Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Former President Al Gore
The Year In Review
1) Best hockey fight of the year (March 22...it's hard to believe this wasn't a weekly feature from the get-go)
2) Rupert Murdoch's homophobia rears its ugly head. (May 3)
3) Mad squirrels (June 15)
4) Was it a bad year for George Clooney or what? He cracks up his motorcycle, releases Oceans Thirteen and then this? (June 22)
5) Global warming is not just Earth's problem (June 29)
6) In just over a year, we can forget the past eight years...(July 13)
7) Why Paris Hilton will never leave the spotlight. (July 27)
8) I'm still training hard for this (August 17)
9) When bugs marry (October 12)
10) Blaming Hollywood for being a crappy screenwriter. Yup. A Republican! (November 2)
11) One final thought: isn't it ironic that, in our "global war on Islamic extremists", we've engaged countries that have had women leaders (Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia) but we deride perhaps the best qualified leader in our own country for the most trivial of reasons? Are Islamists better than we are? Smarter?
Next week: Top stories I'll be watching in 2008.
P.S. Jonah Goldberg's new book "Liberal Fascism" looks to be a sure whiner, so we should all Googlebomb it to death!
Thursday, December 27, 2007
The year is 2025. America has gone bankrupt. Eight years of Bush's overspending on a preventable war put us into such a hole that it became impossible to dig our way out, particularly after oil prices skyrocketed and the Chinese called in their chits on our debt.
America is unrecognizable. Our resources are being plundered by other nations for their own use and profit. Our citizens subsist, they no longer thrive, but for a small number who have thrown their lot in with the "invasion".
I mention all this because over the weekend I was watching one of my favorite guilty pleasures: They Live, a 1988 film directed by John Carpenter.
Ostensibly, the plot revolves around an invading army from the Andromeda galaxy that has come to earth to feed off us and our natural resources. The army has co-opted our media and advertising, sending "subliminable" messages to "OBEY. CONFORM. MARRY AND REPRODUCE. CONSUME. SLEEP."
Most people are unaware of this invasion. Some are collaborators, helping the invaders in exchange for "a little taste of that good life". A few figure out there's a problem and try to recruit an underground resistance.
And then I turned off Fox News...
1) "I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass... and I'm all out of bubblegum."
2) "You... you look like your face fell in the cheese dip back in 1957."
3) "You see, I take these glasses off, she looks like a regular person, doesn't she? Put 'em back on...formaldehyde-face!"
4) "What's wrong with having it good for a change? Now they're gonna let us have it good if we just help 'em. They're gonna leave us alone, let us make some money. You can have a little taste of that good life too. Now I know you want it, hell everybody does. What's the threat? We all sell out every day, might as well be on the winning team."
Who do you think will be at the border, welcoming the Chinese businessmen in with open arms and deposit slips?
When the dust settles and history has its say on the Bush administration's ill-conceived and tragically executed Middle East and South Asia policy, this one event may end up being the capstone, the signature event that ties together the utter abject lunacy of the warmongers in this nation:
RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistan former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has died after a suicide bombing that killed at least 14 of her supporters, ex-government spokesman Tariq Azim Khan and Pakistan's primary television networks said.The execution-style assassination speaks to a pretty clear plot, and the suspects are fairly likely: the military.
Bhutto suffered bullet wounds in the aftermath of the bomb attack, TV networks report.
Finally, Bush has pushed an "ally" to the brink. Pakistanis are not oparticularly endeared to Pervez Musharraf, who was seen as caving into Bush's imperial hubris. The return of Bhutto, supported by the United States, put Musharraf in a bind and left him not a lot of wriggle room. It was clear the US wanted him defanged.
To be clear, he was never a staunch ally of US policy, just US money. The link between Pakistan's covert intelligence service, the ISI, and the terrorists who brought down four planes into two cities here in the United States are pretty clear, and it's pretty clear that Musharraf had at least condoned that funding.
While we've been hunting terrorists in southern Afghanistan, Musharraf has been cutting asylum deals with tribes in northern Pakistan, on the border of Afghanistan, that precluded searches in those regions for Al Qaeda and Taliban forces.
Indeed, it almost seems he has stood four-square against our interests. While we've been working hard to prop up the Karzai government in Afghanistan, he's been engaged in cross-border bickering over the tribal regions.
He has power, and he intends to keep it, and it's looking more and more by any means necessary. Earlier today, a rally for another more moderate former Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, was disrupted by bombs that killed 4 people. And now this. And all this comes on the heels of a deliberate and planned program to disrupt large political rallies, such as the one on October 18, when 136 people died and nearly 400 were injured, as Bhutto's triumphant return was marred by a suicide bomber.
This is a dangerous man with a nuclear bomb who's nation has a history of supporting terrorists that have attacked America.
You know, an ally.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
When you spend your days reading blog after blog in Blogtopia (© Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo), you forget there's an entire moderate-progressive movement out there that makes you look like a left-winger.
Indeed, yesterday's thoughtpiece on Christ, Christmas and living life in the 21st Century made me cringe a little to post: it firmly placed me in the Ceiling Cat corner. Someone who believes in a traditional religious experience, not atheist, and not sardonically supporting the Flying Spaghetti Monster in some hipster rank-out on his upbringing.
Reading blog after blog, you find that Hillary is a criminal (or worse, a sell-out), Obama's cool, Edwards is even cooler but looks like he won't make it (but we should all support him anyway), and why in the hell don't the Democrats in Congress show some backbone and impeach the bastards?
And then, you take a breath and read a story like this, and you realize that so little of the left-wing of this country, nevermind the electorate, is represented on-line:
While they overwhelmingly support that agenda, the bloc of freshmen has begun casting votes against such minor procedural motions in an effort, Democratic sources and Republican critics say, to demonstrate their independence from their leadership. The number of votes that the potentially vulnerable newcomers to Capitol Hill cast against House leaders is tallied and watched closely by interest groups and political foes.And then you remember that, if it wasn't for these "conservative Democrats," there wouldn't even BE a chance to talk about the crimes of this administration: Democrats wouldn't be in charge, and we'd be watching the dodderings of Dennis Hastert and Trent Lott in the leadsership roles.
Such is the political life of many of the 42 freshman House Democrats, a sizable number of them moderates and conservatives who must straddle the fence between supporting their party's interests and distancing themselves from a mostly liberal leadership as they gear up for their first reelection battle next fall.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of the party's leadership are happy to tolerate the independence on procedural matters. Less than three hours after opposing the late-October journal vote, the same six freshmen sided with Pelosi as Democrats tried, and failed, to override President Bush's veto of a bill to expand the State Children's Health Insurance Program by $35 billion over five years, legislation that Pelosi has called her "crown jewel."
Try telling that to the more militant rabble on the left, however.
To give you an idea how valuable these freshmen are:
Protecting the 42 freshman Democrats, the largest partisan class since 73 Republicans took office in 1994, has been the top priority for key Democratic strategists such as Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.). The freshmen get special treatment from leaders, including a weekly meeting with Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.). And they receive frequent advice on how to vote from Emanuel and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.Those are some pretty heavy hitters. My suspicion is, there's an even smaller core that get direction straight from Pelosi.
This isn't about power. It's about preventing another 109th Congress, and watching the pickings of the American economy get plucked by Republicans and their cronies at the expense of the middle- and working-class Americans they would court for votes.
Imagine the recent sub-prime mortgage debacle as handled by Republicans, for example. It would have been hushed up and hidden until after next November, at which point a) it would have been too late to help ten million American familes and b) the banks would have gotten away wholly scot-free, whereas now there's still a chance that they'll be held accountable for their predatory lending practices.
It is a compromise, I know, but it's one that simply has to be done right now. There's not a lot of wiggle room. The Republicans aren't defeated and crushed yet.
This does bring a new dynamic to Congress in 2008. My guess is, keep an eye out for a lot of sub-committee and committee meetings on a variety of topics, just to put them on the table, like wire-tapping and other crimes against humanity and civil rights by the Bushies.
Just don't expect them to come to the floor until after November 4. Then look out.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
...so what have you done?
We live in terrfying times: terrifying men who do terrifying things with terrifying consequences. Our economy is on the brink of disaster. Our world about to crumble around us to satisfy the greed and lust and jealousy of small people. And there is precious little you or I can do to prevent this from happening. These events are larger than we.
Luke 2:10-11 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.Today, we must cling to whatever faith we have on this planet, whether it be Jesus or Yahweh, Buddha or Mohammad, Triple Goddess or the Protector.
Today, we must remember that it is vitally important that, in our own lives, we live the examples set forth for us.
When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying...We dedicate our lives to live in the Graces that Jesus has stated so clearly here, and that others before and since have reminded us since time immemorial.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.
No sardonic cynical "thousand points of light" can persuade us to be the kind of people we want to be. It is in our nature to be kind, just as it is in our nature to be evil.
And we feel small against the world, so who could blame us for wanting vengeance against those who have taken this world from the collective soul of its people? The frustration of that vengeance mounts as we learn that we may never collect that pound of flesh.
Instead, we must turn our light on, and welcome those who, like us, travel these treacherous roads filled with bandits and bastards, and shine the path ahead for them, as those who have come before us have shined their lights for our feet to follow.
The essence of goodness within us flows from us, but also to us, restoring our souls. It is not God who maketh us lie beside still waters, but the pieces of God within all of us who have prepared the table and the road.
There will be those who would take advantage of your goodness. Let them. Learn from them. Unwittingly, they have given you a gift far more valuable than the purse they have stolen from you.
Money can always be made, but lessons cannot be unlearned. The lesson that generosity is its own reward is one that will be tested and tested again. The trouble with our society is its objectivity. We measure based on a demonstrable scale or dollars and cents, but our lives are lived in a far more precise mode: we each know the balance between what we have, what we need, and what we want. Gnothi Seauton. Know Thyself.
It is those whom mock and antagonize us to live a different lifestyle who will not inherit the peace that we inherit when the time comes. They win by making us forfeit that peace.
We win by refusing to give in. To thine own self be true. You have a value to yourself that far exceeds any riches you are promised "if you just buy this car". Who you are, what you know, is enough. You have all the tools you will ever need to live the life you want to live. You are enough.
Those who would call you unChristian you may mock, for it is written:
Mathew 6:6-7 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.You are not alone. We who strive for grace are all around you, praying in secret as the Lord commanded. It may not seem that way, when all around we hear our faith being trampled by those who would warp and twist the Word for their own use. Their hearts are hardened.
But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Ours are not. We are the willows in the winds of time. We will stand against this storm, just as we have stood against all storms of the past. And we will pass along what we know to a new generation, and seed the ground, inches at a time.
This is what we have done. This is what we shall do. May peace be with you all, my friends.
Monday, December 24, 2007
...all these bubbles bursting. Only it ain't champagne, more like sewage.
The housing market boom has turned to bust, and with it topple many cherished ideals of the Republican party platform: specifically, in this case, the tax cut.
When Bush proposed his tax cuts, coming on the heels of the first balanced budgets in decades and the first budget surplus in centuries, it was assumed that much of the tax burden would shift down the government scale: states and localities would be forced to raise revenue in order to finance unfunded mandates the Republican Congress was throwing their way, like, say No Child Left Behind.
States and localities, of course, were having their own tax battles. No one in their right mind, in the greed infested environment so polluted with the nonsensical notion that tax cuts were actually *good* for the economy, was about to impose new taxes.
Salvation came in the form of the housing bubble. A community could merely tweak the tax rate slightly, and generate brand new revenue based solely on the fact that house values were skyrocketing and all the community had to do was keep appraisals in line with that valuation.
Worked fine until the bubble burst:
The real estate frenzy that once filled public coffers with property taxes has over the last two years given way to a devastating bust. Rather than christening new facilities, the mayor [Eric Feichthaler, Cape Coral, Florida] finds himself picking through the wreckage of speculative excess and broken dreams.So let me draw the picture for you: a lower tax base from the Federal government on down to your city or town; a crumbling infrastructure in terms of bridges (remember the I-35 bridge in Minnesota?), highways, streets, and public facilities like schools, hospitals, and services like police and fire departments; a shrinking tax base as baby-boomers begin to retire, forcing Social Security to call in its chits from the general tax revenue; an aging population demanding health care reform; a horribly tragic, wasteful war that's drained one trillion dollars plus from our collective nest eggs-- and the worst is yet to come.
Last month, the city eliminated 18 building inspector jobs and 20 other positions within its Department of Community Development. They were no longer needed because construction has all but ceased. The city recently hired a landscaping company to cut overgrown lawns surrounding hundreds of abandoned homes.
“People are underwater on their houses, and they have just left,” Mr. Feichthaler says. “That road widening may have to wait. It will be difficult to construct the high school. We know there are needs, but we are going to have to wait a little bit.”
Waiting, scrimping, taking stock: This is the vernacular of the moment for a nation reckoning with the leftovers of a real estate boom gone sour. From the dense suburbs of northern Virginia to communities arrayed across former farmland in California, these are the days of pullback: with real estate values falling, local governments are cutting services, eliminating staff and shelving projects.
Next year, another two million or so mortgages will have to be re-assessed as they are due for drastic rate hikes. That's going to create yet another contraction in the real estate market (barring a drastic intervention by the Fool On The Hill, George W Bush) that's going to fling off yet another wave of revenue cuts for states and communities.
And yet, Republicans nationwide applaud this kind of shit. I guess living in a gated community has some advantages but what happens when the gatekeepers can't get to work or can't get to an emergency room? Gates can trap inside as well as keep people out.
Not a pretty picture for the holiday season, huh?
Sunday, December 23, 2007
In feudal times, all who worked for the lord of the land submitted to droit du seigneur, which demanded, among other things, any virgin woman to be married was offered to the manorist first, in order to deflower her (aka prima nocti, or law of the first night).
Should she be silly or unlucky enough to become pregnant, well, that was her family's burden. In addition to spreading his genetic material (believing that peasants and serfs were of lesser blood, so "improving" his people), it was also a form of suppression: by humiliating his charges, they would be less likely to rise up in revolt or even to ask a boon of the lord.
Well, to no one's surprise, this elitist, royalist tradition continues today, albeit in a mutated form:
A Treasury-backed plan to stabilize a vital segment of the credit markets has been shelved, the banks involved said yesterday.This plan was a key privatized element of Bush's mortgage "bailout" plan, supposedly directed at borrowers but in truth, designed more to protect lenders.
The strategy called for banks across the globe to create a $100 billion fund aimed at jump-starting the troubled market for short-term loans, acting like a credit card for companies.
But the architects of the plan, which was developed by Citigroup and other leading financial institutions at series of meetings convened by Treasury officials this fall, struggled to recruit other banks and called it quits this week.
The larger commercial banks, like Citibank or JP Morgan Chase, could afford to absorb some of the shortfalls and defaults that would cripple smaller lenders. The $100 million fund would limit their losses to this amount, and that risk would be spread out across a number of banks around the world.
Makes sense, right? This way, the credit markets don't dry up so quickly, and might even weather the storm.
So why is this being shelved?
Earlier this week, Paulson and the banks behind the plan said they were committed to its establishment. That changed yesterday after Treasury officials and the banks, which included Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase, said that the fund was "not needed at this time" because market conditions had improved.Subtle, that.
Market conditions have improved, a little (read: bank earnings have stabilized), but the economy itself (and the money that goes to pay mortgages) has not. In business-speak, the banks took a look at the risk and realized they were a lot more likely to lose the entire $100 million than they were a month ago:
The plan would have helped major issuers of asset-backed commercial paper called structured investment vehicles (SIVs). These semi-independent funds, set up by Wall Street banks to make complicated investments, have suffered deeply from the credit crunch.Prima Nocti, indeed. These guys pumped the American homeowner full of their vile seed, and now walk away with millions of pregnant mortgages about to come due, which they can easily write off their books now. Essentially, the banks are telling Paulson, the Treasury Department and the Bush administration, "Screw you, this is your problem, you fix it!"
The SIVs issue short-term loans and invest that money in securities backed in many cases by mortgages. But after a wave of defaults and foreclosures swept across the nation, the value of the securities held by the SIVs plummeted. The debt markets panicked, and the SIVs found it impossible to sell off any holdings.
With those large losses and a climate of fear in the marketplace, the SIVs were unable to issue short-term loans.
Since then, many banks, in particular Citigroup, have moved more than $100 billion in troubled assets from their SIVs onto their own balance sheets, alleviating a key rationale for the rescue fund. The transfer means the banks are agreeing to back loans made by the SIVs.
George Will, a man no one really need admire, has said one admirable thing in his life: the American capitalist system is designed to privatize profit, but socialize losses, except when it comes to the individual wage-earner. If a business loses it's headquarters in a foreclosure, that business can write that loss off. A human family? Eh. Not so much. If a bank forecloses on a mortgage it holds, it can write off that loss. I lend you a $100, and I have to go through hoops and garters to prove to the IRS there was indeed an actual loan if you can't pay me back. And our transaction was probably better documented than the banks!
Next year will be a pivotal year in the mortgage and credit markets. This move tells me the banks are expecting bigger problems than anyone anticipated.