"It is easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor."
- Tyrion Lannister

"Lannister. Baratheon. Stark. Tyrell. They're all just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that's ones on top and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I'm not going to stop the wheel. I'm going to break the wheel."

- Daenerys Targaryen

"The Lord of Light wants his enemies burned. The Drowned God wants them drowned. Why are all the gods such vicious cunts? Where's the God of Tits and Wine?"

- Tyrion Lannister

"The common people pray for rain, healthy children, and a summer that never ends. It is no matter to them if the high lords play their game of thrones, so long as they are left in peace. They never are."

- Jorah Mormont

"These bad people are what I'm good at. Out talking them. Out thinking them."

- Tyrion Lannister

"What happened? I think fundamentals were trumped by mechanics and, to a lesser extent, by demographics."

- Michael Barone

"If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to."
- Dorothy Parker

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Don't touch it, it's evil."

NPR interview with Terry Gilliam.

When I was 10 or 11 I saw Time Bandits and loved it. When I was 15 or 16 I saw Brazil and was blown away. According to Wikipedia:
Robert Hewison, in his book Monty Python: The Case Against, describes the dwarfs [in Time Bandits] as a comment on the Monty Python troupe, with Fidget (the nice one) as Palin, Randall (the self-appointed leader) as John Cleese, Strutter (the acerbic one) as Eric Idle, Og (the quiet one) as Graham Chapman, Wally (the noisy rebel) as Terry Jones and Vermin (the nasty, filth-loving one) as Gilliam himself.
Isn't it Ironic? Don't you think?*
In Pennsylvania last week, a citizen, burly, crew-cut and trembling with rage, went nose to nose with his baffled senator: "One day God's going to stand before you, and he's going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies up on the Hill. And then you will get your just deserts." He was accusing Arlen Specter of being too kind to President Obama's proposals to make it easier for people to get health insurance.
In Michigan, meanwhile, the indelible image was of the father who wheeled his handicapped adult son up to Rep. John Dingell and bellowed that "under the Obama health-care plan, which you support, this man would be given no care whatsoever." He pressed his case further on Fox News.
In New Hampshire, outside a building where Obama spoke, cameras trained on the pistol strapped to the leg of libertarian William Kostric. He then explained on CNN why the "tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of tyrants and patriots."

The above is from Rick Perlstein's piece "In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition: Birthers, Town Hall Hecklers and the Return of Right-Wing Rage."

As it turns out the Teabaggers unsuccessfully primary Arlen Specter and drive him into the Democrats arms, thereby enabling the creation of government-run health care and rationing and death panels, i.e. the most progressive legislation since Medicare (which as we know all teabaggers hate with a passion.)

Ned Lamont and his single-issue supporters unsuccessfully primary Holydiver Joe Lieberman, and thereby thoroughly embitter him, so that he makes sure health care reform doesn't include a public option. Just because they wish Saddam Hussein was still in power. Well done.

*As they said on The Wire, if you come at the king, you best not miss.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger*

We end "beautiful woman month" with Tabrett Bethell who portrays the Mord’Sith Cara on the television series Legend of the Seeker. The show is produced by Sam Raimi who previously had done the Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules shows, as well as the Evil Dead and Spiderman movies. The show is based upon Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth book series.

The Mord’Sith are a cult of elite warrior women who dress in skin-tight leather outfits and have an S&M motif going on. According to Wikipedia:
They were created to defend the master of [the land of] D'Hara, Lord Rahl, from creatures or people with magic. A Mord’Sith has the unique ability to capture others' magic and use it against them.** A Mord’Sith is selected from the gentlest and kindest girls in D'Hara and is trained from a young age on three levels. Each time, she must be "broken." The first breaking is a time during which she is tortured to the point of obedience so strong that she would do absolutely anything her master/mistress tells her, without question or hesitation. This part of the training breaks her of her sense of self and personal desires. During the second breaking, she is forced to watch as her teacher slowly and brutally tortures her mother to death. This is to break her of compassion. The third, and arguably the most difficult, breaking is when she is given the instrument of torture*** and must inflict pain and suffering upon her own father until she finally kills him. When she has completed this task, the Lord Rahl instills in her the magical ability to take the magic of anyone who uses magic against her. Once a magical being uses magic against a Mord-Sith, she can inflict intense pain upon him/her with a thought. He/she has no defense.
The show recently had an episode which explored how Cara was "made." Indeed as a child, Cara was so gentle and kind that when her father took her and her sister fishing, she became incredibly sad and shed a heartbreaking tear when she saw the recently caught fish stuck in her father’s water bucket. Her father saw his daughter's distress and returned the fish to the river. And then the Mord’Sith came, took Cara and made her one of them. From Wikipedia:
When Mistress Denna failed to kill Richard Cypher [aka the Seeker], Cara was personally recruited by the evil ruler Darken Rahl to eliminate the Seeker once for all. But instead of fulfilling her mission, Cara was forced to work with Richard to save herself, which ultimately led to the Seeker fulfilling the prophecy, killing Rahl and ending his reign of tyranny. From the Underworld, Darken Rahl commands the Mord'Sith to dispose of Cara for her role in his demise. They beat her and leave her for dead, after which Richard helps Cara. Deserted by her people and sworn to protect Richard, the heir to the title Lord Rahl, Cara joins the Seeker and a wary Kahlan and Zedd on their new quest. Richard trusts Cara, and believes her unique abilities could prove invaluable in finding the Stone of Tears and defeating the Keeper of the Underworld.
The show's hero Richard is good-natured and believes people can change if given a chance, even Cara. His companions Kahlan and Zedd are more skeptical.

You have to wonder why they need to take the "gentlest and kindest" girls. Maybe they need to have those qualities for Darken Rahl to be able to instill his magic in them. Creepy.

*unless it breaks you.
**magical jujutsu
***The Agiel. The only weapon Mord'Sith carry is an Agiel, which has the power to inflict unbearable pain, break bones, or kill with only a touch. An Agiel appears simple. It is a plain red leather rod, about a foot long, and about as thick as a finger. It also inflicts pain on the Mord-Sith in charge of the torture. Mord-Sith use the same Agiel that was used on them in their training. Simply holding her Agiel causes the Mord-Sith terrible pain. The power of the Agiel stems from the bond of all D'Harans to the Lord Rahl.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

You know Tiger Woods is spoiled when he cheats on the Swedish Model. 

My favorite character in the BBC Robin Hood series was Isabella, played by Lara Pulver. Pulver will be playing an intern in the film "The Special Relationship," which stars Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton, Dennis Quaid as Bill Clinton, Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and Helen McCrory as Cheri Blair.
Back in the Saddle Again.

The Baffler is back.

I, For One, Welcome Our New Overlords
(or We'll Make Great Pets)

Especially when they are dressed as sexy minxes. The ABC television series V has ended for the moment but resumes in March. It's a remake of an Eighties miniseries in which alien visitors come bearing gifts and talking of peace. But ultimately they are only interested in planetary imperialism, regime change and taking our natural resources.

In the current series, Party of Five's Scott Wolf plays a George Stephanopoulos-like TV news anchor named Chad. He gives the aliens good PR in exchange for access. And yet he's skeptical. Chad inquires on-air, "Is there such a thing as an ugly Visitor?" Morena Baccarin (above) plays the aliens' maximum leader Anna. Says Baccarin: I am not Obama.
I don't think we're saying Anna is President Obama. But she is the leader of her people, and she is coming down to Earth and offering healthcare, and offering cures for diseases, and things that sort of clean out and give people hope, and there are definite parallels to be drawn and our intentions are to create a show that people relate to. And I think this is something that's been on people's minds, even before Obama... finding hope again, and healthcare, and finding a leader, and someone who can save us from the hole we've gotten ourselves into.
Their plans for invasion include using the regular or Swine Flu vaccine, I forget which. Jonathan Chait argues the show plays into the Teabagger's ideology.
They target the young by enticing them to join an idealistic (but, in reality, sinister) youth group. A few perceptive humans warn of the dangers of hopping on the bandwagon before we know what the bandwagon is really about. The alien leader, Ana, promises to use futuristic technology to heal humans. "You mean universal health care!" gapes a reporter, who, naturally, has been co-opted by the aliens. Anna soothes skeptics by declaring that accepting change can be difficult. A small band of human resistors forms. The lead character is skeptical--what proof do you have she asks, besides some scary thing "you read on the internet." But the seemingly hysterical message from the internet is true! The charismatic new leader is masking her true identity! The death panels are real! Etc., etc.
If this scenerio really happened, I'd probably be gung-ho about the visitors as I'm enthusiastic about Obama. But then again I have always been the one to accept candy from strangers.

An interesting subplot of the show is about a group of alien traitors trying to undermine Anna's plan of domination from within. Will they succeed? Tune in and find out!

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Dean Baker blogs about the housing bubble very well so I'm going to reproduce this post in its entirety.

The WSJ is effectively covering up for the Fed and the economics profession by implying that there was something difficult about recognizing the 70 percent jump in real house prices as a bubble or realizing that its collapse would lead to serious economic damage. The bubble was not difficult to spot for any serious analyst of the economy. The run-up was a sharp divergence from a 100-year long-trend that could not be explained by any change in the fundamentals of the housing market. It also was not accompanied by any notable increase in rents.
It also should have been evident that the bursting of the bubble would devastate the economy. This article wrongly focuses on the financial aspects of the collapse. While this is important for Wall Street, the real aspects are far more important for the economy. The bubble added more than 3 percentage points to GDP in the form of excess housing construction and another 4 percentage points of GDP in the form of excess consumption driven by bubble generated housing wealth.
This demand was absolutely certain to disappear when the bubble burst. The Fed has no mechanism that can readily replace a drop in annual demand equal to 7 percent of GDP or more than $1 trillion. (The downturn was exacerbated by the collapse of a bubble in non-residential real estate which is still in process.)
This is all very simple. None of this requires complex economic analysis, just competent economists.
It is also worth noting that the WSJ refuses to discuss what could be one of the Fed's most important tools against an asset bubble: talk. If the Fed had devoted its enormous research capacities to documenting the existence of a bubble and the likely implications of its bursting, and the Fed chairman used his enormous megaphone to widely disseminate this information at congressional testimonies and other public appearances, it would have almost certainly been sufficient to burst the housing bubble.
While economists question this possibility, since the cost is trivial (talk is cheap), there is no excuse for the Fed not following this route in addition to whatever other measures it may take.
 As George Harrison says, "with every mistake, we must surely be learning." And Ben Bernanke did thoroughly study the Great Depression and based his policy responses on what he had learned. And it worked this time around. Unlike Baker, I think Bernake did pretty well given the circumstances and given the natural inclinations of conventional wisdom. He thought outside the box in other words.

Andrew Ross Sorkin, author of Too Big To Fail, argues that Treasury Secretary Paulson was more the main driver, but I havn't read the book yet.

Baker writes of the popping of the bubble: "The Fed has no mechanism that can readily replace a drop in annual demand equal to 7 percent of GDP or more than $1 trillion." The popping of the bubble also caused the Great Panic as credit markets froze and overleveraged, ginormous financial institutions collapsed. (Seems the so-called Free Market/Insvisible Hand of Capitalism isn't very nimble or resilient, which is Krugman's point about the "efficient-market hypothesis" and freshwater economists.)

Via Ezra Klein, how Washington Mutual failed:
Within two hours of the call, regulators took control of a company with $307 billion in assets and sold it to rival JPMorgan Chase & Co. for $1.9 billion, a fraction of what the New York powerhouse led by Jamie Dimon had offered just months earlier.
With these swift actions, tens of thousands of shareholders and bondholders lost billions of dollars, and Washington Mutual became known as the largest bank failure in U.S. history -- nearly eight times larger than the Federal Deposit Inurance Corp.’s previous record failure, set during the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.
Yet despite the size and significance of this event, much of what happened to WaMu has never been reported.
 There was a lot going on at the time. The housing bubble caused the collapse of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, WaMu, AIG, Iceland, etc. Bank of America who was in bad shape just paid back its TARP money even though that leaves it in a weaker position. Via James Kwak at Baseline Scenerio, "From a liquidity perspective, it now has about $20-25 billion ($45 billion minus $19 billion raised from new equity minus a few billion from other asset sales) less cash than it did before paying the money back." Why did they do it? To avoid executive compensation caps. Kwak writes "Update: Ted K. pointed out to me that Wells Fargo, which is generally considered less of a basket case than Bank of America, is not paying back its TARP money yet."

 Obama has been very lucky in some ways (mostly during the campaign like when the financial system imploded) and unlucky in others (once in office he had to deal with all of the messes Bush and the Republicans had left). On the radio I heard Christine Romer describe how she told him that that job market lost only 11,000 jobs this past month and he responded "you mean 110,000?" So, finally there's been a pleasant surprise of good news.
Ahmed Rashid blogs about Afghanistan and Pakistan at the New York Review of Books.

(via Majikthise)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Zero-Sum Thinking
(or thinking like an insurance company actuary)

The human species is still relatively unevolved. Our adrenal glands are too big and our frontal lobes are too small. So, when pundits try to stoke tribal thinking and fear and paranoia, as Yglesias and Steve Walt do here, it usually works.
But it’s not as though the United States hasn’t started some big public works projects over the past decade or so; it just hasn’t been doing them here at home. We’ve spent billions constructing military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, and another billion or more on a giant embassy in Baghdad and another one in Pakistan. Needless to say, those "public works" projects are a drain on the U.S. economy rather than a source of additional productivity.
Likewise I guess foreign humanitarian aid is a total waste down the rat hole. Dark skin foreigners will never change. (or maybe they will)
Analysts say the deals on three of the country’s top fields show that Iraq, after an embarrassing start, may be on a path to joining the world’s major oil-producing nations, which could in turn upset the equilibrium in OPEC and increase tensions with the neighboring oil giants Iran and Saudi Arabia. Adding to those strains, development rights to 10 other Iraqi oil fields will be offered to foreign companies at a public auction in Baghdad on Dec. 11.
And then Yglesias writes
It seems I should write my official What I Think About Obama’s Escalation in Afghanistan post. Mostly the whole situation makes me want to sigh. I don’t think the kind of effort that as best I understand it we’re undertaking in Afghanistan meets any kind of plausible cost benefit test.
And yet he offers no cost-benefit analysis, not even a heavily spun - i.e. full of lies and ommissions - one.  The main point is that Walt and Yglesias aren't worried about costs, they're not that conservative. No they're just focused on opposing Republican foreign policy whatever that may entail.

I just don't believe Obama is so cynical that he would surge in Afghanistan without believing it was the right thing to do from a security perspective. Granted he is enough of a realist to formally recognize  fraudulent elections in Iran and Honduras as somehow legit, so as not to upset their newly "elected" governments.

Yesterday Yglesias linked to the even worse Alex Massie. Who links to the even worse right-wing Daniel Larison. Who I won't link to because he doesn't deserve the traffic. Massie opines:
To take but one obvious example: if US foreign policy is "largely dedicated to rescuing Muslims" or freeing them from tyranny, then why, the Muslim Street might reasonably ask, does the US support repressive dictatorships in Egypt and Libya and Saudi Arabia and elsewhere?
Is Massie really that stupid? Libya was for a long time a pariah, but now the US "supports" Libya by lifting sanctions b/c they gave up their nuclear program. Egypt is supported along with Israel, because essentially we are buying them off from killing each other and blowing up the Middle East. Same with Saudi Arabia, one of the worlds largest oil-exporter. Also the Saudis don't talk about wiping Israel from the map on daily basis as Iran does. Seems like Massie prefers Iran to these Arab countries who receive favorable treatment? Or maybe he doesn't like Israel. Or the US. He certainly attempts to ventriloquize the "Muslim Street" in an anti-American fashion.

But basically Yglesias and Massie misquote Tom Friedman and omit some of the column which proves their theses wrong. The main subject of his column was Major Hasan who shot up Fort Hood. Yglesias and Massie don't even mention that.

Hitchens in Slate:
When the throat-slitters and school-burners and woman-stoners come to the villagers of Pakistan and Afghanistan at dead of night, they have one great psychological advantage. "One day, the Americans and the Europeans will go," they say. "But we will always be here." There's some truth in this: Most of the talk in this country is now of an "exit strategy," and for all the good they are doing, most of the other NATO contingents might as well have shipped out already.
Massie, Yglesias, Walt, and Larison want to divide the world up between the Evil US Empire and the rest of the world. But I see the Afghans and Americans as inhabiting the same planet. We are all residents of Earth and the more privileged among us shouldn't leave the less fortunate in the hands of the  thoat-slitters and school-burners and woman-stoners.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Victoria was my Queen

Slate is publishing some good writers:

Katha Pollitt on Gail Collins and the Secret History of Feminism.
Women needed their husbands' permission to start a business, get a credit card, or even rent an apartment as a separated spouse. In some states, women were barred from serving on juries. (After all, as Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren was advised in a memo from his clerk, letting women serve "may encourage lax performance of their domestic duties.") Marital rape? Legal. Sports for girls? Forget it. That women were the weaker, dumber, more boring sex was a given.This elaborate structure of law and custom had been in place seemingly forever. And yet within a few decades it was shattered so completely that young women today can be forgiven for thinking it sounds like some science-fiction dystopia.
Dana Stevens writing about popular culture:
Sometimes a critic's aesthetic judgment is impossible to extricate from what you might call her cinematic libido. There are movies that bring us a pleasure that's neither definable nor defensible. These used to be called "guilty pleasures," but that phrase seems too judgmental, too pre-Vatican II, for our postmodern era of omnivorous cultural consumption. The distinction between high and low culture, between what we're allowed to enjoy publicly and what we must sneak off to savor in private, has effaced itself to the degree that "guilty pleasures" needs to be replaced by a more morally neutral term. For our purposes here, I'll go with a term that a friend and I coined in college and that I still deploy on occasion: movies we couldn't intellectually defend but still unapologetically loved we called "juicebombs."
Michael Bérubé reminds us of what National Review editor Rich Lowry once wrote about that juicebomb Sarah Palin now that she is back in the news with the publication of her new book and kinky behavior of her family unit.
A very wise TV executive once told me that the key to TV is projecting through the screen. It's one of the keys to the success of, say, a Bill O'Reilly, who comes through the screen and grabs you by the throat. Palin too projects through the screen like crazy. I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.
I've always given Lowry some grudging respect because he'll argue the conservative side of issues with a lawyerly professionalism and is smart enough to see when his side is losing. So it's funny to see him write something like this, especially after dissing the celebrity aspect of Obama.

And though I don't agree with Lowry about Palin, the room did darken and my heart started beating like a hammer when I witnessed Tina Fey do her famous Palin impersonation live on TV. I've always had Fey up on a pedestal, but to see her hit a home run caused - in Lowry's words - starburst neurtinos to shoot out of the boob tube and melt my inner core and cause my tectonic plates to shift. I believe Ray Davies and the Kinks said it best:
Long ago, life was clean
Sex was bad and obscene
And the rich were so mean
Stately homes for the lords
Croquet lawns, village greens
Victoria was my queen
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, toria

I was born, lucky me
In a land that I love
Though I am poor, I am free
When I grow, I shall fight
For this land, I shall die
Let her sun never set
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, toria
Victoria, Victoria, Victoria, toria 

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Dreaded MSM

My favorite music video of the year.

Lindsay Beyerstein writes about the Stupak amendment for Newsweek. Newsweek also publishes Matthew Yglesias's thoughts on the Republicans' chronic cock-blocking.

I would give anything for Gwen Stefani to be my Muse/green goddess.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

(KSM is very hungover.)

The big news is that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed will be tried in a Federal Court in New York City.

As Pakistanis in Kuwait, his relatives would have been considered second-class citizens, but they had the means to send him to the United States for his education. After attending secondary school in Kuwait, Mr. Mohammed was accepted at Chowan College, a Baptist college in rural North Carolina where many foreign students came to improve their English. He later transferred to North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, where he earned a mechanical engineering degree in 1986.

Not long after graduation, he traveled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to join the mujahedeen fighters, who at the time were the beneficiaries of millions of dollars from the C.I.A. in the fight against Soviet troops.

The purpose of the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Mohammed told his captors years later, was to "wake the American people up." By hitting civilian targets, he said, he would shock Americans into recognizing the impact of their government’s actions abroad, including supporting Israel in its fight against Palestinian militants.
Yet for all his professed wisdom about the United States, Mr. Mohammed later admitted that he had completely misjudged what the American response to the Sept. 11 attacks would be. He did not expect the American military campaign in Afghanistan, and he did not anticipate the relentless hunt for Al Qaeda leaders throughout South Asia and the Middle East.

In other words, he probably wouldn't have done it had he known the consquenses ahead of time. The "antiwar" left pathetically likes to argue Al Qaeda planned to draw the US into a Middle Eastern quagmire, that military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan would just "create new terrorists." On the contrary, it looks like "adventurous" US foreign policy has dissuaded them.

I will admit to being wrong about one thing. In the past I assumed the main grievance of Al Qaeda was US troops in the holy land of Saudi Arabia - stationed there after the first Persian Gulf war, something bin Laden always made a point to discuss. But for the "man with the plan" KSM, it was Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and America's support of Israel.

Question: The fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan was a radicalizing moment for many Muslims world-wide. Same with Bosnia, where many free-lance holy warriors travelled to fight. Why not the Palestinian occuped territories? Was it that rich Saudis and/or the Pakistani intelligence services were much more effective in recruiting for the first two causes? I mean for the so-called "antiwar" left, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is much more significant than Afghanistan or Bosnia.

And it should be pointed out that 9/11 was a complete disaster for the already put-upon Palestinians. In the aftermath Israeli hawks were given free reign by the Bush administration and they took full advantage of it.

Heckuva job KSM.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The End of the Cold War

The Lessons of 1989 by Hitchens

20 Years of Collapse by Slavoj Zizek

Post-Wall by Slavoj Zizek

Velvet Revolution: The Prospects by Timothy Garton Ash

Hitchens mentions something I found surprising the first time I heard about it.
Even more appalling was the 12-fold increase in the GDR's [German Democratic Republic] national debt--a situation so grotesque that it had been classified as a state secret lest loans from Western creditors dry up. "Just to avoid further indebtedness," wrote Schürer, "would mean a lowering next year of living standards by 25 to 30 per cent, and make the GDR ungovernable."
 Why would people loan to and borrow from their mortal enemies?

Timothy Garton Ash:
Twenty years later, in the summer of 2009, the Islamic Republic of Iran staged a show trial of political leaders and thinkers it accused of fomenting enghelab -e makhmali--that is, precisely, velvet revolution. Across the intervening years, dramatic events in places including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, South Africa, Chile, Slovakia, Croatia, Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, and Burma were tagged with variants of adjective + revolution. Thus we have read about singing (Baltic states), peaceful, negotiated (South Africa, Chile), rose (Georgia), orange (Ukraine), color (widely used, post-orange), cedar (Lebanon), tulip (Kyrgyzstan), electoral (generic), saffron (Burma), and most recently, in Iran, green revolution. Often, as in the original Czechoslovak case, the catchy labeling has been popularized through the interplay of foreign journalists and political activists in the countries concerned.
 And yet the "antiwar" left finds this all uninteresting.

Masterpiece Theater's Endgame.

Life After the End of History by Ross Douthat

It takes a certain amount of moral nihilism to write something like this:
On the left, there’s an enduring fascination with the pseudo-Marxist vision of global capitalism as an enormous Ponzi scheme, destined to be undone by peak oil, climate change, or the next financial bubble.
Nothing's destined but he seems weirdly oblivious of what happened last year.

Ezra Klein had a nice catch here:
Ross Douthat, for instance, says it will be "offensive when Obama takes the stage in Oslo this November instead of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s heroic opposition leader." By that same logic, it seems a bit offensive for Douthat to spend his column arguing that Obama should give back the Nobel rather than devoting his column to the struggles of Tsvangirai, who has never before been mentioned in one of Douthat's op-eds.
Douthat would rather take up precious column space bashing liberals rather than write about Tsvangirai or, say, Aung San Suu Kyi.


Believer article on Steve Erickson, which places him between DeLillo and Pynchon on the hand and Rick Moody and David Foster Wallace on the other.

I've always had a soft spot for postmodern theorist Fredric Jameson, because he's a gay Marxist who wears a leather jacket and rides a Harley.

On the Glib Callousness of the "Antiwar" Left*

The Muslim Charles Whitman shouted the takbir "God is Great" as he went about his shooting spree at Fort Hood, but he wasn't a "terrorist" in the conventional sense. He had a long history of mental instability, like his precursor Whitman.

Jamie Tarabay on American Muslim's reactions.

Reflecting on the shootings, the emotion I felt was sadness, for the victims and for the recent history of world Muslims. Russia leveled Muslim Chechnya in the 90s. Bosnian Serbs ethnically cleansed the Muslim residents of Bosnia, resulting in the worst massacre in Europe since World War II. In Darfur, Arab Muslims committed genocide against black Muslims. Growing powerhouse China continues to dominate and oppresses the Muslim Uygurs in the western Xinjiang region. Israel invades Lebanon again, blockades and commits war crimes in Gaza and refuses to allow a Palestinian state to form in the West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas is about to resign and the Palestinian Authority is on the brink of collapse.

The "antiwar" left is coldly callous about all of this, except America's client Israel and Iraq and Afghanistan. (Ostensibly because we pay taxes and participate in elections here and not in those other countries, not to mention the fact the US is still the most powerful country economically and militarily.) And yet because of America and the West, Saddam Hussein and the hard core religious Taliban can no longer massacre fellow Muslims on a regular basis.
* The "antiwar" right - antigovernment, nativist and isolationist - like those at antiwar.com are basically racist and weirdly obsessed with Jews and neocons.

The Difference Engine

Master number-cruncher Brad DeLong recommends Sydney Padua's comics.

Peace and Reconciliation

Democracy has a difficult time functioning when a developing country has two or more ethnicities locked in conflict. So, some good news from Turkey:

ISTANBUL -- After months of dialogue, the Turkish government announced a plan on Friday to help end the quarter-century-long conflict with a Kurdish separatist movement that has cost more than 40,000 lives.

The plan will be debated by Parliament, but the fact that it is being discussed at all is considered to be a landmark. For decades, Kurdish political parties were routinely banned, and the ethnic identity of the Kurds was not openly acknowledged, though they make up almost 15 percent of Turkey’s population.

The government’s plan would allow the Kurdish language to be used in all broadcast media and political campaigns, and restore Kurdish names to cities and towns that have been given Turkish ones. It would also establish a committee to fight discrimination.
"Today is the beginning of a new timeline and a fresh start," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a live televised speech. "We took a courageous step to resolve chronic issues that constitute an obstacle along Turkey’s development, progression and empowerment, and we are very sincere."
Last year, Parliament approved private Kurdish language courses and a public television channel in Kurdish, as part of what it called a democracy package. And this week, a regulation took effect allowing Kurdish prisoners to communicate with visitors in their native language.
What the People Think

I've added the very smart Nate Silver to my blogroll. In my opinion, the best policy when encountering a poll, graph or chart is to be highly skeptical about its methodology, especially when like 99 percent of the time a blogger will post a poll, graph or chart which supports their views.
Change We Can Believe In

New York Times Editorial:
On Friday, Attorney General Holder announced that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and four others accused in the plot will be tried in a fashion that will not further erode American justice or shame Americans. It promises to finally provide justice for the victims of 9/11.Mr. Holder said those prisoners would be prosecuted in federal court in Manhattan.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. took a bold and principled step on Friday toward repairing the damage wrought by former President George W. Bush with his decision to discard the nation’s well-established systems of civilian and military justice in the treatment of detainees captured in antiterrorist operations.
From that entirely unnecessary policy (the United States had the tools to detain, charge and bring terrorists to justice) flowed a terrible legacy of torture and open-ended incarceration. It left President Obama with yet another mess to clean up on an urgent basis.
Matt Yglesias uses the occasion to take a jab at loco Senator Joseph Lieberman. The first thing that came to mind for me is that ultra-leftists who have been saying that there is no difference between Bush and Obama are full of it, something I've been saying all year.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Congressman Boehner's Terror Alert Skin Set Back To Orange

That would be a nice premise for a sci-fi story: in a future society people's skin has been genetically modified so that when the Terror Alert Level changes, everyone's skin would change color to reflect the new threat level.

Also in the news: U.S. deports Lou Dobbs.
WANTAGE, NJ--Acting on anonymous tips from within the Hispanic-American community, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials on Wednesday deported Luis Miguel Salvador Aguila Dominguez, who for the last 48 years had been living illegally in the United States under the name Lou Dobbs.

"Shia Crescent" Expanding?

Not surprisingly, Matt Yglesias is blasé about the fighting in Yemen spilling over the border into Saudi Arabia (see map above). Probably because he sees it through the optics of the debate over the Iraq war and American foreign policy.

I agree that we shouldn't worry about things until they actually happen, but this does raise the specter of the rivalry of Iran and Saudi Arabia intensifying.
A battle between the Arab world’s leading Sunni power and Shiite Iran, even at one remove, could significantly elevate sectarian tensions across the region. Iran gained tremendous leverage over the Israeli-Palestinian problem by supporting the militant groups Hezbollah, in Lebanon, and Hamas, in Gaza. Helping the Houthis, another guerrilla group with great staying power, could give them a way to put pressure on Saudi Arabia.
Iran has long denied aiding the Houthis, who have been battling the Yemeni government intermittently for more than five years. On Tuesday, the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, affirmed that position, saying no country should "interfere in internal issues" in Yemen.
But in recent months, Iran’s state-owned news media have been covering the Houthis’ struggle against the Yemeni military more intensively and more sympathetically than ever, setting off alarms across the region. Yemeni officials have accused the Houthis of receiving money from Shiite charities in Iran and elsewhere.
Last month, the Yemeni government said it had intercepted an Iranian vessel carrying weapons in the Red Sea near where the Houthis are based. But Yemen has not supplied any evidence to back up that claim.
The World Bank predicts that Yemen's oil and gas revenues will plummet over the next two years and fall to zero by 2017 as supplies run out.
Given that they provide around 90% of the country's exports, this could be catastrophic.
An unnamed energy expert is quoted in the report as saying that this points to economic collapse within four of five years time.
It could also be that the Iranian regime is trying to direct attention elsewhere via its state-run media. (But then they do meddle with other sovereign nations' "internal issues" via Hamas and Hezbollah. Maliki was surprised to discover the extent of Iranian meddling in southern Iraq.) However, if - when - we pull out of Iraq, and if Iran insists on stirring up trouble via Saudi Arabia's minority Shia who live near the oil fields, and the two countries go at it, oil prices will go through the roof and the already weak global economy will go into a tailspin. And many, many nasty Republicans will be elected to political office, something Yglesias does care about. And I'll say I told you so. Until then, no need to worry though.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aww How Cute

Ezra Klein is jealous of Andrew Ross Sorkin.

Matt Yglesias pens a contrarian* blog post about how Veterans Day is bad because it glorifies war. I'm sure veterans everywhere agree. He writes:
To lose a war, like in Vietnam, is a bad thing. But there seems to be a growing conventional wisdom that the surge has somehow redeemed Iraq and that the only thing we’re allowed to talk about with regard to Afghanistan is whether we can or will "win."
I'm not a conservative but I do think it's good that American soldiers removed Saddam Hussein from power. They can be proud of that no matter what the antiwar folks say and no matter what red herring arguments they bring up to change the subject.

A war with Iran would be a disaster no matter what warmongering conservatives say, but Afghanistan deserves better than the Taliban, who - antiwar folks conveniently forget - refused to turn over bin Laden. "He is our guest" Mullah Omar said. Why do antiwar folks always forget that?

And there's Glenn Greenwald, the master of the double standards, who today writes
In April of this year, the British daily, The Guardian, published an article by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, an Iraqi citizen, documenting the increasingly autocratic practices of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  The article quoted an Iraqi intelligence official claiming that "Maliki is running a dictatorship."  As if to prove their point, the reaction of the Maliki government was to sue The Guardian under a law that does "not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president," and yesterday, an Iraqi court ordered the newspaper to pay Maliki the equivalent of £52,000.  Iraq's leading journalism organization says the court order "is part of a wider crackdown against media outlets designed to discourage scrutiny of public officials" and that "the Iraqi media have been inundated by writs from officials in recent months and have lost official access and status to state-backed organisations."  Both The New York Times and AP in Iraq have received such writs.
Greenwald doesn't seem to realize that under Saddam Hussein, Iraq didn't have independent journalism organizations, let alone a "leading" one. Even the Guardian article he links to says this explicitly!
Media freedoms have improved substantially in Iraq since the tyrannical decades of Saddam Hussein, when all information was controlled by cronies of the former dictator, such as Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, who was the information minister during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He was popularly known as Comical Ali** for his increasingly outlandish claims about the strength of the Iraqi army.
Does Greenwald want us to stay in Iraq? No, he wishes uber-Cheneyite Saddam Hussein or his psychopathic sons were in power.
* Yglesias on foreign policy is like Superfreakonomics: annoying too-clever-by-half contrarianism. For good contrarianism see this article in Slate by Jonah Weiner, Creed is Good.
** Comical Ali was known in the US as Baghdad Bob. On April 7, 2003, he claimed that there were no American troops in Baghdad, and that the Americans were committing suicide by the hundreds at the city's gates. At that time, American tanks were patrolling the streets only a few hundred meters from the location where the press conference was held.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Obama was elected a year ago today. Here he is in Raleigh, North Carolina in April of last year. Check out the dog whistle at 2:20. He said he learned it from his aide Reggie Love. Despite the primary nastiness I am glad Obama asked Hillary to be Secretary of State and she is doing a good job (except when on her recent trip to the Middle East, she praised as "unprecedented" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to slow the building of settlements. It upset our Arab allies.) Axelrod, Obama, and Plouffe ran a great campaign. Plouffe has a new book out on the campaign where he lists some of the few mistakes (which I thought were overblown at the time.) It truly was an amazing campaign.

Monday, November 02, 2009


As that great epistemologist Donald Rumsfeld once said there are known unknowns and unknown unknowns and as a lot of people say the truly smart people are those who are aware how much they don't know.

 Lorrie Moore mentioned in an interview that her Internet reading includes Wikipedia,* as does mine. It's always showing you how much you don't know. And on Wikipedia I learned that Norah Jones's father is Ravi Shankar. She has a new album out titled "The Fall." Check out this cool video with Wax Poetic featuring Jones, back before she hit it big.

Actress Rashida Jones (left photo) was in I Love You, Man and the Office and is now on the show Parks and Recreation.** On Wikipedia I learned that she's the daughter of Quincy Jones. She has a graphic novel/comic series titled Frenemy of the State, which is now going to be made into a movie. Jones is writing the script with Will McCormack. And she is dating Jon Favreau, the Director of Speechwriting for Obama, which makes her suspiciously too cool.

*Which I learned on Wikipedia. I learned elsewhere that like 80 percent of the editors at Wikipedia are male, so the site's info must be skewed.
** In an interview with the Onion this week, Chris Pratt, who plays Andy Dwyer, said Parks and Recreation will have another season which is good news. Also, they discussed the fact he's married to the lovely Anna Faris(!). Another great character on the show is the manager Ron Swanson, played by Nick Offerman. He has really developed over the season just as Flight of the Concords' Murray Hewitt, played by Rhys Darby, really blossomed over the Concords' seasons. Either could do a spin-off later on, after these shows have their run, like Fraiser did after Cheers. Speaking of Cheers, what about Woody Harrelson and Ted Danson???!!! Harrelson keeps on making great movies while maintaing a lifestyle as a dope-smoking, vegan eco-anarchist while Danson has been great recently on Curb Your Enthusiasm and the brand-new Bored To Death. And speaking of Bored To Death, it's great to see Zach Galifianakis have success with that show and The Hangover. I've had a man-crush on Galifianakis for years (like how on Seinfeld George Costanza developed a man-crush on a friend at the gym.) Okay I've probably said enough.

"The Defining Moment"

"Too Little of a Good Thing"
Deficit hawks like to complain that today’s young people will end up having to pay higher taxes to service the debt we’re running up right now. But anyone who really cared about the prospects of young Americans would be pushing for much more job creation, since the burden of high unemployment falls disproportionately on young workers - and those who enter the work force in years of high unemployment suffer permanent career damage, never catching up with those who graduated in better times.
The political question is whether you'd rather have the money going to the upper class young people or invest it in the rest of the younger generation.

Blog post about Barry Eichengreen and Doug Irwin's new paper challenging the conventional wisdom about protectionism in the 1930s.
It wasn’t about economic ignorance, or at least not about microeconomics; it was about the attempt to escape the "golden fetters" of the exchange rate. The most protectionist countries were those that tried to keep their peg to gold; and as they say,
This suggests that trade protection in the 1930s was less an instance of special interest politics run amok than second-best macroeconomic policy management when monetary and fiscal policies were constrained.

Pregnant Pause
"Highway 61 Revisited"*
Oh, God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"
Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on."
God say "No," Abe say "What?"
God say "You can do what you want Abe, but
the next time you see me you better run."

[Pregnant Pause]
Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"
God says, "Out on Highway 61."

Reviews of  R. Crumb's "Book of Genesis Illustrated" in the LA Times and in the New York Times.  
*Highway 61 was a highway that stretched from Minnesota, where Dylan was from, down to New Orleans, before Eisenhower built the interstate system. The painting above is The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio. It appears towards the end of the Coen brothers move A Serious Man and is on the cover of Hitchens's book Prepared for the Worst.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Hard to Be Soft, Tough to Be Tender
Noble-prize winning economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Amartya Sen believe we need another metric other than G.D.P. (gross domestic product) which measures sustainable growth with an eye towards human welfare. Toronto-based band Metric (sounds like the Pixies):

Inglourious Basterd (...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead) HUGO STIGLITZ (no relation):

My grandfather Siegfried passed away recently at the age of 94. He was first generation German-American and had lived through the Great Depression. He was drafted into the US Army in November of 1942, served in the South Pacific, receiving a battlefield commission.

His mother had come to America by boat and had five sisters who remained in Germany. They all lived into their 90s or 100s. (Two of his cousins were sent to the Eastern Front and were never heard from again.) His father was a construction worker in New York City and was crushed to death by some girders while on the job. His mother took my grandfather and his sister to Duluth, Minnesota and became a podiatrist. She never remarried.

Before the war, he played football in college. They wore leather helmets without a facemask. After the war, he and my grandmother moved to the Chicago suburbs. They were the last ones on the block to purchase a television, because he believed it was a passing fad. He was a cheery, honest man with a good sense of humor.

When I was a kid he nicknamed me "Petrovich" whether because in his eyes I had Communist tendencies or a Russian soul, I never found out. But it was flattering that I was the only grandchild he nicknamed and it always heartwarming the way he'd call it out as if he was surprised to see me - "Petrovitch!" - whenever we met.

This new derby movie directed by Drew Barrymore looks like it could be good. Ellen Page stars as Babe Ruthless and Barrymore's character is Smashly Simpson (does she not like Ashly or are they friends?). Kristin Wiig is Maggie Mayhem, Eve is Rosa Sparks, Zoe Bell is Bloody Holly, Ari Graynor is Eva Destruction, Juliette Lewis is Iron Maven, and looks like Andrew Wilson (brother of Luke and Owen) is the underdogs' coach. There's also the Manson sisters and Jaba the Slut.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

And though the news was rather sad, well I just had to laugh

Michiko Kakutani's review of "A Gate at the Stairs."

"Eyes Wide Open" by Jonathan Lethem
From "In Fed We Trust," by David Wessel
Barney Frank, the congressman from Massachusetts, proposed declaring Monday, September 15, to be Free Market Day. On Sunday, the Fed and the Treasury let Lehman fail; on Tuesday, they took over AIG. "The national commitment to the free market lasted one day," Frank said. "It was Monday."

Article on Barney Frank in the Boston Globe.

Frank on Planet Money.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Along with the Coen brothers, Terry Gilliam and John Waters, one of favorite moviemakers is John Carpenter. He made Escape from New York, The Thing, They Live and Big Trouble in Little China, which the Onion features in its "Better Late Than Never?" section.

Also Quentin Tarantino is good, and his new movie Inglourious Basterds is his best since Pulp Fiction.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"That's what we like about you, Mulder. Your ideas are even weirder than ours."

John Fitzgerald Byers (Bruce Harwood) was once a public relations worker for the FCC. He was a conservative dresser with a neatly trimmed beard, a stark contrast to his grungier comrades. He had at least some working knowledge of medicine, genetics and chemistry and is known for the famous line, "That's what we like about you, Mulder. Your ideas are even weirder than ours." He was born on November 22, 1963, the same day that President Kennedy died. His parents named him after the fallen president. His name would have been Bertram otherwise. Byers was the most "normal" of the three, and while Frohike and Langly were seemingly born angry misfits, Byers dreamed of a quiet, uneventful, suburban life. Byers' father was a high-ranking government official, but they never saw eye to eye and when Byers' father appears in The Lone Gunmen pilot, the two hadn't spoken for some time.

Melvin Frohike (Tom Braidwood) was a former '60s radical and the oldest of the three. Though a skilled computer hacker, Frohike was primarily the photography specialist for the newsletter. Frohike had a lascivious attitude toward women. However, he had a more purely romantic attitude towards Dana Scully; when she was gravely ill in the episode 'One Breath', Frohike appeared at the hospital in a tailored suit carrying a bouquet. His unique sense of fashion made him stand out: leather jackets, furry vests, combat boots, fingerless gloves, etc. Frohike considered himself the "action man" of the trio and would often be seen doing very intense stunts (many rigged to look more impressive than they really were). Despite his childish scraps with Langly and others, Frohike's age and experience gave him a kind of quiet wisdom that occasionally surfaced when he consoled his friends about the sorry nature of their lives. In The Lone Gunmen episode "Tango de los Pistoleros," Frohike was revealed to be a former tango champion who danced under the stage name "El Lobo."

Richard Langly (Dean Haglund) was the most confrontational and socially immature of the three. He was a big fan of The Ramones and enjoyed critiquing the scientific inaccuracies of the short-lived sci-fi series Earth 2, and he had a long-running competition with Frohike over who was a better computer hacker. He also had "a philosophical aversion to having his image bounced off a satellite." His nickname was "Ringo". Langly was a Dungeons and Dragons player (as 'Lord Manhammer') and enjoyed violent videogames like Quake.
Happy Birthdays to India and Julia Child (if she was still around).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Solitary Crow On Fence Post Portending Doom, Analysts Warn

The wingèd harbinger of our own condemnation.
Run Crying to Mama

The funniest moment for me during the Great Panic was when the freewheeling global investment banks reverted to regular national banks.
Adding to questions about Mr. Paulson’s role, critics say, is the fact that Goldman Sachs was among a group of banks that received substantial government assistance during the turmoil. Goldman not only received $13 billion in taxpayer money as a result of the A.I.G. bailout, but also was given permission at the height of the crisis to convert from an investment firm to a national bank, giving it easier access to federal financing in the event it came under greater financial pressure.
As did the other big investment banks who years before had successfully lobbied the Clinton administration to repeal the "archaic"Glass Stegall Act.
Lollapalooza yesterday had Gomez, Coheed & Cambria and Tool. (Unfortunately the Yeah Yeah Yeahs played at the same time as Tool.)

Tonight there's a show at a small venue with Josh Homme of the the Queens of the Stone Age, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones. It sold out quickly. In 1999 a friend got us tickets to a Halloween show at the same place with the Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age which was amazing. After the Queens played two guys dressed as Teletubbies came out on stage and took off their heads. One had a mask of Al Gore on, the other had a mask of Bush. Grohl ran around in the crowd which was crazy.

When I was in college I was lucky enough to attend the original Lollapalooza which had the Rollins Band, the Butthole Surfers, Nine Inch Nales, Ice-T and Body Count, Jane's Addiction, Living Color, and Siouxsie and the Banshies. 1996 was great too with Soundgarden, the Ramones, Rancid, and the Wu-Tang Clan.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Sometimes William Safire's On Language column makes me laugh:
The geezersphere will remember the previous vogue use of model to describe the willowy women on whom clothes designers draped their creations. That word’s meaning was later applied by captious caption writers to any attractive female in a tabloid’s photos. (I had a date once in the 1950s with the model Nancy Berg, who along with the cover girls Suzy Parker and her sister Dorian Leigh broke the $100-an-hour modeling fee. In that era, those were the models to follow, blazing the trail for today’s supermodels.)
In hindsight, if Obama gets decent health care reform, forgoing the Swedish model of banking reform may be seen smart polically for it placated the deficit hawks who are suspicious of government. If not, it will be seen as a risky move, things could have easily turned out worse, which allowed the banking sector to remain in bad shape and hurt the economic outlook more than necessary.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Great American Bubble Machine by Matt Taibbi

Taibbi mentions Time magazine's Dewey Defeats Truman cover:
It became almost a national cliche that whatever Rubin thought was best for the economy - a phenomenon that reached its apex in 1999, when Rubin appeared on the cover of Time with his Treasury deputy, Larry Summers, and Fed chief Alan Greenspan under the headline THE COMMITTEE TO SAVE THE WORLD.
Interesting that Time takes the time to critcize the piece:
"The [Rolling Stone] article makes a very compelling case against Goldman Sachs, but I think the problems it identifies are pervasive in financial firms and corporate America in general," says Nell Minow, who is the co-founder of the Corporate Library, a research firm that tracks corporate-governance issues. "We need to launch substantive financial reform rather than weighing the faults of one firm versus another." Minow's point is this: spend too much time on Goldman and you miss the fact of how broadly the financial system and the regulations that are supposed to keep profiteers in check failed us. And she's right.
Taibbi responds:
I had to read that passage several times to even begin to grasp its ostensible meaning. Apparently this is the best argument that Time could come up with to discredit this article, that the rhetorical technique of using a specific example of a specific bank like Goldman to tell a broader story about Wall Street in general distracts readers from the "more important" issue of how government regulators... failed to stop banks like Goldman! I mean, really, how’s that for circular thinking? This is silly stuff even by Time magazine’s standards.

I’ve been shocked by how many grown adult people seem to have swallowed this argument, that the argument against Goldman's behavior during the bubbles of recent decades is invalid because "everyone was doing it" - and other banks, like for instance Morgan Stanley, were "just as bad" as Goldman was.

Two things about that. One, it isn't true, not really. By any reasonable measure Goldman is and has been the baddest guy on the block for a long time. When it comes to government influence, no other Wall Street company even comes close. And while maybe one might have made an argument that other players were more damaging to society before the crisis of last year, there's simply no question now, after the bailouts and especially after the AIG fiasco, that Goldman now reigns supreme in the area of insider advantage. To pick any other bank to tell the story of the rapidly growing influence of Wall Street on politics and the blurring of public and private roles would be a glaring journalistic oversight, and surely even Goldman’s biggest supporters would admit this.

Two, even if it is true that "everyone else was doing it": so what? Who cares? To me this response is highly telling. We published a piece accusing Goldman Sachs of systematically ripping off pensioners and other retail investors by sticking them with rafts of toxic mortgages it knew were losers, of looting taxpayer reserves to cover its bad bets made with AIG, of manipulating gas prices to massive detrimental effect, of helping to explode an internet bubble that caused over $5 trillion in wealth to disappear, and numerous other crimes - and the response isn't "You're wrong," or "We didn't do that shit, not us," but "Well, Morgan did the same stuff," and "Why aren't you writing about Morgan?"

Why didn't we write about Morgan? Because we didn't. Because it's your turn, you assholes. Maybe later someone will tell the story of the other banks, but for now, while most ordinary people are only just learning about the workings of the financial innovation era that blew up in their faces last year, the top dog in that universe is going to be first in line to get the special treatment. That might be inconvenient for Goldman, but it doesn’t make the things I or anyone else say about them untrue.

Normally I don't care so much when people criticize my work. It goes with the territory. But in this case, the response of a bank like Goldman and Goldman's supporters is characteristic of the subject matter in a way that is important to point out, even after the fact of publication. These are powerful people who know how to play the public relations game, have all the appropriate contacts, and have a playbook that they follow to discredit their critics. Whether it's me now or the next guy who takes them on, they're going to come back with some kind of charge, be it "Everyone was doing it," or "We're just smarter than the other guys, you can't blame us for that," or "The real culprits are the ineffective regulators," something.
As much as I agree with Taibbi, I don't blame Obama for bringing on Geithner and Larry Summers in the midst of a crisis. They know the ropes and have been doing and saying the right things since the crisis hit. And ultimately Obama is in charge. That's politics: Goldman and Wall Street will try to mitigate the backlash - and they have plenty of cash and influence in their arsenal - but at the end of the day, they're "too big to fail" and essential to the economy. It's a dance with the devil.

And it should be noted Goldman Sachs tends to lean towards the Democrats and Taibbi is libertarian in a vaguely conservative manner. He fails to mention the Republican's raison d'etre: less government, less regulation, and a jihad against campaign finance reform. It was the conservative policy agenda that enabled the collapse. At least Taibbi didn't blame Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And he is quite correct to highlight the Clintonoid's culpability:
A report that year by the Government Accountability Office recommended that such financial instruments be tightly regulated - and in 1998, the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, a woman named Brooksley Born, agreed. That May, she circulated a letter to business leaders and the Clinton administration suggesting that banks be required to provide greater disclosure in derivatives trades, and maintain reserves to cushion against losses.

More regulation wasn't exactly what Goldman had in mind. "The banks go crazy - they want it stopped," says Michael Greenberger, who worked for Born as director of trading and markets at the CFTC and is now a law professor at the University of Maryland. "Greenspan, Summers, Rubin and [SEC chief Arthur] Levitt want it stopped."

Clinton's reigning economic foursome - "especially Rubin," according to Greenberger - called Born in for a meeting and pleaded their case. She refused to back down, however, and continued to push for more regulation of the derivatives. Then, in June 1998, Rubin went public to denounce her move, eventually recommending that Congress strip the CFTC of its regulatory authority. In 2000, on its last day in session, Congress passed the now-notorious Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which had been inserted into an 1l,000-page spending bill at the last minute, with almost no debate on the floor of the Senate. Banks were now free to trade default swaps with impunity.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Krugman on Charlie Rose

Monday, June 29, 2009

Transformers: ROTF
How Michael Bay met Obama.

Michael Bay finally made an art movie by Charlie Jane Anders.

(via Yglesias).

Saturday, June 20, 2009

You know when the apolitical jocks start showing solidarity it's serious business.

(via Andrew Sullivan who is overdue for a mental health break.)
Satrapi-Makhmalbaf Joint Conference EU Parliament Brussels

Invited by European Green Party Deputy Daniel Cohn Bendit (Iconic Former Student Leader of France's May 68 Revolution) , Iranian Filmmakers Marjane Satrapi and Mohsen Makhmalbaf demand foreign governments Not to recognize the government of so-called President Elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Back last September, The Onion AV Club reported:
The A.V. Club is delighted to point you to a free download of a new live collaboration between Wilco and Fleet Foxes, a cover of Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" which was recorded in Bend, OR on the recent Wilco tour. Wilco's working with Headcount.org, "a nonpartisan, non-profit organization dedicated to voter registration and inspiring participation in democracy through the power of music." So when you download this track, you'll be asked to click a simple button, pledging to vote in the upcoming national election on November 4. And if you're feeling particularly generous, Wilco's also suggesting you make a donation to Second Harvest/Feed America.