Friday, August 28, 2009

Your American Taliban

Yet another exemplar is Pastor Steven Anderson, who just a day before a member of his congregation shows up armed at an Obama event was delivering a rather, well creepy message of pure hatred. I listened to the whole sermon. It's a doozy. There are occasional moments of clarity, such as the acknowledgment that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are primarily about profiteering surrounded by many more "wtf moments", such as:
... you're going to tell me that I'm supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children and he wants to see babies killed through abortion and partial-birth abortion and all these different things -- you're gonna tell me I'm supposed to pray for God to give him a good lunch tomorrow while he's in Phoenix, Arizona?

Nope. I'm not gonna pray for his good. I'm going to pray that he dies and goes to hell.
It's been said elsewhere by others that the difference between this dude and the clerics who inspired those who bombed the Twin Towers can be summed up in three words: there is none.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Public option appears to have wide public support

So, what's the hold-up? Here's the article:

A new survey commissioned by the AARP asks respondents to what degree they support or oppose "[s]tarting a new federal health insurance plan that individuals could purchase if they can't afford private plans offered to them" -- a public option, in other words. The results are interesting, though not necessarily surprising to those who have been closely following the debate.

All: 79 percent favor/18 percent oppose
Democrats: 89 percent favor/8 percent oppose
Republicans: 61 percent favor/33 percent oppose
Independents: 80 percent favor/16 percent oppose

Not only does a public option enjoy strong support (AARP finds 37 percent strongly supporting such a choice), it enjoys broad support -- a finding based not only in this new survey but also in SurveyUSA polling released last week. Indeed, a supermajority of even Republicans supports a federal program to provide individuals with a choice for their health insurance coverage, with just a third of the party membership opposing such a plan.

So why, again, are supporters of a public option finding such difficulty in Congress?

So what's the hold-up? If I had to guess, I'd fall back on the notion of our nation as a failing state - a concept I periodically draw upon. What makes a failing state? Well, aside from a failure to help its people in times of emergency (think NOLA in the aftermath of Katrina for example), but also a persistent disconnect between those who make up the governing and ruling classes and the rest of us who have to bust our humps to make ends meet. We've seen that disconnect in play with foreign policy as well as on the home front. I really don't know the solution, other than to suggest not pinning our hopes on a man or a party, but rather on ourselves and each other.

In the meantime, we can take some cold comfort in knowing that despite the propaganda, and despite the circus freak tea-baggers who keep showing up to meetings with congresscritters and the Prez armed to the teeth and spewing venom, there are plenty of Americans who aren't quite buying into the myths. Whether or not the disconnect between our government and those of us (a vast majority) who want some tangible reform will be bridged this time is of course an open-ended question. I know better than to be overly-optimistic given the track record of the last few decades. I wouldn't mind a pleasant surprise, though.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

RIP Ted Kennedy

One of the few Democrats actually worth a damn.

Commentary on the IG torture report

I want some time to digest the information made available before commenting more extensively. The impression I get is that much of what numerous dissident bloggers have contended about the use of torture by the CIA is confirmed by the recently released Helgerson document. Scott Horton and Glenn Greenwald both offer apt commentary (Greenwald also draws on such luminaries as Thomas Paine in his condemnation of torture). Brian Ross is on the trail of the dead and disappeared detainees apparently detailed in the redacted portions of the report. Drawing from all of these sources, I suspect that we will see more shocking revelations released in the near future, that high-level officials going up to at least Cheney were intimately involved in allowing torture to happen, and that the current Holder investigation is too narrow and likely to only end up sending lower-level CIA employees involved in torture to the big house while leaving the ones most responsible for the abuses relatively unscathed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Giving credit where credit is due

My usual skepticism toward Obama and much of the rest of the Democratic party aside (too caught up on neoliberalism for my liking), I'll give credit where credit is due: the FCC under the Obama White House appears to be backing internet neutrality, which had been in jeopardy for the past several years.

Peak oil? Don't worry so much!

That would be Michael Lynch's suggestion. I may not be as optimistic as Lynch (preface: keep in mind that I'm no geologist or energy specialist, so please take my remarks with the appropriate grain of salt; my reading as a layperson would place the peak somewhere in about a decade to 15 years), but do think he raises some valid points. Since oil, gasoline, and natural gas prices peaked last summer, I've been a bit underwhelmed by the analyses coming out of the "peak oil" camp. The true believers love to point to the drop in oil production this last year, but seem to me to ignore the reasons for that drop: 1) speculators fueled much of the oil bubble of 2007-2008 (and I recall some informed pundits complaining that the price tags had little to do with fundamentals), and when the bubble burst, they went elsewhere, and 2) the global economy has been in the crapper (and was going downhill even before the energy bubble burst). There's too much supply, too little demand, and not enough incentive for oil producers to increase output or to invest in all that much exploration. The oil price increases we've witnessed over the past few months have also been decoupled from those fundamentals (it mainly amounts to speculators hedging against any drop in the value of the US Dollar and of course periodic false sightings of "green shoots").

Basically Lynch suggests that the folks who think we're at or past the peak have failed to adequately understand such phenomena as the rate of discovery, and have in particular failed to realize that upward estimates in recoverable oil in existing oil fields do not get counted as "new discoveries" (according to Lynch those upward estimates have easily kept pace with production). I may be a bit less sanguine than Lynch about the role that political instability can play on oil supply and prices, but at least can see value in separating political instability from potential production. And when it comes to production, Lynch is skeptical of claims that we've already gone through at least half of the recoverable supply of oil.

Basically, Lynch is saying that peak oil is still a ways off, and not to panic. I don't have to be as optimistic as he appears to be to see some value in calmly analyzing the energy situation (rather than engage in handwringing over apocalyptic scenarios), and proactively seeking out alternatives to fossil fuels rather than waiting for a major crisis (by which point it will be too late to do much). I'd suggest seeking to reduce fossil fuel use any way, simply due to the role that all those additional hydrocarbons play in making our planet less hospitable.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Too young

On the Internet, our lives are sometimes touched by those whom we never directly meet, but only know by a few pixels on a blog detailing their work:

Today is the funeral of Segundo Strongheart in the village of Nunam Iqua, Alaska. Segundo is the husband of Ann Strongheart and the father of CC, and another wonderful child who will be born this fall. The Mudflats community mourns his loss at the young age of 38.

Many of you remember Ann when she first appeared on Mudflats with the screen name “Struggling in Nunam Iqua.” Through Ann’s grass roots activism and organization, many of you sent flat rate boxes filled with supplies and food to families in rural Alaska who could not afford to both heat their homes and feed their families. Her posts about what it takes to go grocery shopping in the winter in a village, what it’s like to live without running water, and what it’s like to raise a child in a remote Alaskan village also introduced us to her husband Segundo. They were a team, and their combined efforts made lives easier for people struggling last winter. Ann went on to cofound the blog Anonymous Bloggers, named as a tribute to the power of the anonymous blogosphere to enact change.

I recall that Ann's posts of her life, and the work of her and her now deceased husband, Segundo, made for some very powerful reading. This past winter season was especially brutal in rural Alaska. One could easily and accurately say that why then-governor Palin was fiddling, rural Alaskans were freezing. I cannot even begin to imagine what is going through Ann's mind right now. There are, in the end, no words sufficient for those directly affected.

Speaking of zombies

Another zombie idea that needs to be decapitated posthaste - neoliberalism (or what Krugman refers to as Reaganomics). Why won't it die? Partially money - those motivated to keep the zombies alive have a ton of money with which to entice policy makers. Partially ideological blinders - the current cohort of policy makers are true believers (Obama's praise of Reaganomics last year was quite telling).

Birtherism - a zombie myth that gets more brain-dead by the minute

You'd think that an urban legend as thoroughly debunked as the ones surrounding Obama's citizenship would have finally died quietly. No such luck. The latest: a Republican congresslizard from AZ is threatening to file a suit to force Obama to produce birth certificate documentation that has - in fact - already been produced. From the inane to the insane, birthers over at FreeRepublic are obsessing over whether the Prez has been circumcized - apparently in the minds of birthers an uncircumcized dingdong is "proof" of lack of citizenship.

Double dip?

It sure looks that way according to Nouriel Roubini. One thing in particular caught my eye:
Another reason to fear a double-dip recession is that oil, energy and food prices are now rising faster than economic fundamentals warrant, and could be driven higher by excessive liquidity chasing assets and by speculative demand. Last year, oil at $145 a barrel was a tipping point for the global economy, as it created negative terms of trade and a disposable income shock for oil importing economies. The global economy could not withstand another contractionary shock if similar speculation drives oil rapidly towards $100 a barrel.
I've been more than a little concerned that speculators' tendency to go wild will lead to another replay of 2008. I know that there have been some rumblings about regulating some commodities speculation - futures markets in particular. This would be a good time to proceed on that front. In the mean time, from the rest of Roubini's article, the expectation seems to be that we're done with cliff diving, but that we'll be scraping the bottom for the foreseeable future. In other words, the "recovery" will not feel like a recover to anyone outside of the investment banking industry.

Note in the margin: see what Yves at naked capitalism has to say about Roubini's latest article.

A few thoughts about District 9

I finally got a chance to see District 9 with my son this weekend. Usually, sci-fi flicks aren't my first choice, but I remember seeing trailers for the film earlier this year, and was intrigued by the film's premise. Basically, the idea is that an alien ship ends up stranded just above Johannesburg, South Africa, and that the ship's inhabitants are eventually moved to an ostensibly temporary refugee camp that quickly becomes a slum. The aliens, who get referred to derogatorily as "prawns", are consistently treated as subhuman, mistreated, and exploited over the course of three decades by the time our story begins. A private corporation (MNU, or Multi-National United) that has been contracted to administer the encampment in Johannesburg, is charged with the task of moving District 9's inhabitants to a new concentration-camp-style location far-removed from the city. The individual responsible for overseeing the process, Wikus, comes into contact with a canister of fuel that turns out to infect him, causing him to mutate into alien form as the film progresses. Much of the rest of the film focuses on Wikus' struggle to find a way to reverse his condition, and two of the aliens (one we come to know as "Christopher" and his son) who struggle to reacquire the fuel canister so that they can return to their mother ship and return home. The ending itself is sufficiently ambiguous as to invite a possible sequel.

The political subtext alone would make the film worth a view. District 9 not only offers an allegory for South Africa's own troubled racial history (from the Apartheid era to the present), but also touches on the plight of other peoples who have been displaced and ghettoized in what are best characterized as open-air prisons. The situation in Gaza seemed most immediately salient in this regard. One also gets a stark reminder of how easily the dehumanization of an oppressed group can devolve into gross human rights abuses, including torture and cruel medical experimentation (shades of Nazi Germany). The role of private corporations in perpetrating these abuses also gets highlighted, with MNU serving as a combination of Haliburton and Blackwater/Xe that not only administers District 9, but employs mercenaries and engages in weapon development for what can be gathered must be a hefty profit. The use of propaganda as a means of obfuscating the abuses that are on-going as well as to discredit potential whistle-blowers also appears from time to time. The film is political, but is not at all heavy-handed in its presentation of its particular political slant.

The once-clueless Wikus comes face-to-face with the monstrous system of which he had until recently been part. His transformation is worthy of Kafka's The Metamorphosis. Also interesting to watch is the way in which the film makers work to make the aliens more likable, more empathetic as the film progresses. The audience never quite gets to truly read the aliens' facial expressions, but the aliens' body language is sufficiently similar to human body language as to permit us to accurately read their feelings over their treatment. Most poignant was when the alien known as Christopher encounters one of his friends who has been cruelly dismembered in MNU's medical research lab. Christopher's body language conveys the sizable emotional shock, grief, and anger that anyone thrown into that situation would experience. Also poignant are the interactions between Christopher and his son, as they discuss the home planet his son has never seen, and their mutual hopes and dreams to one day return. The audience is also treated to increasingly visible examples of empathic behavior not only among the aliens, but also as the the film progresses, between Wikus and the aliens as they eventually willingly risk their lives for one another.

Note that District 9 is filmed very much in the style of flicks such as The Blair Witch Project. The near-constant use of what appear to be hand-held camcorders to film the action make the experience quite dizzying on the big screen. That facet of the film got a bit distracting at times, but that is probably more a matter of personal taste on my part. That quibble aside, I'm curious to see if the makers of this film will treat us to a sequel. Given the film's commercial success and it's ambiguous ending, I'd be willing to wager that we'll be watching a District 10 in a couple years. I for one would be eager to see what more these film makers can do with this very fascinating world that they've created.

See also Benjamin Solah's review, as well as the film's websites: the ostensibly MNU-run and the dissident bloglike MNU Spreads Lies.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yeah, those Nazi comparisons are getting a bit old

I noticed AKMuckraker taking on the efforts by wingnuts (with the help of their corporate masters) to portray what I consider a relatively tepid attempt at health "care" reform with Nazi and Holocaust imagery. To put it bluntly, this particular tired song-and-dance by our more right-wing extremist and nationalist elements seemed a bit well-worn, and so I did a bit of digging around. Turns out that it seems well-worn because it is well-worn.

Here, now is a trip down memory lane. These are all from the winter of 2004.

My opponents are Nazis: Or the Pot Calls the Kettle Black, in which I made the following observation:
Actaully one of the things I've noticed is that Republicans have played fast and loose with the Nazi and Hitler imagery for a long time. One thing I'll be doing over the course of the next few weeks, as time permits, is to document instances in which mass media figures associated with the GOP, mass media organs, GOP officials and organizations, and ordinary people who associate themselves with the GOP or other right-wing groups have attempted to smear Democrats, and more broadly liberals and progressives as "nazis". Rush Limbaugh's liberal use of the term "feminazi" is of course well-known and adopted by numerous dittoheads nationwide. He's far from alone, as we shall see.
In But Wait....There's More! I began to catalogue a few of the those very efforts by right-wingers (sadly, most of those links have gone dead). That process continued with Those wacky liberal nazis, Pot, Kettle, Black; Or In One Word -- Hitlery, Norquist Defends His Nazi Comments, More Pot + Kettle = Black, Right-Wing Hypocrisy: Like Shooting Fish in a Barrel, and Back in the Day, When the Wingnuts Likened a US President to Hitler. It bears repeating that due to the dynamic nature of the Internet, many of the links that I included have gone dead. The larger point though is still quite alive: right-wingers seem to raise the specter of Nazism any time there is a remotely organized effort to enhance human rights, dignity, and liberty. Just like the days when the Clintons (as the faces of the center-right Democratic Party in the 1990s) were compared to Hitler, Obama (as the face of the same center-right Democratic Party today) is compared to Hitler. Apparently, nothing really has changed. Just do a Google search using such terms as "feminism and Nazism", "feminazi", "Hitlery", "gun control and Nazism", "Clinton and Hitler", and see what kinds of hits you get. Then, while you're at it, do a Google search for "health care reform and Nazism" or "Obama and Hitler" and I'll wager you'll notice something strikingly familiar in what you read. It is worth pointing out that using Nazi imagery in this manner serves to diminish the meaning of such terms as "Nazi", "Nazism", "Holocaust", and "Hitler", and quite frankly mocks the very people and groups who were victimized by the Nazi regime during the 1930s and 1940s.

I tend to use care in using Nazism and its leader, Adolph Hitler, in any analogizing because I believe it is crucial to preserve the meaning of those terms: Nazism (as an exemplar of fascism) was and is (to the extent that there are still an unnervingly high number of people who identify with Nazism) a right-wing phenomenon. Nazism was corporatist, militarist, extremely racist, sexist, and highly genocidal. The analogy can work to a certain (often limited) extent in characterizing highly right-wing nationalist governments and government officials, as well as right-wing extremist organizations. However, to characterize a fairly centrist piece of health care reform legislation with Nazi imagery is beyond preposterous, and anyone doing so should be called out on their bullshit right then and there.

A note in the margin: there are reasons why I tend to characterize the US Democratic Party as center-right. I won't go into the details at the moment, partially because I likely already have at some point in the past. Suffice it to say, if one were to place US politics in a larger, global context, we'd find that the Democratic Party as we know it has a great deal in common with the sorts of center-right parties one would encounter in Europe. Not too surprisingly, I have likely mentioned elsewhere that the current GOP has a great deal in common with far-right-wing nationalist parties (I consider the GOP and England's BNP to be cut largely from the same cloth). We currently do not have a viable organized leftist party in the US - nothing akin to a "Social Democratic" or "Labor" party that would have any hope of winning elections. The hows and whys of that reality are important, but beyond the scope of this particular post.

One more note in the margin: for a set of links that more properly characterize Nazism, here's an old post on Nazi history from Mostly Links.

Interesting post

The End of the 30-Year Wealth Bubble? mainly quotes a recent news article, highlights a number of key passages, and then ends with what I think needs to be said at bare-bones minimum:

One issue that has perplexed economists on both sides of the political spectrum is how to deal with inequalities in wealth. I am not convinced that the rich are not getting richer, but I will concede that the deflation scenario will wipe out many fortunes.

The fact is that the poor are hurting much more than the wealthy in a downturn. The affluent should be paying more in taxes and they should count themselves lucky and remember Pete Peterson's wise words on the meaning of enough.

h/t naked capitalism

It bears repeating, early and often: Those who are still doing well should, rather than treat their privileged position as some sort of "God-given" birthright (the rabble be damned), consider themselves damned lucky, and that those who benefit disproportionately in this particular economic system should be contributing disproportionately. I'm not talking charity - isolated individuals doing a few good deeds might be a nice self-esteem booster, but does nothing to challenge the structural inequalities that leave so many of us disadvantaged. Besides, the inclination to hoard during economic downturns tends to make charity rather non-dependable. There was a reason why the wealthiest in the US once paid considerably more in taxes about a half century ago. Oh, and while we're at it, to paraphrase Michael Moore a few years ago, kill the Horatio Alger myth.

For those well-to-do who feel the need to pooh-pooh such observations, I'd suggest bookmarking this and remember those very observations on the chance that we might one day in the not-so-distant future encounter each other in line to apply for food stamps. Just sayin'.