Saturday, May 31, 2008

Our path to financial ruin has been "charted"

I always love reading Hale "Bonddad" Stewart's columns on HuffPost. His most recent is a doozy. He shows how the most recent economic expansion was created on a mountain of government and household debt. Wanna see my favorite chart? Here it is:


I'm not an economist, but if we see that in 2005, our cumulative household debt equaled more than 125% of our disposable income, one can safely state that we are not creating wealth. On the contrary, we are actually creating more and more debt to simulate wealth. You remember Stanley Johnson, don't you? No? Well, get acquainted with him again here.



I wouldn't always advocate a home refinance to consolidate debt unless one takes the next step and effects a personal paradigm shift in the way one spends and saves money. Basically, don't spend more money than you have. If you can't afford to pay off credit card debt monthly, don't buy that fancy LCD TV or those Sea-Doos.

Living within one's means is and should be taught by parents to their kids, not to mention in school. But if Americans are not living the principles of "living within one's means," then how can it be taught?

Tear up the credit cards and start saving your money. If the high price of gas and this low-confidence economy isn't getting you there, do a little math. Let's say you and your family are an average family and earn $40,000 per year after taxes. If you can live off of 90% of that net income, your housing payment, loan payments, living expenses, etc., are $36,000, leaving you with disposable income of just $4,000 per year.

Based on the above chart, your household debt -- credit cards, car loans, student loans, etc. -- is on average a little more than $5,000. This might not seem like an awful lot of money to some people, but consider for a moment that this amount of debt never goes down. Scary thing, huh? You're always going to be in debt.

Suppose you could only take 10% of your disposable income and throw it at your debt. Assuming that your consumer debt is at about 12% interest per year, compounded (naturally), after a year your $5,000 would now be $5,211. You'd actually be increasing your debt! Even if you doubled your payments to 20% of your disposable income per year, it would take you 140 months, nearly 12 years, to pay off just that $5,000 debt. Meanwhile, you would have paid nearly $4,300 in interest, about as much as you had in debt in the first place.

Just to kick it up a notch, let's say you had no debt, but actually $5,000 in savings. You could contribute that same 20% of your disposable income over 140 months at a modest 5% interest rate. With compounding, your principal would then be over $21,500. Spending the $9,300 that you would have spent in retiring just $5,000 in debt would nearly double in value in that time frame.

So you see, getting out of debt isn't easy if you're not living within your means. And Bush administration officials and other Republicans who tout how strong the economy is never mention the fundamental problem here: at some point we have to pay back this debt. Everyone seems to be missing this most basic fact of life. How can an economy be strong when we have this much debt?

For anyone who wants to see some great strategies for managing spending and maximizing every dollar earned, check out The Motley Fool.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Cesca Pulls No Punches

In the wake of former Bush Press Secretary Scott McClellan's new book, in which he writes that the term "liberal media" is a myth, blogger Bob Cesca rightly calls out the "very serious corporate media" on their painful self-pardoning over going to sleep on the job during the early years of the Iraq War, prostrating themselves before the Bush administration's well-oiled and pervasive propaganda machine, which included Pentagon operatives posing as independent military analysts.

I loved this part:
The Republican candidate for president of the United States wants to bomb Iran. He wants to continue the occupation of Iraq. He declared that he would be Hamas' worst nightmare (whatever that means). But... Senator McCain has a killer recipe for goddamn dry rub, so step up to the coleslaw and ice-cold Busch beer -- it's time to ignore more Republican justifications for war! Why? Because Senator McCain is awesome.

Yes, while many of the top-shelf cable news reporters are making excuses, the Bush administration and the McCain campaign are making plans for more wars. But they're also making ribs for all the very serious reporters! So never mind all that. Pass the sauce.

I will acknowledge that McClellan's tell-all is frustratingly late to make much difference. In fact, he should be granted full immunity to testify before Congress to get even more detailed. He's no longer bound by loyalty to Bush, but he could self-incriminate, so let him off the hook so that we can hook the big fish.

But Cesca is spot-on about how deferential the press/media were after 9/11. We the people were so blinded by patriotism after that horrible day, and seeking comfort in the words of the president as he pledged to find the killers and bring them to justice was understandable. But the press should not have joined the chorus of cheers, and should not have been hanging flags from their front porches and putting bumper stickers on their cars like the rest of us. They needed clearer heads than that. And their continued fealty to the Republican Party as McCain is portrayed as "da man" all the way to the convention, while the Democrats are shown to fulfill their traditional roles as bickering children, is evidence that they have not learned yet, and will not learn anytime soon.

It is heartening to note that those who will cast their votes for Obama, the likely nominee, are not regular watchers of network or cable news. One hopes that they can reach their parents and older friends and convince them to click into the blogosphere for real journalism and unadulterated commentary.

Murdoch/Olbermann: Quien es mas loco?

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch (or as a former boss over at Fox TV called him, "Rupe Doggy Dogg") was asked by a Wall Street Journal report if he'd hire Keith Olbermann. "No," responded the media mogul, "I fired him five years ago.... He was crazy."

Olbermann's response is posted here. Essentially he said he was fired two weeks after reporting a story about the Los Angeles Dodgers being unofficially up for sale (Murdoch owned the team at the time), but only after being given the official denial from Murdoch's office and being told to say that none of his sources were from News Corp. He followed the rules, but still got canned, and he was told afterward that it was rumored that Murdoch had ordered the firing. It was just never proven at the time.

Money quote:
I appreciate Rupert finally owning up to firing me because I followed his rules. And as to the "crazy" part, he had to pay me $800,000 for the rest of 2001, and lord knows how many tens of millions I've helped MSNBC take out of his pocket ever since — so: who's crazy?
I'm honestly not sure that Murdoch cares a whit about any money "lost" by firing Olbermann, since he owns the most lucrative TV franchise in history in American Idol. I love Keith, but perhaps his head's gotten a little swollen.

HRC might keep fighting after June 3

HuffPost reports that "[a]lthough Obama holds a commanding lead in delegates, Clinton has threatened to campaign into the August convention if she is not satisfied with the results of a party committee meeting this weekend. A Democratic National Committee panel is scheduled to discuss the fate of disputed delegations from Michigan and Florida, two states that held primaries last winter in defiance of party rules."

Can this be about anything other than her monumental ego and her being terrified to lose?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

McClellan Being Assailed by Former Colleagues

Former White House counselor Dan Bartlett, telling a lie:
Scott McClellan was not the press secretary (EP: yes, he was after Ari Fleischer left). He was the deputy press secretary who dealt with domestic issues (EP: uh, no, he handled all questions from the press corps). So, he would not have even been really have access to the types of meetings and deliberations that the president participated in.

Rove:
the excerpts from the book he's read sound more like they were written by a "left-wing blogger" than his former colleague.
McClellan wrote that Rove, Eliot Abrams and Scooter Libby had "deceived" him about their involvement in the Valerie Plame case.

Dana Perino, current White House press secretary and former deputy to McClellan:
Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. We are puzzled. It is sad. This is not the Scott we knew.

Fran Townsend, former head of the White House-based counterterrorism office and now a CNN commentator:
This now strikes me as self-serving, disingenuous and unprofessional.

Why I Left The Green Party

Why? Because they are dumb enough to nominate former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as their 2008 presidential candidate. She was the one who in 2006 scuffled with a capitol police officer because he did not immediately recognize her as a member of congress. She had to apologize on the House floor for being so stupid, and was later voted out of office that year.


She's the Omarosa of American politics.

I Didn't Know! I Mean, I Knew, but I Didn't Know... Y'know?

Greenwald delivers a solid left hook into the jaws of those who perpetuate the myth of the "liberal media." Money quote (emphasis Greenwald):
[A] single unapologetic Bush critic appears on the TV -- Keith Olbermann -- and this rarest of occurrence suddenly leads to controversy over whether the "respectability" of television news can survive while allowing a single "liberal" voice to be heard. The New Republic's Isaac Chotiner just wrote that he's been watching MSNBC "for the novelty of seeing outspoken liberals on television." What rational person can sustain the "Liberal Media" myth when seeing real liberals on the TV is a "novelty"?
More to come.

The Police and Elvis Costello at the Hollywood Bowl May 27

Had the good fortune of receiving a gift of a pair of seats for this show. I had never seen either act perform in their heydays, and tonight was probably my only chance. Lisa and I sat pretty far back in the Bowl -- it would have been better with binoculars, but we didn't bother with them. Plus, I think closer up it would have been a lot louder. I could nearly speak normally with Lisa at the beginning of Costello's set, but as the evening went it got gradually louder, more like the concert sound I know and love.

I wasn't a rabid Costello fan in my younger days, but I always liked his hits, and he brought most of them out last night. "Radio, Radio" was a favorite of mine since he spontaneously performed it on Saturday Night Live after cutting off the tune he had originally planned. He also did "Peace Love and Understanding," "Every Day I Write the Book," and "Watching the Detectives." When he launched into "Alison," he was joined on stage by none other than Sting himself, who joined on the first chorus and then took a verse of his own. He also featured a few songs from his new "long playing record," as he called it, Momofuku, which really is out in vinyl format. My favorite was "Flutter and Wow."

The Police did not disappoint, but they didn't blow me away either. Sporting a scraggly, greying beard, Sting looked like an aging professor who moonlights playing bass in a bar band on weekends (albeit a very in shape and handsome professor). Stewart Copeland was full of energy, but for some reason, the headset microphone he sported all night was never put to use. Andy Summers was really good, adding all the edgy and atmospheric guitar magic he was known for when the Police were the top band in the world. Sting's voice sounded fantastic, but clearly his age was showing, as they had to drop many of the songs into a different key because he could no longer hit those high Cs and Ds (well, neither can I anymore, but then again I don't sing for a living). The trio were tight, but open enough to be listening for moments of spontaneity. Copeland's work on the percussion rig behind his drum kit was phenomenal during "King of Pain" and "Wrapped Around Your Finger." And, even sitting as far back as we were, when they broke into "Roxanne," we all jumped up on our feet and danced. All in all, however, the band seemed just a bit tired. I was looking for a truly rocking performance, but it all seemed kind of lukewarm to me. Maybe that's just my nostalgic yearning for my own youthful energy, but I still left feeling a bit unsatisfied.

This was my third concert at the Bowl in the last year. Last July it was Rush, last October it was Genesis. By far, Rush had the best show, playing with all the commitment of a band that still had something to prove. I think that's what I missed about last night; having nothing to prove means that the band gets to relax and have fun, knowing full well that most of the crowd will go home feeling elated at having been able to see their heroes again.

Quote of the Day

Found in the San Antonio Spurs locker room next to Tim Duncan's locker. The quote is from 19th century social reformer Jacob Riis:

When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.
The Wikipedia profile for Riis, interestingly enough, portrays him as something of a misogynist and bigot. Well, I'm sure Saddam Hussein and David Duke have some choice ditties written down somewhere. Maybe years after their deaths we'll have them uncovered and they'll adorn the lockers of Jewish and African-American athletes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

When Gore Gave Up the Fight

Jane Smiley says Gore was right to concede the 2000 election because if he had continued the fight, the Republican machine would have done everthing earthly possible (regardless of legality) to thwart a Gore presidency much in the same way (or worse) they did when Bill Clinton was on the job. Not an unrealistic speculation, to be sure, but her central argument fell flat for me.

Gore got more votes in Florida even with the illegal actions of Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris; if anything, he should have fought harder. Smiley's argument that Gore would have essentially failed as a president due to Republican meddling and subterfuge does not erase the fact that a crime was committed in 2000 and Gore allowed it to happen. I don't buy the notion that a constitutional crisis was avoided. Because of Gore's concession, a constitutional crisis greater than anything that could have been created by continuing to contest the Florida vote count was imposed on more than 300 million people. A crisis that continues to fester. I'm not going to drag out the list this time because we all know what I'm talking about.

I thought Gore should have run again in 2004, but since he didn't, we got stuck with four more years of George the jackass.

Biblical Literalism = Low IQ

An interesting study posted by Sullivan this morning. The comments are very entertaining.


It suggests that, IN GENERAL, those white Christians who take a more literal view of the words in the Bible (e.g., world created in six days, Eve created from Adam's rib, talking serpents, the entire Revelations prophecy, etc.) have lower IQs than those whose view of the Bible are more interpretive in nature.

Right-wing Myopia on Oil

A dear friend sent me an email over the Memorial Day Weekend linking to radical right website WorldTribune.com. I know it's radical right wing because on its home page is a link called "What Rush Said." I don't think they are referring to the Canadian rock band.


This link pointed me to a story entitled "The Oil Price Crisis: Not So Difficult to Understand." No by-line, just a subheading about being excerpted from the "PowerLine" blog. Guess some on the right wing don't want to be identified by name? Whatev. So, the piece covered recent congressional testimony given by some oil industry heavyweights, but the slant is obvious from the first few sentences:

Not surprisingly, the petroleum executives stole the show, as they were far smarter, infinitely better informed, and much more public-spirited than the Senate Democrats.

It lays blame for high gas prices squarely at the foot of Democrats in Congress who have created multiple roadblocks for American oil companies to increase domestic exploration and extraction of supposed oil reserves off our coastlines, in the Rockies, and in Alaska (the famous Arctic National Wildlife Refuge). On top of that, the piece says that 15% of the price of gas goes to taxes, and that's the fault of the Democrats too.


On top of that, it outlines the infinitessimally small role US oil companies actually play on the world stage. According to the sworn testimony of ExxonMobil's Stephen Simon, CEO of the largest US oil company, accounts for "only two percent of global energy production, only three percent of global oil production, only six percent of global refining capacity, and only one percent of global petroleum reserves." They have to spend a billion dollars a day just to maintain current operations and make needed capital improvements.


Well, let's see about that: according to their last annual statement, ExxonMobil has gross revenues of $404.5 billion. Yes, that's right -- more than 77% of the cost of the war in Iraq over the last five years, in just one year. The cost of generating that revenue and running the company totalled $334.1 billion. Sixty percent of that is solely the cost of acquiring crude oil from all its various sources, and another 10 percent was for refining and other production. Further the company reports that in the last 12 months, absolutely nothing was spent on Research and Development, and there were no non-recurring or extraordinary expenses. Their net profit for the fiscal year was $40.6 billion after taxes.


(To give you a comparison and to show how staggering a number this truly is, the largest tech company in the world, Microsoft, has only one-eighth the revenues and a little more than one-third the net income of ExxonMobil.)


Nowhere on Exxon's financials do they show expenditures of $1 billion a day on maintenance and capital improvements. So essentially Simon lied to Congress. This discovery, to me, makes all the statements made by all the industry execs suspicious, and probably false.


In fact the only statement I could see that seemed accurate enough -- although I can't prove it -- is the statement that the Democratically-controlled congress wants oil and gas prices to rise. Well, maybe, if they're smart (which is debatable), they'll continue to do things that inhibit domestic oil production. The problem isn't high gas prices, it's our dependence on oil in the first place. The late 19th century ushered in the greatest period of industrialization the world has ever known, largely on the back of petroleum, which greased the gears of machinery and lined the pockets of oil barons, who peddled their influence in Washington without regulation for decades. Now, the oil industry, this dinosaur literally created from dinosaurs, is faced with its seriously reduced presence as an engine for change. We will no doubt continue to need petroleum for decades. But real innovation, real progress, real improvement for the quality of life for Americans, then the world, rests on alternative energy and efforts to reduce our global carbon footprint. The Republican Party, by far the greater recipient of campaign contributions from the oil lobby, fails to see this because they just want the gravy train to keep rolling (on $5.50 per gallon diesel fuel!). They don't want the price of gas to come down either, because so long as oil companies rake in these huge profits, the special interest money will keep flowing too. They just obfuscate by saying that global warming is a myth or is largely out of our hands, and blame high taxes levied by Democrats and too much government regulation of oil exploration within our borders, again controlled by Democrats.


How convenient. And how wrong.

And Now She Says She's Sorry

Commentator Liz Trotta, whom I noted yesterday had jokingly wished that both Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama could be assassinated, apologized on Fox News the day after her most unfortunate comment. The mea culpa began rather earnestly, I must say, but in my opinion, she again took it too far.
It is a very colorful political season (slight chuckle) and many of us are making mistakes and saying things we wish we had not said.
The slight chuckle is what gave me pause. There isn't anything that undermines the sincerity of one's comments more than the slight chuckle. Perhaps it could have been a slight betrayal of nervousness, although Ms. Trotta is a seasoned veteran of news and commentary, and I hardly think she was nervous about these comments. No, the slight chuckle given during her apology appeared eerily similar to the slight chuckle she gave when she gaffed the first time. It is the well-placed chuckle, as if the comment were made off-the-cuff. As in, "Let's try to lighten it up a bit, I'm too embarrassed to eat this much crow."

Eating crow is exactly what Ms. Trotta needed to do, with all the gravity that her comment deserved. Joking about wishing a major political candidate could be killed is no laughing matter. Even when Bill Maher commented that if Dick Cheney had died in an explosion, more people would be alive, he was dead serious about it. It was a stupid comment, but you can't fault the guy for trying to laugh it off as a joke.

What Trotta said, sort of like what Hillary Clinton said when she stuck in the RFK assassination analogy in her comments about staying in the race into June, was a deliberate attempt to inject poison into our discourse. Choosing the right words to paint a certain negative picture about a political opponent is the Republican modus operandus, now being co-opted by the Clinton campaign as though it were the greatest thing since sliced bread.

I remember Newt Gingrich, then the Speaker of the House, acknowledging the use of language as a way to gain political advantage. Bill Clinton was portrayed as sick and depraved as he fought his way through investigations and impeachment. In reality, it truly is a way to render an opponent unworthy of his or her position, as though he/she is no longer legitimate in the eyes of the public.

And now, in 2008, such commentary has taken a more casual, off-hand tone, making it harder to get mad about. Example: anyone using Obama's middle name -- Hussein -- as a way to drill into less-intelligent minds that Obama really is a Muslim (he isn't).

It's disgusting, and it should have no place in this or any election.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fox News Commentator Hopes Obama is Assassinated

Fox News Commentator Liz Trotta, "slipping" over the names Osama and Obama, reveals a hateful wish:



I'm not thinking that this is even remotely acceptable. If I thought that a massive email campaign to the sponsors of the Fox program that allowed this hateful nonsense, this innocent little chuckle, to go on the air, I would be organizing it myself.

But let's not forget that Mike Huckabee joked about the same thing in front of the NRA not too long ago. And Hillary's comment about Robert F. Kennedy, while it was not a blatant suggestion that Obama could suffer or should suffer the same fate next month, was a painful reminder about her race-baiting campaign that has disgusted the majority of progressives around the nation.

This sort of casual dialogue about the killing of a major presidential candidate has no earthly place in our discourse. We are coming as close as one can to incitement as one can get before it no longer become free speech.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Libertarian Convention is Today

Word is that Bob Barr could get 3-5% of the vote from conservatives away from McCain. He'd Naderize the Republicans the way Nader did it in 2000 to Gore.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Obama Wants to Meet With Raul Castro

The LA Times reports that Barack Obama advocates meeting with leaders in Cuba as a way of fostering democracy in that country.

Speaking before the Cuban American National Foundation, a powerful Cuban exile group, he said he would press for immediate and unlimited family travel and remittances, adding "there are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans."

Obama takes a risky position in calling for direct diplomacy with the Castro regime in front of a group that deeply loathes the Cuban dictatorship. Response to that statement was muted at best. But in nearly 50 years, there has been absolutely no budging between the US and Cuba. Fidel never wavered in his contempt for the US, and his brother Raul does not seem so far to be willing to walk a new line. And there hasn't been a single president since 1959 who wanted direct dialogue, choosing instead to blockade Havana and perpetuate a crushing embargo. Poverty in the island nation is rampant, there is precious little technology, and families have been split for 50 years.

It's clear that the status-quo -- predictably supported by McCain the Bush clone -- doesn't work. A fresh approach is needed. Obama's call for direct talks does not excite the exile community, who remain firmly against such talks until the release of political prisoners. But that approach guarantees continued enmity, not a fertile ground for the growth of democracy.

By easing travel restrictions and remittances, Obama can straddle the line as the seeds take root. A little bit of embargo, a little bit of travel, spreading around some money. Cuba may not become a shining example of democracy for years to come, but you have to start somewhere.

Get Kids Out of Adult Jails

The NY Times wants them out, citing statistics that point to higher incidences of rape, battery, and suicide among children confined in adult jails.

I'm on the fence with this one. While I certainly think states can do a better job of managing their population of young offenders (in some states a kid of 14 can be tried as an adult), some of the kids who get tried in adult courts have been in and out of the system for quite some time. That they are finally seeing the inside of an adult courtroom doesn't mean that they're basically decent kids who made bad decisions. So, if Congress does its job properly it should put the right kind of pressure. For example, if a child under the age of 16 has served juvenile time for a violent felony and has been charged with another such crime, then it's off to grown-up court for him. For first-time offenders, I believe every effort should be made to avoid adult court and to give the kid time to sort through his issues in the juvenile system.

The New GI Bill

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) has put together a new GI Bill that updates and upgrades the current bill, which today wouldn't get a veteran through a four-year state university. With the help of 26 Republicans, some of whom are vulnerable in November, Webb has a veto-proof bill that has among its detractors President Bush, the Pentagon, and one John McCain.

The major issue is the fact that this generous aid package gives benefits to those who serve a single three-year term in the military. Opponents say that it discourages men and women from making the military a career. But proponents are calling that bullshit, since any man or woman who signs up for a three-year stint today will serve one or two tours in a war zone. These veterans deserve whatever we can give them. And in Webb's day, a Vietnam vet only needed a single year of duty to qualify for a GI Bill that at least paid for something.

The bill also includes $10 billion in spending to extend unemployment benefits and other aid for victims of hurricanes in the Gulf States.

A big win for the Dems, and a feather in the cap for Webb, who might possibly ascend to VP should Obama select him as his running mate.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kennedy wants his wife to take his Senate Seat

From the NY Daily News. A couple of pundits don't like it.

Sullivan:
Could someone please tell Ted Kennedy that the Senate is no family's preserve?

Allahpundit:

Why not just go the whole nine yards and convert it into a peerage? They’ve held the seat for 55 years, except for a brief period in the early 60s when JFK’s college roommate held it. Give it to Ted’s wife, then Caroline can have it after she establishes Massachusetts residency, and then Patches will get it provided he doesn’t crash any more cars in the meantime. Although, of course, that never hurt Teddy, did it?


Haven't seen anyone come out in favor of it. Some say Obama, who's been campaigning against the Clinton's dynastic approach to the presidency, should recommend to Kennedy that someone else take the spot.

McCain dumps Hagee... no, it's the other way around!

From the AP today:

McCain was forced to reject the endorsement of John Hagee, an influential Texas preacher, after audio surfaced of Hagee claiming that Hitler was God's way of helping the Jews reach the promised land. Hagee also withdrew his endorsement of McCain at the same time.

McCain said in a statement: "Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well."

Hagee also issued a statement saying he was tired of baseless attacks and he was removing himself from any active role in the 2008 campaign.

As the title of my blog states, "Uh, yeah right." Wait for Hagee's ugliness to reappear later when the Christianists start to turn up the heat on Obama.


Don't Just Do Something... Sit There! or What is Conservatism?

Sullivan posts an interesting dialogue about the nature of conservatism. Being unabashedly progressive, I don't pretend to be a know-it-all about conservative thought. (For God's sake, my first presidential vote was 1980 and I could not vote for Reagan. Actually, I voted for Anderson, who was supposedly more conservative than Reagan, but appealed to my maverick sensibilities because he ran a third-party campaign. Hell, I was 18, and stupid.)


Sullivan attempts to draw a distinction between conservatism, a school of thought about governance, and Republicanism, "an amorphous political entity" more interested in preserving their power than in being conservative. I see his point, but I don't think I agree. Republicans have been touting themselves as conservatives -- fiscally, socially, politically -- for so long that the conservative "school of thought" is to most Americans a permanent element of the Republican Party.


As a progressive, I'm nevertheless for lower taxes and smaller government, libertarian ideals that put me at odds with the base of the Democratic Party. I also believe that government creates more problems than it solves, which puts me somewhere right of center.


However, I'm a firm believer in the concept of government as "safety net" for citizens who are too downtrodden to take advantages of a market economy to pull themselves out of their desperate situations. I have little faith in the ability of Americans of diverse backgrounds, who pretty much hate and/or distrust each other, to coalesce around a concept as nebulous as the "greater good." As David Gilmour sings in "Money," "I'm allright, Jack/Keep your hands off of my stack." We want what's ours and screw our fellow man. Accordingly, I see welfare as the necessary leg up many need. Properly managed, with a "tough love" approach that keeps benefits limited in amount and time, but paid for with the tax dollars of those with more.


The trouble with conservatism is that it's no longer OK simply to be a school of thought; too often the actions taken in the name of conservatism are not enough to make a dent in the problem. To address the global warming problem, Sullivan suggests that a "clear, solid carbon tax that simply encourages individuals and companies to innovate and switch to renewable energy would be a conservative solution." But just where to draw the line on how much tax upsets the "keep your hands off of my stack" crowd, not to mention the "I'm a victim of institutionalized racism that continues to this day" crowd. To use a blackjack analogy, no matter where you slip the cut card in the deck, someone's going to be unhappy with the cut. Sullivan puts the onus on a courageous president who is willing to give his people the dose of yucky medicine while explaining why alternatives are worse. But when has there been a modern president who was that iconic a figure, who characterized the state of our union as anything other than impossibly rosy and strong? Not since FDR or perhaps Kennedy, both way before my time.


Sometimes, I'll concede, despite the fact that a bigger government is likely to mess it up and hurt more people than it helps, it is the only solution. True progressives understand this, and they reluctantly support a strong central government because the alternative -- what my older brother the doctor once described as AMF-YOYO (Adios, motherf*cker, you're on your own) -- violates the tenets of basic human decency.

The Collective Stupidity of Americans

Not only do many of us who actually try to stay informed have to put up with rampant racism of those less informed, exposed in all its hateful ignominy (first time I've ever used that word in a sentence), we also have to deal with their schizophrenia when it comes to the question of whom to trust as president.

Rosa Brooks comments in today's Los Angeles Times on McCain's frequent gaffes on the face about Iraq, Sunni vs. Shia, al Qaeda, and Iran are having no effect on his standing among Americans. Turns out that more of us believe he'd be better at handling the war despite his walking lock-step with Bush since day one, and despite the likelihood that he will simply continue the war effort in much the same way as his predecessor should he be elected.

Money quote:

Of course, maybe his success -- for the time being -- with the American public has convinced McCain that if you just repeat something long enough and confidently enough, people will start believing it. McCain keeps boasting of his own national security expertise and insisting that Barack Obama, his chief Democratic rival, is naive and "does not understand ... the fundamental elements of national security and warfare" -- even though Obama, unlike the "experienced" McCain, managed to get it right on Iraq from the very beginning.


If one is not truly astonished at how stupid Americans are, then he/she is too jaded to care enough to do something about it. Perhaps being an elitist in this case is a good thing: to tell your neighbor who puts a McCain sign on his front lawn this summer that, as an idiot, he wouldn't recognize a good candidate unless it was spoon-fed to him by Fox News or Rush Limbaugh, and that you'll pray for him to see the light (that always gets 'em, you know, saying you'll pray for them). Then you put a bigger sign on your front lawn for Obama which reads, "Literally, Figuratively, Intellectually and Spiritually Superior."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Reader Writes...

DISCLAIMER: My good friend and songwriting pal Byron Fry is/was a precinct worker for Obama up in his town of Bishop, CA. He was responding to my post about Hillary or Obama against McCain:
Regarding Obama's chances against McSame vs. Clinton's chances against McSame: The thing to keep in mind here, really, is that if Obama is anything, he is the great uniter and inspiration. Before the Clinton campaign went on the warpath, requiring Obama to shift gears into damage control while fighting on two fronts, his positive message (in January and February most notably) was getting more of the swing vote---including converts from the Republican party---than any Democratic candidate in memory since JFK ... and more than Clinton by a margin of two to one. That's the best indicator of how much better than her he'll stack up against McSame. Besides, what these polls don't reflect and cannot take into account is the way Obama can inspire this whole country. Once he's actually facing McSame in debate, it'll be pretty hard for anyone who's not a drooling imbecile to maintain adherence to the Bush doctrine. While Hillary could make many of the same arguments, she doesn't inspire people the way Obama does, and the power of that difference is what I just don't see the talking heads taking into account.

There truly is hope.
Not to burst the bubble here, but most of the people in OH, WV, KY, PA, IN, AR, TN, and OK who have delivered victories for Clinton are about as close to being the "drooling imbecile" type as one can get.

Artistry Trumps Sentimentality

David Cook is the latest winner on American Idol. Now, don't get me wrong: I do not believe he's a phenomenal singer, and I'm not even sure of his ability to write a melody. But his victory over 17-year old wunderkind David Archuleta was the first time since the inception of this wildly popular show that an artist took the top spot over someone everyone believed to be genetically engineered to become an American Idol winner. Not only did he win, he won handily. Out of 97.5 million votes cast, he won by a staggering 12 million votes. I was totally surprised, since at the top of the two-hour finale, host Ryan Seacrest revealed that the winner had gotten 56 percent of the votes. I thought there was no way, no possible way, that Cook had managed to trounce that kid.

As usual, however, the producers saddled him with one of the most insipid songs to sing after claiming his title. Called "Time of My Life" or something derivative like that, I think I caught a lyric about a rainbow in there somewhere. A 25-year old former bartender, sporting wicked stubble and a signature emo haircut, looking like he was choking the lyrics out against all he stood for in the previous 11 weeks.

My favorite moment: as Cook spat out his cup of treacle and the confetti rained down from above, the pit of little college girls strategically placed at the foot of the stage -- those girls who were coached all season long by the producers to automatically sway their arms during the ballads, and to clap with their hands above their heads so that the cameras could see them, those girls who screamed whenever Archuleta's name or likeness were within 100 feet -- were practically motionless. Fem-bots rendered inert by Cook's Austin Powers-like mojo.

Some other takeaways:
  • a great duet between Graham Nash and Brooke White singing "Teach Your Children Well."
  • Jason Castro's more polished reprise of the Jeff Buckley version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." (for my own reasons, I've posted Buckley singing the song live, while those getting this via email can click on the link above):

  • David Archuleta dueting with One Republic on their hit song "Apologize," looking about as nervous and out of his element as he could be, with eyes closed and licking his lips (his big tell)
  • George Michael ending the festivities with "Praying for Time." He looked so old and gaunt, teeth looking far less perfect than they did 20 years ago, still with that perfect hair and stubble. Gesticulating in surrealistic fashion while planted in one spot. I have to say that the song is one of the more beautiful ballads to come out of the '80s, but after watching Carrie Underwood perform it on Idol Gives Back a few weeks ago, I don't think he can lay claim to the tune anymore.
I think my brother Dan and my buddy Byron are going to roast me for posting so much about this, but hey, it's my blog.

'Night.

Oh, this is just too much!

Virtual peeing? OK, don't watch...



Are you shaking your head yet?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brutal!

In an op-ed today by NY Times columnist Bob Herbert:
The Houston Chronicle did a long takeout on Sunday on the suicide in March 2007 of an Army recruiting sergeant, Nils Aron Andersson — just one day after his marriage to Carry Walton. Sgt. Andersson, 25, had spoken of the many horrors that he had encountered in Iraq and was deeply depressed. He shot himself while sitting in his pickup in a parking garage. Distraught, Ms. Walton bought a 9-millimeter handgun at a sporting goods store the next day and killed herself.

The piece was about how this election may still wind up being about trivial things as opposed to real issues. The above was one of the real issues, that of the abuse of our men and women in uniform who get forced into multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, while we pretend to care about them in our bumper stickers and lapel pins.

Why doesn't Texas have a law requiring a waiting period to get a handgun after purchasing it, like they do in California? If they did, maybe this woman would still be alive.

These, my choir, are the real issues.

Hillary's Fuzzy Math

While Obama only needs 15 more pledged delegates after today's votes in Kentucky and Oregon to capture a majority in that arena, Clinton still claims that she's the better candidate because the states she has won put her on a better playing field against McCain:
The states I've won total 300 electoral votes. If we had the same rules as the Republicans, I would be nominee right now. We have different rules, so what we've got to figure out is who can win 270 electoral votes. My opponent has won states totaling 217 electoral votes.

First, the states that she has won as a Democratic candidate don't necessarily mean they'll go to her as the Democratic nominee. Arkansas would probably go for McCain, as would Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Oklahoma, West Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona. These states account for 68 electoral votes, so now she's down to 232.

Second, if Obama is the nominee, he'll take California and New York, which alone would give him an additional 86 electoral votes. I also think Texas could be his, as would New Jersey, which would mean another 49 electoral votes. Play out this scenario and now Obama has 352 electoral votes out of a possible 538.

Now, of course he'll probably lose in some of the states where he's won, such as the South, plus Utah and the Plains States, so at the end of the day he's in a tight race against McCain (God help us all). But all polls so far put him ahead of McCain nationally, so he's still the better candidate.

Constitutional dress code

CNN's Roland Martin has a novel idea in this age of hysterical punditry and simplistic reasons for voting for a particular candidate:

Since it is clear that our nation is paralyzed and so not able to close our borders, feed the homeless, develop businesses in the inner cities and save people from having their homes taken by foreclosure due to ruthless mortgage companies, all because some folks don't wear a flag lapel pin, we need to lead a national movement to demand that Congress and the states make
requiring officeholders to wear a flag lapel pin the 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.



In fact, we should also make every citizen who owns a car affix a magnetic yellow ribbon to the back of their cars which proudly proclaims, "I Support Our Troops." Wherever they are.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Detainee 063

Legal Scholar Philippe Sands writes an amazing essay about Mohammed al-Qahtani -- or Detainee 063 as he was known at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- who is a Saudi national apprehended in Afghanistan in late 2001 and taken to Gitmo in early 2002. He was among those labeled "worst of the worst." Allegedly the 20th hijacker, he was the justification for the Bush Administration's use of torture. His identity was aired in June 2004 in the wake of Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.

Former White House Counsel and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, along with another senior legal official in the White House, detailed for the world media why Qahtani was subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques:" He was trained to resist all forms of standard interrogation, and a field level interrogator at Gitmo had gone up the chain of command and, as Gonzales explained, proper legal channels and research had been done to authorize the use of more aggressive means of questioning at the orders of Donald Rumsfeld. One of these techniques -- an ice-cold bath subjecting the prisoner to hypothermia -- was pioneered by the Gestapo. Supposedly, valuable information on Jose Padilla ("dirty bomb" suspect) and Richard "Shoe Bomber" Reid were obtained from Qahtani using these techniques. See? It worked!

Well, not so fast. Turns out that -- of course! -- it was all a big lie, pretty much in line with everything Bushco spouts out to justify its actions since 9/11. This didn't matter though; in February 2008, Qahtani was among six detainees named who would face "a military commission on various criminal charges, including murder, attacking civilians and terrorism. The death penalty would be sought. The allegations were thin on detail and - strikingly - made no reference to any information obtained after the new techniques were used."

Again, not so fast. This last week all charges against Qahtani were dropped. Why? Well, no official explanation was given, but it was telling nonetheless. What has emerged in recent months through various investigations and the release of certain documents was that the decision to use aggressive interrogation did not germinate in Gitmo from the bottom up, but from the top down. This is the beginning of what constituted war crimes committed by members of the Bush Administration. If the US cannot "get its house in order," then investigations into those crimes by international courts may ensue.

The House Judiciary Committee has begun investigating the role senior administration officials may have played in this drama. Most senior lawyers are voluntarily testifying, but Cheney's lawyer is under subpoena (naturally).

From the article:
This unhappy story has brought America's fine tradition of military valour into disrepute. It has provided no added protection to this country, or any other, or any other advantages. To the contrary, it will serve to inflame public opinion abroad, and undermine the very objective of national security that was sought, making it more difficult to respond to the real threat of international terrorism. If the House Judiciary Committee does nothing else, it must move to establish the facts, to identify those who are responsible for this mess, to make sure lessons are learnt so it doesn't happen again. The lesson of torture is clear. It does not work.
Ultimately, I believe there is a special place reserved in the Ninth Circle for these perpetrators, from Bush to Cheney to Rumsfeld, from Feith to Rice to Wolfowitz, from DeLay to Boehner to Hastert.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Negotiation vs. Appeasement

Scoblic puts it into historical context, showing that negotiation with our enemies always yields more results than taking a more aggressive stance. My choice tidbit:
The modern conservative movement was founded in no small part on the idea that presidents Truman and Eisenhower were "appeasing" the Soviets. The logic went something like this: Because communism was evil, the United States should seek to destroy it, not coexist with it; the bipartisan policy of containment, which sought to prevent the further spread of communism, was a moral and strategic folly because it implied long-term coexistence with Moscow. Conservative foreign policy guru James Burnham wrote entire books claiming that containment -- which, after the Cold War, would be credited with defeating the Soviet Union -- constituted "appeasement."
"Evil" is so loaded with religious overtones, but of course it makes sense that churches would rail against it. After all, Marx wrote "Die Religion ... is das Opium des Volkes." A threat to their power.

I never understood the notion that a US President talking directly to incendiary lunatics like Ahmadinejad would lend legitimacy to his leadership. The guy is a head of state. He may take his ultimate orders from a cabal of mullahs, but some would argue that Bush takes his cues from a cabal of corporate and military interests. Talking to these guys lends legitimacy to taking further action if it is necessary: "We had direct talks which were frank in nature, and Iran steadfastly refuses to acknowledge the foolishness of its efforts to enrich uranium. Until it does, the United States will do everything it can, including additional direct dialogue, to prevent Iran from expanding its nuclear ambitions." See how much better that sounds than, "Iran is a terrorist-funding arm of the Axis of Evil and is a threat to freedom-loving people around the world. We make no differentiation between its government and the thugs and murderers it supports. The United States strongly condemns Iran's expansion of it nuclear programs and vows to end it by any means necessary."

If I Was a Terrorist

Good points here.


video

Hat Tip: Allan Wertheim.

Rant "back atcha"

From a dear friend, addressed to me and Mr. Adams:

Gentlemen:

Equality, that most lofty god-like ideal upon which this country was founded, which made the USA the this world's great shining light, and for which so many of our fathers have shed blood, must by definition know no boundaries. The thing to pay attention to here, my fellow countrymen, is not gay marriage. It is the cliff our fine nation is teetering on the edge of. Gay marriage, and all issues pertaining thereto, has NEVER been anything but a handy, convenient distraction for the neo-right to feed America via the corporate news spin-machine, to keep her distracted from the fox in the hen-house: Iraq; politicization of the Supreme Court; loss of civil liberties; loss of a NEWS MEDIA (HELLO); and a very real war on We The People: On our science, on alternative fuel research that might loosen the strangle-hold this oil-cartel has us all in, on education, on the integrity of our voting system, and an increasingly jaded public that has been told, basically, to just obey and go shopping. There is much more to this list, of course, but you both know that god damned good and well. Wake up and spend your time talking about stuff that matters. I personally don't give a damn if my countrymen are gay or straight; if they're American, they have EVERY RIGHT THAT I DO, and I hold that right to be self-evident.
Now, both of you should be ashamed, because you're both obviously intelligent, articulate souls, given to reflection and strong opinions about the welfare of our land. We need people like you (on both sides of the aisle) to pay attention to the REAL problems. So pretty please...let's fix some real problems.
Well, dear friend, I am not ashamed. Not of defending fellow Americans against what they feel IS a real attack on their existence, an attack whose ultimate aim is to show them The Way out of their "sinful lifestyles." Sorry, but this topic is important, not as a voting issue, but a humanistic one.

That being said, I agree wholeheartedly with everything else you wrote. Thanks for contributing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

My rant for the day -- caution: long post

My friend David Adams, an ex-military man from Austin, and I only know each other through email. A while ago, a client of mine forwarded me an email with the subject "True American." I can't even remember the whole thing, but some of the stuff was inflammatory Republican talking point bullshit (sorry, Dave). So, me being the guy who likes to stir up trouble, scrolled down the whole email to the bottom and found who had originally sent it. Dave.

I wrote to him and commented on each and every item on the list of what defined a True American. That was more than a year ago. We have found much that we agree on, and much that we disagree on. Through it all, I have to honor Dave for being much more intelligent than I wanted to give him credit for. However, his religiosity and the time into which he was born have, I believe, gotten the better of him more times than I care to mention. Today is one of those days, I'm afraid.

When I posted yesterday about the California Supreme Court's overturning the ban on same-sex marriages, he wrote me an email in response, which became a pretty interesting exchange. I reserved my final words for this blog (many thanks to David for letting me share our "convo" with you all):

DAVE: We are friends with a gay couple across the street but the gay agenda being forced on us at work, schools, churches, and military is too similar to the in-your-face racial tyrants that force a negative reaction to their acusative [sic] and insulting manner.

ME: What exactly is the gay agenda? I'll tell you what it is: to be accepted as equal members of this society. That's it.

DAVE: It is to force belief that a choice of life is equal to inherited race in discrimination. It is to say that a few individuals preference is more important than others religious belief. It is to establish thought as a hate crime even with no harmful act against another person. It is to promote a frequently harmful lifestyle in school in defiance of parents rights to teach children moral principles. It is to violate the Democratic Principle of majority rules in our society by biased Judges overturning votes of citizens. It is to include displays of homosexual behavior in the media to influence children contrary to parents beliefs. My agenda is to judge each person based on [his] responsible, law-abiding behavior and courtesy toward others.

So, I may be overreacting here, and I leave it up to all of you to temper or correct my observations or to call "bullshit" if you see it here in my final response.

Dave, What you wrote undermines the intelligence I know you possess, and I want to reach that place in your brain that isn't clouded by such bigoted, Christianist dogma. Notice I wrote "Christianist and not "Christian." True Christians would have no problem with this law.

So to address your woefully misinformed comments:

1. Homosexuality is not a choice; it is an orientation of one's sexuality that is widely accepted in scientific circles (and many non-scientific ones) as a variation of normal human sexuality. I invite you to give a listen to a couple of NPR pieces on transgendered children to get a sense of how innate this state of being truly is. Homosexuals can no more choose to be straight than I can choose to be gay.
2. A few individuals' preferences are more important than others' religious beliefs, especially when those beliefs cause the believers to legislate away the rights of the few (whether or not they are successful). And those "few individuals" number in the millions in this country.
3. Gays do not seek to criminalize the thoughts of those who hate them. That's disingenuous, as well as impossible. They simply want their fundamental right as human beings to be able to marry a person of their choosing and create a family of their own.
4. Again, homosexuality is neither a lifestyle nor a choice; it's a way of being. And it isn't harmful to anyone who has enough awareness of self to be accepting of this reality of human sexuality. If parents don't want their kids to believe this, then, unfortunately, they are the ones harming their children, not the school systems trying to teach them.
5. I will concede that the California Supreme Court ruling did overturn the will of the people. But sometimes the will of the people is to be ignorant, pig-headed, and harmful/hateful to other human beings (e.g., laws banning interracial marriage, or segregation of schools based on race, or poll taxes that minority citizens could not afford which effectively stripped them of their constitutional right to vote). In the same-sex marriage case, the courts wrote: "In contrast to earlier times, our state now recognizes that an individual’s capacity to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person and responsibly to care for and raise children does not depend upon the individual’s sexual orientation, and, more generally, that an individual’s sexual orientation — like a person’s race or gender — does not constitute a legitimate basis upon which to deny or withhold legal rights." It is simply that the next generation has grown up with a different definition of who gay people are. They see gay people as interchangeable with straight people. They don't think gays are inferior, because they know them. Your older generation has a harder time understanding that, but I hope to god you do one day.
6. Portrayals in the media of gays living their lives show that they are no different than straight except that they like to have sex with people of their own gender. Caricatures exist as much in gay life as in straight life, and if you don't see that in today's sitcoms, or even yesterday's sitcoms (see "Three's Company" or "All in the Family") or dramas, then you're not paying attention.

If your agenda is what you say it is, then you should have no problem with gay people enjoying civil marriage, because the law -- at least in California or Massachusetts -- is not broken by that civil union.

Respectfully,
Eric Potruch

Mental Health Break -- my favorite guitarists

As a recovering musician and guitarist, I am constantly amazed by the talents of my favorite guitar players. I am one of those rare guys who never really got into blues or really straight jazz -- although I can appreciate all of that. Really, my faves are the cats to really took chances with their instruments and their compositions. The top two couldn't be more different: Allan Holdsworth and Robert Fripp. Fripp is predominantly left-brain, precision cross-picking style, alternate tunings, and angular, often dissonant composition and improvisation. Holdsworth is completely the opposite, with all left-hand technique for voicing chords and soloing. The videos here showcase what I'm talking about. Check out Holdsworth's left hand during his solo and you'll see.


For Fripp, I selected a cut from a later version of King Crimson, mostly because it spends so much time on Fripp. It's not my favorite piece of music. If you want to get a good idea of what Fripp can do, do a YouTube search and pull anything he does with King Crimson or David Sylvian.


Honorable mention to a fantastic acoustic guitarist: Ralph Towner, who I first heard at age 16 when my dear old friend Titus Levi (then we just called him Ty) and his dad took me to see the acoustic jazz band Oregon at the old Golden Bear in Huntington Beach. Here he is performing Miles Davis's "Nardis," a popular favorite.

Calling Tech Support in India

So, we all know that India's a rapidly expanding economic power. It's highly-trained, skilled workforce of people with computer skills and fewer demands on business's wallet make it a great resource. However, we also all know that lots of American jobs have been farmed out and people here are struggling too. This is not to pass judgment either way. But if you've ever had to call tech support and spoken to someone in India -- as I have for Dell Computer, Microsoft, Yahoo!, and even my former employer's "Help Desk" -- you know that technology, people skills, and ultimate satisfaction with your experience is a mixed bag, at best.

My good friend David Adams in Austin sent me these pictures taken in India. If you ever thought things were bad in your neighborhood with too many power lines, etc., take a look at these:




Thursday, May 15, 2008

Racist Incidents Give Some Obama Campaigners Pause

From the Washington Post. Highlights:
Victoria Switzer, a retired social studies teacher, was on phone-bank duty one night during the Pennsylvania primary campaign. One night was all she could take: "It wasn't pretty." She made 60 calls to prospective voters in Susquehanna County, her home county, which is 98 percent white. The responses were dispiriting. One caller, Switzer remembers, said he couldn't possibly vote for Obama and concluded: "Hang that darky from a tree!"

Karen Seifert, a volunteer from New York, was outside of the largest polling location in Lackawanna County, Pa., on primary day when she was pressed by a Clinton volunteer to explain her backing of Obama. "I trust him," Seifert replied. According to Seifert, the woman pointed to Obama's face on Seifert's T-shirt and said: "He's a half-breed and he's a Muslim. How can you trust that?"

In a letter to the editor published in a local paper, Tunkhannock Borough Mayor Norm Ball explained his support of Hillary Clinton this way: "Barack Hussein Obama and all of his talk will do nothing for our country. There is so much that people don't know about his upbringing in the Muslim world. His stepfather was a radical Muslim and the ranting of his minister against the white America, you can't convince me that some of that didn't rub off on him. No, I want a president that will salute our flag, and put their hand on the Bible when they take the oath of office."

It reminds me of when I was in third grade Sunday school, and our teacher was taking us on a tour of Temple Beth Miriam. She paused at a replica of Michelangelo's Moses (a much reduced version, by the way). One of the kids made mention of the fact that there were horns on Moses's head and asked why. The teacher said that it was a widely held belief in 16th Century Italy that Jews were the children of Satan and had horns under their yarmulkes, and that some in America still believed it was true. (Aside: an interesting interpretation of the horns here.) Just how long it will take Americans to let go of the Muslim lie is anybody's guess. But the "half-breed" comment is just pure hatred.

Since Clinton will soon (we hope) be exiting this race, I sincerely hope that when she concedes, she makes specific mention to all of her supporters that racism is not a plank in the Democratic Party platform.

Thanks to Titus for sending me this.

Deep Thoughts by Britney Spears

An oldie but goodie, from September 2003, six months after the war started, in a conversation with Tucker Carlson on CNN:
CARLSON: A lot of entertainers have come out against the war in Iraq. Have you?

SPEARS: Honestly, I think we should just trust our president in every decision that he makes and we should just support that, you know, and be faithful in what happens.

CARLSON: Do you trust this president?

SPEARS: Yes, I do.

CARLSON: Excellent.
In reading the "Excellent" line, one can almost hear the Wayne's World theme playing, and Dana Carvey trying to keep from hurling.

I wonder if she even knows who's president these days.

McCain Sets Timetable to Leave Iraq

Well, you knew this was coming. From HuffPo:
Sen. John McCain will pledge today that most American troops will return home from Iraq by 2013 if he is elected president, a position that closely resembles the promises made by both of his potential Democratic rivals. (emphasis mine)
I think the others want the troops out slightly earlier than by the end of their first terms.

I predict you will see McCain backpedal from his love of Bush as the months go on.

California overturns same-sex marriage ban

From the LA Times.

Fantastic news.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Keith Olbermann is an American Hero

I have never watched his program on MSNBC and I'm sorry for that. The following 12 minute "Special Comment" from Olbermann shows him channeling what very likely every intelligent American -- check that, every intelligent person in the whole world -- would have liked to say to George W. Bush after his laughable interview with Politico, during which he said that his big sacrifice to be in solidarity with the families of soldiers serving in Iraq was to give up his golf game. Olbermann practically spat out in response:
Your one, tone-deaf, arrogant, pathetic, embarrassing gesture, and you didn't even think of it yourself? The great Bushian sacrifice -- an Army private loses a leg, a Marine loses half his skull, 4,000 of their brothers and sisters lose their lives -- and you lose golf, and they have to pull you off the golf course to get you to just do that? (emphasis mine)

If it's even true.

Apart from your medical files, which dutifully record your torn calf muscle and the knee pain which forced you to give up running at the same time -- coincidence, no doubt -- the bombing in Baghdad which killed Sergio Vieira de Mello of the U.N. and interrupted your round of golf was on Aug. 19, 2003.

Yet CBS News has records of you playing golf as late as Columbus Day of that year, nearly two months later.
I found myself literally cheering as Olbermann got positively apoplectic with each example of Bush's insanity. And to think it was ladies like the one in my previous post, who can't be bothered with the reality that Obama is not a Muslim, who put this jackass in office.My favorite bit of this is that during the entire tirade, Olbermann continually addresses W as "Mr. Bush," not the traditional "Mr. President."

To watch the whole video, click on it below:

Definitely worth a watch...

video

Hat tip: Norm Johnson.

I Wish I Could Write Stuff Like This

Andrew Sullivan received an email from a South Dakota reader:

I live in SD and I am a candidate for the State House. I was out walking my district last month and spoke to a woman about the primary. She has a statue of the Virgin Mary in her front yard and was wearing several crosses around her neck. Here is our conversation:

Woman: "I don't know about that Obama guy."

Me: "I'm an Obama supporter, do you mind if I ask what you're unsure about."

Woman: "He's a muslim and there is a biblical prophecy that a muslim will take over our country and destroy the world."

Me: "You're aware he is not a Muslim."

Woman: "He can say anything he wants."

This is the stuff that makes for great sitcoms and SNL sketches. If I could write like this, I'd be famous and I'd be rich.

Oh, wait. This stuff is really scary, isn't it? This kind of willful, stubborn, authoritative ignorance (how's that for an oxymoron?), the stuff that makes you just throw up your hands and simply resign yourself to NEVER being able to talk sense into her. If I didn't realize that there are many thousands of people in this country who think exactly like her, I would actually laugh about this. And in her own mind, she believes she's one of the informed people: "All the information I'll ever need is in the Good Book, no doubt about that."

My stars!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Those Hiroshima Photos

May be inauthentic. Turns out at least two of them may be photos of a 1923 earthquake aftermath and not Hiroshima in 1945. Because of that, the entire collection is being pulled from the Hoover Archives "until and unless their source can be verified by further research."

Naked Racism in WV

The LA Times reports that Mary Beth Jester, 41, of Morgantown, stood outside the IHOP with her two sisters, smoking a cigarette. When asked about the possibility of an Obama/Clinton ticket, it gave her no comfort:
"I'm going to write in Hillary on the ballot," she said, crushing her half-smoked cigarette. "I want to see a woman in there before I see a . . . " She stopped, and her sister finished the sentence with: "a man of color."
I don't understand why I'm surprised to read this, but I want to shake that redneck woman by the hair and dunk her in orange soda until she understands that Mr. Obama is much more American , more Christian, and more a regular person than she even pretends to be.

UPDATE:
According to exit polls conducted by the AP in WV, one in four Clinton voters and one in ten Obama voters cited race as an important factor in their votes. How many of them didn't say?

Barely a third who voted for Clinton would vote for McCain over Obama in November. As many said they'd vote for Obama, and a quarter said they would not vote at all. If Clinton were the nominee, half of the Obama voters would support Clinton, 30% would go for McCain and the rest would stay home.

I'm floored that half the Obama voters would go for McCain over Clinton or stay home. STAY HOME? Are you kidding me? All staying home says is that you're a petulant child. So stay home. Better yet, find a new country to pollute with your ignorance.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Repulican Hypocrisy -- Redundant?

This from the NY Daily News. Fossella is a staunch conservative Catholic GOP congressman who ran on the pro-life, anti-gay (he rejected his gay sister and refused to attend family functions when she was present with her partner), family values platform. Now it's revealed he has a 3-yr.-old love child by a divorced woman in Virginia.

Love it!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Amazing Striped Icebergs

Icebergs in the Antarctic area sometimes have stripes, formed by layers of snow that react to different conditions.

Blue stripes are often created when a crevice in the ice sheet fills up with meltwater and freezes so quickly that no bubbles form.

When an iceberg falls into the sea, a layer of salty seawater can freeze to the underside. If this is rich in algae, it can form a green stripe.

Brown, black and yellow lines are caused by sediment, picked up when the ice sheet grinds downhill towards the sea.






Got this email from a dear old friend

Dr. Titus Levi, an economist specializing in economics and the arts, just returned from a trip to the Phillipines to see his girlfriend Christine, a professor doing research on indigenous peoples. Titus and I did high school together in the very boring city of Lakewood, CA ("Tomorrow's City Today" was their motto), and were, along with Ken Robinson (also a professor) and Steve Kramer, pretty inseparable friends.

He sent me an email with the subject line being "A sort of imperialist abroad." Some key passages:

We Americans don’t bother to learn much about our dabblings with empire building except in the midst of a crisis like what we’re mired in now. Make no mistake: Iraq is but the most recent fling dating back to the our intervention in the Philippines.

Confronting our imperialist tendencies really knocked me back a notch. Signs of empire percolate up from the ground in all kinds of places and all sorts of ways: in the reluctantly-spoken English of educated elites, and in the utter fluency of children more interested in speaking English than Tagalog or Ilongo. In the name brand eateries from the US of A: Krispy Kreme, Chilis (eating there in Manila just seemed strange and disorienting, all the more so since I would almost never eat in a Chilis in the US), and of course, the ubiquitous McDonalds (although the locals call it McDo).

It also crops up in less obvious ways: the near-wholesale adoption of our government structure, educational system, and certain values. Most acutely, I saw it in the lust for “The American Dream” of home ownership, even though home ownership (especially new home ownership) remains out of reach for many Filipinos. And this all seems especially strange to me as an American since Filipinos have a national temperament (if a culture can be said to have such a thing at all) that stands at a wide distance from America’s. Whereas we are standoffish and bluntly direct, Filipinos tend to be warm and aggravating indirect. Whereas we push to the next accomplishment, Filipinos seem more likely to stand pat. Whereas we are driven and forceful, Filipinos struck me as relaxed and loose.

*****

The last leg of the trip included another “it had to happen moment”: an hour of American Idol, followed by Pinoy Idol, topped off an entertainment “news” program on Filipinos who have achieved some success in various talent contests, from American Idol to one lass who came in Second Place in a worldwide McDonald’s employee talent content. Not kidding; I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Anyway, about all this [Filipino obsession with schmaltzy American pop songs]…

First, Filipinos would do themselves a big favor if they would give up trying to sing like Black Folk. I know we’re cool and hip and all that, but really, find your own groove. The next big thing is not going to be the last big thing. The reason why Black Folk have been at the forefront of pop music for 100 years is that we innovate.

Second, lots of contestants on these shows are wearing out their voices. Sad but true. If these idol shows wanted to do some good for the world, they could throw in a bit of vocal coaching to keep these kids from hurting themselves.

Third, these shows seem to be as huge in the RP as they are in the US. Apparently PI brings in a 50% rating and a 70% share or something like that. Or at least, that what I was told.

Fourth: melismas [ed. note: in music, the technique of changing the note/pitch of a single syllable of text while it is being sung -- think of "ba-an-ner ye-et wa-ave" in the national anthem] have their place. Alas, not many folks can keep them in tune. I think my ears are still ringing from all those out-of-tune passing tones I heard that night.

And it’s not just in the shows. In Christine’s building there are no fewer than three practicing videoke junkies who sing with varying degrees of intonation problems. Again, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

Then again, I had my own bout of Philippine music making at Christine’s parents’ house in Iloilo. On the last night I was there, Christine started hammering on the piano in an attempt to get me to serenade the family. I wasn’t much interested since I was feeling less than solid vocally, but being the wuss that I am, I caved. So here I am, a Black Man, singing “Windmills Of Your Mind” and “Sunrise, Sunset” in Iloilo. And Christine’s dad is singing along. Apparently Fiddler On The Roof is a favorite. Oy vey! More strangeness in warming our hearts by the embers of the dying fires of a former empire that just lingers on and on.

When I read emails like this from Titus, when I meet him and Steve for our once-in-a-while hangs where we shoot the shit and catch up with one another, I'm always, always reminded of the line from Talking Heads's "Once in a Lifetime:"
And you may ask yourself
Well -- how did I get here?

How, indeed. Many thanks, Dr. Levi
.

Propaganda in the USA, Cont.

A reader writes:
Rupert and his peers and associates have been in bed with the McNasties for way too long, and free to shovel propa-dogma down America's throat on behalf of the FEDCORP machine until John Q. can no longer tell a lemming's asshole from a moonrise. The thing about it is, it works so well because of the absence of education in this country since the Reagan atrocity (although one can tenably argue that RR could never have been elected in the first place, had the average American voter at that time been in possession of even a passable education); for the gov-orporate spin machine, it's like picking on a mentally challenged kid in the schoolyard. It makes me sick.
And We The People can't do THING ONE about this, without trouncing freedom of speech. We're either America, or we ain't. The only fix, as I see it, is to restore education, in hopes that it will expose enough Americans to good, honorable thinking...in time. Like Billy Crystal said in 'Analyze This': "It's a process."
That's goddamn right.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Propaganda in the USA

Glenn Greenwald is fast becoming my new fave news analyst. His exhaustive piece today, entitled "CNN, the Pentagon's 'military analyst program' and Gitmo" details how the Pentagon enrolled retired military officials, who were working as "independent analysts" for the major television and cable news networks, into a systematic propaganda campaign aimed at refuting damning reports from Amnesty International's 2005 report on the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The piece singles out CNN's analyst, retired General Don Shepperd, as indicative of how blatant this campaign was to hide the truth from the American public. Key quote:
Shepperd managed to reach all of these findings [about Gitmo] -- and to label Amnesty's findings "totally false" -- by virtue of a single, three-hour guided tour. Shepperd is the President of The Shepperd Group, which "provides expert guidance and consulting services to defense contractors." CNN's viewers were never told about that. (emphasis Greenwald's)
The Pentagon was forced to release nearly 8,000 pages of documents related to this program to the NY Times and has posted them on its website.

The networks have been completely silent about it. What a sickening realization: that our media may have been knowingly complicit in deceiving the public about what the military was really doing down in Gitmo. It isn't as though many suspected real torture was going on at Gitmo. It's that now proof is all but assured. These papers prove that steps were taken to confuse the public and discredit Amnesty International.

We may as well start calling the mainstream media Pravda. Next step: state-run media.