Sunday, June 27, 2010

Thank God for the Alternative Media

Frank Rich always seemed to have some important insight in his Sunday column.  This week it's the corruption of the MSM, in its subservience to the powers-that-be.
Politico theorized that Hastings had pulled off his impertinent coup because he was a freelance journalist rather than a beat reporter, and so could risk “burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.”

That sentence was edited out of the article — in a routine updating, said Politico — after the blogger Andrew Sullivan highlighted it as a devastating indictment of a Washington media elite too cozy with and protective of its sources to report the unvarnished news. In any event, Politico had the big picture right. It’s the Hastings-esque outsiders with no fear of burning bridges who have often uncovered the epochal stories missed by those with high-level access. Woodward and Bernstein were young local reporters, nowhere near the White House beat, when they cracked Watergate. Seymour Hersh was a freelancer when he broke My Lai. It was uncelebrated reporters in Knight Ridder’s Washington bureau, not journalistic stars courted by Scooter and Wolfowitz, who mined low-level agency hands to challenge the “slam-dunk” W.M.D. intelligence in the run-up to Iraq.

Symbolically enough, Hastings was reporting his McChrystal story abroad just as Beltway media heavies and their most bold-faced subjects were dressing up for the annual White House correspondents’ dinner. Rolling Stone has never bought a table or thrown an afterparty for that bacchanal, and it has not even had a Washington bureau since the mid-1970s. Yet the magazine has not only chronicled the McChrystal implosion — and relentlessly tracked the administration’s connections to the “vampire squid” of Goldman Sachs — but has also exposed the shoddy management of the Obama Interior Department. As it happens, the issue of Rolling Stone with the Hastings story also contains a second installment of Tim Dickinson’s devastating dissection of the Ken Salazar cohort, this time detailing how its lax regulation could soon lead to an even uglier repeat of the Gulf of Mexico fiasco when BP and Shell commence offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"For decades, we have known the days of cheap and easily acessible oil were numbered."

That was Obama, in his speech on the BP spill.

It may not seem like that big of a statement, but I believe those words were carefully chosen. If I know anything about Obama, its that he believes in the power of words. He personally chooses his words very carefully when writing speeches, and its worth paying attention to his choices. So, to unpack this statement further....

"For decades, we have known...."
This answers several questions. The government ("we") has known about the reality of this situation for years and has not been brave enough to tell the country that we are nearing peak oil(or, as politicians who want to hold onto power would see it, stupid enough to tell the country). Given the overlap between oil industry executives and national leadership (hint: it rhymes with Theney), its not surprising that the government has known this for decades. Still it is shocking when one thinks about the greed behind it: the Bushes and Cheneys would rather protect the profits of their oil brethren than lead the country on a quest for renewable energy. Thus, "decades" were wasted. Also, this may be as clear of an admission as we will ever get that the Iraq War was fought mainly to free up Iraq's oil reserves to plug the hole left by plunging oil production elsewhere.

"....the days of cheap and easily accessible oil were numbered."
There it is folks. The first admission by a president that peak oil is a reality. Sure, it is couched in the most non-controversial language possible. But Obama is telling us the truth here, is anybody out there listening? I didn't see one pundit remark on this line of the speech. I know, I know, I should not raise my expectations that high for our national media. The fact that they are able to string words together and giggle at the latest scandal like 12 year old girls is probably the height of their potential. My apologies for any offense to 12 year old girls with that last statement, I don't mean to compare you with our national press corps.

150 Years of Good Times--Thanks, Oil!

I've been wanting to write something like this, but Tom Whipple does it better than I could:

Unlike most of the world, America has had 150 years of good times. Since the end of the Civil War, or if you prefer the War Between the States, no armies have crashed through our cities and except for the 1930s, which are remembered by only a few senior citizens, there has been relatively steady economic growth....

....Under the "no new taxes" banner, conservatives in recent years have been content to watch the rapid erosion of state and local government services as withering revenues and inability to print or borrow money has forced unprecedented cutbacks. The ideology behind all this is that the economic growth that has been with us as long as anybody can remember will return soon and all will be well. Missing from this scenario of course is that for the last 150 years economic growth and the consumption of increasing amounts of oil have been inextricably linked. Take away steadily increasing oil supplies and the bedrock of conservative economic theory becomes a fantasy.

The problem will come when gasoline becomes unaffordable at current rates of use and many or most are forced to cut back, doing severe damage to our motorized society. At first there will be strident calls to deregulate, forget the environment and produce as much oil as possible. It may take a few years before a critical mass come to the realization amidst a stagnating economy and burgeoning social problems that more drilling is not going to work. Then the real debate can begin on how to keep civilization functioning with decreasing supplies of fossil fuels.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Snake-Eating Rebel

"We've shot an amazing number of people," McChrystal recently conceded.
A quote from an amazing article in the Rolling Stone magazine about Obama's top general in Afghanistan.

The White Man's Burden Still Lives

John Derbyshire writes for National Review and is one of those conservatives I kind of admire because he could care less that he sounds racist most of the time. And its not an ignorant kind of racism, its a "British-Empire-Civilizing-the-Heathens" kind of racism. The kind that went out of fashion about a century ago, but still lingers in the ids of conservatives today.

Here's Derbyshire on Israel-Palestine. Also note that this particular passage was quoted by another National Review-ian who said "its hard to argue with":

North of five million people have been slaughtered in the Congo this past twelve years, and nobody much (no, not me—how about you?) has lost a wink of sleep over it.

. . . [But] the Congo is nothing to me. Israel is something to me. It’s an outpost of my civilization, organized on principles I agree with, inhabited by people I could live at ease with. They defend themselves, their borders, their interests, with the kind of vigor and thick-skinned determination I’d like to see my nation display. (If only!) I admire them and wish them well.

There’s an affinity. In some tenuous sense, they are me, and I am them. The Gazans? I’ll care about them right after I start caring about the Congo.

Its hard for me to believe that people still think this way in the 21st Century. Even harder to believe that they will come right out and admit it. And its probably hardest for me to believe that Republicans think they will ever get many votes from minorities with degenerates like this leading their movement.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Jerk

I just saw a video of Rush Limbaugh mocking Malia Obama (or more accurately, trying to mock Obama by using his daughter's voice).  Rush is more than a political extremist, he is officially a complete and utter jerk!!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The North Carolina/South Carolina Divide

Being Tar Heel Bred(although not Tar Heel Born, unfortunately), I have always been touchy when people from other parts of the country confuse North and South Carolina. They are totally different places, with NC having all the advantages (except Charleston, I will give SC that). With all of the recent focus on the crazy state of SC politics, at Talking Points Memo today there were some interesting and funny comments from local readers on the two states:
I just returned from a weeklong beach trip to South Carolina, and while I was there, I thoroughly enjoyed TPM's coverage of the state's primary mess. Driving home the other day up I-26, I realized that South Carolina may be even more conservative than I knew (and I am a lifelong North Carolinian - please never, ever confuse the two states). I expected some strange campaign signs like the gigantic "Take Back America" yard signs that greeted us. What I didn't expect were the massive billboards. One depicted a candidate with a Bible scripture and verse on it. There were anti-abortion billboards about every 10 miles or less. There was a huge board with Rush Limbaugh's face with the caption "Saving America's Soul" on it. Then, there was a creepy, malevolent sign depicting what looked like a ninja on it with the warning to beware of Islam and a website for the Islam Rising film on it. (Didn't the Dutch guy in that film actually win some seats in the latest Dutch election?) All of this craziness coupled with the bizarre Alvin Greene story and the rise of Nikki Haley and the "raghead" comments of the state senator make me wonder if South Carolina is simply ground zero for the conservative movement or is it more complex? Most frighteningly, I wonder if much of Nikki Haley's success is due not just to her charisma but to the Palin endorsement. Given South Carolina's strategic place on the primary calendar in 2012, does this mean Palin has a good chance of winning the state and maybe even locking up the nomination? I guarantee this woman would do very well there. As someone who lives very close to the state line and who has travelled to the state many, many times, I was surprised at the level of open rightwing propaganda there. When one crosses into North Carolina, it is almost a palpable change.

And then a hilarious follow up from someone who lives in SC but works in NC:

True, there's a lot to hate about SC - monster pickups, bad roads, non-existent park and rec departments (which is probably good, since the last thing you'd want your kid grabbing at 102 degrees is a piece of steel playground equipment), Baptists, stars and bars flags, in-your-face racism, ankle shredding Palmetto, Baptists, wretched trees, alien-weed lawns, Baptists, melted and re-frozen ice-cream, bad pizza and worse beer, poisonous snakes, clouds of biting black gnats, civil war subs, corruption on every level (just look at Union, SC - nearly the entire city government is either indicted or in jail), Aryan compounds, alligators in your duck pond, Baptists, and I could go on and on (and do, until someone - usually my wife - slaps me out of it). Just remember, not all of SC is swamp - much of it is jungle. As my 88 year old father said on his first visit to SC, "I've seen some rich get richer and poor get shit places, but this one takes the cake." While it's true that SC is worse by degree (and I'm not talking about temperature, it's hotter than hell in NC right now, too), all I have to mention to those proud NCer's who want to divorce themselves from the nightmare that is SC and appear somehow more progressive are two facts. Until the last presidential election, NC was as deeply red as any red-state, and secondly, the NASCAR museum. I rest my case.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Constitution Was Not Based on Common Sense

So says Jonathan Bernstein:
We all know that Sarah Palin loves the words "common sense." And "conservative." She's recently adopted another one, a favorite of Tea Partiers: "Constitutional." Alas, she's also taken to combining them: things she likes are now "Common Sense Constitutional Conservative."....You know what, though? I won't get into whether conservative ideas are common sense, or Commonsense, or not. But I'm certain that the Constitution of the United States of America is not common sense. It's a sophisticated document, based on a complex and subtle theory of politics. It was drafted by brilliant men, who relied not on common sense but on serious study of politics, history, and philosophy. Chief among them was James Madison. Madison was a practical man, and certainly had practical political experience, having served in the Continental Congress and the Virginia General Assembly. But he did not believe that the sorts of things that he learned from practical experience were enough when he took it upon himself to organize the Constitutional Convention and to prepare a draft plan for a new government. So Madison made a study of it.

Read on for what Madison studied to form the Constitution (many of them French philosophical works). The point is: these were not works that Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, or the Tea Partiers would approve of today.

Modern conservatives have severely warped their own understanding of the Constitution in order to fit it into their pre-existing views. In many ways, they treat the Constitution much like they treat the Bible. Its inerrant! (except for those parts we don't agree with, like "turn the other cheek". Jesus...ur....was exaggerating to make a point). We should not be interpreting it! (except when it fits our goals). If one trait marks the Conservative movement today, it is a lack of self-analysis and introspection, the ability to see glaring inconsistencies hiding in plain sight.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

No Wimps Need Apply

Alexander Cockburn, the no-holds-barred leftist critic (and sometimes cynic) of all-things-Establishment, thinks that Obama is on the verge of being seen as a wimp:
Americans don’t care to have a wimp in the White House. They’ll take almost any outlandish vulgarity from their commander in chief and give him a positive job-rating. But wimpishness?...

The White House press corps – until recently without a presidential press conference for ten months – quizzes Obama’s press secretary about Obama’s evident inability to project anger about BP’s oil spill, now bidding to be the greatest environmental disaster in the nation’s history. Obama’s flack claimed his boss was “enraged” at BP. “Can you describe it?” asked Chip Reid of CBS. “Does he yell and scream? What does he do?” The best Gibbs could offer was evocation of Obama’s “clenched jaw”.

At least half of any US president’s job is play-acting, pretending to be in charge, on behalf of We the People. Most of what actually happens in America is beyond any president’s ability or political inclination to control.

The banks run the finances. The oil companies and Israel vie for control of US foreign policy. The arms companies arrange the wars. The insurance companies figure out who should live or die.

Bill Clinton was so servile to big business that he took a phone call from a Florida sugar baron, even though Monica Lewinsky was giving him a blow-job when the call came in. He surely shocked the feisty intern with his obsequious manner as the baron issued a crisp command to kill off Al Gore’s impertinent talk about environmental clean-up of the Everglades. But Clinton could still scream and throw his weight around in the manner expected of a president.

The Sick Corporate/Government Collusion

Dana Milbank of the WaPo writes,
In Washington, belief in corporate divinity has become a bipartisan religion, and it's polytheistic: Lawmakers, despite the occasional bit of populist rhetoric, routinely provide generous offerings to the automotive, aerospace, financial, pharmaceutical and insurance industries, along with petroleum.

An article by The Post's Dan Eggen explains why: More than 1,400 former members of Congress, staffers and federal employees registered as lobbyists in the financial services sector alone since the start of 2009, according to a study by Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics. Many of these lobbyists, of course, moonlight as fundraising captains for lawmakers.

No wonder politicians have got the corporate religion. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), furthering the act-of-God view, asserted that "this is not an environmental disaster" in the gulf "because it is a natural phenomena." Rand Paul, the GOP Senate candidate in Kentucky, said the administration's vow to keep a boot on the throat of BP is "un-American." Former GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani said the criminal investigation of BP is a "mistake."

Democrats have been only slightly less devout. They're giving no serious consideration to the demand from some on the left, including Robert Reich, to put BP into temporary receivership. The administration's criminal investigation of BP has little chance of getting executives locked up. BP CEO Tony Hayward won't even commit to suspending BP's dividend (more than $10 billion last year), as some Democratic senators have demanded, and he put the clean-up cost at a paltry $3 billion over six months, far less than what many analysts say the real cost will be.

Walk the Talk, Or Just Stop the Talk

Frank Rich, one of our more perceptive journalists these days in my opinion, begins his Sunday NYT column by talking about the nationwide search for Obama's rage (which is a really stupid distraction, I think). Then Rich writes this:
Not going to happen. Obama will never unleash the anger of the antagonists in “Do the Right Thing” or match James Carville’s rebooted “ragin’ Cajun” shtick. That’s not who Obama is. If he tried to go off, he’d look ridiculous. But the debate over how to raise the president’s emotional thermostat is not an entirely innocuous distraction. It allows Obama to duck the more serious doubts about his leadership that have resurfaced along with BP’s oil.

Unlike his unflappable temperament, his lingering failings should and could be corrected. And they must be if his presidency is not just to rise above the 24/7 Spill-cam but to credibly seize the narrative that Americans have craved ever since he was elected during the most punishing economic downturn of our lifetime. We still want to believe that Obama is on our side, willing to fight those bad corporate actors who cut corners and gambled recklessly while regulators slept, Congress raked in contributions, and we got stuck with the wreckage and the bills. But his leadership style keeps sowing confusion about his loyalties, puncturing holes in the powerful tale he could tell.

His most conspicuous flaw is his unshakeable confidence in the collective management brilliance of the best and the brightest he selected for his White House team — “his abiding faith in the judgment of experts,” as Joshua Green of The Atlantic has put it. At his gulf-centric press conference 10 days ago, the president said he had “probably had more meetings on this issue than just about any issue since we did our Afghan review.” This was meant to be reassuring but it was not. The plugging of an uncontrollable oil leak, like the pacification of an intractable Afghanistan, may be beyond the reach of marathon brainstorming by brainiacs, even if the energy secretary is a Nobel laureate. Obama has yet to find a sensible middle course between blind faith in his own Ivy League kind and his predecessor’s go-with-the-gut bravado.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

First Rule of the Playground: Make Sure There's No One at the Bottom of the Sliding Board

This may be somewhat crude, but it is probably on target:

National Hubris

An uncommonly 'plain speaking' columnist (for the NYT) is Bob Herbert, who writes this morning:
If a bank is too big to fail, it’s way too big to exist. If an oil well is too far beneath the sea to be plugged when something goes wrong, it’s too deep to be drilled in the first place.

When are we going to stop behaving so stupidly? We nearly wrecked the economy and we’re all but buried in debt. But we can’t break up the biggest banks, and we can’t raise taxes. Now we’re fouling the magnificent Gulf of Mexico and ruining entire communities along the southern Louisiana Coast.

And, by the way, we’re still fighting a futile war in Afghanistan that we’ve been fighting with nonstop futility for nearly a decade.

For a nation that can’t stop bragging about how great and powerful it is, we’ve become shockingly helpless in the face of the many challenges confronting us. Our can-do spirit was put on hold many moons ago, and here we are now unable to defeat the Taliban, or rein in the likes of BP and the biggest banks, or stop the oil gushing furiously from the bowels of earth like a warning from Hades about the hubris and ignorance that is threatening to destroy us.