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February 12, 2011

the red crescent tide

Just wondering: is this what is was like fifty years ago when the Birchers and other clean-cut types were sternly muttering about the Red Menace and a Commie invasion of like Baltimore?  Did the rank and file wonder and worry, or did they gather around to watch the show and tell the children, "That's what a crazy person looks like?"

Oh, I didn't watch the clip, and I'm sure if writer's block ever hits I could just park myself in front of Glenn Beck's show for a day or two and then shazam!  But I honestly can't think of a less tethered thing to believe — not Birtherism, not End-Times-ism — than the growing threat of a Leftist Caliphate on Our Shores.

And how does it happen?  It's not the product of a fevered imagination.  It's the product of a person who sees things other people can't see and hears things other people can't hear.

I guess it's dangerous for people to have that poison spilled in their ears, but really it's just Loony Tunes.  Roger Ailes must be shitting a brick or two.

Posted by mrbrent at 6:44 PM

competitive intellience

WikiLeaks is truly the gift that keeps on giving, though the event that is so charming is so many degrees removed from the actual WikiLeaks diplomatic cable release that it is worthwhile to go to the NYTimes for a calm explanation:
The episode traces back to a dispute in December, when corporations including MasterCard, Visa and PayPal severed ties to WikiLeaks, temporarily cutting off its ability to accept donations. WikiLeaks had just begun releasing leaked State Department cables in conjunction with a consortium of news organizations, including The New York Times.

Calling the companies’ severing of such ties an affront to Internet freedom, a loose-knit group of computer users named Anonymous coordinated attacks on the Web sites of such companies. [Aaron Barr, Internet security firm HBGary Federal’s chief executive,] apparently began trying to uncover the identities of those involved with Anonymous. But after he boasted of his efforts in a newspaper article, hackers attacked his company’s Web site and made public the e-mails.

It's fun already, without knowing what the emails are, security square tours the talkers, boasting of Anonymous scalps, and is then utterly fuckin' undone by Anonymous.

And the emails are in fact more fun, because among them (Anonymous liberated "tens of thousands" of them) were pitches to Bank of America (w/r/t WikiLeaks) and the Chamber of Commerce (w/r/t critics) offering very rigorous cointelpro programs — misinfo to discredit WL, a smear campaign against journo Glenn Greenwald, and, worst, a protracted effort to pry into the private lives of agitators to let the agitators know they can be got to.

And lest you wave this off as the actions of one or two bad apples:

Jonathan E. Turner, who runs a Tennessee-based business that gathers intelligence for corporate clients, said that companies nationwide relied on investigators to gather potentially damaging information on possible business partners or rivals. “Information is power,” said Mr. Turner, former chairman of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

He estimated that the “competitive intelligence” industry had 9,700 companies offering these services, with an annual market of more than $2 billion, but said there were limits to what tactics should be used.

Bad news: that's totally disgusting.  Good news: this is not a bad flashlight on the nascent disgusting industry, and the world is still more interesting than you think it is.

Remember that the Bank of America databomb is as yet unexploded, so we all have something good to look forward to.  And for more in-depth reading, target Greenwald has a thing or two to say.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

February 11, 2011

yay, egypt! um

Now that Mubarak has "resigned" not a day after he headfaked everyone into apoplexy, let me drop the snark and explain the conflicted feelings that some people are feeling.

On the one hand, it is a clear victory for "the people" — Egyptians took to the streets, were non-violent, persevered violence and hardship, and achieved their stated goal.  It's inspirational and hard not to get swept up in the joyousness of the occasion.

On the other hand, Mubarak just handed the keys to an entity known as the Supreme Military Council.  Generally, consulting our cursory knowledge of world history, when the military takes over the government it is not thought of as a good thing, and in fact one thing that military rulers (dictators, you could call them) don't like is democracy and elections and all that stuff — it's very messy, and it's easier to keep a nation in line with mysterious and arbitrary power wielded effectively.  I'm not saying that the Egyptian military would cancel elections now; that would be extraordinarily stupid, and they'd have to reorder porta-johns for Tafir Square all over again.  I'm saying that it would not be out of character for a junta to be reluctant to give up 100% of the power they have.

So what we're all fainting over is essentially a coup d'etat.  There may be some irony in this situation that is life-affecting in some way, but ultimately what I feel is that The People have demonstrated their power, but might have been more careful in crafting their goals.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:50 AM

go house leadership

I'm not sure what happened or why it happened so quickly, but the NewLook BigMandate Republican Party is suddenly immensely, immensely entertaining.  They're supposed to be leading the House, and the country, into some new conservative paradise, and yet all they are doing is running amok like a bunch of teens with the parents out of town.

One one hand you have the Paulites, who, with the the help of Rep. Paul Ryan, have decided that the most important problem facing America is that we went off the Gold Standard.  On the other hand, you have the cadre of earmark police and job creators, who've figured out that the key to a balanced budget and raise employment is to refight Roe v. Wade for the umpteenth time.  And on the third hand, Rep Pete King is a bloc all his own, as he channels Joe McCarthy in a bid for the history books.

And over in some other corner of DC, Speaker John Boehner, after being ambushed by his own party twice in as many days, has decided that the best thing to do when the caucus gets unruly is to capitulate, bringing us a draconian budget to be submitted by the House leadership and an eventual showdown.

Remember the tremendous discipline that allowed the GOP to seem steely and upright and principled even though all they were doing was oppose the administration universally?  It was impressive — no infighting, no one off-message, just a unified front of obstructionism.  And it is absolutely a thing of the past.

I could watch this all year.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:15 AM

February 10, 2011

i thought i forgot about egypt

Now that Twitter is currently bearing the weight of a million people RTing the breaking news that someone said that Mubarak will be stepping down shortly, here's the hypothetical question that's been bugging me since, oh, January 25 or so:

Is it ever ever appropriate to question whether a certain nation or people or community is "ready for democracy"?

Just to glance on this a second, it's a question that I've asked, so I tend to feel that the answer is that is is appropriate, though there are some people, like the pasty radio gasbag millionaires, also asking the question, which makes me very very uncomfortable.

But discomfort aside, in the coverage, and from the more breathless supporters of takin' it to the streets for democracy!, it's been implicit that it is never appropriate to question a population's readiness for democracy, which makes me, well, uncomfortable.  Democracy's not exactly a natural state; it needs the informed consent of the governed.  Without the informed part, you get some government masquerading as a democracy but actually an entrenched power structure endlessly manipulating voters (ahem), or at worst total anarchy.  I guess the total anarchy hasn't happened so much because the entrenched power structures are so good at what they do.

I guess that specific bit of American exceptionalism that states that democracy is the most awesome thing ever and can kick your political form of government's ass skipped over me.  I'm not against it, and I'm not necessarily asking the question of whether countries are ready for democracy because I think the answer is "no".  Just trying to approach this with an open mind.

To be clear, the reason that the Limbaughs and the Becks wonder about Egypt's qualifications for democracy is that they support the Mubarak regime in the face of an overstated/ridiculous threat from the Muslim Brotherhood.  That's not me, guv, no.  For me, I'm just curious about whether a democracy in Egypt would end up being a democracy or just a power vacuum waiting to be filled.  Ultimately, go people of Egypt: principles have consequences.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:25 AM

plus also, the tooth fairy, etc.

Nice little bit of judo from The Baseline Scenario's James Kwak in taking down Rep. Hunky McBraniac Paul Ryan's questioning of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in a congressional hearing:
Ryan pointed to Tooth Fairy-driven inflation as part of “a sharp rise in a variety of key global commodity and basic material prices” that, he said, threaten to produce higher overall inflation and reduce the value of the dollar. “The inflation dynamic can be quick to materialize and painful to eradicate once it takes hold,” said Ryan, calling on Bernanke to end the quantitative easing program and raise interest rates in order to counteract the expansionary policies of the Tooth Fairy.

You see, since Rep. Ryan is now known as the "smart Republican" he gets to be the one who says mean things about and to Bernanke.  And Bernanke is certainly worthy of some mean things being said.  And Rep. Ryan can generally string sentences together that sound like they mean something, such as this bit of actual questioning:

My concern is that the costs of the Fed’s current monetary policy — the money creation and massive balance sheet expansion — will come to outweigh the perceived short-term benefits.

So yeah since Rep. Ryan speaks macroeconomics, he gets to be the point man, and Kwak, who also speaks macroeconomics, responds in kind, comparing Rep. Ryan's assertions about the effects of the Fed buying T-bonds to, well, what you see above.  So it's a big joke about Ryan's misconceptions about quantitative easing!

Right.

Bigger point, and nicely depicted by Kwak, is that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and just because Rep. Ryan is the first Republican in years that you can imagine meeting in an economics class doesn't necessarily mean that he knows at all what he's talking about.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:24 AM

February 9, 2011

don't make us pay is a very clumsy con

The past few days has seen the return of an advertiser to the shores of TalkingPointsMemo — "dontmakeuspay dot org", I guess you'd call them, and I'm not linking on purpose, as you'll see.

The copy of these ads reads like

Using your debit card is about to get more expensive. Tell giant retailers NO!

And

Bureaucrats want to take away your debit card! Tell Congress NO!

It sounds very grassy-roots, like it might invite you in for a slice of pie and a cool soft drink.  After all, who uses debit cards?  Big business corporocrats?  I don't think so!  That'd be us, my friend, and those Beltway insiders want to take yours away from you!

Naturally it's not.  It's a fake grassroots org, run by banks.  And the issue is very cut and dry: the financial reform legislation limits fees charged by debit card issuers to retailers.  "Debt interchange transactions", they're called, and if the banks get their fees limited, then it stands to reason that they are going to raise the fees charged to the consumer for these debit cards.  Well, it doesn't really stand to reason so much, but no one takes money from the banks, and if they have to hold a gun to the head to their customers and threaten increased cost so they'll dance like little monkeys and write their congressmen, there's nothing in the Constitution that says they can't.

This is just another exhibit in the argument, "Why People Hate Banks," which is a topic that might be of interest to Jamie Dimon.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:21 AM

February 8, 2011

thank you tom robbins

And as long as I'm giving props, give it up for Tom Robbins, formerly of the Village Voice, but working the city beat there since 1985, which was more than ten years ago.  In his last filed piece, which I missed last week (b/c it's the VV and when do you pick that up these days?), he pins down, much like Bob Herbert, the growing disparity between the rich and the poor here in New York City:
The numbers on the chart [not linked, in a flex of the muscles of the professionalism of the new VV] show that nationally, America's top earners are now taking in 24 percent of the income, back to where they were just before their gluttony crashed Wall Street in 1929. But they are pikers compared to New York. Our state's most privileged class holds 35 percent of the dough. Here in the city, the fat cats do even better, with a whopping 44 percent. This is why New York State ranks last in terms of the income gap between rich and poor. And it is why New York City is the most polarized of the nation's 25 biggest urban areas.

I know this is not the narrative of national coverage these days, because there's a whole bushel of Republicans, deprived from power until recently, who have realized that "deficits are scary!" is a nice way to dogwhistle the unfortunate, underemployed GOP base, but I persist in saying, as does Bob Herbert, as does Robbins, that the playing field has not just had the goal posts moved but has been turned upside down.  As Robbins reports, the last time the income disparity on these shores was so precipitous was prior to the Great Depression.  This might not be a replay of the Gilded Age (decades prior to the GP, of course), but it sure fucking feels like it.

I love the VV, purely for nostalgic reasons.  I went to college here in the late 80s, and the VV was as big a gee-gosh as the skyscrapers and the subways and the multitudes of panhandlers.  I hope they someday replace Robbins wisely, but 'til then, fuck 'em.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:38 PM

bob herbert

The existential difficulty of being Bob Herbert, who is a very good NYT columnist who does not always get the attention he should, is that the important things that he writes are not widely written elsewhere so his body of work tends to be filled with patient restatements of earlier pieces he'd written.

For example, today's column would not be out of place a month ago or a year ago.  What he's saying is undeniable — we've managed to create a permanent underclass whose quality of life will not be up to the standards of Western Civilization, while our middle class backslides into circular firing squads:

As poverty increases and reliable employment becomes less and less the norm, the dwindling number of workers with any sort of job security or guaranteed pensions (think teachers and other modestly compensated public employees) are being viewed with increasing contempt. How dare they enjoy a modicum of economic comfort?

Meanwhile the causes of this catastrophic shift are not being addressed by the powers-that-be, but instead exacerbated:

The U.S. cannot cut its way out of this crisis. Instead of trying to figure out how to keep 4-year-olds out of pre-kindergarten classes, or how to withhold life-saving treatments from Medicaid recipients, or how to cheat the elderly out of their Social Security, the nation’s leaders should be trying seriously to figure out what to do about the future of the American work force.

This may sound like leftist boilerplate to you.  I guess it is.  But I don't see much in the way of refutation of it out there; mostly I don't see it very often at all.  But I do see it in Herbert's columns, as he tirelessly hammers that nail, again and again.  And it all deserves saying, and resaying, until it sticks.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:37 AM

February 7, 2011

nice things to say

Here are some nice things I have to say.

New London, Connecticut is one of my favorite places on the seaboard.  Sure, it's a bit scruffy around the edges, but the people that people it are some all right people — is there some jolly, stony Nutmegger taciturnity that runs through the whole state I'm not familiar with?  Just drive yourself up, run by the Book Barn in nearby Niantic, and end up at the Dutch for a beer and a crossword puzzle.  Please adopt me, New London.

AOL (in the headlines for other things today) has a "full CD listening party" site, full of new release previews, that is making my work days a whole lot more enjoyable, and therefore more productive.  For the past month there has always been at least two albums that I'd like to purchase, and it's fun to poke around and listen to new stuff and try to remember what it was like liking music before the Internet.  What was it like?  It was like WBER, the only station that matters, listener supported since 1985.  Word.

Finally, the Green Bay Packers are the best possible team to ruin my Super Bowl.  They are owned by the community of Green Bay, which makes them socialists, which makes their Lombardi Trophy just the latest first shot of the upcoming class war.  So congrats to them, even though.

Nice things.  Weird.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:44 AM