Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Lambert Strether: The Obama Enablers' Big Lie

Over at Naked Capitalism, Lambert Strether has written a strong rebuttal to one of the central excuses for the Obama Administration's and the Democrats' failure to do what we sent them to do back in 2009:

The bottom line is that “Republican obstructionism” is entirely of the Democrat’s making. What Reid (and Obama) want — or say they want — to do in 2013, and butchered doing in 2010, could and should have done in 2009, immediately after Obama’s inauguration. Republicans would have had no ability to obstruct had Obama and the Democrats not deliberately given them the power to do so. The gridlock is a gridlock of choice.

The Obama Enabler’s Big Lie: “We Never Had the Votes”

As Lambert notes, anyone who remembers the "nuclear option" back in 2005, when then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist threatened to use Senate procedures to eliminate the filibuster if the Bush Administration's Supreme Court nominees were blocked by filibuster, knows that there are ways around filibusters for politicians willing to employ them. Yet this remains a big lie of Democratic politics - that it was those nasty Republicans who spoiled it all. The truth is that things were much better for Harry Reid and President Obama if the insurance companies and other masters of the universe got what they wanted, and we didn't.

This is why no progressive with the least bit of sense thinks that merely electing more Democrats to Congress is going to fix what ails America. They clearly aren't motivated to do what they know they can, and most progressives seem perfectly willing to let them get away with it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

Bruce A. Dixon, of the Black Agenda Report discusses the upcoming presidential election:

What with choices limited to greater and lesser evils, or more and less effective evils, it might be time to ask ourselves, how is this politics of choosing evil working out for us? Can we, and why should we hold our tongues and noses to re-elect this fracking president?

Should We Really Re-Elect This Fracking President?

From the title, it is no doubt obvious that this comes near the end of an article discussing the Obama Administration's record on energy, which is pretty terrible. To know that, I think that all you need to reflect on is that the environment isn't one of my usual beats, nor Bruce Dixon's, yet we've both written about how awful this administration has been on the subject. Obama has allowed fracking to go on, as well as allowing the construction of a pipeline to carry Canadian shale oil to the Gulf Coast, the expansion of off-shore oil drilling despite the experience of Deepwater, and he's always been really sweet on "clean coal", a misnomer if ever there was one.

My answer to Mr. Dixon's question is no, we shouldn't vote for him. When you vote for evil, you're not only going to end up with evil, you're telling politicians that it's OK.

It's not OK. We can't afford it anymore.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quote Of The Day

From Vastleft at Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy:



Original article is here. Vastleft seldom lacks for pithy observations about the state of American political process, but I like this one particularly. It really describes the trouble with American progressivism these days.

Now I've Seen Everything: July 24, 2012 Edition

Here's some proof that there are people with way too much time on their hands:


Image credit: Dunno source

No, not the picture, actually. It's the place I found it, which apparently is a site scrape of Pharyngula, with various graphics of cats inserted. PZ Myers makes a point of being against anything feline, so apparently someone has decided to make his worst nightmare come true.

Even if the only work they put into this site is finding new graphics for the site, it's way more effort than I'd want to go to for a joke.

UPDATE: Apologies for not filling in the link. There's a time of night when I shouldn't try to publish anymore, but if I didn't disobey that rule there are weeks when I'd publish nothing at all.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: Born In The USA

I heard this song this evening, after what seems like several years:

Along with X's "The Have Nots", it's another sign that if you were in a mainly blue collar crowd back in the 1980s, you could see the future coming. Soon, we'll all be there along with them, because if there's one thing Americans prove over and over again, it's that "freedom" means whatever your problems are, they won't affect me.

I've noted before that if you want to see the decline of the United States expressed from the point of view of everyday people, you can't do much better than to listen to the work of Bruce Springsteen. If he were the only one who had noticed it, perhaps it wouldn't be such a sad thing to relate. There were plenty of others who noticed, however, both in popular music and other art forms. What's sad is that you almost had to not want to see it in order to avoid noticing.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Bit Of Practical Mathematics

It's one of those turns of phrase that annoys me, so I think I'll make a point about it using this handy example provided by Rep. Peter DeFazio, (OR-04) in a campaign e-mail he sent a while back:

One of the most tried and true ways to get people back to work is building and improving infrastructure. Federal investment in infrastructure generates private sector jobs in construction, engineering and design, and manufacturing and supply. Every $1 billion we invest in infrastructure we create or sustain over 34,000 private sector jobs and produces $6.2 billion in economic activity.

Campaign E-mail from Rep. Peter Dazio

The part I emphasized is what bothers me, and not so much here as generally. Every $1 billion in infrastructure investment does not result in $6.2 billion of economic activity. There's usually a multiplicative factor to infrastructure investment, and there's probably a study out there somewhere suggesting that it's about 6.2 times the money invested in infrastructure, on average. That's the point, though - it's an average. Your billion dollar infrastructure investment might yield more than my infrastructure investment, or less.

Caption: A Union Pacific railroad bridge through the Willamette National Forest, in Oregon. Did that investment yield $6.2 per dollar invested for UP?

Image credit: Cujo359

The main reason I bring this up, of course, is infrastructure projects like the infamous bridge to nowhere, former Senator Ted Steven's (R-AK) pork project intended to build a bridge to an island in Alaska that only had a few hundred residents. Now, it's quite possible that this bridge would have been a big spur to economic activity in that area, but that seems unlikely in the extreme. At least, it's unlikely given the cost involved.

I'm sure that Rep. DeFazio just used that phrase to put things in a way we can all understand. Even phrases like "on average" seem to confuse some people. And I'm all for more infrastructure investment. As DeFazio went on to write in that e-mail:

We can put millions of people to work if Congress invested adequately in a 21st century transportation system. Insisting on strong "Made in America" requirements would ensure the benefits of these federal projects reached a broad spectrum of the American economy. Our economic competitors are investing billions in state of the art infrastructure. We must do the same.

It's a win-win, if we'd just get over the idea that we can't afford it right now. Heck, the people telling us that are the same people who refused to do the investment when we could afford it. For them, it's never a good time to spend money.

Still, that statement about what $1 billion in infrastructure investment gets you is not strictly true, and I wish people would quit talking that way.

Fat chance, right?

Monday, July 16, 2012

This Is Awkward

While I was getting caught up on I Can Has Cheezburger, I was reminded of one of the reasons I don't get invited to other peoples' houses all that much:

funny pictures - I Has A Hotdog: Big Baby
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our Socially Awkward Penguin lolz!

They just don't make chairs big enough these days.

Vive Le Bastille!

While I was at the Seattle Center last Saturday, I happened to run into the local Bastille Day celebration:



Image credit: All photos by Cujo359

Apparently, Seattleites celebrate the birth of the French Revolution by driving all the French-made cars in town onto the sidewalks of the Seattle Center and gawking at them:

I can think of worse ways to spend some other country's holiday.

Click on the pictures to enlarge. Have a good rest of Monday.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sunday Photo(s)

Fifty years ago, the Seattle World's Fair opened in what is now the Seattle Center. To celebrate that anniversary, the Fair's most recognizable symbol, the Space Needle, was painted orange again, just as it was back in 1962:

Caption: The Space Needle as it appeared at the World's Fair, 1962.

Image credit: Jim Skinner Photograph Collection/Seattle Municipal Archives/Wikimedia

Even though I didn't live out here at the time, I attended the Fair. I don't remember much about it, since I was only six years old. I remember it being overcast or rainy most of the time we were here.

Ever since the Fair, the Space Needle has remained one of the world's most recognizable buildings. Most of the time I've lived in the Pacific Northwest, though, it has been painted like this:

Caption: The Space Needle appears above the roof of the Seattle Aquarium in July, 2010.

Image credit: Photo by Dana Hunter, cropped by Cujo359

There's just something nondescript about that paint scheme. Happily, at least for this year, that's changed. Here's how the Space Needle looks this summer:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: Fabric Of The Cosmos

The local PBS station has begun showing this NOVA series again:

Watch The Fabric of the Cosmos: What Is Space? on PBS. See more from NOVA.

[if the video here looks too fuzzy or indistinct, go to the video credit link and try it there.]

Based on Columbia physicist Brian Greene's The Fabric Of The Cosmos, it's an example of the way modern television presents science, for both good and ill. On the plus side, it's visually interesting, and the review of our old concepts of space is a good one. At least, anyone who already knows that story will be reminded again. Dr. Greene has a quirky sense of humor, which certainly keeps the narrative entertaining. The special effects that illustrates the various concepts are imaginative and accurately portray the ideas they're trying to get across.

The down side is that I still have no idea what the new concept of space is. Well, it's a hologram somehow. Maybe that's enough to start looking into the concept with some idea where it's going, but it just doesn't feel like I know more now than before I watched this show. Or maybe this is only because it's not entirely clear to physicists yet what they're talking about.

Maybe a little more explaining and a little less joking would have worked better. Then again, maybe it wouldn't have been our Saturday entertainment if it had.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Paul Sunstone, who is back on the Internet at his new digs, discusses the idea that atheism could be thought of as a religion:

I'll believe organized atheists constitute a religion just as soon as I can bring myself to believe that organizing bald people into a club is a way to make their hair grow back.

News Flash: Atheists Hate Hugs! [comment by Paul Sunstone]

Medically and logically, he got it about right. Though I have to add that atheists don't hate hugs. We just don't like annoying people, even when they're atheists.

A Reminder From The Present

xkcd gets arguing with crazy people about right today:



Image credit: xkcd. Click on the image to be taken to the originating site.

No, I never feel that way. Why do you ask? Did big science send you to harass me?

A Reminder From Our Past

Caption: Frederick Douglass, around the time of the American Civil War.

Image credit: unknown/Wikimedia

Joyce Arnold reminded me yesterday of another apt quote from Frederick Douglass:

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.”

Frederick Douglass quotes

Juan Cole has a poster of it up at his place. The comment there is telling. The Occupy movements identify with Douglass. I suspect that's because he figured out and articulated the way oppression works a century and a half ago.

We see this process working out all the time in our modern life. When police are allowed to brutalize protesters, when our government is OK with torturing and imprisoning people without trial, while they let the rich get away with crashing the economy. In all of these cases, these things happen because most Americans don't feel like objecting.

Sometimes, we need reminding. I can't think of anyone better to do that than a guy who knew a thing or two about what it's like when not enough people care if your rights are the ones being violated.

UPDATE/Afterword: On the subject of that closing paragraph, Joyce Arnold provides a postscript in an article today:

It’s really hard to make the case that “liberty and justice for all” actually means for “some.” An honest version might be something like, “with liberty and justice for some of the people all of the time,” but that’s kind of like being offered an apple pie made with all the apples in one slice, and it’s been taken.

Queer Talk: Romney ‘Dodges’ LGBT Question, Obama ‘Challenged’ Regarding AIDS Conference

Note that, as the title suggests, that quote is part of an article on gay rights. Even though I've written on that subject several times in the past, a glance at the keyword cloud along the side of this blog will show there's no separate keyword here for "gay rights", or anything of the sort. That's a deliberate choice. To me, gay rights, womens' rights, and minority rights are all human rights. You don't get to have them by denying them to others.

Frederick Douglass was one of the people who taught me that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Robert Reich, trying to describe how important the upcoming election is:

It’s not merely Republicans versus Democrats, or conservatives versus liberals. The larger battle is between regressives and progressives.

Regressives want to take this nation backward — to before Social Security, unemployment insurance, and Medicare; before civil rights and voting rights; before regulations designed to protect the environment, workers, consumers, and investors. They want to sabotage much of what this nation has achieved over the last century. And they’re out to do it by making the rich far richer, turning Americans against one another in competition for a smaller and smaller slice of the pie, substituting private morality for public morality, and opening the floodgates to big money in politics.

Progressives are determined to take this nation forward — toward equal opportunity, tolerance and openness, adequate protection against corporate and Wall Street abuses, and an economy and democracy that are working for all of us.

The Real Battle In 2012 And Beyond

Apologies to the author for the extensive quote, but it's a short article.

Unfortunately, all this quote does for me is point out what the real issue is, because in 2012 progressives don't have a party of their own, unless you count the Green Party. That's why this election will mean very little. No matter who wins, Social Security and Medicare are on the chopping block. The only difference is how dull a blade Democrats will use relative to Republicans. There will be no economic progress, and certainly no progress in education, greenhouse gas reduction, reducing the security state, the defense industry, or the prison industry to manageable proportions, nor any of the other things that real progressives want for this country.

Anyone who thinks Barack Obama is interested in protecting us from Wall Street is forgetting where all his economics advisors come from, or where they'll return once they're through with their "government service".

What this election shows is how powerless progressives are, largely because we don't want to admit it and do something about it.

Cartoon Of The Day

Monday's xkcd cartoon:

Image credit: xkcd (Click on cartoon to be taken to original site). I love the shape for Washington. I'll never look at the Olympic Peninsula quite the same way again.

Of PACs And Social Welfare

Taylor Marsh has gathered up a few Internet video ads by some of those new "Super PACs", and some by so-called "issue-oriented" organizations that don't qualify as political organizations, and then asks the logical question:

If 60 Plus, along with Rove and the Koch Bros’ groups, couldn’t use the “social welfare” label they’d have to disclose their donors, making a lot of very rich Republicans, Sheldon Adelson perhaps, a lot more squeamish about forking over tens of millions of dollars, because they’d be named. Anonymity is the linchpin leading to large amounts of cash, with “social welfare” the scrim behind which Rove, the Koch Bros., 60 Plus and other groups hide while acting very much like a political committee.

SPOTLIGHT: Karl Rove, Koch Bros., 60 Plus Hide Behind ‘Social Welfare’ Label While Targeting Democrats

See if you can tell the difference. I bet you can't.

I often wonder if democracy can recover from the Citizens United decision.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Syrian General Defects

Caption: In December, 2003, Syrian soldiers carrying automatic weapons patrol a street in Damascus - not the most welcome sight in Syria these days, I suspect.

Image credit: Antonio Milena/Agencia Brasil/Wikimedia

Things may slowly be getting better in Syria. The BBC reports today:

A Syrian general close to President Assad has defected, delivering "a hard blow for the regime", French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said.

Brig Gen Manaf Tlas fled Syria via Turkey, his family confirmed.

...

Gen Tlas, believed to be in his mid-40s, is a commander of a unit of the elite Republican Guard. As a young man he attended military training with President Assad.

Syria Manaf Tlas defection 'hard blow' for Assad

The article goes on to quote "sources" who said that BGEN Tlas has been under house arrest for over a year. Al Jazeera reports that the reason he was in disfavor with Assad is:

According to the source with close ties to Damascus, Tlas had embarked on several unsuccessful reconciliation missions between government loyalists and rebels in Rastan and the southern province of Daraa.

A member in the elite Republican Guard, Tlas was sidelined more than a year ago, after he was deemed unreliable.

Months later he gave up his military uniform and opted for civilian clothing. He set up residence in Damascus, where he let his beard and hair grow long.

Another source in Damascus told AFP news agency that Tlas' relations with the authorities became irreconcilable after the fierce assault on the Homs district of Bab Amr in February this year.

Syrian general close to Assad defects

The AJ article goes on to provide a bit of background story, in which Tlas' father, who was Syria's defense minister at the time, was implicated in putting down a rebellion in the Hama Massacre back in the 1980s. The picture that emerges from these two articles is that the younger Tlas got the message that following your conscience is a good thing to do in such circumstances.

In any event, Tlas was, at least until the time of his house arrest, part of President Assad's inner circle - the sort of person he should have been able to rely on to support him. That Tlas has seen fit to disappoint him, and might join the rebel cause in sympathy if not in fact, looks to be a sign that Assad is losing his grip on the country.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Past, Prologue, Etc.

Caption: The Palais Bourbon in Paris, France. It performs a function similar to that of the U.S. Capitol - a place to house progressive politicians until they decide they want to do something useful with their lives.

Image credit: Elliot Brown/Flickr

France also had an election over the weekend[.]

...

Call me a pessimist, but I'm getting that "Democrats in 2008" feeling all over again.

Yes, the Socialists have more power than they have for a long time. Yet, I suspect we won't see much change here, either. After all, Socialist Party leader Francois Hollande's predecessor Dominique Strauss-Kahn was head of the IMF [International Monetary Fund], one of the organizations trying to austere Greece to death. It's hard to imagine that the Socialists in their current incarnation are going to turn around and tell the banks to go to hell.

But we'll see. I'd love to be proved wrong there, and given how little I understand French politics, it's certainly possible that I will be.

Another Month, Another Greek Election

It turns out, sometimes all you need to understand French politics is to be able to remember how American politics have gone recently, as the U.K. Guardian reports:

Fran├žois Hollande, Europe's chief critic of one-size-fits-all austerity measures, is facing the headache of inescapable belt-tightening at home after a national audit confirmed that France has a gaping hole in its budget and will struggle to meet its deficit-reduction targets.

...

The new Socialist president and his government must now begin a delicate verbal juggling act to define belt-tightening measures in a country where the word "austerity" is taboo. Hollande, who declared in his presidential victory speech that "austerity can no longer be inevitable," reiterated recently in Rome that he was against austerity.

Fran├žois Hollande struggles to rebrand austerity as French budget looms

So, just like in 2008 America, the voters gave the party that should have had their interests at heart the biggest majority in decades, and they have turned out to be uninterested in doing what they were sent to the capital city to do. Now they're trying to figure out how to word things "artfully" to fool at least a few of their supporters into thinking they haven't actually done what they've done.

Who would have believed it? Or, as they say in those parts, Quelle Surprise!

If there is any comfort to be taken here, it's in the knowledge that at least America is not the only Western country where progressive politicians can look on being useless as a step upward.

Greenwald Discussses Wall Street Fraud

Glenn Greenwald discusses why there continues to be fraud on Wall Street, and why the government has not done anything about it:

It's hard to think of anything to add, other than that if you've been visiting here long enough, you've read a lot of those points right here. It's clear that there is no problem understanding what's going on, provided you don't have any reasons to lie to yourself.

The basic issue of our two-tiered justice system is one you can read more about at Glenn's site, but this particular aspect of it, the massive fraud that has only resulted in generally meaningless fines for the institutions that committed it, is something that we should keep talking about. It's at the heart of what's wrong with America these days, both from an economic and legal perspective.

Speaking Of Pirates

It seems like everyone's a pirate these days - Somali warlords, German politicians, and even some bloggers, but one of the truly epic pirates, at least on the basis of name recognition and billable lawyer hours, is The Pirate Bay. The Pirate Bay is a sort of one-stop shopping destination just about every kind of entertainment download - records, television shows, video games, movies - you name it, they've probably got it. The problem is that they're not licensed to distribute any of this stuff. Yet, it provides the kind of access that most folks would be happy to pay for if the various license holders would just get their heads out of their asses long enough to set one up.

Over at Extreme Tech, Sebastian Anthony summed up the situation about as succinctly as I've seen:

The sad truth, though, is that it’s actually easier to persecute file sharers than to navigate the insane morass of rights holders and licensees on any given TV show, movie, game, or song. If it was easy to create an official, legal version of The Pirate Bay, then the entertainment industry would’ve done it already — they’re not that stupid. After years and years of evidence that criminalizing file sharing doesn’t improve matters, though, you think that the MPAA and co would invest their efforts elsewhere, though — such as hammering out their own Pirate Bay, or creating albums and movies that don’t suck. [ed: See NOTE 2]

BitTorrent usage increases in Europe, following the blockade of The Pirate Bay

The rest of the article is worth a read, if only to gain some familiarity with the issue. In it, Anthony explains that within days of a so-called "blockade" on The Pirate Bay by European Internet service providers, file sharing traffic (see NOTE 1) was back to its previous levels. It really would be more profitable for them to just set up their own Pirate Bay, but the content providers resolutely refuse to do this. It's as though they deliberately hire lawyers who give them bad advice.

This is an old story, of course. Apple's disputes with content providers over the iTunes site have been legendary. Despite my reservations about Apple and Steve Jobs, I'm positive that they could have done a much better job of making their site accessible to users, as well as more economical and convenient, if it had not been for the content providers fighting them every step of the way. Apple is a big company that can afford to hire its own fleet of intellectual property lawyers, yet even they were stymied.

Anyone who thinks that things like Pirate Bay are just about getting things for free is cosmically mistaken. That's the motivation many people have, especially now that it's been possible to get these things for free for so long. But plenty of people would be glad to pay for a service where they could download their favorite entertainment easily and reliably. The content providers, for whatever reasons, have refused to provide it, or even acknowledge that it's possible.

Afterword: For an interesting take on the state of intellectual property law, I suggest reading Thom Holwerda's recent rant on the World Trade Organization's effect on that state of affairs. We really do live in an age when a few people can decide how things go in many areas of our lives, whether those decisions make any sense or not.

NOTE 1: BitTorrent is a data communications protocol for file sharing. The beauty of this technology is that it spreads the burden of downloading among the downloaders themselves, lowering the bandwidth requirement for the torrent provider. It is not, as many folks like the RIAA and MPAA like to assert, a protocol intended to enable piracy. Piracy can be, and is, done with many protocols, including the Hyper Text Transport Protocol (HTTP), the same one that provided this web page to you.

NOTE 2: Or, they could lobby for better income distribution, so that more working stiffs would have enough disposable income so they wouldn't mind wasting more of it on crappy movies and records.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Patriotism

While I was watching a Fourth of July parade today in Burien, Washington, I saw acts of patriotism. One of them was by someone who identified herself as part of Occupy West Seattle, an Occupy movement in the nearby neighborhood of the city of Seattle. She was handing out flyers pointing out what her group thought were problems about the sustainability of our economy. This is the other act:



Image credit: Cujo359

I don't know if the young lady was part of Occupy West Seattle, or some other organization. For all I know, she was part of the local TEA Party. Doesn't matter.

The Fourth of July is a celebration of the signing of the seminal document of this country - the Declaration of Independence. It was a radical act that shaped not only this nation, but the world. Our country was born in rebellion, and it's been in turmoil much of the time since. Ending slavery, bringing about organized labor and the rise of the middle class, trying to bring equality to racial, gender, and religious minorities didn't happen because the leaders of the country just decided to do them one day. They were brought about because ordinary Americans made sure our leaders knew it was in their interests to get them done.

Protesting a perceived injustice is as American as it gets. The day I see an Independence Day parade that doesn't have something like this is the day I know we're no longer fit to call ourselves free.

Happy Birthday, America: 2012

It's that time of year again. Time to set off lovely little explosions:



Image credit: Cujo359

And it's time to eat far too much food that's bad for you.

If you live in the U.S., happy Fourth. If it's just another Wednesday, I hope it's a good one.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sunday Photo(s)

Walking through the North Creek Watershed today, we happened to see this big fella as he was hanging out on a bridge:

Image credit: All photos taken and processed by Cujo359

I really wish I had more of a zoom lens on my camera. Even though I was across the street from the heron, I couldn't get any real close ups of him. This is a montage of some of the better photos:

Finally, as a crowd started to gather, the heron apparently decided he'd given us enough of a photo opportunity, and went about his business:

Click on the images to enlarge them. Have a good Sunday.