Friday, October 25, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Conservative heads to assplode in 3….2….1….

2) I understand and even support animal rights activists in this, but to be fair, a bit of Olde New York charm resides in those horses and the carriages. It is a must-do for any tourist who comes to New York.

3) Dude, that’s col-l-l-l-l-d.

4) NSA, meet KARMA

5) I wanted to say something about this, but now I forget…

6) Now that President Obama has admitted that is a mess, what is his honeymoon? Keep in mind that when Massachussetts implemented this same program, they too had major glitches but were able to resolve them before the last-minute deluge of applications, likely to happen here, as well.

7) I don’t know if you happened to catch the premiere of Blackfish on CNN last night, but you really should see it to understand how wrong it is to keep these beautiful animals penned up.

8) Once again, Europe leads the way.

9) Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I think I’d rather die young, if it’s all the same.

10) Actual Texas science curriculum

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Orcs Are In Trouble

Gee, you think the shutdown was a good idea for the GOP? I suppose you could if you think a permanent Democratic majority is a good idea:

Washington (CNN) -- In a sign of the political hangover congressional Republicans are suffering in the wake of the government shutdown, three-quarters of Americans in a new national poll say that most GOP members of Congress don't deserve to be re-elected.

A CNN/ORC International survey released Monday also found a majority saying that the Republicans' policies are too extreme. And according to the poll, Democrats have an 8-point advantage over the Republicans in an early indicator in the battle for control of Congress. But with more than a year to go until the 2014 midterm elections, there's plenty of time for these numbers to change.

Normally, numbers like this are meaningless, but here’s an interesting statistic out of the study:

[…]nearly four in 10 saying even their own representative doesn't deserve a return ticket to Washington next year. Both figures are hovering around all-time highs in CNN polling.

See, the conventional wisdom goes that everyone hates Congress, and the people who infest it, but Congress has a 95-98% re-election rate.

Which means everyone hates everybody else’s Congresscritter. Except now, suddenly, people are waking up that the only way to clean house is to clean house.

Unfortunately, we don’t get state-by-state numbers, but the underlying data based on self-identifying political views seems to suggest that even conservatives states (PDF) are taking a very close look at their individual members of Congress with an eye towards replacing them. The question there becomes, are they thinking they should be more moderate and willing to work with Democrats and the President, or even more strident and obstinate? The jury is still out on that one, but it is safe to say that the current make-up of the House of Representatives is in play, and that the Democrats could steal enough moderate seats to claim a majority next year.

The party which occupies the White House for a second term rarely if ever has gained seats in the Congress in the mid-term elections. It could happen next year. It has a very good chance.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


There’s this whole foofaraw this week about the US intelligence community gathering 70 million private phone calls in a month. In France.

US intelligence chief James Clapper has denied reports that US spies recorded data from 70 million phone calls in France in a single 30-day period.

The director of national intelligence said the report in Le Monde newspaper contained "misleading information".

In a separate story, the newspaper said the US bugged French diplomats and used the information to sway a key UN vote.

Both reports were based on leaks from fugitive ex-US intelligence worker Edward Snowden.

This seems really unlikely and a fairly ludicrous postulate. Not that it couldn’t physically happen, but there’s a few key elements to this story that would discount it immediately in my book.

Most significant of them is this:

The document quotes America's former UN envoy Susan Rice as saying the NSA's information helped the US "keep one step ahead in the negotiations".

Admittedly, it’s not impossible that Susan Rice would be given clearance for knowledge of this supersecret spying program, but really? No administration would trust its United-frikkin’-Nations envoy with a clearance that would put her above everyone in the food chain except, perhaps, Joe Biden and Barack Obama.

It strains credulity, and calls into question whether Edward Snowden has been snow-jobbing us all along and is merely now trying to see what he can get away with.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Snowden is responsible for this little gem that’s starting its journey around the nutcase far right.

Do I think the government does what every other stinking government on this planet does and spies on other nations, particularly their diplomats? Yes. Do I think the NSA grepped 70 million phone calls in a month to sift through for some…what? Data, I assume? No.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Not Wrong

Jonathan Chait is not wrong.

Writing in this week’s New York Magazine, he posits the following:

Pragmatic conservatives warned their tea-party brethren that shutting down the government would not harm Obamacare and would instead harm the Republican Party. And lo, both halves of the prophecy have now come to pass. New polls by CNN and the Washington Post measure the damage. Both polls show Democrats taking an 8-point lead in the generic ballot for Congress — a result that, if it held up, would likely depose the Republican majority. The election is a year away, and everybody expects the damage to subside. But deeper reputation damage can be detected. CNN asks voters if they consider each party “too extreme” or “generally mainstream.” By a 52 percent to 42 percent margin, they deem the Democrats generally mainstream. By a 56 percent to 37 percent margin, they call Republicans too extreme. The shutdown may not have been an act of suicide — there’s plenty of time to recover — but it was surely a suicidal gesture.

In the wake of the debacle, reporters and mortified Republican pragmatists alike have attempted to reconstruct the erroneous thinking that led the GOP to undertake a doomed strategy. There certainly were elements of legitimate miscalculation at play. (The simplest and least appreciated is that many of them initially believed shutting down the government would halt Obamacare, and by the time they learned otherwise, they had already printed up the T-shirts.)

In the most important ways, though, the tea party’s strategy was not a strategy at all. On the surface, demanding an end to Obamacare in return for reopening the federal government was an insane negotiating strategy. Attempting to analyze these demands in strategic terms misses the point. It’s not a plan to achieve a defined legislative end. It’s a demonstration of dissent from a political faction that has no chance of winning through regular political channels. The problem they are attempting to solve in each case is not “how do we achieve this policy objective?” but “how can we express our outrage?”

When put in this context, there is an undeniable internal logic – I said “internal” – to the shutdown. Some people like to blow shit up just for the sake of watching it burn. In this context, Ted Cruz makes sense. In this context, shutting the government down to protest a law you don’t like is the ultimate rebellion.

And yes, it is a tantrum. And now it makes perfect sense.

For future reference, if you want to distinguish between something with internal logic and something with external logic, ask yourself this simple question: what happens next? Let’s say the Teabaggers got  their way and somehow, Obamacare was repealed. What happens next? They still don’t grow the caucus, they still don’t become a bona fide political movement and they’ve still managed to incapacitate their own party worse than the nation.

What still has to be worked out is why 22 Representatives would be so treasonous to…nevermind the country…their own party as to blow it up now, and why Weaker Boener would let them?

It was a no-win situation for Boehner but it was an even bigger no-win situation for the Teabag caucus.

Chait hints at the motivation for this bizarre psychotic episode later on in his piece:

This reflects the deep vein of pessimism that has run through the right since the Obama era. I tried to capture it in my story a year ago, “2012 or Never,” which analyzed the widespread conservative belief that the last election represented a final chance for the old Reagan coalition to hold back Barack Obama’s America — which they imagined, in a distorted but not altogether false way, as racially polyglot and addicted to the spoils of redistribution.

The implications of this are staggering: it explains why the push to infest state & local legislatures with conservatives, right down to school boards. It’s a scorched earth policy that tries to ensure that whatever bounty the nation has put in place will be unavailable to future generations.

It’s the ultimate “I had mine, go fuck yourself,” conservative elitist commentary. It explains why infrastructure doesn’t get maintained. It explains why, in the face of thirty years of evidence to the contrary, conservatives still talk of tax cuts for the rich benefitting us all.

Mostly, It explains how Mitt Romney, an inconsequential man of Silly Putty values, could be selected as a national candidate against one of the most dynamic and beloved political figures of this century. They knew they’d lose. They were merely sewing salt in the planting fields.

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Novel Come to Life

If you ask 100 people to name a book about a modern dystopian society, 100 of them would probably talk about 1984, the George Orwell novel about centralized government dominating a nation so much that “Big Brother is Watching You”.

Those folks are sheeple. The book that really reveals our modern century dystopia far better is by a near-contemporary and predecessor of Orwell named Aldous Huxley: Brave New World.

Although the books deal with the degradation of the individual, they come at it from different approaches and different causes. Let me let Neil Postman handle this bit:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In 1984, Postman added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

The Roman Empire collapsed amidst bread and circuses, while the monarchy bled the nation dry. Distract the people, the thinking goes, and you can pick their pockets at will.

This was not the message of 1984, to be sure. Orwell had a distinctly unfun society to place his story in. Huxley’s book predicts the Kardashians. Orwell posits a centralized authority figure ruling and micromanaging the very sex lives of its citizenry, and while many of the trappings of his society are pretty apparent in the modern West, he discounts the ability of private enterprise to lay behind this totalitarian form of government, or rather, opts to ignore it as it would have given comfort to the very society he was trying to mock, the Soviet Socialist republics.

One must not criticize capitalism if one is to attack its chief rival.

Huxley writes from a different and more valid place: his dislike of American society just after the turn of the 20th Century. He incorporates wide-spread happy pills (like Prozac), wide-spread licentiousness (OK, here he was very wrong morally but not wrong observationally), and emerging eugenics (like genetic counseling. And worse.)

It’s no coincidence that Huxley sets his piece in the year 632 AF—“After Ford” – after reading Henry Ford’s seminal book My Life and Work and seeing its principles in place across America: a faster-paced lifestyle with entertaining diversions, an orientation towards youth and the loss of individual identity from the workplace factory lines to the nameless faceless mobs of the cities.

Yes, that’s right: you were once one of those “kids these days” no matter how old you are.

In Huxley’s world, we are each from birth inculcated with the command to consume, that money has value only for what it buys, and that you should know your place and do your job while those who employ you are free to move about as they see fit, even if that means taking your job away from you and giving it to someone else.

I’m re-reading this book now, and I get the eerie sensation that the reason 1984 is dropped into the national dialogue so often is not that it’s a valid comparison, except superficially, to modern day America, but that this distracts us from reading a really predictive look at America.