Politics and Whatnot

Just another liberal political blog

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Rick Perry steals heart of Republican party

Texas Governor Rick Perry’s numbers have been rising unstoppably lately – and it’s easy to see why.  He’s some sort of Republican He-Man, making up for all the short comings of the others.  He’s white (Cain).  He’s male (Bachmann Palin).  He’s dumb and from the south, as well as a mainstream Christian (Romney).  Best of all, he can change his principles on a dime and start pandering to whatever his audience wants to hear at any particular moment (Paul).

For some reason, Intrade still has Perry at 37%.  What’s the other 63% for?  Well apparently, 30% still think Romney’s gonna win.  Pshh.  If you’re the most liberal guy in the GOP field and you read a book (any book) that’s not the bible, you only get one shot at first place.  The rest is divided between the horde of candidates who have absolutely no chance unless Perry for whatever reason drops out of the race.  However, that’s unlikely considering that he’s such a fucking jackass.

Is American exceptionalism finished?

It may surprise some people to find out that despite being a flag-burnin’ liberal (Do I actually burn the flag?  No.  Do I hate the mindless nationalism of flag-wavers enough to do it?  Yes.)  I’m a believer in American exceptionalism.  The US has always been a revolutionary nation that has basically done everything better than everyone else.  The British Empire began to fall when we stopped putting up with their shit and started our own country.  We’re the first nation – and arguably the only nation – with a government crafted by intellectuals.  It was designed from its founding to protect liberty, the right of self-governance, and the limitation of government power.  And the story is great too – the struggles of independence, the sacrifice and struggles, and eventual purging of slavery, defeating dictatorships abroad and protecting the free world, the first nation to set foot on the moon.  American culture is celebrated the world over without rival, and American celebrities are internationally recognized.  What other country has racked up such a list of accomplishments?  England probably comes closest, and they’re a joke by comparison.

But unlike many other believers in exceptionalism, I’m increasingly seeing it as part of the past, a chapter in a history book.   Some people are saying that the rise of nations like India and China will put an end to America’s standing in the world – but no, that’s not it.  We haven’t always been the most powerful country, that only came about around the time of World War II.  We don’t need to be the most powerful country to be exceptional – and being the most powerful isn’t what makes made us exceptional.

Today: "Save gas? To stop a global disaster? I don't think the government needs to be stickin' it's nose into what I choose to drive!"

What made us exceptional was that we believed that we stood for something worth sacrificing for – liberty, justice, and equality.  I believe firmly that more than anything else, those values sustained the soldiers at Valley Forge, gave the drafters of the Constitution their insights, and even motivated the engineers of the Apollo program.  During World War II, cartoons showed Donald Duck eagerly paying his income taxes and telling people to save money to make tax payments – taxes of up to 90% as the top marginal tax rate, with nearly every person paying some taxes. People paid because they wanted to help their country and be part of something bigger than themselves.

Today, the Donald Duck cartoon would – and does – evoke howls of outrage – targeting children with tax propaganda, as one commenter put it.   Today the top tax rate is 35% before deductions, and less than half of the nation pays any taxes at all.  But most Americans today think even that’s too much.  The result of these low taxes?  NASA has effectively had to scrap much of its space program like the USSR, we’ve surrendered like Vichy France in the fight against global warming and oil dependence, and we can’t pay our bills like Greece.  We’ve become the most shameful of our international rivals, losing in social equality to the likes of Canada and Sweden, and losing in scientific progress to the EU’s CERN.   These nations – not China – are the real threats to American exceptionalism.  Think about it: Among the US, China, and Norway, where would you most like to live?  China gets the ax quickly for its atrocious human rights record, but Norway’s low crime rate, strong social safety net, and 3.5% unemployment sounds kinda good about now…

A popular poster for modern tax protesters, who think Ayn Rand's selfishism (less accurately, "objectivism") is what makes America great.

Why has this happened?  Because we’ve forgotten who we are.  Increasingly common is the view that the founding fathers stood not for liberty – the right to act freely when it doesn’t harm others, but for “libertarianism” – the right to do anything to make money, even when it does harm others.  Privatized prisons have replaced “justice for all” with “kids for cash.”  The mere mention of “equality” evokes comparisons to communists, forgetting entirely that it was totalitarianism, not equality, that the enemy in the Soviet Union.  So sacrifice has become a dirty word in America.  If the government were to ask an American corporation to sacrifice today, the first thing they’d do is head to China, with the encouragement of its shareholders.  In short, what we value today is not liberty, not justice, and certainly not equality – what we value is money, money, and more fucking money.

So that brings my epic-length post back to the original question – is there hope for America to be exceptional in the future again?  Well, we have had some recent accomplishments – we chose the first racial minority elected leader, though we now kinda hate him (I suppose I have to post about that too soon), of course we got Bin Laden, and we’re helping the Libyans overthrow some asshole who killed a bunch of Americans decades ago.   Meanwhile Canada has created a national health care system, they helped out with that Libya thing too – but they didn’t get Bin Laden, or whomever Canada’s Bin Laden is (Tooth Decay?), and their prime minister’s still some white bread schmuck.  So I guess we’re still ahead by a point or two. But at the same time, our government needs money to accomplish things, and that money is quickly drying up as more an more people insist on lowering taxes even further.  The next Obama won’t get the federal education funding that the current president received, the next Libyan rebels won’t be able to count on our support, and the next Bin Laden Unit will lose its funding shortly after the initial attacks, because there simply won’t be enough money for all that.  So enjoy the last scraps of exceptionalism while you can, because it’s not going to be around for long.

Shit, it’s time for bed, so I’ll leave it at that.  Remember – when you ride alone, you ride with Harper.

Relations with Tokelau suspended

I regretfully report that my blog’s longstanding mutually-beneficial relationship with the once-great nation of Tokelau appears to be coming to an end.  Unfortunately, I have been informed that Tokelau will be nationalizing the domain name politicsandwhatnot.tk, which it had provided to me for free in return for…well, nothing. Seeking to justify this wholly precedented violation of my blog’s legally baseless claim to the domain name, the Tokelau authorities have declared that the domain name has had less that 25 hits in 90 days.  Is that a crime?  All that shows is how little of a burden my domain name has been on the Tokelese servers.

To top it off, the Tokelatians have indicated that I can avoid these consequences by bribing them “$6.95 a year.”  To that, I say, millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute!

I ask that the Tokens reconsider this disastrous course of action, or face brutal economic sanctions.  That’s right – I will immediately halt all of this blog’s economic activity with the Nation of Tokelau.  I can feel them shaking in their boots from here.

Why the economy still isn’t going to implode, despite what public thinks of it

I posted a while back about the economy and fears of a double-dip recession that seemed to becoming increasingly widespread in early June, and how I really wasn’t that worried.  Now it’s mid to late August and the fears are even more increasingly widespread.  So am I scared now?  No.  Let me take a minute to explain why.

I should preface this by pointing out that other than a macroeconomics course I took in high school (yes, they taught macroeconomics in my high school) I have absolutely no qualifications to speak about the economy whatsoever.  Then again, I’m not sure if having any qualifications should make a difference.

Here’s why: because we’re in a “disaster” mindset – unlike 2007 and early 2008, everyone (but me) is worried that the next economic disaster is around the corner.   In fact, Gallup’s Economic confidence has plummeted to -53%, which is the lowest it’s been since the recession began.  Now a lot of people say lack of confidence in the economy is a bad thing in the short term because it tends to make the economy worsen in the short term.  But when people have been pessimistic for so long – and confidence barely ever got above -20% during this recession – that can actually be good.  Think of it as potential energy – a ball moves up a hill, and it slows down.  As it stays at the top of the hill, it stays at that slow speed.  But because it’s up on that hill, it means that it could be going a whole lot faster, as soon as it hits a downward slope.  Right now, the economy’s at the top of the hill.  Consumer confidence doesn’t get any lower than it is now, and that it has been for the last couple years.  Gold is at a ridiculously high price (now even higher at over $1800/ounce), meaning a lot of money is tied up in gold (potential money).  Once the wealthy get more confidence and sell all that gold – and other things they have stowed their money in – they could have a lot of money to spend.

Of course, the drop in confidence will probably lead to some very minor and temporary slowdown, but it can’t be all that bad because very few companies will be changing their already hyper-cautious behavior.  But eventually, they’re going to have to start spending again.

Now I’ll say it again – I have no fucking idea what I’m talking about, and I’m literally just a guy who knows how to use WordPress and that’s about it.  But it really seems obvious to me – when people are afraid, and have been afraid, you don’t need to worry about the economy getting worse.  The only thing we have to fear is…the lack of fear itself.  Because when people are getting a little too courageous about the economy, saying things like “the days of economic depressions are over” or “x will never fall” (assuming x is a economically important resource like housing, not a rare, resource that has little intrinsic effect like, say, gold), that’s when you should be worried about economic chaos.   They call it a “correction” for a reason.  When we’re wrong about how well the economy’s doing, then it’s time for reality to set in and “correct” us.  Now we’re assuming the worst, so the next “correction” will have to be one that tells us we’ve been too pessimistic.

Perry makes huge, perhaps suspiciously large, gains in latest Rasmussen poll

In the latest numbers from Rasmussen, Rick Perry has become the first Republican candidate to take first place in a poll since Mike Huckabee dropped out – and he did it by 11 percentage points.

Now I’m not in the least bit surprised that Perry has managed to take the lead* – the idea of a well-educated, non-mainstream Christian from the North like Romney winning the GOP nomination is laughable to begin with, ignoring his vulnerability to attack based on his perceived policy similarities to Obama.  But suddenly surging ahead by 11 points?  That’s almost double Perry’s numbers from the last Rasmussen poll, and more than double from the last non-Rasmussen poll.

Now there’s one good reason for this:  Perry officially announced his candidacy over the weekend.  But is that enough to jump 11 points from a couple weeks ago?  Especially considering that other recent polls did not show much recent improvement in Perry’s numbers.  It’s also interesting that Michelle Bachmann’s numbers dropped after she won the straw poll.

I’m not necessarily saying there’s shenanigans involved and it may very well be legit, but it should be interesting to watch the polls this week to see if they show a similar jump.

Republican bullshit on debt downgrade continues without mainstream media challenge

Many liberals have pointed out the tendency of the news media to give equal weight to easily verifiable, clearly correct views and total bullshit Republican talking points that make no sense.  The debate over what caused S&P to downgrade the nation’s debt is a great example of this trend.

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ll notice a big debate over why the S&P downgrade happened, and who is to blame.  Here’s how you find out why S&P downgraded the nation’s debt: read the fucking report S&P wrote about it.  No guessing is necessary.   Here’s what the report lists as reasons for the downgrade:

– the bipartisan debt relief plan falls short (it explicitly takes no position on whether more spending cuts or tax increases are needed – see page 4, 6 lines down).*

– “the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened”

– pessimism about “the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy” and the ability to agree to further debt reduction plans in the future.

Now obviously, S&P is going out of its way to avoid giving any one side the blame, which is wise.  But the fact remains, their biggest concern is whether we can get our shit together as a nation to fix our debt problems instead of taking political stances and using brinksmanship bargaining tactics.  Now in my opinion, if we have one side saying that you can’t raise taxes at all from the lowest levels they have ever been (in terms of total revenue generated), then that’s going to make it much, much, harder for us to accomplish that task, and I can see why investors should be worried.

But the Republican party has a completely different explanation, one not based on the S&P report or anything else in this plane of reality.  Michelle Bachmann stated that the report “proved right” her position that the debt ceiling should not have been raised.   That’s the exact opposite of what the report says:

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.

(page 3 of the S&P report.)  So using the debt ceiling as a bargaining chip, just like Bachmann advocated, was a big factor in causing the downgrade (obviously, because if the ceiling was not raised, it would have made a default much more likely.  Default = bad for credit).  Politifact gave Ms. Bachmann a frustratingly charitable “false” instead of what would have been a well-deserved “pants on fire” for that one.  It’s not as bad as the typical “wash” scenario portrayed by most of the media, but still part of the media’s affirmative action policy on reviewing the truthfulness of GOP statements.

Bachmann’s statement is just the tip of the iceberg in the GOP’s campaign to portray the downgrade as “The Obama Downgrade”, i.e. all Obama’s fault and none of their own, despite that having a huge debate over the debt ceiling was their idea in the first place.  The Wall Street Journal, which like any Murdoch-owned media is a good early gauge of what kind of propaganda Republican operatives are looking to spread, indicated in a July piece that the debt ceiling debate was “merely the trigger” and that the real problem is spending increases.  That’s not what the report says.  As explained above,  the report primarily blames the partisan gamesmanship over the debt ceiling.

By the way, the claimed spending increases under Obama that you are hearing about from the Republicans are a total con.  If you use dollars instead of percentage GDP, the so-called Obama spending binge virtually disappears, and spending simply rises linearly at a similar rate to prior presidents (if you zoom in to the last 10 years, you can see some minor “ripples” from the stimulus plan and subsequent leveling-off of spending).  But the Wall Street Journal’ doesn’t use dollars in their graphs, because then they can’t con you.  When GDP is rising instead of falling, are they still going to use the same GDP-based graph? Only if a Republican’s president.

Again, hate and fear – that’s the key.  You need to be afraid that the deficit is rising out of control, and you need to hate Obama and blame him for it.  That’s what the GOP wants.  Because if you don’t have something to fear and hate, you stop voting for Republicans.

*(It’s worth noting, however, that the authors hint in the “Outlook” section on page 6 that lapsing of the Bush tax cuts would help avoid a further downgrade.)

WSJ’s Norman Podhertz demonstrates why it’s futile to attempt bipartisanship with Republicans

By giving Hitler 98% of what he wanted, Chamberlain saved the United Kingdom from what would have been a very costly war with Germany.

I’ve been pointing out in recent days that maybe those on the right are really just liberals at heart that have been transformed into conservatives by fear and hate.  However, I want to make an important distinction – this means that we should try to win them over to our side, rather than negotiate with them, as Obama has been trying to do.  The fact that they are liberals at heart does not mean we can trust them or that they are capable of working towards bipartisan objectives.

A recent article by conservative Norman Podhoretz demonstrates why.  Mr. P.  recognizes the liberal criticism directed at Obama’s Neville Chamberlain-style appeasement of the far right in Congress, and the fears that Obama has become far more conservative since his election.  What’s Norm’s take on it?  Does he thank the president for the massive concessions his party has received?  Does he say “given how much Obama has done for us and how crazy the Republican candidates look, maybe I’ll vote for him in 2012”?  No.  The subheading says it all:

“He is still the same anti-American leftist he was before becoming our president.”

As proof of this claim, he brings up the same old bullshit about Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers, the same old word-twisting of selected Obama quotations, to claim that Obama really is some far left liberal wet dream who wants to turn the United States into Soviet Russia.  The same fear, the same hate, that was used against Obama in 2008.

But why aren’t conservatives convinced by Obama’s Great Republican Giveaway in the Debt Crisis?  Podhertz explains it away as:

“a tactic calculated to obfuscate his unshakable strategic objective, which is to turn this country into a European-style social democracy while diminishing the leading role it has played in the world since the end of World War II. “

Wow.  That really illustrates the kind of suspension of disbelief that conservatives are capable of.  Instead of convincing the right that he’s reaching across the aisle, Obama’s relentless concessions to the right have only convinced them even more of the Secret Obama Plot to Destroy America, which is apparently still waiting for the right opportunity after two and a half years in office.   If Obama tomorrow decided to ban abortion, eliminate the income tax, and bomb France, the right would see it as a ploy to hide Obama’s secret plot to turn us into the Socialist Republic of Blackistan.  And if there’s any doubt that Podhoretz represents your typical Republican, check out the comments (note: the comments update so they may have changed since I’ve seen them, but I’d bet they’re substantively the same far right Obama=Satan bullshit as I’m seeing).

There’s clearly no appeasing them.   So why try?

On the word “juggalo”

I find it rather fascinating that the term “juggalo” is entirely reserved for the very specific meaning, “A fan of the American hip hop group Insane Clown Posse.”

The word should be a candidate for a variety of other meanings – it sounds much like “gigolo“, it sounds like something you might call a person that juggles, or uses jugs for one thing or another, or perhaps a person with large man-boobs, if nothing else.  It could be Spanish slang for a drunk, or perhaps an English term for a drunk Gigolo, or a buffalo that has a jug-shaped head, or one that juggles.  The possibilities are endless.

And yet, there is no other definition of this term whatsoever – no regular definition, no other slang term, no racial slurs,  not even any terms in Spanish or any other language that I can find – yes, I did check on Google Translate.   The urban dictionary page for the term is a whopping 36 pages long, and from the looks of the first page, all of them probably are references to fans of Insane Clown Posse.  How is this possible?  How is it that a seven letter word with so much potential is probably forever going to refer only to fans of a hip hop group that was somewhat popular during the late 1990s?

Fucking “juggalo,” how does that work?

American facing 10 years for speaking like a terrorist

Emerson Begolly, An American Muslim has pled guilty to two things today:

1) Encouraging terrorism on an internet jihadist message board:

“Real terrorism, but on a small scale,” he wrote in one of his posts. “Best as single shot, drive by, hit and run, beat down. Who are the best targets? Off duty police, off duty soldiers, gang member, family members of soldiers, government agents, workers at ammunition factory, white supremacists or black supremacists.”

2) Posting publicly available bombmaking information (a 101 page course) on the same message board.

The obvious question everyone should be asking at this point, is: doesn’t the first amendment protect that?

According to at least one legal expert, writing at the time of the indictment, maybe, maybe not.  Count 1 is being framed as solicitation – the DOJ is trying to say that by trying to persuade others to engage in terrorism, Mr. Begolly was akin to someone hiring a hitman.   The expert, Mr. Lederman is inconclusive on whether this argument is sane and even suggests that the open or closed nature of the forum may be relevant.

On the second count, Mr. Lederman (loosely) suggests that posting the bomb-making information could be illegal if it was done with “crime-facilitative intent.”  So if Mr. Begolly posted the information intending that it be used in a crime, it may be illegal for him to have done so.

Now I’m not a legal expert, but I think Mr. Lederman is complicating things too much.  Here’s a simple way of looking at this: was Mr. Begolly’s alleged criminal behavior speech?  Because if it’s speech, it’s protected by the First Amendment.   People always say “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater”.  But yelling fire isn’t speech, you’re not saying anything, you’re just creating panic rather than making a point or teaching people information.  What Mr. Begolly was doing was giving people his views and information, and allowing them to make their own decisions on whether they should listen to him or not.  For the government to step in and say that We the People, can’t hear what Mr. Begolly has to say EVER (not just in a crowded theater) suggests the worst kind of nanny state – not the kinda-good-sounding one the Republicans warn us about that feeds us and gives us healthcare, but the terrible one the Founding Fathers warned us about that tells us what we can and can’t see or hear.

It’s a mistake to view this as only involving Mr. Begolly.  The First Amendment does not only give Mr. Begolly’s a right to speak, it gives us a right to hear what he says.  And it’s also important to consider the limitation of the government’s power – that no one person or entity can serve as the people’s thought police.   When looking at it in that context, there’s no way that anything Mr. Begolly did was illegal.

I’m throwing my sympathy behind the Anonymous Anti-Facebook Front

Anonymous has recently announced a campaign to kill Facebook.  My first thought was “that’s silly”.  Then I logged into my facebook account and had an odd experience.

Now, a while back I noticed a rather frightening feature on Facebook which seemed to resemble an instant messaging application, which to my surprise, I appeared to already have signed into.   It seemed as if the thing would automatically display me as “available” anytime I was using facebook – hence, anyone on my facebook page, even members whose access I severely limited – my parents, boss, etc. – could find out exactly when I was using facebook.  So I did what any sane person would do when confronted with this situation – I found an option to make myself unavailable by default, and checked it.

Today, however, something odd happened.   I was using facebook, minding my own business, when a message came up from someone I very much did NOT want to talk to.  Well that’s odd – I thought I opted out of this ridiculously worthless feature.  Apparently not, however – facebook had apparently changed something,  and for an unknown amount of time everyone on my friends list could see exactly when I was on facebook and when I was not.

Now this isn’t the only reason why I’m upset at facebook – it’s the culmination of many reasons that have slowly destroyed what made facebook cool in t he first place.  Let’s not forget, facebook became popular when myspace became an unusable cesspool of the internet that made it too difficult to keep information private.   I remember when I decided to shut off my myspace account and move to facebook, a long long time ago: I had read an article about how employers would search for your myspace profile, and would read all the info you posted for what you thought was only your friends.   Finding little means of preventing this from happening in myspace’s settings, I joined the growing number of my friends who were switching to facebook.  They said facebook is different – it’s specifically for college students (which I was back then), so you add your college friends only.  And the best part is, only your college friends can see your profile – no one else.  So I joined facebook, and that’s how it was.  I also added a lot of old high school friends too, and a good time was had by all.

Oh, how facebook has changed since those good old days.   Facebook’s quality slowly started to work against it.  It gained a reputation in the mainstream media as being “cool” and part of a “social networking phenomenon”.  The next thing I knew, I was getting friend requests from people I did not want to see my immature facebook profile that was intended only for my friends.  My uncle was first – I ignored it.  Then my landlord – ignored it.  Then my parents.  Then my boss.  Then my boss’s kids – I could hide no longer, and I had to add them all.  Pictures were deleted, applications eliminated – no more what kind of ________ am I quizzes.  No more sharing my hard rock pandora station.  No more pictures of me drinking.   No more honest wall comments.

But the worst part has to be facebook’s devolving attitude regarding user privacy.  The privacy settings are a seemingly intentionally complicated maze.  Applications are allowed to harvest data.  Ads on the side of the page seem suspiciously relevant to my life.  When I go to various pages on the internet, I see reports of what my “friends” (who are decreasingly actual friends, and increasingly people I added to avoid awkwardness) have done on that site.  Can these “friends” see the same things about me?  I honestly can’t say.  Websites suggest that I should use my facebook id to login.  Just how much information are they collecting?  What are they doing with it?  Is it going to replace other things I use on the internet?  Is facebook slowly going to replace alternatives outside the social networking arena?  Will it reach the point where I no longer can hide from it?

And that’s where facebook chat comes in.  Here’s this “feature” that replaces something that I already had – my Pidgin instant messaging program.  Less and less of my friends are using instant messaging (where only those who I give my screen name to can find me, and where they can’t tell what webpage I’m looking at by the fact that I’m signed in) and more are relying on facebook.  Email among my friends is largely dead.  Where do I go if I want to talk to my actual friends in private, without my parents, boss, and landlord watching?  Do I send a private message on facebook?  Is that really private?  Can I trust them? Am I going to run into some new “feature” that makes my private messages visible to the entire world?

So that’s why facebook needs to die. It has become a monopoly, is becoming more powerful day by day, and is showing an increasing willingness to abuse that power.  Anonymous asserts that facebook is spying on you for the government – I don’t know if that’s true or not.  But I’m not even worried about the government.  I’m worried about facebook colliding my worlds of friends, family, and work with each other.  I’m worried about never being sure if what is private and what is not.  And most disturbingly – I’m worried that I can’t leave.  If I leave, it makes it much harder for my friends to communicate with me.

I want something else, something better.  A social network where people can only find my profile if I want them to (or maybe “friends of friends” can also find me), and where it’s clear what information is private and what is not.  But facebook’s crushing power in the social networking arena will make it increasingly difficult for an alternative to arise.

For the record, I don’t trust google any more than facebook.  Ok, maybe a little more, but not much.

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