Saturday, February 28, 2009

Who Likes Investment Bankers, Now?

"I've got a system," is the sit-com or movie comedy line where the smart protagonist puts his wallet back in his pocket, it is that ubiquitously a stupid statement that it's a joke. Or is it? David X Li had one, and apparently it was a doozy since it has pretty much sunk the financial system of the world. Huh?
For five years, Li's formula, known as a Gaussian copula function, looked like an unambiguously positive breakthrough, a piece of financial technology that allowed hugely complex risks to be modeled with more ease and accuracy than ever before. With his brilliant spark of mathematical legerdemain, Li made it possible for traders to sell vast quantities of new securities, expanding financial markets to unimaginable levels.

His method was adopted by everybody from bond investors and Wall Street banks to ratings agencies and regulators. And it became so deeply entrenched—and was making people so much money—that warnings about its limitations were largely ignored.

The Lords of Finance, the Masters of the Universe had a system? Until it fell apart. Go ahead, you go tell your Uncle Joe you've got a system...

Bank of America and Merrill have received $45 Billion in Federal assistance and done a few things like pay $3.6 Billion in bonuses to Merrill employees and spend $10 Million on a Super Bowl party and $8.7 Million on lobbying in 2008. NY Attorney General Andrew Cuomo would like B of A President Ken Lewis to tell him about those bonuses and President Obama is done with Bankers flying around in corporate jets...think so?
On Thursday, Lewis refused to provide a list of bonus payments to the New York Attorney General, after arriving in New York in his $50 million corporate jet

Sorry to be rude, but that's a pretty major Fuck You.

You may remember Northern Trust threw a big bash for their employees and rich customers at a golf tournament and for some reason people objected to them taking $1.6 Billion in taxpayer money and having a big party. It seems they'd rather keep on partying without hearing about it from the peons.
Northern Trust has set a goal of repaying government funds "as quickly as prudently possible," Waddell said.(Pres & CEO)

Earlier this week, eighteen Democrats on the financial services panel, led by Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., told Waddell in a scathing letter, "We insist that you immediately return to the federal government the equivalent of what Northern Trust frittered away on these lavish events."

Prudent? How about now, asshat?

I'm sorry to do this, but AIG should scare you spitless. The $160 Billion restructuring package is failing, AIG is expected to post (no kidding) $60 Billion 4th quarter losses - 3 damn months. Why should this bother you, other than the money spent?
"If the government lets AIG fail, I think you are going to see an enormous sort of shock wave across all industries because AIG had their finger in a lot of different areas," said Russell Walker, a risk management professor at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Actually, Walker is understating the extent of the damage, now are you spooked?

Citigroup has burned through their $36 Billion and now their hands are out for more, a lot more.
The U.S. government will exchange up to $25 billion in emergency bailout money it provided Citigroup Inc. for as much as a 36 percent equity stake in the struggling bank,

Maybe you don't have your hate on for this bunch quite yet. I can help you right along with that. UBS, yep Phil Gramm's employer, settled a tax evasion based case with the US Government that cost them a $780 Million deferred prosecution agreement that also included the release of the names of 52,000 American clients that DOJ suspects used them for tax avoidance. The kicker, UBS is being sued in Swiss courts to block that release.
The lawsuit accuses UBS and Switzerland’s financial regulator, the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority, or Finma, of violating Swiss bank secrecy laws and of conducting what Swiss law considers illegal activities with foreign authorities. It also named Peter Kurer, the chairman of UBS, and Eugen Haltiner, the chairman of Finma, as defendants.

The suit, filed by a lawyer in Zurich, Andreas Rued, on behalf of nearly a dozen American clients, underscores the growing clash between Swiss banking secrecy laws and those of the United States. Tax evasion is not considered a crime in Switzerland. Disclosing client names under Swiss law is a criminal offense and can expose bank executives and officers to fines, prison terms and other penalties.

The Swiss have a bit of a problem going on, you see they hid Nazi loot and some agreements were made about the survivors and descendants of those looted and a part of that is tied into this action. Just try real hard to not remember this stuff as the Republicans accuse you of class warfare...

Maybe you don't have to smack the stupid off their faces, just spit on their boots. They've got a system... Let the bastards run wild because they're rich and we mustn't mess with that and free markets and government is the problem and class warfare and you're doody heads so we'll have a teabag rebellion socialist pig Democrats won't let them fail like a good Randian would and...and...rotten liberal media keeps making us look bad and...and...

Sure, sure, and that poll down below is just a joke.

The Arms Debacle

Sometimes events occur that just absolutely take your breath away and the current arms controversy may threaten to split the Republic. As you might expect in the Obama White House it concerns the right to bare arms. Yes, I know how to spell, bare. Michelle Obama likes sleeveless dresses and that seems to be a problem for some ... people.

No, really.

Ann Coulter is predictably mean mouthed, well wired shut mean - a Jackie O wannabe. Some people are incensed that she'd wear such a thing in winter, as though women's dresses are somehow warm clothing (I wear warm clothing, I know what it looks like). There seems to be some real concern that it isn't appropriate for formal occasions. Look, I'll admit to preferring flannel shirts and 501s or Carharts and logging boots so my expertise may be suspect, have got to be kidding me???

I'm pretty damn sure most men given a choice of arm decoration on a stroll would pick the First Lady in sleeveless over Ann Coulter in anything. One thing I am sure of is that a whole lot of women not anywhere near 44 years old would kill to have her arms to show off. If you're claiming this kind of thing is bothering you; I think you have other issues going on and you have got to know that a hell of a lot of us are laughing at you. No, not with you.

Yes, this is filed under "Stupidity".

Friday, February 27, 2009

In The Spirit Of Hannity

C'mon now, 9 votes won't surpass inAnnity's poll so here's another chance

You've got to love our patriotic conservative body politic:

In the spirit of a Hannity like search for solutions to real problems we present:

I know it's not fair but you only get to vote once... But it is multiple choice.

GOP Playing Dress Up

Now look here, this is dress up time. This regalia is for cowboy action shooting and it's a cowboy outfit of the movie sort. You don't think I believe that this outfit makes me a cowpoke? It's a 'uniform' for a competitve game, that's all it is. Yes, the firearms are real.

A couple years ago the President of the US played dress up on an aircraft carrier with the message of "I'm a warrior chief". A lot of us shook our heads in disbelief, but they managed to win in '04. Well, the GOP is back to putting on their funny hats (tin foil isn't out of fashion).

The Republicans are now the Party of Fiscal Responsibility, despite all evidence to the contrary over the past years, they are. You might think that's an ill fitting hat, but they've donned it. Pushing back against that idea is somehow partisan. Well, so be it.

The Republicans have donned the hat of "Small Government" which really doesn't fit too well withh the "Theocracy" party hat. I don't know how you manage to jam one over the other, but they're trying.

One should never miss the rather large and colorful "Free Market" hat, this one is perhaps the funniest looking one and saddest one. Their version of free market is one that is managed to the benefit of large multi-national corporations and the crushing of labor, neither being alowed to function in anything like free markets. This neglects the issue of whether a free market has ever existed anywhere at anytime, but their management of it is what we have today.

The "Let You Keep Your Money" hat is the one that uses Lower Taxes as a chin strap. there's a dirty little secret under that hat, it means giving your money to the wealthy not keeping squat. From Ronnie Reagan forward, even under beloved WJ Clinton, you might as well have sent your betters a check of between $7K and $10K. You have been screwed to the wall for the benefit of 1% of the country's taxpayers. You have to remember that the check number comes from a Larry Summers who won't bother to tell you the real costs because you might just burn the whole rotten ediface.

They got themselves a really tattered hat, "Protecting Your Rights" and danced about with a manufactured issue of Fairness Doctrine. I will give them a fairly steady push back on the 2nd, though there hasn't been much to push against and they did take DC's side in Heller. They will, honest to god, plump their hat by talking about protecting the 1st in regard to right wing talk radio without say mentioning wiretapping your phone calls as an infringement of speech, much less the 4th and searches.

I'm just not going to say anything about the "Ethics" hat they've put one other than it keeps falling off.

Here's the thing about all these hats, they're sales tools having nothing to do with reality or concern for the nation. They do not have to take the interests of the nation into account, they are politically neutered. Certainly at the level of governors they do have to take some sort of account of the the good of their state, but even there it is limited due to the fact that the FED has already taken care of it so they can rail ideological talking points.

When I play dress up I have to take responsibility for some very deadly weapons, I have to exercise real care in consideration of the well-being of others. That my friends is a very different thing. My stuff goes bang and theirs just squirts out a flag BANG!

Drug Prohibition

***The following is written by my friend Jack Nelson***

Drug prohibition is a multi-billion dollar subsidy to our worst enemies; the Colombian F A R C, Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and similar
monsters. And millions of Americans learn their values in gangs and
prisons, a sort of collateral damage from the War on Drugs. As for the friendly governments of the producing and transit countries, injecting DEA money into their corrupt institutions must often be counterproductive.

Alcohol prohibition 80 years ago criminalized a social and health problem, handing a giant market to the underworld. A market impossible to expunge. The mafias of 1920 were just little gangs of thugs, but giving them the very lucrative alcohol market turned them into international businesses, with all the sophistication and power associated. Today, international terrorists are the beneficiaries of misguided policies on drugs. Struggling democracies are corrupted by the threats and monies.

Like alcohol and tobacco, we should license noxious drugs to control that market too. Alcohol and tobacco are in essence cheap agricultural products. The market tolerates the high markup of taxation. Illegal drugs are likewise cheap products, but in their case the markup goes to the traffickers. Dope is already so available; we have little reason to think legalization would increase net use and addiction rates. The ready availability on the street is proof that prohibition does not work.

We should stop spending billions on failed persecution and start collecting high taxes. Again, like alcohol and tobacco. This enormous budget windfall should be spent on the causes of drug abuse. We need education, health, jobs, and community programs. That rational policy would have positive societal effects, free the military and police to deal with real priorities, and strip hundreds of billions of dollars from gangs and terrorists.

Yes, hundreds of billions. The market is enormous. Likewise, the fatuous waste of military and police and courts and prisons adds up to more hundreds of billions. This huge waste of funds is the corollary to the waste of lives by turning a social and health problem into a crime.
We should learn the lessons of history.


Those who have followed this blog for awhile know that I agree that drug probibition is a failed proposition. I have also opined that politics lags social change. This is one of those cases where getting ahead of that curve is political suicide. Talking about it can start the social change that would allow for political change.

A Trapped GOP

I suppose that if I were a really, really nice person I'd have some empathy for the GOP - like I said, if. As it is in actuality, rather than hypothetically, that I'm perfectly willing to watch them drown in their toxic swill I still don't mind looking at their situation. Despite contrary evidence there are Republicans who can think. I've known some, and that's not the same thing as saying I've seen flying saucers and big foot.

I realize that to many of us the tactic of more and more of what they've spouted for years seems particularly stupid, oh hell, is stupid - but I believe there are some actual reasons for it. House members have to start running for re-election the day after they're elected. It is just a function of the 2 year cycle and asserting that you're fit to represent half a million people that you have to take advantage of that perch you've attained because there are sharks circling. Those sharks (if they're serious) start very early if somewhat out of view putting together connections and good feelings. That House member has a bit of earned media by virtue of being a member of that 435 member club, that earned media can only be increased by using it. The Congressional District's press will pay some attention naturally, but that attention will increase with any national notice. This is important for keeping yourself alive in the minds of the voters and particularly the donors. Congressional Districts tend to be a bit more homogeneous than states so a bit hotter rhetoric can work.

Senators face the somewhat more daunting prospect of representing entire states and a year like 2010 poses the real problem of not being a Presidential election with its increased interest. This means ordinarily that the biggest turn out will be the bases, for a CD not such a bad prospect, but for a Senator in a state that is anything like competitive your base had better be fired up. In this case the Senator doesn't have the 'advantage' of having just run 2 years before and having essentially a non-stop campaign, six years is just too long to sustain such a thing. What that does mean is that starting two years ahead isn't rushing matters, it is the time to make use of that earned media for the same ends a House member would. Sometimes in politics two years is quite awhile, and six years can be an eternity. Republican House members got whacked 2 years ago, the 2010 Senators haven't faced voters since GWB won his second term with fear mongering. Politically things have changed a bit. Quite a bit.

The House guys are going to stick with what let them stay in office in 2008, they have no incentive to do things differently and real risks for doing it. Senators are in a bit different situation, four years ago their President got re-elected but what worked then is real questionable today in the face of the fallout of that Administration. Despite the blood letting of 06 and 08 there are a lot more House Republicans than Senators and they're not going to be very willing to give up what worked in 08. The Senators are going to get dragged along and face a statewide electorate they last campaigned to on GWB's coat tails. This presents some very real difficulties and the weapons they have are the same one their House counterparts have. So, it may be a reality for House folks to have to start running two years ahead, but for Senators it just got very important.

Here's where the abject stupidity of running on more of the same comes in. The House is going to do it and the Senators absolutely have to make up ground lost in the last four years. Both of these groups have to do this in the face of most of them displaying craven behavior in the face of the mounting failures of GWB and the very real problem of an Obama. Democrats have right along had some good practitioners of rhetoric with national popularity, but this Obama guy is starting out like the gold standard of that. Sen Gordon Smith who hadn't done anything actually obnoxious tried to clip off a piece of that for himself and it narrowly failed which sort of proves that isn't a winning strategy. It presents voters with a kind of contradictory choice, choose me because I'm a bit like this popular guy or choose the guy who is a lot like him.

The Republican Party has had the snot beaten out of them over the last four years and they're one vote from losing a Party filibuster vote. The House is just plain out of reach barring something extraordinary and losing that filibuster edge is more than possible, it is likely. Being a bit like Obama is not going to cut it for the Senators, they have to bet on his failure. They have to represent the failures manifested in 08 as a failing not due to their ideology but its misapplication. It is already far too late to make sea changes and meet the 2010 reckoning.

The Republican Party absolutely must hang onto the Religionists, it is the one loyalty that comes cheap, some fundie rhetoric will do in the face of the impossibility of any legislative power to enact any of it. Their problem lies with the financial wing, these folks aren't cheaply purchased. Some of these are entirely businessman pragmatic enough to already be bolting, they don't have an ideological connection - they have a business. In the face of a recessionary bankruptcy they just really don't give a damn about supply side economics, that was just convenient to making a lot of money. The only way they're going to be there in 2010 is if Obama fails and they're still taking huge hits.

The ones who have won under Bush and still have their winnings do care about capital gains taxes and being taxed at 39% rather than 35% because their level of wealth insulates them from whatever crash is coming and, in fact, they stand to do very well out of it. This country is turning into a buyer's market, the only difficulty is having money to do it with. This means that capital gains taxes are going to turn into a very real issue for the profiteers. This is a dirty little secret of the Republican Party, but they do have to address it for those concerned. This is why 40% of the stimulus being tax cuts wasn't what they wanted, they're the wrong tax cuts.

There is no political up side to playing nicely with Democrats, it is now 20 months until the 2010 vote. The only Republicans with an upside to cooperating are those who a virtually guaranteed to lose their seats otherwise. Their Republican counterparts will speak ill of them for it and may even try to Primary them, but their seats are lost and they know it. The Republicans with nothing to lose for four or six years might want to cooperate but their brethren can't afford for them to do so. If you're wondering where the national interest gets served in this behavior, it is simply immaterial.

The edge Democrats hold means that they will be able to do whatever they want if it has a whiff of moderation to it. The Republicans are exempted from having to consider the national interest over political ends because they cannot stop what is happening. This is a political advantage of sorts in that they will suffer no blame for failure. The couple who cooperate may be able to hold on because Obama succeeds and some are safe regardless but a bunch of Senate seats are flatly gone if Obama succeeds. If a revision of Republican politics is going to occur it will be in the wake of a disastrous 2010 election.

The mathematics of it are clear, every two years one third of the Senate is up for election and the nearly 2 year lead in lays on constraints. A Senate bloodbath in 2010 with a Presidential election in two years would make the party as a whole more amenable to changing. By that the 06 Senate survivors will be having to run, the 04 bunch will either be safe or gone and the House will be just what it is - narrow interest district survivors. This really makes the current speculation about leading Presidential election figures pretty meaningless. If the Democrat policies are succeeding in 2010 all of today's figures become irrelevant.

So Republicans banking on Democratic failure is a matter of doing what it is they have to do. The GOP is currently in a trap constructed over the last 30 years and cemented over the last eight - expect no change over this cycle.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A Pot Full Of Justice

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has a story up about the 50 year old wife of an Elyria, OH judge fighting off 4 robbers with a 5 qt sauce pan. There are elements of it that will warm your heart and probably make you want to shake her hand. Her husband said,
"She did all the things I told her never to do in that kind of situation," he said. "We've been married 47 years and she raised our five sons. She's not afraid of anything."

Some comments had uncomplimentary things to say about the "liberal philosophy" of lie down and take it. I may not be willing to give someone else control over my life in such a setting but I'm also a healthy capable male. If you want to go where this spunky lady did, you had best recognize that you may be engaging in a real serious fight - one that could get you hurt very badly or killed. A lot of real tough theoretical rhetoric get tossed around and it is a damned good thing these characters weren't inclined to beat the hell out of an old lady.

I don't mean this to be anymore than an exhortation to engage your brain and measure risk versus outcome before acting. That thing in your skull is there for more than keeping your ears from collapsing together.

The Twitter "Revolution"

There seems to be a lot of noise lately about something loosely termed the Twitter Revolution. We got to see some of it in Pres Obama's address to Congress. I do not Twitter, nor do I "follow" any one's Twitter - in fact I couldn't be much less interested in participation. I enjoy writing and I enjoy reading good writing; and I even offer you some out of they way opportunities in the sidebar Blogroll.

I started to live blog Pres Obama's address and discovered rather quickly that I am neither a stenographer nor am I capable of composing and listening at the same time. I said composing, I didn't say producing inanities. A couple examples of the production values emerged after the speech. Newt our favorite slimy lizard referred to the speech as a State of the Union speech, which he full well knew it was not. Then you have "rather than watch Pelosi smirk," kind of thing followed by an ignore staffer stupidity. Chances are neither would have made such public statements with a quick re-reading. Instantaneous stupidity doesn't have much trump value over considered stupidity, and neither is real desirable.

The written word is actually a method of communication quite capable of surpassing the spoken word, it has at its disposal many tools of expression that are unavailable to the voice. It is also quite capable of utter stupidity and irrelevance. Writing in 140 character snippets of thought is a virtual guarantee that something intelligently composed is not going to happen. Now, if it is somehow important to your life to know that someone is having a bagel wouldn't you really prefer a literary expression of the joy of said bagel as opposed to 'I just had a bagel?' Why would I give a damn? Do you care that I just scratched my head?

If politicians think this is going to make a damn bit of difference in the national dialogue, they're awful optimistic. I understand Sen McCaskel is quite prolific and 'good' at this sort thing. OK, who is going to read it other than people who already think she's cool. Oppo research springs to mind. What I see happening with this is all the 'good' stuff doing nothing and an 'oops' haunting them for a very long time. I think the chances of 'oops' have already demonstrated their probability.

If you do this stuff that's fine, but in my life it will have all the meaning of the meaning within its name, Twittering. Some people like canaries, I find them in short order to be a source of random annoying noise. As a Revolution I'd rank this somewhere below 1960s bell bottom pants.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Addressing Congress And The Nation***Updated

One of the early questions about this address was whether Republicans would sit on their hands, it was answered in the first minutes, the opening remard. Paraphrasing; the remark was that while this economy may take awhile that the hardest working most innovative nation would prevail and emerge stronger - a clear whoever you are applause line, no partisan agenda in the least - unless you sit on the right side of the Chamber.

Now if you wanted to hear Republicans cheer, we cannot pass onto our children a debt they cannot afford to pay. But a statement regarding ending tax breaks for the top 2% was distinctly unpopular - or at least not applaudable on the right aisle. What the hell the Republicans are standing and applauding the inclusion to Iran/Afghanistan in the budget for I am entirely unclear - certainly not their agenda of 7 years.

I do not know who the young Marine Sgt in the upper deck is, but the support of the troops expressed by the President resulted in an extended applause and hand shakes for him. His dress blues left chest displayed a serious weight of eye candy of the ribbon supported metal type.

The opportunity of crisis and we're not quitters, that statement of confidence in the US should make anyone happy. It won't, but it ought.

This isn't any sort of definitive review, I was more interested in watching than playing at live blogging. If you care about this stuff you watched it.

*****Update ***** Jindal Talks

Republicans, please, please run this clown for POTUS. He took credit for writing this and then RNC & R Congress took on cooperative credit, whoever sucks eggs badly.

Which piece of living in the same universe rationally would involve invoking the Republican Administration's handling of Katrina for justification for government sucks at solving problems? In Congress we were led into pork and deficits? Who the hell was leading? In fact who the hell was Jindal trying to talk to (or at)?

I realize the Republicans have only had since November to adjust to having had their heads handed to them, but this isn't adjusting...

To be sure, I'd root for this iteration of the Confederate Party of Republicanism to strive for a 10% share of government, but at some point a responsible and credible oppostition party will be important to have.

Taking Care Of Their Own

TMZ reports on a bank?
Northern Trust, a Chicago-based bank, sponsored the Northern Trust Open at the Riviera Country Club in L.A. We're told Northern Trust paid millions to sponsor the PGA event which ended Sunday, but what happened off the golf course is even more shocking.

Northern Trust flew hundreds of clients and employees to L.A. and put many of them up at some of the fanciest and priciest hotels in the city. We're told more than a hundred people were put up at the Beverly Wilshire in Bev Hills, and another hundred stayed at the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel. Still more stayed at the Ritz Carlton in Marina Del Rey and others at Casa Del Mar in Santa Monica.

You can go see how Northern Trust defines itself if you please, but I'll give you their lead in:
To achieve your financial objectives, you need a partner you can trust. Our clients' trust helped us become a global leader in asset management, asset servicing, wealth management and banking. Northern Trust (NASDAQ: NTRS) offers you exceptional service backed by innovative technology and the latest economic research from our industry-renowned experts. For more than a century, our clients have relied on us for service, expertise and integrity.

Part of that service includes the kinds of things that interest celebrity sites like TMZ:
- Wednesday, Northern Trust hosted a fancy dinner at the Ritz followed by a performance by the group Chicago.

- Thursday, Northern Trust rented a private hangar at the Santa Monica Airport for dinner, followed by a performance by Earth, Wind & Fire.

- Saturday, Northern Trust had the entire House of Blues in West Hollywood shut down for its private party. We got the menu -- guests dined on seared salmon and petite Angus filet. Dinner was followed by a performance by none other than Sheryl Crow.

There was also a fabulous cocktail party at the Loews. And how's this for a nice touch: Female guests at the Chicago concert all got trinkets from ... TIFFANY AND CO.

To TMZ's credit they attempted to indepentently assess costs, see them.

To get a feel for Nothern Trust's view of economics you might find their analysis of the Great Depression interesting, a fair clip:
But the facts of the 1930s appear to be pretty clear – monetized increased federal government spending does result in increased real economic activity in the short run.

You can read the entire piece which ignores the political reality of the Republican inspired cuts to FDR's programs immediately preceding the second slump - a typical Republican ploy of late. You will note, perhaps, that the presence of this bank in this story is because this bank got a New Deal, like $1.5B worth of a new deal that allows a bank that caters to the rich have a big goddam party for the rich all the while telling you - essentially - that the rich are our benefactors.

This bank has stated that no government funds were involved...exactly how does that work? Is this bank's balance sheet run on separate pages, one for taxpayers' liabilities and the other for rich folk? Who the hell's money got lost? Not one damn cent of mine, but I ain't rich enough to use their bank.

It isn't that these bankers can't read a paper or see the news, they do - they don't give a rat's patoot because they're not the little people. Rules of ethics don't count after a certain income level - this is for you poor fools who'll make a good faith effort to pay your obligations. These folks may be responsible for an economic smash-up but they don't have to give a damn about it.

The media asks questions like, "how can they not get it?" They do get it, they get bailed out. Their clients will have plenty of money no matter how far south this mess goes short of apocalypse and they'll use that money at firesale prices to further enrich themselves. Try to get this, if you have money free this is a buying opportunity of historic proportions, stock prices are falling below the actual value of company assets. If you think you've seen a concentration of wealth over the last 30 years, you ain't seen nothing yet. Oh jeeze, there's a little matter of 15% capital gains tax...

What exactly is it that you're supposed to think they don't get?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Republican Governor Haley Barbour Can Say Anything

Gov Haley Barbour (MS-R) says he won't take stimulus money because it will cause a tax increase on business. This gets reported just because he says it and no one says, "OK, what kind of money are we talking about?" Current MS UE
tax rates aren't in the least hard to find. Currently standing at 2.7% of wage they are allowed to vary from 0.7% to 5.2%, so 25% increase would amount to a total of about 3.2%. That is what he's talking about after the stimulus money runs out.

So, the question that seems important isn't whether he's an asshole, it is why the media puts no context whatever on these people saying whatever they want to say, as though it is meaningful. Think about it, a 25% increase is just under $0.007 on the dollar wage. That's right folks, seven damned cents on $10.00 per hour wages (boy there are a lot of those in MS??).

Stamping your feet and rolling on the floor because a Democrat has the nerve to try to do something about mess left by the Confederate Party of Republicanism is soooo responsible. What do you want to bet nobody, and I mean nobody in the big media will bother to call BS? If a nail bender from NE OR can come up with the relevant information...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chase This Suckers

You can see the CNBC video if you'd like to really piss yourself off, but when you consider that CEO Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase runs a company that took $25B from taxpayers to keep itself afloat something about this quote might just irritate you a tad:
"I don't think just because someone's underwater they say I don't have to stay there. But they're supposed to pay the mortgage, and we should teach the American people, you're supposed to meet your obligations, not run from them. Because you have a mortgage doesn't mean you should run away as it goes down."

I'm not sure of the exact numbers but I do believe that $25B is more than his heap is worth. I guess that unlike a mortgagee there is nobody at Chase that is responsible for their bad bets on derivatives. Apparently it has something to do with the name and the size of the failure whether you need to meet your obligations. As I understand it on one end of failure you get stuck with something worth less than what you owe and on the other you get millions of dollars of bonuses. Now if we were to try recover what these people are responsible for from them Dimon and his colleagues would be fighting for space in a homeless shelter and leave us a whole lot of billions in the hole, but you have a sacred obligation to his bank. Hmmm.

I keep trying to wrap my head around what these people stand for and I just cannot make it. There just isn't anything there, the disconnect is too large. I honestly wonder if the only way to reach them is a .30 lesson. You just cannot sit in the wreckage of a $25B bailout and tell Joe Schmoe he has to sit in his $200K disaster as though he is something different in the nature of self-interest. This economy was going to get roughed up by the housing bubble correction, but these guys leveraging of it created disaster and this guy alone has made somewhere around $1B for his part in it. No matter what happens, if Chase plain implodes, he's going to be fine and in fact increase his wealth at the trough of firesales if he cares to put that effort into it. Joe Schmoe is screwed no matter how this plays out, the only sensible thing he can do is load his junk in a trailer and get the hell out.

Stupid arrogance and wishful thinking greed led these banks into this position and we're to understand that they are somehow different and more special than ordinary citizens. If we're going to play this obligations game then I want his ever living hide nailed on a foreclosed door.

Not gonna happen, only the peons will pay.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Behind The Republican Stimulus Curtain Of Deceit

A couple Republican House Representatives are bragging about what they added into the stimulus bill, the one that got no, 0, Republican votes. Hmmm, must've been important stuff they added in that it wasn't worth a vote, er..., two. Rush Limbaugh hopes the plan fails because Jesus wouldn't make deals with Satan, ummm, OKKKKK, who is Satan in this scenario? Would it be appropriate to note the part about nails and a cross? Pat Robertson tells Rush he's not thinking clearly, we need to be behind our President because if he fails the people suffer...jumpin' jayzus on a jumpin' jack did he really say that? No kiddin', the faggot hurricane guy? Ah, just yanking your chain there, Pat, I know you didn't mean it, anymore than that immorality caused 9/11 crap, and surely not the whacking Hugo Chavez crack. You did stand firm with GWB, through torture and indefinite imprisonment without charges and... OK, you're a stand-up guy. We all know Rush doesn't really run the Republican Party...well we were pretty sure until a (R) Rep had to call up his show and apologize for saying so.

It certainly was unfair of the Democrats to cut the Republicans out of the bill and not let them read it and all, except for all those parts about seeding lawns, contraceptives, Acorn, mice or rats, and 32% tax cuts and...oh yeah the part where some "new" (Bush appointee) director was going to control your doctor...and some... I'll run out of page if I do go on. Maybe I really should mention the stuff those two Reps put in the bill for their districts, the ones that had no input and didn't get to read it, ones, voted Nay ones.

I'm sure it's basically unfair to use Ed Morrisey as an example of Republicans:
In order to get that, Republicans had to shut down Porkulus. It would have forced Democrats to negotiate with Republicans and get the better bill to Obama’s desk. All we needed was Republicans to stand firm in the service of their fellow Republicans and to defy Nancy Pelosi’s triumphalism. The House did its job, as did most of the Republicans in the Senate, even while saying that they would support a real stimulus package. Instead, Specter, Collins, and Snowe essentially stabbed their colleagues in the back — while Specter whined about the lack of debate on the bill, after he voted for cloture and an end to debate.

It would be in bad form to mention a Trillion Dollars down the Iraqi hole along with One and a Half Trillion Dollar Tax Cut For the Rich so shortly after his perspicacious usage of Porkulus about half a dozen times, but then there are his Commentariate:
CNN has Obama’s approval rating at 76%. That’s Reaganesque. Perhaps it would be wise for us Republicans to work with the Democrats, and our President.

Atlanta Voter on February 16, 2009 at 10:25 PM
So you are O.K. with communism and socialism?

Johan Klaus on February 16, 2009 at 10:28 PM

It gets into that foaming at the mouth point pretty frequently:
Dude. I’d rather see the GOP go six feet under than work with that socialist bastard. Sure, I want America to do well, regardless of the president, but I don’t want the supposed representatives of capitalism to support the crappy policies of a crappy politician.

I won't link to their crap, if you're curious it's Hot Air and the Google will get you there. I didn't really need this abuse for my brain but I was checking some one's link and read it.
Let's work together, OK, it'll be fine.

But, hold the phone, it gets even better, Karl Rove is talking about how the economy will be all better by the time the stimulus kicks in so it's just a waste of money. So, if it fails Republicans win because they told you so and if it works it worked because everything got better without it. Heads I Win, Tails You Lose. Now that the bill is passed and they're out from under it watch for more of that theme. Remember, Karl is the guy who has The Math.

In recent polling House Democrats and Pelosi gained a few points and Boehner and House Republicans slid a bit (boy you DO NOT want to slide from that point). Senate worked the same way but margins weren't quite as impressive. Four Republican Governors backed the stimulus, Charlie Christ went so far as to lobby his delegation - to no effect. Pawlenty was on Maddow and played hell trying to play a middle ground of Party loyalty and not sounding asinine while taking the money with some grace. For a fraction of a second I felt sorry for him, it passed with no damage done.

The Party of NO has had its way so it's time to move on. Be assured that if the Democrats try to do anything remotely Democratic this was only a taste and god help them if they try to do something that might ding the plutocrats - that's when the knives will really come out.

Oh, BTW, if you hadn't heard...Arrowsmith really didn't like Whip Cantor using their tune behind his silly 0 video, infringement and all that - something the Party of Business does a lot of, oddly enough, property rights and all that. I guess the hyper morality Cantor missed the part where "Back In the Saddle" is about banging a hooker... Or maybe considering Sen Diaper Vitter maybe not... Of course the FCC doesn't have jurisdiction over the internet, right Janet?

This has been your peek behind the deceit of the Republican stimulus curtain.

Bipartisan Politics - Redux

January 22, 2007
Yes this was written awhile ago, seemed appropriate when it showed up in a Google search hit and I took another look.

Here's a phrase that seems to be getting big play, it started shortly after the '06 election results and has gained ground ever since. It has a nice ring, bipartisan, it sort of rolls off the tongue with lovely strong syllable breaks and an element of cadence. I'll bet it would sound good if you did it with a mouth full of marbles and it looks nice in print - bipartisan - hey even in italics - bipartisan. It seems such a long time time since it had any currency.

You may be familiar with the name Frank Luntz, he of the Republican dictionary, well now he's decided to tell the Democrats how to use Words that Work over at HuffPo. The idea is to bury the hatchet...not in the Republican's heads, but actually bury it. He's on to the spirit of bipartisanship (-ship kind of spoils the cadence) and even notes, "Democracy is at its best when its practitioners use language to unite and explain rather than divide and attack." I also think it works pretty well when "Clean Air" doesn't mean pollution and estate tax means that and not "Death Tax" which means you get charged for not living anymore, um, dying. It would be pretty crass to charge for the dubious privilege of being dead. He just doesn't think being vindictive will work out for the Democrat Party (sure he knows better, he just can't help himself), that the Party should figure out how to work with the Republicans. He's actually right, the Democrats cannot afford to be perceived as vindictive. What I find odd, though, is the idea that it's the Democrats who are supposed to be bipartisan. Maybe it's the bi- piece of the word that's throwing me. All the way through Webster's 9th Collegiate (again) bi- has two involved, I think the part about "both sides" (2) may just be what's up with the word. Well, anyhow, thanks Frank.

Fox ... News?


You really expect me to have something to say?

Psychiatry And Scientology

Watch this and tell me who it is needs psychiatry? Or, better yet, if there isn't a good reason for this bunch to be afraid of it?

I don't care if you want to paint yourself blue and dance under oak trees or figure the apple and snake is a 6000 year old fact, not my deal, but don't expect me to take you seriously - either.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Killing The Press

I'm going to try to be fair in my quotations to a piece I'm afraid I find to be particularly and emphatically stupid, The National Review Editorial "MSM, RIP" which actually starts off somewhat usefully:
There are few media metrics that point in an upward direction these days. Disdain of the press is one of them. Thirty-six percent of Americans now say that the press "hurts" democracy. Many others wouldn't express their feelings in quite such violent terms but share the basic disrespectful sentiment. Put another way, the crisis in journalism is even deeper than the crisis in its business model. It is suffering a crisis of legitimacy.

Chances are pretty good that the mass media has access to these numbers and quite possibly is horrified by them. If they're not horrified; they deserve the RIP. Some more fuel is tossed on the fire with this:
We all know the long list of scandals that has bloodied the profession--from Jayson Blair to Judith Miller to Dan Rather. But to focus only on these wrecks both misses the point and blames the victim.

Here you are, a run from out right fraud through baseless biased cheerleading and misrepresentation to an unverified document, not a stellar performance. But in these cases we're "blaming the victim" rather than engaging in fair and reasoned critiques. Now I'm not so sure I'd call this blaming the victim in the rape sense, perhaps more in the con game sense where the mark is a willing participant. Maybe that's splitting hairs but TNR has more to say:
The master narratives of both the right and the left have come to include the same villain: the hypocritical, biased elite media. And their combined grouching has helped foment the anti-media backlash.

Ah, now we're getting into something. As I remember the right's complaint was that facts didn't match their narrative and that pissed them off. It seems most of what I've heard on the left is a bit different, other than regarding Fox and its fact free content. I will say this in regard to the elite argument, when the press doesn't understand something that is news, they tend toward the shrill and sensational rather than nuanced in their reporting. These are the folks who refer to an AR15 as an assault rifle and call it automatic, conjuring up images of tommy guns blazing when it is a semi-auto and no such thing. -I digress-
A mirror version of this critique emerged on the left. In this telling, it was the timid, lazy press corps that failed to rigorously challenge the president's core (mendacious) claims about his tax cuts and rationale for heading to war. Very valid criticisms. But these specific objections morphed into populist broadsides against what the left came to describe as "the mainstream media"--avatars of establishmentarian groupthink who bend to the latest conventional wisdom emerging from D.C. cocktail parties and neurotically fret that they might be just as biased as their conservative critics allege.

Now what the hell? Morphed? How is doing exactly establishment groupthink as is validly criticized a morphing? In regard to the media worrying that they might actually be biased and reacting, how is that untrue in the face of the media's obsession with putting up two opinions about things where one is factually stupid and has at its back nothing but political talking points or demonstrated falsehoods? When the news doesn't please me, I'm unhappy and I might push for my political choice to change directions, but when I'm simply faced with information free content of equality of view point and have to sort it out myself I have not been informed, only confused.
This rhetoric creates a poisonous atmosphere. By assaulting the credibility of the press, it destroys its authority in the culture, giving cover to politicians who would rather avoid dealing with reporters in the first place.

I guess this means that we haven't been treated to a parade of Republicans making up things out of whole cloth about the stimulus bill for weeks? They certainly seem to be avoiding the media, about like lap dogs. They don't have to avoid a damn thing since the reporter sits there and allows lies they either know or damn well should know are lies to be bruited about as truth.
Obama can help set a tone for liberals, convincing them to ratchet down their hostility to newspapers and begin crusading on behalf of these imperiled organizations. The media deserves liberal critics, who hold it accountable. But it also deserves liberal defenders because a press working toward the ideal of objectivity is often the only means of blunting government or business run amok.

So... TNR advocates that I should praise the press while it doesn't do its job because the job it's supposed to do is important? I'll defend the hell out of the purpose of the press but I'll be damned if I can think of any reason to defend their behavior at this juncture.

What is entirely missing in this editorial is any mention of the consolidation of media and the corporate mind set controlling our information, but maybe we're supposed to address all these shortcomings after the media shakes itself out of the current financial crisis by behaving exactly as it has through the BushCo years. Addressing the liberals, rather than the media and telling the media to fix itself if it wants survival, is blaming the rape victim and TNR can stuff itself up whoever's hind end it is they're licking right here and now. I've got enough smoke in my face without TNR blaming me for it.

The purpose of the press is to publish facts or news about the lack of facts and to even make reasoned speculation based on facts. I don't need some bullshit balance when I'm informed, I can make up my own mind. If you're going to give politicians a platform, then be ready to make them back up their narrative, that'll cut the bullshitting down about a whole bunch. If the media is making itself unpopular with a segment for giving information then it's doing its job, but when it's pissing everybody off by not doing its job it deserves to fail. The problem is that we really cannot afford to lose them so they do have to straighten up. Petting them on their collective head and telling them everything will be alright is not a prescription for correction.

There are members of the press who have done their job right along and they don't deserve to get dragged down by those failing to do it and they should get our support. I'll specifically mention McClatchy because they still show some resemblance to KnightRidder and their good work. I'll also mention our smaller local papers, not so much because their work is so superior but they are much more amenable to correction of behavior than the beasts.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Society and Politics

It has been said (pretty accurately) that politics is the art of the possible. Whether we're intimately familiar with the processes or not, we are aware that from City Hall to Congress getting anything done is a matter of an action containing enough good for enough disparate interests to get whatever majority is needed to pass it. Making a rule or law and spending money that is supposed to be in the general interest is going affect a lot of people with differing views and interests...and swat. Somehow those must be folded together all the while avoiding goring someones ox sufficiently to stir real trouble. If you care to break that down into Parties or smaller, even within those there are going to be a lot of conflicting ideas. Toss on top of all that rules concerning process and you actually have something fairly difficult to do. Maybe judging from some results it's too easy, but it's what we've got.

We frequently refer to these people as our leaders. There is a problem with that word in that it has several concepts or models involved in it. A leader in the military model gives orders, a leader on a basketball court may have no authority whatever beyond example. In the political model we frequently look at them and accuse them of being too slow to provide changes. That is the piece I'm addressing here.

When you look at the messiness of getting things done politically you have to understand where the will to get things done comes from - answering to the voters at election time. It is common practice to look back and talk about socio-political changes as though they were the same thing. They aren't. Politics lags society in almost every case, the change has already occurred when it is codified as law or budget. Civil Rights is often held up as a political process, that might be accurate in the respect that in some places it was forced down the local throat by law or budget, but it was not a political change creating something that didn't exist. Civil Rights Legislation could not have happened if most of the country was not disgusted with its lack and in favor of the principles involved. Civil Rights happened because most of America wanted it to, because society had moved in its orientation on the issue.

You can look at that particular example and talk about what factors moved society, but at the bottom it wasn't because politicians wanted to deal with it. There were a lot of political considerations and actual outcomes that argued against it, but it was politically an untenable position to ignore it. Society proposed and politics disposed. Great rhetoricians are credited with molding social opinion, nonsense. What rhetoric can do is reach an already formed opinion and awaken it into action or upper consciousness, it will not create such a thing out of nothingness. Hitler did not create the motivations for his toxic policies, he took the existing anger, frustration, helplessness, and racism of Germany and used it, he did not create it. Through dictatorial powers he carried on a government that may have imposed on the society what it did not intend, but imposition through force on a national scale is a different thing. Even propaganda has to have an opening, otherwise it is simply laughable or sickening - judge that by our own reaction to Nazi propaganda of the period. Outside of generations long existence through force a government cannot impose social consciousness, you have to start pretty young and nurture through a lot of exposure such a thing.

American social thought is a true hodge podge. Our society is such a mixture of cultures and societies and religions that there is a natural tension occurring at almost all times between them. What happens is that over time and exposure to ideas we become more comfortable with each other's ideas and at some point something approximating agreement occurs on some issue. There are entire large sections of large libraries devoted to the subject so I'll just stay away from trying to point out how it happens - we know it does happen. It is not a top down phenomenon, it happens because we keep rubbing up against each other and some common chord comes out of it. There is some tipping point where it becomes obvious that the change has occurred, and suddenly we act surprised as though it jumped out full grown from its womb.

The issue of civil rights was around preceding our foundation as a nation in this country, a bloody war was fought over it, a bloody reaction happened, and so it went back and forth even now. Martin Luther King could not have had his movement if the country was not ready for it. This takes nothing away from King, it is simply a fact that it would have been mercilessly crushed unless enough of the nation was ready for it. King and the others reached people because they were ready to be reached, the opinion already existed. It may have been at a level of consciousness where it was not really a part of people's lives until he poked at it and brought it forward, but it was there.

Politics always lags this process, the art of the possible demands that it is possible. Other than on rare occasions the public motivators of sentiment to make things politically possible aren't politicians. Attempting to raise consciousness as a politician is a risky behavior, it puts you ahead of expressed will and for politicians that certainly opens them to criticism they easily may not be able to counter or deflect. This is the part of the process that disappoints me. We have put together a system of governance where boldness in this respect is actively discouraged. In the face of that reality, the challenge is to overcome its existence.

The real crunch is what that requires because most of it is in short supply, the first being patience. If you're proposing change of any particular import it is going to take quite awhile for the rough edges to get rubbed off enough to have some kind of consensus and the bigger the idea the longer that's going to take. You are going to have to achieve some sort of authority to speak to the issue, you can talk all day long to no effect if nobody is listening because they have no reason to take you seriously. You have to develop a platform to speak from, if nobody can hear you, nobody is listening. Finally you have to have the skill to reach into people and strum that string they hadn't noticed and get music from it. Charisma helps, but don't mistake that for the ability to know how to reach that thought and the reasonableness to bring it forward as an issue.

A person of intelligence is able to learn and earn all of those requirements. It certainly isn't for the faint hearted or weak willed because the cost in time and effort is large. This blog takes a lot of political stands, but much of it is dedicated to social consciousness rather than a narrow political issue. I spend a lot of effort within the political structure, but most of my efforts are directed at the lower end of it rather than elected officials, when I talk to them I try to bring the possible to their attention or the developing possible. At the lower end, the activists, it is a matter of trying to multiply effort through the acquisition of additional voices and providing what tools I can. As a public speaker I do not have movie star charisma, I am neither pretty nor is my voice suitable for more than talking, but I have had some success at it. I strongly encourage anyone with the time and patience to take a stab at it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Niccolo Machiavelli and The Prince

Because the sitemeter shows repeated and long term hits to a post Machiavellian Politics, I decided that I'd make my third or fourth reading of 'The Prince.' I first read the book in the mid-60s in junior high school, again later in high school or college or both - I forget. Suffice to say, that was awhile ago and perspectives change with age and the times. I know I read it in junior high primarily as history, as I remember the later readings were from a political perspective. This reading is made in my mid-50s with a lot of water under bridges of various construction.

Machiavelli was born in 1469 to a family with political background and he was raised with republican (of the times) sentiment. In adulthood he held various governmental, ambassadorial and military postings. He left governmental service after 14 years, apparently in poor financial straights, evidently an honest man. "The Prince" was written over the course of several months in 1513 and was originally intended to be given to Guiliano de' Medici but kept in his desk until after Guiliano's death in 1516 and dedicated and sent to Lorenzo de' Medici. Lorenzo did not acknowledge the book and it wasn't printed until 1532, 5 years after Machiavelli's death.

'The Prince' is very much a product of its time, it was written in a period of warring city states with much of Italy under foreign domination by France and Spain with the Papacy in rising political power. Political murder was common as were shifting alliances and mercenary armies, a mainstay of many Italian city states (and Italy's downfall in M's view). It is a modest sized book even by the standards of the day amounting to just over 100 pages in modern print. Taken as a schematic for governing it is frozen in its milieu, but taken as observations of the nature of political thinking and sociological condition it is the product of an intelligent and observant participant in some of the rawest uses of political power. This was a period in a country in which the strangulation of 13 perceived political rivals by Cesare Borgia at a dinner party or the murder of an entire family of relatives by Oliverto da Fermo was tolerated and there was near constant warfare between city states and with foreign governments mixed in. One might forgive Machiavelli the observation that men are, by nature, bad.

'The Prince' contains observations of the political condition that may or may not be timeless, but are still applicable today. He notes, for instance, that in the question of whether as a Prince it is better to be loved or feared and the best of being both is unattainable that it is better to be feared which can be maintained but that loved is inconstant. While fear is better, the Prince must not be hated. The fear that Machiavelli refers to is not the sort of naked fear inspired by a Stalin, but rather the inevitable consequences attendant to conspiring against the state - a potential rather than terrorism. Taken in a modern sense with the State replacing the Prince it is the knowledge that acts against the State, foreign or domestic, will be met with overwhelming power and absolute sureness. It is the message to Timothy McVeighs that you will be caught, prosecuted, and punished, it is the clear statement to the Soviets that an attack would involve massive and catastrophic nuclear retaliation, it was the idea behind Afghanistan. But note the attached corollary about hate, the Prince - or State - cannot behave in a manner that creates hate and disgust, a lesson forgotten with the Iraq War or the Bush war on civil liberties and civil discourse. This concept is twined throughout 'The Prince', it is the iron fist in a velvet glove.

A recurring theme of the book is that the Prince is best served by the loyalty and affection of the masses. It is very nearly matched in frequency by the notion that the masses are more informed by appearances than fact. The power structures that Machiavelli breaks the political world into are the masses, the military,and the nobles with religion as a separate and distinct one. It takes little to push those groupings into a modern structure and apply Machiavelli's analysis. The masses of today are more and yet less informed than the masses of his time, in his time the personage of the Prince was a neighbor, an individual present on the scene and while the level of literacy and press was considerably lesser, there is an informational advantage to nearness. I have been close enough to Barack Obama to personally read his expressions and body language as he spoke and answered unscripted questions, that places me in a vanishingly small minority of this nation, the people of the city states of Machiavelli's time lived with their Princes. The weaponry and sophistication and application of military power has changed since that time, but the essential job has not. That essential job brings a mindset with it, to finely analyse it would require much more patience than any reader of this blog has. The nobility of the time remains, today we call them Congress, lobbyists, plutocrats, and some others. Machiavelli's Prince is to put the masses first and the nobility last with the military in a shifting second regard. The nobility is untrustworthy, they have agendas of their own and a general dislike from the citizenry which most bears their affronts and provides the real political threats to the power of the Prince. It does not force an analogy to see connections to the modern political world.

In the face of very recent history, Machiavelli's analysis of the Prince's ministers deserves some real attention. Machiavelli sees the ministers/advisers to the Prince as the most visible elements of his power and essential to the promulgation of policy...and as scapegoats. Machiavelli asserts that the quality of the ministers is a direct consequence of the quality of the Prince. A perspicacious Prince will choose high quality ministers and be served well by them, an inept Prince will surround himself with ineptness. The ministers are never to usurp the authority of the Prince, but are to understand that only the truth will suffice as answers. The Prince cannot function with the inaccuracy of the flatterers and they are to be avoided as much as politically possible. Because the ministers are the visible hands of the Prince he will be held responsible by the populace for their actions and because they are his advisers his action will be affected by their input, again subjecting the Prince to the approval of the people for the actions of his ministers. No advisor is to be allowed to presume preeminence in an area as that usurps the authority of the Prince and encourages it in the minister. Because a competent Prince will have chose well in his advisers the Prince should trust them, but watch them - because they have been given access to power.

No discussion of 'The Prince ' could be made without reference to, "the ends justify the means." This is a paraphrase of a paragraph and really of several mostly dealing with the necessity of the Prince being able to adjust to changing circumstances and that when he cannot be good to be bad. It is a very nearly accurate description of that particular section of the book. Machiavelli places the continuance of the State and the Prince ahead of narrow questions of morality while encouraging at the least the appearance of piety. Oddly considering his credit for the phrase, it is a course he consistently places below actual honorable behavior. In consideration of the realities of his times in that place it is somewhat surprising that he does not place it at the head of his list of behaviors rather than as seemingly a last resort. This was an incredibly dangerous and violent world he moved in and presumed to advise. It is doubtful that most leaders of the time, including Popes, could avoid life sentences in today's America. He does quite baldly advise that the Prince is not consider himself bound by his word, or treaties, or ethics if the situation calls for it, because - men are, by nature, bad; and will not on their part be bound by any such considerations. Taking that as the measure of 'The Prince' or Niccolo Machiavelli is a simplistic mistake and misses entirely the major thrust of the work.

This is scarcely an in depth analysis of 'The Prince', Machiavelli, or Italy of the time. It is intended to whet interest and discussion of a historically important book that has resonance today and probably into the future. It is certainly not an endorsement of the political structures within which Machiavelli lived, but an acknowledgement that observation of events and analysis of motivations is informative across centuries and cultures. If like myself you haven't read it in quite awhile or have never read it, it is worth the couple hours it takes to read and reflect.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Xe, Pronounced "Z" ?

I'm not sure if Republican, Halliburton, GWB, or Blackwater is the most toxic brand in America right now, but the right wing mercenary group Blackwater found a new moniker according to McClatchy's News & Observer and that is "Z" spelled Xe. Nobody at the company was apparently willing or able to explain exactly what that means other than a "new direct" for the company.

With Iraq refusing to let them continue to operate in their country and Congressional members calling for their firing from US embassy employments and a lawsuit they will now focus on training law enforcement and military groups a company spokesman said.

I'm willing to speculate about that bunch. You might find something rather Orwellian or Sci-fi in a name like "Z". You might wonder if the billion dollars or so paid to right wing Eric Prince not continuing to happen and legal difficulties and a black Democratic President may have caused a meltdown for him. Xe is strange enough even for a bunch as strange as them. Generally a name change is part of a publicity campaign, a new name is a branding that has resonance with the public. This thing resonates all right, but it is a really very discordant sort vibe. You find yourself wondering what secret society meaning lurks in there. I mean, really, you don't suppose this is supposed to be the Xe meaning the colorless, odorless, inert gas xenon, do you? In that case wouldn't it be pronounced "Zee Non"?

It may be hard hearted in a failing economy to wish these people ill, but real serious unemployment by that bunch would please me no end. People like them make me very happy to be well armed, especially when they're allowed to operate in distressed areas like New Orleans. I'm a tad concerned when the US government plows over a billion dollars into a private militia and gives them rein in this country. I don't have a bit of a problem with Americans being armed and even less of a problem with our police being armed, but government sponsored private militias do concern me, particularly when they're hard core right wing nut cakes.

BTW, anybody who thinks full automatic weapons belong in law enforcement's arsenal is crazy. Law enforcement activities always involve civilian arenas and that means that pray and spray is a very bad idea. Aimed fire is hard enough in stress conditions, witness police hit rates, without high volume fire rates thrown into that inaccuracy.

Blackwater, or Xe, is a dangerous entity, proven so by facts on the ground. Letting these maniacs have any governmental money is lunacy and needs to stop - now, not later. If you'd like your cops trained by the same bunch that murdered 17 Iraqis in one fell swoop with military weaponry and are now charged with manslaughter you've got some pretty tolerant standards. I don't.

I'm astonished that any politician that even speaks the words "gun control" isn't on this bunch like flies on poop. If you don't think after seeing the atmosphere promoted by BushCo that there isn't plenty of real nasty stuff lurking inside Z the 10+% who like Cheney will welcome you home.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Fox News In The US

Steve Benen in Washington Monthly details the route of a deliberate lie made by Betsy McCaughey in a Bloomberg OpEd to national attention. Oh, yes, it is a lie and from her to Rush to Drudge to Fox it grew in stature and stupidity of wrongness. The piece is interesting but I'm not going to detail it here because what is germane is that it is a lie and bruited about by Fox for the benefit of the right wing and big pharma.

The first question that should occur to anyone about the spread of lies by media is who gains and then why is it in the offenders' interests. That Rupert Murdoch is a right wing jerk is known, but why is it so important to his network to promote Republicans? You have to stop and remember that the economy is important to any business and larger ones have more to lose and a harder time recovering. There is more to the blatant boosterism than ownership's ideology.

To get to where we are in this discussion you have to know that the US government regulates the airwaves because they are held to be owned by the public, as a limited public resource and to be used for the benefit of the US public. The broadcast spectrum in the US belongs to the American public and is leased to private enterprise. Now one of the factors involved in the US ownership of the airwaves is the consideration that foreign control of them is counter to that idea. When NewsCorp showed up in the US Rupe wasn't a citizen and the corporation was foreign controlled, a real not in the rules situation for use of more than a very limited amount of spectrum. Yes, this was a known right wing organization from its editorial policies world wide, but the US market was out in any meaningful way.

Now, if you are a world wide businessman with right wing sensibilities and you can't get into the biggest market there is, what do you do? Well, what you do is make yourself a friend to the political establishment and Rupe got his waiver of the damn rules from GHW Bush. You can thank the Republicans, as Rupe does, for the very existence of NewsCorp in the US as a meaningful business. Understand the depth of the debt owed to Republicans by Rupe and the entire operations of NewsCorp - world wide. The world's largest market by exponential factors became his playground. It is doubtful that any business in the world owes more to a single Party than NewsCorp, though Blackwater and Haliburton have something in that arena, but penny ante in scale.

The next time somebody asks you to take FauxNews seriously on a political issue you can quite truthfully and with a straight face ask them why you should take a Republican creation seriously.

Chuck Absent With Cause

As I watched the stimulus bill running through the Senate I began to get disturbed. As the thing went to a Senate vote I very nearly lost my mind. I watched the Democrats put Republican junk tax measures into a bill to create and protect jobs, on their own. Then they decided they had to buy off three confounded Republicans by building a small r republican bill. I didn't just do the work and spend the money on this election to get Reaganism. I mean that. I did not. I have suffered a lot of bullshit over 37 years of being a registered Democrat, from my Party and particularly from the other one. I am politically left, not liberal, not progressive - left. I'm a small businessman so obviously I'm not a communist or socialist, but I'm sick of watching this country be run exclusively for the benefit of the plutocracy.

I'm political realist enough to recognize that my version of leftism isn't happening suddenly or without a lot of ground preparation. I don't expect to get my way. What I cannot and will not accept without bomb throwing is doing things the way the other side wants it done, in the same failed nonsense methodology. I won't accept mortgaging my kids' future to play Republicanism after an election like this one and in the situation we're in. No Damn Way.

I shut up, I waited to see what the process was going to play out as once the Senate BS version hit the House. I don't like it. I also don't hate it enough to believe it is the end for me and politics. It hasn't done my enthusiasm level a bit of good. It isn't enough for me to play opposition to the stupidity of the Republican Party, I do politics to help my nation and especially its citizens. OK, here I am, again.

Not The Party Of No?

Rep John Boehner (R-O) is the House Minority Leader, the guy who stated that the Republicans were not the Party Of No. That minority is 42% of the House, considering the number size of House Districts, that means somewhere near 42% of Americans are represented, fairly accurately by their politics since most of those remaining House Republican seats were pretty safe bets. In electoral politics if you don't reach a 47% threshold you can pretty much consider yourself to have been handed your ass in a bag. Consider that a young, somewhat inexperienced black man held an old "been around for ever" white guy to just under 47%, House Republicans are less popular. Apparently there is something not real hot about Republican politics.

The stimulus bill that House and Senate conferees agreed on contains around 32% tax cuts. The Senate bill infuriated some Democrats - this one for sure - and while the conference bill has enough problems, primarily the sops to Senate Republicans, it isn't so offensive as to create a revolt from the left and more than grumbling from the middle. To be perfectly clear, the current tax system needs to be addressed, the tax encouraged upward shift of wealth is disgraceful, but a stimulus bill isn't the place for it. The actual dollar numbers going to tax payers are nearly meaningless individually, but in the aggregate conspire to blow an even bigger hole in the federal budget.

Republicans voted in lock step, NO. They once again trotted out their philosophy that people are better judges of how to spend "their" money than the government is. 'Spend, spend, spend,' was their complaint. What the Republicans will not explain, other than just claim, is exactly how it is that the pittance any tax break supplies to the vast majority of Americans will be spent in a manner that will generate or sustain employment. Americans are still buying the small dollar purchases that would be covered under a tax break that was spent rather than being saved or paid toward debt. Government has the ability to pool money and make large purchases, an ability a taxpayer only has through the mechanism of debt, something not so easy to acquire at this point and probably not a real good idea for many.

Republican hate for taxes has over the years from Ronnie Reagan has become virtually knee jerk. Government is bad and taxes are evil. Republicans proved they can make government bad and they've shown clearly how their version of tax policy works out. Boehner's crew has made it clear that they were happy to take their vote back to their constituents and that they made the vote based on their constituents and a bad bill. This is a big bet they're making.

The Republicans have made it clear that they had no hand in the crafting of the bill, not quite true - but they're saying it, so the only upside for them is if it fails. If it succeeds they cannot claim credit for their Party ideology, though they're already starting the push for the claim that recovery would, in the future, have happened without the debt. In order to run a "heads we win, tails you lose" strategy they need to position themselves to claim that failure of the bill to perform was due to the lack of their ideology and if it succeeds to claim that everything was going to be fine, anyhow, and the government just busted the budget for no reason. Right now the latter piece is a bit touchy, voters don't think things are going to be just fine. The words are already out there, though quietly. The problem with the "told ya so" strategy is that it will only play with the base, average voter just don't want to play labrynith reasoning.

Bipartisanship is one of things that sounds really nice to say, but in practice is brutally ugly. The short end must see either over-riding national benefit, unlikely, or some political gain to be obtained. If ideology isn't to trump national interest about the only thing that would do it is warfare. Go ahead and try to come up with another issue where ideology isn't going to trump. There may be some issues where bits and pieces of the Republican Caucus can see sufficient local gain to get political cover for breaking ranks, but it will be the same game that ex-Sen Smith (R-OR) and Rep Greg Walden (R-OR2) used. Republican Party leadership didn't need their votes and allowed them to meet Oregon's political climate. A review of their votes and the margins will easily demonstrate that.

If there is an aspect of bipartisanship that could be achieved and that would be actually useful it would be in the tone of rhetoric and collegiality in Congress. It is not in the national interest to have our leaders throwing Molotov cocktails, publicly or privately. There is a problem, Boehner and Cantor are both bomb throwers, check their history of statements. It is a bit difficult to be friends with someone who in essence calls you a dirt bag and liar publicly. These are the people who will be the public face of House Republicans and they don't have a bit of a problem with bending or manufacturing facts. Barack Obama had better be careful that reaching across the aisle also means getting your hand back with all its fingers.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Sweet Smell of Success...and Burning Flesh

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Kadima have led the Israeli government into Lebanon and Gaza and it is looking much like an electoral defeat as a result. In the face of the spectacular destruction in Lebanon Hamas is a power, even more so and after the wreckage of Gaza rockets continue to fly into Ashkelon.
McClatchy's Cliff Churgin quotes 37 year old teacher Rosie:
"Last time I voted for Kadima, but now I'm thinking of voting for Likud," she said. "They promised us security, but the conditions my children live in are unacceptable."
"I want someone who will give us security. I don't care what the world thinks," she said. "My son is 2 years old, and to see him during the sirens is not a reality I'm willing to live with."

It looks as though the big winner in the coming elections will be the far right Yisrael Beiteinu party, headed by hard-liner Avigdor Lieberman, which will head into 3rd largest. This party will remind Americans of a few things, maybe best distant memories, such as calls for a citizenship law that would call on all citizens to sign loyalty oaths to the Jewish state. Failure to sign would result in losing the right to vote or to be elected. I happen to find the party slogan, "Without loyalty there is no citizenship," a bit Stalinist or Hitlerian for my taste but perhaps Jews have a different perspective? That stuff in itself would be discouraging but then there is the issue of the right's stance on Jerusalem, the West Bank, etc and no compromise whatever with Arabs.
Dr. Etta Bick of the Ariel University Center in the West Bank said that voters were moving right because of a change in priorities,

"The issue, if not the peace process . . . is security, and on security the public is on the right," Bick said. "There is disillusion about the peace process."

This is said as though there was a peace process, on much of anybody's part. Such doubt as I'm raising might be considered to tossing un-aimed rockets and roadside bombs and a few other Palestinian techniques.

In something like this conflict where there are racial, religious, historical, and even regional incitements to continue the slaughter a bit more incitement for political ends is to be expected. In order to get around to doing something a tad different it would seem that the pain of staying in the same mess needs to exceed all the excuses and that's probably a lot of pain. These people are full of excuses (and some other brown stuff), everybody has done something to everybody and that doing is inexcusable and must be met with force. It is a flatly ridiculous idea that they quit inciting each other.

So we have success coming our way, the asshats from Hamas and Hezbollah will get the asshats from the Israeli right to play with. This ought to mean the measure of goodness is the volume of opposition blood running on the ground. Evidently rearranging the debris that is Gaza and adding a bit more was a good idea, damn near as good an idea as tossing undirected high explosives at the most dangerous dog on the block.

It is probably time to offer sanctuary to the few on each side who disapprove of such behavior in some American enclaves and let them have at each other. Let their bloodthirsty gods sort them out, thought the Palestinians probably need a few more guns and bullets to make it really interesting.

BTW, I highly recommend McClatchy if for no more reason than that they still employ some of Knight Ridder's truth telling squad.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Fine, Explain This To Me

Tonight the news is reporting that in an effort to get to 60 votes the US Senate has split the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into a 58% spending and 42% tax break division. We have had eight years of BushCo tax nonsense and now, after the 2008 election we are finding out that it was just starting?

Was there an election in 2008 or are the same idiots still running the show? You are telling me that two Republican Senators cost $320 Billion? Why did we bother to vote? Thirty years of Republicanism have driven this economy in the ditch and they get to keep driving? Rather than make the thugs from the Red side actually filibuster (this is an error, it is a matter of deficit spending requiring 3/5) they get 42% of a recovery bill that's supposed to help with the mess they've made?

Somebody real important had better explain this crap.

I'm about this " far from taking a walk, I put work and money and time into electing Democrats so I can have ... Republicanism and an argument about the 2nd Amendment? I'm supposed to stand still for being lied into supporting the cause of the pricks who wrecked this economy and trashed the Constitution? 58 votes aren't enough for you people to stand the hell up and make those Republicans do an actual filibuster? I'll be Go To Hell.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Cactus 1549 And Capt Sullenberger

The ditching in the Hudson has been called miraculous and while it is an astonising thing the critics of the term miraculous are correct. Passenger jet aircraft are designed to keep air in, which is more difficult than keeping water out, they are designed to sustain the stresses of turbulence, and they are to stay together during very rough landings so the aircraft should be able to survive landing in relatively smooth water and float for awhile. It should be able to survive if it is put down at the proper angle and at a survivable speed. That part is the real
kicker, a passeneger jet whose engines have ingested birds becomes a very tricky piece of equipement with absolutely no second tries. This aircraft is coming down and there is only a question of how hard. It has a "glide path" of sorts, rocks do worse, but it isn't a low speed aircraft and it needs a large volume of air passing over the wings to have meaningful lift and that means speed.

Captain Sullenberger called LaGuardia tower:
"Aaah, this is Cactus 1549," he said. "We lost thrust in both engines. We are turning back toward LaGuardia."
There is conversation about LaGuardia runways before Sullenberger asks about New Jersey and Teeterboro is offered.
"We can't do it."
"Which runway at Teeterboro do you want?"
"We're going in the Hudson"
Matter of factly stated.

From a life spent living near edges I can state that nothing is gained by panic, which is simple enough to say, another thing in practice. The more people who depend on the outcome and the more complicated the situation the more difficult keeping calm becomes. I have had ordinary circumstances turn drastic, quite unforseeably drastic, with an entire family depending on my skill and decisions to keep us all alive. Do not misunderstand, this was serious enough that time dilation ocurred and any wrong move meant fatality. Since I'm writing this, you know how it worked out.

Capt. Sullenberger had hundreds of lives in his hands, his passengers, crew, and anyone in the way on the ground. He had in his hands a very large, heavy, complicated and fatally wounded aircraft and an entire lack of choices, one thing to do. Landing an aircraft is the most difficult part of flying one, landing a large one on water is the gold standard of difficulty. Film from a pier security camera shows the Airbus touching water, laying down on it, and sliding. The crew likened it to a hard landing with no bounce.

This is what it took to let the aircraft perform as designed, the calmness and skill to do exactly what the situation called for. Heroism as an adverb has been devalued in recent years and I don't care to play a role in that, this was the immaculate performance of your job in the face odds. Walking the length of a potential watery tomb twice to check for passengers may qualify, but I think it is enough to state that doing your job exactly as it should be done in these circumstances deserves our admiration.

We don't need to make up catagories for Capt. Sullenberger or mangle English, we can admire and praise his actions and his crew's actions for exactly what they are, absolute professionalism and the exact fulfillment of their job descriptions, despite anyother circumstances.

Thank you Capt Sully for demonstrating just what it does mean to do your job.

Clowns and Pretend Clowns -Andrew Card

As a man who started his career as a clown, Red Skelton had an enduring affection for the art of clowning and brought to TV its reality as an art. Red Skelton was a very funny man and he managed it with politeness and grace. He made the ridiculous sublime.

Then there is this clown, Andrew Card. Andrew is dissatisfied with the level of dress in the White House, gasp, President Obama doesn't have a problem with ties and shirt sleeves rather than suit coats and ties. Apparently a suit jacket has something to do with respect for the Office.

There is a big white building there in DC we call the White House and it has offices in it where business of the nation is done. It is no more than sticks and mortar. It has nothing to do with respect for the Office of the Presidency. We may see it as a symbol for the types of things that are supposed to happen under the Office of the Presidency, but the fact of an address has nothing to do with what is supposed to happen there. That piece is covered under a founding document and an oath and the fact of 300-plus million Americans who need a government.

Now I'm pretty sure most Americans would be surprised and disconcerted if the President instituted a pink tu-tu Friday at the office policy - including me, but really in the end I'd not give a rat's patoot if the Constitution is given its actual due. You know, the part where it is the founding law of the Nation and, by oath, the primary responsibility of the President. Andy Card says George W Bush gave the Office its due respect by requiring a suit and tie.

Red Skelton wasn't funny because of a red nose and broken top hat, he was funny because he was an artist and because he gave that art functional respect. Andy Card is funny in a sad way because he thinks dress-up time makes something real. Kind of like GWB's flight suit before the infamous banner moment. I don't blame GW Bush for the economic meltdown, just the acceleration and depth, thirty years of Republicanism did the real work. I do blame him for using the Constitution as toilet paper, I do blame him for such disrespect for the art of governing that idiots and partisan hacks were sufficient for him in the running of government. I do blame GW Bush for the lost treasure and blood in Iraq. The suit and tie rule George had in place didn't prevent any of that and it didn't make it right or better.

So Andy, pretend clown is being very generous toward those of your ilk.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Dick To Politico

Twenty some percent of Americans think BushCo did a good job. Dick Cheney is one of them. If you take out those who have to take off their shoes to count above ten and those who think god enthroned that bunch and the plutocrats who made out like the Robber Barons you're left with the pants wetters who figure Ossama Bin Laden is going to break into their house and have his way with their Cheetos and get a sick sexual satisfaction out of the idea of mistreating helpless human beings - especially if you say Islamic. Which bunch does Dick belong to? It ain't the god faction so you're left with...

I'm sure Politico figures getting the ex-Vice President talk to them is a coup. I'm just as sure it is no such thing, he'd spout his fear mongering to a gay illegal alien Martian with the IQ of a rock if he thought it would get play. Do some of you think the last election might have taught him something?

“When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry,” Cheney said.

I don't know about reading them their rights on the battle field but there is a problem.

“The United States needs to be not so much loved as it needs to be respected. Sometimes, that requires us to take actions that generate controversy. I’m not at all sure that that’s what the Obama administration believes.”
“If it hadn’t been for what we did — with respect to the terrorist surveillance program, or enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees, the Patriot Act, and so forth — then we would have been attacked again,” he said. “Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the U.S.”

So in case you're wondering what the problem is other than wet pants caused by this kind of talk, there is the little issue of trying to do something in the legal arena with these so-called miscreants. These ham fisted illegal activities that Dick is so proud of preclude courtroom convictions in anything other than a kangaroo court. That's a fine outcome if infinite illegal detention is the route you choose to take, but it is a real problem for a free nation with actual laws and even a Constitution.

If you drifted in here because Dick's name caught Google and you're offended, I have a piece of news for you, the labels are accurate and the fact that you're defined by being a cowardly traitor to the nation of the United States is an outgrowth of the nerve, dedication, and brilliance of those who founded this nation with a revolution. Being spit on would be the best treatment you could expect from those people. And I don't give a damn about Republican or Democrat or whatever, you are an award winning pussy.

The fact that Dick Cheney walks around free and is listened to by anyone is an affront to the law and the very existence of the United States of America. You're all gonna die because the Obama guy is President. I have a two word explicative for you Dick, it starts with an F and ends with a U, since the law won't do it.

Should it be necessary to mention that legal law enforcement methods had enough to stomp the 9/11 attack and the inability of our national police (FBI) and the intelligence (CIA, etc) agencies to talk to each other and act as though they have a clue was the excuse for illegal behavior by the highest officials in our nation? The absolute incompetence of those charged with our safety is reason for us to give up something? Well, there are lots of rude words for that idea as well.

It is beyond me how Dickless Cheney is relevant to a discussion of anything other than how long his jail sentence is.