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Aghanistanalogy

June 30th, 2010 No comments

Use this argument on anyone who still insists on “staying the course” in Afghanistan:

Hypothetical situation: It’s the year 2101 and the United States government has long since crumbled under the weight of its own corruption. Most authority is local, with most cities and towns controlled by Evangelical Christian Militias who aim to impose their own strict interpretation of Biblical Law across the entire country.

Meanwhile, China is the world’s sole super-power and is exterting its influence around the globe. Because they are seen as anti-Christian, the Evangelical Militia groups despise China and would like nothing more than to see it crumble. So they commit an act of terrorism which draws China into a war with the United States.

The Chinese army rolls in, takes out a big chunk of the Militia’s leadership, and sets up a new federal government with China’s full support.

But most Americans never see this government as legitimate, and the remnants of the Christian Militias rise and grow stronger as even non-Christians join them in their struggle to expel the foreign occupiers. On top of that, the latest presidential election is discovered to have been fraudulent, and the president himself is known to have ties to underground drug cartels. Yet the Chinese insist on continuing to back him up militarily.

The Chinese army won’t leave until the Evangelicals are defeated and the U.S. government is capable of supporting itself and preventing any Militias from ever rising again. Yet the Evangelical Militias remain very popular in many parts of the country and the Chinese are almost universally hated because their soldiers don’t speak English, have no understanding of American culture, and frequently kill innocent civilians through carelessness.

The question: Is it possible for China to succeed in its mission? Could it succeed after only one year? Ten years? A hundred years? Or is this the kind of task that is simply impossible to accomplish, like landing safely on the moon by shooting yourself from a cannon?

Obviously, in this analogy China is the United States. The United States is Afghanistan. The corrupt government is the Karzai regime. And the Evangelical Militias are the Taliban.

The United States is as likely to be able to succeed in Afghanistan–by our own definition of “success”–as China would be likely to be able to stabilize a corrupt U.S. government and completely root out right-wing Evangelicals.

So let’s get. the fuck. out of there.

[Full disclosure: I got this idea while watching Cenk Uygur and Jonathan Kim discuss the film "Restrepo" on last Friday's episode of The Young Yurks]

Are Republicans Stupid or Evil?

June 30th, 2010 No comments

Last week, every last senate republican voted to block the extension of jobless benefits for unemployed citizens. This will cause very real, very severe harm to many people–children included–who are victims of this recession through no fault of their own.

There are only two possible explanations for this:

1- Republicans are so wrapped up in their Washington bubble that they genuinely don’t have a clue. They really think that there are so many jobs out there that all unemployed people are unemployed by choice, leeching off the government with their big fat unemployment checks which allows them to live care-free comfortable lives without working. By blocking these benefits, they really believe they’re forcing these people back to work and that joblessness will go down. If that’s the case, seeing as how there’s 1 job-opening for every 6 job-seekers, they’re stupid.

2- Republicans know there’s a mid-term election coming up this year and that the party out-of-power historically does much better when the economy is in the tank. They want the American people in as much financial pain as possible to keep them angry and motivated to toss out the party in control, which in this case is the democrats. If that’s the case, they’re absolutely evil.

My guess is that some are more in Column A, some are more in Column B, but they all contain elements of both. The verdict: To quote Bill O’Reilly (completely out-of-context): “Republicans are stupid and evil.”

Categories: Political Tags: ,

World Cup Commentary

June 29th, 2010 No comments

I haven’t done much sports commentary on my blog (none, actually) but now that I’m blogging every day I might as well occasionally offer my thoughts on matters unrelated to humanity’s long-term survival–although by the end of this post I’ll find a way to bring it around to that anyway.

For the most part, I think soccer is an excruciatingly boring game. Yes, each game has a few moments of excitement and every now and then there’s a truly rivetting game from start to finish, but for the most part you’re just watching them kick a ball around for 90 minutes and if you’re lucky that ball will go through the goal-posts a few times and everybody goes crazy.

But living in Germany during the World Cup, it’s impossible not to get caught up in it. Everyone is talking about the games, and whenever Germany plays, the entire country is watching it. One of my students this week even informed me that train conductors come on the loudspeaker to announce developments on the game for those unlucky few who happen to be travelling at the time.

Not to mention Paul, the amazing oracle Octopus:

So far, Paul is 4 for 4 in his predictions, which (if you’re superstitious) may explain why the referee missed a call in the first half of the Germany/England match which would have given them a goal to tie up the game. The ball hit the top of the goal-post, bounced behind the line, and bounced out again. From my position watching the game among a crowd of Germans at a public viewing, even they were admitting that it should have been a goal. Up until a moment before they’d been leading 2-0, and after another goal by England only a moment before it would have been tied 2-2 and completely drained Germany’s momentum, which they kept going and ended up winning 4-1.

So here’s my commentary: Instant replay? Come on, soccer. It’s 2010. We have the technology to go back and actually see if a call was right or wrong within a few seconds of that call being made. Why not take advantage of it? In this day and age, we shouldn’t have to rely solely on the perception of flawed human observers to make important determinations at sporting events. Had Germany not scored any additional goals, their victory would have been completely tainted, and due to the momentum-dynamics of soccer their victory is a little tainted anyhow. So let’s have instant replay not just for the sake of the losers but for the winners as well. Everyone has an interest in the games being fair.

Finally, a note on the soccer-obsession these Germans have. I mean they go absolutely crazy. Until the World Cup began you’d never see a German flag displayed anywhere. Even after 65 years since WWII, a national shame still hangs over this nation, but when it comes to Fußball the pride comes out in full force. Cars rolling down the street completely bedecked in German flags, ceaselessly honking their horns with national pride.

This, I believe, is a good kind of national pride. It’s an outlet for people’s inherent nationalistic impulses and Us vs. Them mentality that doesn’t involve dropping bombs on other countries. As little as I care for the sport, I hope soccer continues to grow in popularity in the United States and that Americans get just as psyched at the next World Cup as Germans are now. Let’s compete on the world stage with sports instead of war. If we have a peaceful outlet for our innate competitive emotions, it would go a long way towards protecting the fate of humanity…[I told you I'd bring it around].

Thoughts (or lack thereof) on Kagan

June 29th, 2010 No comments

Because this is the week of Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, I might as well write down my thoughts about it, although I don’t have too many of them. Kagan appears to have lived her entire life in preparation for this, going to great lengths to never share her political opinions with anyone, ever.

As such, the republicans are having a hard time raising money off the confirmation process, having so little to attack her on that they have to resort to ridiculous tactics such as accusing her of being a secret homosexual because as the Dean of Harvard Law she refused to allow military recruiters on campus out of opposition to Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, or that she secretly wants to impose Islamic Sharia Law on America because she accepted $20 million from a Saudi donor to set up a Center for Islamic Studies at Harvard.

Clearly, these are ridiculous, substanceless accusations designed to rile up the right-wing base into opening their wallets for any republican willing to stand up and filibuster the nomination.

But even more telling about the Republican Party are the tactics they’re using right out in the open, as good ol’ southern boy Jeff Sessions, ranking republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is leading the charge to tie Kagan to her mentor Thurgood Marshall, whom they say was a well-known liberal activist judge with an agenda of protecting the underdog in all cases without regard to the letter of the law.

John Kyl put forward this winning argument:

Perhaps because his first nominee failed to defend the judicial philosophy that he was promoting, the President has repackaged it. Now, he says that judges should have ‘a keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people … and know that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens. Kagan wrote a tribute to Justice Marshall in which she said in his view it was the role of the courts and interpreting the Constitution to protect the people who went unprotected by every other organ of government. The court existed primarily to fulfill this mission. And later, when she was working in the Clinton administration, she encouraged a colleague working on a speech about Justice Marshall to emphasize his unshakable determination to protect the underdog.

God forbid we have a Supreme Court Justice who looks out for the underdog. We can’t afford a Justice who wants to protect ordinary citizens from having their voices drowned out by powerful corporate interests. As we all know, citizens have way too much power in this country and the poor corporations can barely earn a profit thanks to all that Big Government interference. The last thing we need is another goddamn liberal on the Supreme Court tying corporations’ hands behind their backs. Not to mention imposing Sharia Law, forcing kids to learn homosexuality in schools, making abortion mandatory, and all the rest.

But in all seriousness, I have no idea who Kagan is, and based on Obama’s track record on corporate vs. public interests I’m not exactly going to take his word for it that she’s “on our side”. For all we know, she could get in there and side with right-wing activist judges Roberts and Alito to keep making corporations more powerful.

Obama constantly bends over backwards to avoid a fight, and judging by the fact that less Americans know who she is now than when she was first nominated (57% up from 53%), it looks like he’s succeeded. Kagan may be turn out to be a great justice, but her appointment is for life and I’d feel much better knowing more about her. But these confirmation processes are less about getting to know the nominee than giving senators a soap-box from which to raise funds. It’s a pity we couldn’t have had an openly liberal nominee that would have sparked a real fight and a badly needed discussion in this country over the direction of the judiciary, but that’s not how Obama rolls.

Retraction: Judge Oily-Taint and the Moratorium

June 29th, 2010 No comments

When news came down last week that a federal judge had blocked Obama’s 6-month moratorium on offshore oil-drilling, I thought it was a stupid ruling but had given him the benefit of the doubt, saying that while I would ask those workers to make sacrifices for the sake of making real changes to our energy policy, since we’re not going to make any major changes to our energy policy I wouldn’t ask them to sacrifice 6-months of income for what I saw as purely a political move on Obama’s part.

Since then, two new things have come to light that have changed my opinion.

First, we now know that this judge, Martin Feldman, was tainted with oil money. As in, there’s a big oily taint all over this guy:

According to the most recently available financial disclosure form for US District Court Judge Martin Feldman, he had holdings of up to $15,000 in Transocean in 2008. He has also recently owned stock in offshore drilling or oilfield service providers Halliburton, Prospect Energy, Hercules Offshore, Parker Drilling Co., and ATP Oil & Gas.

Not only that, but he owned stock in ExxonMobil right up until the morning of the hearing to determine whether to block the moratorium!

Of course he’d like us to believe that his ruling had nothing to do with his own financial interests, and that he hadn’t known he owned that Exxon stock until the night before the hearing. But seriously…don’t they have people to check on this sort of thing? Like, isn’t there someone who checks to see if the judge ruling on a case that will directly affect oil stocks might, say, own oil stocks?! Talk about a conflict of interest. Now the whole ruling is tainted.

As for the ruling itself, the second thing I’ve come to understand since prematurely pronouncing it acceptable is that we actually need some time to get legislation in place to make sure these companies drill safely.

Congressmen Ed Markey has two pieces of legislation on the table that really need to pass before we should even think about continuing to drill. First, he wants to make the oil companies take $50 million a year that they now use to research drilling technology and put that towards safety technology. Seeing as how drilling technology has advanced by leaps and bounds recently while safety and spill-response technology hasn’t changed at all since the Ixtoc spill of 1979, this seems like a no-brainer.

Second, he wants to force the oil companies to provide the federal government with updated response plans for what they’ll do in case of the spill. Seeing as how their initial response plan to a spill in the Gulf included walruses and sea otters (which live nowhere near the Gulf) and a dead scientist as an emergency contact, this is definitely a no-brainer as well. Not just BP, but every oil company seems to have simply copied and pasted the same response plans with only minor changes here and there. Forcing them not to cheat on their homework and to come up with an actual plan for what to do in case of another spill is absolutely imperative before we let them keep drilling.

As for the workers who won’t have jobs for 6 months, why not force BP to compensate them? It’s their fault, after all.

Categories: Political Tags: , , ,

Beware the Christian Right

June 28th, 2010 No comments

I don’t feel like blogging at all today, but I’m going to bang out one quick post in order to stick to my resolve of blogging every day. I’ll just quickly repeat this blogger’s warning that the Christian Right is far from marginalized, and that it in fact stands ready to take control of the Republican Party and possibly even the country in 2012:

Every day in media markets across the nation, their media identify right wing views and apocalyptic warnings with “the true, uncompromised Christian worldview” for millions of voters. Conservative talk radio paranoia goes out on the same stations as sermons pleading with the audience to come to Christ. Listeners are told, year after year, that Christians are under siege and threaten with suppression, that liberals and the Democrats are socialists, that if they don’t support politically conservative positions disaster is imminent.

We’re clearly moving in this direction already. What most of us fail to understand is that the “Christian Right” is not some amorphous entity but actually a very concrete, organized political machine that could even be thought of as its own political party–a party within a party.

Three of the biggest names in the Republican Party–Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, and Mike Huckabee, are all far more closely aligned with the Christian Right than the establishment Republican Party. And given just how unpopular the establishment is right now (albeit rightly so) and how rapidly the view is taking hold that America is some kind of battlefield between good Christians and the evil, socialist government, it’s not extremely unlikely that one of these people will win the Republican nomination in 2012. And given how unpopular Obama is and how much support he loses every day especially from his own base, it’s not out-of-the-question that one of these people will become president.

I highly doubt Palin or Bachmann could win a general election, but Huckabee has enough surface charm to possibly pull it off. He’s a likable enough guy for most sane Americans to look past his evangelical views and vote for him without fully understanding what they’ll be getting.

If the Christian Right takes over the White House, we can expect a legislative agenda including a strong push to outlaw abortion in all cases including rape and incest, continued war with “Muslim countries”, intelligent design being required learning in schools, and possibly laws against purely religious crimes including adultery, homosexuality, or sacrificing sick or defective oxen to the Lord (Deuteronomy 17:1).

Internet Freedom in Dire Peril

June 27th, 2010 No comments

The latest developments in the battle over net neutrality do not look good at all. Tim Karr wrote a piece this week for the Huffington Post drawing attention to the fact that the FCC is now holding closed-door meetings with industry to make a deal.

The meetings include a small group of industry lobbyists representing the likes of AT&T, Verizon, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and Google. They reportedly met for two-and-a-half hours on Monday morning and will convene another meeting today. The goal according to insiders is to “reach consensus” on rules of the road for the Internet.

Karr points out that all of these groups have a financial interest in controlling information. They’ll want to be able to control which websites are able to load quickly and which would crawl along so slowly that nobody would have the patience to visit them. As of now, all websites are equal, and my crappy little blog loads just as fast the New York Times (faster, actually, because I have no ads).

Missing from these negotiations are the actual citizens of the United States, who might not want to give AT&T control over which websites are the easiest to access. In fact, over a six-month period in which ordinary people were invited to comment on the issue, 85% of all comments strongly favoured maintaining net neutrality.

And you’d think with such enormously high public support we’d be able to win on this issue, especially with a president who pledged his strong support:

But it’s looking more and more like the big corporations are going to get their way on this one too. It may seem like small potatoes, but this issue is actually far more significant than you might realize.

Just look at the kind of information you get from TV news as opposed to news online. Because TV airwaves are controlled by large corporations, you seldom hear any warnings about corporate consolidation of power. But on the internet, which is now controlled strictly by its users, the facts about corporate power-grabbing are still readily available and accessible.

But if we hand over that control, online news and blogs will gradually sink to the level of TV news and commentary, and before you know it there won’t be any more talk of the power elites controlling everything because by then they will control everything. And we know what happens when you give corporations unfettered control over everything. War, poverty, financial crises, the elimination of the middle-class, and short-sighted environmental rape for the sake of profit.

The internet, as I’ve written many times, is the last best hope for humanity. If we’re going to come together and forge a new path towards a peaceful, sustainable existence in this world, that conversation will have to be done through the internet. And if we hand control of the internet over to the corporations, they’ll make sure that conversation never takes place. Net Neutrality may seem like a small issue, but the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

If Obama breaks his pledge and lets the corporations have their way on this one, he is dead to me. I’m still pissed off at him for letting them have their way with health care and financial reform, but this is the last straw. If he folds on this one, he deserves to be a one-term president no matter who runs against him. At that point it won’t matter anyway, because all hope will be lost.

Attention Facebook Friends!

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Dear current friends, college buddies, high school pals, middle school chums, former co-workers, teachers, college professors, estranged uncles and cousins, and random awesome people I’ve met in pubs: thank you for reading this.

Since you haven’t blocked my status updates, you obviously know that I have a blog, as I’m constantly bombarding you with links to it. I never wanted to be a blogger—it just kind of happened. I like writing, I’m addicted to politics, and I have loads of free time, so this was pretty much inevitable.

And now I’m finally embracing the borg and going all-in, writing every single day and making a serious attempt to build an audience. I’ve even begun Tweeting, God help me.

What I’m doing now is asking for your help. I’ve hesitated to do this for awhile because I hate asking people for help and I know it’s likely that this plea won’t get much response at all, and then I’ll feel simultaneously rejected by nearly everyone I’ve ever known. But if you’re on my friends list (and didn’t get there through FriendFinder) it means I’ve known you, I like you, and given the chance I’d want to spend time with every last one of you. I’ll seriously try this when I come back to visit the states, hopefully later this year. Even if we haven’t communicated in years, it would still be awesome to hear from you.

But right now I’m trying to generate a following, and it’s looking like this is impossible to do alone. Other bloggers, I’m sure, start with an audience of purely friends and family and those people spread the word and the audience slowly grows. I don’t think any of you are spreading the word about my blog, but why should I expect you to if I’ve never actually asked?

If you’re willing to help me out with this project, there are two things you can do. First, you can simply comment more frequently. I know that some of you read the blog regularly and some even drop an occasional comment, which I greatly appreciate. But I understand that less than 1 out of every 50 people who reads a blog post actually comments, and while I get between 50 and 150 readers to the site each day I almost never get comments and the blog looks completely dead. People usually tend to comment only if they think other people are going to read that comment, and from the looks of things you’d think that nobody ever comes to the site but me.

But more important than commenting is sharing. I’ve become so accustomed to the blogosphere that I forget most people my age or older still don’t know exactly how it works. If you click on the “Save/Share” button at the bottom of an entry, you can create a link to that post on Facebook, Twitter, or any one of many web-traffic sites, the most popular being Digg and Reddit.

Just a quick tutorial for the less web-savvy: Clicking on the Digg or Reddit buttons will redirect you to those web pages. You’ll have to create an account if you don’t have one, but it takes just a few seconds. You then post the link with a brief description (usually optional but the description always helps) and now web-surfers are a million times more likely to come to my blog.

Doing this myself feels disingenuous. It’s one thing if someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, you should read my book” and something completely different if another person comes up to you and says, “Hey, you should read this other guy’s book–it’s really good.” You’re much more likely to trust a recommendation from someone with no personal interest at stake.

That’s why I haven’t wanted to ask you directly for help, but also why I need it.

As I wrote in the margin, I’m not doing this for the sake of financial success. I’ve refused to include ads on the blog and I don’t ask for donations. I just want to have an influence.

Not that I haven’t been wrestling with the question of whether this is primarily about self-interest anyway. I want to feel like I have some sort of significance, that this blog isn’t just a waste of time and that I’m not just wasting my life. I feel this deep-seated need to somehow make the world better, and if I can reach people through my writing I can at least feel like I’m doing some good. I’ve concluded that even if the need to feel like I’m improving the world is a selfish one, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth cultivating.

If you think I’m wasting my time with this, please let me know. I put a lot of time into this, and it’s likely that time could be put to better use. Don’t hesitate to tell me it sucks if you think it sucks. The bruise to my ego will be well worth all that time I’ll be saving.

But if you like the blog, please help me to make it less of a waste of time by sharing it and helping me build an audience. I’m not asking you to comment on or share every entry, of course, but just the ones you’re most interested in. Eventually I’d like to have enough people reading for there to be multiple comments on each entry and people discussing the topics among themselves. We could create a little community of readers, and I’ll even put up guest-posts from time to time.

Thanks for letting me waste a moment of your time. Hopefully you didn’t see it that way.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Wall Street Wins Again

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Obama called the financial reform package that passed this week “the most sweeping reforms since the Great Depression”. Ha fucking ha.

I won’t bore you with the details, but if you want the basic facts just take two minutes to read Dylan Ratigan’s brief but spot-on piece on the Huffington Post.

The few reforms that actually made it through are pretty much window dressing. Banks are still Too Big to Fail, the regulators still have a financial incentive to not do actual regulation, and banks can still make risky bets backed up by taxpayer money. This is no more of a fix to our financial system than the health care bill was a fix to our health care system.

Wall Street owns Washington. Congressmen and senators on both sides of the aisle had to do a song and dance and pretend to fix the problem–and some genuinely tried–but ultimately the goal was to pass something called “financial reform” and score another political victory for Obama and the democrats.

What I can’t figure out is whether or not Obama just doesn’t understand the issues enough to know that these reforms aren’t nearly tough enough to prevent another crisis. He’s surrounded himself with people like Larry Summers and Tim Geithner who have Wall Street in their DNA, and they’ve been telling him all along to trust the bankers, don’t be too hard on them, they’ll make sure we won’t have another collapse.

But the structure of the system is such that it is guaranteed to collapse, and when it does our only recourse is still to bail them out with taxpayer money.

If you thought the Tea Party was mad now, just wait until the next crisis. They’ve been blaming Obama for the crisis and the bailouts already, but thus far we’ve at least been able to counter them with the undeniable fact that these things happened during the Bush administration. But when the next financial crisis hits, it really will be Obama’s fault.

File Sharing Fun

June 27th, 2010 No comments

Thanks to Twitter I came across this nice little piece about how the entertainment industry, by going after file-sharing websites instead of trying to work with them, has actually made things worse for itself.

They started by going after Napster, a company which actually really wanted to work with it legitimately. When they beat Napster, the file-sharing industry fragmented into smaller companies that were more difficult to work with but still willing to do so. They sued those companies out of business as well, paving the way for the rise of bittorrent sites which mostly operated out of the U.S. and had no interest in becoming a legitimate part of the entertainment industry at all.

So look at the progression here. There was really one company initially, which was entirely aboveboard and open to working with the entertainment industry. At every step down the ladder — each one pushed forward by the entertainment industry’s own lawsuits and regulatory efforts — the market becomes more fragmented and more underground, with less and less of an ability for the entertainment industry to embrace and work with them.

The entertainment industry–the music industry in particular–has been unbelievably stupid and greedy throughout the whole process and they deserve whatever financial difficulties they’re going through. They should have seen how the internet would revolutionize the way people obtain music and entertainment and been the first to legitimately offer their products available for download at a reasonable price.

Instead, they insisted on continuing to charge nearly $20 for a 2-cent CD which usually have only one or two tracks that the buyer actually wants to hear. And I’m supposed to feel guilty for illegally downloading music tracks after the hundreds upon hundreds of dollars I spent on CDs as a child? The way I see it, they owe me.

But look, I’m a reasonable guy. I know the entertainment industry can’t survive if everyone just gets their music, movies, and TV-shows for free online. I’d be willing to pay for an mp3 download–just not more than $1–or a subscription to watch movies or TV shows directly from the web. Many sites are already offering such services. Rather than sue them out of business, why not join the 21st century and do it too?

Categories: Political Tags: ,