Monday, March 31, 2008

Video footage that makes me want to destroy my monitor.

That's the dictator of the United States being booed as he throws (like the limp-wristed sissy he is) the first pitch of the season for the Washington Nationals baseball team. The gargoyle also was booed, in 2006, when he made an ass of himself on the mound trying to act as though he could pitch worth a damn.

And as always, the boy goes back and forth between his usual cluelessness about what's going on around him, and utter contempt for each and everyone in that angry crowd. Alternating between shameless strutting, and unjustifiable annoyance -- going through the motions of something the boy so clearly would rather not be doing. Which is worse? And does it really matter, in the end? We mere mortals don't factor into the equation. We never do.

Monday, March 24, 2008

No solutions to the economic crisis in this presidential race.

In a recent EENR entry I posted about Paul Krugman's blog entry regarding the real reason regulators have failed to reign in the excesses of Wall Street. Essentially, the failure was deliberate -- an effort to systematically remove any and all regulation. I guess causing one Great Depression wasn't enough to wake up the laissez-faire jerks into realizing that the days of unrestricted greed should have remained dead and buried; they've been working like hell to create another while making their money, and they appear to have succeeded.

But I digress. In today's New York Times column, Professor Krugman expands upon this failure to reign in Wall Street by bringing the discussion to the presidential election.

I don’t expect much from John McCain, who has both admitted not knowing much about economics and denied having ever said that. Anyway, lately he’s been busy demonstrating that he doesn’t know much about the Middle East, either.

Yet the McCain campaign’s silence on the financial crisis has disappointed even my low expectations.

And when Mr. McCain’s economic advisers do speak up about the economy’s problems, they don’t inspire confidence. For example, last week one McCain economic adviser — Kevin Hassett, the co-author of “Dow 36,000” — insisted that everything would have been fine if state and local governments hadn’t tried to limit urban sprawl. Honest.

If only Professor Krugman knew just how much lower a McCain dictatorship would sink things. But the Democratic prima donnas vying for their political party's nomination don't fare any better under Krugman's scalpel.

On the Democratic side, it’s somewhat disappointing that Barack Obama, whose campaign has understandably made a point of contrasting his early opposition to the Iraq war with Hillary Clinton’s initial support, has tried to score a twofer by suggesting that the war, in addition to all its other costs, is responsible for our economic troubles.

The war is indeed a grotesque waste of resources, which will place huge long-run burdens on the American public. But it’s just wrong to blame the war for our current economic mess: in the short run, wartime spending actually stimulates the economy. Remember, the lowest unemployment rate America has experienced over the last half-century came at the height of the Vietnam War.

Hillary Clinton has not, as far as I can tell, made any comparably problematic economic claims. But she, like Mr. Obama, has been disappointingly quiet about the key issue: the need to reform our out-of-control financial system.

Professor Krugman points out how the country came out of the Great Depression with a strong social safety net, which, given the monumental backlash against laissez faire economics in the wake of the economic crisis, is no surprise. The government bailed out the banks, but only so long as those banks accepted regulation. This meant that the party was over for unrestricted greed.

But, as Krugman goes on to explain, all that reform slowly deteriorated over time, and now we're right back where we were in 1929 -- and we're rapidly approaching 1930-level proportions as the current financial meltdown steadily approaches its peak. In short, no thanks to the Bush regime's continuation of deregulation of the financial markets (which began in earnest under Reagan and has continued unbroken), we're monumentally screwed. Krugman writes:

Now, the shadow banking system is facing the 21st-century equivalent of the wave of bank runs that swept America in the early 1930s. And the government is rushing in to help, with hundreds of billions from the Federal Reserve, and hundreds of billions more from government-sponsored institutions like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Home Loan Banks.

Given the risks to the economy if the financial system melts down, this rescue mission is justified. But you don’t have to be an economic radical, or even a vocal reformer like Representative Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, to see that what’s happening now is the quid without the quo.

Last week Robert Rubin, the former Treasury secretary, declared that Mr. Frank is right about the need for expanded regulation. Mr. Rubin put it clearly: If Wall Street companies can count on being rescued like banks, then they need to be regulated like banks.

As the professor points out, Clinton and Obama have topped the other candidates from both major political parties for corporate campaign contributions (one example, in terms of corporate money from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries, may be found here).

In short, Wall Street has not only destroyed the economy with happy assistance from the Bush-Cheney regime, it has ensured that no matter who becomes president (or dictator, if McCain manages to steal this one), nothing will be done to clean up Wall Street's mess.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Things I'd like to see, Part 2: Kucinich as U.S. Senator

You may or may not remember him, or even heard of the man, but former Ohio senator Howard Metzenbaum passed away last week at the age of ninety. reports of his eighteen-year tenure as the United States senator from Ohio:
During 18 years on Capitol Hill, from 1977 to 1995, Metzenbaum came to be known as "Senator No" and "Headline Howard" for his abilities to block legislation and get publicity for himself.

He was a cantankerous firebrand who didn't need a microphone to hold a full auditorium spellbound while dropping rhetorical bombs on big oil companies, the insurance industry, savings and loans, and the National Rifle Association, to name just a few favorite targets.

Unabashedly liberal, the former labor lawyer and union lobbyist considered himself a champion of workers and was a driving force behind the law requiring 60-day notice of plant closings.

When other liberals shied away from that label, Metzenbaum embraced it, winning re-election in 1988 from Ohio voters who chose Republicans for governor and president, and by wider margins than either George Voinovich or George H.W. Bush.

And the New York Times reports:

Mr. Metzenbaum's success in passing social legislation on issues like workers rights and adoption policy, in blocking pork-barrel excess and tax loopholes, and in inventing new ways to use the filibuster - long the tool of Southern segregationists - were unquestioned.

Finally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer writes:

He once filibustered for two weeks against a bill to lift price controls on natural gas. When debate was cut off, Metzenbaum, who was to prove himself a master of Senate rules, invented a new stalling tactic. He introduced hundreds of amendments and called for a time-consuming roll call vote on each one.

Metzenbaum built a reputation as a Horatio at the bridge. He was credited with saving taxpayers millions of dollars by standing in the way of "Christmas tree bills," adorned with costly favors for a given state or corporation. Metzenbaum was often at the forefront of Democratic opposition to Reagan administration cabinet and Supreme Court nominees.

This is precisely the sort of leadership we so desperately need in the U.S. Senate. Since Metzenbaum and former senator John Glenn retired, we've been saddled with corrupt Republicans who are beholden not to their constituents, but corporations and the rigid GOP system of discipline that keeps any member from breaking ranks without incurring harsh consequences. To be sure, in 2006 we were able to oust Mike DeWine from office in favor of Democrat Sherrod Brown. But even Brown has not exactly been a leader in the Senate.

So why not make a concerted effort to convince Dennis Kucinich, currently representing Ohio's 10th Congressional District, to run against incumbent George Voinovich in 2010? Can you imagine the brand of leadership he would bring? I can, and the more I think about it, the more I like the idea.

There is, to be sure, great risk for Kucinich in making such a run; this year he faced a surprisingly stiff primary battle, mostly from moneyed opponents who think he shouldn't be running for any higher political office. And considering how vicious an opponent Voinovich -- who ran a nasty campaign for mayor against him in 1979 -- is, the battle would most certainly be a tough one. But I think it's worth consideration.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Things I'd Like To See, Part 1: Krugman As Federal Reserve Chairman

Leave it to Paul Krugman to tell the hard truth about what needs to be done in this financial crisis.
[T]he important thing is to bail out the system, not the people who got us into this mess. That means cleaning out the shareholders in failed institutions, making bondholders take a haircut, and canceling the stock options of executives who got rich playing heads I win, tails you lose.

Not that the Fed shall listen, mind you; Ben Bernanke, like Alan Greenspan before him, cares about the laissez-faire swindlers who caused the latest financial meltdown. Factoring in the taxpayers only counts for bailing out the criminals, not bailing out the system the crooks abused in order to flush the economy down the toilet.

Krugman goes on to caution:

According to late reports on Sunday, JPMorgan Chase will buy Bear [Stearns] for a pittance. That's an O.K. resolution for this case - but not a model for the much bigger bailout to come. Looking ahead, we probably need something similar to the Resolution Trust Corporation, which took over bankrupt savings and loan institutions and sold off their assets to reimburse taxpayers. And we need it quickly: things are falling apart as you read this.

He's right, of course. Bailing out Bear Stearns might be the smart thing to do as an individual case; for better or worse, that bank is large enough that its failure could -- as Krugman suggests -- hasten the market panic that would make the Depression we now suffer (the one contributor Michael Fox wrote had begun back in November) official. But if it's used simply as a model for bailing out the rest of the Wall Street rip-off artists, then we taxpayers shall have been forced yet again to foot the bill for the irresponsibility of Wall Street. It's like a mugging victim being told by a jury that the thug who robbed him wasted the cash on booze and women, so now the victim has to reimburse the thief.

If the Democratic nominee somehow manages to survive the general election in November and become president, he (or she) could do a lot worse than to ask for Bernanke's resignation as Fed chairman, and offer the job to Professor Krugman.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

FISA battle rages on amid media distractions.

While the corporate punditry is distracted by the flap over Geraldine Ferraro's comments about Barack Obama and the sex scandal plaguing soon-to-be-former New York governor Eliot Spitzer, the battle over FISA continues as U.S. dictator George W. Bush threatens to veto a House bill over the issue of retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that helped him break the law. According to Reuters:
Bush is seeking immunity for telecommunications companies that participated in his warrantless domestic spying program after the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001 and are now facing lawsuits.

The House legislation, scheduled for a vote later on Thursday, would allow phone companies to present their defense behind closed doors in federal court, with the judge given access to confidential government documents about eavesdropping begun after the September 11 attacks.

But the shrub is not satisfied with even this charade, instead selfishly insisting that telecommunications companies be granted full immunity from all lawsuits in addition to immunity from prosecution. He also demands that all immunity be retroactive, so that he and his co-conspirators may avoid prosecution for past violations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

FISA was originally passed by Congress in 1978, following the revelations of illegal spying by president Richard Nixon during his tenure earlier in the decade. The thirty-seventh president had resigned in 1974 ahead of impeachment proceedings for having violated the law and the Constitution. FISA was designed to limit the scope of executive power to eavesdrop on American citizens.

The shrub has claimed unchecked power to spy on Americans in the name of fighting terrorists, but has consistently failed to provide any substantive evidence to show that his violations of FISA have actually prevented terrorist attacks on the U.S. FISA requires that the federal government obtain warrants from a special court in order to conduct surveillance on foreign nationals. The FISA court, which grants 99% of all warrants applied for, was amended in 1994 so the federal government may spy for up to seventy-two hours before having to apply for a warrant.

But even this proved insufficient for the shrub's demands. An exposé by the New York Times in December of 2005 revealed some of the extent of Bush's lawbreaking. Last year, Congress -- by then under Democratic Party rule yet still caving in to the shrub's demands -- passed the unlawful "Protect" America Act, which violates the Fourth Amendment right against illegal searches and seizures by the government. The act expired in early February, but all illegal surveillance ordered in that six-month period is still able to be carried out with no hope of prosecution against abuses.

Last month, Senate capitulation leader Harry Reid succeeded in passing a bill that grants the retroactive immunity demanded by Bush. It has since been tied up in the House of Representatives, but immunity is likely to pass that body in some form despite public efforts to pressure Congress not to allow any such amnesty.

Amnesty for telecommunications companies means that in any official investigation, persons involved would have no incentive to cooperate with authorities or turn over evidence. This means that, in the highly unlikely event Congress upholds its Constitutional duty to impeach Bush for high crimes, those in a position to provide testimony or evidence have no reason to cooperate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Stupidity and Hypocrisy: putting your tax dollars to work, for themselves.

Why is it that the biggest morality cops always turn out to be the biggest sinners? New York governor Eliot Spitzer got caught in a prostitution scandal, and now he's facing impeachment if he doesn't resign. The Rude Pundit seems convinced, and not without reason, that this is payback for the governor going after the wrong people.
Spitzer was elected with nearly 70 percent of the vote in late 2006 following his stint as state attorney general -- when he conducted a series of investigations into financial cases, attracting much publicity but also resentment on Wall Street.

The Wall Street Journal said Spitzer had shown his lack of restraint in overly aggressive tactics as attorney general, making "extraordinary threats" to entire firms and to those who criticized his pursuit of high-profile Wall Street figures.

"The stupendously deluded belief that the sitting Governor of New York could purchase the services of prostitutes was merely the last act of a man unable to admit either the existence of, or need for, limits," it said in an editorial.
So clearly the executives and GOP lawmakers whose wrath Spitzer had incurred had every motive to go after him with all the zeal of selfish children who've been told "no" one time too many. Whether it's vindictiveness at work here or not, it was simply stupid of Spitzer -- as it is for any other public figure -- to pursue vendettas against they very sins he engages in.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Microsoft executives' thoughts on Windows Vista exposed.

Anyone who has had to endure the incompatibility issues, bugs, and gaping holes in software should get a kick out of this New York Times article.

Here’s one story of a Vista upgrade early last year that did not go well. Jon, let’s call him, (bear with me — I’ll reveal his full identity later) upgrades two XP machines to Vista. Then he discovers that his printer, regular scanner and film scanner lack Vista drivers. He has to stick with XP on one machine just so he can continue to use the peripherals.

Did Jon simply have bad luck? Apparently not. When another person, Steven, hears about Jon’s woes, he says drivers are missing in every category — “this is the same across the whole ecosystem.”

Then there’s Mike, who buys a laptop that has a reassuring “Windows Vista Capable” logo affixed. He thinks that he will be able to run Vista in all of its glory, as well as favorite Microsoft programs like Movie Maker. His report: “I personally got burned.” His new laptop — logo or no logo — lacks the necessary graphics chip and can run neither his favorite video-editing software nor anything but a hobbled version of Vista. “I now have a $2,100 e-mail machine,” he says.

It turns out that Mike is clearly not a naïf. He’s Mike Nash, a Microsoft vice president who oversees Windows product management. And Jon, who is dismayed to learn that the drivers he needs don’t exist? That’s Jon A. Shirley, a Microsoft board member and former president and chief operating officer. And Steven, who reports that missing drivers are anything but exceptional, is in a good position to know: he’s Steven Sinofsky, the company’s senior vice president responsible for Windows.

Their remarks come from a stream of internal communications at Microsoft in February 2007, after Vista had been released as a supposedly finished product and customers were paying full retail price. Between the nonexistent drivers and PCs mislabeled as being ready for Vista when they really were not, Vista instantly acquired a reputation at birth: Does Not Play Well With Others.

So Microsoft execs have been caught acknowledging that they shoved a piece of shit operating system on the public, knowing full well that it was actually inferior to their last piece of shit operating system. But it never would have happened, had somebody not been brave enough to sue Microsoft. According to the article:

We usually do not have the opportunity to overhear Microsoft’s most senior executives vent their personal frustrations with Windows. But a lawsuit filed against Microsoft in March 2007 in United States District Court in Seattle has pried loose a packet of internal company documents. The plaintiffs, Dianne Kelley and Kenneth Hansen, bought PCs in late 2006, before Vista’s release, and contend that Microsoft’s “Windows Vista Capable” stickers were misleading when affixed to machines that turned out to be incapable of running the versions of Vista that offered the features Microsoft was marketing as distinctive Vista benefits.

Last month, Judge Marsha A. Pechman granted class-action status to the suit, which is scheduled to go to trial in October. (Microsoft last week appealed the certification decision.)

Given that one of the first actions as dictator by George W. Bush was to drop the anti-trust against Microsoft, I doubt this suit shall go anywhere this year. But it has served at least one purpose: to expose the true thoughts of those who push inferior, and often-times, lethal products on consumers.

Friday, March 07, 2008

U.S. February 2008 payrolls the lowest in five years.

Before I continue, if you haven't yet read Hair Club for Men's excellent entry at Political Flesh Feast, then now would be a good time. Some of those who write pro-Israeli apartheid diatribes at other web sites shall not get it, because to do so would force them to think of Rachel Corrie as human and, as well, the Palestinians. And if there's one thing that absolutely terrifies the far right, it's that others shall recognize what is being done in our name against human beings. It's simply easier to think of Palestinians and their Western sympathizers as mindless beasts, "its" rather than people.

But for those of you who refuse to buy into that mentality, HCfM's entry is eye-opening. You could do a lot worse than to read it. Anyway, on to today's entry. Reuters reports a loss of at least 63,000 American jobs in February. I say at least, because as with what seems to be almost everything coming out of the news, the actual numbers are probably under-reported.

U.S. employers cut payrolls for a second straight month during February, slashing 63,000 jobs for the biggest monthly decline in nearly five years as the nation's labor markets weakened steadily, a government report on Friday showed.

The Labor Department said last month's cut followed an upwardly revised loss of 22,000 jobs in January rather than the 17,000 reported a month ago. It also said only 41,000 jobs were created in December, half the 82,000 originally reported.

"This confirms the fears that have been lurking in the financial markets in recent weeks. The probability of a U.S. recession is at more than 50 percent," said Richard DeKaser, chief economist for National City Corp. in Cleveland.

Too many Americans still seem to think it's easy to get a job in this economy, that if one is unemployed for more than a few months, it must be something wrong with the jobless person. But numbers have a way of inserting pesky reality into the equation. The truth is that it's not that people who fall under in this country aren't trying to obtain work; it's that the work simply isn't there.

Department officials said February's job losses were the largest for any month since March 2003, when 212,000 jobs were cut.

During February, the national unemployment rate eased to 4.8 percent from 4.9 percent in January, but that was because fewer people were in the labor force. The department said the number of people in the workforce fell by 450,000 in February.

Job losses were widespread. Some 52,000 jobs were lost in the manufacturing industries, the largest decline since July 2003 when 92,000 jobs were cut. Construction businesses eliminated another 39,000 jobs on top of 25,000 that were cut in January, a reflection of the housing industry's deepening woes.

The department said that since the housing boom peaked in September 2006, construction businesses have cut 331,000 jobs.

Retail industries also shed jobs last month, dropping 34,000 people off their payrolls, a possible reflection of concern from businesses that hard-pressed consumers are likely to begin pulling back sharply on spending.

Just another stumbling block for those of us who've fallen through the ever-widening cracks. Except now those cracks are gaping fissures, and so many of us think that if we divert our eyes we can pretend the problem doesn't exist, just like the supporters of Israeli apartheid think that if they demonize their victims, then their hands are clean of human blood.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

My Primary Vote

I just returned from voting in Ohio's primary. I cast my ballot for Dennis Kucinich, as my choice for both the presidency and the 10th Congressional District's representative. And thus my conscience is clean.

I know, I know. "You just wasted your vote," many of you shall say. To that I give you this simple response: Horse shit. The only votes wasted, dear readers, are those not cast and those cast for a candidate who doesn't represent you. Anyone who tells you differently is either lying to you, or doesn't know what he's talking about.

These are not things I write lightly. I know quite well that what I've just typed shall piss off a number of people. The truth, however, was never designed to make people happy.

Primaries are precisely the time when we as voters are supposed to stand up and vote our beliefs. Why in God's name would anyone vote for someone who doesn't represent him? "Pragmatism"? That's a bullshit excuse, one designed to justify keeping the status quo intact. And for far too long, far too many Democrats have succumbed to that argument. We voted "pragmatically" in 2004, cast our ballots for a candidate who wasn't worth the toilet bowl he shat into, and what did it get us? Nothing, except four more years of crap raining down upon our country. Four more years of craven capitulation -- two of them under a Democratic Congress -- to a boy tyrant who in a sane world would have been removed from office and convicted of treason during the first year of his reign.

Neither Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama have earned so much as a single Democratic vote. But for the desperation of Americans to elect anyone other than a Republican, the adulation and scorn of the corporate media, and the humongous egos of the two prima donnas themselves, they are the candidates we have been saddled with in this primary season.

There is an admonition against allowing the "perfect" to be the enemy of the "good". But really, how many people do you know who ask for or expect perfect? I and everyone I know is fully aware that nothing and no one is perfect. All we want are good policy and good representatives. Yet each and every election cycle, we're forced to accept the mediocre and the downright bad.

It doesn't, and shouldn't, have to be that way. However you intend to vote in the general election, is this or is it not the time to vote your beliefs -- to cast your ballot for the presidential candidate who represents you? Not Big Business, not the DLC, but you. Mr. and Ms. Average American. To hand your ballot to someone who doesn't represent you is to surrender it to the status quo, to send a message that, no matter how much you may complain about the way things are, you're perfectly content to leave it as is.

That isn't democracy, ladies and gentlemen. It's a monarchical system, one in which the will of the public is subjected to the greed and ambition of a political minority whose interests are to keep you beaten down and in service to the economic elite. And I don't know about you ladies and gentlemen, but I refuse to give in to that bullshit. Politicians are supposed to work for us, to be our voices in the halls of power. We are not supposed to subject our interests and political beliefs to those we employ.

Maybe your state's primary or caucus has already been held. Maybe it's today, or has yet to be held. For those of you who fall into the latter categories,ask yourselves if it isn't worth it to challenge this fucked up system by voting for the candidate who represents you, just to see what would happen.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Somebody break out the Kryptonite.

Word to the not-so-wise PR guy for the Obama campaign, who obviously thought this silly photo-op was a good idea: your guy isn't the Man of Steel. Would Obama get a good chuckle, do you think, if someone sent him a green quartz crystal with this picture attached?