Thursday, July 31, 2008

Corporatism By Another Name

In a piece written for TomDispatch.com, titled "The Military-Industrial Complex", and subtitled "It's Much Later Than You Think," Chalmers Johnson writes the following which is itself a quote from Eugene Jarecki's The American Way of War,
The leading Italian philosopher of fascism, the neo-Hegelian Giovanni Gentile, once argued that it should more appropriately be called "corporatism" because it was a merger of state and corporate power.

A “…merger of state and corporate power.” Why does that ring a bell?

The current administration’s and its sycophants’ fondness for referring to our perceived enemies as “fascists” has faded, perhaps because it has recognized the risk that the term might well be turned against them. The “merger of state and corporate power” is not the only similarity (structurally, certainly not ideologically) that exists between this nation today and Nazi Germany in the 1930’s.

This is not an “I hate America” piece. I love my country, and I hate what has been being done to it for decades by a corporate-controlled government.

Some of the following points are, perhaps, a bit of a stretch but none is, I believe, entirely refutable. The central point is that corporate power has taken over our government and that attempts to resolve the symptoms of that takeover are not going to have much, if any, effect until the cause itself is addressed. After examining the symptoms of a “corporatist state” I’ll explore what I believe will be required to resolve the issue.

I’m assuming that you know some history and are familiar to at least some degree with the shape of the German Weimar government and it’s descent into fascism. If you are not, then the pernicious nature of the following symptoms will be self evident in any case.

The government is controlled by corporate interests, with corporate representatives literally writing bills which are passed by lawmakers. Legislators are unresponsive to popular demand, responding instead to the corporate sponsors of their political campaigns and creating laws that are more and more blatantly against the common interest, such as bankruptcy reform and financial institutional regulation.

We no longer have a “citizen soldier” army, but have established a professional military that is isolated from the citizenry to a degree unprecedented in our history; that, in effect, represents a military class. This military advertises itself as “warfighters” and as “the best fighters in the world” and is idolized by government spokesmen, politicians and the media.

We have a politically active military leadership. Generals and admirals routinely speak and advocate on matters of national policy in the media and before Congress, and are appointed to commands based on political affiliations and personal politics.

While we do not have a military leader, the term “Commander in Chief” is used to an unprecedented degree by our current executive, by the media, and by both candidates for our highest office. The term is also now commonly used to refer to the nation’s highest office with respect to the nation as a whole, rather than being properly limited to it’s role with respect to the nation’s armed forces.

Campaign rhetoric and news media commentary for our nation’s highest office revolves around the military credentials and prior military service (or lack thereof) of the candidates, using such terms as the “Commander in Chief test” that the candidate must “pass.”

We have a foreign policy that is increasingly militaristic. To cite Chalmers Johnson again, in the same article referenced above,
"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates (a former director of the CIA) has repeatedly warned that the United States is turning over far too many functions to the military because of its hollowing out of the Department of State and the Agency for International Development since the end of the Cold War. Gates believes that we are witnessing a "creeping militarization" of foreign policy."

To suggest that Panama and Grenada posed imminent threats to our national security is fairly ludicrous, and it has been widely acknowledged that the invasion of Iraq was for the purpose of controlling natural resources in that region.

While one candidate has promised increased diplomacy in foreign policy, he has also promised increased and ongoing war in Afghanistan, continues to threaten to go to war in Iran unless that country meets very specific demands, and threatens attacks inside Pakistan..

We still conduct leadership by fear mongering, with “keeping the nation safe” from mostly undefined threats being a euphemism for foreign policy. By polls, the nation’s major concern is economic, but the campaigns continue to revolve around the issue of the war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran along with issues of protecting the nation against threats that are, for the most part, illusory.

The chief executive has stolen power from the elected legislative body, in effect usurping that body’s “power of the purse” and it’s power to create laws and to expect those laws to be enforced. No effort has been made by that legislative body to recapture its power, and no specific promise has been made by either presidential candidate to prosecute the abuse of authority or to restore the balance of power to government.

Our chief executive has assumed the power to arrest and imprison without time limit and without recourse to the courts, and to use torture as an implement of its intelligence-gathering and criminal justice policies.

Civil liberties are being eroded in the name of “national security,” and not in a temporary manner, but in permanent and secretive ways that specifically eliminate the judiciary from the process.

High officials, including the highest elected official in the nation, have openly and notoriously violated laws and have not been and will not be brought to account. This nation has established as policy that laws which apply to the citizenry as a whole do not apply to the governing class.

The media is controlled by the same corporations that control the government and, as a result, the media presents the government message. There is ample documentation of more than one media entity literally being used by the civilian government and the military to publish its “talking points” without critique.

The class division between the wealthy, governing class and the working class is an increasingly yawning, unbridgeable gulf. For the first time since the Great Depression, a generation is living less well than the generation that preceded it, and the gap between the upper class and the lower class has regained the level that was extant in the 1920's.

The liberal position is that the solution is to elect Democrats to office, or a Democrat as President, and that all of this will be made better. That position is belied by the election of 2006 and the fact that a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress has changed absolutely nothing. Democratic leadership is using the excuse that their majority is too slim, but that is utter nonsense. The Republicans managed their agenda handily with an equally slim majority, and in the past 18 months the Democratic Party has participated eagerly in passage of much of the most egregious legislation.

The Accountability Now Political Action Committee is organized to defeat the reelection of Democrats who supported the recent Patriot Act and FISA bills. I fully support that effort, and I hope they succeed. But the elimination of a few incumbents is, in the long run, going to have no effect on the overall nature of our government. Whether we have Republicans or Democrats in the majority, and who we have in the White House ultimately means very little as long as the corporations maintain overall control of our government.

And the corporations will continue to be in control as long as we continue to reelect their puppets to Congress at a 95% rate. The defeat of a handful of Representatives, or of a few Senators is not going to affect the course or the nature of the way our nation is governed.

The people of this nation will have to rise up and say “Enough” in a way that changes history. They can do that at the polls, but I suspect that things will have to become significantly worse before they do so.

The solution would consist of a revolution at the polls. That revolution can come when we the people decide that “Not one single incumbent shall be reelected, without regard to policy, voting record, accomplishment, or party affiliation.” A revolution so powerful that in one single election the voters would elect 435 new Representatives and 33 new Senators. It wouldn’t even have to succeed perfectly; just establish the revolution in principle and come close to success.

In so doing, the people of America can reclaim their government.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

2156-Year-Old Computer

Holy crap. A computer with more than thirty gears in it, more than two centuries old, that when cranked can forecast things like solar eclipses.
We think we're so damn smart.

Read more and see a picture here and here.

Still Unstimulated

The Honorable Susan A. Davis
United States House of Representatives, CA District 53
4305 University Avenue
Suite 515
San Diego, CA 92105

Dear Ms. Davis,

Our income tax refund, when we get one, is made by direct deposit to our bank account. My Social Security is deposited monthly directly to our bank account. For reasons known only to the Internal Revenue Service, they decided that our “Economic Stimulus” payment needed to be made by means of paper check.

The IRS has advised me that it mailed a check to us in the amount of $1200 on either May 30th or June 2nd. Whether or not the check has been cashed is unclear, but if so it was not cashed by us as we never received the check.

Calling the number shown of the IRS website for that issue has yielded nothing other than a recording that the check was mailed on the earlier of the dates above, another recording that “due to heavy traffic” they were unable to handle my call, and wait times on hold of up to ninety minutes without my call being handled.

A call to the regular IRS service number yielded nothing more than a statement that this matter could be handled only by calling the number that had yielded nothing but recordings and long waits on hold without results.

I finally went to the IRS taxpayer assistance office in downtown San Diego, not an easy matter since I am partly disabled and no parking is available at that office. I was told that our check had been mailed on the latter of the dates above and that if I wished to file a claim I would need to wait upwards of two hours to be interviewed by an agent, a requirement that was beyond my physical capability.

Having exhausted the avenues available to me I am asking if you can assist us in this matter.

If you cannot help we might well be forced to simply write this $1200 off as another bogus government program that makes fraudulent claims about helping the taxpayer, which would be seriously unfortunate, as we could really use the money. Someone should know, however, that there is government money floating around that is either already stolen or is waiting to be stolen. The government may or may not care about that.

Sincerely,

William E. J. Heffner

What Changed?

I'm not going to tell Senator Obama how to run his campaign. He knows how to do that very well indeed, and is probably going to become president. Probably.

I can only say that what he is doing now is not exciting me at all. His primary campaign excited me. This one is sort of keeping me at the point that he's better than McCain and I'll vote for him if nothing better comes along.

Justice Served

Last March there was a "road rage" shooting in San Diego involving a woman and her son in one car, and an off-duty policeman in the other. The woman was intoxicated and, after confronting the officer, was backing away from him in her car when he fired five rounds into her windshield. Two bullets struck her but, fortunately, none struck her son. The woman was almost immediately charged with drunk driving, the officer was placed on paid administrative leave while the case was investigated.

Yesterday the officer was charged with felony"grossly negligent discharge of a firearm" with "two enhancements for causing great bodily injury."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Case For A Timetable

Daniel Larison, substitute blogging at the Daily Dish today, first points out the not only is the Anbar Awakening not part of the counterinsurgency strategy as McCain has recently claimed, is is actually a tactic that runs counter to the strategy in that it directs power away from the central government. At this point we have large numbers of Sunni who are loyal, not to the Iraq government, but to the jobs that we are paying them for and that have been promised by the Iraq government. What happens when the Iraq government reneges on those jobs, as has been the case so far?

He also points out the a withdrawal based on "conditions on the ground" is an exercise in futility, as is demonstrated by the multiple bombings the past few days.
"...one of the strongest criticisms against it, which is that it allows American policy to be dictated by whichever group wishes to foment chaos and disorder."

Of course, policy under Bush has always been reactive rather than proactive; always one step behind the enemy and therefor always on the losing end of tactic after tactic. Dictated by those who do not wish us well.

How will American presence prevent the type of violence that happened these past few days anyway? I suppose that if we put enough forces; with enough blast walls and a squad at every intersection of every town might we interdict most of the bombers, but even that would not prevent all of them. Clearly there are not that many forces in our entire military. So the forces we have there now provide the illusion of some sort of security but, as this past week illustrated, clearly it is not much more than an illusion.

So what provides the "conditions on the ground" that permits withdrawal?
And should we wait for it?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

An "Acting President"

I went to read a column in the New York Times, thinking that it was probably going to annoy me because of its title. (I had failed to notice that it was written by Frank Rich.) The first paragraph suggested that it might not annoy me too badly, and halfway through it I was rolling on the floor.

If you are an Obama supporter, you must read Frank Rich's op-ed today, How Obama Became Acting President. He does everything but accuse McCain of tripping over his own shoelaces, said event having been caused by his own petulant refusal to allow his mother to tie them for him.

Obama supporter: always reminds me of the cartoon where the guy is telling his blonde girlfriend, "I would much prefer that you tell people you are a sports fan, dear, not an athletic supporter."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Single Issue Politics

Way back in the 1960’s I first joined the National Rifle Association. At the time, this was an association that promoted firearms and the sport of using them, and it filled a valuable role in sponsoring shooting matches throughout the country. After a few years I became a lifetime member.

Then the NRA shifted to a more political focus, and its political activity became more and more radical. It became enamored of it its own sense of political power, bragging to its membership and to the public of its role in defeating at the polls various candidates based on their positions on gun legislation. They began mounting rabid and outrageously slanderous attacks on candidates who dared to favor even the most benign gun laws, no matter how good a law maker that candidate might otherwise be.

They bragged that any person running for national office had to hew the line on the single issue of gun control and meet with their approval on that issue in order to be elected. It was not quite true, but it was dangerously close to the truth.

The NRA became an organization radicalized by its narrow viewpoint and corrupted by its own power. I resigned my lifetime membership and demanded that they remove my name from their rolls. Others have done the same and their new enrollment has diminished; their power has dimmed, but they remain a dangerous force, imposing their narrow view by a form of political terrorism.

Howard Dean raised an Internet task force in his campaign which morphed into a valuable ongoing presence promoting the liberal cause in politics. The movement is centered around Internet bloggers, headed by the Daily Kos, is known as Netroots Nation, and is so well formed that it now has an annual convention.

I’m not sure that it can be said that the resurgence of the Democratic Party is due to Netroots Nation but they have certainly played a role, and by no means an insignificant one. Many of the blogs that I read on a daily basis are part of the Netroots Nation and I admire the hard work these people put into what they do. They are well informed, they care deeply about their nation, and they spend valuable time researching and writing their articles.

There are signs that, parts at least, of the Netroots Nation might be steering toward the same form of political terrorism that the NRA has favored lo these many years, excoriating Obama because he has lately begun taking positions that disagree with those espoused by the blogger and, in one case, merely because he did not attend the Netroots Nation convention.

From Ian Welch at The Agonist a few days ago.
He doesn't need us and he thinks were wrong about the most important things. K? Thanks. Bye.

It’s a lengthy post, blasting Obama on quite a few fronts, and there are a number of supportive comments. It very much displays an “all or nothing” brand of support for Obama. I’ll support you until you disagree with me one time and then I will turn on you.

It would be a terrible shame if a valuable group like these people began to take themselves so seriously that they turned into political terrorists; that no candidate could ever be sufficiently politically “pure” to satisfy them and, as such, they were relegated to an NRA-like posture of opposing everyone and supporting nobody.

Sure there are positions that Obama takes that I don’t like, but as a candidate he is the one I want to see become president. His positions that I support far outnumber and outweigh those I disfavor, and even without considering his opponent I have no hesitancy in supporting him.

“K? Thanks. Bye.”   Don’t go there; I’m not going with you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

It Begins

ChargersThis is the time of year when my wife begins the eye-rolling routine on a frequent basis: the San Diego Chargers open training camp today and I tend to become somewhat monomaniacal. It amuses my wife and tends to make the cat nervous.

We will apparently begin the year with three of our starters injured. On the brighter side, Marlon McCree is gone and his position will be filled by Eric Weddle, second-year free safety from Utah. Wide receivers will be Chris Chambers and a more seasoned Vincent Jackson, which may be the best pair we’ve has at that skill position in a long time. Having #85 out might even teach us to use our wideouts more. Backup for Ladanian Tomlinson looks a little shaky to me; Sproles is exciting, but…

I am a Philip Rivers fan. You will undoubtedly see criticism of him from me throughout the season in this venue; I don’t like some things about his attitude. But he is an exciting quarterback and I am always looking forward to watching him on the field. He has talent, character, intelligence and fierce determination.

Bring it on. I’m ready for some football.

Opposing the Surge

When tribal leaders in Anbar Province came over to our side and wanted to fight with us against Al Queda, Barack Obama said that we needed to continue fighting against these guys, killing them and letting them kill our soldiers; that we did not want them as allies.

When our military leaders began holding onto areas that had been cleared of insurgents instead of leaving and allowing the insurgents to retake those areas, Barack Obama vigorously objected to that policy. He declared "whack-a-mole" to be a far more viable policy and insisted that we needed to continue that policy in Iraq indefinitely.

Oh, yeah, and he was opposed to sending more troops to continue playing "whack-a-mole" against the Anbar Province tribes that wanted to join us but whom we were fighting instead.

"Barack Obama opposed the surge. He was wrong and I was right."

History according to John McCain, who is the only person alive who can prevent a 757 filled with Muslim terrorists from crashing on my house.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ethiopian Troubles

BBC News is providing almost daily features about starvation in Ethiopia, a crisis caused by the rising cost of food. My sympathy is tempered a bit by mental images of Ethiopian troops invading Somalia and indiscriminately blowing up, among other things, food warehouses. Ethiopia continues to occupy Somalia to this day, and the killing continues at a truely horrific pace. Millions of Somalis are homeless and starving, without medical care, because of the actions of Ethiopian troops in their country. Makes me a little less concerned about the wellbeing of the Ethiopian people.

Surge Politics

McCain is saying that Obama is a traitor, that he is willing for this country to lose a war for his own political gain. That’s not just a one-liner he tossed out one time, that is a serious claim that he has made repeatedly. When asked, “Do you really believe that he can be that craven?” his reply is, essentially, “Yes.”

Bush III. If you disagree with me you are an unpatriotic traitor.

He is also saying specifically that it was his own personal “judgement and courage” which created what he calls “the surge that worked.” As a senator, one out of the one hundred who serve in that office.

When called out on his statement that the “surge” led to the awakening in Anbar Province, which happened six months before the “surge,” he responded by delivering an utterly unhinged redefinition of the “surge” yesterday to reporters. I won’t bother to quote his incoherent explanation of how the “surge” really meant “counter-insurgent strategy” and that increased troop count was only one aspect of that. I hope everybody got that, “counter-insurgent strategy.” Very clever.

People with IQ's in single digits will certainly go for that. And newsmen. Well, same thing.

Then he went on to say that if Obama had gotten his wish and the “surge” had not happened, the Sheik who led the Anbar Awakening would have been assassinated by Al Queda. He should have read the newspapers instead of his crystal ball, because that Sheik was, in fact, killed by a bomb right at the peak level of troops during the surge.

Blog pundits are swooning about his campaign being in such disarray that he may not even last until November, that the Republicans may pull him in favor of some other candidate. Don’t kid yourself.

Do not underestimateoverestimate the thinking power of the low information American voter. McCain is barely trailing in the polls because, “John McCain is the Great American War Hero and if I don’t vote for him then a 757 filled with Muslim terrorists will crash down on my house and kill me and my family in our sleep.”

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Financial Wrongdoing

The blogosphere is fighting battle royal over who the "goat" is in the housing crisis. As David Brooks puts it the sides are "talking past each other," with one side blaming the debtors for making bad spending decisions, and the other side blaming predatory lending institutions.

Well, one does not preclude the other. Maybe we have a pair of "goats" here. Just because the predatory lending institutions are in the wrong does not mean that it was okay for someone to claim income that they did not actually have in order to obtain a loan that they could not repay. The fact that the lender did not care about repayment is irrelevant; the foreclosure is still foreseeable and deserved.

Campaign Tactics

This is a clear choice that the American people have. I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign. Heh, heh.

I take back what I said about John McCain knowing how to campaign.

Blog Diffusion Experiment

Marc Danziger is trying to spread this “Happy Flu” meme, part of an experiment to see how these things spread. If you’ve got a blog and you saw this here first, click “Spread It” and get the code to embed on your own site. As people do that, little circles will appear which will in turn do somethingoranother and demonstrate something about diffusion on the Internet.







Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Selling The Point

Many years ago the Hamm’s Beer commercials on television featured a cartoon bear that kept getting in trouble. I loved those commercials, as did everyone who saw them. The bear’s misadventures were a frequent topic of conversation around the office water cooler, and we couldn’t wait to see what was going to happen to him next. Hamm’s was extremely popular for sponsoring that bear.

The only problem was that everyone was buying and drinking Schlitz and Budweiser, not Hamm’s. Advertisers were finding out that the commercials that sold products were not the ones that entertained, but the ones that were repeated so many times that they became annoying. Those were the ones that made the brand name stick in peoples’ minds when they were standing at the point of sale.

John McCain knows that. He is getting killed right now by current events. He has nothing on which to sell himself other than his personal valor in combat and in the face of torture, and the fact that he supported the surge. And so he repeats these truisms to the point of annoyance. When asked about removing troops from Iraq he responds by saying that he was right on the surge and Obama was wrong. When asked about Afghanistan he responds by saying that he was right about the surge in Iraq.

It is annoying, it is unresponsive, and it works. It makes people remember his name. People only need one fact to remember a person, and they remember that fact and define that person by that fact.

A friend of mine once told me, when I asked him if his razor broke, that he was growing a beard and that he was going to let it grow out to be a large full beard. I asked him why and he replied that it was so that people would then refer to him as “the guy with the beard” instead of “the big fat guy.”

Do not think that John McCain fails to respond to a question because he didn’t understand the question. John McCain is not stupid. He knows how to campaign. You craft a message, a simplistic talking point that defines you, and you repeat that message until your audience cannot see a picture even remotely relating to that message without your name entering their mind.

Yesterday McCain gave the same answer, “I was right on the surge and Obama was wrong,” to three questions in succession. The answer was responsive to the first question, at least moderately so, but it was totally unresponsive to the next two. McCain knows that to get a point to stick in the listener’s mind he has to annoy them with it. A few people will remember it if he says it once, but virtually everyone will remember it if he says it three times. One news station might play a clip of him saying it if he says it once, but by saying it three times he can be all but certain of getting the statement on television.

John McCain is not interested in answering questions. He is interested in getting his talking points on television and, more importantly, implanted in the memories of the voting public.

Is Obama any different? Well, I think the answer is both yes and no. Obama is a politician, and certainly he knows how to do the “talking point” thing.

But Barack Obama is "tainted" by idealism. There are all of these ideas bouncing around inside his head of things he might actually do if elected. They distract him from the cynicism of merely repeating the talking points and these ideas keep getting into his speeches and into the answers he gives to questions. He knows he is supposed to merely provide talking point number four, but he actually has an answer to the question and he just can’t quite prevent himself from giving it.

It makes it hard for the electorate to get a handle on him, though. They want that talking point. That want that one simple fact that defines him and, so far, he isn’t really providing it the way that McCain is. One thing is for sure, though, if Barack Obama is elected,

Either he is going to change Washington, or it's going to change him.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Negotiating Occupation

This interview with Andrew Card is a masterpiece of muddled thinking as he tries to explain the difference between a “time horizon” and a “timeline.” Muddled thinking is another way of saying bullshit artistry, of course.

He throws in a couple of other little masterpieces which are sort of skipped over in the hyperventilation over the “time horizon” imbroglio.

He says that this is all part of a “..negotiation with the Iraqi government.” That phrase is a clear statement that the Iraqi government and our government are not on the same side. The Iraqi people have been wanting us to leave for a long time, now, and it seems that the Iraqi government has come around to that same point of view. Our government is furiously denying that. Our government is actually negotiating with the government of the nation we are occupying to persuade it to agree to allow us to continue that occupation.

The other thing that Andrew Card said that was noteworthy was that in the course of these negotiations, “the President will take his direction from the military leaders on the ground.” This has been a recurring theme of this administration, that foreign policy is influenced by military leaders.

The decision as to whether or not we will occupy a sovereign nation by military force or whether, once begun, we will continue that occupation is a policy decision that should not be made or influenced by the military. Prior to that decision military leadership should be consulted as to whether or not the policy is possible. Once that decision is made the military leadership should be consulted on the best method of implementation of that policy. But the desirability of that decision is a civilian decision and the military leadership should make no input to that aspect of the decision whatsoever. Likewise, the decision as to when to end that policy is a civilian decision and the military leadership should make no input to that aspect of the decision whatsoever.

This is not a gray area. It is a straightforward as is the decision as to whether or not to start a war. The military may not decide to go to war, and it may not decide foreign policy. Yet this administration endlessly defers to “military leaders on the ground” to dictate our position with respect to a foreign, sovereign government.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Must Read

You must read today's op-ed piece by Frank Rich in the New York Times.
I don't care what you may think of that paper, or that writer, you must read the piece. Among other things, you will learn what "fiscal flatulance" is, and who has it. The title alone tells you it's worth reading. The link is below, go read it.

In the New York Times today: It’s the Economic Stupidity, Stupid.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Market Madness

My father once said something to me when I was in my teens. These are not his exact words, but they are pretty close.
“Son, if you continue to act like a half-wit and hang out with half-wits you are going to learn to your sorrow that two half-wits do not have the same brain power as one full-witted person.”

The truth of that adage is being demonstrated this week as we have a very large group of half-wits buying and selling stocks, and causing the stock market to rise and fall, based on the most flimsy and idiotic reasons a full-witted person can possibly imagine.
July 15, 2008, ABC News
In light of recent bank closures and market downturn, financial planners across the country are fielding questions from worried investors, who want to know how to protect themselves, their families and their futures.

The plummeting stocks of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, as well as the government bailout of IndyMac Bank on Monday, rocked the markets and consumer confidence to the core. The Dow Industrial Average had dropped 93 points by the closing bell today.

And down goes the stock market, like an express elevator.
July 16, 2008
Wall Street at least temporarily shrugged off some of its many concerns Wednesday and bounded higher thanks to a drop in oil prices. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 276 points, or 2.5 percent, posting its best daily gain in three months.

Light, sweet crude fell $4.14 to settle at $134.60 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, bringing its two-day decline to $10.58.

In addition to sinking oil prices, investors found relief in a decision by Wells Fargo & Co. to boost its dividend that helped counter some of the market's concerns about the health of banks. The San Francisco-based bank's move to raise its payout, along with its tamer-than-expected profit decline, was seen as a bullish sign for the troubled sector.

Meanwhile, on the same day and in the same news cycle:
Inflation for June was 1.1%, putting us at a double digit for the year and implying something close to disaster economically.
More bank failures along the lines as IndyMac are expected, perhaps as many as 100-150 banks by year’s end.
Home values are continuing to decline at a record pace, and foreclosures are soaring along with them.
The credit crisis is by no means over, as failures are still expected in credit card and home equity debt.

But up goes the stock market because the half-wits are thrilled that while people are standing in line to get their money out of one failed bank, another bank lost less than expected (but still lost) and oil is only $135/barrel. The gasoline the half-wits put in their cars did not decline, only crude oil.

On July 17th the market shot up again as the half-wits were further thrilled when oil prices dropped yet again. ABC News was swooning about the largest drop ever in history, which may be true in terms of numbers of dollars. I suspect that in terms of percentage there have been larger ones in the eighties when oil companies were going bankrupt. They had some "guru" who was gushing about how we could soon see oil at under $90.

What the half-wits who are buying all of this stock and raising market value fail to consider is that the price of oil is dropping, not because there is some sudden increase in supply, but because the people trading it, who are probably not half-wits, believe that the economy is declining and that oil is going to be less in demand.

That does not make the price drop good news for the market.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Still Unstimulated

The Economic Stimulus Payment website advises me that our check was mailed on May 30, 2008 but we have not received it. Numerous calls to the information number on that website resulted in a recording to the effect that the center was overloaded and could not handle my call. A call to the Internal Revenue Department was ineffective, as they advised me that the stimulus checks were handled only by the Economic Stimulus Payment office. I have written and emailed my U.S. Representative, Susan Davis, and received no reply. Today I finally got through to the Economic Stimulus Payment phone line, where I was on hold for precisely sixty minutes listening to repeated recorded messages stating that all agents were helping "other customers" and asking me to continue to hold. One hour was all I could tolerate of that, so I finally hung up.

If I had not talked with people who had actually received checks, I would think that the whole program was another government fiction. I'm not quite sure what to do next.

Economic Advice

I'm not sure who ABC News thinks their audience is, but their economic advice last night in view of these "troubling times and high gas prices" consisted of things like "Now is a good time to buy stocks because there are really good prices on them" and "Split your money into multiple banks to keep account balances under $100,000."

Somehow, I doubt that anyone who is having difficulty due to high gas prices is worried about keeping "account balances under $100,000."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Tax Policy & Propaganda

I got an email forwarded to me from a friend; a circulating piece of propaganda that that is being used to trash Obama. It suggests that Obama is going to tax everybody into oblivion, and you can read it and the facts about it at factcheck.org. (They debunk rumors about both candidates, so I tend to trust the facts that they publish.)

Regardless of the policy or the candidate, voters need to remember that Congress and only Congress can enact any tax of any description. Neither Obama or McCain, if elected, can raise or lower any tax by one red cent or a single percentage point. Only Congress can do that. If you think that members of Congress, of either party, are going to engage in hairy dramatic increases of taxes you are utterly unhinged. If they raise taxes on the wealthy their campaign funding will vaporize, and if they raise taxes on the non-wealthy they will be voted out of office in a heartbeat. The one thing they absolutely will not do is raise taxes by any significant amount.

When a candidate promises, “I will cut this rate by three percent” he is telling you that he subscribes to the “unitary executive” theory of government. For years Congress has bowed to the Administration’s demand that it pass whatever budget is proposed by the executive without questioning or amending it, so there has been some truth to a President’s statement that he will enact a given tax. When Congress does what it supposed to do, however, a President may only propose a tax and Congress is vested with the sole power to enact or decline to enact the tax.

It should be noted that the most recent Congress, controlled by the Democratic Party, has continued the policy of allowing the Executive Branch of our government to control the “power of the purse” by following its preceding assemblies in the practice of passing the spending requests of the executive without alteration.

So the reality of the candidates’ promises to enact various tax laws is false under our constitution. Whether they are false as to actuality remains to be seen.

Offensive Magazines Covers

Okay, I've now read no fewer than eight nine posts written by people who were outraged by the picture on the cover of New Yorker magazine this week, and every one of them published the picture in their blog. They admit the picture is actually aimed at critics of Obama, but suggest that it is poorly-done satire and that they find it offensive. I agree, and I find the picture offensive too, so I'm not going to include it with this post.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Obama Spurns NASCAR

Do not be deceived, he did nothing of the sort. What actually happened paints a significantly different picture.

An outfit called BAM Racing has been without a commercial sponsor since the beginning of this season, and has been sitting out most of the NASCAR Sprint Cup races. They have a car, driver and enough money to put fuel in the car but they do not have enough money to field a pit crew for the race, which NASCAR requires. So they made an offer to Obama’s campaign to be a sponsor to their car for the Pocono race later this year, which would involve the Obama campaign giving them a lot of money in return for which BAM Racing would put “Obama for President” on the side of the car.

They made the same offer to the McCain campaign, and to several lower level politicians, and then spread the rumor that Obama had accepted. I’m guessing at the latter, but sports writers were all over the idea that Obama was on board, and the rumor had to come from somewhere.

The owners of BAM Racing are staunch Republicans and have donated heavily to that party and its members for years. The driver of the car is also a staunch Republican, has spoken favorably of a number of members of that party for several years and is known to be a McCain supporter. A couple of other pertinent facts are that BAM Racing seldom has even finished a NASCAR race, let alone won one and that the driver, Ken Schrader is a very nice guy and at one time was an outstanding driver, but he is about the same age as John McCain and is about as effective behind the wheel of a racecar as McCain is at a teleprompter.

NASCAR is generally a hotbed of Republicanism anyway, so the side of any racecar is probably not the best venue for Obama’s advertising dollar but, given that it has a proclivity for running about a third of the race at the rear of the field and then heading for the garage, this car would seem to be a particularly poor choice. Obama’s campaign followed the lead of dozens of knowledgeable automotive sponsors and kept their name off of the quarter panel of BAM Racing’s car.

My guess is that BAM Racing spread Obama’s name as the rumored sponsor because they were pretty sure that no one would take them up on the offer and they didn’t want to embarrass any of their favored candidates. Actually, making it appear that Obama was spurning the NASCAR crowd may have been… Nah.

Speaking of the IRL,

(Which I wasn't, but...) I watched the IRL race at Nashville last night, and Danica Patrick has got to be the least charming person I have ever seen on television. According to her all of the rest of the drivers are talentless ill-mannered boors who are conspiring to deny her the opportunity to showcase the skill which she and she alone possesses. Gack.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Dire Weather Warning

warningsWell, head for the basement.
Update Sunday:
This dire warning is still up (updated) for today and tomorrow. Wierd.

Campaign Debt

Much is being made of the issue that Obama is not being sufficiently aggressive in trying to persuade his donors to contribute to retiring Clinton’s campaign debt. I find all of the arguments as to why he should do that unpersuasive, at best.

In the first place, I don’t believe that any candidate should be allowed, by federal election rules, to incur campaign debt. The news media talks endlessly about the pace of donations as a measure of the level of popular support the candidate currently enjoys, and it seems to me the candidate should conduct the campaign within the framework of that support level.

The idea that the winner should devote time and effort to paying off the costs of the loser’s effort is patently absurd. In a business model it would be laughed out of the assembly. If General Motors were to go bankrupt, would anyone suggest that Ford should pay off its debts?

The argument is made that he should make the effort in order to bring Clinton voters to his cause, which to carry on the auto-maker analogy, would be like Ford purchasing the assets of a defunct General Motors. But I don’t buy that argument either, because the Clinton voters are more like the employees of the defunct company; they should flock to the survivor without the need for such inducement.

Can you see the General Motors employees saying to Ford, “Yes I’ll come work for you, but only if you pay off all of General Motors debts first.” I think the laid off workers would accept the paycheck from Ford without caring much how Ford treated their former employer; would be unlikely to decide that they would rather starve than work for Ford.

Are the Clinton voters really so shortsighted that in order to express their anger, or their disappointment, over their idol’s loss that they are willing to contribute to placing a Republican in the White House for another four years? And not just any Republican, but a particularly virulent Republican, one who may be in several ways even worse than the incumbent.

To me the idea of Obama supporters paying off Clinton’s debt is a terrible idea. Money is not an unlimited resource, and those millions of dollars would be far better spent furthering the cause of sending Barack Obama to this nation’s highest office rather than being sunk into a cause already lost. Every dollar that is paid into Clinton’s dead campaign is a dollar unavailable to Obama’s live campaign. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson (although I’m not sure who actually said “Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute.”),

“Millions for the presidency, not one cent for a cause already lost.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Nation's Strength

“...her decks all bloody and her tattered flag still flying.”

The above is a partial quote from Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts, one of the great historical novels of all times. It’s about the Revolutionary War and the quote is in reference of an American ship doing battle with a British one, and eventually emerging with the victory. The phrase has always been extraordinarily evocative for me.

This nation has had her decks bloodied many times, and not been brought to the point of hauling down her flag yet. The FISA assault on her constitution is not going to cause that either.

Certainly it is true that passage of the FISA bill is no cause for celebration, but let’s everybody draw a deep breath and regroup here. The bill hardly “eviscerates” the fourth amendment. The government still cannot open my mail, it cannot directly tap my telephone, it cannot search my home or my person. In due course, this bill will be reversed, as have all other laws and amendments that have unreasonably restricted freedom. That is the nature of this country.

Voices have spoken out against infringement of liberty in the past and they are doing so now. It just takes time for those voices to be heard. They will be heard; they always have. They will rise in volume and will be joined by more voices until the shout of freedom drowns out the cacophony of fear.

We have come through wars great and small, rebellions great and small, treasons great and trivial, and assaults on our constitution in more than one manner. We have survived fires, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, pestilences and famines. We have known prosperity and we have survived great economic depression.

We’ve done all that, and our “tattered flag is still flying.”

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Obama Triples Missouri Staff

According to the Associated Press, Obama is campaigning big in Missouri, increasing his staff in that state to 150 persons.
"Republican presidential candidate John McCain's campaign said the plan shows that Obama is desperate to win Missouri."

How about "Obama is serious about winning Missouri." Along with about, oh, maybe 49 other states.

California Heat Wave

In case you want to know, the heat wave that is inundating California does not include San Diego. At least not the part where I live, which is about seven miles from the coast. We are "sweltering" in the mid-seventies.

The Bounds of Free Speech

Rachel Maddow on Countdown was hyperventilating last night about the McCain campaign’s contravention of the first and fourth amendments, in that they denied permission for an elderly librarian to stand at their rally holding a sign which read “McCain=Bush.” The lady was given a ticket for trespassing, escorted from the property and told that she would be arrested if she returned. At first the property was described as “public property,” but then it was revealed that it was a private foundation arena that had received some public funding. The McCain campaign had rented the property for the period to conduct their rally.

Certainly one might think that the action was in rather poor taste, and that the campaign probably exercised poor judgement in their decision to have the lady booted by the law.

I’m not sure that any constitutional rights to assemble or speak freely were violated, though. A campaign rally is a private event, and the people conducting a private event have every right to control who may or may not attend that event.

The fact that the property had received some public funding does not make it public property. I’m pretty sure that the campaign would have been within the bounds of propriety even if the property were public property, however, as they had rented the use of it for their event. When you rent a property for your own use, you control access to that property for the duration of the rental period and the property, in this case, included the plaza outside the event arena.

The purpose of the event was to promote John McCain’s candidacy, and in their consideration the lady was acting in a manner contrary to the best interest of that purpose. The lady holding the sign claimed that it was inoffensive, but that is not her decision to make; that decision belongs to the persons conducting the event.

Ms. Maddow compared the McCain campaign’s action to the Bush Administration’s similar actions of restraining protesters to roped off areas removed from the President and out range of the cameras, but there is a major difference: a gathering around an elected official on public land is not a private event on private property.

I think there are more serious issues on which we might well focus.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Hawaii Home Values

Happy BirthdayAnd real estate values continue to plummet.

Refilling the Lake

John McCain, brilliant economist that he is, has promised to balance the budget in four years by cutting taxes, which is sort of like me solving my credit card debt problem by cutting up my paycheck.

The key to his plan, though, is winning the war in Iraq, because the balancing act comes from all the money we save by not having the fight the war any more. He actually said that the money we save will be used to pay down the deficit. Except that the money we are spending there is deficit spending, so that plan is actually a little weird.

It's like you have a big lake during a drought. Atlanta can understand this analogy. No water is coming in, but you're taking water out, so the water level keeps dropping and the citizens are worried. So the mayor comes up with a plan: stop taking water out of the lake. Brilliant.

"But," the citizens say, "we want the lake refilled." The mayor comes up with another plan. "No problem," the mayor says, "we'll refill it with the water we're no longer taking out."

Brilliant.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Charting Politics

Thanks to the Newshoggers for directing me to this interesting method of charting one’s political inclination. I took the test to ascertain my political stance (my wife’s reaction was “You had to take a test for that?”), and I have to admit the result rather freaked me out. I mean, I knew who I am, but… Sheesh.

Anyway, let’s have some fun and see where my readers stand with respect to me and with respect to each other. I’ve built a chart which shows where I am, and you can add yourself to the chart. The test is completely anonymous, and you can use an alias on the chart if you like, so that only you know who you are.

First, go here, and click on “Take the test” in the menu.

Then go here, and fill in your name and scores.

That will send you to the chart, with your place already added.

You can also check out where the current presidential candidates are (which may surprise you), and see some historic persons (scroll down) in this analysis. As you will see, I’m sort of down there with the Dalai Lama and I kind of make Nelson Mandela look like a Fascist. Oh well.

I is who I is.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Obama as Will Smith

No, not in Hancock, I haven't seen that yet. As posted on Outside the Beltway today, there was an item today in the Washington Post about the two presidential candidates. This excerpt is worth repeating,
Wonderful moment in John Ford's "The Searchers," from way back in 1956: John Wayne, as the surly, violent Ethan Edwards, signals to his young compadre that it's time to move on in their pursuit of Scar, the Comanche chief who's murdered their family and kidnapped the youngest daughter, Debbie.

"Let's go, blankethead," he scowls to the young Martin Pawley.

I love the Duke's pronunciation of the word "blankethead"; it radiates contempt for the young and the untested. Ethan is using the blast of scorn to tell the young man not only to get going to his horse but to get going in growing up, to acquire sand, grit, salt and all the other granular metaphors for old-guy toughness and savvy. Blankethead: It's a three-syllable telegram on the theme of the fecklessness of youth, and nobody but Wayne could turn it into poetry.

But in the same instant, I remember Will Smith in the original "Men in Black." The hotshot young cop has been recruited to an alien-hunting team secretly HQ'd in a New York bridge, and now he's working for Tommy Lee Jones and Rip Torn. Torn and Jones are babbling about something and not paying attention to Smith. There's a moment of frustration on the young face, and he interrupts with his own blast of scorn: "Hey, old guys !"

It's a voice full of impatience, annoyance, even contempt, suggesting they haven't the energy, the quickness or the attention span to take care of business. It's on him, now, the new guy, the kid: He's got to keep them from wandering off, losing track, drifting as the old are wont to do.

I can just see Barack Obama in shades, "Hey, old guy !"

There are also more than a few photos of him that could be captioned with the Will Smith famous, "I make this look good."

Startling News

Form an article in The New York Times today:
Last week, Ford Motor reported that S.U.V. sales were down 55 percent from a year ago, while demand for its full-size F-series pickup, a gas guzzler that was the country’s best-selling vehicle for 26 consecutive years, is off 40 percent.

What amazes me is that 45% of SUV's are still selling, and full-sized truck sales are off by only 40% despite gas at $4.00/gallon and rising and an economy that's in utter disrepair.

I'm reading a book titled Just How Stupid Are We? It's about voters, but...

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The Religion Candidate

In last week’s episode of Army Wives a unit was shown returning home from deployment. The C-5 landed and troops deplaned and formed ranks while the families stood behind ropes breathlessly waiting to welcome their soldiers home. The commander then led the troops in the Lord’s Prayer as they stood in ranks, after which they were released to be greeted by their loved ones.

No, not a final muster or a patriotic speech; not the Pledge of Allegiance or the National Anthem; the Lord’s Prayer. Is that a chilling scene, or what?

(I find that series a little hard to watch anyway. If this is our modern Army, we are in trouble. The commanding general in this drama spends more time weeping than he does issuing orders. I mean, really.)

For several election cycles, now, the Republicans have catered to the religious right with such rhetoric as “compassionate conservatism” and George W. Bush’s “Faith Based Initiative.” Rhetoric from the media has increasingly examined the religiosity of the candidates, despite the constitution’s Article VI clause that “no religious test shall ever be required” for any office, including president. Far less time is spent discussing the candidates’ educational background than is spent on discussion of what churches they may have attended.

In this cycle the parties have somewhat reversed the tradition, with McCain avoiding religion and Obama devoting entire speeches to demonstrating how religious he is and the extent to which religion influences his life and his decision-making. Of such stuff are theocracies made.

Obama accuses McCain of attempting to run for George Bush’s third term, but it is he who seems to be trying to be the “religion candidate.” He is the one touting his religious credentials and his “born again” position with respect to faith. McCain is not the one proposing a “Faith Based Initiative” to mimic the Bush Administration, Obama is the one doing that. If anyone is going to continue the Bush Administration’s attempt to turn this nation into a theocracy, it would appear to me that McCain is much less likely to do so than Obama.

At least he is, as the crux of his religiosity, backing things like social safety nets rather than obsessing on homosexuality and abortion, but the focus on religion simply does not belong to be part of a political campaign under our system of government and the degree to which Obama is indulging in it makes me uneasy.

Obama’s proposed version of the “Faith Based Initiative” plan would require that either government oversight into religious organizations be required to assure that the requirements he has proposed were met, or that funding would be provided to religious organizations with requirements which would not be monitored for compliance. The former is unacceptable to those of faith, and the latter is unacceptable to those with governmental concern.

Perhaps he is just pandering for the votes of the religious right; perhaps this reflects the actual position that he holds. I’m not sure which of those two alternatives is less attractive to me.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Libre

BetancourtI just about cannot get enough of this lady on the news. After five years of mistreatment and captivity, not one frown or one harsh word. Just smiles and sparkle in her eyes and a face filled with joy. No condemnation of those who held her, just words of gratitude to those who kept the faith and those who rescued her.

Is it time to drop the freedom fries and go back to french fries now?
I think so.


.

Another 232 Years

Happy BirthdayHappy Birthday America, here's to another 232 years of providing liberty and justice for all.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Termination Shock

No, I haven't been fired and I'm not dying. "Termination shock" is the boundary in space where the solar wind meets the incoming interstellar wind, and Voyager 2 is there and is recording it.

If you think that our government is fubar and can't do anything right, go read this. This is awesome. These space travellers have been going for 31 years and are still sending information back home, telling us things about a universe that is vast beyond imagination. Something is squashing our solar system, and we don't know what. Wow.

Words and Deeds

“Your actions speak so loudly I can’t hear what you say.”

Updated below: July 4th, 7:00am

We now know why the Clintons have been able to reconcile with Barack Obama, why Hillary was smiling and looked so comfortable with him on the stage in New Hampshire. He has demonstrated by his actions that he is no threat to the established ruling class. He is one of them. He is a fully vetted member of the moneyed governing elite, and they can safely work to elect him, since he does not threaten the hold that they have on power.

He is worth electing, in fact is quite necessary to elect him, because he is the least bad of the options that the power system is offering this election.

All through the primary he told us that he would “defend the constitution,” that he would “restore the constitution,” that he “understood the constitution” because he had “taught the constitution.” And now, promptly after winning the primary, he votes in favor of a bill that erodes the constitution. Before the primary he promised that he would support a filibuster to prevent any bill from passing that would grant immunity to companies that had broken the law by spying on Americans, and now he joins Bush and McCain in deciding that such an issue is less important than “keeping America safe from terrorists.”

In defense of his vote in favor of the FISA bill he allows his staff to feed us lies about the need to pass a compromise in haste before the “FISA Law expires,” hoping that the voters are all sufficiently ignorant that they will not know that the FISA Law has no expiration. He himself gives as a reason for his support of this bill that it “restores the FISA Court as the sole authority” when it actually grants vast new powers to the executive with only the most bare and cursory oversight by the FISA Court.

All during the primary he said that he would end the war in Iraq, that he would not be a “war president.” Now he talks of escalating the war in Afghanistan, ramps up talking tough in Iran, and is talking big about increasing the size of what is already the largest military force in the world. We spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined, and he wants us to spend more. The “call to arms” that has been missing all these years is finally issued. But why now? Why a call to arms for a war you promised to end?

The media and blogosphere is up in arms about McCain’s denial that he ever said he was “less than expert” on the economy, and declaiming at length about his reversals of position on various issues. Yet Obama is doing exactly the same thing. Last month he was opposed to granting immunity to telecoms, now he is okay with it. Last months he was opposed to passage of wiretapping legislation that broadened the power of the executive, now we need it. And when asked about it, he denies that he has changed his position.

That’s what politicians do. They say whatever is convenient to the moment, whatever the audience in front of them is most likely to respond to. The truth means nothing to them. They cannot speak to their principles because the only principles to which they are dedicated is their own election and the preservation of their own political party’s supremacy. That’s what politics is in this nation.

Obama campaigned on a promise to change that way of doing government and, not even yet elected, he is breaking that promise. That makes him no worse than anyone else who has ever run for office. It just means he is no better, and I had hoped for better. He won’t do the good things he was promising, but he won’t commit the horrors that John McCain threatens, so he still has my vote. He has lost my enthusiasm.

Markos Moulitsas said, “I don’t want to see him talking about leadership. I don’t want to see him talking about defending the constitution. I want to see him doing it.”

When he had that chance, Markos, he settled for talking.

Update: July 4th, 7:00am
Gleen Greenwald, who has been and remains a supporter of Obama, has an outstanding analysis of Obama's support of the new FISA bill at this post.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Hardball

I did not think it was possible, but MSNBC finally found somebody I like less than Chris Matthews and put her on as host on Hardball.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Still Unstimulated

The recording that earlier informed me that our stimulation was "scheduled to be mailed on or before May 30th" is now informing me that our check "was mailed on May 30th." Oh, good, but we have not received it. The recording goes on to say then, that due to "heavy call volume" it "cannot handle" my call. It does suggest that I call later or at a future date.

All of the other contacts I have been able to make at the Internal Revenue Service tell me they have no dealings with Economic Stimulus matters and that the number which is overloaded is the only contact for that issue, which is probably why that number is overloaded.

The United States Postal Service was kind enough not to laugh in my face, but allowed as how they could not be of any assistance since there was no actual evidence that anything was ever mailed to me. I said that the IRS had told me they mailed something and the reply from USPS was words to the effect of, "Yeah, right."

Our government at work.