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April 18, 2009

ladies and gentlemen, the red skull

Central Europe challenges our status as right-wing crazy capital of the universe, as Neo-Nazis continue to grow as a political force in Austria.  Most of it sounds alarmingly familiar, as telegenic leaders rail against the treat of Islam and foreigners in general, with lots of talk about saving their heritage and their culture -- it sounds very much like something one of our American patriotic Religious Right may say, minus the hatred of gays.

But the bigger difference is that while our psychos speak in code-language and innuendo, Austrian psychos are led by an actual surviving Nazi who Goes There:

‘Our time is coming again and soon we will have another leader like Hitler,’ he says.

Still remarkably sharp-minded, Schweiger was a lieutenant in the infamous Waffen SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, an elite unit originally formed before WWII to act as the Führer’s personal bodyguards.

‘The Jew on Wall Street is responsible for the world’s current economic crisis.  It is the same now as in 1929 when 90 per cent of money was in the hands of the Jew.  Hitler had the right solutions then,’ he says, invoking the language of Goebbels.

I'd thought that Hitler had been relegated to "punchline only" status, and that paraphrasing Goebbels was exclusively the province of amoral fucking idiots.  Sure, there's some "material", to have a Nazi step out of cryo and say the exact same things that were said seventy years ago, but at the same time, fucking yikes.

Congratulations, Austria: you may have our right-wing crazy title.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:01 AM

April 17, 2009

torture memos!

I laid off reading anything concerning the torture memos until this morning on the B train.  Why the B train?  Because the Q train is slower.

And I've just read the NYTimes coverage of it, so I am as yet unsullied by the pages and pages of actual legal opinion about shoving people into a wall, or the flood of reaction on the web.  But just the overall article, complete with the informative graph of techniques and justifications, is enough to cloud my day with strong feelings of whatever the opposite of pride is.

I anticipate that there will be some teeth-gnashing over the decision not to seek prosecution of the torturers and their enablers.  I understand their desires, but I don't agree with it: interrogators were following orders, and the illegality of the policy decisions that set this in motion is murky (and chasing them into court under a criminal charge would set a nasty precedent for future regime-changes in the White House).  Also, in a way I believe that the release of the torture memos in such unredacted state may obviate the need for legal sanction, as the one thing the originators of this abortion of a policy fear more than prison is transparency, and we can certainly see London and see France now.

And the bottom line, in prospective response to what will be a day of muscularly righteous tea-drinkers patriotically complaining that they got beat worse by their parents when they forgot the words to "God Bless America", is that whether or not torture works (which is a subject not best left to know-nothings with blogs like me), it is not a behavior we would tolerate from our opponents, and therefor we should not even be tempted to do it.  Our moral standing is not meant to be purely of convenience.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:10 AM

April 16, 2009

hipster grifter

I will admit that the party line of "Continued rapt attention to the Hipster Grifter is icky" is warranted.  I don't hold myself to have had some extraordinary life story, and I've intersected with two or three grifters in my time, so I assume that is the same for everyone else.  And if memory serves, none of them got hunted down and exposed by an intrepid journalist (actually, usually it was their greed trumping their talent).  But, having said, I'm as guilty as everyone else of reading every freaking word.  Like today's longish follow-up story.  Yup, reading that too.

Credit where credit is due: Doree Shafrir expended some virtual shoe-leather reporting it.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:56 PM

nsa attempted wiretap of whom?

We'll see what kind of legs that this story has in this world of tea remaining to be partied, but this morning's NYT breaks a nifty little story of the kind of NSA domestic spying transgression that we're all getting inured to, with a twist ending of "actual administration oversight".  But the most notable aspect of the story is that it buries the lede allll the way down to the final paragraph, the kicker, the one-for-the-road:
The official said the plan was ultimately blocked because of concerns from some intelligence officials about using the N.S.A., without court oversight, to spy on a member of Congress.

Maybe that wouldn't raise too many eyebrows as a plot point of one of those novels "written" by the departed Robert Ludlum, but here, in the real world where none of us belong to a strike force, news like that should not be crushed under the weight of the paragraphs that proceed it, but rather touted in the forty point headline, all caps.  Like: "NSA ATTEMPTED WIRETAP OF SITTING MEMBER OF CONGRESS".

And it's not, which means that either they don't have all the story yet and are treading carefully, or that whoever at the Justice Department that leaked the story pulled strings to get the congressman angle downplayed, or at least de-emphasized in the sense of, "Stopped it in the nick of time! So please ignore the implications".

Or maybe the attempted intercept of the phone calls of a congressman/woman is no big whoop.  That's a possibility too.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:16 AM

April 15, 2009

need more tea party

I'm worried that the excitement that I thought would be generated from watching/reading about teabag protest parties is turning out to be as overstated as the teabag parties themselves.  Doesn't the media understand that today there is only one news story?  It is an earthquake of populist sentiment, rending the tectonic plates of tax-paying complacency, causing millions of dollars of damage into our electoral infrastructure.  It is the most important mobilization of real, job-holding, Larry-the-Cable-guy-liking not-fake Americans since the invasion of Normandy.  In fact, it is the first time that anyone has ever protested anything, anywhere, ever.

So why the frontpages of all the websites have stories about pirates and North Korea and the president and other news-type things instead of wall-to-wall tea party-surrounding-madness-EXTREME!!! coverage I cannot figure out, except that George Soros says, "The Fix Is In!"  Or maybe it's George Clooney.

All I want is pictures and video of actual tea-party-types in their natural habitats, with tea bags!  How hard is that?  Can't you see me suffer?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:57 AM

maud newton at housing works

After a long day of thinking about everything that is tea party, I plan on washing the taste of all that out my mouth by attending this event, at which old buddy Maud Newton will be reading, as will novelist Kate Christensen, whose novel "The Epicure's Lament" I'm most of the way through and which is an indelibly good book.

Who's with me?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:46 AM

thomas frank's 'here come the plastic pitchforks'

I have not yet left the safety of the apartment yet, so I have no first-hand reports of teeming millions emulating Thomas Paine by whining about taxes.  But I took a quick spin around the Internet and would like to quickly share the first four words of Thomas Frank's column in today's WSJ, concerning the projected events of today:
Unless it rains today...

That's gonna sting in the morning.  The title of his column is almost nearly as good and feelings-hurty: "Here Come The Plastic Pitchforks".  And of course the rest of it is just as good and I'd just quote the entire thing if that were an okay thing to do.

This is already my favorite day ever.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:28 AM

April 14, 2009

tea parties

So tomorrow there will be a number of events, all over the country, that the organizers are calling "tea parties".  For a while they were calling themselves "tea baggers", in a valiant attempt to take back that phrase from the sexually deviant.  But their rectitude was pushed back by a vibrant, grass-roots incredulity that anyone could be so stupid to call themselves "tea-baggers" unless there were actual scrotums involved, so no they have to settle for crumpets and the little sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

I've been looking forward to the wildfire of public spectacle -- "What do we want?/Something?  Glenn, what do we want again?" -- but it's one of those things that defied that short post of snark.  So I've settled for pirates, mostly.

But tomorrow is the big day, so to arm yourself with knowledge, please read this op-ed by Glenn Reynolds, who is the smartest man in the world.  It's really great -- each paragraph is easily refuted by a third grader.  Even the kicker:

It's your chance to be part of an authentic popular protest movement, one that just might save America from the greed and ineptitude of the folks who have been running it into the ground.

You could argue with that, or you could just say that willful ignorance oozes from just about every word of that, except maybe "the".

So let's sleep well so that we can be well-rested to witness the first best greatest authentic popular movement since New Coke was driven back into its cave a generation ago.  Oh, and maybe leave a little bit early for work, just in case the flood of patriots into our streets disrupts the morning commute.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:39 PM

wasn't there something about AIG?

Just when you thought that the AIG uproar had been pushed off the the front page by the dead teen pirate porn, the head of AIG's Financial Products (the division knee-deep in the Great Recession-inducing exotic securities instruments) climbed back into the spotlight opining that:
Pasciucco told [the WSJ] that the controversy "hurt morale" and "stunned people such that our wind-down has slowed down."

"Taxpayers probably have been damaged," Pasciucco told the Journal, adding that 20 of the unit's 370 employees quit amid the controversy.

Because, see, AIG employees in charge of the wind-down are not so much motivated by public outcry as they are one million dollars, so, see, stupid non-financial-service-employee Americans?  It's all your fault for not being nice.

The attempted after-the-fact blackmail is cute and all, but I'm not sure who it's helping.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:28 PM

disney: better kid shows through science

This is not news.  The coolhunters and the trendspotters who seemed so very much a part of the right right now have to some extent been emulsified into common knowledge, and now people are amateur future-divining sociologists to the same extent that people were amateur CB radio enthusiasts in 1977.

But still, it's hard to read this and not be alarmed:

[So-called 'kid whisperer' Kelly] Peña and her team of anthropologists have spent 18 months peering inside the heads of incommunicative boys in search of just that kind of psychological nugget.  Disney is relying on her insights to create new entertainment for boys 6 to 14, a group that Disney used to own way back in the days of "Davy Crockett" but that has wandered in the age of more girl-friendly Disney fare like "Hannah Montana."

It is the leap from using the identification of current demographic signifiers for targeting advertising to using them for the concoction of programming that is upsetting.  Disney, unsatisfied with 70 years of dominance resulting from fertile imaginations, is now trying to make entertainment in a test tube.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:07 AM

April 13, 2009

student loans, and the assholes that adminster them

Didn't get around to this until now, which is good luck for me, as someone else wrote exactly what I wanted to say but in a ten or twenty words instead of a couple hundred:
In a nutshell, this is a no-brainer -- the student-loan industry is getting government subsidies to provide a service the government can perform for less. Obama can remove the middle-man, streamline the process, save taxpayers a lot money, and help more young people get college degrees.

The story is that the administration is proposing to pump more money into student loans by taking the administration of such loans back from the private banks that have been granted the business (with the government guaranteeing the risk) and then converting the profit margin into more loans -- which makes total rational sense but drives a stake through the hearts of tea-bagging free marketeers who Want The Feds Out Of Our Private Lives!!!

I don't have any student loans myself, but I do have an abiding interest in the argument of "big government" vs. the efficiency of the open market.  And my point is this: the open market may be as efficient as shit, but nothing, nothing, nothing is more efficient than the elimination of the profit motive of private interests.  Check the overhead of Social Security someday, and try to figure out if the guy in the suit at the top could make twenty million dollars per year off that.  Well, he could -- economy of scale -- but that starts to look pretty inefficient then, when those twenty million dollars could be applied to student loans, or Social Security benefits instead of buying aircraft, right?

Seems pretty simple but -- wait, it is pretty simple.  How do you like that.

Further, Steve Benen is good.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:41 PM

the ascent of rush limbaugh

If you are interested in the "inside-baseball" aspects of the talk radio industry, and by "inside-baseball" I don't mean whose house is how big or what time the chauffeur drops them at the studio but rather How The West Was Won, I recommend this short piece by industry trade-mag vet Bill Mann, in which he answers the question, "How did Rush Limbaugh assume his sordid throne?"
It's because -- ready for this? -- Rush's show was, and presumably still is, given away for free to many local radio stations.

This shocker is because of a little-known practice in broadcast syndication called a "barter deal."  Here's how a barter deal works: To launch the show, Limbaugh's syndicator, Premiere Radio Networks -- the same folks who syndicate wingnut du jour Glen Beck -- gave Limbaugh's three hours away -- that's right, no cash -- to local radio stations, mostly in medium and smaller markets, back in the early 1990's.

Not so shocking, really -- after all, the free taste is standard pusher protocol -- but clearly, if you are the first one there, w/r/t the populist-outraged-conservative-talkers, and you are at least mildly entertaining, then you are in like a tick, or "like Flynn" as we used to say before we knew what it meant.  Not to take away from Limbaugh's talent, as he is a talented broadcaster, and it is that talent that won over the Dittoheads and not some ideological like-mindedness.

But it does speak to the origins of Limbaugh's appeal -- a foot in the door by way of forced ubiquity.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:15 AM

pirates. sigh.

Now that the cable news networks have decided that the pirate threat is one that deserves prime-time specials and breaking coverage, can we at least take up a collection for proper costumes for the pirates?  Because as long as these pirates are going to do things not-very-smart things like hijack U.S. flagged vessels and then dare snipers to shoot them as they wear bullseyes and stand motionless and well-lit in a clear field, then at least they could be tarted up in their buccaneer boots and flouncy shirts and eye-patches, at least for image's sake.

Think of the children, who love pirates by default.

But before we go back and catch an hour's worth of Joe Scarborough talking about pirates, here's something actually sober about the situation, if you have the stomach for that.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:32 AM

April 12, 2009

time out on war and poverty!

The Yahoo! Box of Headlines and the Pope have joined up the also wish you a Happy Easter:
• Pope urges hope to end war, poverty on Easter

So let's all work together and stop all the fighting and all the being poor, for this one day!

That may sound like a tall order, but the good news is that once the clock strikes midnight, you can go back to waging war or barely subsisting.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:21 AM

happy easter

You may wonder why it is that Easter as a holiday is burned into your a-religious brain.  Basically, Easter is the second-most successful example of the secular marketing of a liturgical holiday.  As children we were plied not only with irresistible chocolate but also games and arts & crafts activities.  If Easter wasn't your second-favorite holiday growing up American then you were deprived.

So when your adult brain wonders why you're being asked to dinner for Easter, keep all that in mind.  Did you know that a sizable swath of commerce -- groceries!  TJ Maxxes! -- in non-NYC parts of America will close for Easter Sunday?  Hell, even the government shuts down for the day.  So keep your faithless sarcasm to yourself, unless you're me.

I do recall that there is some Judeo-Christian aspect to the holiday -- someone either dying or un-dying.  Something a whole lot more grisly than bunnies and chocolate, I think.

But I hope you all got your Easter Cards out on time!

Posted by mrbrent at 9:06 AM