Thursday, December 25, 2008

Retracting the Pardon

Merry christmas to my (admittedly sparse) readership.
The pardon system is fairly ridiculous, and has been abused on countless occasions, and is a fairly straight-forward affront to the rule of law. Richard Nixon pardoned scummy union leader Jimmy Hoffa. In 1974, Nixon himself was pardoned for his criminalization of the executive branch. Mark Felt, as we now know key to Nixon's downfall, was pardoned by Ronald Reagan for numerous abuses in pursuit of the Weather Underground (I have trouble seeing Felt's rule as noble. He exposed Nixon, but only because he was disgruntled for careerist reasons, Nixon had passed him over for head of the FBI.) Bill Clinton pardoned Marc Rich for 51 counts tax fraud and running illegal oil deals with Iran. As unedifying as these pardons are, the worst are those which allow the executive to cover-up its crimes: Bush I pardoning 6 Iran-Contra felons (Bush must have been knee deep in Iran-Contra) , Bush II pardoning "Scooter" Libby for obstruction of justice. Libby's actions saved Rove, and perhaps Cheney, from indictment.
Still, one thing we've never seen is a president retract a pardon. At least, not until now. The original pardon was pretty clearly outrageous, this person deserves to answer for what he's done. It's hard to say though, whether a president can really call off a pardon like that.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Bush Done Good

... well, Bush done ok, on this issue. He's extending a loan to the car-companies, as I suspect you were already aware. Bush was for the car loans all along, but he had two differences with the Democratic congress, first insisting on not tying it to increased fuel efficiency standards, and second wanting it to come from money ear-marked for enhancing fuel efficiency. Sense a pattern? Our president really doesn't like fuel efficiency.
When congressional Republicans killed the deal, Bush had little choice but to take the money from TARP, not from the fuel efficiency money. If GM went under, by the way, the government would be shelling out a lot more TARP money, so it makes sense fiscally to bail out the company. From Bird Brain.
AIG issued credit default swaps on GM. A lot of credit default swaps, apparently; according to, estimates are that AIG's exposure is about 10 times the outstanding debt. If GM declares bankruptcy, AIG is on the hook for that money, and guess who currently owns AIG? That's right, the government. In a nutshell, if we let GM go bankrupt, we taxpayers are likely to end up paying out eight to ten times as much as if we bail them

The congressional Republican's who opposed didn't get much of what they want. This seems only fair to me. Opposing the deal was prompted mixture of southern regionalism and ugly classicism-based union-busting. The congressional Republicans have shown themselves unwilling to play any constructive role.They deserve nothing.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bill Kristol Gets it Right

I'm having trouble believing it, but I actually agree with Bill Kristol. From his Times op-ed.
Now there are other ways to explain the disparate treatment of G.M. and Citigroup. Finance is different from manufacturing, and banks from auto companies. It may be that the case for a huge bank bailout was strong, and that the case for a more modest auto package is not. Still, it seems to me true that the financial big shots haven’t been treated nearly as roughly in Congress or in the media as the auto executives, who have done nothing remotely as irresponsible as their Wall Street counterparts.
Last week, Senate Republicans picked a fight with the U.A.W. on union pay scales — despite the fact that it’s the legacy benefits for retirees, not pay for current workers, that’s really hurting Detroit, and despite the additional fact that, in any case, labor amounts to only about 10 percent of the cost of a car. But the Republicans were fighting Big Labor! They were standing firm against bailouts! Some of the same conservatives who (correctly, in my view) made the case for $700 billion for Wall Street pitched a fit over $14 billion in loans for the automakers.

OK, I don't agree with the column 100%, but Kristol points out that the Republican party line on this specific issue is totally wrong. I didn't really expect that to happen.

The Shoe Thrower

It appears that the shoe was thrown by a man named Muntathar al Zaidi. He remains in Iraqi custody. People report that the man was beaten senseless by PM al-Maliki's guards.
It appears he was partially influenced by his witnessing of US bombings in Sadr city.
Friends said Zaidi covered the U.S. bombing of Baghdad's Sadr City area earlier this year and had been "emotionally influenced" by the destruction he'd seen.

Zaidi's channel is Baghdadiya Television, which supports the insurgency. It appears it's an Iraqi channel, but is based in Cairo, Egypt, presumably because Iraq itself is too dangerous.
From the Times
Hitting someone with a shoe is a particularly strong rebuke in Iraqi culture. Although the president was uninjured, the incident overshadowed media coverage of the trip in the Arab world. And it has transformed Muntader al-Zaidi into a symbolic figure in the debate about the American military’s presence in Iraq.

Maythem al-Zaidi said his brother had not planned to throw his shoes prior to Sunday. “He was provoked when Mr. Bush said [during the news conference] this is his farewell gift to the Iraqi people,” he said. A colleague of Muntader al-Zaidi’s at al-Baghdadiya satellite channel, however, said the correspondent had been “planning for this from a long time. He told me that his dream is to hit Bush with shoes,” said the man, who would not give his name.

Muntader al-Zaidi appears to have a long-standing dislike of the United States presence in Iraq. He used to finish his reports by saying he was in “the occupied Baghdad.” His brother said that he hates the occupation so strongly that he canceled his wedding, saying: “I will marry when the occupation is over.”
Maythem al-Zaidi said that his brother is politically independent, but several people who know him mentioned that he was a Baathist who turned into a Sadrist after the war.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

So Much for Journalistic Impartiality

It appears our president is better at dodging objects than he is at dodging question, at least that's the impression this event gives me. I'd say this just is one more reminder of how disliked out president is.
One thing that surprised me... I would have expected that Iraqi journalist to have been shot 16 times by secret service as soon as he threw. Is that not how it works? Were they asleep at the wheel? Perhaps they simply don't mind seeing this president get attack?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Killing the Auto-Deal

Yes, apparently it's died again, probably for the last time until Obama and the new congress takes over
John Judis:
Here’s what bothers me. Japanese companies, which for years have benefited from one-way deal by which they could sell cars in the U.S. while U.S. companies were stymied in selling cars and trucks in Japan, set up non-union plants in low-wage, low-education, right-to-work states where they can pay less wages and benefits to their workers. Of course, in Japan, these same companies recognize and work with unions, but not here, where they have a chance to undercut American firms that work with unions. Corker and these other great patriots want to allow these Japanese companies to dictate the wages and benefits that American companies pay their workers. It’s despicable. Imagine, for a moment, American companies being allow to operate in this manner in Japan or South Korea. It would not happen.

The Republicans did refuse to take a responsible stand in this crisis. Apparently, they hate unions so much (and like foreign automakers) that they wouldn't mind seeing a car company bankruptcy so long as they don't cave to the unions. Real good going, guys.

States of Corruption

With corruption very much in the news thanks to comically corrupt and stupid governor Blagojevich, this seemed topical. A report released last year listed the 35 most populous states from most to least corrupt. Louisiana came in number one. This should come as no surprise (William Jefferson, recently voted out, had had $90,000 in cash in his freezer. He's just the latest in a long line.) It's followed by Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama. Illinois comes in at number 6, though clearly not for lack of trying. New Jersey, another state known for corruption, come in at 9. My own state is 20, not so bad (state governments pretty clean, though there certainly is corruption at the local level... remember Kwame Kilpatrick). Alaska is to small to make the list but would doubtless have scored highly. The ranks can be found here.

Speaking of corruption... the Golden Duke "scandal awards" have come out. Expect Blagojevich to sweep the top scandal, Eliot Spitzer may hit best sex and carnality. Local scandal: I'm thinking from our own home state... Kwame Kilpatrick.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Rod Blagojevich: the Best thing Since the Nixon Tapes

Rod Blagojvich, who has been engulfed by a cloud of scandals for some time, declared that anyone could tape him, if they wanted to, but, he warned "it smells like Nixon and Watergate.
I agree it smells like Nixon and Watergate, though compared to Rod Blagojevich, Nixon is a class act.
One always had to wonder with Richard Nixon: why did someone committing such abuse of presidential power tape everything going on in the Whitehouse (with the exception of the the notorious 18 1/2 minute gap). Even stranger though: why on earth would anyone ever try to sell a public office (senate seat vacated by the president-elect, no less) on a tape he had good reason to think was tapped. The taps kinda remind me of the Nixon tapes, full of profanity and incriminating comments. At the Daily Beast they have a test where you identify quotes by Tod Blagojevich and Tony Soprano. I went 10/10, not surprising, I watch the Sopranos all the time. Still, the two sound similar.
For 5 weeks, Illinois was considered an amazing place. Now the Obama magic has dissipated, and we're back to good old fashioned Illinois politics. Of the last 5 governors, 3 have been indicted. Perhaps they'd save on transportation by having the prison next to the governors mansion.

Monday, December 8, 2008

India- Don't Attack Pakistan!

The New York Times has an article detailing the support the ISI has had for the group Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group accused of carrying out the recent attack in Mumbai. This is not news, the these links have long been known. This is merely background. News would be if we discovered that the ISI were involved in this particular attack. This has not happened yet, but it could.
Should this happen, we should expect Indian and Pakistan to go to war. This would be a profound mistake. These elements in the ISI area common enemy to the government of Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and the US. Ali Asif Zardari had been, as I mentioned previously, attempting both to rein in the agency and pursue better relations with India. As corrupt and immoral as this man is, I take these overtures at face value. Now he looks weak and impotent.
As Ahmed Rashid points out, these attacks were intended as a distraction. War between India and Pakistan would be a gift to the islamists currently fighting the Pakistani government, even as Pakistan acts to curb the group responsible.
Juan Cole wrote a post asking indians not to go down the Bush/Cheney route in fighting terror. It's beginning to look like many indians learned exactly the wrong lessons from the US "War on Terror" and many compare the possible attack on Pakistan to the US attack on Afghanistan. At a time like this, I wish we had remembered there are indeed other countries, and hadn't embraced the idea of "preemptive strike".

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More Thoughts on the Automaker Bailout

Chastened auto-executives carpooled to Washington this last week to beg the lawmakers for a bailout.
One of the most notable features is the way congress seems intent on humiliating the auto CEOs. One has to wonder why the auto company CEO and the bank CEOs have been treated so differently. Partly it's clearly clout: the automakers are pretty well connected, but the big banks influence is doubtless far greater. Also, as I pointed out in the previous post, there are plenty of southerners who have regional interests directly opposed to those of the automakers.
The country seems understandable reluctant to land money to a failing business. Recently, Paul Krugman said he believed there is no future for the US car industry. It seems clear, even given the bailout, the automakers will emerge smaller companies that will eventually fade away.
Beyond this, we need a paradigm shift, before cities start going under water. America in 50 years will not be the car-centered nation it is today, market pressures (rising gas price) and environmental problem will see to that.
So, we should have no illusions about the long term viability of these companies. Still, the bailing them out would be money well spent. Allowing one of these companies to go under would likely hurtle us toward depression. From this perspective, shelling out billions to merely postpone the inevitable seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Bailout Politics

One thing I've been wondering about is why the automaker bailout is treated so differently by our elected representatives. I have particularly the Republicans in mind... my impression is that the reason Democrats like Nancy Pelosi talk about this differently (e.g. the automakers need a plan... did she ever ask the banks for a plan?) is she knows she's not going to be able to push this through. Part of the answer is that there was opposition to the original Paulson Plan. Still, opposition from Republicans has been really extremely hard, and the passage of the bank bailout means it can't be all to do with ree-market ideology. Matthew Yglesias makes a point about the rest.He points to Mitch McConnell's comments that we still have a foreign owned auto industry and concludes
[I]t’s pretty aggravating to see these Dixie conservatives who obviously have a parochial stake in letting the Michigan-based firms die off popping up all across the media without the coverage even reflecting that fact. Whenever you see Carl Levin or Debbie Stabenow on television or quoted in the papers, it’s made clear that their views aren’t just stuff they thought up one afternoon — they’re trying to represent the interests of their constituents. But people need to understand that Bob Corker and Richard Shelby and Mitch McConnell all have equal and opposite parochial interests pushed in the other direction — if Detroit folds, then that’s way more market share for Japanese-owned, non-union factories in their home states.

I suspect this makes the difference between the bank bailout and the automakers bailout. It also helps us understand why Richard Shelby said "this is your problem, not our problem", he thinks that the Big Three's problem are his good-fortunes. Foolish. If the Big Three go down, the entire national economy suffers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Who's Behind the Mumbai Attacks, Part III

US intelligence seems to thinks the group responsible may be Lashkar-e-Toiba. From the New York Times:
WASHINGTON — American intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Friday that there was mounting evidence that a Pakistani militant group based in Kashmir, most likely Lashkar-e-Taiba, was responsible for this week’s deadly attacks in Mumbai.

The officials cautioned that they had reached no firm conclusions about who was responsible for the attacks, or how they were planned and carried out. Nevertheless, they said that evidence gathered in the past two days pointed to a role for Lashkar-e-Taiba or possibly another group based in Kashmir, Jaish-e-Muhammad, which also has a track record of attacks against India.

US intelligence has more credibility in these matter than India intelligence. If this is confirmed, it looks like bad news, especially if we begin seeing evidence support from the Pakistani government.
According to one Indian intelligence official, during the siege the militants have been using non-Indian cellphones and receiving calls from outside the country, evidence that in part led Indian officials to speak publicly about the militants’ external ties.

Lashkar-e-Taiba denied any responsibility on Thursday for the terrorist strikes. American intelligence agencies have said that the group has received some training and logistical support in the past from Pakistan’s powerful spy service, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or I.S.I., and that Pakistan’s government has long turned a blind eye to Lashkar-e-Taiba camps in the Kashmir region, a disputed territory over which India and Pakistan have fought two wars.

Officials in Washington said Friday that there was no evidence that the Pakistani government had any role in the attacks.

Washington would deny that, wouldn't they? They don't want to see a nuclear war on the peninsula. What interests me is why the head of the ISI cancelled his trip to India, and instead is sending some flunky in his place. Perhaps he know that a drip-drip of information will point to his organization, and does not wish be embarrassed by the Indians asking questions. Stay tuned.

Now I Know why It's Called "Black Friday"

Is consumerism getting out of hand? A Wal-Mart employing was trampled to death trying to hold back costumers.
In Palm Desert, two are dead after shots fired in a dispute in a Toys "R" US.

Who's Behind the Mumbai Attacks, Part II

The New York Times has an article which suggests, beyond the
Lashkar-e-Taiba possibility, that the attacks may have been carried out by the "Indian Mujehideen" (or Mujahideen, depending how you transliterate).
An Indian security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be identified said the name suggested ties to a group called Indian Mujahedeen, which has been implicated in a string of bombing attacks in India killing about 200 people this year alone.

On Sept. 15, an e-mail message published in Indian newspapers and said to have been sent by representatives of Indian Mujahedeen threatened potential “deadly attacks” in Mumbai. The message warned counterterrorism officials in the city that “you are already on our hit-list and this time very, very seriously.”

Does this rule out Pakistani involvement? Decidedly not. But put put the Indian Mujahideen on the suspects list with Lashkar-e-Toiba.

Who's Behind the Mumbai Attacks?

Much of the world is transfixed by the violence occurring in India's largest city, as commandoes battle Islamic militants in two luxury hotels and a Jewish community center. Terrorism, like communal violence, has become regular in India. Though far from common terrorism in India is reoccurring, not a single event as we in America have experienced it.
A heretofore unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen (named for the Deccan Plateau) has claimed responsibility. I'm guessing this is misinformation, because it seems very unlikely for an unknown terrorist organization to pull off an attack like their first time. So, who is really behind it?
One captured terrorist has confessed to being a member of Lashkar-e-Toiba, probably the most notorious terrorist group on the subcontinent. I would take this with a large grain of salt. The Indian government has a pattern of blaming attacks on this group, but have insufficient evidence to back it up.
Still, the theory that the Lashkar-e-Toiba is behind the attack seems as likely as not... being the most dangerous terrorist group in the region. This raises some question. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has stated that the terrorists were based "outside the country" (read: in Pakistan), and India would not tolerate this from "neighbors". The External Affairs minister has been even more clear in blaming Pakistan.
Do I think that they are right? Yes and no. The current government in Pakistan has made it very clear that it seeks better relations with India. The attack comes on the heals of a Pakistani peace initiative, and has pledged cooperation with India. Considering that nearly all Indian have links to Pakistan's famously out of control intelligence service (the ISI) and the civilian PM has taken steps to bring the ISI under control, it's easy to imagine that a rogue element of the ISI helped with this attack. I haven't yet seen evidence, but I have a suspicion.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Stupid CEO Tricks

What kind of idiot, on the way to ask for a loan, takes a jet. The heads of the Big Three, apparently.
These men, as if we needed any more proof, are morons. After that PR travesty, GM is selling two of its 5 jets, while Ford is looking at selling its five.
Corporate jets which high-flying executives get access to are just one part of our culture of inequality. It may surprise you, but there is no law of the universe that states that CEOs must be paid tens of millions of dollars... only a few decades ago, a CEO made only 40 times what a normal worker makes, rather than several hundred times. It was only when people started arguing that we need exorbitant salaries to attract those most qualified (like these 3 morons) that CEO pay went through the roof.
This seems an especially good illustration of what's wrong with conservatism. Throughout this entire automaker bailout debate demonizing unionized workers for receiving benefits, but somehow don't see anything wrong with this.
This is also a good illustration of why these bailouts need string and rules. I don't want to see an automaker bailout end up in some scumbags CEO's account, like some of the money from our other bailout has.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

In the Senate

I can almost see it: a paper showing Ted Stevens Holding in turn holding a newspaper declaring STEVENS DEFEATS BEGICH a la the infamous Chicago Tribune headline DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN. This is another one the papers got just as wrong. After much tutting over Alaska sending a felon to the the senate, it appears it won't be (well, ok, Don Young).
This bring the number of Democrats in the Senate up to 58, with 2 race yet to be decided (the Franken-Coleman recount in Minnosota and Saxby-Chambliss run-of in Georgia). There are also two independents in the Senate, both of whom caucus with the Democrat. Bernie Saunders is a socialist from Vermont, and then of course Joe Lieberman, who received the slightest of wrist slaps. Obviously, Obama is interested in keeping him onboard.

US Industrial Policy

Steve Coll, writing for his blog on the New Yorker website, makes a good point. Various pundits have claimed the US doesn't have a planned industrial policy. Coll points out that we do, we just call it defense contracting.
Another fallacy of the current debate, often a theme of op-ed essays from the right, but an argument not limited to conservatives, is the notion that the American system is, and should be, fundamentally biased against industrial policy—that is, the use of the commanding heights of the federal government to pick winners and losers in the economy, whether these are whole industries or companies within industries. In fact, we already have a massive industrial policy, funded by the federal budget—it’s referred to as defense contracting.

Why does the United States have one of the most robust aircraft-manufacturing industries in the world? The answer is not that pure free markets have, through the workings of a natural law, granted us such a bounty. Yes, Boeing has been disciplined and strengthened by global-market competition, particularly with Airbus, but large-scale federal spending on defense contracts has crucially strengthened Boeing’s position as a locus of human capital, design experience, and innovation. In 2006, the federal government spent more than sixty billion dollars on aircraft manufacturers. Boeing received $20.8 billion, according to Government Executive magazine. (Lockheed-Martin received $27.3 billion, and Northrup-Grumman $16.7 billion.)

Why does the United States have one of the most sophisticated, innovative electronics industries in the world? Raytheon’s take from the Pentagon in 2006: $10.4 billion; Computer Sciences, $2.7 billion. And so on. General Motors received $806 million dollars that year, mostly from the Army, enough to make it the fortieth largest defense contractor on the list, just ahead, startlingly, of Johns Hopkins University, which received more than seven hundred million dollars, most of it from the U.S. Navy. (Note to self: Why?)

So we have an outsized industrial policy, centered on our national-defense strategy. General Motors receives a lot less than Boeing because our current strategy favors aviation over ground transportation. This strategy has shaped our patterns of employment and innovation—the subsidies do not remain only within the military, but spill across the civilian economy as well. Our industrial policy has also given us less inspirational national capabilities such as world-beating personal-security and mercenary services (Blackwater).

The larger argument Coll is making is that ultimately a bailout for the automakers is beneficial and necessary. James Surowiecki argues the same thing at his New Yorker blog.


It's about time that piracy make it back into the news. Recently, Somalian pirates made a slash by hijacking a Saudi Arabian supertanker.
Kenneth Anderson of Opinio Juris (a blog focused on international law) points out that this is a good chance for president Obama to show our mettle enforcing international law on the high seas.
# One is to act in a way to demonstrate that the operation is a military one within the traditional law of the sea responding to piracy - one fights and detains any who survive in order to prosecute, but the operation is not law enforcement as such. (And the law used to prosecute could usefully be the traditional law of piracy - common enemies of humanity, etc.)
# Second, the US can demonstrate the traditional US commitment to the rule of international law on the high seas and freedom of the seas.
# Third, it can act with allies and friends - India, for example - to create patrols and the reinforcement of multilateral sovereign duties; many countries find their vessels and interests at stake here. It might even manage to re-acquaint the British government with its international law obligations, by making clear through joint declarations of states undertaking patrols that asylum is not an option.
# Fourth, it might even find a way that the US could support the ICC without triggering the usual issues for the US, by sending (or at least opening discussions on sending) captured pirates to trial at the ICC.

One of the odd things I took from the post: Britain is currently ignoring the pirates because they're worried the pirates would claim asylum in Britain. Captured pirates could be beheaded (for murder) or have their hands chopped off (for theft) under Islamic were they sent back to their country of origin, hence they could plausible make claims for asylum.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

HRC at State?

One of the biggest pieces of gossip to come out of the Obama transition is the tidbit that he's considering Hillary for Secretary of State. If the rumors prove true and Obama picks Hillary, he's probably taking a page from one of his favorite books Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, about Lincoln's cabinet.
Lyndon Johnson said "it's best to keep them in the tent pissing out than outside pissing in" (yeah, he was a weird guy). Though the literal interpretation of this doesn't work, it seems pretty solid. Obama doesn't want Hillary outside of his administration, or the press flocking to her to pass judgement on him.
People have said her support of the Iraq war ought to disqualify her... by such a standard none of the top contenders is qualified. It seems possible that Obama and Clinton won't mesh into an effective team, but I see nothing objectionable about the pick if the he thinks it's worth it.

Spy Stuff

I saw Quantum of Solace yesterday. I enjoyed it, though the bar has clearly been set too high by Casino Royale. One of the most interesting things about the movie is how the face of villainy has changed our modern world. In Ian Flemings books, Bond is pitted against the evil of the Soviet Union and it's spy organization SMERSH. In the older movies, SMERSH was swapped out for the fantastical organization SPECTRE, headed famously by the cat-stroking, bald Blofeld. Quantum now fills the rule of SPECTRE, but unlike SPECTRE, the Americans and British have a working relationship with Quantum.
Private organizations are involved in similar actions to Quantum all the time . The Wonga Coup is one such example, though it admittedly failed. Organizations like Executive Outcomes are fairly similar to Quantum, though they're clearly not as far reaching.
Juan Cole has a long post about the evolution of James Bond from left to right, which I recommend. (Warning: spoilers ahead)
In the new film, Dominic Greene is a secret member of Quantum, a mercenary coup-making consulting firm. That is, it is represented as a private contractor to which the CIA is willing to farm out coup-making instead of doing it directly. Greene's cover is that of the head of a conservation organization that buys up land in poor countries to ensure it is preserved from despoilment. In fact, he despoils it. In a complicated and not very plausible plot twist, Greene appears to be buying up land under which he is convinced there is oil, but in fact is trying to corner the market on Bolivia's aquifers so as to overcharge the country for its water after the military coup unseats Morales.

The CIA is convinced to back Quantum both because it wants leftist governments in Latin America overthrown and because Quantum would re-privatize Bolivia's fossil fuels. Greene observes to CIA field officer Greg Beame that the way the Bush administration bogged the US down in the Middle East allowed several Latin American countries to move left (obviously, the referents are Venezuela, Bolivia and Brazil).

Though the parts of the actual plot hatched by Dominic Greene are far-fetched, but not as much as you would think. The films villain, Dominic Green, has hatched a scheme to engineer a water shortage in Bolivia. This plan (reminiscent of Noah Cross's scheme in Chinatown) is clearly inspired by the actual water privatization
in Bolivia
undertaken at the behest of the IMF.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Whither Conservatism?

After the election of president-elect Obama and the drubbing the Republican party has taken nearly all across the country in the last two election, we must now ask the question: what direction will the Republican party take? On the Colbert Report William Buckley Junior commented that he hoped that a Obama victory would cause soul searching all over the Republican party, then added "it probably won't happen".
It probably won't happen. There's been a moderate amount of sniping between conservative intellectuals (George Will, David Brooks) and the populist conservatism, but it hasn't been nearly enough to begin to remake the movement. Jonathan Freedland reminds us of the time the Tories have spent in the wilderness. Freedland tries to make the op-ed a chance for Republican's to learn the lesson of their sister across the Atlantic, but I wouldn't be surprised if the story has some predictive power: it will be a long painful process for the Republicans to modernize their party.
Conservatism's wings are clearly discontented. The base clearly connected with Sarah Palin in a way that no one else did. Sarah Palin clearly inhabits an alternate universe, and the base lives there with her. Everyone else, including most of the rest of the GOP, finds her laughable and scary. However much of a crush the base has on Sarah Palin, they won't be able to get her past the corporate establishment. Palin 2012 is the new Thompson 2008: a dud. Similarly, the harsh economic time offers the Republicans a chance to become the party of Tancredo, blaming Mexican immigrants for the problems our nation is having, but as long as the corporate elite holds on, the party can never fully become the party of nativism.
The Republican could still be a problem though. My guess is that the party will double-down, taking refuge in the comforting belief that their losses came because they deviated from the conservative faith. I suspect they will become the party of neo-Hooverism, opposing increases in spending precisely when such increases are needed to stimulate the economy, and simultaneously attempting to blame Obama for the economy. This isn't as bad as it sounds at first. Ezra Klein:
he question is not whether the Republican leadership is cowed, but whether their ability to impose broad party discipline erodes and moderates decide that they're better off playing a constructive role in the first few years of the Obama administration. Ask yourself this: What leverage does Mitch McConnell -- whose party affiliation almost cost him reelection in Kentucky -- have on Susan Collins, who just rode her bipartisan credentials to a landslide win?

The Democrats weren't effective as opposition to Bush because there were always a few who were willing to play ball. The Republican party, even if the leadership decides to resists, probably doesn't have the party discipline to block Obama's agenda. We'll see.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rahm Emmanuel: Fucking Intense

From an old Rolling Stone article about Rahm Emmanuel:
Friends and enemies agree that the key to Emanuel's success is his legendary intensity. There's the story about the time he sent a rotting fish to a pollster who had angered him. There's the story about how his right middle finger was blown off by a Syrian tank when he was in the Israeli army. And there's the story of how, the night after Clinton was elected, Emanuel was so angry at the president's enemies that he stood up at a celebratory dinner with colleagues from the campaign, grabbed a steak knife and began rattling off a list of betrayers, shouting "Dead! . . . Dead! . . . Dead!" and plunging the knife into the table after every name. "When he was done, the table looked like a lunar landscape," one campaign veteran recalls. "It was like something out of The Godfather. But that's Rahm for you."

Of the three stories, only the second is a myth — Emanuel lost the finger to a meat slicer as a teenager and never served in the Israeli army. But it's a measure of his considerable reputation as the enforcer in Clinton's White House that so many people believe it to be true. You don't earn the nickname "Rahmbo" being timid.

At every step, we've thought that Barack Obama is less ruthless than he is. Personally, he's easygoing, but he knows too have someone like Rahm Emmanuel around to bang heads together.

Also check out... Obama at a roast for Rahm Emmanuel. Two especially good parts:
It hasn't been easy for Rahm though as a young man he had a serious accident. I think, as many of you were aware of this, he was working at a deli, accident with a meat slicing machine, he lost part of his middle finger, and as a result of this, this rendered him practically mute.

Some of you may also know that Rahm’s brother Ari is a model for the lead character, on the big hit on HBO, Entourage. What some of you might not know that Rahm himself is also an inspiration for that other HBO character, Tony Soprano.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Crime Doesn't Pay

Last week, I was all for revoking Alaskan Home Rule... Alaska sent two criminals to congress Ted Stevens and Don Young... together a smorgasbord of corruption and slime.
Perhaps this won't be the case, it appears that Begich now leads Stevens by... 3 votes.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Center-Right Nation?

One idea I've been hearing ad nauseum from media yakkers is the idea that America is a "center right nation" (a couple of examples can be found here, including from the loathsome Karl Rove).
We are, I suppose, a center right country when compared to Western Europe, but this is already much discussed. I don't think any politician would confuse the United States with Sweden, though the more astute observer might note that Sweden provides a greater degree of economic security to it's people without sacrificing prosperity.
This is not, I think, what the pundits mean when they say we are a center-right nation. Americans agree more with the sort of policies espoused by moderate conservative candidates. This is clearly untrue. Even before Obama routed John McCain, it was clear majorities of Americans agree with Democratic positions. Generally, Republicans lose on issues but when on flim-flam. As Paul Krugman notes of the most recent presidential race.
[B]ear in mind that the campaign, in its final stages, was really about different philosophies of governing. This wasn’t like the 2004 campaign, which was essentially fought over fake issues — Bush running on national security and social issues, then claiming that he had a mandate to privatize Social Security. In this election, Obama proudly stood up for progressive values and the superiority of progressive policies; John McCain, in return, denounced him as a socialist, a redistributor. And the American people rendered their verdict.

It is amusing, I guess, to see the same people who labeled Obama as a socialist now claiming he only won because of his moderate policies. This does indicate one thing though: the center-right thesis is worthless because it is not falsifiable. The proponents of this idea still cling to it even as the country votes in the moderate left. It's become a feel-good fantasy for those who can't accept the progressive path this country is headed.


We did it as a nation, not only by electing a man who deserves to be president, as still-president Bush manifestly does not, but by electing a black president. Though I was alive for the fall of the Soviet Union, I obviously don't remember it occurring, so the most amazing event in my life has been the election of a black president. In downtown Ann Arbor, a spontaneous crowd of mostly students took to the street when the victory was announced, chanting "Obama", "yes we can" or "yes we did". The crowd snaked around the city and campus. The police game out, they've been waiting 40 years for students to take to the streets again, well, better late than never.
People also took to the streets in celebration in cities all over the country...
I agree with what Michelle Obama said. This is the first time in my life I have been proud to be an American.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get him outta here

OK, so I'm pretty sure he's not up for election this year, but I think the Democrats must start making a file on Orrin Hatch. He's a liar in the highest order, in addition to being a Republican. I've been receiving his nasty emails all campaign season, but this one is one that should sink him with a nice "Orrin Hatch sent out a campaign email that straight up lied".
Here's the one in question:
Matt --

Today is the day we've all been working towards -- Election Day.

Please vote today.

Don't know where to vote? Find out at

Remember, there are stark differences between where Republicans want to lead our nation, and where the liberals would take us ...

... Over $1 trillion in new government spending, massive tax hikes on families and small businesses, liberal activist Supreme Court judges, censorship of conservative talk radio and a crushing 25% cut to our military.

Thank you,
Orrin Hatch
Senator Orrin Hatch
Vice Chairman,
National Republican Senatorial Committee

P.S. Please forward this email to your friends, family and neighbors to remind them to vote today.

I don't know where that 25% cut to the military came from. It will probably be more like $25. Maybe it was a typo?
Our military is bloated and the military-industrial complex is way too entrenched in Washington. Cutting more than the military's fingernails would be a good move for our country. Instead, Orrin Hatch uses lies to try to pump up the email-literate Republican vote.

I'm glad we're set to win big today, but we shouldn't stop thinking about the future, a future where liars like Orrin Hatch get the boot from their lofty, lobbyist-infested offices.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Previously, I've compared Sarah Palin with Dan Quayle. Now, I feel this remark was deeply unfair: Dan Quayle was a class act compared to Sarah Palin. To perused just a few stories about the governatrix....

1. Sarah Palin accused the mainstream media of mainstream media of violating her First Amendment right to free speech by daring to criticize her.
“If [the media] convince enough voters that that is negative campaigning, for me to call Barack Obama out on his associations,” Palin told host Chris Plante, “then I don’t know what the future of our country would be in terms of First Amendment rights and our ability to ask questions without fear of attacks by the mainstream media.”

I should hardly need to point out that this is particularly insidious because it completely turns the First Amendment on its head, making it a damper on free speech.

2.Palin suggested our nation is at war with Iran. One hopes this is merely a slip of the tongue...

3.NPR's Talk of the Nation brought Lawrence Eagleburger, specifically to make for John McCain. upon being asked whether Sarah Palin was qualified, responded "of course not", though he added that, hopefully with teaching she could do an "adequate" job. As Gail Collins said:
This was a particularly cruel blow since Eagleburger is not just one of the five former secretaries of state that the McCain campaign constantly cites as having endorsed the ticket. He is one of the four who McCain was actually able to remember during a recent interview on “Meet the Press.”

Fortunately for McCain, Eagleburger appeared on FOX to spout stupid Republican talking points (he sounded much more intelligent on Talk of the Nation by the way) some good old Maoist self-criticism.

4. Finally, there's the two comedians who convinced Palin that she was talking to Nicolas Sarkozy... at least she takes prank well enough.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

This is rich

How to build a spontaneous crowd for Sarah Palin in a few easy steps.

Why Obama and the Democrats Are Still Going To Win

...especially if we keep up the strong GOTV game.

Here's an excerpt from the latest NRSC email:
One week ago, I asked you to support our Get-Out-The-Vote efforts, and we had a tremendous response.

All told we helped state parties put 364 field organizers on the ground in battleground states -- including an additional 12 people in Mississippi because of your support last week alone.

I need your help again.

Right now, liberals are outspending us on TV by $236,124 in Minnesota to elect Al Franken and $350,000 in New Hampshire to install another tax-and-spend liberal in the Senate.

And to make matters worse, the DNC just announced they are going to spend an additional $5 million on attack ads against our candidates.

You came through for us last week -- now I need your help again. We need your help today to boost our TV ad buys for the next 7 days.

An additional 12 people in Mississippi? Jeez, they must be really hurting. And also sorely lacking in party faithful right now. I get the sense from reading reports at fivethirtyeight and elsewhere that Obama has 364 field organizers in one or two states alone, not to mention hordes of enthusiastic volunteers. I don't think the Republicans get it. I think in an election year like this, when Obama and the Democrats are connecting neighbors and fellow citizens with each other in a well funded but people-centered way, it's a sign of the Republican's true ideas about a centralized government that most of their campaigns boil down to a few organizers in understaffed campaign offices and a bunch of negative ad buys. The Republican party: by and large a group of a few committed ideologues with a bunch of money and no enthusiastic volunteer support from the common people?

Sounds like a great strategy for governing a democracy, if you ask me.

-Matt S

Monday, October 27, 2008

Adam Smith, Socialist

I truly do not understand the attack by the McCain campaign as a "socialist". People have recently dug up a recording of a radio interview where Obama discusses why the judiciary hasn't been used effectively to redistribute income (it appears Obama thinks the judiciary shouldn't be able to redistribute wealth, this is discussed it here), and attempted to blow it into a scandal.
The Politico
“That’s what change means for the Obama administration. They’re redistributing. It means taking your money and giving it to someone else.”

It seems we must classify all government spending as redistributionist, after all, it take private wealth and spends it on public goods. In such case, we must logically conclude what John McCain is this: anyone not an anarchist is a socialist.
Even if we are willing to give what McCain is saying the most charitable interpretation, it makes no sense. As Hendrik Hertzberg put it "The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent."
Further, if McCain is saying that taxation with intent to reduce inequality is socialist, then a lot of people have been socialist. Republican's are quick to remind us that Karl Marx said "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need." This is to misunderstand what Marx believed socialism is altogether. To him, it was about workers seizing the means of production... a far more radical shift than I would guess Obama has in mind.
The founder of communism believed in progressive taxation, but the founder of capitalism was no less enthusiastic .From Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations:
""The necessaries of life occasion the great expense of the poor. They find it difficult to get food, and the greater part of their little revenue is spent in getting it. The luxuries and vanities of life occasion the principal expense of the rich, and a magnificent house embellishes and sets off to the best advantage all the other luxuries and vanities which they possess. A tax upon house-rents, therefore, would in general fall heaviest upon the rich; and in this sort of inequality there would not, perhaps, be anything very unreasonable. It is not very unreasonable that the rich should contribute to the public expense, not only in proportion to their revenue, but something more than in that proportion."

Ted Stevens: Crooked

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens was convicted of seven corruption charges Monday in a trial that threatened to end the 40-year career of Alaska's political patriarch in disgrace.

The verdict, coming barely a week before Election Day, increased Stevens' difficulty in winning what already was a difficult race against Democratic challenger Mark Begich. Democrats hope to seize the once reliably Republican seat as part of their bid for a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

Stevens, 84, was convicted of all the felony charges he faced of lying about free home renovations and other gifts from a wealthy oil contractor. Jurors began deliberating last week.

This story has been making the rounds all over what Stevens once called the "series of tubes".

campaign updates

Two quick campaign updates.

The first is that I'm really, truly, so proud of my home state of Kentucky right now. The tolerance, the intelligence, the curiosity that leads a disturbing number of them to think that Obama is a Muslim or not a christian just makes my heart soar like a hawk. Couldn't we just roll out Keith Ellison (D-MN) and have him take the fall as the evil, plotting, Manchurian, radical Muslim in our government? I actually used that a few times (minus the satire) during the primaries, to positive effect. It's much easier to tell people in Kentucky (or elsewhere, I'm sure) that they're confused about two different black men, rather than to give them an answer that straight up contradicts their Stone Age prejudices.

The second update is that McCain must seriously be low on cash right now. Behold this latest campaign email:

"John McCain 2008

Can you invest a few days of your life to make history?

McCain-Palin 2008 is looking for volunteers who are willing to spend the final days of the campaign helping in a nearby state. Deployed volunteers will participate in a number of Get-Out-The-Vote activities. These activities will include making phone calls and going door to door.

Deployed volunteers will be unpaid and participants will be responsible for arranging their own transportation and housing; unfortunately, the campaign is unable to reimburse any expenses.

If you can afford the time and expense to serve the final days of the campaign through the election on November 4th, please apply on line at and pack your bags!

Thank you!

Joni Gossett, Deputy Director of Volunteers"

Meanwhile, out of the goodness of my own heart I declined to have the Obama campaign reimburse me for my $10 gas bill (I'm not sure if I even used that whole amount). But seriously, Obama is subsidizing cross-country trips for hordes of dedicated volunteers and the RNC has given up on caring about their national ticket.
I can only hope it isn't because the corporations and defense contractors have taken their bribes across the aisle in anticipation.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Palin Unleashed

According to the Politico Sarah Palin is going rougue, disregarding her handlers.
Even as John McCain and Sarah Palin scramble to close the gap in the final days of the 2008 election, stirrings of a Palin insurgency are complicating the campaign's already-tense internal dynamics.

Four Republicans close to Palin said she has decided increasingly to disregard the advice of the former Bush aides tasked to handle her, creating occasionally tense situations as she travels the country with them. Those Palin supporters, inside the campaign and out, said Palin blames her handlers for a botched rollout and a tarnished public image — even as others in McCain's camp blame the pick of the relatively inexperienced Alaska governor, and her public performance, for McCain's decline.

This should be interesting. Many of Palin's fan-boys like us to think that the biggest problem is that she's been over-coached, which threw her of off her game, and if only McCain would let her off of the leash, she would work her magic over the American electorate. I don't buy it... it's clear she is indeed over-coached, but I doubt this little leaguer can make it in the big leagues anyway. McCain's strategy of keeping her under raps has probably averted a larger catastrophe for the campaign. Looks like Palin's already doing as she pleases.
Ensuring that news of the Republican National Committee's sartorial spending spree will remain in the headlines for at least one more news cycle, Sarah Palin on Sunday sounded off on the $150,000 wardrobe that was purchased for her in September, denouncing the report as "ridiculous" and declaring emphatically: "Those clothes, they are not my property."

A senior adviser to John McCain told CNN's Dana Bash that the comments about her wardrobe "were not the remarks we sent to her plane this morning." Palin did not discuss the wardrobe story at her rally in Kissimmee later in the day.

Bad move... why talk more about an issue like that? it doesn't play to your advantage. Hold on for the next week, things are about to get dicey.
There's a debate at the New Republic between John Chait and Noam Schreiber over whether Sarah Palin will be the nominee in 2012. I think the answer is clearly no. Palin will leave the national stage a widely mocked and unpopular figure, rather like Dan Quayle (if you recall, I made the initial comparison... I stand by that). When the exit polls for this election come out, they'll show that Palin was just as much a drag on McCain as Bush was, and the Republican base will get the message. However much the wing-nuts can't escape their crush on that woman, they'll have to concede that she's unelectable. Good riddance.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wassilla II

As an additional addition to the last note, I think it's interesting to consider how Wasilla became such a free-enterprise wasteland. To do this, we should probably look at Palin's career in Wasilla, which is not an edifying sight. We get the impression that Palin is ready to promote her extremist-separatist/ church/ elementary school friends, intensely vindictive, resentful and mean, and worse, often out of her depth running the small town of Wasilla. The New Republic has an article about this, that contains this description of her campaign for mayor.
Within a few months, Palin was officially challenging Stein and exploiting the cultural shift masterfully. She welcomed a national anti-abortion group in to carpet bomb Wasilla with pink postcards affirming her pro-life bona fides. She orchestrated an NRA endorsement and a mailing from the group falsely proclaiming Stein, a lifelong hunter, "anti-gun." (Stein complained to the local newspaper that Palin was telling voters he wanted to "melt down" all the firearms in the state.) And, in a move practically out of Karl Rove's playbook, she dwelled on how Stein's wife used her maiden name, going so far as to demand a marriage certificate as proof of their nuptials. Palin's campaign literature proclaimed her "deeply devoted to conservative family values"--all in the context of an ostensibly nonpartisan election. (Stein himself was a moderate Republican.)

Additionally from Raban's essay, her leadership was even more sinister.
There followed what some Wasillaites saw as her reign of terror. She demanded resignation letters from all the city managers, ridding herself of the museum director, the librarian (whom she was later forced to rehire), the public works director, the city planner and the police chief, who’d argued against the concealed weapons bill and had supported a measure to close the town’s bars at 2.30 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. at weekends (the owners of the Mug-Shot Saloon and the Wasilla Bar had given money to Palin’s campaign). City employees were forbidden by her to speak to the press, and during her first four months in office she provoked a string of appalled editorials in the local paper, the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman:

Wasilla found out it has a new mayor with either little understanding or little regard for the city’s own laws.

Palin seems to have assumed her election was indeed a coronation. Welcome to Kingdom Palin, the land of no accountability.

Mayor Palin fails to have a firm grasp of something very simple: the truth . . . Wasilla residents have been subjected to attempts to unlawfully appoint council members, statements that have been shown to be patently untrue, unrepentant backpedalling, and incessant whining that her only enemies are the press and a few disgruntled supporters of former mayor John Stein.

Surrounding herself with fellow congregants from the Pentecostalist Wasilla Assembly of God and old school chums from Wasilla High, the 32-year-old mayor set about turning the town into the kind of enterprise society that Margaret Thatcher used to extol. She abolished its building codes and signed a series of ordinances that re-zoned residential property for commercial and industrial use. When the city attorney ordered construction to stop on a house being built by one of her campaign contributors, she sacked him.


I recommend this segment from the Daily Show, where Jason Jones goes to Virginia. I'm beginning to get the idea that Wasilla is not the idyllic pastoral town that Republican's have portrayed (and where "real Americans" live). Palin can hardly be blamed that it is the meth capital of Alaska, but she can be partly blamed for the shape the town is in today.
From Jonathan Raban's essay on Palin.
Present-day Wasilla is Palin’s lasting monument. It sits in a broad alluvial valley, puddled with lakes, boxed in on three sides by sawtoothed Jurassic mountains, and fringed with woods of spruce and birch. Visitors usually aim their cameras at the town’s natural surroundings, for Wasilla itself – quite unlike its rival and contemporary in the valley, Palmer, 11 miles to the east – is a centreless, sprawling ribbon of deregulated development along a four-lane highway, backed on both sides by subdivisions occupied by trailer-homes, cabins, tract-housing and ranch-style bungalows, most built since 1990. It’s a generic Western settlement, and one sees Wasillas in every state this side of the 100th meridian: the same competing gas stations, fast-food outlets, strip malls and ‘big box’ stores like Wal-Mart, Target, Fred Meyer and Home Depot, each with a vast parking lot out front, on which human figures scuttle with their shopping trolleys like coloured ants, robbed of their proper scale.
Wasilla is what inevitably happens when there are no codes, no civic oversight, no planning, when the only governing principle in a community is a naive and superstitious trust in the benevolent authority of the free market.


... anyone can have one.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I'm (kind of) back

The ridiculousness of this campaign has started to boil my blood, and so perhaps you all might be reading some more quips by me in the next few weeks.
Two things: I normally am very inquisitive and enjoy reading a number of blogs and newspapers/magazines and watching the news. However, the number of really, incredibly, undeniably stupid and/or un-American statements and activities by the Republican party and its various members in the past month has been so staggering I can hardly stop to reflect on one before a new scandal emerges. In the same day, in the same day it has not only come to light that Palin doesn't know what the Vice President's constitutional role is (and she spoke in kiddy terms to a journalist about it), but also the fact that the RNC spent over 100,000 dollars buying upscale, elitist clothing from Neiman Marcus and Saks 5th Avenue, to clothe Mrs. Main Street anti-elitist herself. My head is starting to hurt, and it's not because I'm still recovering from a 22 hour day trying to apply for a room-and-board scholarship so I can afford to continue attending Michigan with some level of comfort, given the recent economic hiccup we've experienced.

The second item:
I am an Eagle Scout. You don't get to be an eagle scout by practicing satanism or anarchy, much less socialism. You don't get to be an Eagle Scout by being un-American.
And I will tell all of you who are reading this, I have retired the physical flag a number of times, once even presiding over the ceremony myself while training others how to properly do so. This election cycle, Republicans in office should just plain retire (and those running, drop out) but instead they have decided to do something else - retire what the flag stands for.
I'm looking at you, Robin Hayes and Michelle Bachmann. Uncle Sam vomits every time you two and your top-tier cohort say "un-american" or "real america".

Matt Steele out.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Have you received a copy of "Obsession" in the mail? I have... I really didn't know what to make of it until I read this article in the LRB:
If you live in an American swing state you may have received a copy of ‘Obsession’ in your Sunday paper. ‘Obsession’ isn’t a perfume: it’s a documentary about ‘radical Islam’s war against the West’. In the last two weeks of September, 28 million copies of the film were enclosed as an advertising supplement in 74 newspapers, including the New York Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education. ‘The threat of Radical Islam is the most important issue facing us today,’ the sleeve announces. ‘It’s our responsibility to ensure we can make an informed vote in November.’ The Clarion Fund, the supplement’s sponsor, doesn’t explicitly endorse McCain, so as not to jeopardise its tax-exempt status, but the message is clear enough, and its circulation just happened to coincide with Obama’s leap in the polls.
Although there are interviews with the usual ‘terrorism experts’ – Daniel Pipes, Alan Dershowitz et al – the film’s portrayal of the region is mostly left to native informants like Nonie Darwish (a leader of Arabs for Israel and the daughter of a slain fighter from Gaza), Brigitte Gabriel (the Lebanese-Christian author of They Must Be Stopped) and Walid Shoebat, a ‘former PLO terrorist’ who operates under a pseudonym – for security reasons, of course. Shoebat runs the Walid Shoebat Foundation, described on its website as an ‘organisation that cries out for the Justice of Israel and the Jewish people’. He’s made a career of recounting his journey from Islamic terror to Christian Zionism before audiences at Evangelical gatherings and the US Air Force Academy. It’s not clear, though, that he ever laid a hand on anyone. According to a relative, ‘the biggest act of terror he ever committed was to glue Palestinian flags on street posts.’

Pretty clearly Obsession is a piece of propaganda attempting to scare people around election time.
I actually saw Walid Shoebat when he came to UM campus. He spewed all sorts of hatred and bile at his former faith, which the crowd of right-wingers ate up. I was clear he knew exactly what the bigots wanted to here. I left very skeptical that he had ever been a terrorist (one of his associates claimed to have killed 300 people, mainly with a knife... does that sound likely?). Indeed, I was skeptical as to whether he was a real Palestinian.
I was reminded of the scene in Huck Finn where Huck and Jim are traveling around with two con men. One trick these con-men use is telling churchgoing people that they are pirates who found Christ.
Walid Shoebat's song and dance is the same... he claims to be an former Muslim terrorist who found christ, the only difference between the routines is that the con-men at least didn't preach hatred.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Watching "Charlie Wilson's War"

I've been meaning to see "Charlie Wilson's War", released in 2007, for some time. I'd say the movie is very enjoyable, even for someone with no interest in politics... if you're interested in politics like me, so much the better.
The plot revolves around the story of how Charlie Wilson, a Democratic congressman from Texas, was involved in supplying the Mujahideen in Afghanistan with weaponry to fight against the Soviet Union. In the movies account, these weapons provided, especially the "Stinger" missiles used to shoot down Soviet helicopter, were key to the Muj's success. A connection is drawn between the defeat in Afghanistan and the subsequent collapse of the USSR. The account is based on a non-fiction book by the same name.
Charlie Wilson (played by Tom Hanks) was rather a colorful character... his staff is made up completely of attractive young women... one of the first times we see him in a hot-tub in Vegas with two strippers and a Playboy bunny. Later we see he is indicted on suspicion of having used cocaine in relation to this episode (he is indicted, by the way, by Rudy Giuliani). Yes, the movie makes it clear that Charlie Wilson liked to have a good time, and was pretty corrupt.
My favorite character, though, was Gust Avakrotos, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Gust is the CIA officer Charlie teams up with to make the war happen.
So charming are our heros that we can't help root with them against the stuffed-shirts worried about silly things like whether these operations might cause World War III, or that we are arming religious extremist warlords.
The movie presents a bit of a fairy-tale account of events. It is very strongly suggested that the weaponry provided by the United States was responsible for the Afghan's Muj's victory over the Soviet Union, especially the choice to give them "Stinger" missiles used to shoot down Russian helicopters. This is not accurate, the decision to leave Afghanistan had already been made by the Russian leadership before the US decided to supply these weapons.
The movie also seem to suggest that had we only followed through in Afghanistan, things might have turned out alright in the country. Near the end of the movie, we see Wilson trying to secure a mere $1 million for Afghanistan schools and being rebuffed by his committee (in contract, $500 billion was spent on the war against the Soviets- fund matched by Saudi Arabia). I don't think any sensible person would defend the policy of cutting off Afghanistan without a dime, but given who we were supplying with weapons, should one really be surprised by what happened? In the movie, we see Pakistani president Zia telling Wilson that the weapons must flow through him. What we don't see is Zia's policy of Islamizing Pakistan, out of which arguably many of Pakistan's current problems came out off(Zia's brutality is hinted at). Zia was a powerful force bolstering Islamism, and had been giving an extra share of it to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hekmatyar in his younger days threw acid on the uncovered faces of Afghan women, and is currently killing US marines... and we gave over $200 million worth of aid to this guy.
I suspect the movie also exaggerates the role of Charlie Wilson in all this. I don not recall a single mention of the Reagan administration, but I suspect when the documents are declassified, it will be clear that the Reaganites were even more central than Charlie Wilson to this drama.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Joe the Plumber

If you watched last night's (terrible) debate, you may recall the name (Joe the Plumber) was mentioned in excess of a million times. Joe was supposedly a modest, blue-collar independent, who was worried that he would be taxed at a higher rate under Obama's plan.... because he makes more than $250,000 a year (seriously). It turns out
a. Joe does not make more than 250,000 a year (surprise).
b.Joe is not an independent, but a registered Republican.
C. Joe owes about 1,200 in back taxes.
D. He is not, in fact, a licensed plumber.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Monday, October 13, 2008

Paul Krugman: Nobel Laureate

First Carter, the Gore, now this... the Nobel Committee won't give Bush a break! New York Times op-ed columnist and Princeton professor Paul Krugman has won a Nobel Prize for Economics.
Krugman has long been an implacable critic of the Bush administration, and attracted a following for his sharp incisive columns criticizing the administration. Personally, Krugman has bee one of my favorite commentators since I noticed one of his columns when I was in high school. I've bought his books and even went to hear him speak.
A blog post at the Times explains Krugman's theories further:
The Nobel Prize citation highlights two distinct but connected contributions: Mr. Krugman’s development of the “new trade theory” and his work on the “new economic geography.” International trade has a long history in economics, and for the bulk of the field’s history, patterns of trade have been explained by factor endowments and comparative advantage. Why does England export wool and Portugal export wine? The cold winters of Yorkshire produce really fluffy sheep and the banks of the Douro produce splendid grapes. Yet comparative advantage does little to explain much of modern international trade, especially not trade within industries.

Mr. Krugman published two seminal papers in 1979 and 1980 that made sense of the fact that Toyota sells cars in Germany and Mercedes-Benz sells cars in Japan. Mr. Krugman started with a variant of Edward Chamberlain’s model of monopolistic competition. In this model, every firm sells a slightly different good — an Infiniti is not exactly the same thing as a BMW. There are fixed costs of production, which means that producers get more efficient as they sell more. Finally, consumers like variety, so that even if they live in the Land of the Rising Sun, with its abundant well-made cars, they still occasionally want something a little more Teutonic.

These ingredients came together and provided a framework than can match the world’s trade patterns better than the 19th-century framework of David Ricardo, or the mid-20th-century models of Eli Heckscher, Bertil Ohlin and Paul Samuelson. The fact that two out of three of those 20th-century giants are themselves Swedes should remind us of how seriously the Swedes take their trade theory, and what a big deal it is for them to admit Mr. Krugman to the pantheon.

Mr. Krugman’s trade models became the standard in the economics profession both because they fit the world a bit better and because they were masterpieces of mathematical modeling. His models’ combination of realism, elegance and tractability meant that they could provide the underpinnings for thousands of subsequent papers on trade, economic growth, political economy and especially economic geography.

Mr. Krugman’s 1991 Journal of Political Economy paper, “Increasing Returns and Economic Geography,” is the first article that provides a clear, internally consistent mathematically rigorous framework for thinking simultaneously about trade and the location of people and firms across space. It is one of only two models that I insist that Harvard’s Ph.D. students in urban economics be able to regurgitate, equation by equation.

The model begins with the same basic elements as the new trade theory: monopolistic competition, scale economics, love of variety. To these elements Mr. Krugman adds free migration of workers across space and industries. Because workers are able to move, real wages equalize across space. People in New York City may be paid more, but they give some of that back in the form of higher housing prices. The paper provides economists with a clear framework that can make sense of where we all live. Firms and workers are pulled toward the same location to reduce transportation costs of shipping goods. For example, the garment industry located in New York City, in part because of the vast trade in textiles that was already moving through the city and because of the large number of customers already living in America’s largest city.

Of course, we don’t all live in the same city. A good model of geography needs both a centripetal and a centrifugal force. In Mr. Krugman’s model, populations are pulled apart by the desire to be close to natural inputs, like land or coal mines. Cyrus McCormick moved his reaper business from Virginia to Chicago to be closer to his rural customers in the Midwest. Later models incorporated traffic congestion and other forces that limit the growth of a single large urban area. Mr. Krugman’s model proved to quite adaptable; it has received thousands of citations.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Early Birthday Present

Tomorrow is my birthday... how nice of the Alaskan inquiry into Sarah Palin to think of me.
By the way, how does the vetting look now, bitches?!

Presidential Candidate Pals Around With Terrorists

From the AP:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican Sen. John McCain served on the advisory board to the U.S. chapter of an international group linked to ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America in the 1980s.
The U.S. Council for World Freedom also aided rebels trying to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua. That landed the group in the middle of the Iran-Contra affair and in legal trouble with the Internal Revenue Service, which revoked the charitable organization's tax exemption.

The council created by retired Army Maj. Gen. John Singlaub was the U.S. chapter of the World Anti-Communist League, an international organization linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America. After setting up the U.S. council, Singlaub served as the international league's chairman.

McCain also failed to disclose this when he entered congress. It appears McCain also made personal contributions to the contra cause. The contras were brutal, and were involved in the massive smuggling of drugs. Any crimes committed by the Weathermen look like juvenile pranks compared to what the contras used to do every day to Nicaraguans. Obama served on an education board at the same time as a former anti-American terrorist. McCain served on a council actively aiding pro-American terrorists, and gave money to said terrorists. Which do you think will get more play?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Bail Me Out, Nancy

In a recent post regarding the vote against the bailout, I ended by saying that, with the Republicans voting against the bill, the Democrats ought to just forget about them and put together a truly progressive bill. This is clearly not what happened.
Robert Reich:
This is a lousy bill. It doesn't do the most important thing -- help distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure (that role is given to the Treasury Department, which is the equivalent of putting it into the permanent circular file). It doesn't make Wall Street more transparent (there's almost no word in it about improved transparency and capital requirements, or avoiding conflicts of interest and market manipulation). It doesn't control the most egregious aspects of executive salaries (the bill contains a contorted detour for controlling certain golden parachutes when the government has made direct equity purchases of financial companies rather than taken their bad paper through an auction).

One thing this bill has thrown into relief is the class division in our society. No longer can we talk about America as a classless society, instead the media talks about the dichotomy of unscrupulous Wall Street getting bailed out by idyllic but troubled Main Street. The trouble getting the bill passed has come as congress has tried to please both worlds. Wall Street was able to dictate much of there own bailout (insisting against a bill aiding homeowners, for example). Congress is completely aware of the bills unpopularity, which explains the earlier failure in the house, as well as why voting was left open when the bill was passed to give vulnerable members a chance to vote against it.
Why is the final bill such a crock? The answer is mostly political. The Democrats realized they needed to pass this bill, or else the country would take a beating, but they also realized that bailing fat-cats who had made bad decisions is a political suicide pill, thus blame needed to be shared by both parties. The bill was bipartisan because the Democratic leadership considered this politically necessary. Needing to have the Republicans on board gave them leverage over the bill. My guess, though, is this is not the only reason. These industries, for example the credit industry, have a lot of clout on the hill, and I doubt that there was much appetite for changing the bankruptcy rules among congress-people, for example. The bill is also loaded with pork... the Paulson plan, making him a financial generalissimo, was three pages, the first revision with more oversight provisions was scarcely more than a hundred. This bill is so loaded with pork-rinds that it bulges to roughly 450 pages.

Debate Meta-Analysis

"The Republicans were euphoric over Sarah Palin’s debate performance, particularly the part in which she stood tall and refrained from falling off the stage." - Gail Collins
The most annoying thing about the post-debate analysis is the attention focuses on Sarah Palin's performance, when it was clear to anyone who watched that Joe Biden dominated the debate. Joe Biden delivered an A+ performance, yet the spotlight was always on the girl who managed to eek out a C- when most expected her to fail. The media was so entrance by the drama of whether Palin would self-destruct that they ignored any actually comparison between the candidates merits.
Unlike the "nuanced" commentators, who base there decisions on a arcane game of expectation, the public was largely not fooled. A strong majority of undecides believe Biden to have won the debate.
Sarah Palin was fine, I suppose, giving potted answers to questions she herself posed, as illustrated by this flow-chart.

From the New Republic's blog:
The losers were David Brooks, Mark Shields, and other commentators supposedly hired by television executives for intelligence, sensitivity, and ability to articulate clear-eyed responses and titillate viewers with their amusing and thoughtful reactions to political events. That these two regulars on PBS's "The NewsHour" failed to see that Sarah Palin's brassy, blind narcissism, chirpy ignorance, evasiveness, broken syntax, self-vaunting folksiness, and robotic falsity disqualified her for important public office should be their end as commentators.

Monday, September 29, 2008

McCain and the Bailout Failure

It appears the Republican (this time with some help from Democrats) have sunk the bailout a second time... I have mixed at best feelings about this plan. From the Caucus:
For its part, the McCain campaign issued a statement by Doug Holtz-Eakin:
“From the minute John McCain suspended his campaign and arrived in Washington to address this crisis, he was attacked by the Democratic leadership: Senators Obama and Reid, Speaker Pelosi and others. Their partisan attacks were an effort to gain political advantage during a national economic crisis. By doing so, they put at risk the homes, livelihoods and savings of millions of American families.

“Barack Obama failed to lead, phoned it in, attacked John McCain, and refused to even say if he supported the final bill.

“Just before the vote, when the outcome was still in doubt, Speaker Pelosi gave a strongly worded partisan speech and poisoned the outcome. “This bill failed because Barack Obama and the Democrats put politics ahead of country.”

Then read this:
“Now is not the time to fix the blame,” McCain said in Des Moines, Iowa. “It’s the time to fix the problem.”

McCain sure has a lot of chutzpah. Briefly before the bill fell apart, McCain rushed to take credit for the victory... shortly after, his campaign rushed to lay blame for its failure.
He was not welcome when he went back to Washington, by members of both parties were angry that he injected himself recklessly for political gain. The first deal fell apart shortly after he arrived, after which both Democrats and some Republicans let McCain know that it was time to get out of town... preventing McCain from making any political hay riding into the rescue.
Indeed, the first time the deal fell apart, John McCain failed to even take a stand.
Perhaps more maddening, this bill is supported by Pelosi and Reid, who delivered majorities of Democrats. Boehner couldn't (or wouldn't) deliver majorities of his Republicans.
There's going to be hell to pay after the Dow drops 800 points. The house Republicans voted against it, any repercussion would justly fall on them. Their "alternative" of cutting capital gains tax, by the way, is ridiculous and would do literally nothing to alleviate the problem.
If this illustrates anything, it's how tangled the politics of the bailout are. The public is not at all happy seeing wall-street get bailed-out, and the house Republicans are all to ready to lead a populist fight against this bill. This makes me wonder, could we muster enough votes for something better, say, bank nationalization like what was done in Sweden. Paul Krugman says this is better policy wise, but we need the Republicans on board for political cover. I'm beginning to think we can't get enough congressional Republicans on the current bailout. Could we get enough votes for nationalization, and more important, could we get the administration to go along? Certainly, that would better policy-wise and less plutocratic.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


I did not, as you may have noticed, blog on the debate for on this site. This is mainly because I found the debate somewhat uninspiring: both candidates spouted canned talking points. I would have expected this of McCain, but not Obama. Pols are so, so afraid to say something wrong, I guess.
McCain certainly did a lot of distorting in this debate (a friend pointed me to Think Progress's recap).
Fortunately, based on the polls taken, it looks like Obama won.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Eyeball to Eyeball

After reaching a bailout deal, the Republican's tanked it.

House Republicans say that Senate leaders spoke too soon when they said a deal had been reached on a Wall Street bailout package.

In addition, a key Republican lawmaker stated that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) wants to explore new ideas, like loaning money to financial institutions or insuring the companies, rather than buying their toxic debt.

Earlier Thursday, senators and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said they had a tentative agreement, though they’re still negotiating a bankruptcy provision. They said the deal was ready to be taken to the Bush administration.

It seems especially odd to me that McCain suddenly has a to discuss new stuff. Was any of this somehow less pertinent yesterday, when it wouldn't have been used to sink any deal.

McCain appear to be trying to disorder the debates, perhaps preempting the VP debate, which will doubtless be a disaster for the Republicans. McCain said he "suspended" his campaign... except that
he has been doing nothing that would indicate that he is suspending his campaign (Jeffrey Toobin pointed this out).

What should Obama do? Before, I was all ready to break out the rubber chicken, but I think there's a better idea: say he will debate Bob Barr if McCain refuses to show up. McCain will blink.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Everybody Freeze!

John Mcain has evidently shouted "stop the campaign, I want to get off!". According to the official McCain line, McCain decided that he was far too important to be wasting time on anything as trivial as politics and the like. Perhaps it is for the best, McCain's campaign didn't seem to be going anywhere good anyway. This decision has the mercy of a terrible show being cancelled halfway through the season. Or it would if I believed that this actually represented a stoop in the campaign, rather than politics by other means. This is as naked and contrived a political stunt as I've ever seen.
Most importantly, McCain wants to cancel the debate. Dammit, McCain, just when I had planned a party around the debate. Why should my political entertainment be disrupted for your political theater?
George Sr. refused to debate Clinton for the longest time, until he was approached by a man in a chicken suit, and was drawn into a debate over whether he was in fact a chicken. McCain seems pretty inclined to duck this debate (or let Sarah duck it). Pretty chickenshit.