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March 28, 2009

for the record, now they're going with "one world trade center"

Eight shades of awful in one small little news story, as "Critics Call Freedom Tower Name Change Unpatriotic".

First of all, Spring must truly be sprung, because nothing rings in the arrival of the season in New York City like one of the tabloid dailies deciding to bump circulation for a couple of days by shouting loudly about "patriotism!" as it relates to a non-story.  Really.  I wish that there would still be newspapers in five years so that some of you non-New Yorkers could have a chance to experience this excitement.

The Freedom Tower, you see, if what was to have been built down at ground zero, but now, after years of delays, saner minds have prevailed and looked up "defiance" in a dictionary:

But others privately repeated fears that have plagued the building as negotiations with major corporations to take up space in the tower came and went: that the 102-story Freedom Tower's name could make it more susceptible to future attacks than a symbol of defiance against it.

So just call it "CD PLAYER/RADIO ALREADY STOLEN" already.

And last of all, thinking about what a dumb name "The Freedom Tower" is makes me realize that there were probably a lot of folk thinking to themselves that "The Statue of Liberty" was a pretty dumb name, a hundred and twenty years ago.  Maybe its a symptom of cultural decay, but now grand and pompous titles like that sound like they come from an episode of "South Park".

Posted by mrbrent at 3:12 PM

tkacik with tpm?

I don't know if this is a steady gig or freelance, but Moe Tkacik writing for TPMMuckraker, but, for me, it would be a marriage well-made.  In this post (the only one credited to her on the site as of now) Tkacik finds the silver lining in remarks by JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon gave earlier this month:
Dimon was getting at one of the root structural causes of the current crisis -- America takes, the world (China especially) makes, an unsustainable situation sustained above all by an increasingly usurous financial services industry.  As the CEO of PNC Financial Services just pointed out, banking is the biggest sector of the American economy -- and it's been to the detriment of everything else.

The PNC Financial Services quote she's referring to is here, and I'm happy to see the meme slowly propagating, at least on TPM.

And Tkacik's background and talent is a perfect fit for TPM's well-aimed muckraking.

[SCANT MOMENTS LATER: After poking around, it is not her first post -- there are a buncha others, starting around midweek.  It is TPM's author page for Tkacik that mislead me, as it lists nothin'.]

Posted by mrbrent at 12:43 PM

March 27, 2009

think i just blew my bachmann quota

I'm wondering which news organization -- network, radio, Internet or even Fox -- will be the first to assign a reporter to follow the crazy-like-clockwork Representative Michele Bachmann on a daily basis because her news is just more interesting than everyone else's?

For instance, you know she just bla bla bla cuckoo! cuckoo! wakka-wakk-wakka?  And frankly, every batshit word is transfixing.

For example, the linked story is about the same speech someone else reported days earlier, but just with longer quotes -- her news gets more newsworthy over time!

Eventually a news outlet will realize that the public embarrassing schizophrenia of Michele Bachmann could be harnessed to save the entire industry.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:09 PM

my isn't macroeconomics interesting

I've been looking for the shortest way to accurately describe the whys and wherefors of the Great Recession, and right now these sentences are winning:
Once, perhaps, what was good for General Motors was good for the country.  Over the past decade, the attitude took hold that what was good for Wall Street was good for the country.

It's from an Atlantic feature by Simon Johnson that I haven't even read yet, but I saw the sentence in an excerpt in someone else's recommendation of the story and it jumped out and punched me right in my glass jaw.

Basically, the financial services industries slowly became an invasive species that sucked the life out of the economic biosphere and then the check came due.  (And to the extent that my one-sentence description is wrong is a function of my short-sightedness and not of the linked feature.)  And not to say that the "good for GM" metaphor still works, but when you read "GM" think "all the industries that employed people to make tangible things".  And this is not an effort to find the cause so the authors can be dragged into Congress for some rubber-finger action, but rather so that the causes may be rectified.

I will keep plugging away at these, and frankly I feel like learning Latin in a weekend would be less daunting.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:57 AM

the republican road to recovery

Tired of all the other kids cruising the strip in their bitchin' Cameros, Congressional Republicans, after a whole summer of having to borrow the family station wagon, announce that they have a new car -- the best car of all.

It's got a V-16 engine, can go from 0 to 60 in 1.4 seconds, has whitewall tires, steering wheel and dash, and is made entirely of chrome.  It runs on dishwater and still gets 75 miles a gallon, has AM/FM/GNFNR radio with cassette player and can fly.  Or turn invisible, but it also has spoilers, fins, bulletproof mudflaps, a T-top and a retractable swimming pool that can see through girls' clothes.

Well, though don't actually have the car yet, but they're pretty much sure that they can make one from scratch in the basement, if their dad will let them use his tools.  And they can't wait to see the look on your faces.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:22 AM

March 26, 2009

michele bachmann is becoming all too predictable

Oh good Christ.  Some more Michele Bachmann (R-Defying Description) insanity:
Bachmann Demands Truth: Will Obama Administration Abandon Dollar for a Multi-National Currency?

This lump of stupid about the multi-national currency has been discredited enough times to bore even me -- basically Bachmann remains persistently confused about what a "reserve currency" is in the context of places that are not here.

I guess it's got that sexy crazy-person hook that keeps WorldNetDaily in business and is "no-it's-not" proof.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:24 PM

david rees's aig-baiting technique is unstoppable

Of course it's mere moments after the last post that I come across the better, funnier version, written by David Rees, comparing the travails of our heroic capitalists to his career as a death threat-receiving left-wing cartoonist:
Anyway, my point is: Did I go around crying about all these threats?  NO.  Did I punk out like a little baby and stop making cartoons?  NO.  Did I go whine to Congress about "Boo-hoo, I can't tell you who got the bonuses, they might receive a nasty email"?  NO.  I took a deep breath and rolled up my sleeves and -- after a strange phone call in the middle of the night -- got my number de-listed and went about my business like a champ.

And mind you, when I received these threats, I wasn't working in some high-security office building and living in a fancy gated community with no sidewalks where you need a passcode just to go to the golf course.  Hardly.  I was a schlub in a bathrobe living in a third-story Brooklyn walk-up.  The only way I could've been a softer target would be if I was made out of Yoplait.

And while we all have our laffs, I've been having a lengthy off-line discussion with a friend who is calling me out on a number of issues -- am I being accurate with my characterization, am I tilting too close to the pitchfork/torch crowd -- valid points all.  And this post by Josh Marshall is a grown-up consideration of them, and an excellent alternative to the spitballs I favor.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:32 PM

the million dollar solution

So the lesson I'm learning is that Americans can come together and accomplish great things, if you give them each a million dollars.

Take for example the query letter for a fat book deal/resignation letter written by former AIG exec Jake DeSantis and published in the NYT -- DeSantis made it quite clear that he was very happy to help try, bravely and heroically, to undo some of the damage done by those guys other than DeSantis in the same Financial Services division that DeSantis worked in, as long as he would get a million dollars and no one would make fun of him for getting a million dollars.  And up until he feelings got terminally hurt, he was making great progress, putting in ten- and twelve-hour days, showing what strength of will, dedication and a million dollars can drive a man to achieve!

And in this Reuters story, we learn that our best and brightest capitalists are chomping at the bit to join with our Department of the Treasury, dispose of all these toxic assets, make a million dollars many times over in the process, and save the economy -- for all Americans!  You see?  Over the crest of the hill in the first light of dawn rides a cavalry of brokers and investors, ready to roll up their sleeves and join the fight to save our economy, for liberty, for democracy, for a million dollars.

Sadly these hero businessman have the same misgivings that DeSantis has, because what if people find out and start making fun of them too for their million dollars?  Can't all the non-heroes leave the million dollars of all the heroes in peace already?  We need to support these valiant soldiers and their million dollars just like we did the men who gave their lives for a million dollars on the beaches of Normandy, all those years ago.  And most importantly, we need to not hurt their feelings about their million dollars.

The implications of this are huge: imagine the problems that can be solved by a new generation of patriots -- education, health care, public transportation -- for only a million dollars per patriot.  It is truly a new golden age of suitcases fulla cash.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:36 AM

March 25, 2009

signs of the times

Compare and contrast:

AIG executive resigns and gets his passive aggression all over the NYT Op-Ed page.

Organized thug violence against a banker's residence in Edinburgh.

I can safely say that I approve of neither, but it does paint an interesting picture -- income disparity needs to be fully addressed, by grown-ups, in the near future, or the non-grown-ups will steal the bandwidth.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:07 PM

obama and a teleprompter walk into a bar

Maybe you've heard about the one with President Obama and Ireland's Prime Minister Brian Cowen and teleprompters getting mixed up and then Obama thanking himself and OMG NObama can't even speak w/o a teleprompter your doing it wrong!!!

Yeah well, oops sorry about that.  Not entirely their fault, as "irony" is an acquired taste, and can be mistaken for "inaccuracy" from a distance, or by a freakin' idiot.

So now the haters can move along to the next bit of trivia to lambaste Obama with, haters, unless they're the type not to let the facts stand in the way of a good wank.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:21 AM

after the fourth rewrite, i am worried about rish limbaugh's morbid obesity

Sure, everyone talks about the deliberately provocative things that Rush Limbaugh says when he falls out of the headlines for more than a day or two, but does anyone talk about how fat he is?  OK then, does anyone talk about how fat he is not in the sense of trying to make him feel bad about himself?

I mean, yeah, he said some crazy offensive thing again, but, looking at the photo of him accompanying the item, it looks to me like he's nearly doubled in size from his earlier, not-exactly-svelte days.  He's a moron with whom I disagree and all, but that can't be good for you.  He should take care of himself, buy a soloflex, or a carrot.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:59 AM

March 24, 2009

the president is actually the president

Josh Marshall understating wildly with regard to this evening's presidential press conference:
One thing that was clear from tonight's press conference was why the White House keeps wanting to get Obama out in front of the cameras and on TV.  Obama has a ready and mainly unflappable command of the issues confronting the country, which I think people find reassuring in itself.

Marshall starts off with that passage and then goes on to make further, deeper points, but, whoa, stop just a second.  As far as the previous administration goes, "unflappable command of the issues" is a turn of phrase that has crossed no one's mind, at all, once, except maybe in a smart-ass, black-is-white irony sense.  I don't think that George Bush is as dumb as we all said he is, but as far as pressers went, the victory of the evening was that he managed to sputter the talking points that had been drilled into him.  And the administration before that, it's not so much that Bill Clinton gave the impression that he did not know what he was talking about, but that he was more concerned with parsing every statement into re-electability (or even likability) than he was with shooting straight -- he was gonna lipstick that pig with his dying breath, because that was how he got the job in the first place.

And before that, well, we weren't born yet, so how can we talk about it?

I'm not so on board with the new president that I think he is infallible -- I'm not sold on the rescue plan, and his positions on copyright legislation and certain Bush-legacy intelligence issues leave more than a little to be desired -- but how cool is it, how novel is it to feel like the chief executive is actually exhibiting chief executive traits?  No idea if it is truly the case or if it's all Rahm, but the man gives the impression that he is in charge like no elected official in my memory.

As he answers questions, he gives the impression that he is the author of the answers, and not burdened with having to synthesize the answers that the folk that work for him have come up with.  I don't know if that will enable him to govern better than his predecessors, but competence is a new flavor for me, and it's delicious.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 PM

i actually am soaking in it

In the continuing interest of understanding and fully-utilizing all this wonderful technology that God made when I was paying attention to other things, this is a quote from an interview with Clay Shirky, to whom I apparently should also be paying attention:
In my generation we grew up with this notion of cyberspace.  What I see among my graduate students, who are fifteen to twenty years younger than me, is they’ve never heard of cyberspace.  The internet is not a separate place from real life, instead of it being an alternative to real life, it’s an augmentation of it.

I see exactly where he is coming from (assuming we're roughly the same age) -- for me, all these blogging platforms, social apps and even the vasty deep of the Internet itself are luxury goods, the tools of privilege.  I certainly do like them all very much, but I dabbled with libraries, bookstores, encyclopedias and zines in the past and would be more than happy to do so again.  And then take the vantage of a hypothetical twenty-something of right now, and all of these invisibly-networked ways and means are as ubiquitous as furniture, inasmuch as they have never not been here.  So for me, all this is delicious chicken wings that I'm lucky to get to eat, and for them it's like air, or gravity.

It's kind of a hidden-in-lain-sight observation, but it does alter your perception.

Shirky is the author of this essay on the future of newspapers as well, which everyone but me has read and comes universally recommended.

[Via DitmasParkBlog.]

Posted by mrbrent at 2:47 PM

march modok madness

Don't forget: we're past the middle of March, which is the month of March MODOK Madness.  MMM is a project of a couple friends of mine, one of whom is quoted liberally in this Underwire write-up of the site.

In case you are not on the fanboy tip, Marvel Comics villain MODOK is a Mental Organism Designed Only For Killing, and he is shaped like a man-sized egg and he floats in a hovering mobility chair.  And he is designed ONLY FOR KILLING, so don't ask him to maim or open a bottle of wine or anything.

Last year I actually submitted a MODOK or two, until I realized that the visual arts were beyond me.  But if you have a MODOK or two in you, then that must be uncomfortable MMM is the place to submit them.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:37 AM

matt taibbi and the unified theory of the great recession

While it is not uncommon for me to recommend a piece of writing by Matt Taibbi, it is not often that I recommend Taibbi as a fog-cutting and incisive guide to understanding something too complex for television, such as the entirety of the Great Recession:
The mistake most people make in looking at the financial crisis is thinking of it in terms of money, a habit that might lead you to look at the unfolding mess as a huge bonus-killing downer for the Wall Street class.  But if you look at it in purely Machiavellian terms, what you see is a colossal power grab that threatens to turn the federal government into a kind of giant Enron —- a huge, impenetrable black box filled with self-dealing insiders whose scheme is the securing of individual profits at the expense of an ocean of unwitting involuntary shareholders, previously known as taxpayers.

There's a whole lot more, but that's the tone and gist of it.  A whole lot more.  Actually, it's nearly 9,000 words long, which makes it an order of magnitude longer than the American attention span, but that's what happens when an explanation defies two sentences and a pie chart.  It's also a bit strident, yes, over-heated even, but it is Taibbi, so I don't think anyone would expect a whole lot of pleases and thank-yous.

Also, it's way too dense with ideas to do justice with a brief description, so here is another pullquote, describing how the backroom dealing is camouflaged by a you-wouldn't-understand-this contempt:

That roll of the eyes is a key part of the psychology of Paulsonism.  The state is now being asked not just to call off its regulators or give tax breaks or funnel a few contracts to connected companies; it is intervening directly in the economy, for the sole purpose of preserving the influence of the megafirms.  In essence, Paulson used the bailout to transform the government into a giant bureaucracy of entitled assholedom, one that would socialize "toxic" risks but keep both the profits and the management of the bailed-out firms in private hands.

I've read it twice in the past three days, just to get my head around it.  But if this stuff interests you, you should too.  Though, I would be interested in reading, somewhere, a sober and reasoned disputation of the merits of Taibbi's arguments.  It's not really fair to ask that; Taibbi's a bomb-thrower, and as much as I subscribe to the style, it's not exactly conducive to gentlemanly discourse.  But: sure, he's a crazy socialist asshole, but is he wrong?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:15 AM

March 23, 2009

maybe bachmann means armed with knowledge and dangerous with stupid

Wait, you're telling me that Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, well-known for saying crazy things, is still saying crazy things?  Can it be?
"I'm a foreign correspondent on enemy lines and I try to let everyone back here in Minnesota know exactly the nefarious activities that are taking place in Washington."

Well that's not so crazy.  She pretty much just said "on" when she should have said "behind".  Not such a huge mistake -- maybe she was nervous, or is not so smart with talking.

"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back," said Bachmann.  "Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing.  And the people -- we the people -- are going to have to fight back hard if we're not going to lose our country."

OK, that's crazy.  Or is it just seditious?

Posted by mrbrent at 2:54 PM

i will devote a whole day's worth of coffe breaks to the rescue plan

It's lunchtime and still I understand little about Secretary Geithner's plan to save the planet from interstellar invasion.  In fact, I went around the office and asked other secretaries if they know what Geithner was talking about.  They did, of course, but were unable to penetrate my personal fog of ignorance and wise-assery.

One thing I am understanding is that the best way to demonstrate that you do not know what you are talking about is to include the phrase, "...and then who knows what happens?"

Another thing I am understanding is that the bill passed by the House last week, taxing the AIG and similar bonuses at a rate of 90% is a very good idea and very likely unconstitutional.  I like that it puts the "progressive" back in progressive tax, and it seems a relatively harmless way to throw some red meat to the pitchforks and torches and serve notice to the plutocrats.  But, as my friend Solomund pointed out, the extra-special-surprise tax amounts to a bill of attainder, which is not only contemplated in our Constitution, it is forbidden.  It there really is a crime that AIG wealthy-people are guilty of, then charge them already.

But, so, yeah: so the toxic assets get legacied and then taxpayer-subsidized so that they can be used to light expensive cigars, and then who knows what happens?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:54 AM

March 22, 2009

rescue plan, seltzer bottle

All I can understand so far of Treasury Secretary Geithner's plan to save civilization is that he's decided to market our little Great Recession as an investment opportunity for the same people who greeded us into the Great Recession in the first place.

So at least he has a sense of humor.

Hopefully I'll understand more as the day progresses.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:53 PM

please don't google "tea bagger"

Quoted in its entirety, because it's not long enough to pick and choose:
Some enterprising reporter —- if such a thing still exists -— should give us a comparison of the average attendance at all the antiwar rallies during the runup to the invasion of Iraq and the number of people who are attending the current "wave" of "tea parties."

Just as a guy who is maybe the last guy operating under the impression that there are still busloads of enterprising reporters still gainfully employed, I'm wondering why I haven't seen that story in print yet.  I remember the numbers of the antiwar rallies -- hundreds of thousands, I'm pretty sure.  And from what little I've read of the tea parties, they number in the, what, teens?  Nearly a hundred?

I kinda wish there was a greater point to make in all this other than, "Gosh, those jerks couldn't surround an ice-cream truck."  But we take what we can get.

Posted by mrbrent at 5:54 PM