The Talking Dog

September 29, 2010, More milestones

As there seems nothing much else to talk about... Mrs. TD and I celebrate our 19th anniversary. Woo hoo!

September 28, 2010, Reach out and clutch someone

Malcolm Gladwell writing in The New Yorker (I confess that I have read Blink and Outliers, and very much enjoy his "not-so-fast" takes on the conventional wisdom)... does it again, in "Small Change: Why the revolution will not be tweeted." The "compare and contrast" is the civil rights movement of the pre-internet, pre-cel-phone, pre-fax-machine, pre-all-electronic-social-media era United States, with today's "twitter revolutions," be they in places like Moldova or Iran or wherever. His point is not something our "moron media by and for morons" will tell us, to wit (not shortened to "twit," an all too apt description for all too many "twitter" users), those demonstrations were... wait for it... not the product of social media (let alone social media operating in the United States). Those demonstrations were... wait for it... a result of people being committed to the actual causes underlying the demonstrations... social media were merely an adjunct... and a tiny, insignificant adjunct... at that.

While Americans like to believe we had some role in Iran, for example, by flooding Twitter with new accounts purportedly operating in Iran which the thought police there would have to waste time trying to track... Gladwell makes the obvious point... few people in the United States, if any, were "tweeting" in Farsi... which would seem to be an obvious precursor to getting large numbers of people to do much of anything in Iran (just as a wave of Farsi "tweets" here would be... well, "farsical" or something...but not effective at getting anyone out the door into a situation where they might be arrested, beaten or killed). Get over it America: we just don't own everything. No matter how much we want or need to feel good about ourselves.

Gladwell ends his lengthy piece with a discussion of what social media are generally good for (besides keeping up with those fifth grade friends that we largely dropped in fifth grade because... well, we didn't like them all that much or have all that much in common... but on Facebook, no one knows you're a dog, it's so much fun to keep up with old friends). Social media are an extraordinarily great way to have low-risk, low-effort commitments, and hence, easy to have lots and lots of low risk, low effort connections. That is to say, a great way of getting five or ten or fifty of your semi-distant acquaintances (the ones in Greensboro, anyway) to come to your birthday party at the Woolworth's lunch counter in downtown Greensboro (which, I'm guessing is now a Footlocker, or otherwise, something other than a Woolworth's)... but a terrible way to get them to do anything "risky" like... staging a sit-in at a Wolworth's lunch counter that will possibly get you and they arrested, threatened, or worse. The example Gladwell cites of "the potential" of social media involves a yuppie (remember that word?) using social media to humiliate an uppity (remember that word?) teenager who finds, and then stubbornly refuses to return, a misplaced toy cool new celphone to its rightful White owner, "forcing" the police to investigate and then arrest the wayward deviant (and uppity) teenager.

Gladwell observes the complete triviality of this... and the only thing I'll say for his genuinely trenchant piece about the triviality of our times (which, simultaneously, are serious enough to be ushering in environmental, political, economic and cultural apocalypses, all while the moron masses are playing on their cool cel-phones looking for the next cool "app" and hence unable to notice most of it... other than, of course, to form utterly ineffective "social networks" to get 726 "friends" to contribute 22 cents each to Greenpeace or something)... is that Gladwell didn't go all the way and make the point I just did. To wit, just over a decade ago at the close of the last millenium (just before the dot-com bubble burst), a friend in Europe suggested that the communications breakthroughs best exemplified by the effect of the fax machine in organizing the Tiannamen Square protests... would usher in the end of totalitarianism-- because, such protests could spontaneously pop up anywhere and be organized at the speed of a fax speed-dial... he suggested that the Third Reich could not have operated in such a world of rapid communications. My response, not based on much besides a desire to respond quickly and wittily, was that I thought such communications would mostly just help Nazis... be better at being Nazis.

And so here we are: Gladwell's point is that the toys of our time resulting in a purported "twitter revolution" are, like "a war against terror," simply illustrative of the tools of... something... and cannot themselves be the subject of anything as requiring of commitment and risk as a genuine revolution of any kind, though, of course, they are great for such trivialities (my suggestion, not his) as geographically disperse social networks (close-proximity people can still be approached door to door, if need be... that, and a few minutes lead time) and of course, the lower personal investment are the real changes from "traditional" means of organizing.

And I, being me, will add that the toys themselves are a wonderful diversion (foist upon us by our betters precisely for this purpose) from otherwise largely pointless and unsatisfying existences (which are largely pointless and unsatisfying precisely because of the absence of "high risk," "high investment" relationships, causes, projects, etc., to wit, genuine experiences of value, be they spending more time at the office in pursuit of Mamon stopping to hug your child, smell a flower, or form a human chain around a defense contractor or military recruiting station -- which will do little if any good unless brilliantly organized with lots of really committed people willing to play ball for a really long time... or as we say here in Brooklyn... "good luck.").

The I-phone, by comparison to walking in the woods, petting a kitten, gardening, making love, teaching a young child about the wonders of a clear blue sky... is one hell of a cool toy.... it's AWESOME MAN! As is Facebook. And blogs, which quite frankly, are largely solipsistic exercises, mostly for the benefit of the bloggers themselves and a few selected friends... to this day, only a tiny fraction are read beyond the immediate social and family circles of the bloggers themselves... which doesn't detract from them at all... but given the long-standing nature of letter writing, pamphleteering or even "the family Christmas letter"... nothing going on in electronic "social" media is all that "revolutionary"... other than in how quickly it allows so many of us to be "dumbed down" even further...if that were even possible... will miracles never cease?

This has been... "Reach out and clutch someone."

September 21, 2010, Milestones of various kinds

The ever indefatigable Andy Worthington wants us to know that Omar Khadr, the almost-certainly-innocent juvenile prisoner who American personnel have been abusing (and most likely torturing) for the last 8 plus years, and whose own government of Canada has been joining in the abuse, who stands accused as a "war criminal" of conduct (hurling a grenade in combat that killed a soldier) that is not actually a war crime, and who was likely unconscious at the time of the incident, and who was only 15 at the time of the incident and, despite the fact that "the evidence" against him consists of his own statements while-being-tortured, is nonetheless the Obama Administration's literal poster-child for military commissions... turned 24 years old.

At five months or so, the BP Horizon Deepwater well "is dead"... since most of the oil didn't wash up on shore where people and t.v. cameras could see it, the fact that miillions and millions of gallons of crude oil are under water harming marine life for years and years... well, see above re: t.v. cameras... "problem solved!" That's how the world works now: if a tree falls in the forest and network and cable aren't there to see and hear it... it didn't happen.

And hence... we must have missed it, since economists (talk about the dismal science) declared that "the recession ended over a year ago." Huh.

And since we've just passed the 9th anniversary of "9-11," I should also let you know that a few days ago, probably 18 September, we also passed the 9th anniversary of this blog, so gather those rosebuds.

And as such, as we approach nine years since the start of the never-ending-and-now-escalating-war-in-Afghanistan, this seems an excellent time to reflect on the nearly nine score or so poor bastards still being warehoused at Guantanamo... and once again, we thank Andy for the first and second installments of his .eight part series discussing just who the remaining prisoners at Guantanamo are. Andy has been tirelessly at this subject for years. [Those of you in a position to do so might want to consider pitching in a few quid to support his one of a kind efforts.]

This has been... "Milestones of various kinds."

September 20, 2010, Reality bites, part ___

Kudos to Scarecrow of FDL for this scathing screed (or is it a jeremiad?) tearing the President a new one concerning the White House's sudden realization that the Democratic Party is going to get creamed at the polls in a few weeks, as revealed in a Grey Lady piece, the White House let it be known that it is considering ads to tell the nation that the Republcans are craaaaaazeeee "tea party extremists" have "taken over the Republican Party." [Hey... Briston Palin and the Situation are on Dancing with the Stars? WTF? Where was I...]

Oh... to quote Scarecrow's screed (or is it a jeremiad?):

The Republican brand was virtually dead by 2008. To accomplish such a turnaround, after being handed a huge mandate to change the country’s fundamental direction, this Administration has approached every one of the nation’s staggering problems as though all that was needed was a modest redirection in focus, an adjustment in priorities, a few more billions here instead of there, better regulation by the same regulators who were asleep and disinclined to act the last time, but nothing that would fundamentally change the structure of how the country’s most powerful and damaging institutions operate. Faced with the need for boldness and courage, they worshipped timidity and preached first patience and then acceptance and docility among worried citizens.

The President repeatedly told us that many of the solutions were "Republican ideas" and that responsible Republicans were acting in good faith. How many times do you recall this White House saying, "what this problem needs is a strongly progressive solution"? Or the dismantling of powerful interests? Any yet if you look at the measures the White House and apologists now point to as "achievements," they were more often deeply popular holdover progressive ideas that Congress passed in the momentum following the elections. They did not pass as a result of the White House overcoming massive opposition.

While taking credit for what he did not achieve with much effort, the President and his men have repeatedly denigrated and belittled progressives and ignored their ideas. The measure of this is how unusual it is to have Liz Warren gain a position in the Administration over the objections of Obama’s closest advisers.

Now the White House strategy is to blame progressives and voters themselves for their lack of enthusiasm for a regime that has left 15 million unemployed, permitted record levels of poverty and decimated state public programs, threatens social security and teeters on the edge of a second recession with no credible plans for near-term relief. Fittingly, his new chief economic adviser doubles as a stand up comic.

And they still don’t get it. The Times article tells us this White House is having trouble focusing on a plausible political strategy for the midterm elections only weeks away, because they’re preoccupied with Rahm Emanuel’s expected run for mayor of Chicago. Are they serious?

The Chief Of Staff is the Obama White House’s senior political adviser, but the Times hints he and his aides are worrying about what’s best for him and not his country, Party or President? There’s a solution for that one.

Well, that's just it, isn't it? It's about personal careerism-- Barack's, Rahm's, Geithner's... whomever's. It's never about good (or even smart) policy... it's political calculations to be sure, but entirely in the personal corporate interest to maximize that eventual book/speaking/hedge fund package. I just can't get myself to worry too much about the mid-terms: while there are a few Dems (Nancy Pelosi comes to mind) who give a darn, by and large, one set of corporate ho's is as good as another.

And as I keep telling you: the Obama Administration believes it's best chance in 2012 is to lose Congress now. (Meanwhile, the GOP is partying like it's 1994 with their new Contract on for America... what a bunch of maroons! Thing is... they want to lose Congress every bit as much as Obama wants them to win it!) As predicted: it's the "He's a Kenyan-born/socialist/Muslim who hates America and doesn't support our troops" crowd vs. the "they're craaaaaaaaaazy" crowd.

You'd think, given that (as I keep telling you), neither party is going to change the arc our country is presently on (that would be "straight to hell") even a little, you'd think we could at least get some entertainment value about all this. But it looks like the election is going to be as bland and uninspiring as... the President himself, come to think of it.

This has been... "Reality bites, part ___."

September 16, 2010, Party on, White dudes.

I vaguely agree with Greenwald's assessment of the apparent rude treatment that Delaware's GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell and others in her position as "tea party" "insurgents" are receiving from Republican establishment figures (Karl Rove has been awfully unpleasant)... but of course, one should really look beyond "the apparent." Glenn rightly observes that Ms. O'Donnell, or Sharron Angle, or my fair state's GOP gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino, or head Mama Grizzly herself for that matter, really are not, ideologically, anything different than pretty much mainstream conservative Republicans, to wit, Neo-Victorians in their economic and social policies, fascist and imperialist in their view of foreign policy, and somewhere on the spectrum between Mussolini and Hitler in terms of civil liberties and other gratuitous exercises of state power (the last one, at least, seems to be a matter of "bipartisan consensus" these days, and come to think of it... the rest of them aren't necessarily views not held by many if not most establishment Democrats, come to think of it, and as I keep reminding you, on the important stuff... the "two parties" are indistinguishable... hmmm...)

Anyway, Greenwald believes that the (apparent) broadsides (Karl Rove attacked Ms. O'Donnell not for having seemingly aberrant views on evolution or masturbation or Vince Foster or anything, but for having financial problems) are a result of good old bipartisan Washington elitism... in other words, the tea party is their "dirty hippies"... the great Republican unwashed, and the establishment just doesn't like them because, of course... they have no money or "breeding". Maybe this is true of a rich-family-retainer like Rove... but let's give the Republicans their due. Honestly... I've come round to a view, to paraphrase the late Tip O'Neil, that "all politics is faux-cal"... that is to say, follow the money and watch what actually happens... ignore the crap coming out of the politicans' mouths (and especially anything you see or hear on cable). In short, "it's the kabuki, stupid."

Let's suppose that Republicans were actually watching the big picture, and saw Barack Obama send out his press secretary Robert Gibbs to put the House in play. This was most peculiar at the time, given that Democrats had won something like seven House special elections in a row, the Dems had a lot of money in the war chest, Obama's popularity hadn't totally tanked yet, there were lots of House retirements among GOP ranks, etc., etc. Some suggested that the intent was to "fire up the base"... to wit, get good old progressives inspired to write checks, and "not take anything for granted," when, of course, there could be no doubt that the only "base" fired up was the Republicans. And since Gibbs' remarks this summer (which he himself attempted to walk back as did other Democrats)... talk has grown steadily of the inevitability of a GOP win of at least the House, and quite possibly of the Republicans taking control of both houses of Congress. Obama had already done his part to put the Senate in play by (insanely) raiding it for his cabinet-- not just his own seat in Illinois (which may end up in Republican hands), but Biden's in Delaware (which the Republicans just threw back!), Salazar's in Colorado, and potentially even Clinton's in New York (although no one all that viable stepped up to challenge Clinton's replacement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand). And by picking Kathleen Sebelius as his Health/Human Services Secretary, he rendered her unavailable to potentially win a Senate seat there. Ditto Napolitano from Arizona. So... the Obama Administration clearly said "Game On."

What if... the people who run the Republicans (that is to say, the corporate guys who own both parties, but still have a sentimental spot for the party always more likely to lower capital gains taxes) said, "No way, Obama, are we going to let you stick US with Congress going into 2012. Just like in this South Park episode called "The Losing Edge"... You're not going to make US play this bullsh** game for the next two years." You get saddled with Congress, you big jerk... not us."

Obviously, the Republicans, being the party of older money, have more of it, and so, they have lots of "money" things going on at any given moment. One of their many corporate dirty-tricks projects was "the tea party"... a corporate funded "populist movement" whose ethos consists of scared White people who had been savaged by largely Republican economic policies who could nonetheless manage to blame even more powerless people for their plight, and then get all "energetic" about the whole thing-- older, usually less affluent, exurban, overweight White people screaming about that socialist Obama threatening to take away their Medicare (of course, "they paid for it," even if their actual benefits are hundreds of thousands of times more valuable than "their contributions" to the system)... they were just so adorable! Anyway, any "grass roots movements" that gets the peasants to storm the castle to demand MORE privileges for the aristocracy... is pretty much already a work of genius.

But the real genius came about when someone figured out that, particularly in small "mavericky" states (like... Alaska, or Kentucky, Nevada... or Delaware), the "tea-party movement" could be used to take out Republican Large-E Establishment candidates who would otherwise win. Harry Reid was a political goner... until Sharron Angle edged out a pair of viable candidates in the Republican primary in Nevada. Mike Castle was a mortal lock to win the Delaware general election for Senate, until Mama Grizzly endorsed Christine O'Donnell and handed both a Senate seat and Castle's abandoned House seat to the Democrats. To be sure, although Palin-endorsee Joe Miller might well win in Alaska... it's now in play: Lisa Murkowski, the relatively popular incumbent senator had been a sure thing in Alaska. In short, just as the Obama Administration tried to set in motion a self-fulfilling prophesy that Democrats would lose the House... and presumably the Senate with it... the GOP said "NOT SO FAST..."

And it's bigger than even the Senate. For example, "mavericky" candidates like my own state's Carl Paladino will fire up the base all over the country... not the Republican base, which has a healthy overlap with "the tea party" as it is, and doesn't need any more motivation than they already have... but the Democratic base, which might actually buy the "but they're CRAAAAAAZY" line that's pretty much the only thing the sell-out Democrats have any more to pitch to their base. An otherwise uninteresting election now looks like it has the potential to be far more entertaining, even if not "interesting" in terms of likely outcomes... but there's a distinct possibility that in my state, anyway, tea-party darling Paladino will actually let MORE Democrats keep their House seats in New York than if someone less "colorful" (the absolutely drab grey corporate drone Rick Lazio, for example) were the nominee. Lather, rinse, repeat all over the country, with Establishment Republicans being defeated all over the place... sure, the Republicans can afford a sacrifice of someone like Bob Bennett in Utah on the altar of ideological purity... but to take out Mike Castle too, and unlike in Utah, actually lose the seat to a Democrat and stick the Senate back on Obama... man, that's just priceless.

Well... party on, White dudes. Party on.

September 12, 2010, Economic policy change you can believe in

Evidently, census data is going to show that the nation's "poverty rate" (an arbitrary definition to be sure, but unlike unemployment, at least a consistently measured one) will slide to a nearly 50 year high for 2009. While the A.P. piece observes it may be useful political fodder, I tend to agree with the observation made that "middle class unemployment" (somewhat of on oxymoron, but we know what they mean) will prove to be the more potent electoral issue.

Of course, one must step back and note the whole subtext: the untold suffering of untold millions that, while fully felt during the Obama Administration was obviously well on its way from the Bush era (the latter two years of which, btw, Democrats controlled Congress)... has been reduced simply to a quesiton of horse-race politics, rather than looked at as something... troubling... in its own right, let alone something in need of remedy (other than remedy for political horse race purposes, of course).

Anyway, the ultimate pull of American politics, be it the creation of the total national security state, the total prison (for swarthy people) state, the total Victorian wealth distribution (and lately, income distribution too)... has been remarkably "bipartisan." Lest we forget, it was a Democratic President (the current one... who was evidently way to my left back when we were in college, though, to be sure, I'm probably some kind of "Political Case of Benjamin Button") who passed a "health care reform" that consisted not of a Government run social program to ensure that medical health services were delivered to the most needy, but a huge subsidy to private industry, specifically to a "health insurance sector" that shouldn't even legally be allowed to exist! And the same President has, of course, doubled down on Bush era tortures by making them off limits even to inquiry, let alone accountability, upped the ante on American aggression in Afghanistan, oh... here's where I was going... gave us a "stimulus package" loaded-- loaded-- with yet more tax cuts for the uber-rich, as if trickle down f***ing worked... and, as I noted recently, proposed yet another tax cut on research and development as a tepid election year "stimulus" of jobs, when of course, it would prove ultimately to be quite the opposite if implemented, which it probably won't be.

This country has, uniquely, a fetish against any kind of "national industrial policy." The premise, of course, is that even though the Government intervenes in virtually every aspect of our economy, it's o.k. as long as it does so in the parochial interests of the people who care enough to hire lobbyists and bribe Congress members to get laws favorable to themselves... any premise of a "national interest" in such economic policies is met with tut tutting. The result, of course, is that no one is concerned with stupid questions like... if big business gets new government subsidies and tax credits for "research and development"... won't it likely invest them in yet more "labor saving devices" ... or even if labor is required... how can we ensure it will be domestic labor?

Look: nice rhetoric is wonderful. I'm delighted that the President is (apparently, though he'll eventually be undermined by his own party) holding the line on not extending the Bush era tax cuts for those earning over a quarter million dollars annually. And talk of "green energy sources" and "new technology" and so forth is pleasing to the ears... but if the answer is yet more tax cuts to plutocrats... well, see above, re: poverty stats, because "trickle down" works great if what we want are jobs as gardeners and butlers (or jobs at McDonalds and Walmart, where the gardeners and butlers will eat and shop)... but is that really going to develop a decent economy in five, ten or fifteen years time?

Our income and wealth distribution is wildly out of whack, and in case no one is paying attention, this has long undermined our efficiency and long-term viability (there comes a point when workers, and even "small business," realize that the game can't be won without cheating, and basically do "just enough" to survive and leave it at that). And our economy ain't creating jobs. The brilliant gambit of the Bush II Administration, of course, was to encourage "the ownership society"-- if virtually everyone has a house, and that house continues to irrationally increase in value-- then no one dare point out that the entire economy is a Ponzi scheme. But... the financial collapse and the Great Recession have scraped that particular gloss off... and yet... a Democratic President proposes... the same old Republican premise of the world, because, of course, our political class is of one mind, even if professional pundits (and these days, bloggers) devote incredible time, money and effort to trying to tell us that minor superficial differences between "the two parties" somehow matter.

Well, I've said it before: until our overfed, overmedicated, overweight and overwrought population takes to the streets... whether it be to protest the Neo-Victorian policies of the Republicans, or the virtually-identical-in-practice-if-not-in-rhetoric Neo-Victorian policies of the Democrats... 'twill be ever thus, and ever more of same. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This has been... "economic policy change you can believe in."

September 11, 2010, The most wonderful time of the year

Happy 9-11 from the Cheneys

September 10, 2010, Dread and circuses

Notwithstanding my unequivocal support of "The Mosque," (I see Colin Powell agrees too) I've restrained myself from commenting on the sudden media notoriety of one "Rev." Terry Jones of Florida, who has been promising to burn Holy Korans on the most Holy Day of the American Calendar (TM), you know... (hushed silence)... 9-11... largely because Jones is the type of small man who deserves no attention, a point brilliantly made here by Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel, and duly ignored by the rest of our media.

Of course, one obvious corollary point is that the broader media covers pathetic nobodies like Jones because it has "an agenda"... serving its corporate owners and advertisers by keeping us dumbed down, of course, with "reality television" and its ilk... lest we have to think about things like "reality"... such as a moribund economy which, despite its inability to generate jobs for 10% (or, as I've previously noted, 16% or 22% of the workforce, depending on how you count people who would work but have gotten disgusted and stopped looking), remains an economy that nonetheless continues to generate obscene wealth for the privileged few, particularly those on Wall Street who even cop an attitude about how they "really earned" it. Or questions like why, nine years later, after not one but two disastrous misguided and ongoing wars (indeed... why does not the media ask how "combat operations" can even be over if 50,000 soldiers and countless mercenaries remain in Iraq), there continues to be such a focus on 9-11 fetishism and "the Mosque"... to wit, isn't it very convenient that the rubes are being played to turn on each other, rather than... heavens... towards the ruling and privileged classes who are making their lives ever more undignified and uncomfortable... hmmm....

But back to Mike Thomas's point... Jones is a pathetic little hatemonger lucky to garner 50 worshippers... and yet, now the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Pope, not to mention all networks and news services, are paying rapt attention to his every move... But... what if no one cared? As Thomas observes...

I ask you: If a sad little man burns some Qurans in the woods, and the media aren't there to film it, is it news?

You see folks, among the many absurd coincidences of my life, which include having gone to college (Columbia '83) with a few other n'er do wells like first-man-filibustered-for-a-federal-judgeship Miguel Estrada, executive-editor-o'-Wa-Po Marcus Brauchli and some guy named Barack Obama, and finding myself across the street from a certain pair of office buildings on a certain morning in September around 9 years ago (and btw, for roughly half my career, I have worked at locations closer to the WTC site than "the Mosque")... it so happens that exactly a year ago, the Rev. Fred Phelps (another small, insignificant, pathetic awful little man, who happens to be rumored to be planning to pick up where Jones left off if Jones calls off his Koran burning)... took his own little pathetic hate show TO THE FRONT OF MY HOUSE at this time last year (across the street from the synagogue targeted for harassment), evidently so that the despicable Phelps family could extend its usual "God hates fags" message (btw... a federal judge struck down "don't ask don't tell"... take THAT Fred) toward pissing off Jews during the High Holidays, and where better to find Jews than right here in Brooklyn?

And my only thought at the time was... why was this such a media circus? After all, had no one bothered to show up at all, even in "counter-protest", Phelps' little hate movement (and it was barely half a dozen people, including children!) would have immediately run out of oxygen... sure, they were annoying as hell... but seriously... what are they actually doing to earn attention, let alone coverage? Seriously... why do we give a crap about Phelps, or Jones... or for that matter, about Snookie (or however it's spelled), the Gosselins, "Octo-Mom" or any of the other sideshow rejects that now garner actual media attention? One must note, at some point, that these pathetic, hateful, LITTLE NOTHINGS get the media attention... in lieu of actual coverage of actual events...

We might ask why, for the last several years, one of the world's most active journalists covering some minor story called "Guantanamo" has been some hobbyist singleton pseudonymous lawyer blogger in Brooklyn whose daily readership has hovered in the range of between a few hundred and a few dozen, because with exceptions countable on one , maybe two hands, the "media professionals" couldn't give a crap about that story, by and large. Or... we might ask about other questions and issues the media might cover... such as what do we do now that we have a Government that can legally kidnap, incarcerate, torture or murder any of us, and not only get away with it, but keep it a complete and total state secret, as long as it has the good sense to utter the words "national security" somewhere in there... or that we have the aforementioned unemployment rate... or that no one can even divine where an economy that can't generate jobs now is going to generate them in 10 or 15 years... or that there is a rather serious question about how we will deal with climate change (of course, the media would rather pretend there is "still a controversy" about it, even as ice caps melt and droughts and heatwaves and increased intensity of storms occur right in front of us), or of course, that there is a question what we will do (such as how we will fertilize and transport our food) in the face of continued depletion of oil (the oil that isn't released into the path of marine life as a result of corporate negligence, that is!)... or that we are continuing to maintain and deploy the world's largest military apparatus, despite the fact that we haven't had a real enemy for going on twenty years, and the cost of maintaining that excess homicide capability represents our entire federal deficit... no...

Best we concern ourselves with Dancing with the Stars and Lindsay's drinking and the zany antics of hayseed hatemongers Phelps and Jones and... you know. Because our corporate masters want us looking in any direction at all-- except of course, in the direction of our corporate masters themselves. And that's the somewhat broader point, I suppose. Good on you, Mike Thomas, for calling your brethren and sistren of the media out on this Jones thing. And bad on you, rest of media.

This has been... "Dread and circuses."

September 8, 2010, Transparency you can believe in

Surprise, surprise. Obama and Holder sold us out on the grand daddy of them all-- the political decision to keep the promise it made at no cost... no fear of filibuster, no need to bribe Bart Stupek or Ben Nelson, no nothin'... just a willingness to honor Obama's own God damned campaign promises. Too much to ask. Too much to ask.

As the great Charlie Savage tells us in this piece in the Grey Lady, a sharply divided panel of the (almost) full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, by a 6-5 vote, issued a decision upholding the Bush Administration's Obama Administration's assertion of a "state secrets" as a get out of jail free card for torturers, in this case, to short circuit a lawsuit brought by the ACLU against Boeing's Jeppesen subsidiary, a/k/a, the torture taxi company, which supplied specially outfitted aircraft used by the CIA in extraordinary rendition international f***ing Wild West kidnappings of people from anywhere on Earth for transport to torture.

Interestingly, what I haven't seen being reported are the implications of a pair of recusals. The first is an evident recusal on the 9th Circuit itself, that of former Justice Dept. Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, now a Judge on... the 9th Circuit. I did not see Bybee's name on the decision, and as he is clearly an active member of the Court, I'm guessing that as an architect of the "torture is legal if we do it" policy (or at least the guy who history will find as the guy who signed off on the memos that John Yoo wrote to David Addington's order)...recused himself. One assumes Bybee's participation would have made the decision 7-5 to reverse, but it is somewhat interesting to me that it hasn't been commented on.

The other, of course, is the fact that the Solicitor General who signed the briefs in this case (or in any event, under whose auspices the briefs were signed off on) was none other than our newest Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who will almost certainly have to recuse herself from even hearing this and other cases like it when they are presented for review to the High Court, and quite frankly, since 4-4 in an affirmance, even if Justice Anthony Kennedy were inclined to side with the law and the Constitution and against torturers, a by no means sure thing, without retired Justice John Paul Stevens, we are looking at an almost certain vote for fascism from Justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia, with only the tender mercies of Antonin Scalia, who at least, has on occasion held against the Imperium, even conceivably in play. In short... not odds any rational person bets on.

So, unsurprisingly, the Bush Obama Administration, and its corporate backers, particularly in the all important military industrial complex, get what they want. Which, of course, is the ability to torture, murder, spy, steal and whatever else they want to do in the name of "national security"... not merely without accountability, but without anyone even having the right to know they're doing it.

And three days short of 9-11+9, I'll just remind you that it's them... you know, those people... who "hate us for our freedom." Hah! The joke's on them! Our freedom clearly isn't at all what it's cracked up to be. Anyway... this has been... "Transparency you can believe in."

September 6, 2010, Hope. Change.

The President uses the occasion of this Labor Day holiday to announce... $100 billion in proposed tax cuts for the rich..., specifically an extension of a business research and development tax credits that were part of the "stimulus" package (which itself consisted of an awful lot of tax cuts for the rich business.)

Also on the table is another $50 billion in infrastructure spending.

Thing is, I kind of like Nancy Pelosi; I hate to see her thrown under the bus. But when the bogus way that unemployment was counted by the Clinton Administration in order to make itself look good even still is stuck close to ten per cent, and the real unemployment rate that Poppy Bush would have been charged with is around sixteen or seventeen per cent, and what would have been called unemployment in FDR's time is around an astonishing 22%... (the differences involve how we count people who might be in the work force but have given up looking)... these rather pathetic and tepid pronouncements (and on Labor Day no less)... seem designed not to change the political momentum right now, which favors the party-out-of-power as it is in a mid-term, but in a mid-term with a bad economy... does so with a vengeance.

Again, not that I think that with Barack Obama in the White House and Harry Reid in the Senate Majority Leader's office that any of this actually matters,.. but I will just say
that Nancy Pelosi, at least, has sincerely tried to pass an agenda that her constituents (and people like me) actually think would be a good idea... and yet, it looks like she will likely be tossed from the Speaker's chair, and it sure seems that the President from her party couldn't be happier about it.

I remember making the joke on this very blog that the Bush Administration's answer to everything from hurricanes to tainted beef recalls was ""invade Iraq and cut taxes for the rich." Yes, yes... "combat operations in Iraq are over" notwithstanding the occasional need for American forces to be involved in the occasional... combat... and yes, the one actual promise that Barack Obama has decided to keep happened to be to accelerate America's drive to oblivion via Afghanistan, the Graveyard of Empires... but... does anything seem even a little different? I mean, the Bush Administration's answer to observations when it's tax cuts did not lead to job growth was... you got it... "well, things would have been worse, but for the TAX CUTS."

Honestly, it was over for me over a year ago with the sell-outs on state secrets when I felt the body-blows from this Administration... not closing Guantanamo was anything but a surprise by that point. Yes, by no means has everything has been a disappointment, to be sure... but neither was that the case from the Bush Administration. I just can't differentiate what I'm seeing from the third term of the Bush Administration (or if you like, the fifth of Clinton, sixth of Poppy or eighth of Reagan)... i.e., corporate interests are served... the interests of the rest of us are... well... not.

Well... take care of that vegetable garden; keep the bike oiled, and the doors and windows in order, kiss your kids, feed your pets, and worry about yours and trouble yourself not with things beyond your control... because, it seems, the people who are responsible for what is beyond your control don't care about you, either. That's just how things are. We'll have to muddle through as best we can.

Happy Labor Day. This has been: Hope. Change.

September 4, 2010, Justice Delayed, etc., etc.

A cautionary tale for everyone, as the great state of Florida (told to us via the Grey Lady) has set up "foreclosure only" courts to deal with that state's large, massive backlog of foreclosed properties. The innovative approach is to hire retired judges on a "temporary" basis to handle foreclosures only, and to do faster than the courts in general, which have to deal with crimes and divorces and injury and contract cases and everything else... can't seem to do.

From the Times piece:

No one disputes that foreclosures dominate Florida’s dockets and that something needs to be done to streamline a complex and emotionally wrenching process. But lawyers representing troubled borrowers contend that many of the retired judges called in from the sidelines to oversee these matters are so focused on cutting the caseload that they are unfairly favoring financial institutions at the expense of homeowners.

Now, that's LOL funny! Courts.... favoring the moneyed and/or the powerful? Oh man.... soda's coming out my nose... YOU THINK? Seriously... does anyone think special courts would be set up for the benefit of the borrowers? Please.

The genius of "divided government" on the Monstesquieu model (you know, three branches, executive and legislative and an "independent" judiciary) is that supposedly the people, when they are aggrieved, even against the other two branches of government itself, can take their specific grievances to the courts who will "independently" adjudicate them.

Thing is... judges are selected by the same political processes as the rest of government... sometimes elected, sometimes appointed, but there is no magical non-political process for it... it's always political, and hence, the moneyed and the powerful have their participation, and... well, judges (and other court personnel) are human beings, and now that ultimately, there are "constraints" and "reality" and "pragmatism" and all that... meaning that the well-off and/or powerful (usually represented by men, and yes, it's usually men, and usually White men, and invariably in nice suits, who work in really nicely appointed law firms)... have an "advantage" going in... by no means absolute, of course... except maybe in places like Florida... and well... you know.

One must admire the creation of an entire branch of government devoted to telling us that outcomes desired by the rich and/or powerful are "just" and "required by the law" and so forth. And they do it in this cool religious way, what with black robes and buildings that look like Greek or Roman temples and all.

Anyway, I have limited sympathy for just about everyone involved in the Florida foreclosure mess (and the "defenses" raised in the Times piece do not impress me... and I spent a number of years of my career working in this area). I acknowledge that it is virtually certain that while borrowers were abusive, questionable practices were far more likely to be engaged in by the financial institutions involved... but when push comes to shove... just notice who's (whose?) interests get preferred, and whose (who's?) get short shrift.

Just saying...