Friday, April 29, 2011
Thursday, April 28, 2011
There was no "sorry" or "my bad" or "apologies for dragging your name and our nation through the mud by encouraging unhinged birther conspiracy theories."
Instead, Donald Trump declared "I'm very proud of myself, because I've accomplished something that no one else has been able to accomplish"-and, just in case anybody missed the self-congratulation, " I really did a great job." This is the political equivalent of lighting a house on fire, calling 911 and then expecting a medal.
Which is almost an apt analogy. A more tailored analogy would be "...the political equivalent of double parking your car in front of the fire hydrant, moving it, and then expecting a medal." But I digress...
Donald Trump is really just a minor figure in the birther comedy, a person who grabbed a spotlight at precisely the right moment to get caught in the glare. His celebrity, to be sure, forced the question to the surface, but had it not been for the real asshats in this farce, the Orly Taitzes and John Corsis of the world, Trump would have been politely escorted off the stage.
After all, there had to be a base of support for the ridiculous and regularly-debunked notion that somehow President Obama was not American nor qualified to be President.
Which is why you need to read the rest of that article I linked to.
Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia needs to pump at least 9 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude for the next few years and is considering boosting capacity to meet rising demand, Petroleum Intelligence Weekly (PIW) said in a report citing Saudi sources this week.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said on Sunday the kingdom's April oil output may rise from March, when it pumped 8.292 million bpd. Output was above 9 million bpd as recently as February, when the kingdom produced 9.125 million bpd to plug the gap left by Libya, where civil war cut exports.
Libyan output disruption, the threat of more supply cuts stemming from political tumult across the Middle East and North Africa, and strong growth in fuel demand helped push oil prices to 2.5-year highs this year. Brent crude rose to $127.02 a barrel earlier this month, the highest since August 2008, while U.S. crude rose to $113.46.
It sounds to me more like the House of Saud sees an opportunity for enormous profits.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Obama has potentially released Republicans from a trap: The birther issue had been splitting the party and turning the GOP presidential race into a circus. In a briefing preceding Obama’s statement, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, accompanied by the White House counsel and press secretary, allowed that it was in Obama’s “long-term political interests to allow this birther debate to dominate discussion in the Republican Party.” But, Pfeiffer said, Obama “thought it was bad for the country.”
Afghanistan has been something of a forgotten war in recent months because of the world's preoccupation with Libya and Egypt and the wave of antigovernment protests spreading throughout the Middle East. That will soon change, now that the Obama Administration is stepping up talks with the Taliban in an effort to come up with some peaceable endgame to the half-trillion-dollar war. Part of the plan is to involve nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the talks — the U.S. has recognized that there can be no lasting solution in Afghanistan without regional buy-in. But the likelihood of getting those nations' help is slim, thanks to a new war: the cold one between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The growing tensions between Shi'ite Iran and Saudi Arabia's Sunni regime indeed may turn out to be a threat not only to peace in Afghanistan but also to an Arab Spring. For some time now, Arab governments have been boosting their military spending in anticipation of this regional conflict. The Saudis in particular are feeling surrounded: in addition to a Shi'ite-dominated government in Baghdad, Syria is a key ally of Iran's (Tehran may be helping squelch pro-democratic protests in Syria), as is Lebanon's Hizballah-controlled government and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. There are also Shi'ite rebels in Yemen, which shares a long border with Saudi Arabia.
Yesterday, I speculated about incremental World War. What I couldn't get my head around was why?
Sure, there are plenty of domestic reasons for Obama to urge a world war on the planet, not least of which is how successful world wars at jump-start a lagging economy. It would shut up conservatives, as well, as they would be hard pressed to be loyally opposed to a war they supported for so long in the first place...even tho they'd try really hard.
But now, there's a reason that makes a lot more sense than Obama abandoning his senses.
If you ascribe to the belief that the Sauds and Iranians are having a mini-Cold War for hegemony over the Middle East, then the choose up game of Global Domination begins to take form. Iran would enlist Russia and China. The Sauds would get us and NATO (and don't we feel stupid now for opposing Russia's application to NATO...)
A game of Risk but with real pieces and real, well, risks.
Obama said he realized the release of the certificate would not satisfy everyone, but said the political discourse could not be helped by “sideshows” and “carnival barkers” continuing to talk about the issue.
If only he would be as frank with us about issues that matter.
A robust market is a wonderful thing. The prices of televisions, cell phones, clothes, fast food, computers and major appliances have declined over time, in part because consumers are rational creatures who are pretty good at figuring the value proposition being offered by the sellers. We can drive a hard bargain.
But the game doesn't work in our favor all the time. The airline industry is crazy competitive, right? Except that fares have increased nine times since mid-December. Gasoline is approaching $4 per gal. in many places. You may notice that having four service stations within two blocks of one another hasn't noticeably lowered the price at the pump. Cable- and satellite-television providers are constantly attacking each other in their advertising. Has your cable bill retreated over the past five years?[...]
Health insurance too defies conventional pricing inputs. It has experienced double-digit inflation for a decade. (Would you rather run a hospital or be the health insurer that collects premiums and pays the hospital?) The industry has enjoyed pricing power that ought to be pulling companies into the business. Instead, there's been consolidation, which is one of the reasons prices have gone up.
The author, Bill Saporito, goes on the make the case that the obstacle to competition in health insurance is something he calls "substitutability." That is, you can compare the price and features of cars and make a judgement on the best value for you, but you can't easily compare insurance policies, since so much is contingent on the network of physicians you'd have available, and it's hard to shop for an orthopedist when your legbone is sticking out of your skin.
A valid point, but the real problem goes deeper than that.
The industry is profitable enough that there are over 2,000 private health insurance companies! The per capita medical cost in Japan is roughly half of the US ($3500 v. $7400). In the US, there are three dozen listed insurance companies.
In truth, there are really only a dozen or so companies that provide health insurance (the reason more are listed has to do with a curious construct in America: states regulate insurers and so many companies can't or won't write policies in every state.)
There is a concept in economics called "monopoly profit." Essentially, because competition is limited or non-existent, a company can pretty much set whatever price it damn well pleases for its product and make boatloads of money. True competition would force those prices to come down.
This is what the American health insurance industry is all about and why they can get away with denying coverage to a sick person while the CEO buys yet another boat. It is also why healthcare costs have skyrocketed over the past three decades. The lack of competition allows insurers to set whatever premium will make them the most profit with little fear of losing customers. This also explains why a full fifth of the nation has no health insurance. Rather than run to a non-existent competitor, people simply opt out of coverage. It's too expensive? Take it or leave it.
What we have here is an oligopoly, a market controlled by a small number of players, with enormous barriers to entry for competitors. It's also why former Congressman and current tool of the industry Billy Tauzin introduced and passed a piece of legislation specifically forcing Medicare to not bargain with hospitals and doctors to lower costs of medical care. Since insurers can simply raise premiums to cover their premium profits, there's no incentive in the industry to negotiate with healthcare providers, and indeed, higher costs can be passed along in totality PLUS ADDITIONAL PROFIT MARGINS to their customers.
So when Teabaggers talk about a "free market solution," remind them that in most industries we've had "market solutions" but because of the greed of the corporatocracy and the capitulation of the Republicans (and now Democrats to a lesser degree), there are no "free" markets.
Freedom just ain't free anymore.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Now, after a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs, Dr. DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for: a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words “I” and “me” appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in “we” and “us” and the expression of positive emotions.
“Late adolescents and college students love themselves more today than ever before,” Dr. DeWall, a psychologist at the University of Kentucky, says. His study covered song lyrics from 1980 to 2007 and controlled for genre to prevent the results from being skewed by the growing popularity of, say, rap and hip-hop.
Defining the personality of a generation with song lyrics may seem a bit of a reach, but Dr. DeWall points to research done by his co-authors that showed people of the same age scoring higher in measures of narcissism on some personality tests. The extent and meaning of this trend have been hotly debated by psychologists, some of whom question the tests’ usefulness and say that young people today aren’t any more self-centered than those of earlier generations. The new study of song lyrics certainly won’t end the debate, but it does offer another way to gauge self-absorption: the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The researchers find that hit songs in the 1980s were more likely to emphasize happy togetherness, like the racial harmony sought by Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder in “Ebony and Ivory” and the group exuberance promoted by Kool & the Gang: “Let’s all celebrate and have a good time.” Diana Ross and Lionel Richie sang of “two hearts that beat as one,” and John Lennon’s “(Just Like) Starting Over” emphasized the preciousness of “our life together.”
Now, all this has to be placed in the context of a culture in which Andy Warhol's "In the future, everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes" seems surprisingly less of a throw-off absurdity and more of a piquant observation.
Think about it: you're reading my blog, which I'm writing because I have a lot to say and all of the Internet to say it in. I get a couple of hundred hits a day. If I was forced to go out and find a publisher, I might sell a couple of hundred books in a lifetime, after getting laughed out of nearly every publisher in town. I'd probably be humiliated into silence (altho knowing me, I'd never shut up, but I digress...)
I get to be narcissistic, in other words, because it's available. Similarly, I can display my limited photographic talents on Flickr and Qoop (see sidebar) or my even more limited talents on YouTube. I'm planning on rolling out a radio station sometime this year...errrr, that's supposed to be a secret between you and I, K? I may even record an album.
None of which will be commercially viable. It's all a vanity project (except my book but that's a different column.) It's all designed to leave a mark on the culture, however dim and distant it may be.
In a world where 16 year old girls debase themselves and embarass their families and get pregnant just to have a season on television, where parents will pimp their toddler children out for beauty contests, or subject their brood to the scrutiny of reality television, it's no wonder that song lyrics have become more narcissistic.
It's what sells. It's what creates role models. Ask William Hung, who managed to squeeze a minor sensation out of being a horrible singer of a song that was carefully focus grouped and overproduced for another factory-made "artist". Or the cast of Jersey Shore, who don't seem to get the fact that the joke is not near them, but is them.
Yes, plenty of great songs are about narcissism, usually in the context of a relationship. I think of The Beatles In My Life, an overview of a surprisingly mature songwriter who is trying to tell a woman, "Listen, I've gotten laid a lot, but baby, you're the greatest!" Or Leslie Gore's You Don't Own Me, perhaps the original I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar.
And perhaps this trend is part of why music sucks lately. Certainly, it feeds into the mass culture of "I got mine, Jack" that gave rise to the Teabaggers (thank a lot, emo!) If we can't have a great anthem to mass participation like All We Are Saying (Is Give Peace A Chance) because we're writing songs about "Fuck you, you're losing me," then how in the hell can we gather around a movement and progress?
Monday, April 25, 2011
The Daily Telegraph, along with other newspapers including The Washington Post, today exposes America’s own analysis of almost ten years of controversial interrogations on the world’s most dangerous terrorists. This newspaper has been shown thousands of pages of top-secret files obtained by the WikiLeaks website.[...]The files detail the background to the capture of each of the 780 people who have passed through the Guantanamo facility in Cuba, their medical condition and the information they have provided during interrogations.
Only about 220 of the people detained are assessed by the Americans to be dangerous international terrorists. A further 380 people are lower-level foot-soldiers, either members of the Taliban or extremists who travelled to Afghanistan whose presence at the military facility is questionable.
At least a further 150 people are innocent Afghans or Pakistanis, including farmers, chefs and drivers who were rounded up or even sold to US forces and transferred across the world. In the top-secret documents, senior US commanders conclude that in dozens of cases there is “no reason recorded for transfer”.
However, the documents do not detail the controversial techniques used to obtain information from detainees, such as water-boarding, stress positions and sleep deprivation, which are now widely regarded as tantamount to torture.
Now, let's see what the Framers had in mind with respect to "democracy".
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Words you and I, if you're American, had to learn by heart. This doesn't mean that some men who are not American do not have the same rights and privileges as Americans. It says that the Creator made all men equal, that all men are entitled to life and that all men are entitled to their personal freedom. It also says that even a Teabagger ought to recognize these rights, that it doesn't require deep thought or evidentiary hearings. All men are entitled to these rights. Period.
The Framers were smart enough to elucidate these points and outline these rights in a supporting document to this Declaration, our Constitution.
Right up top in the first Ten Amendments, the Bill of Rights, the Framers delineated what is liberty. Liberty is the protection of the individual from the tyranny of the majority, that beautiful phrase of John Stuart Mill. That majority can take the form of mob or governance by mob rule.
It means that any man in the entire world should be free from the depredations of our exertion of American will and might over him. One can make the case that in war, these rules should be suspended, and perhaps there is a point to be made there but it seems to me that if you can't have a higher batting percentage than roughly .500 in the application of that suspension versus harming innocents, you have no business being in the business of war in the first place.
The willful negligence...and that's being overly polite...of the Bush and Obama administrations in the pursuit of the aims of their aggressions in Afghanistan, Iraq and now in Libya will come back to haunt American citizens. How can it not? How can Americans expect to live a life of freedom in a world where freedom is a slogan and not a philosophy? How can we expect to continue to presume that what we own and what we enjoy cannot be taken from us at a moment's notice, not just by those who would do us harm, but also by those who wave the flag of "freedom" in our faces?