Friday, February 25, 2011

Our newest banana republic

They used to use the term "banana republic" to refer to countries in Central America in which the government was run as a tool for the oligarchies that became rich by exploiting the natural resources of the country.

Now we have the official transformation of a state with a proud Progressive tradition into a banana republic.

Josh is reporting that after the Wisconsin Assembly concluded debate on Walker's anti-union bill, they went immediately to a vote. The vote lasted seconds, and as soon as there were enough Republican votes to pass it the Republican Speaker closed the voting.

The majority of the Democratic caucus didn't even get to have their votes recorded, even though they were pounding furiously on their electronic voting buttons.

The Democratic members of the Senate are standing firm, and there are suggestions that the vote was illegal and may be subject to a court challenge, but Wisconsin has taken one more step toward being a wholly-owned subsidiary of Koch Industries.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love StorySuper Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm really not sure whether this should be three or four stars. I think the author does what he sets out to do quite effectively. What I would say, though, is that this is one of the most unpleasant books to read that I've read lately, so I wouldn't recommend the experience to anyone else.

The main character is an aging (39) son of Russian immigrants who works for a business, possibly a scam, selling life extension to HNWI's (High Net Worth Individuals). He becomes obsessed with an utterly uninteresting and much younger woman who is the daughter of Korean immigrants and devotes his life to making her fall in love with him. He only partly succeeds, although he does succeed in enveloping her in his life.

The issues, though, are that American government and commerce have become entirely dominated by our creditors, primarily China, and the dystopia Shteyngart portrays, leading to almost total collapse (The Rupture), throws the lives of these two characters, their families and friends, and the rudimentary social structures that remain into chaos.

Super Sad Love Story presents us with some of the observational wit we are used to from Gary Shteyngart, but it is far from funny. If anything, it is closer to the grim, depressing atmosphere presented in Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Consequently, here Shteyngart has failed at one of the essential projects of satire: humor.

As I say, well done, but not recommended.

View all my reviews


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No difference? Really?

A lot of what Obama has done has been a big disappointment, to me no less than to other liberals. I constantly hear people saying that Obama is no different from Bush, or from what McCain would have been if he'd been elected.

Today we have more proof that these claims are just wrong.

As of today, the Justice Department will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

Andrew Cohen reports in Politics Daily:

In announcing the surprise move, Attorney General Holder wrote: "After careful consideration, including a review of my recommendation, the President has concluded that given a number of factors, including a documented history of discrimination, classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to a more heightened standard of scrutiny. The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases. I fully concur with the President's determination.

Part of our job as progressive activists is to push our elected officials farther than they want to go.

They deserve credit when they get a big decision like this right.

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

This is how stupid conservatives are

Have you been paying attention to the annual circus knowns as CPAC?

You really should. Where else would you hear Donald Trump touting his presidential candidacy based on the twin pillars of "If I'm president the world will respect the United States (and the fleabitten weasel on my head) again" and "Ron Paul can't be elected"? (A friend of mine spent $10,000 on plugs (and admits the vanity of it),, has to spread minoxidil cream on his head twice a day, and he looks better than Trump; wouldn't you think Trump could afford better than that?)

The highlight of CPAC is always the straw poll, where we learn who the movement conservatives support for president. Unfortunately, it doesn't have much predictive value. I say unfortunately because they inevitably pick some ridiculous wack job as their favored candidate.

This year it's Ron Paul's turn, by a wide margin.

Here are a few of the favored positions enunciated by Ron Paul this year:

First, as reported by David Corn: "Government should never be able to do anything you can't do."

Paul may not be that familiar with the Constitution he has sworn to uphold, but here's a sampling of a few of the things that the Government is authorized by the Constitution to do that you and I aren't allowed to do:

To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

To borrow money on the credit of the United States;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States;

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures;

To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States;

To establish Post Offices and Post Roads;

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;

To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations;

To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water;

To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide and maintain a Navy;

To make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval Forces;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress;

To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;

And that's just the Congress!

The Constitution also allows the government to seize private property for public use, providing just compensation is paid.

Apparently, Paul either wants to take all these powers away from the federal government, or he thinks that you and I should have the power to issue letters of marque, establish post offices and post roads, and establishing trademarks, patents and copyrights.

And apparently the deep thinkers at CPAC agree with him.

Another bright idea from Paul: let young people opt out of government.

I'm not kidding. Here's his offer:

His proposed deal works like this: you pay the government 10% of your income (presumably to protect your borders and such) and you promise you'll never take advantage of a government service for the rest of your life.

I'll let you just muse on that, and when you're ready, guess what else the group who just endorsed the perennial Libertarian candidate for president did.

Give up? They kicked a real libertarian out for supporting legalizing marijuana.

I guess the only problem is, these guys won't be picking next year's Republican candidate. Wouldn't you love that?

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Ethics, Chamber style

The Chamber of Commerce holds itself out as the voice of business in the United States. But they're not all crazy; they're responsible businesses. That's why they were happy to have Obama speak to them this week, even though there are lots of things they disagree on.

President Obama urged American businesses on Monday to “get in the game” by letting loose trillions of dollars being held in reserves, saying that they can help create a “virtuous cycle” of more sales, higher demand and greater profits that will put people back to work and turn around the sluggish economy.
. . .
But the chamber, too, is eager to tone down the rhetoric, according to senior officials there. At the height of the high-profile fight with the White House, several big-name companies left its board, citing concern about the chamber’s opposition to the administration’s efforts.

And how do they show their commitment to tone down the rhetoric and work constructively?

ThinkProgress has learned that a law firm representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the big business trade association representing ExxonMobil, AIG, and other major international corporations, is working with set of “private security” companies and lobbying firms to undermine their political opponents, including ThinkProgress, with a surreptitious sabotage campaign.

Yup, American business at its finest.

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Party of family values

Don't you love this guy?

The kicker is this: he didn't resign because he concluded he lacked sufficient character to serve. After all, he already knew what his character was.

He resigned because he got caught.

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Reagan at 100/30

Tomorrow Is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, and we just passed the thirtieth anniversary of his inauguration as president, so we have already been subjected to hagiographic portrayals of him, his life, and his supposedly classic American virtues.

That makes this an appropriate time to consider some of the truth of Ronald Reagan as an antidote to the lies, half truths, and mythology that we are about to hear. There are many reasons to despise and scorn the memory of Ronald Reagan, so I'll just concentrate on a few of them.

Racism. It's impossible to consider Reagan's presidency without confronting the centrality of his appeals to racism. He opened his presidential campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the city most famous for the murders of civil rights workers Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman. His speech made an appeal to "states' rights", a code word for segregation and racial oppression since the earliest days of the Civil Rigjhts Movement (not to mention the Civil War). His announcement was an explicit message to any who would hear that he would support the aims of the racist South. In this way, Reagan's presidency can be understood as the culmination of Nixon's Southern Strategy.

As he ran, so he governed. From his support for the racist policies of Bob Jones University to his references to "big bucks" abusing Food Stamps; from his support for apartheid to the clear understanding of his aide Lee Atwater, who explained how Reagan and Bush used concealed racism to win Southern votes, Reagan's presidency was suffused with racism, but you won't hear any of his acolytes discuss it this week.

Support for dictators. If you listen to the Reagan apologists this week you'll hear endless recitations of claims that he revered and valued democracy and freedom. Of course, the opposite is true. As I mentioned, he supported apartheid and resisted any efforts to attack or dismantle it. His foreign policy is characterized by support for the most vicious dictators, with his support for the incumbent dictator in El Salvador and his creation of the contra mercenaries in Nicaragua to restore the Somoza dictatorship there the most outstanding example.

Bargaining with terrorists. Maybe a smaller point, but remember that part of Reagan's support for the contras was giving weapons to terrorists to free American hostages.

Corruption. Let's not forget: Reagan's administration may have been the most corrupt in our history.

Superstition. It's a daily event that American presidents engage in superstition and mythology to gain public support. (Hint: when's the last time you heard a presidential speech that didn't end with "God bless you and God bless the United States"?) Reagan went beyond this by basing his public decisions on the favorite superstition of the soft-headed, astrology.

Taxes. Even today, every Republican pledges loyalty to Reagan's anti-tax ideology. We know that after he cut taxes he raised them again, so take it as stipulated that he wasn't as consistently opposed to taxation as his worshippers claim. Nevertheless, the message stuck. This is what I would say is the worst of the many evils that Ronald Reagan is responsible for: he convinced a wide swath of the American people that they can have all the benefits of our American society and government without paying for it. When the teabaggers claim him as their political and spiritual godfather, this is really what they're talking about.

Oh, just one last thing: it has become a shibboleth to ask Republican candidates for president or RNC chair who their favorite Republican president was. The universal answer is Ronald Reagan. When they give that answer, they're not lying. They actually do prefer the racist tool of the wealthy to the man who preserved the Union and ended slavery.

So this weekend, do contemplate the legacy and nature of Ronald Reagan. Just remember the reality, and not the myth.

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