes it. I've read the column in its entirety, and I have to agree that it looks like Granderson is serious. If what has actually happened here is that we've ventured into Poe territory, where it's impossible to tell the difference between an honestly expressed opinion and parody, then it probably makes little difference, because, as Greenwald points out, there are so many other journalists who clearly do believe this with all their hearts:
We are a nosy country.
Though to be fair, it's not entirely our fault. Between the 24/7 news cycle, social media and reality TV, we have been spoon fed other people's private business for so long we now assume it's a given to know everything. And if there are people who choose not to disclose, they must be hiding something. Being told that something's "none of your business" is slowly being characterized as rude, and if such a statement is coming from the government, it seems incriminating.
Times have changed. Yet, not everything is our business. And in the political arena, there are things that should be and need to be kept quiet.
Don't be nosy about Fast and Furious
Recall that on the day that WikiLeaks began publishing diplomatic cables — revealing all sorts of deceit, corruption and illegality — CNN’s Wolf Blitzer was completely indifferent to the revelations themselves, but was furious that the U.S. Government allowed these disclosures to take place and thus forced him and his viewers to learn what the U.S. Government and its allies were doing in the dark. Or recall the debate I had with CNN’s Jessica Yellin and Fran Townsend in which both insisted that WikiLeaks should be criminally prosecuted for the leaks it enabled. Or just survey the bizarrely personal, unprofessional and falsehood-filled expressions of contempt for Assange that have been spewing forth from the British media class, many of whom (not coincidentally) were and are ardent, public supporters of the war policies he helped to expose and subvert and, more generally, religious believers in the inherent Goodness of the West and its governments’ conduct in the world.
CNN journalist: don’t be nosy
The sad fact is that journalists like Granderson, or at least, the LZ Granderson who wrote that column (see Afterword), are the successful products of the journalistic ecosystem in which they find themselves. They certainly are not an aberration, and given the way things work in DC and America generally, no one should be surprised.
To see why, let's sidestep for a moment into the question of what evolution really is. Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould once wrote that evolution was the spread of excellence.
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Joyce Arnold attempts to describe the choices we face in November:
This time around, the Right side of this process is dealing with a candidate who really doesn’t fit the preferences of some further to the Right. The Left side of the process is dealing with an incumbent who really doesn’t fit the preferences of some further to the Left. In both cases, attempts are being made to convince those further to the Right that Romney really is a good Republican and those further to the Left that Obama really is a good Democrat. For both Right and Left, the convincing process includes large doses of how terrible it will be if the other guy wins.
Can the U.S. Electorate Walk, Chew Gum, Hold Its Nose and Whistle Past the Graveyard at the Same Time?
The truth of that last sentence was the inspiration for the poster that leads this article. It's the standard mantra - Romney will be so much worse than Obama. I've covered that subject before, and while I'm sure that some things will be worse, it's almost certainly true that many of those things will get worse if Obama is President, too.
That's the problem - the next few years will suck anyway. No matter who wins, the economy will continue to suck. It may get worse, depending on events in Europe and China, but it will certainly be no better in four years time no matter whether it's the white corporate tool or the black corporate tool who is sitting in the White House. The real question is, what course can we steer to avoid complete disaster?
I’m having a similar conversation here at SnS. Is there a path that doesn’t first lead through complete disaster to a possibly better future? The answer I keep coming up with is that I don’t see it happening. Wish I did, but until enough progressives are at least willing to withhold their votes from Democratic candidates who haven’t earned them, nothing will change.
And right now, progressives are the only ones who have reasonable answers to the problems we face. We’ve been trying conservative economics for the past four decades, and they don’t work. We need world-wide cooperation on greenhouse gases and economic issues, something most conservatives have shown no interest in. We need respect for our Constitution and the Bill or Rights, and these days, I’m sorry to say, most conservatives don’t give a crap about those things, either. Until progressives demand that their politicians do this, though, they won’t, because until then the money and the conservatives who serve it will always talk louder than we do.
So, we’ll probably go through some crash of the system, or some chaotic period before something else happens. That something else may or may not be better than what we had before, but I don’t think it will happen before most of the current crop of progressive leaders (both politicians and issue-oriented leaders) are gone.
There's a whole lot of stupid to endure between now and then.
Image credit: Screenshot of a Major League Baseball highlight video by Cujo359
As injustices go, this is a small one. Still, it's bugging me for some reason:
Carlos Ruiz is losing ground in his quest to be the starting catcher for the National League in the All-Star Game.
He is in third place in fan voting with 2,448,942. He trails San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey by 887,040 votes. Posey has 3,335,982 votes. St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina is second with 3,119,530 votes.
Ruiz entered Monday ranked third in the NL in on-base percentage (.418), fourth in batting average (.348) and seventh in slugging percentage (.560) and batting average with runners in scoring position (.351). But it looks like the Phillies' slow start and his lack of name recognition compared to Posey and Molina are hurting him.
Ruiz needs votes for starting spot in All Star Game
Ruiz, known as "Chooch" to many Phillies fans for reasons I can't explain, has been one of the best catchers in the league for the past six seasons, and yet has yet to be invited to the All Star Game. Like the MLB article says, he's having a terrific season this year, all the more remarkable because he's almost alone among Phillies hitters in being able to find the ball and hit it somewhere useful. He's also been one of their better clutch hitters lately, not that this would take all that much.
Buster Posey and Yadier Molina, the other two catchers mentioned in that article, are also having good years, and they've had exemplary careers, albeit a rather short one so far in Posey's case. All three deserve to go. It would just be nice if all three got the recognition they deserved, instead of leaving it up to an All Star ballot that names several players who have yet to play a game, and fans who can vote over and over again despite not knowing who is even having a good year on all those other teams.
If you'd like to do something about that, the article goes on to say:
Fans can cast their votes for starters up to 25 times at MLB.com and all 30 club sites -- online or via mobile device -- using the -- 2012 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot until Thursday, at 11:59 p.m. ET.
Ruiz needs votes for starting spot in All Star Game
There's nothing we can do about our economy's spiral into third world status, losing our civil liberties, or our short-sighted foreign policy, but this we can do something about.
So, fans, vote early, and vote often.
UPDATE: The first edition of this article said that Ruiz has been one of the best catchers in the league for the past five seasons, but that phrase left out the 2006 season, which was a pretty good one. That's why it now says "the last six seasons".
At Naked Capitalism, Matt Stoller encapsulated Barack Obama and the reason so many people still believe in him despite his complete betrayal of what we thought of as Democratic Party principles once he took office:
Obama had shown this breathtaking tendency to con people as they knew they were being conned before, the most public time during the campaign being his cynical answer when he was asked about his promise to renegotiate NAFTA. He had said, when fighting for union votes with Clinton, “I will make sure we renegotiate (NAFTA).” Even as he said this, it turns out that campaign advisor Austan Goolsbee had gone to Canada to assure them this was a lie (sure enough, Obama’s trade policies are identical to Bush’s, or worse). And once the election ended, and Obama was asked about his broken promise by a reporter, he gave the following answer.
“This is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign,” President Obama said during his Transition in early December, when a reporter asked him about criticisms he and now-Secretary of State Clinton had made about each other’s foreign policy views.
“They’re your quotes, sir,” said the reporter, Peter Baker of the New York Times.
“No, I understand. And you’re having fun,” Obama continued. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not faulting it.”
This is cynicism as art. It’s literally a Presidential candidate running on hope and change saying that campaign promises are a joke and a ruse.
The Source of Barack Obama’s Power to Trick Us Comes from Our Willingness to Be Tricked
What Obama did there, in the starkest way imaginable, is meet our expectations of what a politician will be. "Hah, hah! 'The politician is lying again.' Can't you guys find some new material?", he seems to be saying there. Far too many of us simply expect to be lied to, as if this were the only way things could possibly be.
If that's our expectation, then politicians will never have to do otherwise. There's a difference between accepting that such a thing is inevitable, and assuming it's going to happen some or much of the time. In the former case, then the politicians we elect will live down to our expectations. In the latter case, they might learn to be better.
This wasn't a case of a politician making a campaign promise he either figured he couldn't live up to, or a campaign promise that he tried to live up to, but couldn't. Here, candidate Obama had absolutely no intention of living up to what he said on the campaign trail. It was nothing but a bald-faced, cynical lie, and plenty of his adoring supporters went along with this because, at least in his case, they don't expect any better.
If you want the world to be better, and your leaders to be better, then start by expecting them to be, and voting them out when they aren't. Until you do, you're not going to get what you want. Unless, of course, you like being lied to.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Image credit: U.S. National Archives/Wikimedia
In a "Quote Of The Day" three weeks ago, I wrote that there were few prominent progressives these days who have openly criticized the Obama Administration's abysmal record on human rights, and on the seemingly unlimited use of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, more commonly referred to as "drone") attacks on people who may or may not have had something to do with terrorism. Sunday in the New York Times, a very prominent progressive added his name to the list:
While the country has made mistakes in the past, the widespread abuse of human rights over the last decade has been a dramatic change from the past. With leadership from the United States, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 as “the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” This was a bold and clear commitment that power would no longer serve as a cover to oppress or injure people, and it established equal rights of all people to life, liberty, security of person, equal protection of the law and freedom from torture, arbitrary detention or forced exile.
A Cruel and Unusual Record
The op-ed was written by President Jimmy Carter. That paragraph is pure Jimmy Carter - idealistic almost to the point of not recognizing some basic truths. One of Carter's catch phrases when he was running for President was that America's foreign policy should reflect the morality of its people. I sometimes think it does even today, given what some of us think should be our foreign policy. What's more, as a read through the chapters covering our Senate's reluctant signing of the U.N. declaration on genocide in Samantha Powers' A Problem From Hell should remind us, our path to signing onto things like the U.N. Declaration has often been a rocky one.
Still, I like to think that, at heart, we're a people who want to elect leaders wise enough to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, and who will respect the rights of their own citizens even if that's a rather inconvenient practice. Neither is the case today, as President Carter goes on to remind us:
In addition to American citizens’ being targeted for assassination or indefinite detention, recent laws have canceled the restraints in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 to allow unprecedented violations of our rights to privacy through warrantless wiretapping and government mining of our electronic communications. Popular state laws permit detaining individuals because of their appearance, where they worship or with whom they associate.
Despite an arbitrary rule that any man killed by drones is declared an enemy terrorist, the death of nearby innocent women and children is accepted as inevitable. After more than 30 airstrikes on civilian homes this year in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai has demanded that such attacks end, but the practice continues in areas of Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that are not in any war zone. We don’t know how many hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed in these attacks, each one approved by the highest authorities in Washington. This would have been unthinkable in previous times.
These policies clearly affect American foreign policy. Top intelligence and military officials, as well as rights defenders in targeted areas, affirm that the great escalation in drone attacks has turned aggrieved families toward terrorist organizations, aroused civilian populations against us and permitted repressive governments to cite such actions to justify their own despotic behavior.
A Cruel and Unusual Record
Caption: A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper UAV, in 2007. It's air power without consequences, at least for the people deciding whether to use them or not.
Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Wikimedia
That last paragraph explains why concern over innocent deaths isn't just some namby-pamby librul value. Every dead innocent, in a country where people are inclined to distrust us anyway, is one more blow for future terrorism. Only bigots who think that somehow other people will be cowed or subservient in situations where we wouldn't accept such things would think otherwise.
As someone who voted for John Andersen back in 1980 because he was appalled at Carter's inability to run the government, I have to say that the guy has made up for those mistakes since then. As Glenn Greenwald noted in passing, he earned his Nobel Peace Prize, in contrast to a more recent winner.
He certainly demonstrated yesterday that he still deserves that Nobel, if only by being one of the rare people among his party to dissent on this issue publicly. Of course, the man always was an idealist, and that has always made him something of an outsider. That's yet another reason to be suspicious whenever we're lectured by DC insiders about how things really work, and how we just have to be "realists". While I didn't think so quite so much back in 1980, I appreciate that idealism now.
Friday, June 22, 2012
It's lunch break out here on the West Coast, at least, and I'm tired of reading about politics and the shenanigans of the people who cover them. So, here's a double dose of cute. First off, thanks to Yves at Naked Capitalism, here's a "duck chases man" story:
Video credit: original YouTube page
I've been in this situation once or twice, and while it's cute when you're not the one being chased, when I'm in that position all I can think is "Please go away, so I don't have to figure out how to take care of you for the rest of your life!"
The second is Dana Hunter's story of her adventures in frog stalking:
I didn’t even see that much at first, because the little bugger had splooshed into the water the instant it heard me coming. How is it that the wildlife round here always knows when I’ve got the camera ready? Fortunately, there are three froggies to choose from, and the one just down the way didn’t give a rat’s ass whether I had a camera or not.
And then, by the time I’d got back up to the main part of the ditch, Froggy the First was peeking out, and looked mightily astonished that freaky lady was back again.
Froggy II, otherwise known as Bullfrog the Bold.
Interlude with Frogs
Lots more drama, and lots more pictures, are at the quote credit link.
There you are - way too much cute for a late evening meal, but you have plenty of time to digest it now, don't you?
UPDATE (Jun 23): Finally fixed that first link about the shenanigans. It has to do withe reporter Joseph Williams of Politico for (apparently) being suspended for saying he thinks Mitt Romney's uncomfortable around black people. I don't know how comfortable Romney is around anyone who isn't in his circle, but this in and of itself is a sign of journalistic malfeasance. Even the off-color jokes about Mitt Romney that Williams made on Twitter don't rise to that level, near as I can tell. Frankly, if the guy is drinking the Obama campaign kool-aid, I'd rather know, wouldn't you?
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359
It looks like an official e-mail from a real bank. There really is an RBC Royal Bank, of course, and it really does use that particular Internet domain. This wouldn't be much of a phishing attempt if that weren't true, now would it?
Of course, this is not my bank, which was the first clue that it was a phishing attempt. There are others, though, and I think it's a good idea to review some of the other clues, in case the next phishing e-mail purports to be from your bank or mine.
First off, that's the entire e-mail. Whenever my bank communicates with me, it will always identify what account we're discussing in some way that does not give away the secrets, of course. Something like my complete name, and/or a partial account number, or some such thing. There's nothing like that here.
Second, there's the clue of what happens when you put your mouse cursor on top of the link button at the bottom of the e-mail. Here is the URL it was going to take me to, if I had clicked on it:
Once again, there's a clear difference, if you're able to understand what you're looking at. A Uniform Resource Locater (URL) string consists of a method, which is the string
http to the left of the colon ('
:'), followed by the domain, which is the string that identifies what bunch of Internet addresses contain whatever it is you're attempting to access. In this case, the domain string is:
That part in the normal color type is what appears to be an Internet domain of the RBC Royal Bank, and it would be if it weren't for the part of the string that I highlighted in red. That is the domain of some sort of Internet art hosting service. I suspect it's just one of many boutique online web services scammers use, which in all likelihood has neither the time nor the expertise to make sure that its customers aren't doing this sort of thing. I changed the URL to protect the (possibly) innocent.
The important thing, though, is that that URL is deceptive. It looks like the RBC's web address, but it's not. It almost takes knowing you should be able to spot something to see it. If I had clicked on that button, the URL window on the browser would have started out with the string
www.royalbank.com, and I might not have noticed the real domain.
So, be careful with these e-mails. If it appears that it comes from your bank, check these things, at a minimum, before clicking on a convenient button that will take you to just the place you need to go to clear up your problem. Better still, you should probably go to your bank's online banking site directly, and try to deal with the issue from there, or call them.
Afterword: Do I need to add that the RBC Royal Bank was not responsible for either this article, nor the e-mail that inspired this article? No doubt I do, so there we are.
Image credit: Screenshot of this MLB video by Cujo359
If you just have to know more, go to the image credit link and watch.
How are the Phillies doing, you ask? They're several more games under .500 than the last time I answered that question, and they don't look to be changing direction anytime soon.
Thank goodness for the All-Star break.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Taylor Marsh, discussing the 2012 Presidential election and the two sorry excuses for leaders we're expected to choose from:
Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, neither leader representing the big two parties is revealing a burning joy and sense of purpose to his candidacy.
Is It Over Yet?
There's not a lot of analysis there, but as understatements go, it's world class. Awhile back, I wrote an article entitled "2012: Dueling Cults Of Personality? ", in which I posited that this was likely to be a campaign in which reality, at least the reality that anyone us out here in the Land Beyond The Beltway recognizes, will make only brief and uncomfortable appearances. So far, that seems to be true.
And yes, I am just glad I watch most of what television I watch on a DVR. Commercial skip may rank right up there with compiling census data as one of the greatest gifts computing has given to mankind.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Over at the Economic Policy Institute's website, Josh Bivens has an interesting article up about fiscal policy in a depression. Actually, it's a bit more than that, as he mentions here:
Conventional wisdom says simply that we need fiscal stimulus now, and long-term debt reduction later.
It sounds reasonable enough, and I may have even believed it myself a couple of years ago. But it turns out to be wrong.
The two imperatives of immediate stimulus and long-run debt reduction are deeply asymmetric. Every day we don’t act to bring down the unemployment rate quickly is another day of human misery and pure economic waste. Since the Great Recession began, the nation has foregone more than $3 trillion in potential income because of idled resources (people and factories). In 2011 this “output gap” exceeded $800 billion again, and the first quarter of 2012 saw us move nowhere toward closing it.
It’s OK to add to debt to grow jobs
Let me just break in here to say that there are lots of reasons that a national economy is not like a household budget. Yet there are plenty of folks who opine about the former as if it's the latter. Even so, there are certain things that these folks overlook. Not the least of those things is that household budgets often include indebtedness. People use credit to buy cars, computers, and houses. Most of us use credit cards, even if we pay them off at the end of each month. If you need something, and know you can pay it back later, going into debt for a little while is OK, if not expected.
The elections are over in Greece, and what reports have come out of there may seem a bit confusing, but I think I can boil it down to this quote by the BBC's Chris Morris:
The main parties do not seem to be in the mood to hang around and haggle. Everyone expects a government to be formed quickly - but this is Greece so let's wait until the signatures are on paper.
The big problem they face? New Democracy and Pasok are blamed by many Greeks for running the corrupt governing system that got the country into a mess in the first place.
Antonis Samaras begins urgent Greece coalition talks
OK, maybe that's getting ahead of ourselves...
Let's start with the basics. Here is a table explaining the results, with the parties listed in order of their presumed political stance, based on the graphic at the bottom of the BBC article I just quoted. Also noted is whether each party favors accepting the current "bailout" deal, which calls for considerable austerity on the part of the Greeks, and whether they favor using the euro as their currency:
|Party||Accept austerity?||Stay with Euro?||May, 2012||June, 2012|
[The numbers in the May and June columns are legislative seats won.]
Friday, June 15, 2012
In many ways, Jose Antonio Vargas' story is that of everyone who lives in the United States:
Except, through no fault of his own, he is an undocumented alien living in America. Brought here as a young man, he grew up here. He is a success here, and by just about any other criteria would be an American. Yet, he can't leave the country for fear of not being allowed to return. Going back to the place he was born would put him somewhere that, to him, would be a foreign land.
Who Are We, Really?
Embedded in that paragraph is a video of Mr. Vargas telling his story. His parents brought him here when he was still a minor. Like many such people, he thinks of America as his home. Unlike many, because his parents came here illegally, he must fear being deported should he ever leave the country. As Taylor Marsh reports today, he and many other young people who are in a similar situation were featured on the cover of Time magazine this week, even in the U.S.
Image credit: I Has A Hot Dog
but reading hasn't...
After reading this on the Phillies' website today, I once again wondered about how it is we mark some things as being significant:
It was [Phillies first baseman and sometime designated hitter Jim] Thome's 607th career home run, and his 99th with the Phillies. If he hits one more with Philadelphia, he will become the fourth player in baseball history to have 100 home runs with three teams (Indians, White Sox and Phillies). He would join Alex Rodriguez (Mariners, Rangers and Yankees), Reggie Jackson (A's, Yankees and Angels) and Darrell Evans (Braves, Giants and Tigers).
Blanton, Thome team up to top Twins
The particular field of endeavor here, of course, is baseball, but this sort of thinking seems to apply to just about any field of interest where people keep score - sports, politics, biology. I haven't looked, but I suspect it's just as likely that no more people than those listed have hit 99 home runs for each of three teams, or 98, for that matter. Yet the number 100 seems magical somehow, in a form of statistic that few players could even remotely qualify for. After all, quite a few ball players haven't hit 100 home runs (or 99) in an entire career. A few of them are in the Baseball Hall Of Fame, in fact.
One of them is named John "Home Run" Baker.
Yes, it's a nice round number, and not many people have reached it. I suppose that's the reason, but in a sport that's full of such distinctions, it's hard to ignore them after a while. In baseball, if you go by how people talk about these things, hitting .300 is much more of an achievement than hitting .299, and driving in 100 runs much more of an accomplishment than only driving in 99. Yet, the skill and effort required is basically the same. At the end of a season, one good or bad at bat (NOTE 1) could make the difference in either category (NOTE 2).
I suppose that when we live in a world of computers and online information, this sort of thing is inevitable. There are undoubtedly people toting up how many football teams have scored ten touchdowns in a fortnight, or how many Presidential candidates won more than 300 electoral votes. To me, the important things are that it takes 270 electoral votes to become President, and you don't need to score any touchdowns at all to win a game, provided you get close enough to the end zone for a field goal.
And as John "Home Run" Baker proved, sometimes fewer than 100 home runs is still plenty.
UPDATE/Afterword: I'm sure someone will notice that John Baker (also known as Frank Baker) played almost his entire career in the dead ball era of baseball, when home runs were much harder to hit. This is yet another reason why I say that the way to evaluate an athlete's greatness, or any other professional I suppose, is by his standing at the time, not by numbers like career home runs. Even in baseball, where the rules and the strategy have been pretty constant for more than a century now, that's true. Quite a bit has changed, both in the game and in related fields like sports medicine and nutrition.
UPDATE 2: Added the words "in a seaon" to NOTE 2.
NOTE 1: An intentional walk could be the difference, too. For those who aren't fans of the game, a walk (intentional or not) does not count as an at bat. That means that it isn't counted when figuring a batter's average. Yet, a batter has no control over whether he is walked intentionally or not, other than being a good enough hitter to be worth walking intentionally, which is something most everyday players are.
NOTE 2: Typically, a full time Major League ballplayer will have more than five hundred official at bats in a season, and will appear at the plate at least that many times. When rounded to the nearest thousandth, that can be the difference of one at bat.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Joyce Arnold put this in her post at TaylorMarsh.com today:
Image credit: Internetocracy
If you've been reading here long enough, you're no stranger to this idea. While the White House's Goldman Sachs connection makes GS an obvious example of the phenomenon, there are plenty of other financial companies that are supporting politicians using money that they got from us, either through insurance or other financial services. That money isn't used to promote your interests, it's used to promote theirs.
Yes, I'm stating the obvious, but there's a reason why that's so often necessary.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Glenn Greenwald, concludes an article about U.S. Rep. Peter King, whose hysterical Islamophobia seems to have found common cause with President Obama:
Democrats are certainly right when they depict King as the embodiment of right-wing, neoconservative, Islamophobic radicalism. They should spend time wondering why he so often finds common cause with President Obama on the areas on which he most focuses. There are many things to say about bipartisanship in Washington: that it is tragically rare or that the GOP refuses to give Obama credit are most definitely not among them.
Obama defender Rep. Peter King
I've been both saddened and amused by Democrats' and progressives' characterization of King and other prominent Republicans on their often paranoid and bigoted ideas on foreign policy. Amused because, while those criticisms are usually true, the fact that these same Republicans basically agree with Obama Administration's "anti-terrorism" policy, despite the lawlessness and foolishness of it, is something these folks generally overlook. Saddened, because the real effect, if not the real purpose, of such biased criticism is to make these Republicans the boogeymen, and to imply that there's some difference between them and what the Obama Administration is doing right now. If you want to talk about bigotry and paranoia, what do you call a policy that basically says that anyone in Yemen, Pakistan, or whoever else we've decided is a haven for terrorists, attends the funeral of, or is standing anywhere near, a suspected terrorist, that these people must also be terrorists? If that strikes you as a balanced, considered policy, then I suggest you think long and hard about what people would say if some foreign government were doing that to us, regardless of the provocation.
As I mentioned in a previous QOTD, it's a rare prominent progressive who mentions that what the Obama Administration is doing here is both reckless and wrong. The list of prominent progressives who make the point that this is as bad as what the Bush Administration was doing is no longer.
Friday, June 8, 2012
So much for the "new media". I received an e-mail from the Darcy Burner campaign today, suggesting that I really, really needed to watch a speech she made at Netroots Nation. They sent me to this link. I tried to seek past all the introductory speeches to Burner's. No luck. After thirty seconds or so, it seeks back to the beginning. I have heard the phrase "My name is Tim", the introduction to the AFSCME commercial, so many times that I have started yelling "Fuck Tim and his no doubt imaginary problems!" every time the loop goes back to the beginning. It's a good thing I live alone.
I don't know if the problem was that the video player wasn't up to the challenge of staying at the point in the stream I wanted to be at, or if someone just decided that I need to see that AFSCME commercial so that I'm properly informed about something. Either way, I gave up. There's only so much time-wasting nonsense I'll put up with.
Here's what I have gathered from the small portion of Burner's speech that I was able to watch - good policy doesn't make for successful campaigns. Power does. She learned this at Microsoft, where they were able to beat their competitor Lotus by dumping their crappy Office software onto every computer that the big hardware producers sold. This is a rather ominous start, but it's as far as I've gotten.
Let me just address what little I've managed to hear, because I think I know where this is headed, for reasons I'll get to shortly. We need to get more Democrats, and more women, I'm sure, in power, so that we can get the policy we want, right?
Well, here's the problem - quite often, power becomes the end in itself. For instance, when people congratulate someone on a job well done after passing what they should have realized was a crappy piece of legislation that will succeed in making the situation it was designed to address even worse. Why do such a thing? Because the people involved had the power to get the thing passed, and because those people run your party. Pursue power long enough, and it's easy to forget why you were after it in the first place.
I can get behind the idea that power is a means to an end. What I am all too uncomfortably aware of, though, is that all too often, once they have that power, those who have it won't use it for the reason they sought it in the first place. There are always more important things to worry about.
Much like crappy software that persuades its users to give up trying to watch the part of a video they want to see, but endlessly shows them a part they don't, power sought as a means to an end often does not ultimately serve that end. And, as happened here, quite often the people who can choose not to continue to provide that power will no longer do so.
I can tell you this based on my own experience writing and testing software: There are two kinds of people who matter in the software world. There are those who want to make the software as good as they can so that users can use it to do the things they want to do, and those who want to sell you the crap that will make them the most money. As Bill Gates taught us, you can start out being one kind of person and end up being the other. As Linus Torvalds and others have taught us, you don't have to.
That's a lesson about power that more politicians need to absorb. I don't know if Darcy Burner needs to learn that lesson or not. After all, I didn't ever get to the end of the video.
Image credit: Screenshot of Faces Of Earth by Cujo359 (See Note below)
On Dana Hunter's recommendation, I borrowed a copy of the television mini-series Faces Of Earth. It's quite a series, if you're interested in science or the world around you. I'll just let Dana summarize:
It's all science, having been produced by the American Geological Institute and supported by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Don't worry - it's not an advert for Big Energy. In fact, if they meant it as an advertisement for more drilling, it's probably going to do quite the opposite. Once you've experienced several hours of Earth's geological majesty, you're a little less inclined to destroy it.
Sunday Sensational Science [April 19, 2009]
An episode that I found particularly interesting was "Building America". In this episode, some of the geological events that formed the continent we now live on are described using interviews with scientists and lots of computer graphics. What struck me as I was watching the episode was how catastrophic for our economy and society some of those events would be if they occurred now.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Video image credit: Major League Baseball
Ironically, Ms. Abdul is doing a tour for MLB's prostate awareness campaign, according to this video. Why is that ironic? Watch the video, particularly the middle portion. I've never seen so much green fuzz move so fast.
I have to express my admiration for both performers here. I think if I tried to do crossover steps on that surface in either kind of footwear, I'd break an ankle.
How did the game go, you ask? The Phillies dropped their sixth straight, and they're back under .500. Here's another bold prediction for 2012: If they don't step up their game, they will be very lucky to avoid the NL East basement this season, Ryan Howard or no Ryan Howard.
Image credit: ArcCan/Wikimedia
The other day I was discussing some of the reasons that there is a big difference between the financial problems of Eurozone members like Greece and Spain that are now heavily in debt, and the situations of American states that find themselves in economic distress. Today, Dean Baker discussed another one in the course of debunking another article in the Washington Post by one of their clueless economics reporters:
Hence we have Matt Miller telling us this morning about how resolving the euro zone crisis will require that German Chancellor Angela Merkel devise a plan for "apportioning pain."
Of course the opposite is true. The pain is wholly unnecessary and self-defeating. The obvious way out of the euro crisis is to require that the European Central Bank abandon its obsession with reinforcing its Maginot Line (its 2.0 percent inflation target) and instead act like a central bank. This would mean guaranteeing the debt of the crisis countries and supporting a higher inflation rate across the euro zone.
Matt Miller's Pain
[link from original]
This failure of the European Central Bank to "act like a central bank" is another of the primary differences between what's going on in Europe and what's going on in America. In the U.S., the Federal Reserve Bank performs this function. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's Quantitative Easing (QE) policies are just another example of how this works. I don't know enough about the financial industry to hazard a guess about whether there is no other way the situation in Europe can be resolved. Still, I figure if QE could keep the lid on our banks' problems for this long, some similar program could handle the problems the Eurozone is having.
This is the basic problem - in a place like America or the Eurozone, it's not possible for all members to have a positive balance of trade. Money will tend to flow out of those countries or states that import more than they export. One of the things that helps ease that situation is that credit can flow into those countries or states. How that's being done right now in Europe is that big banks are lending money at exorbitant rates to the countries with a negative trade balance. In America, the states (via their banks) get this credit for next to nothing.
There are many reasons why the situations here and in Europe are different. It is foolish to suggest that American states, or America in general, is going to end up like Greece, with their creditors, in essence, threatening to break their legs if they can't come up with the cash. That's what's happening in Europe, but it's not going to happen here.
Our own path to economic ruin will be a somewhat different one, if we choose to go there.
UPDATE: Added a bit more to the discussion about where the money goes between net exporters and net importers. It wasn't clear before, probably because I thought it obvious which way the money goes. Still, if I'm bothering to explain, I should explain so people who don't think it's obvious can get caught up.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Image credit: Bubo/Wikimedia
A couple of articles about people in the press caught my attention today. Taken separately, they're fascinating examples of how little in the way of intellectual honesty you need to demonstrate these days to write for a top American news organization, as long as what you write pleases the folks who run things. Taken together, they serve to explain a lot about why we know so little about what's going on in our own country these days, or at least why it's so hard to find out.
The first tale comes to us care of Yasha Levine, who has begun a project called “Shame the Hacks who Abuse Media Ethics” (SHAME). It's the story of Malcolm Gladwell, a man who has spent most of his adult life shilling for one powerful lobby or another. That wouldn't be a problem, I suppose, if he weren't also masquerading as a journalist.
Image credit: Detail of NASA SDO photograph cropped by Cujo359
Click on the image to enlarge it. Follow the image credit link to the full image.
The picture that cropped image was taken from is from the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a NASA satellite stationed between the Earth and the Sun to capture information about sunspots (a few are visible toward the bottom of the image), coronal mass ejections, and other solar phenomena. The pictures alone are priceless, I think.
Once in a while, a serendipitous combination of a photo and an unrelated article can produce a chuckle, as I found when I visited Reuters today:
Image credit: Screenshot of this Reuters article by Cujo359
[Click to enlarge.]
Needless to say, those are not embassy personnel in the photo. They're Queen Elizabeth and some other members of her family, including Kate Middleton of the amazing fashion evolution, at some ceremony or other. They weren't in Libya at the time.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Image credit: Screenshot of this interactive map by the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel by Cujo359.
It's all over but for the shouting in Wisconsin:
Gov. Scott Walker became the first governor in the country's history on Tuesday to survive a recall election, besting his 2010 rival in a contest that broke spending records and captured the nation's attention.
The recall race for governor was viewed as crucial nationally, with both sides seeing it as a test of whether politicians could take on unions and survive. Last year, GOP Ohio Gov. John Kasich approved a law curtailing collective bargaining that went further than Wisconsin's, but voters there overturned it in a November referendum.
Walker wins recall race over Barrett
Q: What do you call Alternative Medicine that survives double-blind laboratory tests? A: Regular Medicine.The difference between science and pseudo-science is the skeptical process used by the former to arrive at a conclusion. If "alternative medicine" can survive that process, it is actually medicine. If it can't, it's witchcraft.
Twitter Message from @neiltyson
Monday, June 4, 2012
Image credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson/Wikimedia
Glenn Greenwald, discussing the seemingly endless unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attacks on alleged terrorists in various countries:
I ask this sincerely: what kind of country targets rescuers, funeral attendees, and people gathered to mourn? If a Hollywood film featured a villainous King ordering lethal attacks on rescuers, funerals and mourners — those medically attending to or grieving his initial victims — any decent audience member would, by design, seethe with contempt for such an inhumane tyrant. But this is the standard policy and practice under President Obama and it continues through today. Recall the outrage that was sparked when WikiLeaks released its Collateral Murder video showing a U.S. Apache helicopter during the Bush era firing on unarmed rescuers, who had arrived to retrieve the initial victims who had been shot and were laying wounded on the ground. That tactic continues under President Obama, although it is now expanded to include the targeting of grieving rituals.
U.S. again bombs mourners
I've been wondering the same thing, especially when it seems like, with rare exceptions like Greenwald, few progressives have spoken up on this. Far fewer, for instance, than speak up every year about how awful it was that we dropped atomic bombs on a serious enemy sixty years ago. I'm willing to entertain the idea that those attacks were war crimes, although I'm inclined to think they're not, but I have yet to see more than a few progressives even pose the question whether what we're doing in these countries right now qualifies as a war crime. By just about any criteria I can imagine, these are war crimes as surely as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, and we've signed a Geneva Convention that said so since then.
There was a time not too long ago when we'd be appalled at the idea that we would be deliberately attacking targets where we knew most of the victims would be civilians, and in circumstances that are clearly far less exigent than all-out war with another large industrialized nation. We used to be shocked at the notion of attacking a target to kill off rescue and medical personnel. That was something that awful people did. Yet here we are, doing that very thing, and it's a rare progressive who objects.
For some reason, I just don't seem to get around to discussing these articles, even though I have them bookmarked. I'll just say they're worth reading if you want some idea of why economics policy goes the way it's been going in America recently.
The first is from Bill Black, a former Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Company (FSLIC) executive during the George H.W. Bush (A.K.A. "Big Bush") Administration. He discusses why, despite his being one of the few people in America who have successfully investigated the sort of financial fraud that brought about the Crash of 2008, he was not invited to a bipartisan congressional committee hearing on the subject:
At the large law firm where I began my professional career we were warned about making “career limiting gestures” (CLGs). I confess to being an expert in committing CLGs, such that I am unemployable in the federal government. I’m a serial whistle blower who blew the whistle too often and too effectively on too many prominent politicians and bosses running my agency. One of the proofs of what a great nation America is capable of being is that I survived and the prominent politicians and agency heads who tried so hard to destroy my career and reputation failed. Indeed, in the process they helped to make me an exemplar that public administration scholars use to illustrate how regulators should function. The latest act of Congress disinviting me from speaking truth to power has caused me to ruminate on CLGs. I have concluded that they are essential to effective regulation.
Bill Black: Career Limiting Gestures (CLG): Trying to Speak Truth to Congress
I think most large organizations and professions have some phrase to describe CLG's. I'm certainly familiar with the idea from my own time working in the defense industry. Speaking your mind, even when you're right, is potentially hazardous, as there seems to be no lack of people in authority who would rather ignore expensive or embarrassing problems than deal with them.
Sunday, June 3, 2012
At his blog, Paul Krugman muses about the differences between Florida and Spain:
[A] crude calculation:
- From IRS data, we find that Florida’s tax payments to Washington fell approximately $25 billion between 2007 and 2010, the bottom of the slump.
- From Labor Department data, we find that in 2010 special unemployment insurance programs — extended benefits paid for from DC — were about $3 billion in 2010.
- From SNAP (food stamp) data, we see that food benefits to Florida rose about $3 billion over the same period.
Aid on that scale is inconceivable in Europe as currently constituted. That’s a big problem.
Florida Versus Spain
This is why I, and anyone else with at least a basic understanding of the differences between our country and the European Union, say that we will not end up like Spain or Greece. Nor will Florida, or California. There is a federal fiscal and monetary system in America, and that makes our problems fundamentally different from those of Europe. Anyone who says American states will end up like EU members either understands even less about economics than I do, or is lying idiot.
And, to answer the obvious question, there's no reason to think such people can't be both.
Friday, June 1, 2012
In a troubling sign of a weakening economy, the Department of Labor reported on Friday that the US added just 69,000 jobs in May, about half of what Wall Street had been expecting. At the same time, the unemployment rate edged higher to 8.2 percent, up from 8.1 percent in April.
The low jobs total was the third consecutive month of disappointing jobs numbers. Initially, economists believed that companies had over-hired during the warm winter and had slowed hiring in the spring. Now, they say the economic downturn in Europe may be having an effect here, as banks become more skittish about making loans. At the same time, another barometer of confidence – the stock market – fell 6 percent in May.
Poor unemployment report points to troubled US economy
Of course, we've seen worse, even in this Administration, but it's still a bit of a letdown for all those folks who thought that if we just stop spending everything will be alright. At least, it would be if anyone who thinks the key to solving this economic mess lies in not spending money had any idea how embarrassed he should be.
As for the ideas proffered in that Christian Science Monitor article for what explains the slowdown, I think that none of them make much sense. Europe isn't that big a trading partner, and while there are dark clouds on the financial horizon there, things haven't collapsed yet. As for the bit about overoptimistic hiring, well maybe. We had a better Christmas shopping season last year than in the two or three previous, so that might have engendered a bit of optimism. Beyond that, though, I'm not buying it.
The thing I don't see talked about is that the effects of the stimulus bill have about run out. As I predicted back then (along with a good many people who are actually serious economists) there wasn't enough stimulus to right the economy. The last effect it was going to have ended pretty much in the middle of last year. With that optimistic Christmas, which is normally a big part of the retail sales for a year, we saw some optimism into the early part of this year.
Now we're seeing how the economy is without a stimulus. It's still not in good shape, which is exactly what anyone with any sense predicted.
As usual, Robert Reich sums things up pretty well:
Face it: The jobs recovery has stalled.
What’s going on? Part of the problem is the rest of the world. Europe is in the throes of a debt crisis and spiraling toward recession. China and India are slowing. Developing nations such as Brazil, dependent on exports to China, are feeling the effects and they’re slowing as well. All this takes a toll on U.S. exports.
But a bigger part of the problem is right here in the United States, and it’s clearly on the demand side of the equation. Big companies are still sitting on a huge pile of cash. They won’t invest it in new jobs because American consumers aren’t buying enough to justify the risk and expense of doing so.
The Job Stall
Which, once again, is what anyone with any sense has been predicting for a long time now. That this doesn't include anyone in the press or the Obama Administration is more an indication of what an unrealistic world those people live in than any deficit on the part of the economists who saw this coming.
Afterword: It's at least possible that people will think I don't take Europe's problems seriously, or that I had forgotten what I wrote about them a few months ago. Neither is true. Europe's problems mean two things for the U.S. economy:
- As Europe's economic woes deepen, there will be one less place we can hope to see increased demand for American products, and
- When Europe's financial system goes boom, it will probably take part of ours with it. When you read about Europe's financial woes, names like Mellon, JP Morgan, and Goldman Sachs come up quite often. Those financial companies, among others, stand to lose a lot if Europe goes belly up.
So Europe's woes could well become ours as well, and to a small extent they already are. It's just that I don't see that effect just yet. What I see, like Robert Reich, is mostly the effect of American mismanagement of our own economy.