Friday, January 30, 2009

Labor's day at the White House

Reversing Bush era anti-worker executive orders was the reason for the gathering, but I agree with Trapper John that the event of the day came midway through Barack's speech:
I also believe that we have to reverse many of the policies towards organized labor that we've seen these last eight years, policies with which I've sharply disagreed. I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it's part of the solution. We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests, because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. We know that strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant and growing businesses. This isn't a either/or proposition between the interests of workers and the interests of shareholders. That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and has never been a zero-sum game. When workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper. We can be competitive and lean and mean and still create a situation where workers are thriving in this country.
Forget Bush, did Clinton ever say anything close to that?

We also got this "hopeful" line from Joe Biden on the Employee Free Choice Act:
HARWOOD: Sounds like that is a 2010 or beyond issue. Vice Pres.

BIDEN: No, no, no, no. This year. This year, we hope. Our expectation is this year, this calendar year, that we will move, and hopefully with some bipartisan support, to dealing with this issue.
I'm hoping he's joking about last part, because that ain't gonna happen unless you count one republican for cloture as bipartisan. But this year would be nice. When he says "we hope" let's hope that he means Barack style "hope" not the actual kind.

No one has to hope now, we won the fucking election.

The Train of Thought Lounge: Elzhi & Royce Da 5'9"

It's been a while since we've spotlighted any straight-up hip-hop here in the lounge, so I figured I'd break out this recently discovered gem from two Detroit MCs. In the past few months, I had been losing faith in hip-hop as a genre. Thankfully, a Howard alum compiled his top 100 hip-hop songs of 2008 for his Web site which is how I found this absolute jam, among many others, and needless to say faith has been fully restored.

The opening sample is from the landmark Motown 25 TV concert from 1983, which celebrated Motown Records' 25th anniversary and saw Michael Jackson debut the "Moonwalk." Hence the song's title, "Motown 25" (pretty self-explanatory).

Elzhi's opening stanza is very solid, containing a near perfect combination of clever punchlines, metaphors and double-entendres. Definitely B+ material. The reason I deem his verse near perfect is made evident after Royce Da 5'9" appears and summarily destroys the track.

His verse is purely diabolical. It took me three or four listens to catch every devastating reference, boast or diss. As a protege of Eminem, I'd enjoyed some of his earlier work (namely 2002's "Rock City" track). He has clearly matured into a more vicious, yet still cerebral rapper.

Probably goes without saying, but this song may contain some language not suitable for work (or stuck-up, out-of-touch, condescending Fox News anchors).

Elzhi - Motown 25 - Thisis50

Laith al-Amari: Iraqi Hero

Muntadhar al-Zeidi is already a hero across much of the Middle East after his amazing shoe-throwing antics embarrassed Bush in a way the White House Press Corp never could. He’s also inspired plenty of people outside the region- the Train of Thought comic book label will soon be publishing a strip featuring al-Zeidi as a masked hero who travels across the world throwing shoes at evil-doers and jackasses. The Iraqis, however, have just outdone themselves. Witness this work of art:

Leith al-Amari, the sculptor responsible, said that the statue serves as a "source of pride for all Iraqis." Fantastic! As an American I’m actually a little bit jealous, because today the closest thing we have to a fitting memorial for the Bush years is a pile of photoshops comparing Bush to a monkey. “Presidentchimp.jpeg” may be a labor of love, but it doesn’t have anything on a giant copper shoe. To help get American artists moving I’d like to offer some suggestions for other Bush moments which could be immortalized to similar effect:

Statue #1: A slightly larger than life man, sculpted out of marble, on a small pedestal. The man is wearing casual clothes, with detailing allowing the viewer to discern that he’s wearing jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. The face has a hopeful, almost joyous expression- his eyes are focused above the horizon. His right arm is raised, and his impossibly magnificent middle finger is fully extended.


Location: While New Orleans is the obvious choice, it might be better to set asides funds for hiring a helicopter, which could then airlift it from place to place as Cheney attempts to go about his life- much like how residents of N.O. and Iraq can’t go anywhere without being reminded of his messes. Cheney comes home after a long day of drinking blood? It’s right behind him! Cheney heads over the track to do some laps? They can land it in the middle and just adjust the angle as he runs! Cheney needs to buy some groceries at the supermarket? Better save a parking space, here comes “GO FUCK YOURSELF” guy!

Statue #2: Carved into the side of a mountain a-la Mount Rushmore, this one features Bush struggling in vain to open a locked door. The carving needs to give a true sense of Bush’s futile struggle against a door that blithely refuses to budge. His expression should clearly communicate his outer attempt to remain lighthearted, while having an undertone of frustration which suggests that he wonders if the door itself is merely a metaphor for his inability to accomplish even the simplest things during his presidency.

The plaque: “Heh… I was trying to escape… heh…”

Location: Alaska, where Mt. McKinley should be large enough to allow the sculptor enough space to properly realize his or her vision.

Statue #3: A piece of modern art that defies the viewers’ immediate attempts at understanding, this one will be a more multi-faceted piece than the others. Outer bands suggest the curved form of a pretzel, while inner spokes and hubs appear reminiscent of a fallen bicycle and rider. The base is dominated by a large flat surface which resembles a flight deck, upon which rests a helmet and a codpiece. The flat surface is supported by indistinct objects which most viewers liken to piles of skulls, although when asked they find it hard to explain exactly why.

Towards the top a large ‘W’ is suspended beneath a cloud of question marks, which face outwards in all directions and light up at night, making the piece visible from up to 1.3 miles away. Finally, in the center lies a box marked “Legacy.” Although the artist responsible claims that the contents of the box are supposed to be a Heisenberg-inspired mystery up for debate by all, sources familiar with the creation of the piece insist that “the box is full of poop. That’s all he put in there- poop.”

Plaque: The conventional plaque has been replaced with a slideshow of American faces similar to that in Chicago’s Millennium Park, except each one has been altered to resemble “The Scream.”

Location: The spot formerly occupied by the Bush prop ranch.

I’m not an artist, but these all seem artistically feasible to me. I’m sure that American artists won’t be content to be outdone by these upstart Johnny-come-lately Iraqi sculptors- let’s see some American pride here! USA! USA! USA!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bipartisanship vs "doing what works" Take 2

When President Obama severely worsened his stimulus bill in order to win over republican votes that he didn't need, it was an odd choice. And a not a very wise choice as it turns out, since the bill passed the house with exactly zero republicans supporting it.

While it doesn't matter how many republicans voted for the bill as long as it passes (a concept I hope Obama grasps for future battles), this idea that bipartisanship is inherently good is one of the most infuriating lies in all of politics. Kos provides a well worded take-down:

I know this is a difficult concept for the Broder-wannabee-"bipartisan" fetishists, but there are good ideas, and bad ideas. And it's clear that the GOP was full of nothing but bad ideas, since they're the ones that brought us to where we are today.

So if you've got two parties that fundamentally disagree on how to solve our nation's problems (including one that created said problems), it's not better to take the good ideas, take the bad ideas, and somehow "meet in the center". That doesn't make the "good" ideas any better. In fact, it makes them worse. It's simple logic anywhere but inside the Broder/Halperin world.

Bottom line, there is nothing inherently good about "bipartisanship". The only thing that matters is whether a solution is good or not. Consider that two of Bush's biggest disasters -- his tax cuts and Iraq -- were "bipartisan" affairs. Getting votes from the opposite party doesn't make the underlying legislation any more likely to succeed. If anything, our nation would've been better served with more partisanship during those times.

Finally, as we've discussed ad infinitum, there was no margin for Republicans to support this. If the stimulus succeeds, Obama and the Dems will get all the credit. If it fails, everyone who voted for it will get tarred with it. So Republicans are better off making sure it's seen as a Democratic proposal rather than a bipartisan one. That way, they can wield it as a political weapon.

And that's not a bad thing. There's one last negative byproduct of bipartisanship -- lack of accountability. It's harder to hold people responsible for their mistakes when everyone points a finger at someone else. In this case, let the voters note which party is responsible for the stimulus. If it succeeds (and I'm not 100 percent confident that it will), let the credit go to those who deserve it, and if it fails, then Democrats will have to take their accountability lumps. And that's the way it should be.

Republicans played this properly, unlike the constantly-capitulating Dems the past decade. It's Obama's chasing of the magic "bipartisan" pony that deserves scorn, because no number of concessions was going to get him a single Republican vote in the House. The Senate is different, and he'll get crossover support there which he can use to laud his "bipartisanship". But House Republicans? Screw them. They are irrelevant, unpopular, and should henceforth be treated as such.

The stimulus was supposed to be one of the easiest bills that the Obama Administration had to pass, and frankly I'm still amazing at how much it's been fucked up. Hopefully it serves as a lesson for the future, because if they use this approach for any of the major legislative battles, the Republicans will eat us alive.

For the shorter version of this post, here's a pretty common sense quote from John Kerry:
If they’re not going to vote for it, let’s go with a plan that we think is going to work.
Yeah, that seems about right.

They lost the election. Let's hear what they have to say!

We have a Democratic president, and solid Democratic majorities in the house and senate. So when the first major bill is debated on cable news... (Via Yglesias)
Damn liberal media!

Behind The Great Firewall, Part II

Even in the darkness that covers the Chinese human rights landscape, much as thick pollution obscures great swathes of its physical landscape, there are occasional patches of light. The Washington Post has a story up today about Charter 08, a human rights manifesto developed over the last year and released a month and a half ago. The Charter calls upon the Communist Party to make overwhelming changes to its human rights and political policies including granting freedom of speech, the right to gather, and the end of one-party rule.

The writers of the document pulled no punches- here is an excerpt from the foreword:

The Communist Party of China seized control of all organs
of the state and all political, economic, and social
resources, and, using these, has produced a long trail of
human rights disasters, including, among many others, the
Anti-Rightist Campaign (1957), the Great Leap Forward
(1958-1969), the Cultural Revolution(1966–1969), the
Tiananmen Square Massacre (1989), and the current
repression of all unauthorized religions… During all this,
the Chinese people have paid a gargantuan price. Tens of
millions have lost their lives, and several generations
have seen their freedom, their happiness, and their human
dignity cruelly trampled.
Every Chinese citizen who chooses to sign this (over 8,100 have so far) runs the risk of being detained by the government- or worse. Many of the original drafters have been jailed, and seen their houses ransacked, families harassed, and bank accounts emptied. Although the internet censorship authorities are trying their hardest to erase every sign of it, the Chinese people are spreading it faster than they can handle for now. The first to sign it were mainly recognized dissidents who are no strangers to Chinese “justice,” but the Post notes that a number of recent signees are everyday citizens who have no history of tangling with the authorities.

Charter 08 also calls for establishing a federated republic, which would then “[seek] ways to find a workable framework within which all ethnic and religious groups can flourish.” Provisions like that are obviously welcome news to groups like the Tibetans and Uyghurs, which is probably why the Dalai Lama has joined a number of other noted exiled dissidents, scholars, and religious figures in endorsing it.

Still, for now all this amounts to is 0.000006% of the population signing a document on the internet. Gauging true support for something like this will always be a challenge, when Chinese citizens are well aware of what lengths the government will go to fight it. Luckily these are sacrifices that the Chinese democracy movement and it’s small but growing group of open supporters seem willing to make. Exactly how long Communist Party elders will allow this to spread before they truly take the gloves off is another mystery- some of those involved with creating and propagating Charter 08 are veterans of Tiananmen, and are thus well-acquainted with the amount of force the government has used to crush similar movements in the past.

It’s good to know that the Chinese democracy movement still lives, even if it faces an uphill battle. For what it’s worth, its writers are making their case well, including these lines which seem to mirror lines from Barack Obama’s inauguration speech:

“Authoritarianism is in general decline throughout the
world; in China, too, theera of emperors and overlords
is on the way out… The democratization of Chinese
politics can be put off no longer.”
Beijing managed, albeit poorly, to censor Obama. Can they manage the same now, with so many of their own citizens working against them?

Alan Grayson: American Hero

The recent war of words between Rush Limbaugh and The Axis of Adults has been impossible to miss: even over here it’s audible as the faint sound of hysterics, throat-clearing, and paper-shuffling carried on the winds all the way across the Pacific Ocean. To say that it began a few weeks ago is a massive simplification- Limbaugh has a history of wildly shitting up the national discourse that goes back decades- but for the sake of brevity we’ll have to allow it.

First, on his January 16th show Limbaugh articulated his hopes for the Obama administration, saddled with the Bush wars and the economic crisis: “I hope he fails.” I don’t recall any prominent liberals specifically praying for a second Great Depression solely to spite Bush, but I’m confident Rush could quickly fabricate something to that effect. This statement was followed by a weeklong campaign where Limbaugh repeatedly stated that the crisis isn’t actually a problem, Democrats are evil, and that Obama aspires to destroy capitalism forever.

Perhaps partly inspired by these multi-hour harangues, “devote all time to playing petty games” became the order of business for Republicans in Washington shortly thereafter (if it wasn’t already). A few days later Obama told Republican leaders that “you can't just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.” Sounds pretty reasonable, given that Limbaugh has been specifically railing against the concept of getting things done, right?

Limbaugh reacted with a long, incoherent rant that accused Obama of setting up the stimulus bill as an attempt to “buy votes for the Democrat Party.” Unwilling to stop while he was still making something that someone that might confuse with sense, Limbaugh then went on to say that the New Deal was the same thing- a ploy to “establish majority power for 50 years of Democrat rule.”

While I’ve been hoping Obama would perform some kind of bold act of escalation (I’m picturing him breaking into Limbaugh’s studio and throwing his shoes at the guy, or suddenly enacting laws imprisoning any drug addicts who have advocated imprisoning all drug addicts), the next move has come from an unlikely source: freshman Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson. Grayson looks something like a character from a Tom Tomorrow cartoon, which makes it highly appropriate for him to have said this of Limbaugh:

“Rush Limbaugh is a has-been hypocrite loser, who craves
attention. His right-wing lunacy sounds like Mikhail
Gorbachev, extolling the virtues of communism. Limbaugh
actually was more lucid when he was a drug addict. If
America ever did 1% of what he wanted us to do, then we'd
all need pain-killers.”

Damn! With this guy in the House and Franken in the Senate there’s potential for high comedy in Congress for the next few years. While in the end I’d rather see politicians ignore people like Limbaugh, compounding their persecution complex by poking and teasing them (and hopefully driving them apart from the elusive Moderate Republican by stimulating their Paranoia Gland) seems to be an acceptable option for now.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fun with your money: Union Busting edition

Even for all the bullshit surrounding the bailout, this is pretty remarkable:
Three days after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America Corp. hosted a conference call with conservative activists and business officials to organize opposition to the U.S. labor community's top legislative priority.

Participants on the October 17 call -- including at least one representative from another bailout recipient, AIG -- were urged to persuade their clients to send "large contributions" to groups working against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), as well as to vulnerable Senate Republicans, who could help block passage of the bill.

Bernie Marcus, the charismatic co-founder of Home Depot, led the call along with Rick Berman, an aggressive EFCA opponent and founder of the Center for Union Facts. Over the course of an hour, the two framed the legislation as an existential threat to American capitalism, or worse.
The demise of capitalism seems pretty extreme, considering that the Employee Free Choice Act would give us labor laws similar to those in other capitalist countries, but whatever. This guy angry, we should let him keep ranting.
"This is the demise of a civilization," said Marcus. "This is how a civilization disappears. I am sitting here as an elder statesman and I'm watching this happen and I don't believe it." Donations of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars were needed, it was argued, to prevent America from turning "into France."
The end of civilization! We don't want to end up as a civilization that has met it's demise, you know, like France.
"If a retailer has not gotten involved in this, if he has not spent money on this election, if he has not sent money to [former Sen.] Norm Coleman and all these other guys, they should be shot. They should be thrown out their goddamn jobs," Marcus declared.
Threats of violence... this guy really knows how to fundraise. And to think, these guys are worried about union intimidation. In case threatening to shoot you didn't seal the deal, he offers a plea from Bernie Marcus, the common man:
"This bill may be one of the worst things I have ever seen in my life," he said, explaining that he could have been on "a 350-foot boat out in the Mediterranean," but felt it was more important to engage on this fight.
See, he could have been out there on his 350 foot yacht, bought with money he earned the right way, by busting Home Depot's unions. But he's so passionate about keeping workers without living wages and benefits that he's willing to forgo his millionaire lifestyle for a few months. That my friends, is commitment.

As much easy as it is to have fun with a blowhard like Marcus, the other aspect of the call has serious implications. The companies engaged in this call on how to stop the Employee Free Choice Act include Bank of America and AIG, the same Bank of America and AIG that we just gave billions of dollars to keep in existence.

Nice to know we're helping good people stay in business, huh?

Down With Reactionary Music!

File-sharing can lead to quite a bit of trouble in China, as 81 Tibetans learned recently. In an apparent attempt to remind Tibetans of exactly why they hate being ruled by the Chinese, Beijing has launched what they’re calling a “strike hard” campaign. Its timing is undoubtedly aimed at giving Tibetans second thoughts about planning protests on the upcoming 50th anniversary of their failed 1959 uprising, which sought to expel the PLA occupation force.

The two arrested specifically for possessing “reactionary songs” join dozens more detained for the same reason in recent weeks. Labeling a song “reactionary” might at first seem like an outdated relic of older times, but people who seriously suggest that should be suspected of being musical rightists, enemies of proper musical class struggle! These bourgeois capitalist-roaders may try to stand in the way of proper revolutionary musical thought, but the great masses of the musical proletariat can see through their ruses. Tibetans merely need to avoid incorrect musical thought, which can be done by allowing their musical culture to take a great leap forward. Tibetan bands (or “musical gangs of four”) should allow a hundred songs to blossom, and a hundred schools of song-writing to contend. Counterrevolutionary music listeners should engage in reform by labor and musical reeducation, so as to cease functioning as tools of the musical aristocracy.

By starting a five year plan of music reform immediately they will advance their own knowledge of Mao Zedong Musical Thought, and help the nation to achieve perfect social harmony and musical socialism. Musical Red Guards will be called upon to purge undesirable musical elements from all songs. The most correct form of music is the (Long) March, whose martial aspects encourage anti-rightist sentiments in every musical work unit.

Now, a question for the Chinese government- if that kind of language sounds silly coming from some random jerk on the internet, how is one to suppose it sounds coming from officials of one of the most powerful nations on Earth?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Putting meaningless compromise over "doing what works"

Barack Obama wants to change the status quo. He won the election on a promise to unite the country, to end the era of red and blue states, and most of all against partisanship. He garnered plenty of republican support during the election (insanely impressive for a black guy whose middle name is Hussein), and there are plenty of people out there who believe in his message, and are willing to put aside partisanship for the sake of change. That's great, but he needs to remember that republicans (the people) may have embraced him and helped approval ratings into the 70s, but the Republicans in congress are a very different animal.

The debate over the stimulus started with Barack pushing a bill that while large in size, didn't dedicate much of the money to things that will actually stimulate the economy. There were good things in the bill, but there were also huge amounts of money devoted to tax cuts, and relatively small amounts dedicated to transportation and infrastructure spending as a result. When talking about the stimulus plan, Barack has always said that he didn't care who said it, he just wanted to go with "what works". Well, here is what works, according to a chart that was even made up by a right leaning economist:
And from Obama's meeting with the republicans today, we KNOW he doesn't think they'll work:(a rough live transcript by some anonymous hero):
This is just the first step.
Says would love to not spend this money
Has no interest in increasing government just to increase the size of government.
But he talked to many economists who told him almost uniformly that they needed to get a stim bill up and running asap to avoid huge unemployment------------
So... We put together a package with direct spending and tax cuts.
Mentioned martin Feldstein.
Spending has a more simulative [sic] affect than tax credits.
For every dollar of direct spending, we get 1.5 dollars of stimulus
For every dollar of tax cuts, we get 75 cents of stimulus
So even Obama's economic team has told him they won't work, and and Obama doesn't think they'll work. So why waste a third of the money to tax cuts that won't stimulate the economy, you ask?

Well after electing a Democratic president with a wide margin and an overwhelmingly Democratic congress, for some reason it's always about pleasing republicans, and hoping they'll play nice:(Msnbc's first read and Digby's repsonse)
Looking For Bipartisanship Down The Road: Why does bipartisanship support for the stimulus matter? Let's get one thing straight: Obama's stimulus plan is going to pass Congress, and the vote won't be that close. But this isn't the goal this week -- or next. For Team Obama, it's about winning over Republicans. And for some on the left, this doesn't compute. After all, some might ask, "Who cares? The election just happened and voters overwhelmingly chose Democrats to run the government, both in the White House and in Congress." But what Obama needs is a Republican Party that isn't consistently confrontational, because he's going to be asking for some trickier bills, including more money for the financial industry, potentially support for nationalizing some parts of the banking industry, and a bunch of money to shore up the housing crisis. So while Obama doesn't need GOP support for stimulus, he wants the opposition to be against him in a way that he can win them over for more favors and -- most importantly -- prevent potential filibusters.
Right. Because it's in their best political interest to give Obama "favors."

They will cooperate if they get what they want and they won't if they don't. If Obama comes to them and says "we capitulated on your demands on the stumulus package a year ago, so now you need to fulfill your end of the bargain" they'll say "what bargain?" And that isn't something that just applies to Republicans. It's the way politics works. The idea that the Republicans will eschew a filibuster on, say, health care, because Obama gave them some extra tax cuts in the stimulus package is just absurd.
Obama seems to under the impression that the Republicans are negotiating out of good faith. The problem is they aren't. And they won't, no matter how many concessions you give them. They won't say it outright like he did, but there is no doubt that the majority of them agree when Rush Limbaugh said he wanted Obama to fail. Of course they do! If he fails, they have a shot to get back into power, this isn't rocket science. And if the bill fails to stimulate the economy, it's on Obama and the Democrats. No one will go back and see that it got 10 republican votes as opposed to 5. This is his bill, and it's in Obama's interest that it works.

So where are we now?

After Obama made the massive initial concessions to win Republican support, the Republicans still won't support the bill. As usual, Atrios says is it best:
Lucy And The Football

I am just shocked to discover that Republicans will vote against the bill which has been made shittier to please them.

Just shocked.
It's also even more frustrating when you think of how this could have gone down differently.

Instead of starting by preemptively appeasing Republicans with tons of tax cuts, why not aim high and write a progressive bill of similar size but only containing things that will actually stimulate the economy? When the republicans bitch about the bill (like they did even after the crappier compromise bill), you can compromise on minor stuff if you want, but no need to go crazy, people elected you because they didn't like how Republican economic policy crashed the economy. When they keep whining about the bill, kindly remind them that you won the election because of their policies, have a 70% approval rating, and if they don't want to get on board they can follow Thomas Friedman's advice and "Suck. On. This."

Again, this bill will pass regardless, there's no need to make it suck. You only need a vote or two in the senate, and there are few republicans running for re-election who won't want to look like they don't care about the economy no matter how much they hate what you're doing.

Then when the bill comes up, and the Republicans mostly vote against it (Surprise! This will happen with the appeasement bill too!), and you take ownership of the bill, and that's not a risk this time, because you got a bill that people agree will do the most to stimulate the economy.

I realize this will never happen because it would be to "partisan" and that would make it evil or something, but I still don't get it.

The thing that bothers me is that the political result of both plans would be fairly similar.

After a "partisan" stimulus plan, the Republicans would be mad at Obama, claim he's running up the deficit, making the economy worse and ruining the bipartisan climate. But at the same time he could rest assured that he did as much as possible to turn around the economy, the results of which will have a large say on how his presidency (and hopefully his second term) play out.

After the current plan passes, the Republicans will claim he's running up the deficit, making the economy worse, and ruining the bipartisan climate. But unlike before, he is on the hook for a shittier plan to stimulate the economy.

This isn't to say that the stimulus won't do good, it has good elements and any help is desperately needed. But this was a massive opportunity for progress that slipped through our fingers. We had the opportunity to aim big, and chose not to.

Barack is a very smart person and politician, and I'm pretty sure I understand what he's trying to do here. He ran on this type of bipartisan and inclusive government, and unlike so many politicians, he ACTUALLY means this stuff. We shouldn't expect anything different, and it is somewhat refreshing to watch a politician does what he says he will do. I just hope that he chooses his own words of "doing what works" over the "compromise for compromise sake" approach in the future.

2009 Giveth, and 2009 Taketh Away

Alas, reader DHR was kind enough to step in and ruin the streak of happy tidings. It turns out Bill Kristol is leaving NYT just to be picked up by the Washington Post- maybe their editors just wanted some sort of anti-bellwether to tell them which way the nation definitely isn’t heading? Whatever the reason, it’s time to cancel the celebrations. Kristolmas is over.

Still, one might point out that getting rid of Kristol wouldn’t have been that huge of a victory. Two crappy conservative pundits sprout up out of the ground whenever one falls, so Kristol keeping his job actually slows our approach to Peak Conservativism. And besides, is he really any worse than the rest of his peers? Today I devised this highly scientific experiment to find out:

Below are a few quotes from the last few years. See if you can figure out which conservative is responsible for each! Possible sources are: Hannity, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Beck, Savage, Kristol, and Krauthammer. Keep your guess in mind for each one, or use a marker to write it on your monitor. Afterwards I’ll show who said what.

1. "Evidence that Iraq may have aided in the horrific attacks of September 11 is beginning to accumulate."

2. "According to an Iraqi newspaper [...] Saddam told the bomb-makers to accelerate the pace of their work […] Saddam has been moving ahead into a new era, a new age of horrors where terrorists don't commandeer jumbo jets and fly them into our skyscrapers. They plant nuclear bombs in our cities."

3. "Predictions of ethnic turmoil in Iraq are even more questionable than they were in the case of Afghanistan."

4. "Very few wars in American history were prepared better or more thoroughly than this one by this president."

5. "And considering what might have gone wrong--and which so many critics predicted would go wrong--the results have been in many ways admirable. Iraq has not descended into inter-religious and inter-ethnic violence.”

6. "The [leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity] story is absurd. But I now think the whole prosecution is absurd. […] I now think it's a politically motivated attempt to wound the Bush administration. [...] Fitzgerald's case is crumbling.”

7. “If [Hillary Clinton] gets a race against John Edwards and Barack Obama, she’s going to be the nominee. Barack Obama is not going to beat Hillary Clinton in a single Democratic primary.”

8. "I think Hillary Clinton… has put behind her the horrible sexism and misogyny the Democratic primary voters demonstrated... Never would have happened in the Republican party."

9. "The core case against Obama is pretty simple: he’s too liberal.”

10. "[McCain and Palin are] gonna win Tuesday night. It's gonna be huge."

Big mixed bag of stupid statements there! Do you have your guesses written down? Great, here are the answers (highlight the text with your mouse to reveal them):

1. Kristol. 2. Kristol. 3. Kristol. 4. Kristol. 5. Kristol. 6. Kristol. 7. Kristol. 8. Kristol. 9. Kristol. 10. Kristol.

That might have ruined the fun of figuring out who said what, but I defy you to look at a good consolidated list of Kristol quotes and not do the exact same thing. Looking on the bright side, by hiring Kristol the WaPo editors also assured that I’ll have even more material in the future. Now I just have to convince myself that the rest of his readers are also following his columns for fun. Someone couldn’t take Kristol seriously, right?


Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 Delivers Again

Along with all the other good news that’s been flooding in recently- Guantanamo Bay closing, torture and the Global Gag Rule ending, and now stem-cell research resuming-one more of the great mistakes of the past has been rectified. This time change has come to the NYT editorial page, where Bill Kristol has just written his last piece. Let’s all take a moment to mourn his writing career, and review some of his greatest hits from the last few years.

When Kristol got the job, editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal defended the hire by saying that Kristol brought balance and alternate viewpoints to the page. On that front he was undeniably right- Kristol brought a level of unintentional comedy previously unseen in a major newspaper, and helped balance out the serious, adult tone that editorial pages tend to project. It’s already been noted here that Kristol was somehow wrong on literally every issue he ever wrote about. Let’s start with the run-up to the Iraq War (piles of stupid quotes condensed to one MEGAQUOTE):

“Saddam’s got weapons of mass destruction. At some
point he will use them or give them to a terrorist
group to use. American and alliance forces will be
welcomed in Baghdad as liberators. [After the war]
the region [will] no longer be a hotbed of terrorism,
extremism, and anti-Americanism. [Sectarian violence
won’t occur because] the Shiites and Sunnis… [will]
live perfectly well together. Also, the cost of the
war [won’t be more than] $100 billion.”

Rosenthal’s decision to hire him is making more sense already! Kristol’s ace political instincts also deduced the true reason for liberal dislike of Lieberman:
“It's that he's unashamedly pro-American.”
Ah yes, I knew the real reason was because… LIBERALS! If I didn’t know any better I would have thought that quote was from some anonymous freeper or dittohead found on a Train of Thought Field Trip- stay classy, Kristol! Later he discovered who used 9-11 for cheap political points:
Great. Expand on that a bit?
“[It’s] a totally false charge that [President Bush] has
played the politics of fear."
Well now I’ve heard everything. Oh wait no I haven’t, because the hits keep coming- so whose fault was it when Hastert did exactly nothing about Mark Foley’s emails to an underage page?
“The voters in Florida, I guess, who elected him.
Maybe they should have known better.”
Yes, maybe they should have magically known better. Recently the rise of Sarah Palin apparently drove him mad(der), leaving a trail of hilarious quotes in his wake. Before her nomination:
“It’s awfully tempting… but… Palin has been governor for
less than two years.”
“Could McCain assure voters that the young Pawlenty [Tim
Pawlenty, whose lack of Washington experience is
strikingly similar to Palin’s] is ready to take over, if
need be, as commander in chief? Also… Pawlenty is unproven.”
After her nomination:
“Should voters be alarmed by a relatively young or
inexperienced vice-presidential candidate? No."
So she would be a bad pick for VP because of her youth and inexperience, but she’s a good pick for VP because of her youth and inexperience? I see. Even in his last column Kristol did what he could to keep the laughs coming:
“Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980… Conservatives
have been right more often than not. Conservative
policies have on the whole worked… Obama’s speech was
unabashedly pro-American and implicitly conservative.”
Hurricane Katrina, years wasted on Monica Lewinsky, a ruined economy, the Iraq War? Conservative successes! A speech which repeatedly calls out the outgoing Republican president and his conservative policies as failures? An implicitly conservative speech! Even to the very end he just can’t get anything right. Farewell, sweet Kristol, and may flights of angels sing your writing career to its rest.

Whether you like it or not Mr. Bettman, this is the face of the NHL

(Image via JP)

What a beast.

The Toronto Globe and Mail:
Despite Kovalev’s crowd-pleasing heroics, if there was any doubt that the NHL now belongs to the Washington Capitals’ ebullient Alexander Ovechkin, whose showmanship and gap-toothed exuberance immediately won over the Montreal crowd, it was likely dispelled at Saturday night’s skills competition.
. . .
Ovechkin also scored a goal in regulation and added three assists, his crafty deke to outwit Luongo in the shootout prompted cries of “Ovie, Ovie”

Israeli Military Donates White Phosphorus to Gaza

In the form of shelling, that is. White phosphorus munitions, which pretty much everyone agrees shouldn’t be used as a weapon, were shot at heavily populated areas inside Gaza during the recent conflict. Gaza has one of the highest population densities in the world, so it’s hard to imagine how someone would think that using WP as a chemical weapon was appropriate- unless the soldiers in question just figured they would follow our example from a few years ago.

JJ did a fantastic job of explaining how brilliant the entire Gaza invasion was a few weeks ago. But now that the Israelis are owning up to having used WP, it’s time to give them some tips for how to stay out of trouble in future conflicts. Luckily, the Train of Thought War Crime Avoidance Committee is always happy to give out some unwanted advice:

A- Between using cluster bombs in Lebanon and white phosphorus in Gaza, Israel keeps running afoul of groups which keep their eyes out for exactly these kinds of incidents. Why not shake things up by thinking outside the “horrible atrocity weapon” box? For example, in the next conflict Israel could fire rockets full of scorpions at Palestinian kindergartens, and then watch as international monitors go mad after realizing that “WEAPONIZED SCORPIONS” aren’t restricted by the Geneva Convention*.

B- Maybe Israel could just stop using these weapons in the first place? It’s not like they don't already have an incomprehensible lead in firepower, there isn’t any good reason to use weapons that make everyone really angry at you (in addition to creating an ongoing risk to civilians for years and melting peoples skin, respectively).

Go with whichever seems more reasonable. If Option A sounds better there are plenty more options for unconventional weapons- tanks that shoot gum (gets stuck in insurgents hair and beards, creating an awful mess), helicopters that fly upside down (baffles insurgents, also creating dangerous spinning blade zones), and bombers that drop boxes of rare tropical snakes (some are poisonous, others just look cool and/or hang out in trees). Either way, hopefully this will be the last time the world hears about the Israeli military flaunting its disregard for the safety of civilians. If not then there’s always the possibility of getting help from Illegal Weapon Addicts Anonymous, starring China, Russia, and the United States.

*Actually they might be, but I’m going to make like an Israeli general and not check.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Behind The Great Firewall

The fact that Obama’s inauguration speech didn’t resemble those given by Bush couldn't have caught very many people by surprise. One of the most immediately noticeable differences was that foreign policy callouts seemed reference the real world, instead of the cartoonish caricatures drawn by Bush almost every time he opened his mouth after 9/11. This shift hardly went unnoticed abroad- in China the line referring to “those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent” was hastily censored during the live broadcast, cutting abruptly to an anchor who clearly hadn’t expected to be back on camera until the end of the speech.

Actually, the entire incident is goofy enough that a return to Bush-style caricatures almost seems appropriate. Hearing only a vague reference that could technically apply to any number of nations, the Chinese government reacted by executing a bumbling act of censorship?! The official denial issued several hours later was just as clumsy:

“There are breakaways even when broadcasting China's own meetings," CCTV Deputy Director Wang Jianhong said. "Americans might care a lot about the presidential inauguration, but Chinese may not be very interested."

They may not be very interested, so CCTV cuts from the speech itself to a discussion of the speech instead? If my viewers were uninterested I’d probably change the subject entirely, instead of shifting to a bunch of guys boringly talking about whatever it is that allegedly bores my viewers.

All that aside you really must be in bad shape if, upon hearing a general reference to corruption, deceit, and dissent-silencing, you think “Hey, I fit the bill! He’s talking about me!” Note that other places referred to in the speech managed to sit through the entire thing: Germany didn’t censor the references to fighting fascism or dying on Normandy Beach, oil-producing nations didn’t block the lines about global warming, and the South didn’t* cut the references to racism** out of the broadcast***. Is there any better admission of dissent-silencing than silencing the mere suggestion that someone else, on the other side of the world, is generally against silencing dissent?

Blocking access to information about Tiananmen or Tibetan nationalism at least serves an obvious, if vile, purpose. If more Chinese people were to become aware that twenty years ago their fellow citizens fought and died to challenge corrupt one-party rule, or that it isn’t just a “small minority” of Tibetans who want out of the People’s Republic, the Communist Party of China would have a lot of explaining to do. Considering that many Chinese viewers might not have even linked Barack's sentence with the Chinese government to begin with, cutting the speech up seems to border on paranoia. The current economic crisis might make this an inopportune time to offend China, but it can still be hoped that in the future Obama will take more opportunities to remind the Chinese leadership that those who rule with corruption, deceit, and the silencing of dissent are truly “on the wrong side of history.”

* (or wasn’t allowed to)
** (along with Aretha Franklin’s performance, Joseph Lowery’s benediction, the racially-mixed crowd on the mall, and actually the entire rest of Obama’s speech)
*** (as much as they may have wanted to)

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Train of Thought Lounge: Coheed and Cambria

So glad to rejoin you all for the first time in over a month. The reason for my lengthy hiatus? Pure laziness. But rest assured, I can't wait to get back to doing what I do best: carefully avoiding all that is intellectual about this blog and providing nothing but the purely inane material you love so much!

Faithful reader & commenter wb (otherwise known as, to borrow from Arseblog, "The Blogfather") mentioned that he would like to see more posts about music, so it's only right that I kick back into action through the T.O.T. Lounge.

A while back, I wrote about Death Cab For Cutie, whose name lead me to believe they were a thrash metal band but who turned out to be as soft as... I don't know, something that's really soft. Coheed and Cambria had the exact opposite effect; I was sure this was another whiny emo band when I first heard of them in 2003. Little did I know they were a science-fiction themed, epic guitar orchestra of sound, expertly crafted to rock your socks off!

"Gravemakers and Gunslingers" is a perfect example of how much rock they manage to cram into just one track. Be sure to adjust your volume before you press play, lest your computer speakers EXPLODE OFF YOUR DESK!

Gravemakers And Gunslingers - Coheed And Cambria

Train Preemptive Book Review: “Sarah Palin, The Book”

Picture this, if you will: I’m sitting at my desk here in China, trying to figure out what to do with myself now that “imagining a world without President Bush” isn’t a constant drain on my free time. My desk is covered in empty whiskey bottles and gives off the faint odor of margarine (long story (elections have consequences)). As I disconsolately click through random URLs I arrive at Publishing Newswire, a deeply bland site designed by someone using a cutting-edge “cheap website made in the mid-90s” aesthetic. Scrolling down I see something that instantly cuts through my bourbon-fuelled haze: “Sarah Palin Enters Book Deal.” I begin to vomit furiously, and pass out.

Waking up the next morning (or is it night? I’ve had my blinds drawn for weeks, it’s so hard to tell), I try to remember what had set off my reaction the night before. I eat some breakfast while watching “The Dark Knight” for the 23rd time, but I’m nagged by the feeling that there’s something on my laptop I should read. Hitting the button to wake it up, the screen instantly brings up my web browser and word processor. The browser has the Palin book deal story, while a new document contains just two words: “the horror.” It wasn’t a nightmare, after all: Sarah Palin has a book deal.

I spent a few minutes wondering what a book written by someone on Sarah Palin's behalf could possibly say- how many pages can you fill with “gosh-darn” and “maverick” before your publisher tears up your check and slams the door? Luckily we here at The Train of Thought have sources everywhere, and within a matter of hours I had procured a copy of Sarah Palin: The Book. First, take a look at the cover (graphic design by Sarah herself):

Great start! The next thing I noticed about the book is how thin it is- ten pages, tops. Flipping to the first page I started reading, only to feel my blood curdle. The book consists of 8 pages of bitter ranting aimed at the media, John McCain, Barack “Obomba,” and more. The last three pages are a list of McCain aids against whom she plans to get “revenge most foul.” Next to that she has hand-written “murder” and a drawn a winking face. On the last page is an apology from the publisher stating that she’s already had Todd begin shooting her old speechwriters and handlers from a helicopter, so after signing the book deal they had to make do with a stack of notes found in her desk.

Just skimming the book had given me a headache, so I settled down for a quick nap. To my bewilderment I awoke on the floor, beneath my desk! The book itself was gone, along with the standard-issue Train Shipment Box I had received it in. Wondering if the entire thing had been some horrific fantasy, I turned on my computer- only to find my picture of the front of the book, and a quick google search revealed that Publishing Newswire had indeed just run a story announcing a Palin book deal.

If it was all a dream, how did I have a picture of the cover, and how had I known about the book itself? The memory of those terror-inducing pages still chills my spine. I suspect there is only one logical conclusion: I’ve been haunted by The Ghost of Horrible Books From The Future, giving me a vision of a book that is not yet, but some day will be- a book too terrible to contemplate- Sarah Palin: The Book.

May God have mercy on us all.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Big Plans in the Senate

Yesterday at the senate progressive media meeting, various commitments were made to the progressive agenda:(Via Mydd)
I recall last year, attending, that the atmosphere was much different. Then, all about stopping Bush; now, a huge agenda of things to do. And promises galore.

Ron Wyden, Universal healthcare-- Kennedy's bill. Harry Reid, Immigration Reform this year; EFCA "still a few more votes for cloture" but this summer. Sherod Brown, Universal healthcare, local green electricity. Byron Dorgan, a national "smart grid" for electricity. Jeff Bingham, Cap and Trade this cycle. Chuck Schumer, local water/sewer upgrades nationally. Tom Udall, serious start to getting off oil. Jon Tester, all the stimulus to infrastructure jobs (including green).
That's an extremely ambitious list. I'm not sure all of this is possible within one year (I could see health care taking up quite a bit of time), but it's important that this stuff is all out there.

While part of me is reminded about how worthless Reid and many other senate dems have been in fighting against Bush, I get the feeling that they will have a much more proactive approach promoting their own agenda. And we better hope so, because unlike the dems, the republicans know how to jam the congressional machine, meaning that none of these goals will be achieved easily.

With the economy being a priority, the job initiatives will probably come up soon, and I'm almost positive we'll see health care reform proposed this year. Employee Free Choice in the summer sounds at least possible, and "A few more votes needed for cloture" is a signal for President Obama to get those guest seats on Air Force warmed up.

The one thing on this list I don't see this year is Immigration reform. Also, as much as we need immigration reform, from a purely political standpoint it might be nice to completely split the republican caucus in the run up to the mid-term elections. The politics of that fight will be nuts, simply because it was the senate and not president Bush that prevented last years fairly flawed immigration reform bill. The good news on this one, is that we should be able to peel of a few republicans on this rather easily, and add them on to a much better bill without the create a permanent underclass guest worker provisions.

If this is the senate's agenda, the groundwork will be in place for truly major change.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Shamefully Disrespectful"

Matt Yglesias:


Wow. Well, my inaugural good feelings were definitely spoiled a bit by the “Na Na Hey Hey … Goodbye” outburst on the Mall just now. How shamefully disrespectful. Keith Olbermann even thought so!

Wow. Well, my inaugural good feelings were definitely spoiled a bit by the realization that George W. Bush was heading off to live out his life in a lavish home as a multi-millionaire retiree rather than going to stand trial in the Hague. But hopefully Americans can put our differences aside and work together for a better future or something.

I'm with Ezra Klein:
His actions led to deaths of hundreds of thousands, the displacement of millions, and the impoverishment of more than we're likely to know. He will never go to jail. He will never be tried in Court. He will never be poor or hungry or homeless or drafted. And this country, sadly, has done away with the stocks. But he can be shamed.

And he should be. Forever. The self-delusion of his administration is startling. Last week, Chris Beam crashed the celebratory barbecue of the outgoing Bushies. It was hugs and kisses and high-fives all around. It was like watching Lehman's executives reminisce about the good times. Josh Bolten took the stage and emotionally toasted his colleagues. "If ever there was a group to leave government with their heads held high, this is it," he said. Yech. They can tell each other what they want. But they should have to hear from the country they harmed. Bush's awful, unpleasant, disrespectful post-presidency should serve as a warning to executives who would follow his path. Shaming him is not just appropriate. It's important.

Just to clear things up...

Things that are "Shamefully Disrespectful":
-Starting a war based on lies

Things that aren't "Shamefully Disrespectful":
-Being disrespectful to someone who started a war based on lies

I loved the heckling, and hearing it echo over the steps of the capital was genuinely cathartic. And I mean that in a good way, not in a Hillary Clinton "I'm going to ignore the will of the voters" way.

A strange new world

I've been thinking a lot about what it's like to suddenly wake up in a world where there's a nontrivial chance that the important political/policy news of the day will be something better than "horrible."
It really is a strange feeling. Like this, for example: (Via Greenwald)

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba, Jan. 20 -- In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration.

The instruction came in a motion filed with a military court in the case of five defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The motion called for "a continuance of the proceedings" until May 20 so that "the newly inaugurated president and his administration [can] review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically."

Following the rule of law? What the hell is going on here?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


What a day. I thought the speech lived up, with several well crafted lines that I'm sure we'll be seeing again for years to come. I thought is tone and temperament were perfect, acknowledging this moment's place in history but making the seriousness of our problems perfectly clear.

Any interesting stories from the inauguration or thoughts on the speech?

“Stupidity... stupidity finds a way...”

The beginning of the post-Bush era may be in sight, but that won’t mean the end of conservative war on science. This is going to be pretty disappointing to anyone who thought that W’s last day would be followed by earthquakes and cave-ins that swallow his hordes of supporters a-la Return of the King- I know that’s how I saw it happening. Some of the best evidence of ongoing Bush-style thought right now comes in the form of editorial cartoons.

Take this cold winter weather some parts of the US have been experiencing, for example. Other parts of the country are actually unseasonably warm, but I don’t think anyone would deny that it’s pretty chilly in the East and South right now. From this fact conservatives have drawn one conclusion: “GLOBAL WARMING IS DEAD. SURE, YOU LIBERALS MAY HAVE YOUR SCIENCE AND FACTS AND THEORIES AND EVIDENCE, BUT… IT’S COLD OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW!” This cartoon here, drawn by LARDY WRIUTS (?), contains all the tell-tale signs of a shitty global warming-debunking editorial cartoon:

Morbidly obese version of Al Gore? Check. Smug insinuation that Al Gore, not thousands upon thousands of climatologists, is responsible for discovering global warming? Check. Bizarre rambling text bubble, leading to an unfunny punch line? CHECK. Cartoonists have been submitting these at such a feverish pace that any clod who tried to find each instance published each day across all of the myriad newspapers in the US would surely go mad and kill himself. Luckily a SomethingAwful goon started a new blog collecting all of the cartoons, mockingly entitled “If Global Warming is Real Then Why Is It Cold?” Take a quick look, and see just exactly how little originality newspapers require of their cartoonists. “What’s that, literally 78,345,734,573,948,754,723,048,234 of them have been published in the last week? FIT TO PRINT, GREAT JOB!”

The only thing both funnier and sadder than the cartoons themselves would be the reaction from the right, most of whom don’t seem to realize that the cartoons have been collected for their shittiness, not for being fantastic examples of speaking truth to power (or whatever they believe people like conservative cartoonsts and oil-funded “scientists” are paid to do). Persistently clueless freepers, for example, took a few moments out of their busy days to snicker over their favorite ones and polish off the old nicknames for Al Gore. I’d register there and point out what they’re missing, but wouldn’t that be a bit cruel? It’s going to be a long 4/8 years for them, if the joy of misspelling Al Gore is what it takes to get them through the day then who am I to take it from them?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Celebration Tonight, Change Tomorrow

See some of you out in DC

Bush will eventually always used to have been a good president

Today conservative writers are facing an extraordinary challenge. With their beloved president leaving office reviled by record numbers of citizens, making him sound like a good guy can be pretty difficult. While a few people like Krauthammer are content to engage in the now-standard “Bush was right about everything always” revisionism, many others attempt to allow reality at least some influence in their columns. But how are they to do this, while still maintaining that Bush was a fabulous success? The answer comes in the form of future-past-perfect-tense alternate future-fuelled writing, which I’m tempted to call 'supervisionism.'

Here’s how it works: Because Bush did things with far-reaching implications, it’s impossible to say whether he was good or bad! Basically, if your mistakes have an impressively huge magnitude they become something else- no longer wrong, simply something that happened. If your actions leave one person dead, you have most certainly screwed up. But if they leave tens or even hundreds of thousands dead, one country ruined, and an entire region destabilized, congratulations! You have officially ascended above all judgment and occupy some ethereal spot beyond good and evil.

One of the most recent example of this argument is provided by British columnist Bruce Anderson, who writes in The Independent that “as he has set great events in motion, it will be impossible to judge his Presidency for many years. It is not impossible that history will offer a partial vindication.” Catch that? While he may have made awful decisions, they may later accidentally turn out to have been good. For that reason and that reason alone, we should all consider Bush to have maybe turned out to have been a success! Trying to express this philosophy in words leaves you with some pretty tortured grammar, but you get the idea.

Let’s see where this idea takes us: As far as I can tell it means that no leader is truly responsible for their actions, because forces outside their control may at any time change the verdict. Anderson isn’t talking about the foreseeable future, which normal people ask their leaders to take into account. No, we’re talking potentially hundreds of years from now. Do whatever ghastly sort of thing you want- the innocent people tortured and killed might have ended up birthing some horrific ideology that destroys half the world in the distant future! Random acts of senseless brutality have some insignificant chance of doing good through a convoluted and unfathomable event chain, so forget trying to figure out if leaders across the world are ruling wisely.

The ultimate expression of supervisionism would be to get rid of leaders altogether and replace them with random decision-making machines. You might as well if there’s no way of deciding the best course of action, right? Just code it to make random choices regarding every possible aim of foreign policy- Invade country X? Destroy ideology Y? Persecute ethnicity Z? Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if this sounds like a good idea to conservatives- they’ve seen the laughably poor results provided by Bush and friends, and literally anything has to be better than that. What better way to truly wreck the federal government than by replacing it with a single computer which, thousands of years from now, will maybe eventually turn out to have been making good decisions all along?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Train of Thought Lounge : Inauguration Series Pt. 1

Greetings everyone;
I would like to wish everyone a Happy Inauguration weekend. The buildup has been surreal for anyone in the DC area over the last week. Road closings, 10 degree weather, Metro delays...And much more..

In honor of this special moment in history, I'd like to bring the lounge out of its winter hibernation with a special 3 part series of American themed inspiration.

Today, I leave you with U2's The Hands that Built America from Martin Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Written by film score legend Howard Shore (composer of The Lord of The Rings Trilogy, Silent of the Lambs)and Bono, the song's themes really run deep today. Now, some of you have mentioned that Obama is not Irish/European and that the movie focused on the Irish and European influences in a young US, but it does not matter. Just focus on the BIG PICTURE here and enjoy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

No Complaining allowed.

The following people are no longer allowed to make ANY sort of criticism of the Bailout(TARP) Bill:

President Obama and the following Senators:

Akaka (D-HI)
Alexander (R-TN)
Baucus (D-MT)
Begich (D-AK)
Biden (D-DE)
Bingaman (D-NM)
Boxer (D-CA)
Burris (D-IL)
Byrd (D-WV)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Clinton (D-NY)
Conrad (D-ND)
Dodd (D-CT)
Durbin (D-IL)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hagan (D-NC)
Harkin (D-IA)
Inouye (D-HI)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kerry (D-MA)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Kohl (D-WI)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Lautenberg (D-NJ)
Leahy (D-VT)
Levin (D-MI)
Lieberman (ID-CT)
Lugar (R-IN)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reed (D-RI)
Reid (D-NV)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Salazar (D-CO)
Schumer (D-NY)
Snowe (R-ME)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Voinovich (R-OH)
Warner (D-VA)
Webb (D-VA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)

No complaints about oversight, because you didn't add any meaningful oversight provisions to the bill.

No complaints that the banks aren't lending money, because you didn't mandate that in the bill.

No complaints that the banks are still paying executive bonuses, because you chose not to make those provisions enforceable.

No complaints that you didn't see this coming, because you had 3 months to hold hearings and see first hand why the first 350 Billion dollar TARP bill was an extremely flawed bill.

Yeah, the money is going to Obama, but it doesn't fucking matter. The people that Obama tasked with handling this money are Tim Geithner and Larry Summers. That's Tim Geithner who totally fucked up the response to the current economic crisis, and Larry Summers, who has yet to acknowledge that it's his brilliant ideas got us into this mess.

The New York Times editorial page LAST MONTH:
As treasury secretary in 2000, Mr. Summers championed the law that deregulated derivatives, the financial instruments — a k a toxic assets — that have spread the financial losses from reckless lending around the globe. He refused to heed the critics who warned of dangers to come.
. . .
At the New York Fed, Mr. Geithner has been one of the ringmasters of this year’s serial bailouts. His involvement includes the as-yet-unexplained flip-flop in September when a read-my-lips, no-new-bailouts policy allowed Lehman Brothers to go under — only to be followed less than two days later by the even costlier bailout of the American International Group and last weekend by the bailout of Citigroup. It is still unclear what Mr. Geithner and other policy makers knew or did not know — or what they thought they knew but didn’t — in arriving at those decisions, including who exactly is on the receiving end of the billions of dollars of taxpayer money now flooding the system.
You gave these people 350 billion dollars of our money with no strings attached.
You live with the consequences.

No grandstanding hearings and "nobody could have imagined" speeches, that's all I ask.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Travels, December-January

I'll let you put the last month together, using a few pictures I took along the way:

So that's where I've been.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A recap of the last few years:

Liberals: Ugh, torture? Seriously? We better stop that, not only does it go against everything our nation stands for but it'll also end up ruining the court cases against anyone who's legitimately dangerous.

Conservatives: *Watch 24, engage in apologetics, lose election after election*

Now, a twist that isn't even slightly surprising to anyone whose views on torture haven't been formed exclusively by the actions of Jack Bauer: "The United States may never be able to prosecute an alleged plotter of the September 11, 2001 attacks because he was tortured, a top Pentagon official said in an interview."

Who would have thought that we'd eventually be able to trace a straight line between Rush Limbaugh gurgling with pleasure at the idea of someone being tortured, and seeing one of the plotters of 9/11 walk? Oh right, plenty of people.

Edit: It's come to my attention that JJ also just posted about torture and 24. Read his, it's better.

So stupid it hurts

Glenn Beck: (Via Atrios)

During the January 13 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade falsely suggested that only "people at the U.N. [United Nations]" want to close the U.S. military-run detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. Discussing torture in Fox Broadcasting Co.'s TV drama 24, Kilmeade asked Fox News' Glenn Beck: "Do you think anybody talks about Gitmo except these people at the U.N., who think it's the worst thing that's ever happened?" While Kilmeade was speaking, Beck answered, "No." In fact, Sen. John McCain, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, James Baker, Warren Christopher, Madeleine Albright, and Colin Powell are among those who have said that Guantánamo should be closed.

Beck and the Fox & Friends hosts also invoked 24 as a justification for the use of torture. Referring to the show's recent season premiere, in which protagonist Jack Bauer, a former member of the fictional "Counter Terrorist Unit," defends his use of torture during a hearing before Congress, Beck said: "[I]t's going to take somebody who sits in front of Congress who is not afraid of them anymore and does what Jack Bauer did. And that is, 'Yes, I did torture, and I'm proud of it.' And it's time for these things to come out of the closet." Introducing an excerpt from 24, in which Bauer is seen answering questions from a congressional committee about torture, Kilmeade stated: "Let's listen to what happened in the fictional series 24 and see if this helps build your argument."

After the clip, co-host Steve Doocy said: "In particular, in that clip, you know, the guy [fictional Sen. Blaine Mayer] goes, 'You tortured them.' And he [Bauer] goes, 'Well, it probably was torture under your definition. But ask the people whose lives I saved whether or not it was worth me going over the edge' -- they would probably -- you ask the average person, 'Is it OK to do something, rough somebody up, to save lives?' You ask the person on the street, they'd say, 'Yeah, why not?' "

During the segment, on-screen text read: "What Americans Need to Hear; Beck Applauds Jack Bauer's Honesty"
Sweet Jesus. While it may be clear to 99.9% of the people watching the show, I guess Glenn Beck can't wrap his mind around the fact that Jack Bauer IS NOT REAL. His name is Keiffer Southerland, and he is not a special agent. He is a talented actor who has a drinking problem. Funnily enough, he has spoken out against REAL LIFE torture, but then again none of this matters because 24 IS A FICTIONAL TV SHOW.

I (and I'm assuming the other 99.9% of people who manage live their lives while distinguishing fiction from reality) watch 24 because it's entertaining. There are tons of twists, cliffhanger endings, explosions, and most importantly, lots of Jack Bauer running around and singlehandedly fucking shit up Rambo style.

The first episode contains, a person surviving two M16 shots to the chest and a secret conspiracy within the US Government to help a genocide involving multiple traitors within the president's cabinet and FBI. Jack Bauer drives through a concrete barrier out the second story of a parking garage while pinned underneath the driver's seat, only to easily run away from the scene afterwards. The season opened with one of the main characters coming back from the dead... so we're talking about soap opera levels suspended disbelief.

And that's ok, because I'm pretty sure realism wasn't the goal here, whether it relates to torture or people being able to run through machine gun fire.

So before he gets carried away, somebody better keep Beck's hands off of a Robocop DVD, or we'd have calls for a privatized robotic police force before you know it. Yeah, I know it's Glenn Beck and I shouldn't be surprised, but this close to livestock levels of intelligence.

And when the front page of today's post IN THE REAL WORLD reads "9/11 Suspect Tortured, Says Trial Overseer", there are probably more important things to discuss than what happened on a TV show.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

So much for that Democracy thing...

Hey Israeli Arabs? SUCK. ON. THIS.

The Central Elections Committee on Monday banned Arab political parties from running in next month’s parliamentary elections, drawing accusations of racism by an Arab lawmaker who said he would challenge the decision in the country’s Supreme Court.

The ruling, made by the body that oversees the elections, reflected the heightened tensions between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority caused by Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israeli Arabs have held a series of demonstrations against the offensive.

The good news is that the supreme court is likely to overturn this fairly unbelievable decision.

Chris Bowers :
The status quo, of a mostly democratic Israel occupying Palestinian territories that are not functional as nation-states, in also untenable. Israel simply cannot maintain an apartheid operation and a democratic state at the same time. Democracy will collapse if apartheid is maintained. Disallowing the Arab parties from running in the elections next month should be understood as the start of that process. (And no, referring to it as apartheid is not controversial. During my trip to Israel, it was a word that Israeli politicians of all stripes had no difficulty using to describe the current situation.)
Calling off democracy for a section of the population is pretty bad. But it also raises the question: Is there any Israeli action, no matter how vile or repulsive, that would cause AIPAC's monopoly on U.S. policy to be broken?

I don't know the answer, but why not call your congressman and ask? It's your money making this happen, you have a right to know.

And if they don't give you an answer, then just tell them you wish you could move to Maryland's 4th, and have a representative like Donna Edwards.

Coherent Writing FAIL

I'd be the first to admit that I'm not a great writer, but at least this is just a stupid blog, not a column in the New York Fucking Times:(Via Ezra Klein)
Over the next couple of years, two very big countries, America and China, will give birth to something very important. They’re each going to give birth to close to $1 trillion worth of economic stimulus — in the form of tax cuts, infrastructure, highways, mass transit and new energy systems. But a lot is riding on these two babies. If China and America each give birth to a pig — a big, energy-devouring, climate-spoiling stimulus hog — our kids are done for. It will be the burden of their lifetimes. If they each give birth to a gazelle — a lean, energy-efficient and innovation-friendly stimulus — it will be the opportunity of their lifetimes.
I've read this paragraph at least 10 times, I still have no clue what Thomas Friedman is attempting to say. Why is the stimulus a baby? Why beat the the baby metaphor into the ground when when it didn't really make sense to begin with? Why are China and America giving birth to livestock offspring? Why did one of our country's most reputable newspapers pay him a lot of money to write this?

It reminds me of the great Thomas Friedman take down a few years back, by one of my personal favorite writers, Matt Tiabbi:
The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I'll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here's what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

This would be a small thing were it not for the overall pattern. Thomas Friedman does not get these things right even by accident. It's not that he occasionally screws up and fails to make his metaphors and images agree. It's that he always screws it up. He has an anti-ear, and it's absolutely infallible; he is a Joyce or a Flaubert in reverse, incapable of rendering even the smallest details without genius. The difference between Friedman and an ordinary bad writer is that an ordinary bad writer will, say, call some businessman a shark and have him say some tired, uninspired piece of dialogue: Friedman will have him spout it. And that's guaranteed, every single time. He never misses.

That seems about right for the man whose greatest contribution to our national discourse was explaining how we needed to go into Iraq in order to tell the middle east to "suck on this".