Friday, June 17, 2011 Reading the good old Almanack. Thinking a little about Benjamin Franklin's proverb “He’s a fool that makes his doctor his heir.” Why trust your health to a person who would profit by your death? This quote floats up every time I hear a conservative expatiate upon their plan to save Medicare. Why would we trust the health of the Medicare system to the group that has endlessly clamored for its destruction? Ronaldus Magnus said that if Medicare passed, it would inevitably lead to a socialist dictatorship, where we would "tell our children what it used to be like, when men were free.":
Conservatives hate Medicare, they see it as a permanent issue favoring democrats, and a drain on a public fisc they desperately want to dedicate to other things, like a massive new tax cut for the wealthy.
Friday, April 16, 2010 US Grant has the tea partiers' number:
After the second night at Goliad, Benjamin and I started to make the remainder of the journey alone. We reached Corpus Christi just in time to avoid "absence without leave." We met no one not even an Indian--during the remainder of our journey, except at San Patricio. A new settlement had been started there in our absence of three weeks, induced possibly by the fact that there were houses already built, while the proximity of troops gave protection against the Indians. On the evening of the first day out from Goliad we heard the most unearthly howling of wolves, directly in our front.
The prairie grass was tall and we could not see the beasts, but the sound indicated that they were near. To my ear it appeared that there must have been enough of them to devour our party, horses and all, at a single meal. The part of Ohio that I hailed from was not thickly settled, but wolves had been driven out long before I left. Benjamin was from Indiana, still less populated, where the wolf yet roamed over the prairies. He understood the nature of the animal and the capacity of a few to make believe there was an unlimited number of them.
He kept on towards the noise, unmoved. I followed in his trail, lacking moral courage to turn back and join our sick companion. I have no doubt that if Benjamin had proposed returning to Goliad, I would not only have "seconded the motion" but have suggested that it was very hard-hearted in us to leave Augur sick there in the first place; but Benjamin did not propose turning back. When he did speak it was to ask: "Grant, how many wolves do you think there are in that pack?" Knowing where he was from, and suspecting that he thought I would over-estimate the number, I determined to show my acquaintance with the animal by putting the estimate below what possibly could be correct, and answered: "Oh, about twenty," very indifferently.
He smiled and rode on. In a minute we were close upon them, and before they saw us. There were just TWO of them. Seated upon their haunches, with their mouths close together, they had made all the noise we had been hearing for the past ten minutes. I have often thought of this incident since when I have heard the noise of a few disappointed politicians who had deserted their associates. There are always more of them before they are counted.
Friday, December 04, 2009 Out here in the perimeter there are no stars. Out here we is stoned, immaculate. Please see this absolutely crazy video dispatch from a British news program regarding the in-combat drug habits of the Afghan Army. I was speaking with a friend about Afghanistan yesterday, and I said that there is really no end state, just a variation between two options; we stay and keep al Qaeda and the Taliban at a handsbreadth bay, or we leave, and al Qaeda reestablishes bases out in the trackless wastes between population centers, that we can perhaps keep an eye on by keyhole satellite and occasionally bomb. My friend, who voted Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Kerry, Obama, said “well, why can’t we just start the second option now, because the first will turn into the second eventually anyway, in the long run. We can’t and won’t stay there forever. Why don’t we just start the future now, and stop the active war? Every close action we fight, every bomb we drop in a populated area, we just lose track of the narrative and let the worst people in the world characterize us as murderers. We bomb a base, and all they have to do is put up a sign that says 'hospital,' shoot a picture, and post it on the web.”
To which I replied that he was right, but the problem was, of course, that the worst people in the world had already been given so, so many images that anything they get now is just a bonus. When you’ve given the world this, what else is needed? I don’t disagree with his point, but the whole thing is just such a desperately sad, fucked-up disaster (witness the video linked above, with the teenage soldier, blind high, chuckling and wandering unsteadily out on the veranda to empty his clip at the sky, while the professional Brit soldiers crouch behind the covering stone wall) that it’s hard for me to really be “for” or “against” any option.
I know that's a cop-out, but in a lot of ways, so is sending in another 30,000 troops and crossing your fingers. Not that I don't hope it works, because I do, I really, really do. Just as I felt about the surge in Iraq - I thought that was going to be an abject failure, but hoped for the best. I was wrong about that - while the Iraq escalation may not have been the legendary success some say, it certainly was not an abject failure. So here's hopng I'm wrong about this one, too.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009 Money is money.Kevin Drum discusses the article-du-jour about Wall Street traders aghast at the notion that they are perceived as greedy or overpaid. The article is full of a lot of guff from the Masters of the Universe about how this is unfair because "we're in a hypercapitalistic society" and nobody minds if A-Rod makes $300 million. And my point isn't necessarily to dispute either of those points. The reason these guys are overpaid, and will never get that, is their entire attitude about their profession.
These folks believe, and have always believed, that they are involved in an independently significant industry, like cars or computers or agribusiness or something. They aggrandize themselves as a "sector" and equate their profits to the profits made by successful companies that retail actual products and services to the public.
However, they are not like these entities at all. They claim to provide "financial services," but what does this really mean? For many, it doesn't mean insurance, or business lending, or any of the other essential risk industries, but rather it means trading, seeking to make money with other peoples money in order to make money for oneself. And these people see this as the highest form of capitalism and further see their own wealth as patriotic, or objectively laudable, as if they have accomplished something, built something permanent besides a large number in their checking account.
Sherman quotes another Wall Streeter who's livid over Obama's plan to raise tax rates slightly on the rich. "He doesn’t want to have any wealth creation," the guy wails, and that really seems to get to the heart of all this. Financial industry players sincerely seem to view all "wealth" as equal. If the market pays you a lot, it's because you're responsible for creating a lot of wealth, and that's that. The fact that the wealth you created was largely divorced from even a notional real-world benefit to the larger economy doesn't matter. Money is money.
This is exactly right. I have had infuriating conversations about exactly this with Republican friends and relations who simply view every tax bill as a crime scene, and believe that any money that is somehow pried free of the market into a form that can be pocketed is "wealth creation," and therefore pocketing it is a moral imperative. In other words, since they became wealthy, they were ipso facto engaged in "wealth creation," and "wealth creation" is good, so they must be good (or, at least, above criticism).
But this ignores the nature of the business, and what they made these fortunes doing. OF COURSE they were able to divert large quantities of money into their own pockets. There is nothing surprising about this - they work at the intersection of all the money in the world. There are not many thirsty people living next to (or standing in) rivers.
But on a deeper level, that metaphor is all wrong. These traders don't seem to realize that this money is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Nor is this money in its roaring billions something they themselves have made, like a car or a pizza or a clean carpet. Rather, this great tide of money is something to which they have attached themselves, in order to profit. Each and every dollar in the flow comes from somewhere. Each of these dollars belongs to someone until these guys extend their arms and catch a hatful. And the hats are scooping whether the stream grows larger or smaller.
This idea is kind of ripped off from Matt Taibbi's absolutely spectacular takedown of the moronic letter from AIG trader Jake DeSantis published in the NYT whining about how he had been victimized by the change in the political winds. Taibbi just crushes him with a mallet:
He acts like he's a victim because he didn't get to keep his after-tax bonus of $742,006.40 in the middle of a global depression. And he really loses his fucking mind when he writes:
"None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house."
First of all, Jake, you asshole, no plumber in the world gets paid a $740,000 bonus, over and above his salary, just to keep plumbing. Second, try living on a plumber's salary before you even think about comparing yourself to one; you're inviting a pitchfork in the gut by even thinking along those lines. Third, Jake, if you were a plumber, and the electrician burned the house down -- well, guess what? If you and that electrician worked for the same company, you actually wouldn't get paid for that job.
Out in the real world, when your company burns a house down, you're not getting paid by that client. It's only on Wall Street, where the every-man-for-himself ethos is built into an insanely selfish and greed-addled compensation system, that people like you expect to get paid in a bubble -- only there do people expect their performance bonuses no matter how much money the shareholders lose overall, no matter how many people get laid off after the hostile takeover, no matter how ill-considered the mortgages lent out by your division were.
You expect that money because you think it's owed to you. But what money? The money is gone. Your boss, if not you, set it all afire. You want the money, but where exactly do you think it's coming from?
Do you just not understand that that money now would have to come out of someone else's pocket? That it would have to come from middle-class taxpayers, real plumbers, people who didn't make millions over the years in equity and commodity trading?
Here's the real problem with people like Jake DeSantis. Throughout this whole period, they never were able to connect the dots -- to grasp the fact that when they skimmed a million here or a million there off the great rivers of capital that flowed through their offices, that that money came from somewhere, from someone. To them, it wasn't someone else's money, it was just money, and why shouldn't they have it?
It's remarkable that when DeSantis, in his letter, touts the reason he deserves his high compensation, all he can talk about is how much money he made: "The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation."
For a guy like this, his worth as a human being is wrapped up in buying a bag of beans for $10 and selling it for $11. He states this like it's a law of nature: he was a good equities-and-commodities trader, therefore he should make a lot of money.
Only a person with a habitually overinflated sense of self-worth could think he deserves a $700,000 retention bonus, even if it has to be paid by taxpayers, when in reality no one "deserves" that much money. It may be that some people do get paid that much, but most people who make that much money have enough sense to realize their cushy lifestyles are an accident of fate, of birth, of class, not something that is "supported" by some unwritten natural law of compensation.
Hey Jake, it's not like you were curing cancer. You were a fucking commodities trader.
Friday, January 16, 2009 Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Paul Krugman's column today argues forcefully against Obama's recent signals that he would not seek an investigation into criminal actions by the Bush administration. Krugman makes a number of strong points, but in the end, I have to admit that I am completely exhausted with and viscerally sick of Bush, and I just want that smirking fratboy pinhead to get the fuck out of here and go back to real Merka.
I of course realize that such a reaction is exactly what every scandal-ridden administration hopes for, what every miscreant hopes for, that cataloguing and punishing their bad behavior will eventually seem like just too big a pain in the ass. The sad fact is that it is easier to smear shit on the walls than it is to clean it up. Sometimes, you just want to move out of the goddamn shit-smeared house and start over somewhere else. I just can't get my head around the idea of spending the next four years rummaging around in the fetid trash heap of the Bush administration's executive record.
That's my reason, and it's a bad one. Equally bad is the oft-cited argument that such a measure would worsen partisan divisions. I don't buy this because I don't really give a shit what pisses off Republicans at this point. Fuck 'em.
But that's just an emotional reaction. Krugman's takedown of the same argument is much sharper, and kind of unassailable:
One answer you hear [in defense of letting it go] is that pursuing the truth would be divisive, that it would exacerbate partisanship. But if partisanship is so terrible, shouldn’t there be some penalty for the Bush administration’s politicization of every aspect of government?
He's right, of course, but still...investigations, subpoenas, grinding minutia of dozens of aging scandals competing for attention with each other and sucking the juice out of the Obama agenda, and, as Kevin Drum said on a similar topic, what if they get off? I know, I know, my position is in many ways cowardly, but I can't deny that, like Tom Tomorrow said in 2003...2003!...outrage fatigue has set in, and I just want to turn the goddamn page already. And I don't think I'm the only one.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008 Recycled. From this very blog, 11/5/2002:
IT'S ELECTION TIME IN AMERICA, AND EVERYTHING IS DARK. The conventional wisdom streams in its majestic flooding channels far above our heads, emanating from the tops of towers thousands of feet high, from satellites like near-space quasars, billowing power and information indiscriminately, everywhere, blasting radioscopic cones of force into the ether, into the collective unconscious, into us, Very Long Array telescopes in reverse, not relatively tiny instruments seeking outward into a vastness to find objects of unimaginable power, but overwhelmingly powerful global technological networks looking downward, inward, hunting within the smallness of our prejudices, our instincts and reflexes to find small, powerless phenomena, seeking the elusive interstitial phantom of our attention, our loyalty, our purchases, our vote.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008 My pick for Obama's Treasury secretary: Andrew Lahde, the Manager of the Lahde Capital Management hedge fund, who volubly predicted, bet his investors' money on, and reaped a shitload of money from, the subprime collapse. Lahde recently posted an open letter to the Financial Times announcing the wind-down of his fund. I paraphrase his primary points below:
1) I got rich because all you Ivy-League-legacy, Wall Street masters of the universe are a bunch of pampered arrogant dumbshits.
2) Having cashed in on your blind greed and stupidity, I'm going to go live my life now. Don't call me.
3) George Soros is a genius, and should fund a summit on the state of American government, which is irrevocably fucked; and
Monday, November 12, 2007 Moderation...to the extreme! Time for a quick object lesson on why Atrios matters and is awesome. Okay, read this post on TPM Cafe by legal scholar Cass Sunstein. Now read this post by Atrios. Never mind, don't bother, I will quote it in full: "Extremism: I do not think that word means what Cass Sunstein thinks it means." In single sentence Atrios has put his finger directly upon why the Sunstein post is so wrong-headed, and why that matters. I will now try to accomplish the same thing in fifteen sentences or so:
Sunstein writes about an experiment wherein small groups of politically like-minded people are polled about political issues both before and after a group discussion. The results indicate that these discussions tend to reinforce the strength of common opinion among the group. For example, a group of liberals who polled as mildly in favor of affirmative action, or the U.S. signing and abiding by the Kyoto protocols, etc., prior to a group discussion with like-minded peers will poll as strongly in favor of these things after the discussion. Conservatives who are mildly against, say, civil unions for gays are strongly against them in the wake of a group discussion with other conservatives. The lesson that Sunstein draws is that "self-sorting into groups of like-minded types will often produce greater extremism."
But this is, of course, completely wrong. "Self-sorting into groups of like-minded types" may produce greater agreement regarding a given position, but that does not render the position agreed upon any more or less extreme. "Affirmative action is a good idea" is not an extreme position, and neither (sadly) is "gays should not have legally protected partnership rights." Nor are those people who hold such positions "extremists." The fact that talking with people who agree with you tends to reinforce your opinion does not really strike me as surprising, nor does it say anything valuable about either political extremism or the role of "self-selected groups" in the spread thereof.
People like Sunstein operate from a core belief that there exists some blessed state of "moderateness" that means, I guess, that you can be talked out of any position or principle you happen to have. Under Sunstein's argument, the more strongly you believe in something, the more "extreme" (and by definition farther out of the mainstream) you are. The less confident you are in your beliefs, the more subject to the prevailing winds, the more mainstream you must be. Surely, Sunstein would characterize this pliable state of grace as open-mindedness, and praise those who are willing to take a clear look at new proposals on their own merits, rather than interpreting them through the lockstep dogma of one "extreme" wing or another of the dominant ideologies. And that would sound very nice.
But it's bullshit. No amount of talking is going to convince me that gays shouldn't be able to get married. Why? Because I believe that the law shouldn’t discriminate against inherent traits, regardless of whether a bunch of bible-thumpers think those traits are sinful. I'm a Democrat because I believe that the Democratic positions on these issues are, in fact, correct, and the Republican/conservative positions are, in fact, wrong. 55% of the country thinks civil unions (at a minimum) should be provided for in the law. Obviously, then, a full 45% of Americans think they shouldn't be. These are just not extreme positions, no matter how vehemently they are held.
So, in the end, I believe in some stuff. That doesn’t make me an extremist - in fact, lots and lots of people agree with me on some of that stuff. Sometimes we even get together, and when we talk politics, we (gasp!) agree with each other. If we have had a few drinks, sometimes we even say "goddamn right!" or some such expression of our emphatic agreement. Stop the fucking presses! It's a veritable beer hall putsch of extremism!
Whatever. Atrios is right to continually point out that too many mainstream commentators seem to believe that the defining characteristic of a healthy body politic is a reflexive willingness to concede core principles in order to achieve harmony and "centrism," as if there is just something . . . unseemly about conviction.
Friday, November 09, 2007
In the Short Hope Unfiltered tradition of passing along incredible beer ads (remember this?) we hope you enjoy this (click the image to watch the video).
Plus, in a related vein, this, which is just awesome.
And this, which is longer, and on a smaller scale, and also very awesome.
When the devil met the devil. Ah, cynicism. It exudes a reek like a breath of sweet acrid brimstone wafting over our national discourse. And here we have a 72-day dry aged prime cut of the stuff from whence a mighty stench is emanatin'.
In the background, the sigil of Regent University (formerly Christian Broadcasting Network University), spawning creche of a new generation of noxious right-wing political operatives.
On the left, the aspirant, the blessee, his face tugged into a slight grimace, with the typical Giuliani exasperation with being forced to do anything..."Oh, god, let this be over with and let me get out of this dirtwater burg so I can finally get the fucking jesus freaks in my corner..."
On the right, the aging batshit gladhander, the blessor, managing to keep the babbling crazies from pouring out of his mouth for the few minutes he has to spend in the sanitized national spotlight before he can go back to his oddly unexamined private mediasphere where he can burble undisturbed about how he can leg-press 2000 pounds through the power of prayer and a patented energy shake, and how fags and commies caused god to "lift his protection" from America and allow the planes to crash into the WTC..."Oh, this horrible little New York jew...he's a jew right? Oh, no, wait, he's a Catholic, they're just as bad...but gotta keep those satanist Clintons out of the White House...they performed human sacrifices in the basements there, don't you know..."
Thursday, October 04, 2007 Walter Kirn recently described the human mind as "a small ethereal colosseum where angels smite demons and demons play dead." I thought of that quote when I saw this picture by Alex Brown (via BoingBoing). I have no idea why, but I did.
This poor little fucker, drowning in technology and media, he never had a chance. That's the problem with children and media. It provides these elaborately constructed fantasies that never live up to the promise, a promise that kids have a grand capacity to believe, over and over again. The kid got the mask and probably thought it would be the coolest thing ever. But it's not. He's not Darth Vader. He's just a little kid sitting by himself in a sterile corner of a shitty fast food restaurant with a plastic bucket on his head. When the media feed is removed, we all feel a little self conscious in that moment - a little foolish for letting ourselves forget that it's all bullshit.
But, hold on, that's just cheap pathos - there's no such person as Bobby Shaftoe, but I sure think everyone ought to read Cryptonomicon. The little fantasies of childhood are just training for the bigger and better ones of adulthood, in a sense, including that disappointment when the lights come on and you are just some 8-year-old jerkwad in an ewok costume. One of many things you have to learn, some fun, some not so fun.
Also, I like to see this kind of rapid, effective response politics being done by any democratic campaign:
Supporters of Rudolph W. Giuliani and of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton are embroiled in their first major affray of the political season over a ballot initiative on presidential electoral votes some 2,500 miles from the pancake houses of Skaneateles, N.Y., and the fire stations of Queens.
The fight could be a telling prelude to the 2008 presidential contest, with the political instincts and strategies long employed by Mr. Giuliani, a Republican, and Mrs. Clinton, a Democrat, cast in sharp relief. The battle has reflected their political set-to in 2000, when they squared off briefly over a United States Senate seat in New York, and could foreshadow how the game will be played should they become their parties’ nominees.
The proposed measure here would ask voters to apportion electoral votes by Congressional district, potentially giving the Republican nominee in 2008 some 20 of the state’s 55 votes — the rough equivalent of winning Illinois or Pennsylvania — in this otherwise reliably Democratic state.
Such a change could amount to a seismic shift in the nation’s electoral dynamics, potentially springboarding a Republican into the White House, and the possibility has animated hopeful Republicans and fearful Democrats.
Started by a Republican lawyer in California, the measure has been driven almost entirely by people who are associated with or have given money to Mr. Giuliani’s presidential campaign.
The effort to kill the initiative — executed with a swift fierceness almost unheard of against an initiative in such an early stage — has been led by a bevy of Clinton supporters, including a former Clinton White House official, prominent elected Democratic supporters and one of Mrs. Clinton’s most prolific fund-raisers.
“Clinton’s people have taken the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive military strikes against hostile nations and applied it to domestic campaigns,” said Bruce E. Cain, director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. “As for Giuliani, he was trying to fight under the radar, and it must be clear to him now that that will not work with Hillary.”
[ . . . ] Mr. Lehane, whose thumbs are no doubt sore from constant BlackBerry messages to reporters, has raised endless questions about the source of financing on the other side. The group initiated a complaint with the Federal Election Commission questioning the ties of the measure’s supporters to Mr. Giuliani, largely because Mr. Singer did not immediately reveal himself to be the donor behind the effort. The Democratic group even dug up a charges from a 17-year-old lawsuit against one official backing the initiative, a charge involving the biting of a woman’s bottom, and disseminated that as well.
Amid the accusations and pitfalls, Thomas Hiltachk, the lawyer who drafted the initiative, walked away from the effort, citing ethical concerns about the way the money was raised. His resignation has left the initiative’s future in serious jeopardy, and many Republican consultants around the state are advising their clients and friends to steer clear of the effort, suggesting it will be challenged on constitutional grounds if it passes.
Still, some Republicans are seeing a missed opportunity, worried that the Giuliani loyalists are being outmaneuvered by the Clinton loyalists.
“Lehane did a good job of rallying the entire Democratic establishment to be vocal and aggressively against this,” said Scott Reed, a veteran Republican strategist who ran Bob Dole’s 1996 presidential campaign. “And the gang that couldn’t shoot straight proved their worth.”
Via Kevin Drum. I love to see stuff like this. Turning aggressive moves by GOP fixers into stumbling blocks, leaving them in the media to look stupid for a few minutes, then deep-sixing them. This could all turn around, I suppose, but in the short term, this is the kind of campaign that's going to be necessary for a Democrat. Think about it. In an election year where the GOP are clearly the underdogs and have almost nothing positive to run on, do you think their tactics this time around are going to be more or less sleazy, duplicitous, aggressive and conscience-free than those employed during 2004, The Year of the Swift Boat? Yeah, that's what I think too. I have mixed feelings about HRC, but I know for sure that a Giuliani presidency would represent the starting gun for the Apocalypse, and we're going to need counterpunchers.
Thursday, September 27, 2007 The Country Is With Us! It has long been conventional wisdom among liberals (and among me, when I talk to myself) that the only real problem the Democratic party has is GOTV efficiency; that in an era of low turnouts, Republicans' ability to get the faithful out to the polls makes elections much closer than they would otherwise be if everyone in the country voted. This is why Democrats push things like national voting holidays and motor voter, while Republicans try to scare people with specters of "illegal immigrant voting" to push "voter registration" laws the real purpose of which is to make voting more of a hassle and ensure that fewer people do it. Undergirding this belief is an assumption that the majority of Americans are sympathetic with liberal policy goals (and an assumption that liberals really don't like to vote).
Kevin Drum has a useful post on this subject, not exactly refuting this pleasantly back-patting belief ("deep down, the country is with us!"), but offering some much needed perspective. The short version is that in isolation, in a context free environment (such as, say, answering a phone poll question asking "Do you think women should have access to legal abortion?"), these tendencies do exist. But, when these questions are asked in the context of the worst, most inflammatory arguments against them ("Do you think a woman should have access to legal abortion including the right for a woman and her doctor to partially deliver a viable foetus before tearing it to pieces and throwing it away?") these numbers shift unpredictably. And the modern political environment is one in which the absolute worst possible reading of anyone's opinion is immediately presented by their opponent as fact. So the voting decision is much more like the second question than the first.
The Constitutional remedy of impeachment is no longer what it once was. For better or worse, the Republicans changed it, for all time, when they impeached Clinton over, essentially, nothing.
And Clinton changed it as well. Impeachment not only did not end his Presidency; it did not hurt his standing with the public. His numbers stayed high, even improved some, and he left office on schedule, a very popular President.
In other words, impeachment is no longer the political nuclear bomb it once was, especially if one knows in advance that conviction and removal from office is unlikely to occur.
Accordingly, impeachment proceedings are essentially the best means of getting information to the public which is otherwise unavailable.
What the fuck? With the possible exception of the swift boat debacle, nothing in the last decade of politics has been as cynical, ugly, opportunistic, cheap, debilitating or indefensible as Clinton's impeachment. The sanctimony on parade, the wild inflationary rhetoric, the complete and intentional paralytic lockdown of the media and the government - all of it occurred because of EXACTLY THE KIND OF THINKING DISPLAYED IN THE QUOTE ABOVE. This metaphor is bound to offend many of my remaining 4 readers (hi, mom), but: it's like hitting on a rape victim because you know she's not a virgin. Just because the GOP debased something that was literally supposed to be the absolute last option, does not mean that such debasement enters the arsenal as an accepted or acceptable tactic.
Note also that he indulges in a lazy and self-serving shortcut to declare the cheapening of impeachment as a fixed reality "for all time" because of the single example of the Clinton impeachment. "For all time?" Really? By that argument we should stop vilifying Guantanamo, because Roosevelt interned the Japanese, thus compromising 4th and 5th amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure and conviction without due process "for all time." It's facile bullshit.
Yes, I know, you get big cheers from the lefty backbenches when you deploy that idea, and hell, you could probably convince me there have been some real impeachable offenses during the last 6 years, but if that's so, make the case. Don't just think abstractly about how useful a tactic it is. But this - "especially if one knows in advance that conviction and removal from office is unlikely to occur" is unforgiveable. Impeachment is the last line of defense. Rosenberg's coy 'especially' would permanently reduce it to theater.
As Drum said: "This might be the worst argument in favor of impeachment of all time."
...grumble grumble grumble fucking swift boat bullshit....grumble....
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 Enough with the Al Franken already! Yes, I haven't posted in forever. No, I'm not really starting again, as I'm still in the throes of job transition and haven't located that chink in the day's armor that allows me to do so. But! Al Franken must stop leering out of the screen whenever my two remaining readers stop by on their way to the sites linked to the left. So! Here is the cover of Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock because..well, because Head Hunters is a fucking awesome record is because.
Thursday, February 15, 2007 Al Franken is running for Senate in Minnesota against Norm Coleman. His interesting and avuncular announcement is here. His campaign site is here. Also worth checking out is this essay (with photos) about his latest USO trip (Franken has become a fixture on the USO circuit, visiting Iraq four times and Afghanistan twice). Best clip from the essay is Franken's discussion with a dog handler who guarded Saddam's cell:
He told me Saddam is very charismatic and kind of liked him, although he knows Hussein is a monster. Saddam, he told me, claimed to be puzzled by Bush. "I don't know why Bush is doing this to me. I was a good president. Reagan, him I liked. He gave me helicopters."
Don't ask why I was reading this, but I found the following fascinating passage in Congressional Decree 1441 of the Guatemalan Labor Code. It is as clear a statement justifying labor law as I have ever seen, and it is written directly into the law:
Ideological characteristics of labor law [include] the following: Labor law is a necessary and imperative right. The minimum benefits granted by law are mandatory and limit the principle of "will autonomy." which wrongly assumes that the parties have full discretion to improve a contract, and their will is not affected by economic/social factors and disparities.
I love it. This gets at the nugget of what galls me about the whole conservatarian "right to work" argument (and, frankly, so many of the Free Market Jesus arguments such people so frequently employ). The "right to work" argument posits a world of free contract that does not exist, and simply ignores the fact that employment transactions are not conducted in a vacuum, with each employee given independent standing to negotiate his or her worth. At the lower-skilled, lower-paid positions, the jobs are take-it-or-leave-it propositions, with no negotiations whatsoever regarding salary or working conditions, in fact no leverage at all on the part of the prospective employee. A fundamental goal of labor law is to recognize that, given the interchangeability of low- or non-skilled employees, unregulated employers will lower the terms of that take-it-or-leave-it offer as much as possible. Labor laws force the terms of such deals to be set above minimally acceptable standards of living in a free and just society.
In an unregulated economy, economic desperation will force some people to take the deal, regardless of whether the salary won't cover expenses or the job is highly unsafe. Generations of coal miners toiled and died young choking on dust in clapboard shacks before the unions and then the government forced these conditions to change. In the laissez-faire world envisioned by the conservatarians, the vaunted "freedom" to walk away and choose not to contract is simply the freedom to be unemployed and dependent on shrinking government assistance. In fact, as unemployment insurance and welfare programs have been reformed to require recipients to pursue and accept any possible means of employment, the laborer may not even have this option, and may be forced to enter whatever contract the employer offers. This "freedom," then, is utterly one-sided, and waving the flag of liberty to justify removal of minimum wage/safety/etc. standards is simply rhetoric of the most empty, cynical kind.
The truth is that "freedom" is not the libertarian principle most at work in such arguments. Rather, the real principle being vindicated is that libertarians (and conservatives of a libertarian bent) simply believe that there is no such thing as a minimally acceptable standard of living. It is an article of faith for them that the weak and unskilled will be ground beneath the wheel, and there isn't anything the government should do about it. Distortion of natural market forces is to them a greater crime than permanent reduction of some sectors of the labor market to abject penury.
This Guatemalan code provision identifies and rejects this false front (which it refers to as "will autonomy") as the paper-thin rationalization that it is. And its right there in the law, so no one can play games parsing the statute's meaning later on.
This code provision isn't new, and this isn't news, I know. I should also say that I have no real idea whether, on the whole, Guatemalan workers are treated well and fairly. Maybe (independent labor monitoring success story), maybe not ("Virtual slave conditions prevail on the majority of Guatemala's coffee plantations").
Tuesday, December 26, 2006 There are seven acknowledged wonders of the world. You are about to witness the eighth. James Brown, 73, died on Christmas day.
Yes, he was a troubled man, and lord knows he was a sinner. But you can't watch, say, "When We Were Kings," or this awesome clip posted by Atrios, and see him driving that band on stage, pouring everything into that crowd, all his passion, all his heart, all his love, all his power, out into the world, without seeing something beautiful. So c'mon, St. Peter. Let a man come in and do the popcorn.
Monday, November 27, 2006 Semantics. NBC News is now calling it a civil war. CNN's Michael Ware, speaking from Baghdad, states bluntly that anyone who persists in calling it anything else is indulging in "the luxury of distance." CNN's John Roberts, upon his return from Baghdad, describes the situation in the capital as "an absolute mess . . . nothing but a state of chaos." (video at link; transcript here):
KURTZ: If you're sitting at home watching it on TV, you see mass kidnappings, suicide bombings, mosque bombings, death squads. When you're there as a journalist, does the situation seem as chaotic to you as it does to a viewer?
ROBERTS: You know, Howie, I had a perception of Iraq going in, and it was the first time I'd been there in three-and-a-half years. I got out a couple of days after the Saddam statue fell, after the initial invasion. So it was quite a shock to go back and see the chaotic state that the country was in. And as -- I guess you could say as realistic as my perceptions were about going in there, the reality on the ground far exceeded that.
The place is a mess. It's an absolute mess. There is nowhere you can go in the Baghdad area as a Western journalist without an escort, where you could feel safe from being kidnapped, shot at, whatever. The amount of death that's on the streets of Baghdad for U.S. forces and for the Iraqi people is at an astronomical level.
I was out riding with a Stryker unit a couple of days after the election. They got the 911 call, an IED attack against an American convoy. This convoy of Humvees had just been driving up the on-ramp on to a highway when one of those formed projectiles hit it.
It literally disintegrated the guy in the passenger seat, who was right there where the projectile came through, killed the driver. I watched him die on the roadside.
And when you look at that from such a personal level, it does affect your perceptions of what's going on on the ground. And I know that that's not everywhere, all the time, but it does suggest that death lurks at every step in Iraq, and any place where death lurks at every step can be in nothing but a state of chaos.
KURTZ: So in a nutshell, you're saying that the coverage -- that the situation in Iraq on the ground, as you saw close up, is worse -- is worse than it appears from the television and newspaper coverage. Why is that? Why are we not capturing the full anarchy there?
ROBERTS: Because television can't -- and even print -- can't fully capture the scope of what's going on in Iraq.
Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has many germane observations, but its all just more words to go on the pile (a pile which includes this post as well). The truth is staring us in the face - this war is a pitilessly devolving clusterfucked nightmare that is tearing the guts out of Iraq.
If nothing else, you should watch the Michael Ware clip. The "are you fucking kidding me" look on his face when Kyra Phillips primly asks him whether or not Iraq is in a civil war speaks volumes.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006 Frivolous. Over at Obsidian Wings, Hilzoy tears apart this column by Richard Cohen, in which Cohen recounts his personal experience with supporting idiotic wars when it was safe and easy to do so, and then condemning them when it became more difficult. Of course, he casts this history as a personal journey of discovery through Vietnam and now Iraq, and his hand never stops moving as he...er...pats himself on the back for his own profound humanism. Hilzoy, skilled eviscerator that she is, makes short work of this nonsense, but she also hits on something behind Cohen's smug, supremely onanistic ruminations:
[H]is article contains one of those sentences that, all by itself, shows that the person who wrote it should never be taken seriously again, at least about policy -- a sentence that should take its place in the Pundit Hall of Shame alongside Jonah Goldberg's "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business" [paraphrasing the equally execrable Michael Ledeen], or Tom Friedman's "We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind". Here it is, in all its glory:
"In a post-Sept. 11 world, I thought the prudent use of violence could be therapeutic."
Richard Cohen: resign.
Resign right now.
I won't belabor the point, but there really is something disgusting about an argument for war that resorts to such glibness. Cohen could, of course, simply say what he means - that an intervention in the Middle East could have had positive political consequences for both the U.S. and the nations of that region - and then set out the reasons he believes this to be true. He would be wrong, of course, but he at least would have stated a position. By adopting an arch clinician's posture and winking at his readers through the diphthong of "therapeutic," Cohen reduces a call for extreme violence to a sophisticate's cocktail chatter. And I don't care how "prudent" it is, war is extreme violence. Modern armies kill many people and destroy homes, businesses, and civil infrastructure with high-powered explosives. This is not, in itself, an argument against war, but an accurate description of it. This whole stupid disaster in Iraq was conceived and caused by people who think about these issues in the same inexcusably frivolous manner as Cohen clearly does.
Sigh. Well, Happy Thanksgiving, everybody! Make a donation to the USO if you are of a mind to - no matter where you stand on the war, its just got to suck being in Iraq or Afghanistan for the holidays.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006 Did you know that Africa is larger than the United States, China, Western Europe, India and Argentina combined? Well, I didn't, and it is.
Thursday, November 09, 2006 Ahhh. THAT's more like it. As I noted yesterday, I was somewhat surprised by Wednesday's mild RedState post in response to the GOP collapse in the Congress. But you cant keep a good vat-grown conservapod down, as evidenced by Mike Streiff today:
November 8, 2006. A decade or so from now when a rational post mortem on the Iraq War is written, rather than the noxious and counterfactual hit pieces churned out by the Washington Post’s allegedly unbiased reporters, this is the day that will be pegged as the day we lost the war. It’s amazing how easy it is to do this in hindsight. I think most historians would agree that June 22, 1941 was the day that Nazi Germany lost the war. Some might quibble and contend it was February 2, 1943. But you can’t get to Stalingrad without Operation BARBAROSSA. You can’t get to Midway or the atom bomb without passing through Pearl Harbor.
The sacking of Don Rumsfeld yesterday will become obvious in the days and weeks to come as the day on which President Bush decided that winning in Iraq was just too much work and the sacrifices made in blood and treasure in Iraq, when stacked up against the forlorn possibility of appeasing the new majorities in the House and Senate, simply do not matter. [ . . . ]
There is no doubt that dissatisfaction with the War in Iraq contributed to the electoral defeat on Tuesday, however that dissatisfaction is rooted an much in the feeling that we are not prosecuting the war vigorously enough as it is in the feeling that we should not be there at all.
Mmmm. That's good wingnut. I knew I could count on you guys.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006 Gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Took a schadenfreude-laden stroll through the right-wing blogs this morning, and was unsurprised to find all of the upright, manful usual suspects dealing with the setback uprightly and manfully. See (if you care): Hugh Hewitt (it's all McCain's fault, and the terrorists intentionally killed a bunch of soldiers last week in order to give the Dems a boost); RedState (actually not bad; it's the common "we lost it, they didn't win it" line, but they do call for Allen to accept the outcome without litigation), Powerline (it's not the Dems, it was us; we have lost the one true conservative path, plus this gem: "Yesterday's biggest winners: illegal immigrants."), Jonah Goldberg (stating inexplicably that Bush is only "technically" a lame duck...what the fuck are you talking about?), Little Green Footballs* ("our job of saving the world just got a little harder"), and so forth. Glenn Reynolds, of course, twitchy little weed that he is, is claiming to have known it all along, and gosh that Jim Webb sure is an impressive fellow, isn't he.
President Bush will not flag in the pursuit of the war, and Senator Santorum is now available for a seat on the SCOTUS should one become available.
Can't move...head exploding...denial field...too massive...creating black hole singularity...may...destroy...universe...
*no link, b/c lgf redirects incoming links from liberal blogs to p0rn sites. If you really want to read it, cut and paste this link into your browser: http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=23261_The_Morning_After&only.
On second thought, don't bother. It's just not worth it.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006 So we're both right. From Studio 60 last night:
Conservative: "I don't even understand what the culture wars are about anymore." Liberal: "Your side hates my side because you think we think you're stupid. My side hates your side because we think you're stupid."
Sure hope they don't cancel that show. As for today's events, I am intentionally ignoring all media until tonight, when they will have, y'know, actual election results. I do, however, think that TBogg is in the ballpark with these predictions:
- No matter how many seats the Democrats take in the House it won't be enough to keep the Republican echo chamber from pointing out that it most certainly is not a mandate, while all the time whining about the loss of control of the commitees.
- Joe Lieberman is going to win and it will somehow translate as support for the war and civility and common sense...and nobody in the media will point out what a sleazy campaign he ran.
- There will be at least one upset that the polls didn't predict and that will be held up as evidence that all polls are always wrong...except when they side with your candidate.
[ . . . ]
- Win or lose, George Allen's national aspirations are finished. Fertig! Verfallen! Verlumpt! Verblunget! Verkackt!
Monday, November 06, 2006 This account of a summer internship spent working for a misinformation contractor in Baghdad is fascinating. The author was paid to place stories written by U.S. military intelligence in the Iraqi press. It presents a now-familiar cocktail of the arrogance, sleaziness, incompetence, and naked greed that has characterized so much of the Iraq adventure and its motley cast of military and private players. Not only were the stories falsely bylined with Iraqi names, but the contractor charged the Army a huge markup over the rates it was actually paying the Iraqi papers.
Because I had just two short months in Iraq, I emailed Bailey and Craig back in Washington after several days of inaction. What projects could I begin working on? I wanted to know. Who was in charge here? What could I do to contribute? A day later I received a rather brusque response from Paige Craig. They didn’t have time to deal with my little problems. I needed only to take my lead from Jim Sutton, the country manager, whom I had seen just once during my first week.
But my badgering did seem to pay off. I was soon contacted by a Lincoln Group employee named Jon, who formerly had run political campaigns in Chicago and now worked on the company’s I.O., or Information Operations. Over lunch at the recently bombed and rebuilt Green Zone Café—an air-conditioned tent with plastic chairs and a TV airing Lebanese music videos—Jon explained that he was returning home for several weeks of R & R and that Jim Sutton had chosen me to be his replacement. Jon quickly sketched out my new I.O. responsibilities. An Army team inside the Al Faw palace, another of Saddam’s former residences, would send me news articles they had cobbled together from wire stories and their own reports from the field. It was my job to select the ones that seemed most like Iraqis had written them. I was then to pass these articles along to our Iraqi employees, who would translate the pieces into Arabic and place them in local newspapers. Jon told me that the U.S. Army could hardly carry out this work in their military uniforms, so they hired Lincoln Group, which could operate with far fewer restrictions. It was a bread-and-butter contract, he said, that paid the company about $5 million annually. I asked if the newspapers knew that Lincoln Group or the U.S. military were behind these articles. They did and they didn’t, Jon said. The Iraqis working for us posed as freelance journalists, but they also paid editors at the papers to publish the stories—part of the cost Lincoln Group billed back to the military. “Look,” Jon assured me, “it’s very straightforward. You just have to keep the military happy.”
The author begins with high hopes that the internship working with the Iraqi press will jumpstart his nascent journalism career, and winds up barrelling through Baghdad's Red Zone in the back of a battered sedan, clutching a loaded submachine gun and sitting on 3 million dollars in cash. Read the rest, as they say.
Oh, yeah, plus the election. Go Jim Webb!
Friday, October 06, 2006 The Plug and the Avocado. No, it's not the name of Thomas Friedman's latest book. Just go watch. Via Atrios.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006 Playing offense. Greg Sargent posts this anti-George Allen ad from the anti-war veterans group Vote Vets, harshly criticizing Allen's vote against supplemental appropriations for troops in Iraq (including funds for body armor). It's one of the most aggressive political ads I have ever seen, but it is extremely effective, and does not come off as dirty. And it appears to be accurate; the roll call is here. Don't be misled by the "Yea" next to Allen's name; the vote was for a motion to table (i.e. kill) a supplemental appropriations bill proposed by Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana for "an additional amount for National Guard and Reserve Equipment, $1,047,000,000." The brief text of Landrieu's amendment is here (scroll to the bottom).
Ironically, the very next amendment (SA 453) is one proposed by Senator Allen, which would make it easier for victims of "a foreign state's act of torture, extrajudicial killing, aircraft sabotage, or hostage taking" (or their families) to sue the foreign state for money damages. Barn doors and horses. Way to keep your eye on the ball, Senator.
Sunday, September 03, 2006 Everything that is wrong with the hard-war right, distilled into a single person. Suppose you hear a story about a terrible thing that happened in the Middle East. Two journalists for a major American network are kidnapped by Islamic terrorists, and are eventually forced at gunpoint to participate in a ceremony wherein they purport to convert to Islam. This ceremony is videotaped, and the tape makes its way into the Arab media. The two are eventually released.
Pop quiz! Your reaction to this is:
(a) It's meaningless. Anyone observing the tape would have to be an idiot to think that the conversion was anything other than utterly coerced.
(b) It's an unfortunate media image of Western weakness, but understandable. These men have families.
Saturday, August 19, 2006 IT SUGG! EAT MY SHORT YOU KILL KENNY! Long live Alicublog.
Friday, August 18, 2006 Polls breed questions. For example, review of PollingReport's Iraq page yields some interesting numbers. Withdrawal from Iraq beats staying the course 52%-45% in last week's USA today poll, and 63% of respondents to the CBS/NYT poll say the war was not worth fighting. On August 9th, CNN's poll showed 60% against the Iraq war. At the same time, however, this Harris poll from 7/21/06 finds that 64% of Americans believe that Saddam had "strong ties" to Al Qaeda, and 50% believe that Iraq had WMDs when the US invaded.
Several of these percentages overlap (i.e. are at or over 50%, and so must be held in common to some degree). Therefore, it seems that there is a sizeable subcategory of people in this country who believe all of the following (a) Saddam had WMD's, (b) Saddam was linked to 9/11, and that the Iraq war is such a fucking debacle that it wasn't even worth fighting.*
Think about how disgusted with the war you have to be to believe that Saddam was in on 9/11 and stocked with WMD's, but that looking back, it wasn't worth the cost to topple his government.
* Yes, I know, this point tends to discount the basic unreliability of polls and the dangers of assuming that different polls measure the same population. But the overlaps are well above the MOE for any of the cited polls, so I think the point is basically fair. If the polls are to be believed, at least 10% of the American public believes all of those things.
Friday, July 28, 2006 Anthony Bourdain was in Beirut when the bombs started to fall and was trapped there for over a week, and wrote about the experience for Salon - Watching Beirut Die:
Everything had begun so beautifully. Our fixer, Lena, was bursting with enthusiasm when she met us at the airport. After months of preproduction, finally we were here! Finally, the American television crew had arrived -- to show the world how beautiful her country was, how lovingly restored, how hip and forward thinking in the years since the bloody civil war. On the first day of filming, we'd had a sensational early lunch of hummus, kibbe, stewed lamb and yogurt at Le Chef, a local, family-style joint in a charming neighborhood. The customers at the tables around us in the tiny, worn-looking dining area chattered away in Arabic, French and English. Stomachs full, my crew and I headed over to Martyr's Square and the Rafik Hariri memorial; a few blocks away, our fixer and friends pointing out old scars and new construction, trying to explain how much Beirut and Lebanon had changed since the man's death in 2005. They spoke effusively of the calm, the peace, the relative tolerance that had followed the galvanizing effects of Hariri's assassination. Each smiled and pointed at the giant photographic mural of the million-person demonstration that had led to Syria's withdrawal from their country; Ali, our unofficial tough-guy escort, pointed at a tiny dot among the hundreds of thousands in the photo and joked, "That's me!"
They were so proud of how far they'd come, how much they'd survived, how different and sophisticated Beirut was now. They spoke of all the things they had to show us, the people we had to meet. Significantly, the word "Syria" was still spoken in slightly hushed tones. Speaking too long, too loud or too harshly of their former occupier, it was suggested, could still get you killed. (An outcome not without precedent.) We walked along the road leading to a cordoned-off area by the St. George Hotel, where Bardot, Monroe and Kim Philby had once played -- back when Beirut was called the "Paris of the Orient" without a hint of irony. The buildings in the area were still in ruins, a roof torn off, the old hotel -- under construction when the targeted blast that killed Hariri occurred -- still empty. The Phoenician, across the street, which had also been destroyed, had recently been completely rebuilt. A modern hotel like any other, but they were proud of that too. Because, like Beirut, it was still there. It was back.
Then, in the blink of an eye, everything went sideways: Relaxed smiles froze and disappeared. Suddenly, there was the sound of automatic weapons firing randomly in the air from a nearby neighborhood. And fireworks. Then cars -- a few of them -- teenage kids, women and adults, some leaning out the windows and waving Hezbollah flags and flashing the "V" for victory sign, celebrating what we were told, after a few quick cellphone calls, was the grabbing of two Israeli soldiers. Our fixer, a Sunni; Ali, a Shiite; and "Marwan," a Christian, who'd just minutes ago been pointing proudly at the mural -- all three looked down in embarrassment, a look of sorrow, shame and then resignation on their faces. Someone muttered "assholes" bitterly. They knew -- right away -- what was going to happen next.