About Me

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Armchair theorist, poet, and occasional IT manager, Sascha B. is equipped with a Master's Degree in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas, and is not afraid to use it. His work has been published by the University Press of America, Edwin Mellen Press, University of Texas Press, and a variety of small journals nationwide. He is also the proprietor and baker for 3141 Pie, of which you should eat many.

The Deal

I stopped blogging in 2013, when life overtook me. My father became ill and died shortly thereafter, and my mother was left with increasing dementia. I became the primary caregiver, and now orchestrate my mother's care and our family estate.

Now, I am coming up for air again.

Looking for the next book to read. All suggestions welcome.

My reading list is over here.







Saturday, October 11, 2008

Happy Birthday, Little Car


The Beeb reminds us that the 2CV turns 60 this week. Perhaps what with the economy what it is, this is a time for a comeback for this tin canniest of tin can vehicles....

Reminiscence: a crazy afternoon in Haifa more than 20 years ago, with myself, my brother, and my history professor, all of us more than six feet tall, rushing through the streets of that very middle eastern city in a borrowed Deux Chevaux, incredulous that we three could all fit inside, let alone have one of us maneuver the steering wheel....

Fleet Week


It's Fleet Week in San Francisco, a strangely anachronistic celebration of our nation's military, specifically our navy, in this oh-so liberal city. As the fleet docks down along the Embarcadero in the Bay, and uniformed servicemen and women glide along our streets, it's a good time to consider this city's strange relationship to the military.

From a personal perspective, the highlight of this annual event is the visitation by the Blue Angels flying team. For days they fly their trademark jet fighters in loud low tight formation, dazzling all viewers (and bursting a few eardrums). As I watch these guys fly just a few hundred feet overhead, I am partly awed, partly excited, partly disturbed. Mostly awed, I have to admit: the skill on display is remarkable; being that close to machines that powerful is also impressive. And yet, there is an element of fear involved in the thrill. These are planes built for war after all; in another life they might not be showing off, but rather dropping bombs and strafing neighborhoods.

San Franciscans unanimously seem to have similar relationships to the Blue Angels; we hate the noise, but can't wait to see them bank and turn to fly low up our boulevards yet again.

At the same time, this is a city in which the Board of Supervisors voted to cancel the local JROTC program for schools---despite outspoken protests by students and parents to keep it---because the promotion of military in the schools was seen as somehow nefarious. Now, after collecting more than 10,000 signatures (in a city of only 800,000), we are voting on a measure to reinstate the program.

Most of the Board are still against it.

All the Board are adamantly for Fleet Week.

I have a real problem with the dysjunctive thinking on this issue. JROTC should be available in the schools, if only to provide students and their parents to make an informed choice about whether or not to participate. If the city wants to be anti-military by fiat, then we need to ban the fleet (and we never will do such a stupid and offensive thing). Until then, the schizophrenia of being an historic base for Naval forces, and celebrating that, and demanding the end of all ties to supporting the military today (at a time when this country's military services need all the support they can get), is untenable.

It's no wonder the rest of the country looks at us cross-eyed.

Krugman Gets It

He observes what I've noted:
"...as McCain’s chances fade, the crowds at his rallies are, by all accounts, increasingly gripped by insane rage. It’s not just a mob phenomenon — it’s visible in the right-wing media, and to some extent in the speeches of McCain and Palin.....

What happens when Obama is elected? It will be even worse than it was in the Clinton years. For sure there will be crazy accusations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some violence.

The next few years are going to be very, very tough."
It's real. It's frightening. I am hoping that it isn't inherently American, and that somehow this cycle will shift us away from the bipolarity and aggression. But this week it is hard to "know hope."

Interlude


Sometimes, I am just embarrassed to be human. Pulled from the AP headlines:


Judge dismisses blonde's lawsuit over brown dye

Wednesday, October 8, 2008
(10-08) 13:19 PDT Bridgeport, Conn. (AP) --

A Connecticut judge has given the brush-off to a blonde woman's lawsuit claiming L'Oreal Inc. ruined her social life when she accidentally dyed her hair brunette with one of its products.

Charlotte Feeney of Stratford says she can never return to her natural blonde hue, a shock that left her so traumatized she needed anti-depressants.

She says she suffered headaches and anxiety, missed the attention that blondes receive and had to stay home and wear hats most of the time.

A Superior Court judge dismissed Feeney's 2005 lawsuit Monday, saying she never proved her allegation that L'Oreal put brown hair dye in a box labeled as blonde. The company also had disputed the claim.

Feeney referred questions on Wednesday to her attorney, David Laudano, who has declined to comment.

The Axis of Sorta Kinda Not So Bad?

We've officially removed North Korea from the list of nations supporting terrorism. The key (I think) quote from the NYT
The agreement is intended to salvage a faltering nuclear disarmament accord in the short time before President Bush leaves office in January . [emphasis added]
So Bush is scrambling to shore up his legacy, so he isn't seen as some bizarre hybrid between Herbert Hoover and Richard Nixon, with a dash of Grover Cleveland.

Don't get me wrong: this is a smart and progressive measure to attempt to open up N. Korea to discussions, and coax them back into the global polity. But it's seven years late, after a reactive and retrograde policy that has pushed Kim Jong Il to enhance their nuclear arms program, and discredited whatever progress was made during earlier years.

So now the Axis I suppose is a pole: we've ousted Hussein and occupied Iraq, and now we are clearing North Korea.

All that's left is Cheney's war against Iran.

I expect this move will frustrate efforts with both Iran and Syria for the remainder of the Bush Administration, despite the recent efforts by Sec. Rice to make progress on that front.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Greed. By Verizon.



So Verizon is implementing a per text fee on companies sending messages out via text to subscribers: that's all your alerts, announcements etc from social networking sites, airlines, etc. Despite the fact that individuals pay for the service, and also pay up to $0.20 or more per text, it seems that the phone company has determined they are under-gouging now that texting has taken off in the US, and are eager to make a buck.

At times like these, this sort of business model is offensive.

Not only is the texting network low-cost and comparatively easy to manage compared to voice & data, but let's face it: the phone companies are already making profit on texting, by factors of 10, or even 100. So when a spokesman says something like
“It is not a free service,” Mr. Nelson said. “It didn’t cost us zero to build or to buy spectrum rights.”
I call bullshit. This is greed. It's snatch and grab business modeling, which is bad strategy, and bad karma to boot.

To put it in perspective: the article notes
The 3-cent fee would be in addition to the fee of as much as 20 cents that those subscribers pay Verizon to receive the same message.
That's $0.23 per message. It costs (in bandwidth, service, transmittal etc.) about $0.001 per text. So with each text, the gross earning is up to 230 times cost.

That's pretty good.

Giving Verizon the benefit of the doubt, let's say that they've planned a 10-1 return on cost to repay initial outlays and recurrent costs for the program. That's rapacious but reasonable. But more than 200-1? It seems to me all this will do is breed ill will in the business community, who will see it as double dipping (hitting the sender and receiver for the same product), and drive the market elsewhere. And in the end drive down profits.

Who the hell analyzes strategy for these guys?

Next Move, McCain

TPM has it:

The Republican-dominated panel overseeing the Trooper-Gate probe just voted unanimously to release the report by its independent investigator.


The report finds that Gov. Sarah Palin "abused her power" in violation of Alaska law.


From the Report itself (.pdf):



What will they do now?

Mixed Messages



Just an hour or so after the official campaign statements supporting the hate speech we've been hearing from the crowds at McCain-Palin rallies, McCain told his supporters at a town hall today:
"I have to tell you. Sen. Obama is a decent person and a person you don't have to be scared of as president of the United States," McCain said as the crowd booed and shouted "Come on, John!"

Even if McCain's desire to do so is genuine, I'm afraid it may be too late to put the genie back in the bottle.

No Honor.



From MSNBC First Read blog. Reposted in full because it's just too damn unbelievable:
From NBC's Mark Murray

Earlier today, Obama remarked on recent outbursts of "Traitor!" "Terrorist!" and "Kill him!" at McCain campaign events. "It's easy to rile up a crowd," Obama said. "Nothing's easier than riling up a crowd by stoking anger and division. But that's not what we need right now in the United States."

In response, McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace released this statement, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports. "Barack Obama's assault on our supporters is insulting and unsurprising. These are the same people obama called 'bitter' and attacked for 'clinging to guns' and faith. He fails to understand that people are angry at corrupt practices in Washington and Wall Street and he fails to understand that America's working families are not 'clinging' to anything other than the sincere hope that Washington will be reformed from top to bottom."

"Attacking our supporters is a new low for the campaign that's run more millions of dollars of negative ads than any other in history."

*** UPDATE *** McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers adds in another statement: “Barack Obama’s attacks on Americans who support John McCain reveal far more about him than they do about John McCain. It is clear that Barack Obama just doesn’t understand regular people and the issues they care about. He dismisses hardworking middle class Americans as clinging to guns and religion, while at the same time attacking average Americans at McCain rallies who are angry at Washington, Wall Street and the status quo."

Worst. Week. Ever.

From AP:
NEW YORK - Wall Street capped its worst week ever with a wild session Friday that saw the Dow Jones industrials rocket within a 1,000 point range before closing with a relatively mild loss and the Nasdaq composite index actually end with a modest advance. Investors were still agonizing over frozen credit markets, but seven days of massive losses made many stocks tempting for traders looking for bargains.

The Dow lost 128 points, giving the blue chips an eight-day loss of just under 2,400. The average had its worst week on record in both point and percentage terms, as did the Standard & Poor's 500 index, the indicator most watched by market professionals.
Worse than 2001. Worse than 1987. Worse than 1982. Worse than 1932. Worse than 1929. That's a whole lotta worse.

A Little Local News

Here in SF, we have scandal aplenty.
Ed Jew, the former San Francisco supervisor who resigned from office in January after state and federal prosecutors accused him of corruption, pleaded guilty to federal charges this morning.

Jew admitted to mail fraud, extortion and soliciting a bribe in connection with a scheme to shake down Chinese immigrant owners of tapioca drink shops in the Sunset District for $84,000 in bribes.

Jew's attorney said his client believed his actions were legal because that's how he learned to behave in politics. At his sentencing on Feb. 13, Jew is prepared to name others who he says have engaged in similar actions. [emphasis added]

Now, it's a little story about small town politics gone awry. But it tells the bigger story of where we are in the cultural cycles of the country.

I suspect that we'll find that Gov. Palin engaged in politics in a similar way and for similar reasons when the troopergate report is released (if they release it.) Frankly, if our politicians believe that politics as usual implies just cause to engage in rampant fraud, extortion, and bribery---and then to protest strenuously as to their innocence when caught in the act, as was Supervisor Jew---we have more than just a problem with politicians. We have a problem with the basic definition of politics.

But enough philosophy.

Self-Parody



We all know that the Hannitys and Coulters of the world have moved into the realm of self-parody lately. But this apparent sleaze parade takes the cake. In a smear piece on Fox, Hannity will attribute in "documentary" format all the ills of the world to Obama---from the Cuban revolution to the economic meltdown, to, I suppose, the protocols of the Elders of Zion. They rely on the detailed information of Andy Martin. Apparently his background fit the bill well:
He was refused entry to the Illinois bar in the 1970s, in part because his Selective Service records showed his thoughts exhibited "a paranoid flavor and a grandiose character."

In a 1983 personal bankruptcy case, he referred to a judge as a "crooked, slimy Jew." And a federal judge noted his history of "vexatious, frivolous and scandalous" lawsuits.

When he ran for Illinois governor two years ago, Martin quoted a nearly 30-year-old Tribune editorial that called him "an absolutely brilliant campaigner" when he was running for a Senate seat. He didn't mention that the same editorial said he "has no more business in the U.S. Senate than an elk has in a phone booth."

The producer of the Hannity program declined to be interviewed, so it's impossible to determine whether Fox didn't know about Martin's history or just didn't care.
Yeah. Fair and balanced. If it weren't so ugly, it would be pretty funny.

You Know Things Are Bad When...

Even the WSJ headlines that when the market closed with the Dow down 1.5%, that it was not only a "good" day, but the best day all week.

It Begins.

via TPM, this tidbit. Like I've said, conscious or not, the battle will be fought in the depths of the US psyche over race and isolationist tendencies.

TROY — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's last name is spelled "Osama" on hundreds of absentee ballots mailed out this week to voters in Rensselaer County.
UPDATE: According the NYT, the station this played on, KTLU, "regrets" the remarks made by Chris Baker and Langdon Perry during Baker's "conservative talk show." But are we going to hear regrets or contrition, or an apology from Baker and Perry?

I doubt it. Hatemongering sells these days, and HIV/AIDS Public Service announcements won't counter it.

Even The Charitable Will Hurt

I read this article with a certain amount of sorrow mixed with my sense of once again being unfortunately correct. About 7 months ago, at the non-profit where I then was a manager, I asked the CEO what, if anything, we were looking at strategically to address the potential fallouts of a plummeting economy, and how we expected a recession to affect our customer base (they provide goods and services to NPOs and NGO domestically and globally). The answer was a fairly annoyed one, that amounted to "we are changing nothing, and this won't have any impact, because the economic cycle doesn't have an effect on grants and giving."

I continue to hope that her annoyance with my raising this issue was justified, and that this massive, global economic downturn won't seriously impact their ability to serve the community.

But I doubt it.

Hate Takes Many Forms

...so now, according to the talk radio boys, Magic Johnson faked his HIV status for attention.

It is a sickness, and it is spreading.

The Markets II


Floyd Norris posts the current status of global markets for the year (as of this morning).

The one in best shape? The US, down 38%.

The worst? Ukraine, down 74% (!!!), with Iceland (down 73%) running a close second.

If you're scared, and hurting, and worried about your financial future, consider what is happening in the rest of the world. As Norris notes,
The decoupling theory is dead. This financial crisis started in the United States, but it spread almost everywhere. So will the recession.

The Markets


From the BBC:

MARKET DATA - 19:25 October 10 2008

FTSE 100
3932.06
-381.74 -8.85%
Dax
4544.31
-342.69 -7.01%
Cac 40
3176.49
-266.21 -7.73%
Dow Jones
8177.68
-401.51 -4.68%
Nasdaq
1570.52
-74.60 -4.53%


And add to that the nearly 11% drop in the Nikkei, and you can see that capitalism had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

Even in Australia.

Hate, Anti-Semitism Style

When economic trouble and anxiety hit, anti-Semitism often rises sharply. The current situation is no exception and we’re seeing the level of anti-Jewish rhetoric surging dramatically, especially on the Internet. This new wave of online hate rails against Jews, blaming them for economic turmoil.
That's from the ADL, quoted by Catherine Rampell in yesterday's NYT. Read her commentary. It's valuable. It's not surprising that Anti-semitism surges countercyclically with the economy; it is surprising that we'd have a presidential ticket that is feeding a generalized hatred at the same time, creating a ripe breeding ground for the types of evil commentary that are appearing with more and more frequency around the interwebs and elsewhere.

As a US citizen, these trends trouble me. As a Jew, these trends frighten me. As a decent individual, these trends disgust me.

Interlude

I don't usually comment on TV shows, but....has anyone else notice the uncanny resemblance (a la Spy's separated at birth resemblance) of the character Matt Parkman on the show Heroes, and Palin's Troopergate nemesis, Trooper Wooten?


Wooten: and Parkman:









Life imitating art. Uncanny.

"This Is Panic."

Perhaps the anti-globalism wingnuts had a point.....
TOKYO, Oct 10 (Reuters) - Japan's Nikkei share average plunged 9.6 percent on Friday for its biggest drop since the 1987 stock crash, wiping out $202 billion in market value on growing fears that the financial crisis will spark a global recession.

The Nikkei, which has fallen for seven straight days, lost 24 percent on the week, more than twice what it lost the week of the 1987 crash. It has lost 46 percent this year.

"This is panic. New York, the currencies -- there's nothing left for us to trust," said Takashi Ushio, head of investment strategy at Marusan Securities.

Going Mobile

Brian Schaffner has this very interesting look at the problem that polls are having this year with cell-phone only users---those people who have pulled out the landline, and are exclusively mobile. It seems that the demographic doesn't fit well at all into standard formats:
Cell phone only respondents are ideologically distinct in ways that cannot be accounted for by party identification or all the other standard demographic factors that pollsters may use to weight samples.



Read the whole analysis. It is fascinating. The end result though, is pretty clear: despite some of the weighting attempted to manage this group, the current polling appears to dramatically undercount the level of support for Obama.

If Not Now, When?

A number of other commentators and bloggerators have mentioned it already, both on the right and the left. I'll add my voice to the mix:

The McCain-Palin rallies have whipped up fury among their supporters, to the point where we've had clearly heard and recorded shout-outs of "Kill Him!" directed at Obama, angry shouts and gestures (and racial slurs) hurled at media representatives, and more.

Neither John McCain nor Sarah Palin have spoken out to their supporters about this, to condemn or caution.

When it comes to hate, to remain silent is to condone.

When will John McCain do the honorable thing, and condemn this sort of angry spewing of threats and aggressive posturing? He can continue all he wants to campaign in the negative key; it's politics after all. That's fine. But actively participating in the frothing up of hatred in a crowd to the point where they physically threaten the press, and call for the death of a candidate----

As I said: when will he tell them to stop, and salvage what honor he has left to his name?

Meanwhile, Supersize This!


As the Capital markets collapse, Venezuela, that bastion of peace harmony and stability, has found a moment to take a nice slap at US Capitalism in a very symbolic way: they've shut down all branches of McDonald's in the country.

Hugo Chavez, 1. Hamburglar, 0.

Mr. Markets' Wild Ride

World markets today look like a cross-section of the Alps: sharp crags and pitchingly deep valleys. The numbers put us back to 2003, in the deep of the post-2001 ugly times. While Bush is saying we can dig out, there are noises from Europe about possibly coordinating a global halt to all trading, on all markets.

Clearly, no one knows what to do here.

This mess overshadows everything else: it diminishes the horse race for the US presidency; it turns the Nobel Prize announcements into sideshow whispers (Martti Ahtisaari took the Peace Prize today); the word of the day is "fear."

I suspect that as long as that is the case, and as long as the McCain campaign uses a tactic of fear-mongering (as it has been for the last few weeks), the Republican ticket is toast. At the same time, it would nice to see somebody---anybody---able to articulate just what in hell we are going to do to stabilize things as we approach teh close of the year.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Yom Kippur

A break today for observance.

Ukraine has dissolved the government.

The markets continue to stagger like a drunk losing a bar fight.

Back again after sundown. To those who are also observing the day, an easy fast. To all others, enjoy the day.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sign of the Times


Mother's Cookies, baking treats since 1914, abruptly shuttered its works today, laid off all employees, and prepared to file for bankruptcy.

If even cookies can't survive this recession, then we are really in trouble. I'll miss my frosted circus animals...

Snapshot


And while we are here...if the election were held today, the polls are projecting anything from a strong win for Obama in both the Electoral College and the popular vote (Real Clear Politics, a Republican-leaning outfit), to a wild landslide for Obama (FiveThirtyEight, a Democratic-leaning outfit).

No wonder Cindy McCain is pulling out the stops for her husband.

Cindy Goes Hyperbolic

From CNN:
One day after she told a Tennessee newspaper Obama is running the "dirtiest campaign in American history," Mrs. McCain criticized the Illinois senator for voting against a bill to fund troops in Iraq, a regular line of attack from her husband’s campaign.

“The day that Senator Obama cast a vote not to fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body, let me tell you,” she told a Pennsylvania crowd before introducing her husband and Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin.

Them's some feisty words! Can we document that cold chill? I wonder if it was equal to the cold chill I felt when President Bush told us we were bombing Baghdad.

...And While No One Is Looking



Another border skirmish gets hot:
Turkey's parliament has extended the army's mandate to carry out cross-border raids against Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq by another year.

America Ugly

(tracker courtesy FiveThirtyEight.com)


Nate Silver makes this astute observation on what to expect of the polls in the next couple weeks:
If Obama is ahead by something like 7-8 points ahead nationally, that means that he has persuaded just about all of the persuadables, and he's left looking to covert people like those in Ben Smith's anecdote.

An Obama supporter, who canvassed for the candidate in the working-class, white Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown recently, sends over an account that, in various forms, I've heard a lot in recent weeks.

"What's crazy is this," he writes. "I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are f***ing undecided. They would call him a n----r and mention how they don't know what to do because of the economy."

If those sorts of people are the undecideds -- and when Obama is winning Pennsylvania by 12 points or something, that's probably what we're looking at -- then Obama really is scraping the bottom of the barrel. Further gains are going to be difficult to come by, which means that his polls are more likely to go down than to continue going up. (Indeed, our model assumes that the race will tighten some).

Then again, when six out of ten Americans thinks we're headed for a depression, perhaps the ordinary rules go out the window.


I suspect he and Ben Smith are right; this election will hinge on the inherent racism built into the American psyche, and whether a looming depression (or the fear of one) can overcome it.

Where We're Headed




This Reuters wire blurb says worlds. I suspect it's the most accurate word you will hear on the crisis right now:
11:14 ET -- HSBC's Geoghegan sees some light at end of tunnel for credit crisis by 2010-2011 - Reuters

Three years is about right. To misquote Bette Davis, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride!"

Prognostications II

So let's see how I did on my psychic predictions. Here are the final results (courtesy of HuffPo & Firedoglake):

  • NBC's focus group:for Obama, 60%-40%.

  • Frank Luntz's (Fox) focus group: leaning towards Obama because of his position on health care.

  • CBS's focus group:for Obama, 39% - 27%.

  • Greenberg Quinlan Rosner: for Obama, 42% - 24%.

  • SurveyUSA:for Obama, 54% - 29%

  • CNN's focus group:for Obama, 54% - 30%.


Will somebody please buy me a beer?

On Xenophobia and Hate

Dahlia Lithwick gets it:
"Americans repeatedly instructed—as Marjorie wrote yesterday—to view Obama as “not like us” or “not a man who sees America the way you and I see America” cannot be faulted for believing that racism and xenophobia are legitimate modes of political conversation. And I am glad you brought up Obama’s guns and bitterness statement because it highlights the difference between Obama and Palin: Obama’s San Francisco statement was not an attack on gun owners. It was an admittedly artless effort to understand and explain why people in small towns might become single-issue voters. You can call his remarks elitist; they were. But it would be wildly unfair to suggest he was saying those voters are un-American, or irrelevant or unworthy of being engaged. Nobody listening to Obama’s words about small-town voters that day would have responded with “kill them” or “sit down, boy!” These are not small rhetorical differences."
There is a difference. Words do matter.

Dueling Ledes



From this morning's SF Chronicle:

Bay Area could be saved by Asian markets


And from this morning's Washington Post:

Nikkei Plunges Almost 10%


I guess that we're toast.

A Thought.



Everyone said that to win the debate last night, McCain needed a knockout, a game-changing performance. He didn't have that by a longshot. So as I was going to sleep, I was thinking: in Vietnam, it was Ho Chi Minh's opinion that the Viet Cong didn't need to win--they only needed to not lose. He was right: that was their strategy, it worked, the US failed, and the war ended very much not in our favor.

Now, Vietnam was McCain's war. Last night was his debate. For Obama to win against him, all Obama had to do was not lose. He did that, as I said above.

So, in a microcosmic way, and despite his statements that he knows how to win a war, and his clear desire to move away from the failures of Vietnam, didn't John McCain just lose that same war yet again last night?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Snap Polls

Lessee....

CNN's poll of debate-watchers: Obama 54% to McCain 30%.

CBS poll of uncommitted debate-watchers: Obama 39% to McCain 27%.

"I have a secret plan"

....to get Bin Laden?



It's just too Nixonian for words.

Prognostication

I predict that Fox will call this an over the top win for McCain. And CBS, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Lutz, and NBC will call it for Obama.

Presidential Debate Mark II


First unedited thoughts:

The winner? Obama, clearly.

The loser? Tom Brokaw, what a 'noid.

Overall, it was a fairly dull exchange. A lot of cluttered prose, a lot of evasion, a handful of snaps at one another. No great moments, a few interesting ones (Obama on the Middle East, for instance). The feel-o-meters from Ohio were all very, very strong for Obama. But we'll see what the pundits say.

Overall, I'm hoping that Obama wins in November, and Brokaw goes somewhere far, far away.

Bring back Lehrer!

Dispatches From the HeartLand


National Journal has this interesting look at blue-collar undecided voters and their thoughts on the candidates. I found this quote both fascinating and telling:
Jason Montgomery, a truck driver and former Army demolitions expert from Aurora, is even more firmly committed to McCain. Like Murray, Montgomery is unhappy about the country's direction and worries that McCain will follow too closely in Bush's path. But Montgomery is dead set against Obama. "If Obama gets elected, he is going to destroy our military," Montgomery said passionately. "And the fact that he's supposed to be the commander in chief -- he's never served in the military, he doesn't know what it takes."

That last point was a common theme among blue-collar men.


Now, I find it interesting to see this idea. It's a valid opinion, I suppose. But it doesn't make any sense.

Of the presidents elected since the Vietnam war, only one has not served: Bill Clinton. We have fought two significant wars (of size and duration) in that time; one was fought and won by Clinton.

Of the eleven presidents who were elected without serving in the military, FDR stands out as the one who returned the US to a war footing from a stance of isolationism in time to help defeat the Axis powers and Japan, and brought America to the close of the war as the pre-eminent power in the world.

My suspicion? It's back to race. These are all blue-collar white men. Without making sweeping generalizations about education or exposure or cultural inclination, I'd say that at the very least a whiff of subliminal racial antipathy is coloring their decisions.

I wonder if these men would say that FDR didn't know what it takes.

Dispatches From ObviousLand

The Bush-Cheney regime walls continue to crumble with the onslaught of reality:
"A National Research Council report, years in the making and scheduled to be released Tuesday, concludes that automated identification of terrorists through data mining or any other mechanism 'is neither feasible as an objective nor desirable as a goal of technology development efforts.' Inevitable false positives will result in 'ordinary, law-abiding citizens and businesses' being incorrectly flagged as suspects."

"...'If it were possible to automatically find the digital tracks of terrorists and automatically monitor only the communications of terrorists, public policy choices in this domain would be much simpler. But it is not possible to do so.'"


Now, aside from most of the tech community knowing this already, and the fact that a number of pundits have noted over the last few years that even targeting a factor of "four nines" (99.99% accuracy), that's still one false positive out of every 10,000 individuals. And considering that the population of the US is currently a bit more than 301 million, that's 30,000 false positives. 30,000 individuals who would have their civil rights infringed, be branded terrorists or traitors, and likely wind up in a Guantanamo somewhere being waterboarded.

And in most instances dealing with data warehousing and analysis, accuracy of four nines is a myth. It's not achievable.

So it's good to see this NRC report seeing th light of day. Let's hope that it's a trend.

Score One For Justice

The AP reports:
WASHINGTON - A federal judge has ordered the release of a small group of Chinese Muslims from Guantanamo Bay into the United States.


This has been pending since 2004, since the Uighurs were cleared of any charges and the label of "enemy combatant" was removed from them. To repatriate them would open them to possible persecution (funny now to think about it: we couldn't release them from our torture prison because China might put them in a different torture prison.); but the administration couldn't set the precedent of allowing them to enter the US. Until now, under mandate of law.

It's the little things that matter, and will in the end tip us back toward sanity.

The Mickey Mouse Of Party Politics

Echoes?

After reading a bit on Palin's rally in Clearwater yesterday, here, here, here, and here (among others), I have a shuddering sense of historical resonance. So I turn to Wikipedia, and ask you to focus on this brief commentary (emphasis mine):
Mussolini and the fascists managed to be simultaneously revolutionary and traditionalist; because this was vastly different to anything else in the political climate of the time, it is sometimes described as "The Third Way". The Fascisti, led by one of Mussolini's close confidants, Dino Grandi, formed armed squads of war veterans called Blackshirts (or squadristi) with the goal of restoring order to the streets of Italy with a strong hand. The blackshirts clashed with communists, socialists and anarchists at parades and demonstrations; all of these factions were also involved in clashes against each other. The government rarely interfered with the blackshirts' actions, due in part to a looming threat and widespread fear of a communist revolution. The Fascisti grew so rapidly that within two years, it transformed itself into the National Fascist Party at a congress in Rome. Also in 1921, Mussolini was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time.


A familiar ring to it, maybe? An outrageous leap? Perhaps. But if either a mob breaks out at a Palin rally, or someone attempts to physically harm Barack Obama, then I say all bets are off. We are whipping the flames of an ugly fire, and we can easily get burned.

Going There

This quote from Dana Milbank's piece in WaPo today is zipping across the blogosphere. I'll add it here as well. It's worth noting the day this happened:
Worse, Palin's routine attacks on the media have begun to spill into ugliness. In Clearwater, arriving reporters were greeted with shouts and taunts by the crowd of about 3,000. Palin then went on to blame Katie Couric's questions for her "less-than-successful interview with kinda mainstream media." At that, Palin supporters turned on reporters in the press area, waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, "Sit down, boy."

The appeal to the undercurrent of anger, hatred, and racism was guaranteed to come, it was just a matter of when, and from whom. I would have expected it from a surrogate, rather than a VP candidate. But then again, I would have expected more of a candidate in general.
"Barack Obama, she told 8,000 fans at a rally here Monday afternoon, "launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist!" This followed her earlier accusation that the Democrat pals around with terrorists. 'This is not a man who sees America the way you and I see America,' she told the Clearwater crowd."

This is the talking point now: "Sarah" is like you (ie, common, unintellectual, white), while "Barack Hussein" ---they are using his middle name now at rallies--- is not like you (ie, black, non-christian, probably been to other countries).

It is remarkable to me the bile that can be spewed in a campaign like this, and that anyone would willingly tap into the vein of racist anger that might be unleashed by this tactic.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Better Late Than Never?


Condi Rice finally admitting that she was taken in by the neocon snowjob, and too stupid to notice:
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday the road for the U.S. in Iraq has been "harder, longer, and more difficult than I personally imagined" and warned that despite some recent progress, success in Iraq is "not a sure thing."


Maybe if she'd spent more time actually listening to her staff, and less time selecting her gauleiter outfit, she wouldn't need to be so contrite now, more than 4,000 American lives later.

The Polls II

The CNN Poll of Polls just came out:


  • Obama: 50%

  • McCain: 43%

  • Undecided: 7%


  • It's looking more and more like Obama is about to capture a 50%+ baseline nationally.

    Radicals

    Sullivan on Obama:

    "He remains very much the same, never panics, and doesn't seem in any way volatile. The last thing he appears to be is radical. If anyone is a radical in this race, it's McCain. And yet these people want the American public to believe Obama is actually some Huey Newton in Sidney Poitier drag; they want people to think of him the way they think of Osama bin Laden or other foreigners; they seem to believe that this temperamentally very conservative character, advised by Rubin and Buffett and Goolsbee and Furhman, is some crazy leftist like Jesse Jackson. Please."
    This is something I've been harping on for a long time. It seems to be finally settling in to America's psyche. Obama is a conservative of the classic liberal bent. A left of center cautious politician and statesman. McCain is a radical: quick to leap to conclusions, reactionary, emotional, ready to use and abuse military force without a thorough exhaustion of all other options, angry and willing to build a grudge on little evidence, and hold it for years on end.

    The bizarre meme that Obama is the radical and McCain the conservative has frustrated me since the get go. It is part of the superficial painting of parties that has solidified over the last few decades, obscuring the meaning of both terms, "conservative" and "radical" (not to mention "liberal"), and has equated Democrats with one and Republicans with the other, regardless of their true actions, causes, or beliefs.

    Here's to the hope that this campaign season shatters that false cognate.

    The Difference

    From the WSJ, a look at the opposing health plans being put forward. The bottom line?
    The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank, estimates that the McCain plan would cost the government $1.3 trillion over 10 years. The plan would allow as many as five million more people to have insurance, it estimates.

    Sen. Obama also would rely on some Medicare savings to pay for his health-care plan, which would offer subsidies to help consumers pay for premiums. The Tax Policy Center estimates that his plan would cost $1.6 trillion over 10 years and cover 34 million more people.

    $1.3 trillion to cover an additional 5 million people, or $1.6 trillion to cover 34 million more people? Obama's plan gives a 15% increase in cost for a 600% increase on return, compared to McCain.

    Somehow, my ability to make a rational argument for McCain on this just fails. The concrete savings are negligible: they both are talking of debt beyond reason. The 300 billion differential is meaningless at this level. The idea that we would incur that sort of debt for an additional 5 million souls under coverage is also absurd: a guaranteed failure when it came time to legislate. But when you start talking about 30 to 35 million people --- 10% of the entire population, more than the population of many States, for crying out loud --- that's when we will sit up and listen.

    The Polls

    Today, with results in from the post-VP debate period:

    Obama 52%, McCain 44%, ±2% (Rasmussen).

    Obama 52%, McCain 40%, ±3% (Research 2000).

    Obama 50%, McCain 42%, ±2% (Gallup).

    Obama 47%, McCain 41%, ±3.2% (Hotline/Diageo).


    McCain has got his sleaze-flinging work cut out for him.

    The Silver Lining?




    DOW AT 9,955!
    PARTY LIKE IT'S 1999!



    Dow Closes at 9,958.77: March 15, 1999.
    Dow Closes at 9,955.50: October 6, 2008.

    The End of The Day



    So the Dow regained a bit from its disastrous low of the day, to close just under 4% off friday's crapola mark. The euro banking world has its hair on fire; the US has yet to move ahead with any finger in the dyke action; and I suspect we are going to see some really, really stinky unemployment numbers popping up for Halloween.

    And McCain's campaign has decided that talking about the economy is a road to ruin, so the only path they have is to defame the character of their opponent. I hope that it fails, and I hope that this analysis of the tactic is correct (Ezra Klein, by way of Sullivan).

    "If his campaign's final assault is defeated, it will be read as a repudiation of these politics. It will be understood as firm proof that you can no longer purposefully shatter this country's uneasy sense of tolerance and consensus and be assured that your pieces will be bigger. Just as the strategy would have been whitewashed by victory, it will be darkened by defeat."

    Down, Down, Down

    The numbers aren't gettting any better (11:50 PacificTime update):

    9,566.18 -759.20 (-7.35%)
    1,780.80 -166.59 (-8.55%)
    1,010.91 -88.32 (-8.03%)


















    Interlude

    At times like this, I always seem to flash on this old video from happier days. Enjoy:

    And In Case You Didn't Notice...

    The Kurdish-Turkish conflict is heating up again.

    Of course, this is a great time for both sides to ramp up the conflict: the US and Europe are too busy hemhorraging money to pay attention to the revivification of this dispute. As a former CIA operative famously said a few decades ago after we had abandoned the Kurds yet another time, "Nobody gives a damn about the Kurds."

    Body count so far: 17 Turkish soldiers dead, 23 Kurds dead.

    And the beat goes on.

    It Started Early

    The LA Times reports today on how McCain has exercised faulty judgment (and lied about it) since long before the campaign:
    John McCain was training in his AD-6 Skyraider on an overcast Texas morning in 1960 when he slammed into Corpus Christi Bay and sheared the skin off his plane's wings.

    McCain recounted the accident decades later in his autobiography. "The engine quit while I was practicing landings," he wrote. But an investigation board at the Naval Aviation Safety Center found no evidence of engine failure.

    The 23-year-old junior lieutenant wasn't paying attention and erred in using "a power setting too low to maintain level flight in a turn," investigators concluded.

    The crash was one of three early in McCain's aviation career in which his flying skills and judgment were faulted or questioned by Navy officials.


    So when John McCain repeatedly says he knows how to win a war---just what war is he talking about?

    Schadenfreude

    From the NY Daily News today:
    "One-time McCain adviser Mike Murphy told NBC's "Meet the Press" he's worried because "it's McCain's barn that is on fire. McCain is defending states like North Carolina, Virginia, Florida that he has to win."

    "I think McCain can win, but the fact is, if the election were held today, he'd lose, and I think he's on a losing path," Murphy added. "This trendline is very, very bad."

    Former Bush political guru Karl Rove told "Fox News Sunday" that Obama now leads in states with 273 electoral votes, three more than needed to win.

    When Mike Murphy and Karl Rove are basically saying that it's a done deal for Obama, you know that we're heading into the home stretch.

    Torn from the Headlines

    From the WSJ online front page:

    Dow Drops 400 Points to Below 10000 Amid Global Selloff

    Stocks fell sharply, even after the Fed announced new moves to help banks, as renewed financial turmoil in Europe heightened global-recession fears. Investors around the world are increasingly worried that the recent federal bailout plan will do little to stave off a deep global recession.

    * Europe Tumbles: London Down 8.5%, Paris 9.8%
    * Asian Markets Sink; Nikkei at Four-Year Low


    'nuff said. It's gonna be a rough day.

    Europe = Economic Clusterf**k?

    According to the BBC's Robert Preston, pretty much:
    So the mayhem of uncoordinated statements and actions over the past few days by the governments of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland and Greece was simply an accident.

    They're all back on the same hymn-sheet today.

    Investors seem underwhelmed: the FTSE 100 index is tumbling and shares are currently almost 8% lower.

    If sustained this would make it the third worst fall in the history of the FTSE 100 index.

    Cheating With Keating

    From Obama's anti-McCain Keating Web Site:

  • McCain Had Direct Financial Ties To Keating. Keating brought in McCain’s wife and father-in-law as the largest investors in an Arizona shopping center investment. Fountain Square Shopping Center was a no-risk investment that virtually guaranteed a 25% return and a “significant tax write-off” through a tax shelter technique available to the wealthy that was soon outlawed. When reporters first questioned the deal, McCain said to reporters “It’s up to you to find that out, kids.” [Arizona Republic, 10/8/89]

  • McCain Originally Denied Reports of Connection. “When the story broke, McCain did nothing to help himself. ‘You're a liar,’ McCain said” when asked about the investments. He challenged reporters saying, ‘It's up to you to find that out, kids.’” [Arizona Republic, 3/1/2007]

  • Now that's the kind of leader I want for this country....

    Bleak Monday




    I can't see much to cheer us this morning: with the news of Europe's pass on a region-wide bailout, the market has plummeted to below 10,000 for the first time in 4 years (bye bye, savings); eBay is laying off 10% of its workforce; additional bank failures are "coming soon to an economy near you!" according to reports; Palin has returned to the (according to McCain) off-limits territory of Obama's guilt-by-association with pastor Wright; and Obama has posted a full website reviewing McCain's connection to the Keating Five scandal.

    Sunday, October 05, 2008

    The Polls. Again.

    Here is a chart from the guys at FiveThirtyEight.com:



    You can see that while both McCain's and Obama's favorable ratings have mostly tracked parallel to one another since the start of they year, since the pick of Palin (and Biden), and the conventions, and the economic meltdown and McCain's bizarre grandstanding, they have not only parted ways, but McCain has been in freefall. The immediate conclusion?

    The American people do not like what McCain is doing, nor who he is becoming.

    I expect more of Palin's crypto-racism and jingoistic attacks on Obama in the last weeks of the campaign---"He's not like you and me; He pals around with terrorists; he doesn't believe in the same America that we do"---and I expect McCain to continue to smile and shrug when confronted with questions about it. Neither repudiate, nor directly affirm. It's politics, after all. But it is clear now that the majority of voters not only don't like it, but are put off by it enough to reconsider support for the opposing candidate.

    Volte Face

    This is a fascinating statement from Zardari in the BBC:
    Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari says India has never been a threat to Pakistan, and that militants in Indian-administered Kashmir are terrorists.
    Now, this was an interview with the WSJ, so there may be some playing to the US media with this. Still, for a sitting leader of Pakistan to say this is enormous. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of stated Pakistani policy on India for the last decade. Back in 2002, this was the stated position of the Indian government, and the Pakistani representatives with whom I spoke at the time were on the verge of explosion at the intimation that Pakistani action in Kashmir could be even hypothetically considered "terror," or that India would be considered anything less than the premier threat to Pakistani sovereignty and security in the region. So this is a huge sea change in thinking, or at least in public positioning, for the Pakistani government.

    Keep an eye on this; it is sure to have repercussions.

    Defeat!


    Well, you knew a statement like this was coming eventually, didn't you?


    Al-Qaida: US economic crisis equals Muslim victory


    And just why is this crisis a sign of victory for al-Qaida? It is
    "A crisis whose primary cause, in addition to the abortive and unsustainable crusades they are waging in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, is their turning their backs on Allah's revealed laws, which forbid interest-bearing transactions, exploitation, greed and injustice in all its forms."

    Thank goodness that's been made clear. I'm sure all the folks living in the greed- and exploitation- and injustice-free zones of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq---not to mention Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Somalia, Indonesia, and Yemen---are happy to know that the economic global collapse is just God's way of saying "Ha Ha!"