Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 12, 2010

No Such Thing as an Innocent Leak

One of the problems with the hoo-hah surrounding the release of the State Dept. documents is that there has been little attempt from any quarter to distinguish the different effects resulting from the same acts. As long as everything is connected to everything else and thus is declared good/bad as a piece, we won't understand the real impact of this event.

Let's make one thing really clear - the documents have been released. They are not just on wikileaks. Every government with an internet connection has downloaded the complete set (Just in time for the holidays!), there are mirrors, copies, bit torrents, etc., available for anyone with a modicum of computer savvy, and there are now malware emails out there enticing the unwary into clicking on the link to get the documents and actually getting some lovely bit of malicious software instead. That's how you know you've arrived - you're famous enough to be used as spam-bait. No power can reverse this distribution of information. For good or ill, they are now part of the public discourse. What remains is to analyze what has been set in motion.

Comments not getting delivered

Just a note that I've found a bunch of comments in a junk mail folder, some of which are months old. Blogger is also sending almost all comments to the Spam bin when they do arrive. If you haven't seen your comment, it's probably gone into this parallel universe.

Technology, so much fun. Not.


Thursday, December 09, 2010

In Search of the Ordinary

I've been really busy the last few days at work and haven't had any energy to blog. I still don't have much.

My evenings lately have been spent watching re-runs of Dr. Who. It is great fun, what with constantly saving damsels in distress and entire civilizations and foiling the bad guys.

I can see the appeal.

Mostly I've sat in wonder at the explosion of ever expanding hysteria among what were once reasonably intelligent blogs. I can't even begin to address these things because the fundamental assumptions underlying the arguments simply aren't rational. They have bits of fact, threads of insight, and an overwhelming body of self-referential reasoning. It reminds me of Thomas Pynchon's observation in Gravity's Rainbow:
If there is something comforting--religious, if you want--about paranoia, there is still also anti-paranoia, where nothing is connected to anything, a condition not many of us can bear for long.
I feel caught between a faith that cannot see its lack of foundation and a determined cynicism that will not allow foundations to be laid. Faith and anti-faith denying a place to reason.

Apocalypse is so much easier to conceive of than the ordinary.


Saturday, December 04, 2010

What Did You Think Was Going to Happen?

Way too many people out in Ye Olde Blogosphere are getting their collective knickers in a twist over the reality that - GASP! - wikileaks is getting shut down by a combination of government and commercial actors.

Grow. The. Fuck. Up.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Hillary is Not Going to Save Us

I've had private conversations on this point before on whether Hillary would run again for President. I have always said she would not. After the disastrous midterm elections, people who had dismissed her in 2008 began asking if she would, perhaps finally understanding the penalties of having been so wrong before. Today, myiq2xu has a post on The Confluence citing two news articles where HRC says pretty firmly that she's done with public service after the Secretary of State gig. Nope, Hillary is not going to save us, even if we ask nicely.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Season's Greetings

Krugman smacks the Obama apologists:
After the Democratic “shellacking” in the midterm elections, everyone wondered how President Obama would respond. Would he show what he was made of? Would he stand firm for the values he believes in, even in the face of political adversity?

On Monday, we got the answer: he announced a pay freeze for federal workers. This was an announcement that had it all. It was transparently cynical; it was trivial in scale, but misguided in direction; and by making the announcement, Mr. Obama effectively conceded the policy argument to the very people who are seeking — successfully, it seems — to destroy him.

So I guess we are, in fact, seeing what Mr. Obama is made of
Yup, this is what you voted for, Whole Foods Nation. This is the person you were warned about. You voted for a Reagan-adulating, Democrat-hating cipher who has taken the total mess bequeathed to the nation by Bush/Cheney and has made it worse. He is not even pretending to try to defend any interests, not even his own.
Instead, he apparently intended the pay freeze announcement as a peace gesture to Republicans the day before a bipartisan summit. At that meeting, Mr. Obama, who has faced two years of complete scorched-earth opposition, declared that he had failed to reach out sufficiently to his implacable enemies. He did not, as far as anyone knows, wear a sign on his back saying “Kick me,” although he might as well have. 
Obama is not a Reaganite, no matter how much he enjoys fellating the corpse of the Gipper. If he really were a Reaganite, he'd know how to preserve and expand power.

I've written before that Obama lacks any sense of or taste for politics, and think I have his political philosophy identified, namely a very patrician Hoover-ish progressivism, but something Krugman wrote today made me have a very bad thought:
One would have expected a candidate who rode the enthusiasm of activists to an upset victory in the Democratic primary to realize that this enthusiasm was an important asset. Instead, however, Mr. Obama almost seems as if he’s trying, systematically, to disappoint his once-fervent supporters, to convince the people who put him where he is that they made an embarrassing mistake.
I read this a little differently. What it looks like to me is Obama methodically reversing the desires of the people who voted for him, inverting every virtue and intention they projected on to him. If someone was trying to deconstruct the Democratic Party from the inside - betray its hopes, derail its changes, destroy its legacy - you couldn't ask for a better example.

Almost like an act of revenge.

I said in Primary Objective that Obama was not mortally unpopular with the base, but I'm having to rethink that claim much more quickly than I imagined given the way he has increased his pissing on the Democrats since the mid-term losses. If he has no loyalty to any part of the party and is eager to walk around with a big "Kick me" sign taped front and back, then it makes no sense for the party to follow him off the cliff. Krugman closes by saying, "It would be much easier, of course, for Democrats to draw a line if Mr. Obama would do his part. But all indications are that the party will have to look elsewhere for the leadership it needs."

I think the primary season has opened a few months early.


Foreign and Domestic

As I read various things about the wikileaks document dump, something becomes very clear. Many commenters don't or can't distinguish between domestic law and foreign policy.

First off, the laws that govern US citizens and others within our borders are specific to this geographical location. They may apply to our citizens outside our borders, but that is more complicated and will depend on where that person is - a military base, a consulate, during a diplomatic meeting, on personal vacation, etc. - and what that person is doing. Restrictions and penalties are higher for people serving the nation in an official capacity (military, diplomats, trade representatives, etc.) because they have to varying degrees the authority of the nation behind their actions.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Suspect Intelligence

Here's a thought. Most of the cables released by wikileaks aren't classified. 54% were unclassified, 40% were confidential and the remaining 6% had a higher designation. Most came from a network called SIPRNet, which is a major conduit for shared information since 9/11.

While the data is tagged as being from that source, it actually is unknown who obtained the data. Bradley Manning is a prime suspect, mostly based on the leak of the helicopter video and the testimony of Adrian Lamo. I think Manning has provided material (classified or otherwise) to Assange, but probably not the bulk of what wikileaks showed the press. He may be being used as a fall guy, and I think even with a fairly low rank, he could have seen a lot of unclassified material, but the breadth of the information along with the knowledge that it is far more than Manning (or Lamo said Manning) claimed to have downloaded makes me doubtful that there is a single source.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wikileaks - Cui Bono?

I'm going to ruffle more than a few feathers with this post, but there are two words that come to mind when I read over the information Wikileaks is releasing.

Valerie Plame.

This smells like a rather large rat-fucking operation with information on so many fronts being made public all at once. What I see is fairly conventional politics of states, but it is sure to enrage the purists on the left and the nationalists on the right in about equal measure. The first group will wring their ineffectual hands over the evil of the government while the latter will rage at their screens over the release of state secrets.

Who is benefiting from this, really? This is designed to embarrass and compromise people, force resignations, undermine conduct of policy.

This much information being released does not happen without some serious coordination and power. This wasn't done by a few outraged whistle-blowers.


Update - To save pointless speculation, no, I don't think this is the White House trying to make  HRC look bad. They have their hands full making themselves look like dolts, after all. My guess is the remnants of Cheney's operation at State and in the military (potentially with help from the CIA and key news reporters) providing carefully selected stuff to an operation all too happy to tell the "truth", no matter how distorted, misleading, or lacking in context that alleged "truth" is.

No, I don't have much respect for Wikileaks. It's all too eager to play messenger for unknown interests. If you think this latest round of releases is good for anyone except the hard right, you need to get out more.

PS - Thanks, Falstaff! Good catch.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Commenting Rules on this Blog

I've posted this before, but it's been over a year and there are some new names showing up in the comments:
  • Comments on this blog are moderated. If you do not see your comment right away, it is in moderation. Please do not post the same comment more than once.
  • I have a life. Sometimes I can read comments in moderation very soon after they have been posted. Sometimes they will sit for most of the day or even a few days. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
  • If you don't see your comment, it means A) I haven't moderated it yet or B) I moderated it and rejected it.
  • I sometimes get way behind in moderating comments and I reject the entire batch to clear things out. Nothing personal. 
  • If you have put a hyperlink into your comment, I will hold that comment until I can take my time reading what is at the link.
  • If you state in the comment that it is not for publication, I will not publish it. In those cases, I recommend you use the contact link at the foot of the page instead of leaving a comment.
  • If you have said something that appears to be humorous, satirical, ironic, etc., and which could easily be misunderstood, I'm probably going to hold the comment until I can add a follow up or else not publish it. I may get the joke but I hate cleaning up after people who didn't.
  • Anyone who reads my comments can see that I'll approve and release stuff that I strongly disagree with as long as it is civil and thoughtful. Conversely, lack of civility or thoughtfulness, even when the commenter agrees with me, will earn a rejection.
  • If you are rude, TYPE IN ALL CAPS, look like you're getting into a pointless pissing match with another commenter, spam, or generally annoy me, you will be rejected.
  • I sometimes release comments that demonstrate the commenter is a moron. If you posted that comment and get ridiculed because you said something moronic, too bad. Think before you post.
  • Comments of the "I agree!" and "Me too!" variety probably won't be released.
  • I run this blog for my own purposes. I'm not here to promote your blog, support your cause, or otherwise make you happy. If I don't release your comment or add you to my blogroll or mention you in a post, that's life.
  • Comments that have nothing to do with the post will probably get deleted.
  • Sometimes I reply to you with a comment of my own, but I prefer to leave that area for you to voice your thoughts and respond to other commenters. After all, I have the blog itself for my own commentary.
In short, be civil, stay on topic, say something interesting or insightful or provocative without being antagonistic, and I'll release the comment.


    Oh, Happy Day!

    The Bug Man has been convicted.
    Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- once one of the most powerful and feared Republicans in Congress -- was convicted Wednesday on charges he illegally funneled corporate money to Texas candidates in 2002.

    Jurors deliberated for 19 hours before returning guilty verdicts against DeLay on charges of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. He faces up to life in prison on the money laundering charge.

    Prosecutors said DeLay, who once held the No. 2 job in the House of Representatives and whose heavy-handed style earned him the nickname "the Hammer," used his political action committee to illegally channel $190,000 in corporate donations into 2002 Texas legislative races through a money swap.
    Such a nice thing to read in the paper.


    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    To the Right of Lincoln

    Blanche Lincoln, that is.

    John Cassidy has an article in the most recent New York Review of Books, The Economy: Why They Failed, on just how badly the Obama administration has failed. None of this will come as any great surprise to regular readers, of course, but there are some interesting tidbits in Cassidy's article that deserve some attention. Part of the appeal of this article is the calm, almost dry, recounting of the actions the Obama administration has taken, granting them every claim they have made about why X was necessary or why Z wouldn't work. Cassidy then throws in the counter factuals, and blows the arguments out of the water.

    Monday, November 22, 2010

    Imaginary Friends and Political Monsters

    I haven't owned a television since 1989, and encounter it only rarely, such as at a bar or a friend's house. I read about media, entertainment and television on the Internet and in print far more than I watch it. I estimate I watch 8-10 hours of TV a year (broadcasting, not using a TV to view movies or DVDs) and am put off by most of what I see.

    Which leads me to the reports of various head-explosions over Dancing with the Stars, where viewer voting is keeping Bristol Palin in the competition. Being without a TV and completely unwilling to even try to locate clips online of any contestant, I can say that I am unbiased about the relative dancing skills of anyone appearing on the show - don't know, don't care

    What I do care about is that the show is adding to the media relevancy of the Palin name. McCain's choice should have been a sad selection of VP, on par with Gore's ill-advised selection of Joe Lieberman*, notable only for its bald-faced pandering to a certain obnoxious group internal to the party. But a funny thing happened on the way to the defeat, namely that the Left's reaction to Palin cemented her as a hero on the Right, while their beatification of Obama has led to increasing levels of political demonization of people with reasonable criticisms of his ineffectual center-right politics.

    Sunday, November 21, 2010

    Krugman Agrees

    On all counts - Obama's dangerous Reagan worship, on his misrepresentation of Democratic history, and on the deep self-delusion and denial of the Obamacans when confronted with the baldly stated illiberal beliefs of The Precious:
    Some readers may recall that back during the Democratic primary Barack Obama shocked many progressives by praising Ronald Reagan as someone who brought America a “sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” I was among those who found this deeply troubling — because the idea that Reagan brought a transfomation in American dynamism is a right-wing myth, not borne out by the facts. (There was a surge in productivity and innovation — but it happened in the 90s, under Clinton, not under Reagan).

    All the usual suspects pooh-poohed these concerns; it was ridiculous, they said, to think of Obama as a captive of right-wing mythology.

    But are you so sure about that now?

    And here’s this, from Thomas Ferguson: Obama saying
    We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible. We had to act quickly.
    As Ferguson explains, this is a right-wing smear. What actually happened was that during the interregnum between the 1932 election and the1933 inauguration — which was much longer then, because the inauguration didn’t take place until March — Herbert Hoover tried to rope FDR into maintaining his policies, including rigid adherence to the gold standard and fiscal austerity. FDR declined to be part of this.

    But Obama buys the right-wing smear.

    More and more, it’s becoming clear that progressives who had their hearts set on Obama were engaged in a huge act of self-delusion. Once you got past the soaring rhetoric you noticed, if you actually paid attention to what he said, that he largely accepted the conservative storyline, a view of the world, including a mythological history, that bears little resemblance to the facts.

    And confronted with a situation utterly at odds with that storyline … he stayed with the myth.
    What infuriates me about this situation is that the people who were the most rabid Obama supporters, racing around intimidating anyone who opposed The Precious, spreading lies about HRC, gaming caucuses and rigging votes, justified their actions be claiming that HRC was just a front for right-wing interests and would run an administration identical to the one Obama is running now, whereas he would be the reincarnation of the pantheon of Democratic greats all rolled into one. These are often the same people who failed to vote for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004, again claiming that there was "no difference" between them and Bush, that they weren't liberal enough, etc. Gore in particular was singled out for this kind of treatment.

    Obama is wholly captured by the conservative myth of the strong entrepreneurial Republicans leading the nation out of the divisive, wasteful wilderness of the weak Democrats. He said so in his campaign, he has said so every day of his administration, and he may very well bring about the end of the Democratic Party given his determination to follow in Saint Ronnie's footsteps.


    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    The San Diego Experiment

    San Diego, California, is a place to keep an eye on as it serves as a laboratory for Movement Conservative experiments in economic malfeasance and runaway plutocracy, helped along by a marvelously kleptocratic and corrupt Democratic contingent. This is the mess Pete Wilson built. The biggest experiment underway right now is how to use Republican controlled major municipalities to eliminate any kind of retirement for workers except 401(k)s. They just might get away with it.

    The City of San Diego stopped participating in Social Security system in 1982, when Pete Wilson was mayor, in exchange for a city-funded retirement pension and health care package. City employees do not pay into Social Security or Medicare. The current retirement system is a slightly better than Social Security deal for ordinary long-term employees. Short term employees (less than 10 years of employment) are not vested, so it is a worse deal. For a small number of very long term employees who are at the top of the civil service ladder, especially those in Police, Fire or Life Guard positions, it is a much better deal than Social Security. The people at the top have more opportunities to game the system and maximize their eventual payout. In short, business as usual for the oligarchic kleptocracy.

    Thursday, November 18, 2010

    A Hundred Days

    The combination of Hoover, FDR and Obama as a focus of analysis appears to be catching on. I just read Thomas Ferguson's post The Story Behind Obama's Remarks on FDR on New Deal 2.0. He starts with a quote from a transcript of remarks Obama gave to "liberal bloggers":
    “We didn’t actually, I think, do what Franklin Delano Roosevelt did, which was basically wait for six months until the thing had gotten so bad that it became an easier sell politically because we thought that was irresponsible. We had to act quickly.” - President Obama
    There are two things that jump out at me from this quote, regardless of the context.The first is the self-exculpation - we didn't get all we wanted because we took a bolder path than FDR, so don't criticize us! - and the breathtaking erasure of history.

    Um, hello? The First Hundred Days of FDR? The stuff of Democratic legend and the bane of Republicans to this day? FDR moved on the FIRST day of his presidency and did not stop for 100 days, passing legislation that would become the most stunning reimagining of American society since Lincoln and possibly since the founding of the nation.

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Richard Sale on the Balanced Budget

    Nothing new from me today kids, but please take the time to read Richard Sale's post The Balanced Budget on Sic Semper Tyrannis. Here is the opening of the article:
    The chief result of the struggle between the impulse to reform and classical economic liberalism in the early part of the 20th century was the welfare state. These partial triumphs of reform occurred because more and more of the population wanted an increase in bargaining power with the great concentrations of wealth, some additional leverage that would provide some reprieve from the harshness of Fate and Misfortune, some badly needed security and protection for the bulk of the people that it had never enjoyed.

    Conventional wisdom – which is to say sanctified hearsay and cliche – had argued for years that the American economic system had no flaws -- that capitalism was a process ordained by God to separate the weak from the strong, the energetic and daring from the ordinary and inert.

    The dogma that claimed Big Business system was God-ordained and that the millionaire was the finest flower of American civilization was at last toppled from its pedestal because the dogma of conventional wisdom had been rendered obsolete by events. People may find it hard to reason, but most of them are able to see, and when dogma cannot account for the facts of experience, dogma falters.  
    Read it all. It is short and to the point. The comment thread is (thus far) reasonably intelligent so peruse that as well. (Pat Lang's blog has a varied and interesting group of regular commenters, btw.) Many of the points Sale makes about the conventionality of Hoover in response to the Great Depression are part of my analysis of the current administration.


    Tuesday, November 16, 2010

    Prisoner of Conventional Wisdom

    This is one of a set of posts I plan on writing up over the next who knows how long. Like my set of posts identifying the Truman-Stevenson split in the Democratic Party, this will be a partly historical, partly analytical, partly irascible look at the question of how the hell the Democrats in particular and the Left more generally have ended up in such a shitty place, politically speaking. It’s going to be a bit dense.

    A word of caution before I get going. I will be using Obama as an example quite a bit because he is an exemplar of a certain political type. Aside from his use as an example, I’m not interested in the person himself because, well, he’s the exemplar of a political type I don’t have much patience with. Claims about his “real” political agenda, or his secret scheme to hand the country over to Wall Street, or his true political alliances, or his cynical selling out of the country, etc., aren’t very interesting to me, though others disagree. I’m writing political theory here, not a political agenda, and my target is not Obama – he’s the person he is and nothing I say is going to change that – but a political culture that doesn’t comprehend its own fault lines and blind spots.

    Monday, November 15, 2010

    Hostage Situation

    I found myself in close to full agreement with The Shrill One's latest column today, The World as He Finds It.  I thought Krugman's observation that Obama negotiated everything "with himself" before trying to engage others was of a piece with Sean Wilentz's New Republic article about the failure of the Obama movement to achieve anything of worth.  As the Krug notes, echoing Wilentz (my emphasis):

    Saturday, November 13, 2010

    Where Can I Piss?

    As should be obvious to my regular readers, I'm an institutionalist. This goes directly back to my readings of Hannah Arendt and her analysis of political power. One of her lessons, one generally overlooked or underestimated, was about the purpose of institutions in government. Her discussion of two-sided nature of institutions - to act as a barrier against erosion of rights and protections and to be like a scaffold or a trellis to which power, an ephemeral quality of people acting in concert, could cling and thereby be preserved - tended to be dismissed in seminars as old school and an apologia for government authoritarian tendencies. Didn't she understand that power was in the street, in the movement, in the moment?

    Oddly enough, the critics overlooked her agreement with them about sources of power - where else can it come from save "the street" (or in her terms, the public realm) because that is where you encounter unique yet equal others with whom the business of the polity is conducted? - and miss that she is answering the question "What do we do now?" once power has been generated and action is underway. My fellow students were often too caught up in their own struggles against institutions (restrictive family, crappy job, college administration, etc.) to appreciate the function of the structure in the domain of human affairs.


    Marshall Auerback on New Deal 2.0, lays into the Catfood Commission's disingenuous calls for sacrifice:
    This latter development has now gathered pace and found its fullest expression through the US National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (an Orwellian title if ever there was one) established by President Obama. The Commission has proposed a $3.8 trillion deficit cutting plan that would trim Social Security and Medicare, reduce income-tax rates and eliminate tax breaks, including the mortgage-interest deduction. Yes, there are token cuts in Defense spending in the interests of “fairness”, but the cuts are heavily skewed toward middle class entitlements. (Which is a deceiving word because it implies that we’re just a bunch of weak supplicants, dependent on the graces of the government. Why don’t we call these programs “enablements”?) The priorities laid out by the Commission are truly symptomatic of the degeneracy of our governing class compared to the days of the Great Depression. Grand projects started then are still delivering value to communities and private business interests some 80 years after their completion.

    Friday, November 12, 2010

    Primary Objective

    I've been reading lots of yak-yak in the blogosphere about how there needs to be a primary challenge to Obama. OK, let's talk about that in some real terms. For shits and giggles, we'll toss in 3rd party/independent challenges, too. This gives us two different modes of challenge, one internal to a party and another intended to cut across institutional coalitions.

    There are a few models of what an internal challenge can look like. The classic is a moderately powerful insider taking a run at an incumbent who is clearly failing or is perceived to be weak. In recent times, that gives us Teddy Kennedy's challenge to Carter, Bill Bradley's challenge to Gore, who, as Vice-President, was the default choice for the nomination on the Democratic side, and Ronald Reagan's 1976 challenge to Ford and Pat Buchanan's 1992 challenge to Bush I for the Republicans.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Oh No - He's Your Son of a Bitch

    Obama is not a Clinton Democrat. I'm a Clinton Democrat. I voted for Hillary. I picked the candidate who had the best mix of policies for the middle class and who had the best track record of delivering on legislative measures. I picked someone with a decades long record on human rights and promoting heath care reform. Me and the majority of registered Democrats threw our support to Hillary Clinton.

    Obama did not come to power because of me. I did not give Obama my primary vote. I constantly pointed out his conservative tendencies in my blog. I did not give him any funds. I did not cast a vote for him in the general - I wrote in Hillary's name. I knew what he was and what he would do since November 2007. I did not fall for his bullshit.

    YOU DID.

    You, David Sirota. You Josh Marshall. You, Jane Hamsher. You, Arianna Huffington, and Markos, and Armando/BTD, and Big Media Matt, and Ezra Klein, and Kevin Drum, and Steve Benen, and Digby, and Jeralyn, and Chris Bowers, and all the rest of you self-proclaimed liberal/progressive/radical types who decided that you should be the arbiters of progressivism.You proclaimed "Out with Bubbas, up with Creatives" and swore your allegiance to Whole Foods Nation. Your idol was The Precious.

    You shilled for someone whose political hero is Ronald Reagan. You gave him your votes, your money, your volunteer time, and your seal of approval. You devoted your time and energy to promoting him and brushing away the very valid questions about what he would actually do if he gained the office. You called those of us who dared to ask these questions bitter, low-information, racists, and said we were voting with our cunts. You said that we didn't support Obama because we supported McCain/Palin. You did everything in your power to bully, threaten, shame and intimidate us into going along with your delusional fantasy.

    For crying out loud you fucking threw PAUL KRUGMAN under the bus when he didn't drink your poisoned kool-aid!

    Obama is your creation, not mine.

    He is your son of a bitch, through and through, and is made in your image. He is what he labeled himself - an Obamacan, neither Democrat nor Republican, dedicated to nothings save his own cult of personality. You chose him and made him the media darling you wanted to associate with. You did so knowing exactly what he was, and the single biggest reason you did this was to piss on Bill and Hillary Clinton. All you wanted him to do was beat "that bitch", and it never once occurred to you what your son of a bitch would do when he got into office. This is why I call him The Precious - a beautiful thing that destroys and corrupts everything and everyone it touches.

    Don't you presume to call him a Clinton Democrat.


    Media Darlings and Policy Disasters

    A pattern I'm noticing among former Obama cheerleaders is how quick they are to subsume Obama to Clinton. BTD scornfully dismisses him as a Clinton Democrat, for example, and now Sirota (is it funny that my spell check wants to change "Sirota" into "scrotum"?) is rolling him back into the Clinton/DC/Third Way borg. He has disappointed them, he is no longer top-drawer goods, so now they paint him with the worst epithet they can pull out of their kit-bag - Clinton Democrat.

    None of these esteemed pundits appears willing to cop to the fact that Obama is being completely consistent with what he campaigned on - a platform of feel-good rah-rah and center-right policies, coupled to a deliberate rejection of identification with the Democratic party. Obama was a transformational figure only in their self-indulgent wet dreams. (BTD in particular has no grounds to complain as he explicitly said the reason to support Obama was his media darling status, not his policies.) They supported Obama in order to defeat HRC, and, rather like Obama himself, failed to consider the all important closing line of The Candidate "What do we do now?"

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Demon Bank

    Indulge me for a post while I dream about a basic banking system. With the crap coming out of the Catfood Commission and the continued squeezing of lower income (and not so low income) consumers for their financial options, plus a nod towards the continual invasion of our privacy, I whiled away the evening pondering the possibility of the Demon Bank.

    The Demon part of it refers to how it would be received by the Very Serious People and all of the monied elite. The premise of the bank is to introduce a baseline offering of banking services to the perpetually under- (and just plain un-) served portion of the citizenry who don't have tens of thousands of dollars just lying around to make them the desired customers of giving-you-the-business-as-usual banksters. The two markets this bank would compete against would be local payday loan outfits and regional and national mega banks with their massive ATM infrastructure. In both cases, the main objective is to reduce or remove charges for ordinary, low-risk transactions. The challenge is to not harm local banks and credit unions who are serving their communities well and who cannot leverage scale to distribute operating costs.

    How Indeed

    Pat Lang of Sic Semper Tyrannis posts this today:
    President Obama is a mystery. His enemies have never stopped claiming that he is secretly a Muslim and ineligible for the office of president because of his supposed foreign birth. His approval ratings are in the basement.  In response he travels to Indonesia for what he says is a kind of homecoming.  He gives speeches there about his outreach to Muslims and visits a mosque.  How did this man become president? He seems to lack any real "feel" for the political process in the US. He seems to want to be a statesman rather than a politician
    I share Pat's puzzlement. There are any number of excellent evaluations of the mechanics and strategy of how Obama became president - see myiq2xu's post today The Obama Movement on Confluence - all of which are open for analysis.

    What Lang points at is a variation on the how. Why did this person who does not appear to have a political bone in his body ever choose to pursue this office? It doesn't seem to be something he actually wants to do, laying the foundation for what has followed.

    It is another facet of wanting to be a Democrat for a Day. He wanted to have the moment of attainment, and, that complete, now seems rather nonplused that he has to stick around and do something.


    Monday, November 08, 2010

    Democrat for a Day

    Peter Daou has a blistering post up today, On 60 Minutes, President Obama apologizes to America for being a Democrat. On the whole, the most shocking thing about this post is how little analysis Peter has to put in on it. Most of it is Obama digging himself in deeper and deeper. It was so cringe worthy I had to force myself to keep reading. Most damning to me was this:
    “I think that what happened over the course of two years was that we had to take a series of big, emergency steps quickly. And most of them in the first six months of my administration. Each of them had a big price tag. You got intervention in the banks. You’ve got the auto bailout. You’ve got a stimulus package. Each one with a lot of zeroes behind it. And people looked at that and they said, “Boy, this feels as if there’s a huge expansion of government.”

    “But necessity created circumstances in which I think the Republicans were able to paint my governing philosophy as a classic, traditional, big government liberal. And that’s not something that the American people want. I mean, you know, particularly independents in this country.”
    Actually, history has shown that Americans precisely like classic, traditional, big government liberals, and voted you in thinking you would be one, Precious.

    The Truth of the Bitter White Elite Class

    In the 2008 primaries, I wrote an article The Myth of the Bitter White Working Class that, using the work of Paul Krugman and Larry Bartels, poked holes in the moronic claims by Stevensonian elites that the white working class in America, Bubbas and Bunkers, are collectively responsible for perpetuating Republican rule because they are such knuckle-dragging, low-life, racist, anti-intellectual rubes, clinging to guns and God, as Obama (in)famously put it. I pointed out, way back in April 2008, this was little more than projection:
    The basic problem is that two similar reactions to frustration - anger and bitterness - are getting conflated and transposed in an attempt to explain away Obama's failure at the polls.  ... What we are seeing is the way in which Obamacan bitterness over not getting what they want (and a pony) results in them crudely projecting their biases and fears onto people who are simply voting their interests. Bitterness is a reaction to having been stymied or betrayed, and is not an automatic reaction to having to work hard. I suspect a lot of working class people, regardless of color or gender, look at the shit life throws them pretty much the way I do, which is to sigh, daydream a bit about winning the lottery, and then just getting on with the business of making do with what life has handed you. It's only if you feel entitled to something you haven't received or burdened by things you do not deserve that you become bitter. Anger can be empowering. I have never encountered bitterness that is not corrosive and destructive.

    Sunday, November 07, 2010

    Taking the Lead

    After reading a post on Corrente and having some email exchanges with Lambert (who deserves great thanks for his patience and reasonableness when confronted by crabby bloggers), I'm going to have to call bullshit on the claim that Girl Scouts are rejecting leadership because of endemic lying (and that this is a valid political stance) for a number of reasons. My reasons break into two sets: the structure of the argument itself is fatally flawed and the substance of the argument is tripe.

    Let's talk about structure first.

    Saturday, November 06, 2010

    The Failure of Team Obama

    I've added two new blogs to my blog roll in the last week - Peter Daou, of "The Daou Report" and HRC campaigns's Internet director, and New Deal 2.0, "A project of the Roosevelt Institute, ND2.0 brings you commentary from the country’s leading thinkers: economists, historians, political scientists, policy experts and elected officials." Right on cue, Jamie Galbraith posts one of his smart, succinct, devastating critiques to ND 2.0:
    Bruce Bartlett says it was a failure to focus. Paul Krugman says it was a failure of nerve. Nancy Pelosi says it was the economy’s failure. Barack Obama says it was his own failure — to explain that he was, in fact, focused on the economy. ...

    The original sin of Obama’s presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures


    Lambert beat me to the most amusing line from Bob Somerby's post election take-down, but there is a lot more to the Incomparable One's analysis than the snark about limbic brains.

    What Bob is doing is unpacking the cultural Stevensonian shorthand of "dumb racists" and demonstrating why this narrative does not play in Peoria - Shop of Fools. Focusing on how the phrase "take our country back" is used and abused by various political actors, Bob says:
    [Former Pennsylvania governor Ed] Rendell wants to take our country back already! He wants to take it back so much, he voiced the desire three times.

    Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with what Rendell said. This is standard political talk—so standard that it formed the title of one of Dean’s books. But when Robinson hears this language from the other side, he types a hackneyed column, using mumble-mouthed formulations to advance the one political claim modern liberals know how to advance. Is this as dumb as what Bachmann did when she spoke with Cooper on Wednesday? That would be a matter of judgment. But in our view, it reflects the paucity of actual politics in the burgeoning liberal world. This lack of real politics also appeared when Collins blathered at Maddow.

    Friday, November 05, 2010

    Olbermann Out

    Falstaff says it best: "Keith, we knew ye all too well. Richly deserved -- but for rather different reasons. This is like getting Capone on tax evasion."

    Here are my reasons:

    Thursday, November 04, 2010

    Audacity Deficit

    The Focus Hocus-Pocus
    After all, are people who say that Mr. Obama should have focused on the economy saying that he should have pursued a bigger stimulus package? Are they saying that he should have taken a tougher line with the banks? If not, what are they saying? That he should have walked around with furrowed brow muttering, “I’m focused, I’m focused”?

    Mr. Obama’s problem wasn’t lack of focus; it was lack of audacity. At the start of his administration he settled for an economic plan that was far too weak. He compounded this original sin both by pretending that everything was on track and by adopting the rhetoric of his enemies.  ...

    But he chose a seemingly safer course: a medium-size stimulus package that was clearly not up to the task. And that’s not 20/20 hindsight. In early 2009, many economists, yours truly included, were more or less frantically warning that the administration’s proposals were nowhere near bold enough. ...

    Meanwhile, the administration’s bank-friendly policies and rhetoric — dictated by fear of hurting financial confidence — ended up fueling populist anger, to the benefit of even more bank-friendly Republicans. Mr. Obama added to his problems by effectively conceding the argument over the role of government in a depressed economy.

    I felt a sense of despair during Mr. Obama’s first State of the Union address, in which he declared that “families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.” Not only was this bad economics — right now the government must spend, because the private sector can’t or won’t — it was almost a verbatim repeat of what John Boehner, the soon-to-be House speaker, said when attacking the original stimulus. If the president won’t speak up for his own economic philosophy, who will?

    So where, in this story, does “focus” come in? Lack of nerve? Yes. Lack of courage in one’s own convictions? Definitely. Lack of focus? No.
    In the interests of not repeating the same sin against The Precious as continues to be committed against the Big Dog, Obama did not do this all by himself. He can bear the bulk of the blame, not the least because his platform was elect me because I am the answer to your woes, but he was enabled be an entire cast of Unity Democrats and Very Serious People and Purchased Fellows, many of them the same people who did their best to destroy their own party leader from 1992 on, and who back-stabbed Gore in 2000. Together they are the gutless wonders who prefer to lose than, well, stand for anything. Not that Obama thinks there's anything wrong with that.

    Audacity is in the doing. Nothing less.


    Dance With Them Who Brung Ya

    The saying goes that you should "dance with them who brung ya," a colloquial way of pointing out that you have substantive obligations towards those who brought you to whatever festive occasion you are attending.

    The Democrats faced the penalty of failing to follow this advice in two ways in the midterms. The people who the Dems didn't want to be seen with in the last electoral round and who have been treated as expendable for the last two years, most crucially white, relatively affluent women, declined the invitation, either by outright defection to the opposition (notably those who are married) or by not voting at all (unmarried women). The party was also rejected by those who they courted assiduously two years ago - independent men and the "youth" vote - who decided to find another dance partner this time around.

    From the LA Times, "Blacks, Latinos stick with shrinking Democratic base" (my emphasis throughout):
    Democrats searching for good news amid the rubble of Tuesday's midterm election results can look to Latinos and African Americans, two groups of voters that stayed with the party in large numbers.

    But that, in a sense, is like taking comfort in that fact that as your house is falling down around you, it isn't also on fire.

    Wednesday, November 03, 2010

    On His Head

    Sorry to keep quoting myself, but when you're right, you're right. On June 7, 2008, I posted The Front Lines of Democracy, an analysis if HRC's "concession" speech. I quoted her at length and then talked about how her presentation of the issues and challenges facing Democratic candidates and constituencies differed from Obama's:

    Against Conventional Wisdom Redux

    On November 15, 2008, I posted an article Against Conventional Wisdom in which I laid out the reasons why Obama had some very good reasons to make a good faith offer of the Sec. of State position to Hillary. We all know how that turned out. As I re-read it tonight, two predictions stood out:

    Tuesday, November 02, 2010

    What Happened to the Hopeium?

    In 1994, the Democrats lost 54 seats. We all knew it was Bill Clinton's fault because he was, you know, a hick.

    In 2010, the Democrats have lost at least 58 seats and will probably end up losing 60+. This is record under performance, worse both in absolute numbers and in probability than 1994, when the Dems retained more seats than they were projected to hold.

    The New Gilded Age

    I'm watching the balance of power wobble along (Boo, Rand Paul! Yay, Andrew Cuomo!) and have some special interest in local and state initiatives (Boo, Prop D! Yay, Prop 19!), but otherwise don't have much invested in the outcome.

    The course for the next generation was set back in 2008, when the Stevensonian elite subverted their own party's electoral process (Be a Democrat for a Day!) so that they could feel morally superior voting for a black man. Obama himself has said quite clearly that no one would bother to vote for him if he was white. This says much of his political calculation, but even more of his supporters. They were truly the Joshua Generation, unwilling to do more than their political predecessors and envious that they could not be cultural heroes like the economic giants of FDR's era or the moral giants of MLK's. And, having aimed so low and compromised so much so they could pretend to stand up to the "racists", they now get to live with that legacy. Unfortunately, so do the rest of us.

    Monday, November 01, 2010

    The Unwashed

    I watch the current electoral folderol with mixed feelings. As for my local charade, I'm voting Yes for most Democrats (but not Jerry), Yes on legalizing pot, Yes on removing the 2/3 super majority vote to pass a state budget, No on most else, and a bothered No on Prop D in San Diego, which asks for a half cent sales tax increase, but only after the mayor has satisfied certain conditions for regulating the city budget, chief of which are union busting and outsourcing. The money gathered is not allocated for correcting any of the budget shortfalls, such as public safety staffing or reductions in public services, and is tied to a midnight pigs-at-the-trough deal with the state giving large sums of city money to a redevelopment agency that has some ethics problems with keeping track of the dough. Isn't Prop D the Stadium Initiative? is how one local small business person (runs a very nice restaurant in my neighborhood, in fact) discusses the proposition, which in this formulation manages to get cover for putting local people out of a job (the union-busting) and hand bags of cash to the local Republican-dominated developer elite who want their downtown taxpayer funded football stadium, damn it!

    Back to the unease.

    Sunday, October 31, 2010

    Recovery Strategy for Very Serious People

    So, it seems that David Broder has put into words what is on the Collectively Wise Mind of the Very Serious People in DC and it has put people into a bit of a tizzy. Links below:
    Of all of them, Krugman has the most fun (and gets to the heart of the matter most quickly) with Broder's post.  I am a bit amazed at the seriousness of the responses, especially by the economists, who try to demonstrate the idiocy and denounce the suggestion. Paul's ironic, almost laconic, reply cuts to the chase: This is a pronouncement by one of the Very Serious People, and so must be taken more seriously than the silly scribbles of shrill economists or their equivalents in other intellectual fields. This is the High Priest of Bi-Partisanship who has spoken, and Bob Somerby's Incomparable Archives give us a decade of equally gobsmackingly dumb statements that have governed the course of the nation.

    Yves Smith's NYT Op-Ed

    For those of you who would prefer to not give the NYT your traffic, Yves has posted the text of the op-ed on her own site.

    Our New York Times Op-Ed: How the Banks Put the Economy Underwater

    The opening paragraphs:
    In Congressional hearings last week, Obama administration officials acknowledged that uncertainty over foreclosures could delay the recovery of the housing market. The implications for the economy are serious. For instance, the International Monetary Fund found that the persistently high unemployment in the United States is largely the result of foreclosures and underwater mortgages, rather than widely cited causes like mismatches between job requirements and worker skills.

    This chapter of the financial crisis is a self-inflicted wound. The major banks and their agents have for years taken shortcuts with their mortgage securitization documents — and not due to a momentary lack of attention, but as part of a systematic approach to save money and increase profits. The result can be seen in the stream of reports of colossal foreclosure mistakes: multiple banks foreclosing on the same borrower; banks trying to seize the homes of people who never had a mortgage or who had already entered into a refinancing program.
    Read the whole thing.


    Saturday, October 30, 2010

    Of Hicks and Hacks

    I was reminded by the Spousal Unit of a post by Brad DeLong a little over a year ago (Health Care Reform: Memories of 1994) that fits quite well with the themes I've been writing about. DeLong notes (my emphasis):
    After President Clinton's 43 percent plurality victory in the presidential election of 1992, I worked as a spear carrier in the U.S. Treasury Department under Secretary Lloyd Bentsen. The plurality view in the Treasury Department throughout 1993 and up through the middle of 1994 regarding the health-care reform situation had six analytical pieces:

    (1) There were not even 50 votes available in the U.S. Senate for any health-care reform bill sponsored by President Clinton. It did not matter what the bill included or how good the policy might be, because key Democratic senators placed a higher priority on teaching the hick from Arkansas that he was not their boss; they were determined to vote against it. Thus even though the Democrats had a majority in the Senate, they could not pass Clinton's bill—whatever it was—even if the Republicans did not filibuster it.

    Thursday, October 28, 2010

    Plebian Acts

    The Incomparable One, Bob Somerby, seems to be channeling my writings about the cultural Stevensonians all this week. He talks about the cultural blindness in The Fruits of Our Blinkered Elites:
    “That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial,” Charles Murray wrote in Sunday’s Washington Post. “That its members differ from former elites is not controversial.” Murray went on to explain what this means; according to Murray, this “New Elite” differs from earlier elites in that its members earn their status through high performance in universities and then in graduate schools.

    After that, they inter-marry—and breed. The process starts again.

    Clouds and Clarity

    A picture of a hundred (or so) words is worth more than when they were spoken:

    Obama's word cloud

    Lambert's cloud formations, comparing Obama's words to FDR's, is self explanatory.

    Update - While I agree that the word clouds are drawn form different kinds of speaking events (a closed conference and a public address respectively), the patterns of language are what fascinate me. In a smaller venue with members of the ostensible intelligentsia, I'd expect to see more substantive language. Given the condition of the economy, I'd expect to see a lot of terms addressing that topic. What I see is vapidity. With a national speech, I'd expect to see more generalities, more platitudes. Instead, I see action words, things asking people to do things or talking about paths to be taken. There is also a broad range of words that are emphasized more or less equally, in comparison to the verbal imbalance of the former.

    I'd like to see the speeches reversed or to have a more recent president compared to Obama. If that's done, I'll link to it. Update - Please look in the comments. CMike has posted a set of links to word clouds of different president's inaugural addresses.


    Marketing & Sales

    I have to make mention of Yves Smith's excellent rant, Obama No Longer Bothering to Lie Credibly: Claims Financial Crisis Cost Less Than S&L Crisis (my emphasis):
    I’m so offended by the latest Obama canard, that the financial crisis of 2007-2008 cost less than 1% of GDP, that I barely know where to begin. Not only does this Administration lie on a routine basis, it doesn’t even bother to tell credible lies. .And this one came directly from the top, not via minions. It’s not that this misrepresentation is earth-shaking, but that it epitomizes why the Obama Administration is well on its way to being an abject failure.

    Sunday, October 24, 2010

    WKJM's Frustration

    A friend sent me a link to a TPM editorial post by WKJM where the pool boy claims "Now, before saying anything else, let me say that there's never been a bigger fan of Bill Clinton's than me (though I had some wavering in 2008)." before launching into a totally bizarre put down of , well, you tell me (I'll provide the entire post so it is all in context):
    A report surfaced today that Bill Clinton is frustrated as heck that the Dems can't manage to get a coherent or persuasive message together for the midterms. And he's even doing what he can to get together good talking points for candidates and stump in all the right places to help save the Democratic majorities even if the current leaders can't manage it themselves.

    Now, before saying anything else, let me say that there's never been a bigger fan of Bill Clinton's than me (though I had some wavering in 2008). And I've never doubted his intuitive political skills, which make him -- whatever else you think of him -- one of the consummate, defining political players of the 20th century. And, as you've seen if you've read what I've written over the last three months, I've been distressed by the Democrats' inability or unwillingness to grasp hold of what winning political issues there are in such a rough climate.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Capital Expenditure

    One of the most telling things George W. Bush is alleged to have said (I'm too lazy to look up the quote) was that if he had political capital, he was going to spend it. He said this as a comparison to his father's administration, which he believed lost political capital because it wouldn't spend it. ("Wouldn't be prudent!")

    And, boy howdy, did he ever. He spent every last cent of political capital he gained from 9/11 to pursue his wars and cement his class's stranglehold on the nation's wealth - and pursuit of both happily coincided. Revolting as his actions were, he did what any strong, smart politician does, namely waste no opportunity in which to advance his interests, because at some point, you'll be out of power and you will no longer have those opportunities. That's what it means to spend capital. It is an investment in anticipated future returns, something that may begin as a debt but (through the miracle of compound interest and good borrowing terms) may turn into a very large asset indeed. If nothing else, your capital may get others to toss some of theirs into the kitty and then you can hold a "liquidity event" and cash out. The key here is using capital to raise more capital. It is an entrepreneurial mode and can fail catastrophically (see, LBJ, Vietnam) when a venture goes bad.

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Of Reds, Racists and Rubes

    One of the reasons I don't blog much anymore is that I said most of what I had to say between November of 2007 and the election the following November, when the general ideas I had about the state of the liberal mind in America came to life before my very eyes. Those 480 posts were me theorizing out loud. The over-arching theme was the fault line within the Democratic Party (which I had been haphazardly posting about since the previous electoral cycle in 2006, when the Lieberman debacle started to expose the fissure) that has only widened.

    Accusations of racism, obsession with reducing political opponents to racists, and a reflexive lunge for racism as the true root of opposition to the Obama administration/ health care/organic produce/ insert issue of the week here looks and sounds like nothing so much as the Red-baiting tactics of McCarthy and Nixon back in the day. Just as that obsession (revived today under the "Socialist! epithet being attached to someone whose policies are well to the right of Tricky Dick's) had roots in both the pre-New Deal strength of labor and the danger of the "Commie" Russians and Chinese (usually confounded with the fascist Nazis), so, too, does the racism obsession have it's roots in slavery and segregation. As I discussed in The Whiteness of the Whale, reversal of the Democratic Party's traditional defense of racism became the defining characteristic of the party after Johnson signed the 1964 Civil Rights Act Act (about which LBJ said "I know the risks are great and we might lose the South, but those sorts of states may be lost anyway.").

    As with the Right's use of anti-Communism, the Left's use of racism as a political trope to delegitimize opponents (to be distinguished from battling actual racism, which would entail relinquishing the historical privilege those liberal elites enjoy, just as actually abiding by true capitalist/free market ideology would wipe out the "socialism for the rich" advantages of the Right's elite) is sounding more like the crazy uncle than describing any reality I can observe.

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Attacking the 50 Foot Woman

    While much of the blogosphere is talking about the audacity of Virginia Thomas trying to shame Anita Hill into taking back her testimony against Clarence (read Historiann's take on the matter), I want to bring up something that isn't online as far as I can tell, but needs some analysis. And it's kind of related to the nonsense being inflicted on Ms. Hill.

    The Spousal Unit reads Mother Jones online a fair amount, mostly to follow Kevin Drum's blog and for the occasional article. A family member gave him a subscription to the dead-tree version of it as a birthday present and the first issue arrived yesterday.

    The cover, which I looked for but could not find posted on the web site, is a variation on the iconic movie poster pictured here. In this pulp classic, a wealthy woman who is being abused and cheated on by her scumbag husband has a run in with an alien from outer space and is transformed into a 50 foot tall giant. Her husband attempts to murder her with a lethal injection, but fails. She goes after him and his mistress, kills the mistress and seizes him. She is killed by an explosion and her homicidal spouse is crushed when she falls with him grasped in her hand. Good cheesy fun.

    The Mother Jones cover has turned the scantily clad, rampaging female into Sarah Palin standing over a suburban street and crushing a house in her left hand while minivans and SUVs careen in the street and tiny human figures (of tastefully multi-ethnic skin tones) flee in a panic.  The headlines emblazoned across the cover say "ATTACK ON THE MIDDLE CLASS!" "A confused & frightened citizenry votes against its own self-interest" "They say they're taking back America, but really they're taking... your money!!!"

    No, really. It's just like that.

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Popular is as Popular Does

    I laughed out loud at lunch today when I read this article in the LA Times, Clinton outshines Obama as campaign trail surrogate, poll finds:
    According to a Gallup Poll released Tuesday, more voters of all political persuasions said they were more likely to back a candidate if Democrat Clinton campaigned for him or her, than if the campaigner were President Obama, who is fighting to keep Democrats in control of Congress.

    The poll found that 53% of Democrats said Clinton’s personal endorsement would carry weight compared to 48% who said Obama’s would. On the negative side, 5% of Democrats said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate if Clinton campaigned, while 6% said they would be more hostile if it were Obama. The differences between those numbers translates into what the poll said was a net of 48 for Clinton and 42 for Obama.

    Clinton and Obama fare less well with Republicans and independents but the former president, free of the burden of actually being in office and having to make tough decisions, again gets the edge. Neither Democrat carries much weight with either group, but Clinton is less hurtful by a ratio of about 2 to 1 among Republicans.

    Among independents, 21% said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who was baked by Clinton compared to 12% who said the same about Obama.

    Monday, October 18, 2010


    Not a full thought here, but a reflection on a deep problem with the locavore/localvore (I've seen it spelled both ways) "movement". The gist of their argument is that by eating "locally" (ostensibly food grown within a certain distance of their home and often including other conditions such as being organic, purchased "from the grower", and bought at a "farmers" market), you are using fewer resources, avoiding the horror of industrial farming, getting better quality/more nutritious foodstuffs and generally are are more virtuous person than your neighbor who buys vegetables from the big supermarket chain.

    These claims have a ring of truth, especially the feelings of moral superiority. Intuitively, we think food grown nearby should have a smaller carbon footprint than food grown three states over or in another country. Isn't it better to have food that isn't grown with chemical pesticides? Aren't organic farming methods less destructive to farmland and riverine systems?

    Safe Browsing

    I wrote an article back in June for the readers of the fanfiction site I maintain, Henneth Annun Story Archive. The topic of the article is how to quickly and effectively configure your PC and browser to give you a fighting chance against the malware and nosy advertising firms. I wrote it to combat the rampant fear mongering in the computer world where it is more important to seem hip and cool by bashing Windows than it is to present practical information about how to avoid 99.9% of the trouble.

    Safe Browsing

    It is fairly comprehensive, with an explanation of how exploits happen and then a walk through of securing your computer, complete with screen grabs and helpful links. It is for Windows users running at least XP SP3, and discusses the two most popular browsers, IE and Firefox.

    While you can jump right to the browser settings, I encourage you to go through the whole thing and build your security from the ground up. I spend time debunking Conventional Wisdom (just as moronic in the computer world as amongst the denizens of Versailles) and do my best to explain both how to get something done and why its a good idea to do so.


    Thursday, October 14, 2010

    It's Not Big Brother You Have to Worry About

    Corrente regular twig has a post (All Your Informations Are Belong To Us!) that provides a link to a WSJ Article 'Scrapers' Dig Deep for Data on Web which does a decent job of reporting about the screen scraping industry. There's the usual hyperventilation in the comment threads in both locations, with good points all about, but most of all there seems to be some significant confusion about who is getting what and through what means.

    I work for an organization that helps government agencies collect, store, combine, concatenate and utilize massive amounts of data. On the one hand, massive amounts of data is collected on a daily basis. On the other hand, there's not a hell of a lot the government can do with it. Why? Resource constraints. There aren't enough people and dollars to crunch the numbers, and even fewer to make sense of the information coming out the other end. On the third hand (yeah, I've got more hands than Kali), the data that does get analyzed is hedged around with very strict rules about who can read it, where it can go, and so forth. Audit trails usually include access to the information. It's hard to leak information without it being traceable back to the leaker. For the most part, the paranoid fantasies of what the government is doing with your information are laughably overblown. I add to that the ego-deflating fact that you just aren't that interesting. No one in power give a fuck who you are and what you say. The government gets bad-mouthed by bigger names than you.

    As for the paranoiacs that see the gummint coming after them for taxes, ppphhhht. The IRS will probably find out that you tried to hide your gambling winnings and the cash-only rental unit in your garage, and sadly will do so with more zeal than it will look for the Merry Banksters' billions of dollars in public loot, but municipalities these days are so strapped for cash they can't afford to collect on outstanding debts below a certain threshold. The City of San Diego can't afford to track down parking violators to collect the fines, for example, unless they are really big.

    The data collectors to worry about is where there is a profit to be made, namely in insurance and credit industries. There, weeding out (or, in credit's case, being able to target) marginal customers can make fractions add up rapidly. HR departments are probably next, to try to avoid hiring liabilities, but they're more likely to rely on your credit scores than your Facebook posts. Lots of bills to them means an inattentive or irresponsible employee, especially if accompanied by regular but short-tenure employment. Having been tapped to review resumes and conduct interviews in every one of my last six jobs, most people don't make the cut because they give shit-awful interviews. They never make it to the background check stage. But back to the data collectors. The insurance and credit industries are the folks with the deep pockets to buy, crunch and commodify your information. Their sole goal is to reduce you to an algorithm that can determine your position on a scorecard of likely customers. I consider this to be the most pernicious form of data collection.

    There are also the marketeers who want to sell you shit and try to figure out your buying habits to sell you more of what you already buy and/or things similar to what you are buying. The holy grail of this crew is a universal web cookie that will track your every move and purchase. They rip through your emails on the major on-line providers, they stuff flash cookies on your system, they can conduct instant auctions based on your cookies and the page you are on to price, sell and push out targeted advertising. I admit to a certain respectful awe to the instantaneous nature of their markets.

    Then there are the criminals who infest your system with worms and make zombies of your machines. They either want to key log your activities and clean out your bank account, or use your processing power for brute force attacks on database servers, or both. (News flash - using non-Microsoft products will not make you safer.) Criminal botnets will run as long as there is someone dumb enough to click a too-good-to-be-true email link. 

    The fundamental problem is that the US does not recognize and protect a citizen's right to privacy. The practical problem is that people are a bunch of yahoos when it comes to protecting their own privacy.  Facebook participants don't seem to understand that they are the merchandise. Information about who you are and what you do can make someone else money. As I've said for years, Google's entire business model is get information about you and sell it to someone else as often as possible. It's not just online, though. Anything electronic can be used - your credit cards, your grocery rewards cards, your checks, your campaign contributions.

    My biggest "privacy" breach at the moment is Huffington Post offering up my campaign contribution history to anyone who types in my name. Guess what? Arianna has just guaranteed that I will never again provide a campaign contribution. My next biggest problem (because I know how to prevent online data gathering - it pays to be in the industry) is from my credit card use. The credit companies sell my buying records and coordinate ad campaigns with large retail entities. For example, AMEX just sent me an offer to get $10 rebate if I'll buy 4 Fresh & Easy branded products and spend $50 before the end of the month, which means they searched for all card holders within X miles of the new F&E and created a dynamic offer. Yes, I took the offer as I could buy four products for less than $10. Yup, I'm one of the yahoos - and so are you.

    If someone wanted to, they could piece together my blogger persona with my real life one, and I doubt that connection would cost me more than some embarrassment (and probably gain me some high-fives). The political writing is not what makes me vulnerable. The data that makes me vulnerable is the credit and health info. My credit is inextricable from having above the poverty level financial dealings. I can't move to all-cash and frankly wouldn't want to. Health specifics aren't listed on any web site. There's not much I an do about insurance records.

    To the degree I have a digital privacy strategy, it is to stay away from Facebook and other social networking sites and carefully limit where I leave digital footprints when I'm online. That's more to deter the marketeers than anything.

    My biggest solace is knowing, because I am involved in the IT side of things, how fragile digital information is. I know how easily it is lost and accidentally deleted, how bad the storage media are, how incompatible information schema can be, how quickly formats become irretrievable, how frantically companies try to make past records systems obsolete, and that as energy becomes more dear, data will get dumped.

    It's fun to scare ourselves with fantasies of Big Brother, but the fears ring a little hollow when blared from Facebook and Blogger.


    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Another Day, Another Dollar

    Just over a year ago, I posted a pair of articles - Red Queen on Food and Do the Math - talking about how food fits into the budget of a family in poverty, and why food choices follow certain patterns when you face extreme budget constraints.

    I'd like to draw my readers' attention to this photo essay by Jonathan Blaustein, The Value of a Dollar. In it, he presents 20 photographs, each of them depicting one dollar's worth of food. The photos I found most interesting were the picture of the fast food chain's hamburger, the juxtaposition of grapefruit from different stores, and the blueberries.

    Also, as a follow on to my post Check Out, where I discussed the move away from personal checks in grocery stores, the Fresh & Easy store in my neighborhood opened recently and I've been to it a few times. It's an odd fish, that's for sure. While some may compare it to Trader Joe's because of the size, it has more in common with Ralphs or Albertsons. The food selection is more conventional (though it's approach to packaging fresh fruit & vegetables is clearly taken from TJs) and they carry more staple items. My back of the shopping list estimate is that it is cheaper on most staple items (butter, cooking oil, sugar) than the big markets and has a slightly wider selection than Traders. Prices at TJs are better, though. Their checkout is mostly self service and, as mentioned in the earlier post, is cash or card only.

    My neighborhood is thrilled by the new addition. It has a slightly industrial grunge feel to it - a world away from the wholesome, handmade facade of Whole Foods - and already feels like it's been gently molding in the area for a few years. I've bought mostly staples there; a good deal on a two-pack of bacon, cheap granulated sugar and the best price in the area for peanut oil. Prices for bread and meat don't seem too bad. In short, it does seem to fill a niche left open by traditional grocers.

    Where it can't compete is with the small local markets that sell odd and "ethnic" products, and seem to have the corner on vegetable seconds. There's the local IGA, a chain of "Mexican" markets and some specialty food places that provide slightly dinged and often downright weird vegetables and fruits that sell for a fraction of what the classier places can offer. $0.47/lb for cauliflower, $0.25/bunch for flat-leaf parsley, $0.49/head celery, and four different kinds of eggplant for less than $1.00/lb. You have to use them up within a day or so, but it's a better deal than anything else around. Even at these prices, though, the costs add up - especially when $1.00 can be spent on a hamburger that will keep a kid going for hours and someone else has paid the price for food storage and preparation, or seven packages of ramen which can stretch some meat leftovers and frozen vegetables for several meals.

    Nutritious food is often more expensive than it needs to be, especially when wrapped in the marketing glitz of "organic", "local", and "natural." Even when purchased cheaply, it's not clear that it is a better deal than "junk" food if your budget is inflexible and you have to put enough calories on the table to work through the day.

    I will say categorically that there is no way 10 blueberries are worth $1.00. Someone may be stupid enough to pay that much, but they aren't worth it.


    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    Unforced Errors

    As I read the follow-ups and comments on this issue in news paper columns, comments threads and blogs, it's clear that Brown's defenders do not understand what kind of political problem they have stepped into. I am reading too many claims that people are not understanding all the possible meanings and connotations of the word "whore" as applied to political figures, and that it isn't misogynistic, it is a true and factual description of Meg Whitman, and don't we know how she is double-dealing on the public employee pension reform, yadda-yadda, none of which addresses the political problem.

    Let's be clear about Whitman. Meg Whitman is a member of the dominant social class that mostly identifies as Republican, but not always, and is currently trying to return this country to a pre-New Deal condition. She is trying to win office to protect the interests of her class and position herself for a run at the White House. Bashing public employees in California is hot this electoral season just as much as winning the support of those self-same people is crucial to ballot box success. She is cutting political deals to get enough votes to win the election, just like every other candidate does. Her actions are unexceptional and completely conventional in the context of campaigning. This does not make her into anything except a candidate. She is not a political problem for the Democrats though she is proving to be an electoral problem.

    The political problem is the lackluster and tone-deaf campaign Jerry Brown is running and the larger failure of the Democrats to take seriously the disaffection of large blocks of Democratic constituencies after the horrific slash-and-burn primaries of 2008. In particular, the deliberate deployment of misogyny opened wounds that have not healed for many of us who previously and strongly identified as Democrats and who now are not willing to give candidates, especially male candidates, much leeway in how they and their campaigns deploy gender-based appeals and attacks.

    Given that Hillary wiped the floor with The Precious in California in the primary back then and given the high proportion of female Democratic office holders, party functionaries and voters in California, you'd think Gov. Moonbeam would have the sense God gave geese and be very certain not to allow a breath of anything in or around his campaign that would hint of sexism or misogyny. That he and his staffers do not "get it" is the political problem. There is also the strategic problem that they have shut down attention to Whitman's Arianna Huffington-esque "nanny problem"that was keeping her on the defensive.

    It also follows on the heels of Jerry making an ass of himself by attacking Bill Clinton after a series of clever ads by Whitman, with Moonbeam offering rude and crude comments about the Lewinsky mess. Big Dog had to come in and save Jerry's ass as well as showing the fool how an expert handles these things. Bill just smiled and thanked Whitman for bringing him back to the attention of the California electorate - with special thanks for bringing such a young and good looking version of himself back - and exclaimed about how popular he was and how much people were talking about him now, which forced a comparison between the peace and prosperity of his administration and the Republican mess that followed. He made the target of his attack the Republican record, not Jerry Brown's petulance over a decades old loss.

    Further, the use of the term whore (sorry, I won't call it "the w-word") wasn't an outburst in the midst of a heated debate, but calmly put forth as a deliberate strategic move. How anyone could think that publicly calling a female opponent a whore could be a winning or advantageous strategy boggles the imagination.

    But there is a further dimension to this political problem that is going unnoticed by most political analysts. On the Spanish language radio stations, Whitman is running some very careful ads. She's making clear that she did not support Pete Wilson's anti-immigrant Prop 187, a measure that rallied Hispanic voters in California and throughout the Southwest and brought many over to the Democrats. She's also very clear to say she does not support the current hoohah in Arizona. (The fact that Pete Wilson is running her campaign only makes the irony more delicious.) Appealing to Hispanic voters and peeling as many as possible away from the Democrats is necessary for a Whitman win. She needs to distance herself from the anti-immigrant fanatics in her party while connecting on traditional family and social norms.

    This starts opening up that whole messy cultural signifiers stuff that the Democrats have been failing on for the last few electoral cycles. The term whore has a different resonance in a Hispanic family than it does for the Whole Foods Nation crowd. There, in Jerry's cultural clan, the term is more ironic (especially when a hip guy jokingly uses it as a put-down for another hip guy), understood in its more abstract sense and not implying actual prostitution. This comes through in the comments and columns trying to wangle out some technical, less-female centric connotation of the word.

    In a family like my husband's, a good solid working-class, Central Valley, traditional Catholic group, whore means, well, whore - a deadly insult to the woman so named and an attack on the honor of her entire family. It doesn't matter if Jerry's Jerks didn't mean it that way. That's the semiotics of the word in that setting.

    It is reminiscent of Obama's clueless blather on people who cling to guns and God because they don't know better, another statement made in a situation where only insiders were supposed to hear it. Such a statement could only be made by someone who hasn't a freaking clue of how those words will be interpreted by other audiences. I don't know which one is worse - a wholesale if impersonal dismissal of millions of voters by a callow and arrogant candidate or a deliberate, malicious and personal targeting of an opponent by a worn-out and arrogant candidate. Both have the effect of needlessly antagonizing Democratic constituencies.

    At present, the only thing saving the Democrat's collective ass is the lack of effective candidates on the Right, mostly due to the infighting of the Republicans. The claim of the 2008 campaign that The Precious would bring a newer, younger, hipper, more culturally acceptable constituency to the Democrats has been proved false.

    These are unforced errors on Brown's part, all the worse for doing damage within the Democratic fold.

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    Saturday, October 09, 2010

    Whores, sluts, cunts, and bitches

    On Thursday, The Times reported that the Los Angeles Police Protective League provided an audio recording of Brown calling the union to discuss an endorsement. Brown apparently failed to hang up, and then had a conversation with his aides discussing strategy in response to potential police endorsements for Whitman. Whitman had earlier exempted public safety officials from key parts of her pension reform plan — at the same time she said Brown would bend to labor's desires on the issue.

    An unidentified voice can be heard saying, "What about saying she's a whore?"

    "Democrats urge Brown to apologize over remark about Whitman" - LA Times

    I guess my surprise over this remark is that anyone is surprised. The article above tries to minimize the problem by placing it within the context of tough political infighting. The problem, however, is that this is an automatic response to obstreperous women as such and is not a result of tempers running high in an electoral contest.

    The use of sexual slurs against women who refuse to behave the way their opponents or competitors want them to behave is normal behavior. It is a culturally acceptable standard for maintaining power relationships between the sexes - women who fail to comply are sexual misfits who deserve to be disciplined for their transgressions. The discipline ranges from name calling and public shaming to rape and murder.

    Was Jerry Brown the person who said this? Irrelevant. What matters is that the political left is just as comfortable throwing this around as anyone on the right. Misogyny is an equal opportunity tool of power.

    Can you imagine someone in the Brown campaign casually tossing out "What about saying she's a spic/nigger/coon/wop/chink?" (assuming the female opponent is a person of color)? Nope, not even in a private conversation. Yet using comparably derogatory gender-specific language is done without hesitation, and all-too-easily defended with a heated "But she is one!" as justification for the slur. Really? "Whore"? Why not hypocrite, panderer, liar, fraud or any other term that would have been applied to a male opponent? Terminology that is both more accurate and more politically appropriate.

    The problem is the unproblematic acceptance of using of women's sexuality as a method to invalidate their participation in the public realm. No matter who the woman is, no matter her political affiliation, no matter her actual behavior, it is perfectly acceptable to casually refer to her as a cunt or a bitch in conversations in a way that calling someone a dago or a yid wouldn't fly and where fag or fairy is raising eyebrows. To describe a woman engaging in any kind of deals or agreements that her opponent dislikes (whether because they are objectionable transactions or merely that they gain her some perceived advantage) as a whore or slut - someone bargaining her sexual favors - is likewise acceptable. Using the term "whore" with regards to a man is not really intended to call his morals into question; it is to feminize and delegitimize him as someone ready to be penetrated.

    Which starts to point back to the foundations for the derogation of women in the first place, of course, but that's a bigger topic. The tagline for this blog (You say I'm a bitch as if that were a bad thing...) points directly at the way my gender is used to deny my humanity - that I'm not just a dog, but I'm a female dog - normalizing male as fully human and female as something apart, ontologically distinct as it were. It's my starting point into my political thinking because it is the irreducible fact of my life - that I must provide arguments to demonstrate that I deserve to be treated as fully human.

    Back to the gubernatorial campaign. An apology for calling a woman a whore for having engaged in ordinary campaign bargaining misses the mark. An apology is simply "Ooops, our bad. We'll hang up the phone next time. Sorry you feel offended. (snicker)". It is words. The only reassuring action would have been to hear, as the next element in the phone conversation, a roar of disgust that someone attached to the campaign would dare utter that suggestion.

    It didn't happen. Sorry, Jerry. I'll be writing in your sister's name in November.