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January 30, 2010

question time

Everybody is right: the President taking questions from the House GOP yesterday was the most interesting political event I've seen in a decade.

By now you've heard about it, or seen it, but the Republicans in the House were all ready to be obstreperous, confident because of the Administration's waning fortunes, and then the president end-ran them, countering unfriendly questions with genial lectures and a general sense of, "It's just us here, can we cut the shit?"  Which was especially vivid because it was not just them there — the event was being broadcast live.

The general structure was that a Republican would grandstand, and then Obama would warmly explain why that was grandstanding (and taking pains to cite Democratic grandstanding) and how it won't help.  The President came off as seriously looking to hit the reset button, and the GOP (or at least the worst of them, like Mike Pence) got outflanked, and it was the equivalent of America catching the GOP in the dressing room shoe-polishing their bald spot.

Obama broke kayfabe.  He enumerating the ploys and he addressed the possible benefits   He let the electorate see what it is like backstage, and the GOP caucus was not nimble enough to break character so they wouldn't look like wooden frauds.

It was super awesome.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:15 AM

January 29, 2010

"anarchist"?

A very strange paragraph in a story about West Bank protests:
“Israel recognizes the threat of the popular movement and its potential for expanding,” said Jonathan Pollak, an Israeli anarchist and spokesman of the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, which is based in Ramallah. “I think the goal is to quash it before it gets out of hand.”

I wasn't aware that there was a part of the world in which "anarchist" could be casually dropped as an occupational descriptor.  And I'm old friends with the dude who started Vox Pop, so if there was such part of the world, you'd think I'd know.

Granted, I'm not entirely up to date on the conflict in the region, but I'm also not exactly not up to date, so, huh?

Posted by mrbrent at 4:26 PM

deliberations: 37 minutes

The fact that his guilt was ever in question, considering that he shot the doctor in front of a passel of churchly witnesses and then continually admitted his guilt, is alarming.  Sign of the times?  Maybe, hope not.  But Scott Roeder has been convicted of murder one for gunning down Dr. George Tiller.

That whole putting-abortion-on-trial thing?  Didn't so much work out.  I guess the court, like the rest of us sane people, was not willing to accept a specious equivalency involving shooting an unsuspecting man in the head.

I believe what I believe as far as abortion goes, but I'm willing to have a conversation, or even an argument, about it.  But to kill a man over this?  We all have free will, but may Roeder, and anyone else feeling shooty, live long enough to scour the Ten Commandments for the asterisk that's not there, in prison, and then live another twenty years longer, in prison.

I wish there was more wacky in this Schadenfreude (for the purposes of levity), but you gotta take your Schadenfreude where you can get it.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:53 AM

nimby terrorism trials

When the story ran yesterday morning that Mayor Bloomberg was against trying alleged 9-11 terrorists in NYC, I got all steamed.  But now that I see that the administration is heading for the path of least resistance, I am just disappointed.

Trying the plotters in a civilian court blocks away from the scene of one of the crimes would have not only been poetic, it would have been right: ideally, they would not be accorded special super-villain status but rather normal shitbird treatment, and we would have proven that we were unshaken and unbowed by whatever buildings they knocked over and whatever buildings they may knock over in the future.  It would have been beautiful: we will subvert your paranoia/panic-causing tactics by refusing to treat you better than a pickpocket.

That's not the way it happened of course: the Feds, while committed to the civilian trial, also estimated $200 million dollars of security crippling all of Manhattan south of Canal and east of Broadway, because, and this is an old one, the alleged plotters can shoot laser beams out of their fingertips and/or have a an entire armored division waiting in Staten Island to take the ferry over and free the terrorists once and for all!  And so real estate developers realized that they would have a hard time moving property under these security conditions and business owners saw that the clamp-down wasn't exactly gonna inspire a lot of walk-in traffic.  Then a great fog of NIMBY descended and City Hall, and then the administration, rightly acquiesced.

Which is sad, because I would like to have seen a quiet but firm guilty verdict delivered in this city in which I live.

However, this does not absolve folk like Rep. Peter King, who think that the only manly thing to do is to railroad the terrorists because they are very scary and their very presence on American soil might cause an earthquake or inappropriate touching.  That is not a manly thing to do — that is a cowardly thing to do, and it surrenders the goal of terrorism: being terrorism.

But once the plotters are tried in a secure and secret moon installation and banished to the center of the sun, all of this will be moot.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:22 AM

January 28, 2010

ipad in no-caps looks less threatening

All the jokes about the iPad are really funny and all, but I figured out the big reason why I Do Not Want, above the fact that it won't run Flash, it has no USB ports, it has no camera, continued business with ATT, etc.

I live in Brooklyn, and I take the subway.  The only way to describe anything that does neat things, weighs a pound and a half and costs $400 is "eminently stealable".

So I'll stick with the old-fashioned content delivery system that I'm using right now, for the time being.

Now, a Netbook I am seriously in the market for — something that does not tie me into the hothouse of DRM media that start with little "i".  It's good to dream.

Posted by mrbrent at 4:45 PM

zinn/salinger

This has gotta be another fringe benefit of managing not to die, right?  This angsty feeling that comes whenever a duly old cultural icon passes?  This, "Hey, that was a tangible piece of reality right there that's not there anymore," that happens in spite of the fact that you have personal and vivid knowledge that no one lives forever?

I'm well aware that this dislocation is melodramatic and in many ways no befit a grown-up.  But where's the next Howard Zinn, getting into fist-fights with high school history text books?  Who is the next J.D. Salinger, living in his/her own shadow?

I'm not weeping over this, and I'm more than happy to crack a joke — bananafish/banana phone?  Already went there.  I just sometimes wish there was a "Growing Older For Dummies" b/c I sure do feel like one.

Enough whining!  Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger are definitely two men who left the world a better place than they found it.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:39 PM

sotu: dispensing with formality

Hey, here's a really nice bit of insight from Robert A. George on how the SOTU speech compared with SOTUs of the past — specifically, how President Obama departed from tradition, both in stagecraft and in tone:
indeed, the strangeness continued -- the evidence of which could be gleaned by what was included and excluded in the speech.

To go in reverse order, for the first time I believe since Reagan initiated the practice, there was no shout-out to the special guests in the president's box.  The hero cops from the Ft. Hood shooting were reportedly up in the gallery, yet no explicit mention of them?  Odd.

Odder still was the specific avoidance of specificity.  By that, I mean the president made pointed reference to examples of companies and individuals helped by the stimulus -- but gave no names.

George goes on to compare the break with boilerplate with the tone of the speech, which was more baldly political than usual.  And by "political" we're not talking about, "An iPad in every pot!" or overt appeals to garner the support of viewers at home, but rather plain-speaking to the realities facing the congressman/women sitting in front of him.

Basically, the president didn't have any time for bullshit last night, whether self-serving or conciliatory.  Word.

[Via Adam Serwer.]

Posted by mrbrent at 10:03 AM

sotu 10

Again I managed to not watch the president addressing both houses of Congress — I guess it's now a trend.  But I certainly watched excerpts and read reactions, and I even more certainly was worried sick about the thing all day in between jokes about feminine hygiene.

And my big reaction is this: that dude is President of the United fucking States of America.  During the scrum of the legislative year and the unrelenting siege laid by Fox News and its sock puppets, you forget about the campaign, and the features about the man that that made him formidable: his discipline, his smarts and his tenaciousness.  And last night, standing in front of those aggregated bigwigs, speaking complete sentences like he might have actually wrote them, his presidential-ness took center stage again, and it was powerful.  Even the obligatory wingnut rudeness was more elevated this time around: it was a robed Justice of the Supreme Court who forgot his manners, and not some cracker Rep nobody ever heard of.

What came back to me, even in the middle of all the small defeats suffered by the administration, is Obama's I-got-this-ness.  Because he does, succeed or fail.

I haven't gotten around to watching Jefferson Davis' State of the Union rebuttal, but I hear it was awesome like Nixon's five o'clock shadow.  The day is young.  Maybe someone with no mercy put it up somewhere.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:13 AM

January 27, 2010

taibbi v. brooks

So I hit David Brooks in the face with a soft fluffy pillow for the sideways revelation that China tanked our economy.  Fair enough!

And for all that other normal David Brooks stuff, like his inverse class war and his elitism, Matt Taibbi takes Brooks to the woodshed — an actual woodshed, filled with wood:

Brooks here is trying to say that by criticizing, say, Goldman Sachs for mass thievery — criticizing a bank for selling billions of dollars worth of worthless subprime mortgage-backed securities mismarked as investment grade deals, for getting the taxpayer to pay them 100 cents on the dollar for their billions in crap investments with AIG, for forcing hundreds of millions of people to pay inflated gas and food prices when they manipulated the commodities market and helped push oil to a preposterous $149 a barrel, and for paying massive bonuses after receiving billions upon billions in public support even beyond the TARP — that in criticizing the bank for doing these things, people like me are primarily interested in being divisive and “organizing hatreds.”

I would not be quick to crowd under any banner of "populism" myself, but only because it's a really big banner and it covers a lot of behavior.  Plus also there's a lot of strawmen hiding in there, and they are terrible conversationalists.  But I sure do agree with Taibbi's post, and specifically the sentiment directly above.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:49 PM

watergate watergate watergate

OK, there is comfort in this: the pencilneck who created a furor by convincing ACORN counselors that they were in on some kind of Daily Show schtick and then released the video footage which clearly demonstrated the Conspiracy of the Poor or something heinous now has a new furor to his credit!  He got popped attempting to wiretap the offices of Senator Mary Landieu (D-LA).  And the best coverage/discussion can be laid at the feet of Alex Pareene:
When it comes to the arrest of James O'Keefe, patron Andrew Breitbart is not jumping to conclusions. The MSM may want to convict O'Keefe, but Breitbart is waiting for the facts, so that he can ignore the inconvenient ones.

Why comfort?  Because it's a bright shiny object that does not involve either a panicking Democrat or a Republican lecturing how the marked minority they hold in Congress enables them to divine the Will of the People.

Additionally, you don't have to be old enough to remember it for "Watergate" to be the first thing that comes to mind when a wiretapping is attempted, and I'm gonna take this Watergate and rub it all over everything and it's gonna be a bitch getting rid of that Watergate smell.

So if dipshit wants to try to bug the office of a senator under the guise of "conservative journalism" or whatever then I am happy to change the subject over and over again.

So please please please more coverage of these courageous young man and standard-bearers of a new generation of rightwing muckrakers.  It is news I can use.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:54 PM

good morning 1.27.10

I am having a week.  Two birds playing tag missed my face by inches on the way to the subway, and every electrical device I touch gets infected by malware that immaculately conceives itself onto the harddrive.

And on top of that all my cogent thoughts are seriously lacking cogency.  Here on this very big news day, whether you care for politics or the unstoppable terraforming of Steve Jobs, I'm getting all pissed off because of some finer point of macroeconomics that I'm not qualified to think about let alone write about.

And this play I saw last night?  Not so good!  Why are there not so good plays in the world?

So I'mma gonna take a second and hit some Wilco and see if I can't get my shit correct enough to at least make fun of some scumbag who dearly deserves it.

But good morning anyways.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:13 PM

January 26, 2010

ignore this

This could be schizophrenic of me, but every time I read about some jobs package that revolves around tax breaks for employers to encourage hiring I feel like the point is being missed.

I've got nothing against employers: I have one myself, and I'm a big fan.  Sure, give them a break, especially the small ones.  But I think that our unemployment problem is not caused by skittish employers.  I think our unemployment problem is caused by a genuine lack of jobs.  The industries that could support a thriving middle class, the industries that didn't necessarily require a college degree but paid well and offered benefits, went away.  The manufacturing jobs were exported to cheaper labor markets, and some blue-collar sectors just plain went obsolete and belly-up.  And now we're trying to support what was once a burgeoning middle class entirely on Wal-Mart and similar service jobs (which service jobs, of course, inject nothing tangible into the economy, like a durable good, say).

So then the fundamental question is not how can we find new jobs out of what we have, but how can we create new jobs from where they used to be, the kinds of jobs that got us where we were when things were fine?

Just thinking out loud.  And I need to be able to answer the question, "Why is a manufacturing economy more productive of lasting middle class wealth than a service economy?"  Research!

Posted by mrbrent at 11:52 AM

hot new scapegoat: china

This newsflash is brought to you by David Brooks:
It’s easy to see why politicians would be drawn to the populist pose.  First, it makes everything so simple.  The economic crisis was caused by a complex web of factors, including global imbalances caused by the rise of China.  But with the populist narrative, you can just blame Goldman Sachs.

That would be the first time I've heard someone finger China as the bad actor in the economicalypse.  And it's definitely the first time I've seen someone try to save Goldman Sachs by throwing the People's Republic in front of the bus.

So yes, you learn something new every day, even from the crazy-ass assertions of op-ed columnists.

There's also the normal level of bland/outrageous assertions in there concerning the American People and their likelihood to agree with David Brooks, in you're in the mood for that today.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:20 AM

January 25, 2010

don't not read bruce sterling

Like the fool that I am, I'm just now getting to sorting through this year's version of Bruce Sterling's State of the World 2010, even though I heartily recommended it not three weeks ago.

And not even through the first page of it and I can't decide on which portion is worth the pullquote, because it's all so fucking good.

Start here, where Sterling lays it out better than all the smart guys I know:

Basically we've got an emergent, market-driven global financial system that was all about a faith-based market fundamentalism.  It was deprived of oversight for three good reasons (a) it rapidly brought prosperity to billions (b) under globalization, money is inherently global while governance is inherently local (c) complete regulatory capture of the system -- nobody but bankers understands how to bank.  There's no caste of regulators left anywhere who have the clout or even the knowledge to do anything usefully stabilizing.  No, not even if you give them guns, lawyers, money and back issues of DAS KAPITAL.

It (and by it I mean the entry and not the thread) goes on to compare our world today to Potterville, from yes that movie, and explain how top-heavy-ness has hamstrung us for the next few generations.  And I'm extrapolating here, but when you read "top-heavy" think "billions of dollars of bonus pools" that are rewards for doing nothing more than taking money, moving it back and forth and extracting a vig.

So please read, and I'm sure this won't be the last time I say that.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:39 PM

scotus: oops

TPM's Zachary Roth susses out how the Supreme Court may fall victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences — last week's decision to overturn limits on corporate funding for political speech may allow foreign interests to join in the fun of dumping billions to influence elections:
The ruling affirms that corporations, like individuals, have a free-speech right to spend unlimited amounts from their general treasuries on ad campaigns that support or oppose political candidates.  It's true that foreign nationals are currently prohibited by law from making independent expenditures in U.S. elections.  But that prohibition has little teeth. According to experts, it doesn't apply to foreign-owned corporations that incorporate in the U.S., or have U.S. subsidiaries -- meaning most foreign multinationals likely aren't covered.

And naturally, even if you are a fellow like me not afraid of the slow blurring of national boundaries, you will find a SCOTUS-mandated loophole through which nation-states other than ours can buy political ads significant.

Which of course all goes back to the fact that if you (if you are a Supreme Court) are going to grant full personhood to corporations, then how will you induce them to behave within the confines of the laws that we actual people must adhere to, like laws governing citizenship?  Not to mention laws governing criminal behavior, but if there is a crack in the dyke, I'm not about to stick my thumb in it.

As far as the state of the nation goes there's not a whole lot cheery out there, so I'm going to take all the good I can get from the hypocritical wing of the Supreme Court being hoisted by the petard of their judicial activism.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:14 PM

please find harold ford a different state

Harold Ford, a man who wants to continue the great tradition of carpetbagging New York senators, wrote an op-ed with the NYTimes helpfully published this morning.  It's titled "Democrats, Get Down to Business" which frankly would be more fun without the comma and a double exclamation point.

In the piece, in between finger-wagging, he lays out the meat of what he proposes to run on: lower business taxes, pass a different unpassable health care reform, be nice to smarty-pants immigrants, and fix that deficit now!  This could give the impression that Ford has sagely weighed the pros and cons of the tenets of the entire political spectrum and wisely chosen only the finest.  But that's just the impression he's trying to give.  Actually all he did was have a flunky auction off the planks of his platform while Ford practiced smiling coolly at himself in the mirror.

It's not so much a Frankenstein of a policy recommendations as much as it is a fantastical poli-sci particle collider that may well create a black hole, destroying the earth.

Of course you may not have noticed this even if you read the op-ed because you were so distracted the fact that all Ford really has to say after a couple hundred words is, "Mop harder."

Posted by mrbrent at 10:45 AM

January 24, 2010

peak phosphorous

Everything is connected: the newest, hippest end-of-world scenario yet is the fact that we have entered peak phosphorous.
Phosphorus is at the heart of modern farming; an essential ingredient of agricultural fertilizers. It has no synthetic alternative and is being mined, used and wasted as never before. Inefficiencies in the processing of food and the soaring demand for meat and dairy produce across Asia is fueling demand for phosphorus faster than anyone had predicted.

The Infranet Lab post posits a world not too far from now in which the geopolitical map is as determined by phosphate rock reserves as much as our map is drawn by oil.  It's not as sexy as the bee problem, but we were never promised a novel and interesting extinction event.

And there's a technological solution, as waste phosphorous, from agricultural runoff and the like, pollutes waterways and causes algae blooms which really brightens no one's day.  So find a way to collect the excess before (or after) it enters the water table, and viola!  Sci fi to the rescue.

OK, back to football.

[Via Ellis.]

Posted by mrbrent at 1:59 PM

nyt putting nyt out of business

I'm reading today's Frank Rich column online — and it's very good as usual — but what I'm most struck by is the fact that reading it online is superior to reading it in the actual newspaper.

It is chcok full of hyperlinks, everywhere.  Every time Rich refers to a news event, or a quote, there is a link going back to the story which fills out/confirms Rich's assertion.  In fact it's lousy with hyperlinks.  There might be more hyperlinks than commas.

But if you were the type to read the column and say to self, "Well now that interests me.  I'd like to read up on this topic and arm myself with knowledge so that I can call in to Rush Limbaugh and discuss this rationally," then it is laid out for you, like footnotes but even easier thanks to our modern technology.  Online, that is.  If you are on a train, or in your breakfast nook, and you have that thought while reading, then, well, it's a trip to the library for you.

This is all no-duh, but it didn't hit me until just now: newspapers' use of nested links in their stories is also a reason that print is dying.  It's very O. Henry.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:10 AM

friday night live

I was half-wrong about the Haiti telethon.  The musical performances made for some good TV-watching, offering the kind of random talent matching (Neil Young/Dave Matthews! Jay-Z/U2/Rihanna!) that this kind of event makes opportune.  Which performances kicked ass.  An old friend social-media'ed that it was "like LiveAid" and she's right: it was like LiveAid, but without the Hooters.

And then by the time I stayed up for Conan (and one of the finest denouements I've ever seen, even though no one yelled, "Whippin' Post!"), I was all exhausted because dedicated-TV watching is something I rarely do and when I do it depletes my nostalgia reserves.

But Friday night certainly was one for the TV historians, who finally had something better to do than cataloging the fourth season of "One Day at a Time".

And I still insist that if you need Ben Stiller dressed in a suit that matches the background to tell you to help Haiti, then bad for you.  Good for Haiti, if you help, but still bad for you.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:43 AM