Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Impending Doom of Big Music, and Why It's Their Fault

I was forced to undergo a painful reminder of the price of piracy prevention last week, as I tried to alter the format of an episode of The Wire bought in good faith from the iTunes Store. After hours of frustration, I traced the problem back to the copy protection software implanted in the file to prevent "unauthorized" viewing or alteration of the material. In part because I'm in the midst of a 2-year hiatus from new music, I've never bought anything from iTunes before and so this is my first personal experience with restrictive DRM. Well, let me tell you: it was absolutely infuriating. I am never patronizing the iTunes Store again. I want those 5 hours of my life back.

I believe – strongly – that artists deserve support and reward for their work, and that we have a particular responsibility to support work that we find to be of high quality. But restricting the ability of the customer to use the product that they have purchased is not only totally unacceptable, it's terrible business practice. Restrictive DRM makes no sense in a competitive environment: who in their right minds will pay for an inferior product, when a better version is available for a lower price? Especially when that price is nothing at all, aside from the occasional check sent directly to the artist in question.

So you can understand my interest when I stumbled upon this fantastic analysis of the record industry’s self-built demise by Houston-based musician Jeff Balke. Tracing the history of the industry over the last 30+ years, Balke places large corporations' more recent blunders into the overarching pattern of an ill-conceived and unsustainable approach to music. The short of it: they've been fucking themselves for decades by trying to eke out every last drop of profit, and internet piracy was just the most recent trend.

Belke identifies four primary mistakes:

1. CD sales are not the same as record sales.

...In much the same way "dot com" start ups managed to convince venture capitalists to back questionable opportunities, independent labels began to entertain offers to sell themselves to the highest bidder. Corporations saw this as a long-term money making venture that would be great for their portfolio and their shareholders.

What they failed to realize is that the CD gravy train would soon come to an end as people finally replenished their collections and went back to their normal buying routines. The years of off the chart sales came to an abrupt end and corporations were stuck with bloated record divisions and they had no clue what to do - the end result when you replace creative minds seeking talent with bean counters seeking profit.

2. Longevity trumps the flavor of the week.

Because labels were feeling the pinch and because they were now subject to corporate budget constraints, annual reports and shareholders, they began to look for ways to cut costs. One of the first places they looked was artist development and promotion...

Instead of trimming corporate expense accounts and the bloated salaries of their higher ups, they decided to rely on things like cross promotion, radio, television and other forms of media to do the legwork their promoters had done previously...

[Music is] a really risky business. But, the small independent labels didn't care because they wanted to discover the next Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. They knew that one major success could make up for a string of costly failures.

Unfortunately, that equation doesn't work in the corporate environment. You have to justify your budget every year, every quarter. If the only way to do that was to release lowest common denominator music that would sell fast but fade just as quickly, you did it.

3. Destroying the chain of distribution is death.

[O]nce again, the big corporations saw an opportunity to cut costs by making independent deals with big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy... This may have seemed like a smart financial decision, but they got it wrong again.

What the suits failed to realize was that the chain of people working on selling music for them was key to making sales. Even now in the age of blogs, people still listen to what others suggest when it comes to buying music. Prior to the internet, those people included DJ's (we'll get to them in a second) and record store employees. After your friends, these were the people you trusted to know music.

Even worse, retailers like Target only put about 300 titles per year on shelves out of 3000 or more possible releases, honing it down to ONLY the most salable (according to them) artists and records. A good record store could not only steer you towards a great alt rock record, but also to a blues record that influenced that alt rock band you like so much.

4. Killing the DJ

DJ's took chances and, as a result, broke artists for labels and made them an awful lot of money. There was always corruption and undue influence exerted on DJ's, but a large percentage were in it for the music.

When the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was signed into law, large corporate radio empires like Clear Channel destroyed the listener-DJ relationship by flooding markets with stations owned by a single entity with programming decisions made at a regional level, far removed from the DJ and his/her show. DJ's were replaced with "on-air personalities" more about selling ad revenue than "spinning hot wax" as they used to say...

[And] once that relationship was destroyed and stations began playing the same narrow play list, people began to abandon radio in droves.

Now, I'm squarely on the "consumer" side of the music business, and can't speak to any of this personally. Nevertheless, Balke's interpretation sure does a good job of laying out why the large-scale music industry is totally fucked, and why its their own damn fault.

And the problem is, the stupidity hasn't ended. I'm not alone when I say that I'd so much rather pay for my music and receive it from standard channels than pirate it – but they're really not making it easy for us. Without knowing that we'll have control over what we buy, how can we be expected to give them money? I, for one, can't commit to the price of the album and the time out of my life it takes to put the work into the formats I use.

The Train of Thought Lounge: Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary

"I don't want no cake, I want me some pie."

To celebrate my birthday I figured I'd put up some clips from one of the best Aqua Teens ever, Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary. The first clip is edited and crappy looking, but it was the only one I could find from the episode. The second one is Shake's new birthday song (Spirit Journey Formation Anniversary).


Ted Stevens’ Wallet Is Not a Dump Truck

We here at Train of Thought are proud to have the first exclusive statement from Senator Ted Stevens, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts of falsely reporting income yesterday.
I just the other day got, a bribe was sent by my staff at 10 o'clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why?

Because it got tangled up with all these things going on in the economy legally.

So you want to talk about the consumer? Let's talk about you and me. We use these bribes to communicate and we aren't using them for legal purposes.

We aren't earning anything by not taking bribes! Now I'm not saying you have to or you want to discriminate against bribers.

The regulatory approach is wrong. Your approach is regulatory in the sense that it says "No one can bribe anyone for political favors". No, I'm not finished. I want people to understand my position, I'm not going to take a lot of time.

They want to deliver vast amounts of bribes to my wallet. And again, my wallet is not something you just dump something on. It's not a truck.

It's a series of tubes.

And if you don't understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your bribe in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into
that tube enormous amounts of bribes, enormous amounts of bribes.

Now we have a separate Department of Defense bribe-line now, did you know that?

Do you know why?

Because they have to have theirs delivered immediately. They can't afford getting delayed by other people.

Incredible, a stinging rebuke of both those who would seek to punish him for accepting bribes, and also the bribers who are apparently pushing his wallet to the very limits. Shame on you, bribers. Ted Stevens’ wallet is not a dump truck.

It’s a series of tubes.

Obama's Economic Group: Part 2

After I wrote part 1 yesterday, Jack and Jill politics found the extended list of attendees:

The economic leaders who met with Senator Obama today included:

· Jared Bernstein (Senior Economist, Economic Policy Institute)
· Bill Bradley (Former Senator, D-N.J., U.S. Senate 1979-1997)
· Warren Buffet (Chairman and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway) - joined the meeting by phone
· Anna Burger (Chair, Change to Win; International Secretary-Treasurer, Service Employees International Union)
· Jon Corzine (Governor, State of New Jersey)
· William Daley (Chairman of the Midwest, JP Morgan Chase; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Commerce, 1997-2000)
· James Dimon (Chairman and CEO, JPMorgan Chase)
· William Donaldson (27th Chairman of the SEC 2003-2005)
· Indra Nooyi (Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo Inc.)
· Paul O’Neill (Special Advisor, Blackstone Group, Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Treasury, 2001-2002; Former CEO, Alcoa)
· Federico Peña (Managing Director, Vestar Capital Partners; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Energy, 1997-1998; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Transportation, 1993-1997; Former Mayor, City of Denver 1983-1991)
· Penny Pritzker (CEO, Classic Residence by Hyatt)
· Robert Reich (University of California, Berkeley; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Labor, 1993-1997)
· Robert Rubin (Chairman and Director of the Executive Committee, Citigroup; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Treasury, 1995-1999)
· Eric Schmidt (Chairman and CEO, Google)
· William Spriggs (Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics, Howard University)
· Lawrence Summers (Harvard University; Managing Director, D.E. Shaw; Former Secretary, U.S. Dept of Treasury, 1999-2001)
· John Sweeney (President, AFL-CIO)
· Laura Tyson (Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley; Former Chairman, National Economic Council, 1995-1996; Former Chairman, President’s Council of Economic Advisors, 1993-1995)
· Paul Volcker (Former Chairman, U.S. Federal Reserve 1979-1987)

The extended list has some interesting names. On the good side, Jared Bernstein is definitely at the top of that list. Also Robert Reich is somewhat of a centrist, but recently has written some interesting stuff about doing away with the corporate "I". I really like Bill Bradley on some things but he has a horrendous record on trade and is so-so on other economic issues, which is after all, what this meeting was about.

Other than the addition of Bernstein (which is amazing) and to a certain degree Reich, it seems like most of the others on the panel are CEOs and moderate/conservative economists. So my feelings on the panel are about the same as they were, I just wanted to add some more information.

They just removed a youtube of Obama's opening statement from the internets, but here are some quotes from what he said before the meeting:
Saying that the there is an “economic emergency” that is “growing more severe, Obama called for bipartisan solutions while pinning some of the blame on Wall Street.

“It was not an accident or history nor a normal part of the business cycle that led us to this situation,” he said. “There were some irresponsible decisions that were made on Wall Street and in Washington. In the past few years, I think we learned an essential truth that in the long run we can't have a thriving Wall Street if we don't have a thriving Main Street.”

He said the economic stimulus package enacted earlier this year has provided some relief, but said more action is necessary. “I'm glad to see we have a broad representation of people here,” Obama said of the group joining him, which included former Republican and Democratic administration officials and business and labor leaders. “It's a group that I will be convening periodically over the next few months because of the dynamic situation and one that the next president will need to be prepared to deal with the moment he takes office.
"Irresponsible decisions made on Wall Street and in the white house" has to be the biggest understatement in the history of time, but whatever. I'd say that if he didn't come out with stronger language about the economy it could cost him the election, but it won't. It may cost him a potential landslide victory, but he's running against someone who's top economist called this a "Mental recession" and the legacy of someone who described the problem as "Wall Street getting drunk". If it weren't for them I'd be a lot more worried, but I'm thinking even Bob Rubin can't screw this one up.

And frankly, it's stuff like this that made Mike Huckabee's campaign scare the living crap out of me. Huckabee's actual policies aren't close to being populist, but as he proved in the primary, he isn't afraid to use the language one bit. And as we know, if the media thinks it has a cool story line, it's not like they'll let "facts" get in the way. If it were Huckabee vs Obama right now, Barack might be in some serious shit, and not because Huckabee is to the left of him economically, far from it. Economic populism is a winning issue out there for whoever claims it, and Huckabee was willing to attack from the left using that language, and as of now, Obama will not.

But the republicans nominated John McCain, who I think really the best matchup we could have hoped for against Obama. I'm still not sure why they did it, but that doesn't mean I'm not grateful.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Obama's Economic Group: The good, the bad, and Bob Rubin

Obama had an "economic meeting" today and like his other "meetings" and "policy groups", I find them interesting because they help us piece together who his brain trust will be on these issues once he takes office(Putting buzzwords in quotes cause I have no what these things actually entail). Without further ado:
ABC News has learned that two former administration officials for President George W. Bush will appear with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, at an economic meeting today, having signed up to be Obama economic advisers.

Bush administration veterans former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former Securities and Exchange Commissioner William Donaldson will join former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and more traditionally Democratic economic advisers such as former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, billionaire liberal Warren Buffett, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger.

Donaldson's tenure at the SEC was notable for his attempts to work with the Democratic Commissioners, for angering the US Chamber of Commerce and Republican legislators, and for abandoning an effort for shareholder proxy access.

O'Neill, the former CEO of Alcoa, had a stormy tenure as Bush's Treasury Secretary, and revealed his frustrations with the Bush administration -- especially over the war in Iraq, economic policy, and the President's leadership style -- in a book written with Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill.
First we have the good: Warren Buffet, John Sweeney and Anna Burger as the liberal side of the equation. I really like Burger especially, and all three should be good injecting progressive policy into the debate. Also, after 8 years of being cast far far away, it's nice to see organized labor back at the table with the man who should be our next president.

On to the bad, Paul O'Neill and William Donaldson.

Now this is interesting for several reasons. I read Paul O'Neill's book, and loved it. His criticism of the Iraq war, and his account of Bush's activities from a traditional conservative's point of view were fascinating, and one of the first great looks inside the insanity of this administration. But he and Donaldson are very much economic conservatives. Which, for all their maverickness on other issues, it just doesn't make sense to include them in the process, especially when you think of all the smart progressive economists left sitting on the sidelines.

And then, there's the Bob Rubin.

Via Sirota, here's Robert Rubin in a sentance:
Bob Rubin - the architect of NAFTA, the leader of the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party, and the head of Citigroup - a bank at the center of the credit market debacle.
It's also worth quotinging what happened the last time he advised a democratic candidate for president:
He (Jagdish Bhagwati) was rambling on about Kerry, and the Kerry campaign and said that at some point in the general election, after Bob Rubin had signed on as an advisor, he saw Kerry giving a speech in which he blasted “Benedict Arnold” companies for pursuing off-shore tax havens. According to Bhagwati, he picked up the phone and called Kerry and said “If you ever say that again I’m off the campaign.”

Needless to say, the Benedict Arnold line had been getting enthusiastic reception and tested off the charts. It never made another appearance. Another example of the Bob Rubin effect on the Democratic party.
So that's Bob Rubin, a corporate shill who gives really crappy campaign advice.

This policy group might as well be David Broader's dream: 3 conservatives, 3 liberals! Perfect economic plan ensues! No need to point that one of these groups has been completely dominant for the past 25 years and just might be responsible for the economic situation we're in right now. No, can't have that. Let's invite the foxes back in, I'm sure there's a hen hiding around here somewhere that they missed during the last three administrations.

In the comments of Sirota's post, Peter for WI says it best about Rubin and the problem with the "splitting the difference" approach to economic policy:
He's still a corporatist, and Obama's economic advisors have tended towards that school, even if they are Democratic corporatists that are socially liberal; and Chicago school types.

In the comments here, newdemrex said:

We need a balanced approach to the economy and Rubin provides that.

We don't need a balanced approach. Economic policy is not about splitting the difference between corporatists and working people. It's about doing what is best for the economy for all. Corporatists inherently wants what is best for corporations and Wall Street. This is almost exclusively, especially in the realm of structuring the fundamentals of an economy, to the detriment of working people.

Exactly. As is the case with so many issues, there are few "middle of the road" solutions to these problems. It's great to see Burger, Sweeney and Buffett in the room, but honestly shouldn't we be able to expect better from a democratic candidate? Granted, we don't know what went down in the meeting, and this all could have all been front to allow Sweeney, Burger and Buffett to kick the crap out of Bob Rubin while Obama berated him about what a loser he was. But since his actual economic team is run by Austin Goolsbee and Jason Furman (Bob Rubin's protege) ... I'm not holding my breath.

And since we don't know, all we can do now is hope that the meeting went better than it did when John Kerry held one of these things back in 2004:
In April 2004, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney grew concerned that John Kerry was getting too much of his economic advice from the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party. Kerry had just completed his primary sweep. In the general election, he would need the unions. Sweeney proposed a private meeting to discuss living standards as a campaign issue, and the candidate invited the labor leader to his Beacon Hill home. Sweeney arrived at the Kerry manse, bringing his policy director, Chris Owens, and Jeff Faux of the Economic Policy Institute. There, seated in the elegant living room, were Robert Rubin and two longtime lieutenants: investment banker and former Rubin deputy Roger Altman, and fellow Clinton alum Gene Sperling -- Kerry's key economic advisers.

In a three-hour conversation, the group discussed the deficit, taxes, trade, health care, unions, and living standards. The labor people urged the candidate to go after Wal-Mart's low wages. Rubin countered that a lot of people like Wal-Mart's low prices. Kerry eventually announced that the meeting needed to wrap up, because "Bob has to get back to Washington." Rubin responded that, no, he could stay as long as Kerry wanted. Sweeney and his colleagues were ushered out the door; Rubin, Altman, and Sperling remained. "Wall Street was in the room before we arrived," says Faux, "and they were there after we left."
Ugh. Well, that's a positive from 2008, our nominee is not, and has never been John Kerry. Now if only we could get rid of the losing losers who helped him lose...

Monday, July 28, 2008

From the first ever Train of Thought board meeting...

(Minus Rb, who was unable to attend. A framed picture of Cobi Jones filled in as his representative)
DCJonesy, Nick, JJ and Jack, pictured as Peroni, Guiness, rum and coke, and... well just plain bottle of rum. Either Jack didn't have a drink and grabbed the nearest bottle to cheers with... or the insanity of the upcoming Beijing Olympics may have started to drive him over the edge.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday roundup

-Another loser enters the fold as the Chief of staff to corporate Dem Max Baucus joins the Obama campaign. Baucus is one of the worst democrats on the economy and trade, and going by the reverse meritocracy that occurs in democratic politics, his top aide gets sought after and promoted to a job within Obama's circle. Obama's economic team, it's Fannnnnnnnnnntastic!

-The WNBA's first ever bench clearing brawl!

-David Sirota has a new column out where he interviews a great labor writer Tom Geoghegan. He proposes amending the civil rights act to include the right to organize. That isn't really something that had occurred to me before, but if you think about the UN Human rights declaration, it makes sense.

-Kevin Pritchard of the Trailblazers is easily one of the best GM's in the league. Just look at the list of moves since he took over, and the young talent he has stockpiled by the end of it, locked in for a low price. Truly amazing.

-Gil officially resigns, and for less money. I love gil and I really hope he's healthy next season. Also, based on the summerleague games I saw (3 of 4), Dom Maguire is ready to play a serious role with this team (I thought he was last year, but whatever), and Blatche dominated like a 3rd year summer league player should.

-Effective poster for the Beijing Olympics from Amnesty international:
-United Farm Workers will press charges in the death of a 17 year old worker, UFW President Arturo S. Rodriguez:
"This is a case of manslaughter - there is no difference between a driver killing someone while breaking our traffic laws and a labor contractor breaking the law and killing this beautiful young woman. Anything less than criminal prosecution is a desecration of Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez' death."
-Katie Couric is an idiot.

-Obama speaks to giant crowd in Berlin.

-George W. Bush on our current economic situation:
"There's no question about it. Wall Street got drunk ---that's one of the reasons I asked you to turn off the TV cameras -- it got drunk and now it's got a hangover. The question is how long will it sober up and not try to do all these fancy financial instruments."
WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT EVEN MEAN? WALL STREET GOT DRUNK AND NEEDS TO SOBER UP? WHAT FANCY FINANCIAL INSTRUMENTS? This is one of those times when even after 8 years, this type of nonsensical rambling still stuns me. It's also probably worth pointing out that if you or I went up to a cop and repeated that sentence, we'd be spending the night in a mental institution.

-Saturday could see a moment of earth shattering importance as DCJonesy, Nick, Jack and I might all be in the same place at once! One for the Train of Thought history books, no doubt.

On to the weekend!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nas and Colorofchange take on Fox News

About four hours after the announcement that his controversial, politically charged ninth album was number one in the country, Nas was on a small podium in front of Fox News headquarters in New York City protesting what he sees as racist attacks against Black Americans and presidential candidate Barack Obama. In a brief prepared statement, the multi-platinum rapper pointed out examples of what he and ColorOfChange see as a long racist smear campaign against the Obama family: The onscreen graphic that referred to Michelle Obama as the Senator’s “baby mama”; Bill O’Reilly casually using the phrase “lynching party” to refer to attacks on the Senator’s wife; referencing to the couple’s infamous fist thump as a “terrorist fist jab.” Said Nas, “Fox poisons this country every time they air racist propaganda and try to call it news. This should outrage every American that Fox uses hateful language to talk about the person that may be the first black president.”

The rapper stood next to 19 neatly stacked cardboard boxes, with the number 620,127 taped to the side of each one — over 600,000 signatures gathered by ColorOfChange demanding that network president Roger Ailes “find a solution to address racial stereotyping and hate-mongering before it hits the airwaves.” Fox rejected the petitions, but Brave New Films says that Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report will accept them instead.
Update with Video of the event:

Fox News wouldn't except their petitions. Luckily, Stephen Colbert would: Video Here, embed is screwing up.

I just got Nas' new album, and I'm really liking what I've heard so far. Nas has always been one of my favorite MCs, but to see him use his celebrity to bring light to an important issue and advance the cause of a great progressive organization is too fucking cool.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Naomi Klein on Iraq's oil, the Obama's "Chicago Boys" and the Beijing Olympics

The always brilliant Naomi Klein was interviewed on Democracy Now last week, and provided truly fascinating insights on quite a few topics. I can't recommend the entire interview enough, but here are a few excerpts of some of the more interesting points.

First, on the Iraq oil law, nationalizing oil as an anti-colonial symbol, and the role of Iraqi unions in the process:
OK. Well, at the moment, Iraq does not have an oil law, so Iraq can’t sign long-term exploration agreements, although they are doing it in Iraqi Kurdistan, and we’ve heard about this with Hunt Oil. But that’s—those are illegal contracts. They’re very precarious. There could be future expropriations. It’s really risky to go that route, because there isn’t a law. And we know it’s been a major push of this administration to get the Iraqi parliament to accept a US-backed oil law. This has been sold as a symbol of Iraqi unity. That’s not the way it’s seen in Iraq.

In Iraq, the reason why it has been years in resisting this oil law is because nationalizing the oil in Iraq was the centerpiece of the anti-colonial struggle, as it was in neighboring nations throughout the Arab world. And it is not just a pro-Saddam idea. It is not just a Baathist idea. It’s the core of Arab nationalism. And that victory is being protected by many political forces in Iraq, and most notably by the oil workers’ unions in Iraq, who said, “We don’t need these foreign multinationals to get the oil out of the ground. We can do it ourselves. We can bring in technical support without giving away management control, without giving away ownership control.”
. . .
And not only have companies like BP and Texaco been offered these no-bid contracts, but what’s strange about it is that they’re service contracts, and these are not oil service companies. So what’s significant about these contracts is that they appear to be giving these oil companies the right of first refusal on future, more significant contracts. So, one week after these smaller service agreements were announced, the Iraqi Oil Ministry announced that they also will be handing out longer-term management agreements, which will give oil companies the ability to manage existing fields in Iraq and hold onto 75 percent of the worth of those contracts and leave only 25 percent for Iraqis, which is absolutely unheard of in the region, where 51 percent for the country is the baseline for new exploration, for new fields. These are existing fields. They’re already working. The technology is already there. And these foreign companies are going to be taking 75 percent of the worth of those existing fields in Iraq. So it’s daylight robbery. It’s armed robbery, actually, Amy.
For the record, this also applies whenever you hear someone (republicans and democrats) talk about the Iraqi government passing the "carbon law".

Next on Obama's economic team, or his own "Chicago Boys":

AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, Obama’s Chicago Boys, who are they?

NAOMI KLEIN: Well, one of them is Obama. Obama spent ten years teaching at the University of Chicago Law School, which is a very conservative law school. You know, I wrote a column recently talking about how conservative Obama’s economic roots are, with his ties to the University of Chicago.

His first response to the mortgage crisis, let’s remember, was he was worried about the government taking action to keep people from being evicted from their homes, because that would create moral hazard. And he was not talking about the big companies, the big mortgage lenders; he was talking about individual low-income people being thrown out of their homes. He was worried about moral hazard. That’s a very University of Chicago take on the situation.

And yeah, one of his—his chief economic adviser was Austin Goolsbee, this University of Chicago economist. And, you know, now his chief economic adviser is Jason Furman, who is not a University of Chicago-affiliated economist, but is certainly on the right of the economic—Democratic economic spectrum, has defended Wal-Mart, has attacked critics of Wal-Mart, saying that they’re doing more harm than good, that actually Wal-Mart is a progressive institution that is helping low-income people with their low prices, and that living wage campaigns, for instance, are actually hurting low-income people. So these are pretty conservative ideas, and I think it is important for people to understand that this is who Obama has chosen to take his advice from.
. . .
And I think the fear is that some of the same people, like Rubin, responsible for, you know, Rubinomics, which turned into Clintonomics, which was, you know, the Democratic full-scale embrace of the ideology of privatization and so-called free trade, that this same sort of group of people are following—are now surrounding Obama. And Jason Furman is a Rubin protégé and worked with him at the Hamilton Project, which is a sort of sub-think tank of the Brookings Institution, which emerged a few years ago to prevent the Democratic Party from embracing what they saw as populist economic policies, the centerpiece of which would have been a reexamine of the ideology of free trade, which is being discredited around the world.
. . .
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, just to be clear on economics, I mean, I think what we actually saw with Obama is that he started pretty much at a conservative point on economic policy, and Clinton—and the campaign with Clinton, because she was moving so far to a populist position, he then moved. And as soon as she dropped out of the race, he moved back. So I think there are some real points of disagreement, and I think that there are some places to point to much more progressive outlook in Obama’s roots, particularly on foreign policy, but I don’t think economic policy is one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: He had called the free trade agreement, in the debates with Hillary Clinton and with John Edwards, “a mistake.” He called it “an enormous problem,” but now, with Fortune, said, “Sometimes during campaigns rhetoric gets overheated and amplified. My core position has never changed. I’ve always been a proponent of free trade,” which you say actually is true.

NAOMI KLEIN: And he appointed Jason Furman the day after Hillary dropped out of the race. Yeah. So, it was—as I said, I really think he’s moving back to actually where he started, with his first reaction, as I said, to the subprime mortgage crisis being, well, we can’t keep low-income people from being evicted, because we have the moral hazard of encouraging them to make bad loans, essentially blaming them for having been—having accepted these mortgages in the first place.
Granted a lot of this stuff isn't new information, and to toot our own horns, these are all things that you have heard before on this blog. That being said I quoted this part extensively because it means a hell of a lot more being said by one of the top progressive minds of our time than some clod who writes a blog. After all, blogs are stupid and anyone can write one.

Next she tackles her reporting on the Olympics, especially on what this means for China post after the games are over:
Well, yeah, I was in China a couple months ago, and the piece came out recently, and you can read it still on the Rolling Stone website. And I concentrated on the Pearl River Delta, on the city of Shenzhen. And, you know, this is the part of China that is really the—I guess the sweatshop to the world, their workshop to the world. This is where probably half of everything most us own is made. Hundreds of thousands of factories, a lot of technology, a lot of garments. It is now a new kind—it’s always been a laboratory for this manufacturing model, for the globalization manufacturing model, and it was born as a laboratory. The city of Shenzhen didn’t exist in 1980. It was a collection of fishing villages. And now it’s a city of more than 12 million people.

And there’s a new experiment happening in Shenzhen, where a high-tech police state is being built. And there are hundreds of thousands of CCTV cameras, of surveillance cameras, in the city. There are plans to have two million cameras in the city of Shenzhen and to network them, which is the key, so that they’re all part of the same network. They can be monitored from a centralized police location. And it isn’t just the cameras on the streets. It’s cameras in internet cafes, cameras in private restaurants, so a total convergence between the private and the public when it comes to putting the people under surveillance.

And the money for building this high-tech police state—and it includes also biometric IDs, facial recognition software. It’s sort of the future that has already been imagined in multiple sort of science fiction films, but that we actually don’t yet have in North America yet, because there are still some civil liberties and privacy protections that prevent all of the technologies from being networked together to create this all-seeing eye. In China, you have the perfect situation, because you have a government that actually makes no claims for the rights to privacy of its citizens.
. . .
Just to put this in context, the estimate is that China is spending $13 billion in the name of security for the Olympics. And let’s remember, all of these toys that are being sold to the Chinese government by companies like General Electric are staying after the Olympics and to be used against the domestic population. So it gets installed in the name of protecting the athletes, protecting the foreign dignitaries, but it stays and is able to be used against the local population, and I think in violation of the sanctions policies that were passed after the Tiananmen Square massacre, which actually made it illegal for American companies to sell police equipment to the Chinese government, precisely because it can be used to repress the population. But now, because it’s being packaged as antiterrorism security in the context of an international event, they’ve sort of found a backdoor way into it. But, yeah, once again, to put it in context, Amy—and I know we’re running out of time—$13 billion for Olympic security in Beijing this summer. The first Olympics after 9/11 were in Athens, and they spent $1.5 billion. So, since Athens, the increase in security spending has gone from $1.5 billion to $13 billion.
Scary stuff. Sorry for the massive quoting, but there were just too many interesting points in there. The lesson here is that Naomi Klein is awesome, and when she speaks on anything, we should listen.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just your typical start to training camp

I'm going to start this post with a public warning to everyone who has read this blog over these last few months. When I was invited to come aboard, it was the middle of March, otherwise known as the depths of the NFL doldrums for me. The Super Bowl had long since passed and as a precaution for my own well-being, I had shut my mind off of the Redskins so as not to drive myself to insanity by realizing just how far away football season was.

Well, now training camp has started and so too resumes my personal Redskins Obsession Period. You know, the one where we can win the Super Bowl and visions of Clinton Portis, Chris Cooley and sugar plums dance through my mind all day long. I hope you're all prepared for the Skins-centric turn this blog is about to take as the 2008 NFL season approaches. You've been duly warned.

So the players returned to training camp over this past weekend, but what's the big deal? I mean, it's not like anything really important can happen in the very first day of camp.

Oh, wait.

So, in what is pretty old news by now, Washington's projected starter at left defensive end, the 35-year-old Phillip Daniels, goes down for the season on the very first play of 7-on-7 drills, then reserve d-end Alex Buzbee was lost for the year as well after rupturing his Achilles' tendon. Before the end of camp on Sunday, the team dealt for superstar Jason Taylor, who had famously pissed off the Miami Dolphins by participating in reality show "Dancing With The Stars" instead of training with his teammates earlier this offseason.

All that stuff has been pretty well documented, with the usual expert analysis from the Redskins Insider. As for my take, I kind of have to agree with La Canfora & company on this one. This deal does not get done if not for absolute necessity, which is why I like it. When Taylor was being shopped around in the previous months, word was that the Redskins were not major players, whereas in the past we would have been all over this deal from the outset. But under the circumstances, we went from having a glaring hole in our lineup to almost an upgrade at the same position, doing so in an unusual 48-hour span.

Some will point out our return to trading away valuable draft picks, in this case, next year's 2nd round pick (and a less valuable 6th rounder in 2010). However, if you look at our recent commitment to keeping draft picks, and the fact that we actually USED three 2nd round selections in this year's draft, and I think we can afford to trade next year's. So that's what I think about it, what about you?

I'm gonna try to keep updating the major headlines throughout Skins' camp without just repeating what has already been written in the Post or by other more reputable people than myself. Also, I realize that not all of our readers follow the Redskins like I do so feel free to send suggestions or other ideas, sports-related or otherwise, to us at the train of thought at gmail dot com (spelled out like so to avoid spammers). Let's hope for somewhat tamer storylines from here on out, especially with the injuries (for serious, guys!).

Monday, July 21, 2008

Oh by the way...

This story should have effectively ended John McCain's run for the whitehouse:

Iraq's government welcomed Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Monday with word that it apparently shares his hope that U.S. combat forces could leave by 2010.

The statement by Iraq's government spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, followed talks between Obama and Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki — who has struggled for days to clarify Iraq's position on a possible timetable for a U.S. troop pullout. Al-Dabbagh said the government did not endorse a fixed date, but hoped American combat units could be out of Iraq sometime in 2010.

That timeframe falls within the 16-month withdrawal plan proposed by Obama, who arrived in Iraq earlier in the day as part of a congressional fact-finding team. "We are hoping that in 2010 that combat troops will withdraw from Iraq," al-Dabbagh told reporters, noting that any withdrawal plan was subject to change if the level of violence kicks up again.

McCain responds by doubling down on his Iraq as a US dominion plan:
"His domestic politics require him to be for us getting out," said a senior McCain campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The military says 'conditions based' and Maliki said 'conditions based' yesterday in the joint statement with Bush. Regardless, voters care about [the] military, not about Iraqi leaders."
To be clear, this really should end the Iraq debate here and now. Obama's plan to get out is liked by Iraq's leader/McCain says he will stay in Iraq no matter what they say. That's as clear of a frame as you're ever going to get. Now let's watch the media fuck it up.

DC Train of Thought: The Official Beijing 2008 Olympics Celebration Station, Part Three!

It’s been a bit longer than anticipated since the last update, because I thought I’d give the Yangtze River Dolphin a few extra days to claim the spot of Beijing 2008 Poster Child. By the lack of response I can only conclude that the baiji are too busy hanging out with the 11th Panchen Lama to accept the role- bourgeois oppressors, the both of them!

The last month has seen continued coverage of the run-up to the Games. Getting a tourist visa is still far harder than it should be, resulting in empty hotels and restaurants in Beijing. The Communist Party of China is continuing its crackdown on dissent and activism of any kind, including the arrests of several dissidents just hours away from a dinner with visiting American politicians. One of the biggest threats to the Games is the possibility of an attack by the East Turkistan Independence Movement, and the Chinese have responded accordingly by executing several Uyghurs without enduring the whole ordeal of ‘obtaining evidence and having a trial.’ Finally, a round of negotiations between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama has ended without major progress. Progress is bound to be pretty hard when one of the parties won’t even be honest about where the real borders of Tibet lie- traditionally Tibetan lands have been absorbed into Sichuan, Gansu, Qinghai, and Yunnan provinces, and the CPC isn’t even allowing discussion of these areas to be brought to the table. I’m not sure how they explain the existence of places like Labrang Monastery in areas which they claim have “always been part of China,” but I guess that’s the difference between me and the CPC Propaganda/Nonsense Department.

But this entry isn’t for the poster child; this one is for the poster. Whatever they end up choosing, the Chinese are going to want a stunning backdrop to show the beauty of Beijing skies. I’d like to nominate this photo by Atlantic columnist and blogger James Fallows, taken from this article:

A series of pictures in his blog show that for most of the last 4 months the weather has been fairly similar. Not a touch of smog in the sky! I can’t make out what the actual building in the center is, but that might just be because of the blinding lens flare emanating from the sun. Hell, the whole picture is so bright and sunny I feel like I should wear sunglasses whenever I look at it.

I’ll be posting the resulting Official Beijing 2008 Poster soon.

Back from Netroots

Thanks to the city of Austin for a good time, and to all of the bloggers and activists I met, it's been a pleasure. A few final notes about the conference as a whole:

As cool as it was to see Al Gore (and even though I'm not a huge fan, it was still cool), Nancy Pelosi is a fucking disgrace. And the "let's forget she's been screwing us over repeatedly from trade to the war for the past 2 years" happy go lucky reaction she got from the crowd was surprising. This was our chance to hold her feet to the fire, and she walked away knowing she can stick the knife in again and again, without any consequence.

Van Jones was pretty damn amazing, and so was Larry Lessig. Gavin Newsom is a very good politician who would be a shoe-in for governor if it weren't for this little thing.

People who should know better don't understand that union busting still happens today. In fact, it happens in 82% of all union organizing campaigns. During a campaign, 49% of companies threaten to move the company oversees if a union is formed. 30% of companies will fire an employee for trying to form a union. These stats need to be, and will be plastered everywhere during the campaign for the Employee Free Choice Act. Let the education of the netroots begin!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Netroots Nation Day 3: Ask the speaker...

Ask the Speaker... let the bullshiting begin!
Plenty of talking from Pelosi and then... out comes Al Gore!
Clue the arseblogger voice: "That was unexpected"

An Observation about Nancy Pelosi: She talks about her efforts on many issues in the same way I would, and that's definitely not a good thing.

When I say I'm disappointed we aren't doing much to end the Iraq war, that's a reasonable thing me to say, since I'm a citizen and my powers to change that are limited.

When Nancy Pelosi says she's disappointed she wasn't able to do more to end the Iraq war, that makes me want to throw her a copy of the U.S. Constitution, since she is the fucking Speaker of the House, and has more power to end the war more than anybody other than the president.

I'd like to think I had the same power as the Speaker of the House. But since I don't it's pretty frustrating to hear her talk as if she's not, you know, Speaker of the Fucking House.

Oh yeah for just one of many examples of her bullshit on the war, here's an interview from October 2007 about how she was going to end the war using all her powers, including cutting off funding. This was like the third time as many years as she'd made this claim. Lies Lies LIES!

More later, including stuff about this evening a 5PM party hosted by Jim Hightower with free margaritas. If people enjoy the margaritas as much as they did last night, then the 8PM Donna Edwards Keynote is going to be pretty fucking rowdy.

"It's just a stupid blog, anyone can have one"

The pub quiz was great fun, and the labor team finished out of the bottom three!

The dailykos party was pretty fantastic, and I met quite a few great people. The highlight of the night was on the walk back to the hotel, when I was came up to a stoplight and a netroots nation attendee came up beside me. I saw his orange badge this ensued:

Me: How'd your night go?

Guy: It went well, I'm pretty tired though, I figured I'd head in.

Me: Yeah, me too, it's been a long day. I'm Julian by the way.

Guy: Hey, nice to meet you, I'm Duncan.

(Wheels start turning...)

Me: Wait... Duncan...

Guy: Duncan Black, sometimes I go as Atrios.

and then proof from later on the conversation...

Me: "I'm a big fan"

Him: "Thanks, I mean it's just a stupid blog, anyone can have one."

Holy crap, it really was Atrios! It was a really great conversation and he couldn't have been nicer. Now on to asking the speaker...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Netroots Nation: Day 2

Morning started with two labor themed panels, both interesting in their own way. During the first panel which featured former congressman, head of American Rights at Work, and general beast David Bonior. It also featured a section on the organizing campaigns at the Smithfield, which as usual was very powerful. Having seen people's reactions to the first time they hear about Smithfield, I've basically decided that this should be the cornerstone to any campaign for Employee Free Choice. It is the worst of the worst union busting wise.

Things you learn from watching several panels on Labor: A lot of people attending this conference seem surprised about the amount of union busting (occurs on 75% of organizing campagins). This is a bad sign. I'll follow up on this more when I have time.

For those who don't know, I'm at the conference with my Aunt who posts here as Helen. Because of this I get to do things like eat lunch with her and David Sirota. Uh, yeah.

Kos and Harold Ford was interesting, Ford using the same strategy as he did on Kos which was to concede the majority of the points, and focus on telling people to be careful not to Club for Growth people in the primaries (something that no one has done, but whatever)

I'm about to be a member of Labor's pub quiz team, which goes down at a bar across the street in 45 minutes. I'll report back on that, and whatever happens with the Kos (and other) parties tonight.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Netroots Nation: Day 1

Walking to the convention center from the hotel I realized I was 4-5 feet behind Markos of Dailykos, so I figured that's a good sign.

This morning's labor caucus sparked an odd sense of... what's that word... solidarity. In a discussion with people representing different unions from across the country, the main theme ended where it needed to be, with the Employee Free Choice Act. For those who aren't familiar, click here.

Also met Trapper John of dkos at the Labor caucus, who argued that the fight over EFCA had the power to create the long sought bond between the netroots and the labor movement, something that would definitely be a welcomed development.

Update: The openleft caucus...
Pretty fucking amazing. The fascinating discussion here proved why it has become the preeminent blog of the progressive movement (in my opinion). One of the more pointed exchanges that comes to mind was a discussing on gas prices and why conservatives were succeeding in messaging the idea of drilling off our coasts for oil. Even though polls show that people understand that it won't lower gas prices, they still respond positively to the idea. As to why, Matt made the astute point that people vote for leadership. Even if they know it won't work, they want someone trying something, and taking a lead on it. It may be a braindead idea, but the conservatives sure are trying something, and it certainly would lead us somewhere!

Politicians who have made appearances in small groups who I've seen or heard speak:
Darcy Burner (Who is seriously becoming a rockstar)
Larry Larocco
Rick Noriega
Joe Garcia
Charlie Brown
Steve Young

(Yes the last two names are politicians, not cartoon characters or hall of famers)

Steve Young in particular made an impassioned speech at the Labor caucus that really stuck with me. He seemed visibly frustrated over the progressive movement's relationship with the labor movement, and offered several ideas that added a lot to the debate.

Walking back from the hotel I ended up directly next to Kos and we talked for a few minutes. He could not have been nicer, and it was really fantastic to meet him.

Obama girl was doing something in the hallway of the convention center, I'm not sure what or why.

Wes Clark and Howard Dean closed the night out with really well done speeches. Clark's was fairly moving and as personal as I've heard him give, and Dean's speech just made me miss him as a candidate.

I had a really nice conversation with a reporter for the Wall Street journal who writes for this site, and is covering the convention.

My personal most anticipated event: Nancy Pelosi's "ask the speaker" has been moved from 9:00 AM to 8:30 AM on Saturday morning. This is the Saturday morning after the Friday night which will include the dailykos party that features an open bar. This is not a coincidence.

Funniest Post of the day: Atrios
Deep Thought

Remember Unity08? That was so awesome.
I think I'm going to call it a night because of the insanity that lies ahead tomorrow. Enjoy your Friday and check back for updates!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Live from Austin...

Greetings from Austin, Texas! It's Hot! There are a shit ton of bats that fly from under a bridge in the middle of the fucking city!

The bats were a pretty crazy sight, the sheer number of them is pretty damn terrifying. Tomorrow is the first day of Netroots Nation, and it's looking to be pretty busy. The labor caucus should be the highlight, where many of the issues from the post the other day will be discussed. Also, you get a sweet orange bag that was filled with all kinds of surprises... including a pocket sized copy of the U.S. constitution, which was bad ass. Yeah, I'm a dork, so the fuck what? At least I came to the right place! Not sure how often I can post from the convention center tomorrow, but I'll be trying to check in whenever I get a chance.

Till then...

The Train of Thought Lounge: Talking Heads & Al Green

I don't know about you, but we here at The Train of Thought have been really into 80's music recently. It's hard to explain exactly what has drawn us back to this particular era. Perhaps it's an attempt to re-connect to a time in which we were really too young to understand what was going on in the world, or maybe listening to the music of yesteryear better helps us put today's music into proper perspective. Whatever it is, we just can't get enough of the awesomely bad sounds of the 80's, ranging from Journey to Foreigner and yes, even to Hall & Oates.

However, one 80's group that doesn't quite fit into the "awesomely bad" category is the Talking Heads. David Byrne was just the epitome of cool, while simultaneously being kind of a nerd (as Lisa Simpson once remarked) and was also so far ahead of his time musically. Talking Heads were popular among a wide array of listeners, mainly because a lot of their songs fit a lot of different moods and really can't be classified into one simple genre.

One of my absolute favorite jams of theirs is "Take Me To The River," a song in which Byrne exhibits his smokier, funkier, more soulful side.

Take Me To The River (Remastered LP Version ) - Talking Heads

Well, one reason this song showed a lot more funk and soul than other Talking Heads material would be the fact that this is actually a cover! I had no idea this was the case until about two weeks ago when an Al Green song came on XM satellite radio and I recognized that all too familiar refrain, and as it turned out the original version of "Take Me To The River."

Take Me to the River - Al Green

The original is somewhat more up-tempo and the blaring horns give it that distinct old-school feel. Both songs are incredible though and it is one of my favorite things in life when a cover stands up equally well to an original (i.e. Foo Fighters' on-point version of Prince's "Darling Nikki").

What do you think?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Washington Nationals: From bad to inconceivably bad

Since there has been so, so much going on, within the realm of this blog as well as outside of it, I wanted to quickly preface this post. Between JJ's jet-setting between France and Hungary, and now to Texas, and Nick's computer crashing, I myself lost internet service at my house for about nine days. This, coupled with the fact that I started a new internship at a publishing company last week, explains my lack of posts as of late. Thankfully, I got my internet connection back today and I wanted to get a post in before JJ's Netroots Nation coverage (by the way, congrats homie!).

With all that out of the way, I had been planning to write about the Nats for quite some time but while I had been planning exactly what angle I wanted to explore on the subject, the team's fortunes have continued to take an unbelievable plunge. At this, the All-Star break, eight of the Nationals' nine opening day starters are on the disabled list (the one player who isn't is actually Cristian Guzman, Washington's lone All-Star representative). The Nats have the worst record in baseball, and really that wasn't expected to be the case this season. The team greatly overachieved last year when it won 73 games and improved on its 2006 win total (71), despite some people ridiculously predicting that the Nats would break the all-time record for single-season losses. But this year? After picking up a few young bats on the cheap and with '07's surprisingly-successful young pitching staff returning, things were never supposed to be this bad.

Yet somehow, this year's struggles have gone beyond simply losing games on the field. Last week, the DC Sports Bog sparked an internet and talk radio firestorm, reporting that the Nats' TV averages were appallingly-low. This kicked off a week in which the Lerner family entered a dispute with the D.C. government over $3.5 million of rent money, GM Jim Bowden was implicated in an FBI investigation looking into illegal signing practices of players in Central America, and two fans were killed in an accident involving the team's free shuttle from the RFK lots to Nationals Park, all of which was detailed by Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell yesterday. Seriously.

Even as write this, I don't believe it. I was originally going to write something about how important it was to stand by the Nats through thick and thin, or how better times would be on the horizon... or something. However, opening the paper to news like this every day is enough to make you think that some sort of hex has been put on the team. I guess my point is still the same though; try not to judge this team by wins and losses this year. Instead, 2009 will tell baseball fans in D.C. whether or not this franchise intends to make a go at being a contender anytime in the near future, or if they will continue the long, rich tradition of losing baseball teams set forth by its predecessors, the Washington Senators (customary cool old school logo to follow). This year's silver lining remains the new stadium and if you haven't been yet, it is definitely worth checking out. But this year, as hard as it may be to do, the Nats still need local support.

I'm not the biggest baseball fan to begin with, but it was still very exciting to see the sport return to my hometown after growing up without one. Since the District had been without baseball from 1972 until 2005, there have been obvious growing pains as the city re-adjusts to the sport, the team adjusts to us as a new region and simultaneously tries to become relevant in a sports scene dominated by the Redskins, Wizards, Capitals, D.C. United and multiple college sports teams. It is only fitting though for baseball to thrive in the nation's capital, not because it the so-called "national pastime," because that's football now, but because D.C. is one of the greatest cities in the world, as well as an important sports town. Only time can tell us where the Nats go from here, but at least it can't be much lower than it is right now.

Labor and the Netroots

Nathan Newman has a great post up that shares many of my frustrations over the Netroots general attitude towards the Labor movement, or working class issues in general.
I'll admit that part of my annoyance at the full court obsession with FISA is that it reflects the broader liberal blog obsessions with goo-goo process issues, as opposed to a populist focus on the core economic and social justice issues that matter in most peoples' lives. Doug Kendall, who I have the most serious respect for, has the best critique I've seen (written with Dahlia Lithwick) of Obama's defensive responses to the guns and death penalty cases at the Supreme Court. However, his point is that Obama should have played offense by highlighting the pro-big business decisions of the Supreme Court this session-- something most of the blogs haven't done either.
I've had minor and major rants over the years on the netroots ignoring labor issues-- including criticizing the first Yearly Kos for it. Which goes with my critique of the the criticism of Obama. Here Obama spends a few weeks slamming free trade, attacking the bankruptcy bill, calling for massive taxes ont he wealthy to cut taxes for working families-- and the blogs think he's "betraying" liberalism because of FISA. I can almost guarantee that if in a side comment Obama had said something nice about Chamber of Commerce v. Brown, most of the blogs wouldn't have noticed since they wouldn't know what it was. But mention a subdetail of FISA and many folks went to town on what he was missing, just as they'll criticize him for any distinctions he makes on death penalty or gun jurisprudence.
Part of economic populism is actually caring enough to know the details of how corporations are screwing workers every day, whether in the intricacies of labor law or the fine print of trade agreements. And the difference between the modern history of elite liberalism and economic populism has been that liberals know chapter-and-verse on the legal details of process rights, but don't pay that much attention to these details of corporate exploitation and power.
As I've noted, it's fine and right to criticize Obama on FISA, but if you don't even talk about the other workers rights' litmus tests that matter -- or worse yet don't even know what they are -- it's not a balanced critique.
I'll have to check out those supreme court cases, because in the whirlwind of the last weeks I definitely missed out on that. The only point I'd take up with Newman is that I wish I'd seen Obama slamming free trade, the bankruptcy bill and calling for massive tax cuts on the wealthy! I don't know what he's talking about, but I would have flown through the roof if I'd heard those things! While everybody was in a feeding frenzy over FISA, I remember still being in a rage about his economic advisors and his immediate reversal on trade.

But back to the point, the disconnect on labor and working class issues within the netroots drives me nuts, and it's one of the issues I hope to have a better perspective on after attending the Labor caucus at Netroots Nation which will discuss this very divide. Again like Newman said, there's nothing wrong with intense activisim on these issues, but I wonder sometimes why diaries on trade and working class issues slip right down the recent diary list without much notice at all.

On to Austin!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Back to the good stuff: Ending the war in Iraq

In a comment on my previous post, I mentioned that Iraq was the line had to cross for people like me to really start losing their minds.

Like I said before, all of the "moves to the center" were less moves to the center as they were restating policies he had mearly attempted to cover up or hide in the closet during the primary. With the exception of the FISA vote, it was less of a move to the center, and more pulling back a little more of the curtain to where he'd been standing all along. He said so himself last week:
“Look, let me talk about the broader issue, this whole notion that I am shifting to the center,” he said. “The people who say this apparently haven’t been listening to me.” To this, he adds, parenthetically: “And I must say some of this is my friends on the left” and those in the media.
However, after a non-controversy controversy where he appeared to be changing his position on a pullout, he has come back swinging - forcefully restating the need for us withdraw. He ends his OP-ED:
In this campaign, there are honest differences over Iraq, and we should discuss them with the thoroughness they deserve. Unlike Senator McCain, I would make it absolutely clear that we seek no presence in Iraq similar to our permanent bases in South Korea, and would redeploy our troops out of Iraq and focus on the broader security challenges that we face. But for far too long, those responsible for the greatest strategic blunder in the recent history of American foreign policy have ignored useful debate in favor of making false charges about flip-flops and surrender. It’s not going to work this time.

It’s time to end this war.
Well said. The end is particularly strong. And even though the rest of the op-ed annoys me at times, I'm thrilled that he felt the need to write it. He didn't seem to care too much about the perception that he'd moved to the center on other issues, but the fact that he got that upset enough to write a clarifying op-ed over the perception that he had moved to the center on Iraq is a great sign.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I'm back (This defines me)

Well done to anyone who catches the reference in the title.

It's been an amazing week over in Paris and Budapest, and there will be a time to when I will write up more about the trip, hopefully with pictures as well. For now, my jet-lagged mind isn't working quite well enough to pull that off, so I'll just go over a few things that caught my attention.

Jesse Helms is dead. This brings up an interesting question: "Is it possible to show respect for the dead when they spent they had spent their entire lives denying respect to the living?"

You may not be able to show respect, but you can smile, say that the world is a better place without him, and read David Broader's (yes, you're see that correctly) 2001 essay: "Jesse Helms: White Racist". Or you can be a true champion like this man, who was willing to lose his job before he'd raise the flag to half mast to honor Sen. Helm's death:

"Regardless of any executive proclamation, I do not want the flags at the North Carolina Standards Laboratory flown at half staff to honor Jesse Helms any time this week," Eason wrote just after midnight, according to e-mail messages released in response to a public records request.

He told his staff that he did not think it was appropriate to honor Helms because of his "doctrine of negativity, hate, and prejudice" and his opposition to civil rights bills and the federal Martin Luther King Jr. holiday

In a string of e-mail messages with his superiors, Eason was told he could either lower the flags or retire effective immediately.

Though he's only 51, Eason chose to retire, although he pleaded several times to be allowed to stay at the lab. Eason, who had worked for the Agriculture Department since graduating from college, was paid $65,235 a year as the laboratory manager.

L.F. Eason III: Fucking hero.

Another quick note on the bigot's death. For all of the mock outrage that happens any time someone accuses republicans of being the party of racism... go back and look at their press releases about Helm's death. And if they read anything like this, then these are probably not some tolerant individuals:
Throughout his long public career, Senator Jesse Helms was a tireless advocate for the people of North Carolina, a stalwart defender of limited government and free enterprise, a fearless defender of a culture of life, and an unwavering champion of those struggling for liberty.
Question: do people intentionally put things like that last sentence in there as an extra turn of the knife, or are they just unspeakably stupid?

Matt Stoller has a smart post up about the importance of people not labeling Obama as a progressive, because... well he isn't one. This has been true this long before the outrage over the FISA bill, but and I think it's important publicly to point that out, because you don't want someone embodying the mantra of a movement without standing for it's values. He also makes a good point that when he inevitably tries crappy centrist policies and they don't deliver results as promised - it's important that the blame lies in the right place so we can move on from there.
So, as liberals who believe in a different vision for America than Obama, it's important that Obama's centrist policy sympathies are blamed for what goes wrong when he takes over and screws up the country worse than it is right now, which we'll notice after our honeymoon of hoorays some time after the transition. We should not want him to make policies in the name of liberalism unless they are actually liberal policies. America tends to get the right answer after trying everything else first, and this period is no different. After trying out a disastrous top-down financialized conservative framework, the DC elites are moving to more centrist top-down period of transition, much as they did after Bush the first. Just as the 2007-2009 Democratic Congress failed utterly in stopping the war in Iraq or setting us on a different energy future, kicking the can to the next President, the next President is going to try to avoid big ideological fights as post-ideological change agent.

Once you absorb this state of affairs, it's a fairly optimistic path forward. All of the work going into getting Obama elected is helping to build the progressive movement and teaching millions of people to get involved, give money, run for office, etc. These people have progressive sympathies and are attaching themselves to important political networks. Some of them paid attention to FISA who were not paying attention in 2006, which is good. The network is just bigger and stronger.


So work for Obama, help him get elected, but realize that he doesn't and will never share our values. And we shouldn't try to pretend that he is the progressive we wish he were, since he's a politician, and politicians go where power is. And he's decided that power is not with the liberals. That's fine. But it's important, as people who believe that liberal ideas work, that Obama be understood as who he is, not as who we wish he were. I have tried to broadcast this message over the past few days, but first, I'll make a caveat most of us on this site will recognize.

Caveat: We want to make it very clear that criticism or analysis of Obama is not intended as a repudiation of support for Obama. He's a far superior candidate to McCain, a better person, and will be a much better President. Second, we are not really making an argument that Obama's recent moves will hurt him in this election. They may or they may not. It really doesn't matter what any of us think about his campaign, he's chosen his path, perhaps because he did not think there was a viable progressive alternative or perhaps because he's more of a Jimmy Carter good government Democrat than a liberal populist. Regardless, we don't think this is a sudden swing to the center for him, he has always broadcast his politics as centrist and post-partisan in nature. We don't feel betrayed, because we always took him at his word that he saw incivility and not conservatives as our major political problem.

We support him, even though we disagree with his political outlook and policy positions.

I'd also like to point to the recent Obama speech where he essentially says that anyone who thought he was different than he is, should have done their homework and listened to what he was saying, which is a fair point for him to make. But rather than quoting the speech, let's have an episode of Train of Thought - Youtube political debate theater.

First we have Obama telling the his supporters that he his who he is. This is portrayed by Marlo Stanfield stating that "My name is my name!" in one of the best scenes from season five of the wire:

As a response to this, we have members of the left who were frustrated throughout the primary procress by those who did all they could to paint Obama as the next Russ Fiengold. These people are portrayed by Former NFL Head coach Dennis Green, who would state that "OBAMA WAS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS! AND WE LET HIM OF THE HOOK! (Bangs hand on table, leaves room):

This has been an addition of Train of Thought Youtube political debate Theater. I'm gonna guess this won't be the last time it makes an appearance.

Also some general news about the site. I will be taking another trip next week, but this time the blog will be coming along too, and in a major way. Next Wednesday I'll be heading down to Austin, TX to Netroots Nation on behalf of my employer... but I will be giving the conference full coverage on this site as well. Should be a fantastic time, and I can't wait.

But more blogging on all subjects will have to wait another day, because I'm picking up Train of Thought contributors Jack and Rb and heading up north to the greatest show on earth: D-apolooza 2008! Let the sleep deprivation continue!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Train Travel Guide: The Ukraine

Planning a vacation any time soon? With the summer heat upon us and the economy experiencing what I like to call an “extreme fecal blast,” many Americans are looking to take some vacation time and go abroad. Some head south to the beaches of Mexico, while others head north to Canada. Old European standbys like England and France are also popular options, and the Olympics may bring some to China (assuming of course that one manages to get a visa, something the Chinese are making inexplicably difficult).

Sadly, the weak American dollar makes travel to these places far more expensive than it used to be. Are you sure you can afford a trip to somewhere nice? If not please consider perusing this introduction to the Ukraine, the first of a series of articles highlighting the marvels of less-traveled paths and second-tier destinations!

-The capital of the Ukraine is Kiev. You may have eaten Chicken Kiev, the only Ukrainian recipe ever declared “technically edible by humans” by the United Nations Food Committee!
-The official currency of the Ukraine is the hryvnia. The current exchange rate is 4.6 hryvnia to the dollar. One hryvnia will buy you two goats, five stools, eight broken light bulbs, or a fist-sized pile of human teeth. These things are all used interchangeably with hryvnia in the Ukraine, much the same way dollar bills and change are here in the States!
-The domain suffix for the Ukraine is .ua. The Ukrainians have yet to discover how to create systems of tubes, however, and estimate that their first website will not be online until 2012. As it stands this site will likely be a portal for automated spambots, exiled Russian hackers, and people advertising a wide variety of unspeakable Ukrainian fetishes. I can’t wait to recoil in horror from what they have to offer!

-The Ukraine has been inhabited for millennia. In the 7th century the land was part of “Old Great Bulgaria,” a term used to distinguish it from “New Crappy Bulgaria,” also known simply as “Bulgaria.”
-The Ukraine is made of 24 “oblasts.” Each oblast is then divided into a number of borslops, which is itself comprised of grossflaps. Most grossflaps contain a number of blechniks, gratsplots, ikbumps, ughflorps, and dripvarts. The last one doubles as a heinous insult in Ukrainian, however, so take care when asking for direction!

-Khotyn Fortress: While this place has a long, confusing history, all you need to know is that it was once stormed by people called “Zaporozhian Cossacks.” With a name like that they’re either undefeatable or stunningly incompetent- go ahead and figure out which it sounds like to you, and then assume the battle went accordingly.
-The Seven-Kilometer Market: As an American I refuse to get even the slightest feel for the metric system, but trusted sources assure me that this is a moderately impressive length for a market.
-Chernobyl: Apparently they no longer give tours of the power plant? Feel free to disregard safety signs and check it out on your own though. I’m sure these guys are taking good care of their nuclear power plants.
-The Potemkin Steps in Odessa: These steps were designed to create the illusion that they violate the rules of time and space, or contain non-Euclidean geometry or something. While a small minority of viewers are filled with inexplicable dread, most are able to get from the top of the stairs to the bottom with only minor malaise!

Well, that’s it for now. If anyone has any ideas for future installments, please do make some suggestions. Good luck enduring the horrors wonders of the Ukraine!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Quick Update

Well, my computer crashed two days away from turning in 40 or 50 pages of carefully written and researched work. I was across the country at the time, so have been computerless for the last week and won't find out until Monday at least whether anything's recoverable. Poor timing on every level.

In the meantime, I think it's pretty fantastic that "Senator Obama – Please Vote NO on Telecom Immunity – Get FISA Right" is now the largest group on by a wide margin (currently more than 19,000 members total, about 5,500 more than the next contender). And while we lost that issue badly, progressive efforts did seem to make an impression on the campaign: I think they listened, even if they didn't get it. Perhaps just as important, on the strategy level, I think they handled the criticism quickly and well.

On that note, a quick comment on vocal Obama criticism in general: Yes, it may hurt him in the general. Really, I think it might. It depends on how the media covers it and how people are affected by drawn-out arguments about his political strategy. But the consequences of choosing not to criticize him on issues we care about, of keeping our mouths shut for no better reason than the appearance of unity, is to relinquish all hope in the American political system. Period.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Train of Thought Lounge-Marvin Gaye

Train Holiday Guide: The 4th of the July

The 4th of July means a lot of things to different people. Some might think of songs by Soundgarden, or the Beach Boys! Others might recall a novel by James Patterson, or start repeating the classic Will Smith line “Welcome to Earf” from the movie ID4, a historical docu-drama about the day aliens tried to kill Bill Pullman. Here in America, however, we recognize the 4th of July as they day when a ragtag group of American patriots torched London and most of Sussex, freeing America from the tight grip of the fascist British empire.

Different people celebrate the day in different ways. Traditionally conservatives spend the days leading up to the 4th berating liberals for being anti-American, a charge which liberals usually attempt to disprove using “logic” or “facts” or “pointing out how obviously untrue it is.” Not this year, however: it’s time to finally give up the ruse and expose America to the liberal version of the 4th of July.

Conservatives: Might spend the day gathered around a grill, with burgers and corn on the cob for all!
Liberals: Spend the day gathered around the grill, BURNING AMERICAN FLAGS! Later we URINATE ON THE GRILL to put out the fire, and provide additional disrespect to the flag.

Conservatives: Probably head out to watch the fireworks over at the local all-white country club!
Liberals: Provide intelligence to our friends in Al’Qaeda, alerting them to the location of the fireworks. Then Osama bin Laden himself goes from country club to country club like an EVIL MIDDLE EASTERN SANTA CLAUS stealing the fireworks- which he will later use to ATTACK US TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN in a flamboyant and awe-inspiring use of RED WHITE AND BLUE FREEDOM-HATING SPECTACLE!

Conservatives: Take some time to appreciate what it means to be American, a wholesome and family-friendly good time for all!
Liberals: Travel to the US-MEXICO border to aid and abet GAY FRENCH COMMUNIST JEWISH MUSLIM ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS in crossing the border, taking pause every few minutes to SPIT on AMERICAN SOIL and vow the destruction of the vile nation!

These are just a few of the many differences in how people celebrate the day. Enjoy the 4th, however you acknowledge it!

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy America Day everybody! A quick one today as I have a day full of beer-drinking to get started.

The best news of the day comes from the Washington Post, who reports that Gilbert Arenas has agreed in principle to a six- year, $111 million dollar deal to stay with the Wizards.

"I looked at like this: There is nothing I can do for my family with $127 million that I can't do with $111 million," said Gilbert Arenas, who was offered the maximum salary allowed to stay with the Wizards. "Adding key pieces leads to championships and that's what we all want."

Hooray for common sense!

On the other side of that spectrum is, unfortunately, is Barack Obama who seems to be caving at every chance he gets. This time, it's on Iraq. I'm about as big of an Obama supporter as there is, but while I've tried to defend his recent shifts to the center as strategy to be elected, it's worrisome how he's become a true centrist on almost every issue once the general election campaign started. I'm no political expert, but isn't this the same sort of thing that republicans called John Kerry a "flip-flopper" for in '04? Just sayin'.

Jesse Helms died at age 86.

In tennis, the Williams sisters face each other in tomorrow's Wimbeldon final. My money's on Venus.

Lastly, BWAHAHAHAHAHA! And good riddance.

Everybody enjoy your apple pie, lite beer and freedom today. Talk to you later

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Globe trekker

What's up everybody? As mentioned in the post below, JJ will be out of town for the next week traveling around Europe, experiencing incredible sights and sounds while the rest of us carry on with the normal drudgery of everyday life. Not like I'm jealous, though. No, really. Not the least bit. Well, maybe a tiny bit. OK I'M EXTREMELY JEALOUS AND I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!!

In all seriousness, the rest of us here at The Train of Thought will try to keep the posts coming. JJ, have fun on your trip and bring me back something French (or Hungarian). The month of June was unprecedented for us in terms of the amount of content and we will work extremely hard to keep pace from here out.

Anyway, here's a video JJ made ahead of his travels detailing the various locations he plans to visit while he's away. I think you'll find it very helpful and informative.

(Okay that's not really JJ, but he is a worse dancer than that guy)

Later y'all.

Getting the hell out of Dodge

After the last two weeks of news, I've really needed a vacation, and luckily enough I'd already planned one. I'll try to post a few times from across the sea, but I'll be mostly absent for the next week. Be sure to keep tabs on the blog, we've had a ton of great posts recently and there will be new content during that time.

Before I leave though, a great article on making a point that has been argued here as well.
Ariana Huffington : Moving to the middle is for losers

As part of this process, I looked at the Obama campaign not through the prism of my own progressive views and beliefs but through the prism of a cold-eyed campaign strategist who has no principles except winning. From that point of view, and taking nothing else into consideration, I can unequivocally say: the Obama campaign is making a very serious mistake. Tacking to the center is a losing strategy. And don't let the latest head-to-head poll numbers lull you the way they lulled Hillary Clinton in December.

Running to the middle in an attempt to attract undecided swing voters didn't work for Al Gore in 2000. It didn't work for John Kerry in 2004. And it didn't work when Mark Penn (obsessed with his "microtrends" and missing the megatrend) convinced Hillary Clinton to do it in 2008.

The whole thing is good, check it out if you get the chance. But to quote Jack: "shit is getting weird, it's time to leave."