Friday, July 30, 2010

Get Breitbart Some Help!

It's doubtful that any close friends or family read the Kalamazoo Post, but I am imploring someone to get Breitbart to a crisis center.

Paranoid delusions are often a sign of deep psychological stress, perhaps a thought disorder and an impending crisis. This man is not well and in the adversarial drama of politics sometimes we forget that these are after all humans who deserve our empathy. Breitbart is exhibiting disturbing features that need to be addressed by professionals.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

How Bush actually increased taxes

Unfunded Tax "Cuts": You will note that the I have the word “Cuts” in quotes. Why? To quote Milton Friedman, “When is a tax cut not a tax cut? When the so-called tax cut is accompanied by a larger rise in government spending than in prices.” In other words, all unfunded tax cuts — including these — are actually future tax increases on the next generation.

You mean there's interest on that borrowed money? Read the whole post for more.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Current Events, Asian style


Prequel to Let Them Eat Cake, 2010

Prescience of George Carlin (h/t John Cole)

Let Them Eat Cake, 2010

Neel Kashkari, former Assistant Sec'y of Treasury, who served under Paulson durng the bailouts, is now lecturing on the evils of entitlements... and making a bundle at PIMCO.

From the Shit You Can Not Make Up File

The fiscal crisis in Europe has awoken Americans to the enormous challenge we face from entitlements. The promises our country has made over the past few decades, combined with changing demographics and rising costs, have put us on a path to national insolvency. Unless we control our deficits we will face stifled economic growth and impaired standards of living, perhaps even as soon as a few years from now. Most economists agree that raising taxes cannot pay for these commitments; entitlements must be cut. Before we can embrace any reform proposals, however, we must understand the influence our culture has on our decision making.

A nation’s culture can have a profound impact on its competitiveness. Our shared beliefs in free markets, fair play and the rule of law inspire entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams and give global investors confidence to bring their money to America. These beliefs have passed from citizen to citizen, from generation to generation. They have strengthened over our history and brought an important competitive edge to the United States.

Our belief in free markets is founded on the idea that each individual acting in his or her self-interest will lead to a superior outcome for the whole. The financial crisis has reminded us that free markets are not perfect—but they do allocate capital better than any other system we know. A “me first” mentality usually makes markets more efficient.

But this “me first” mentality can also lead to shortsighted political decision making. Most Americans agree that we need more energy from clean sources, such as wind power—until someone proposes installing a transmission line near their homes. Most people are against earmarks—unless it is their representative scoring money for their district.

Got it? The genius of the free market is that it only really works when those at the top have a “me first” attitude and give themselves massive bonuses while railing against the inheritance tax and paying nothing in taxes because of our current tax system (capital gains). When you folks look forward to 300 bucks every couple of weeks from the social security you paid into your entire lives that was spent financing tax cuts for the rich and foriegn wars, then you’re just being selfish.

I seriously hope Neel Kashkari chokes to death on caviar.

I remember losing my lunch over this puff piece on Kashkari last year. The reporter follows him around to listen to his whining about how "hard" it was bailing out his buddies on Wall Street-- with our money-- and how he didn't like the bickering in Washington and oh how he's looking forward to chopping wood (what is with Republicans and wood?) and losing 20 lbs. Gag. (Read at your own risk.)

Don't worry for Neel, though, he signed a big f**king deal with PIMCO. Surprise!

When do we sharpen the guillotine?

Sherrod's firing is a symptom of Obama's illness

Try to imagine a member of the Bush administration firing a lower level employee because they had learned of an impending embarrassing media story. It would never happen. As much as I disagreed with nearly every policy promoted by the previous administration, I have to admit that no matter how idiotic and counterproductive the policy, they could carry a message, stick to a script and get their programs enacted-- we have 40,000 needlessly maimed and killed soldiers as evidence, but that's another topic.

Where is the revolution I voted for in 2008? Not only are many of Obama's policies Bush-light, but he has been only able to pass lukewarm health care reform, wimpy financial regulation and anemic economic stimulus, and even in the every day management of personnel, Obama's administration has faltered. Who fires someone without all the facts? If his cabinet members wet their pants over a potential Glenn Beck story, then it's no wonder they couldn't champion a public option in health care, and what chance is there that Afghanistan won't become another Vietnam?

Let's roll some Olbermann, who is growing weary of the Obama diplomacy to the dingbats:

Tom Vilsack didn't first look at the whole videotape, didn't first ask if the event took place when Ms. Sherrod worked for USDA, and not 24 years ago."We could have waited all day, we could have had a media circus," said the Deputy Chief of Staff at the White House. "But we took decisive action and it's a good example of how to respond in this atmosphere."...

..."Can you give us some, specifically, some things that he said that would help us?," Mr. Gibbs was asked at this afternoon's press briefing. "Well again," Mr. Gibbs replied, "I think he, he talked about the fact that, that, that a disservice had been done here and an injustice had happened."...

...He was quoting you Mr. President. Fired up!? "A disservice has been done." Fired up!? "An injustice had happened." Mr. President, it is beyond admirable that in your position, and at this time of fearful division in this country, that you view yourself as President of everyone, not —as your predecessor did — only as President just of those who voted for you.

...But you must, at long last, Sir, come to terms with the fact that while you have spent these first 18 months and one day of your presidency bending over backwards for those others, they have spent this time insisting you are not actually president, or you are a communist, or you are bent on destroying whatever is starring this week in the paranoid fantasies churned out by Fox News and the farcical Breitbart....

...As you stay silent and neutral and everybody's President, they are gradually convincing racists that they are civil rights leaders and you are Police Chief Bull Connor. And then some idiot at Fox news barks, and your people throw an honorable public servant under the nearest bus, just for the sake of 'decisive action' and the correct way to respond in this atmosphere....

...Mr. President, please stop trying to act, every minute, like some noble, neutral figure, chairing a government of equal and dispassionate minds, and contemplative scholars. It is a freaking war out here, and the imagined consensus you seek is years in the future, if ever it is to be re-discovered....

...Sir, get a copy of the Michael Douglas movie "The American President." When you get to the line where he says "I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job" — hit the rewind button. Twenty times. "Fired up?" "FIRED up?" Anybody? Anybody?

Exactly. Falling for a Breitbart scam can be conveniently pinned on Vilsack, but the otherwise miquetoast response is vintage Obama and is symptomatic of a sick presidency. As with every opposing camp, the right wing nutjobs who cautioned that Obama may be too naive to be President spoke some truth. The paradox is that we all want someone untainted by Washington, but then require him to operate within the crucible. The last President had the benefit of a sociopathic Vice-President who was cut from the coarsest fabric of DC, having served in some of most corrupt Administration's in history, and could inoculate the Administration from attack. Mr. Cheney had experience and mentored George in the ways of deceit and disinterest. Mr. Obama's team has not been as effective.

Let's face it, Obama won largely because a senile increasingly senescent sailor who serves in the Senate from a landlocked state picked a beauty queen as his running mate. Sure, many of us romanticized that Obama could change the paradigm, but the hard fact is that Palin lost that election as much as Obama won it. So let's disabuse ourselves of the fact that the paradigm has shifted in any substantive way, as we send more billions down the rat hole of Asian wars and see more people lose their jobs and health care while Wall Street shovels dollars into their coffers, and now concentrate on the work-a-day business of navigating the nation out of the most treacherous waters in recent history.

President Obama would do well to tune out the cacophony from the Breitbarts and the Becks, and assume, as many of us have for years, that they are full of shit; nothing they say has merit and most likely their "facts" are outright lies. The operating thesis is that President Obama is a one termer, so he should attempt to do as much as he can now, and don't plan on cleaning up the loose ends after the 2012 election. If you do get re-elected, great, but until then, live in the now.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Anatomy of a Breitbart Con

"Breitbart is a con artist, but con artists succeed if consumers don’t know they are being conned – or don’t care."

When "journalists" report, we all need to be skeptical-- especially when they report about the Obama Administration-- lest we be taken in by the canards of a con man. The most recent scam is a textbook con job with all the elements designed to stir up divisiveness based on fear and loathing. It's sad, really.

The opinion piece of the Sherrod/Breitbart scandal that I wish I had written: In place of any screed I could scribble, PZ has penned the perfect post.

Meanwhile, there has been real racism at the USDA, that's the irony... but that's another story.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We are all Carlos Zambrano Now*

As a White Sox fan, I should know better than to go to Wrigley Field, but last week a group of folks from Michigan rented a bus and a rooftop, so I went along. Aside from the shitty baseball-- the Cubs blew a 3 run lead in the ninth inning against the Phillies-- I had to endure the nouveau rich middle class political memes during the round trip. And since baseball on the North side is so abysmal, Cub fans generally chatter throughout the entire game, only finding out the final score on the way to the parking lot. It's a defense mechanism honed over the last century.

But as sunny as the day was, the conversation was pungent and fetid, and despite my attempts to concentrate on the debacle on the field, since I was the only non-Republican I was repeatedly engaged by my travelmates in all matter of political dialog. Did I really think Obama was doing a good job? How could I? Isn't it just now free license for all the bums to get welfare for life? How can higher taxes be anything but disastrous? How come I'm not afraid of terrorists? Medicaid patients are bankrupting us!... and on and on.

My favorite theme is always -- and it ALWAYS comes up-- when a Bush voter counters an argument with "Yeah but, there are a lot of things I don't agree with Bush about." Yeah but. The War in Iraq, which was based on lies, innuendo, propaganda and other purposeful deceptions? Yeah, nobody agrees with that. Increased entitlements, such as the Medicare Part D trillion dollar give-away to the drug companies? Yeah, I didn't think that was a good idea. The TARP bank and auto company bailouts? Yeah, that was unfortunate.

Well those are pretty big fucking things for a fiscal conservative to swallow in order to vote for Bush. How many puny welfare checks could be written for the cost of bailing out one bank? Eight weeks in Iraq could pay for the Medicaid for the entire nation for a year. Yeah but, indeed. Obama could literally heat the White House by burning dollar bills for the next four years and still not come close to the waste of George W. Bush.

Another rule when discussing politics on the North side: whenever you you mention the complete shitstorm that has occurred over the last 3 years, you are not ever allowed to utter the word "inherited", no, this is all "Obama's responsibility now", like why did it take that lazy incompetent bastard George Marshall so damn long to re-build Europe in 1949?!

The cognitive dissonance permeates every sentence as if the collective unconscious has been short-circuited in its futile attempt at justification of the failed Bush policies. Truly, the inference is that Republicans are gleeful that the system is fractured with shards blasted into smithereens, and every negative item--from the record jobless numbers to the horrific deficits-- can be laid undoubtedly at Obama's feet. And when this "sucker goes down" finally, they will already be screaming "I told you so."

I suppose Cub fans' irritability can be correlated to the abject failure that clings to their team like chancres on a syphilitic. To be a Cub fan after all is to be perpetually distraught, blaming managers, players and even other fans for the negative outcome that is pre-determined annually by the gods of Spring Training. Likewise, to be a Republican seems to be perpetually in fear of negative outcomes, blaming others for the national misfortune when it was you who made the biggest mistake in electoral history by electing George W. Bush president-- twice.

And certainly not every Cub fan is a Bush Republican, but the ones who attended the game with me certainly were. By the 9th inning, with the game on the line and the Cubs closer walking the bases loaded, I was taken aback by the aloofness of the fans, the complete lack of concern on even the most mundane level. This same aloofness informs their politics, as they are less than spectators to the national dramas, prattling on about their capital gains and the unfairness of the progressive income tax and playing victim to the obvious criminals who have wrested control of the government away from them.

The trip home was less eventful. Safely on-board the bus, we slept off the few beers and I tuned my radio to get the score of the White Sox road game-- yup, still in first place. Checked the news headlines-- Obama still president. I closed my eyes, lost in my respiratory rhythm, feeling heartened that while this country may be down a few runs, and forty-nine percent of our electorate are imbeciles, at least we've got a fighting chance.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mark Twain

Was he "... the avuncular man who told stories"? or an acerbic opinionator with a penchant for self-destruction?

100 years after his death, released only now at his request, we have his complete unabridged "Autobiography" in which he refers to American soldiers in the Spanish-American War as “uniformed assassins..."

He is similarly unsparing about the plutocrats and Wall Street luminaries of his day, who he argued had destroyed the innate generosity of Americans and replaced it with greed and selfishness. “The world believes that the elder Rockefeller is worth a billion dollars,” Twain observes. “He pays taxes on two million and a half.”

On critics, Twain says: “I believe that the trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and that it has no real value,” Twain writes. “However, let it go,” he adds. “It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.”

The material in Volume 1 that was omitted from previous editions amounts to “maybe as little as 5 percent of the dictations,” said Harriet E. Smith, chief editor of the autobiography. “But there will be a much higher percentage in Volumes 2 and 3,” each expected to be about 600 pages.

Editor, Robert Hirst says: “I’ve read this manuscript a million times, and it still makes me laugh. This is a guy who made literature out of talk, and the autobiography is the culmination, the pinnacle of that impulse.”

This will be on my list to read in the coming months.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

The "Pink Elephants"

The burning stupid that is Sarah Palin apparently "resonates" with the 10% of the population that is dumber than a box of saltines.

As GottLaff points out, "Seeing Pink Elephants" is a euphemism for drunken hallucination, caused by alcoholic hallucinosis or delirium tremens. You can't make this stuff up.

I realize that Sarah Palin will never hold elective office again, but I'm fascinated that more than 5 people can even listen to her grating accented voice ["Mawms kinda just know when somethin's wrong"] for more than a 110-second commercial, let alone are willing to shell out $20 to buy her book, and VOTE FOR HER FOR VICE-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES. A family friend was reading Palin's book over the July 4th weekend and I noted in passing that one chapter is titled "Drill, Baby, Drill"; the irony is lost as we enter day 79 of the "worst disaster on record" due to such pudding-brained ideas as drilling for oil in mile-deep water.

I hope that Sarah Palin remains active in the public forum in order to serve as a reminder and a cautionary tale. After all, almost 50 million people thought she'd be fine as president some day, and just as alarming, 100 million did not bother to vote against her. Rarely does someone with her potential for national destruction come along (George W. Bush was close), and it's dismaying that so many individuals cannot see it.

The Democratic party has similar dunderheads, but they never make it past precinct captain or, at most, US Representative. The fact that the GOP can put people like Dan Quayle, Sarah Palin and George W. Bush onto national tickets and into the Executive Branch of the United States is breathtaking. Every single major problem we have today, every negative headline, is a direct result of an executive decision made from 2001 to 2009. Sure, some of those missteps would have occurred regardless of who was president, but the pattern and breadth of economic, ecologic, military and constitutional disasters can only be explained by a recurring chain of bad decisions within government.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Spending versus Saving?

Fareed Zakaria's GPS has Paul Krugman and Nial Ferguson present the two sides of the generational economic debate.


King Leonidas vs Chuck Morris | Versus

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Solar, by Ian McEwan

Overall Grade: A-
Plot: A
Aesthetics: A-
Readability: A-

Another instant masterpiece by Ian McEwan as he dissects the science and skepticism of climate change with use of his trademark allegory. Having read several reviews of this novel, my guess is that McEwan may be the most misunderstood of today's great writers.

The protagonist, Professor Michael Beard, is a corpulent middle-aged Nobel laureate resting on his academic accolades and running roughshod over relationships, colleagues, his career and his own health. A wastrel, Beard steals ideas from his post-doc student, eats himself into a coma on a daily basis, eschews his physician's advice, ignores his lover's affection and the baby girl who represents pure goodness, and fucks anyone and everyone who will have him. Wasting his talents, conceding that his most productive years are behind him and his future heading quickly to devastation, he's the perfect allegory for modern Western civilization.

The plot intricately weaves through Beard's life over a ten-year span that begins two decades after he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for an extension of Einstein's unified field theory. Beard by this time has not accomplished anything further in his scientific field and is on his way to dissolving his fifth marriage. Throughout the novel, Beard continues to gain weight from his profligate ways and, as the story develops, he collects avoidable legal battles, treatable skin cancer, dangerous enemies and alarming physical symptoms, all which he systematically ignores to his impending doom and, by extension, the possible doom of the entire planet.

Professor Beard is working on an artificial photosynthetic process that will mimic plants' ability to convert water into compressed hydrogen using only the sun's energy and producing innocuous water as the only by-product. The promise is that such a process will release civilization from the shackles of fossil fuel usage which carries all the negative externalities of global warming, peak oil and global security concerns. Beard, analogous to modern society, is so close to the solution, yet he is blinded by his limbic urges, and is tripped up his self-destructive tendencies toward sex, gluttony and greed, all things that we have in overabundance already.

We root for Beard to turn his ship of doom around, which seemingly can be done at any time. McEwan is the master of character development and in this short novel he creates a despicable protagonist who can still garner empathy; we want him to succeed, if for no other reason that the sustainability of our lifestyle is dependent on his genius. We want him to come clean about the intellectual rights to the idea that will save the world, go on a diet, get the small skin cancer excised, hug his little daughter and tell her he loves her, in short, we want him to cherish the blessings in his life and save the world, too. The novel comes to a rousing climax with all the threads coming together on the eve of the huge public demonstration of his photosynthetic process.

The reader sees that our very existence is tied to this weak and flawed ass of a man, and he represents so much of who we are communally. We know that our lifestyle is not sustainable for so many reasons, and we know that the answers are available, yet we ignore the obvious solutions right before our eyes because of the sacrifice, however minute, they will entail. We take for granted the deep joys in our lives in order to metaphorically get a quicky from the cocktail waitress.

I feel compelled to write since many other reviews seem to have missed the glaring correlation of the Beard character to our current global predicament. The misinterpretation of McEwan's elegant plot by the literary elite is perhaps the loudest statement regarding our lack of insight into the dangers we face.