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October 8, 2010

election money fight!

I'm glad to see that the story of how this election cycle is unlike any other because of the deluge of cash coming from seemingly every direction is getting some play.  The AP files this story about the money-spigot headed by Karl Rove, and the NYTimes runs an overview this morning, which has (online) an odd little video which is actually quite instructive, I suppose, if you don't like reading words.

As far as I'm concerned, the issue at hand is not the amount of money involved, but transparency.  It's obvious to anyone but a potted plant that cash sways elections.  In fact, that's the secret to the Tea Party swell that's been swamping incumbent/chosen GOP candidates — enormous ad buys.  It sucks and I hate it, but it's what it is.  But as long as that is what it is, the least we can do is have transparency, to know exactly whose millions are buying all those votes.

And since Citizen's United and other Supreme Court decisions, 501(c) organizations (like Rove's Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies) are increasingly the front, because they have no obligation to report the identity of their donors.

Defenders of this practice say that political spending is a speech issue and protected under the First Amendment, and that to lose anonymity would chill speech.  That's a load of hooey — freedom of speech and freedom of consequence are two different issues.  And since our electoral democracy depends on an informed electorate in the Jeffersonian sense, there is no excuse for secrecy.  George Soros slaps his name on his contributions, and he's the dude that ACORNed our nation into socialism, right?

Good to see the shoe leather in effect.  Hopefully the story will make it to TMZ so it will be seen by a greater portion of America.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:18 AM

October 7, 2010

yeah, i called banks lying cheaters

Further to the Foreclosure Scandal To Be Named Later, the Fourteen Banker notices that the traditional business press is a bit more sympathetic to the banks than the normal ham'n'egger, as CNBC (birthplace of the American Tea Party, remember) files a piece implying that holding banks responsible might hurt the housing market.

Perhaps a cookie-cutter capitalist response — "People are hurting?  But what about the markets?"  Fourteen puts it better:

Either there is a legal process and the banks spend the money to follow it, or they bear the consequences.  That is free market capitalism.  So far, no one has proposed a new law or regulation.  They are just asking the banks to follow the laws that were in place when these mortgages were originated and sliced and diced into securitized assets.  If it now costs more to process the risks that were in those portfolios, the folks that made the bets should pay the costs.  Simple and elegant.

And true!  And ultimately, if there is some downside to the aftereffects of this, in the markets or elsewhere, who is responsible for that: the lying cheaters, or the upholders of the law?

Posted by mrbrent at 3:51 PM

obama veto?

If this is true I am well-pleased.

To sum up: you've probably heard or read about something variously described as a Foreclosure Scandal or a Mortgage Paperwork Fraud — basically, as banks were bundling and moving home mortgages back and forth, they were not taking proper care (to lower costs) in recording the transactions as is proscribed by law, which has left banks with a passel of foreclosures that are at least dubious and at most invalid.  More in depth explanation can be found at Alternet.

This morning news broke that a bill had sneaked through Congress that would ease legal requirements on banks to document mortgages, to give them a loophole, as it were, to bail-out their failure to document and record.  The bill was on the president's desk — would he sign it?  ABC's Jake Tapper says that it will be vetoed, which would be an enormously smart thing to do, given the size and shape of the scandal, which is born not of bad luck but greedy corner-cutting.

And then maybe someone with a reportorial bent could dig up which of our elected officials was pushing this little abortion of a bill through the House and the Senate.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:38 PM

colony collapse disorder stunner

God only knows how many posts I threw up here about the bees.  It was back when we still had enough energy to be whimsically cynical about hysteria and extinction events — you know, back before the futility really took hold and the cynicism hardened into something that's gonna need to be sandblasted off, once we save up enough scratch (well, once we pay everything down enough to be able to save up enough scratch).  Colony Collapse Disorder was the scientific term for it, and theories abounded.  Our favorite was the CELL PHONES!, or at least EMF pollution, mucking with whatever mechanism the bees use to return to the hive, leaving them lost and functionless.  There was a certain terrible beauty to that, right?  Promethean unintended consequence, unwitting noble victims, unimaginable tragedy.

But no, we don't even get terrible beauty.  We get fungus/virus.  Entomologists and the Department of Homeland Security formed a Megapowers, whose Hulkamania ran wild on CCD — bug scientists brought the field work, and DHS brought the wildly expensive scanner/computer that makes a tricorder look like a plastic toy.  It's a little bit interesting, academia getting their chocolate into the government's peanut butter, but what is interesting is leveled by the culprit: a combination of a fungus and a virus.  Taxi!

So let's say one last goodbye to the topic of the bees and their fate, knowing that they are now in the hands of Science and more importantly the DHS.  Honey for all my friends, with a healthy side of pollination.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:22 AM

October 6, 2010

online community map

Always funny/relevant xkcd has up a revised Online Community map up.  As you would expect, the size of each of the "nations" is relative to the online audience commanded.  So, as Facebook is as big as a bushel of Russias, you can see that they have a crushing number of users and a market share that resembles the humidity of a rainy day.  I'm mildly shocked that Tumblr is not bigger, but that is probably because I use it and therefor overestimate its importance.

And for extra credit, compare and contrast to the Online Community Map xkcd put up three and a half years ago.  It was a simpler world then, and more MySpace-y.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:44 AM

October 5, 2010

she's who?

What is creepier to a prospective voter than a candidate who once dabbled in witchcraft?

A terrifying television ad in which Christine O'Donnell (R-DE) twice intones, "I'm you."

It's a high concept spot, but it also comes off like it was ripped from a dystopian sci-fi movie in which alien sleeper agents run for political office on the dint of their alien mind-control propaganda.  It's, "A shining city on the hill of our extraterrestrial conquerors."

Also, "I'm not a witch!" seems to be a reaction to a problem that doesn't actually exist.  The result of Bill Maher releasing footage in which O'Donnell claims to have dabbled in Wicca was not that Delawareans were worried that O'Donnell was actually a witch.  It was that they thought she might be a shallow, flaky individual — perhaps not even qualified to hold public office!  The kind of people who might worry about a candidate being a witch are the kind of people already voting for O'Donnell.

A classic misstep by a classic non-candidate.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:02 AM

obion county is not a friendly place

This one is expressly for all the Ayn Rand dingbats out there — a rural county in Tennessee converted its fire department to the subscription model.  And eventually duh the inevitable happened.  As in, the fire fighters were forbidden by the chief to fight a residential fire, whereupon the resident watched his home burn to the ground, in the company of a non-fire-fighting fire company.

The subscription model for public services is a big favorite of small government conservatives, who feel that public services like potable water, sewage disposal, crime/fire prevention, should not be paid for by taxes but by more market-favorable systems, like direct subscription.  It's kind of irrelevant, if you think about it, since the citizen is paying one way or the other, either through taxes or through service fees.  But no, conservatives, freed from any moral obligation and emboldened to recreate society to fall in line with their enlightened/nihilistic weaponized selfishness, would rather that only those who receive benefit of the service have to pay for it.  And since currently everyone receives benefits of roads, sewers, etc., they needed to find a way to deny service for non-payment.

And so what you're left with is a world in which the public interest is served by watching houses burn to the ground.  Ask the neighbors if their property values are served by having a smoldering hole as a neighbor, or if the town is served by having a newly homeless family, or having to defend itself in the law suit sure to come.

But just on a personal level, thinking about a firefighter told to watch a domicile burn unabated just makes me nauseous.  What would Jesus do in that case, again, Southern Christians?

Posted by mrbrent at 10:25 AM

October 4, 2010

monday optimism

This is just a little tiny dose of scary.

Take the sentiment that Thomas Friedman was drum-beating last week:

China has at least four [long-term investments] going now: one is building a network of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience, where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128 DNA sequencers — from America — giving China the largest number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed money for the country’s leading auto and battery companies to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot cities...

Not to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan.

And then take Douglas Rushkoff writing about our lack of fondness for ones and zeroes:

Amazingly, America - the birthplace of the Internet - is the only developed nation that does not teach programming in its public schools. Sure, some of our schools have elected to offer "computer" classes, but instead of teaching programming, these classes almost invariably teach programs: how to use Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, or any of the other commercial software packages used in the average workplace.  We teach our kids how to get jobs in today's marketplace rather than how to innovate for tomorrow's.

Think about those for a while, and you start to envision a nation whose lack of foresight is only exceeded by its laziness.

See?  That's only a little dose of scary, right?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:01 AM