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.

Friday, October 31, 2008


Not really news, but then again...If you aren't a Welsh speaker, read the BBC article to get the joke.

We should get some signs like this over here.

60 Seats?

And a filibuster-proof guaranteed majority in the Senate? I doubt it, personally. And so does this piece in the NYT. But what struck me was the seeming incredulity in this Republican's comment:
He acknowledged that Democrats could still exercise firm control by just coming close to the 60 votes: "I think if the Democrats get to 57 or 58 seats, on a lot of issues they will be able to override a Senate filibuster, because they seem to be able to pick off a few Republicans on a lot of the particular issues."
[emphasis mine]
Well, gosh. When you caucus on issue, rather than on ideology, it is a bit easier to bring together votes across the aisle. As long as there are one or two rational folks on the other side as well. And that goes for whichever party is gripped in the throes of some ideological orthodoxy at any given moment. Lately it's been the GOP; I'm hoping that it is no one more significant than the Greens after this election.

Back To The Future

The markets end on an "up" note, with the best weekly gains since....October 1974. Still, one of the worst months on record. And no real signs of a major change for the better.

At least we made it back up above 9300. Let's hope that the chatterers are right, and the bailout actions are starting to have some effect.

Babies And Booze

Having a child soon?

Tell me about it over a glass of wine. It seems that---if you're expecting a boy, at least---it may be a good idea to sip that pinot noir with dinner every now and again.

The Alaskan Way

It's becoming clear where Sarah Palin learned her methodologies for political practice:
CNN) -- Despite his felony conviction this week for filing false U.S. Senate financial disclosure forms, Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska insisted he was innocent and vowed not to step down.

"I have not been convicted of anything," he maintained during a Thursday night debate in Anchorage, only days before Tuesday's election.
Hmmm. Seven felony convictions, and yet....? that's OK: when I am convicted of a criminal offence, I too will be able to reclaim my innocence by simply stating it. And I'm sure all my future associates and employers will be content with that.

And Sarah Palin seems to also think that by merely saying it, that black can be white. And she (of all people) waves the constitution about to reinforce her claim. (hat tip: TPM)


Via Sullivan, another conservative's take on Obama.
It worries me that too many Obama supporters believe one person can snap his fingers and solve this country's daunting problems.
I have read this so many times, it's starting to grate. I live in the Land of the Left, where it's Obamatown, and I have yet to hear, sense, or note a single Obama supporter, howerver fervid, who believes that this one man will solve our ills. Every single one of them, though, believes that he will bring a new tenor to the nature of the discussion of our issues, and will provide an impetus to individuals to engage with our problems, our government, and our world. They believe that the global impression of America will be bettered by the mere fact of his existence---an American president of color, with an African history, and yes, a middle name of "Hussein"---and not by any specific action that he can take.

The meme of The One was one served up by his detractors, not by his supporters (except in sardonic jest). What too many people fail to understand is the deep and benused sarcastic streak that runs so thoroughly through the younger set who make up the bulk of Obama's active, engaged, and utterly rational supporters.


Obama is adding a fillip of grief to McCain's discomfort today:
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Democrat Barack Obama broadened his advertising campaign Friday into two once reliably Republican states and further bedeviled rival John McCain by placing a commercial in the Republican presidential nominee's home state of Arizona.
That's just gotta smart. Right now McCain looks to be only 4 points up in his own home state.

We Are All Socialists Now

Via TPM, the latest from Gallup showing that the majority of Americans actually do want to "spread the wealth around."

Sorry, McCain. Sorry Palin. Sorry, Joe The "Plumber". Just about 60% of the rest of us reg'lar folks think that fair is as fair does. Shucks.

Halloween Morning

There are black clouds hanging in the dark morning sky, the world is wet, and San Francisco feels finally as though winter has caught it by the short hairs and given it a good tug.

There are reports this morning of lines stretching out around the block at City Hall for early voting---which, in this town, is remarkable.

In other news, you might take a gander at this blog entry over at Slate's XX Factor, regarding "fetal rights." There is (finally) some real discussion going on around a bio-ethics topic I first debated perhaps 25 years ago, and still is obscured by the political divisions of abortion rights. It's the boundaries between the rights of an unborn child vs. those of its still living mother, and where the boundaries of law and primacy can or should be drawn---and who gets to draw them.

To my mind, this is the real question of "choice" in the issue; not the niggling details of legalism in which practices and which procedures and at what time in term. It is about who decides what is right for a future child, and for a current adult and future parent.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another Endorsement

This from the Economist:
"this cannot be another election where the choice is based merely on fear. In terms of painting a brighter future for America and the world, Mr Obama has produced the more compelling and detailed portrait. He has campaigned with more style, intelligence and discipline than his opponent. Whether he can fulfil his immense potential remains to be seen. But Mr Obama deserves the presidency."

Tactics Do Matter

I keep thinking about the different mind-set of liberals and conservatives, and what I keep coming back to is the stunning difference in tactical approach to gain their ends. In a gross example of generalization, here's my sense.

Liberals try to win by convincing people that the other side is bad, wrong, stupid, scary, whatever. They do so with words and speeches and protests and 8x10 glossy photographs. Conservatives try to intimidate people through threat of violence or retaliation from actively engaging in the process.

The liberals are working in the system. The conservatives are working against the system itself. This is counter-intuitive, yet repeatedly shown to be the case.

In the fight over abortion rights, the pro-choice folks stage rallies, raise money, and write books. The anti-abortion folks block clinics, shoot doctors, threaten women, and bring lawsuits to block activity while court cases are pending.

In elections, liberals go door to door, make phone calls, shout slogans, and walk the streets. Conservatives block voter registration plans, threaten and intimidate minority voters, and seemingly collude with companies like Diebold to keep malfunctioning voting machines in play.

As I said, a gross generalization. There are huge exceptions. Gov. Crist just extended the voting hours for early voting in his state of Florida, for example. But in general, of late: liberals attempt to subvert the status quo by changing policy; conservatives attempt to subvert the process by which that policy might be changed.

It's something I hope we see changing after this year.

It's the Economy New Black, Stupid.

I think that job seekers are going to be seeing more and more messages like this:

"Thank you for your interest in the Senior Business Analyst position (Y99z122). Unfortunately, the position you applied for has been placed on hold indefinitely."
Indefinite holding patterns as the New Black? I believe so.

Don't Leave Home Without It?

Amex to slash 7,000 jobs.

Morning Roundup

In case you hadn't noticed, the government made it official today: we're in a recession. And last night the courts ordered Pennsylvania to provide paper ballots to voters who are having problems with the crapshoot touchscreen voting machines. Individual counties in Illinois and other states have also decided to ditch the troubled technology in favor of old school paper. Virgina and Maryland plan to do so as well after this election.

Beyond that, and Frampton's stolen signs, the Phillies won the series, Shell and Exxon are seeing record profits, and it's looking like rain for San Francisco.

Stolen Signs

It's common during electoral campaigns, but less common for it to happen to someone famous. And now, Peter Frampton, an Obama supporter, is ticked off and wants the press to take note that he is not thrilled about the repeated theft of his Obama for President signs in his hometown (and largely Republican) enclave of Indian Hill, a suburb of Cincinnati.

You can read the article here, but I think the readers comments are more on point and entertaining. Like this one:
" 'woke up this morning, with a wineglass in my hand, whose sign? what sign? where the hell is my sign?'....we DO feel like you do."
Ha ha ha.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


So I just watched Obama's infomercial (on youtube, I've no TV), and while I have certainly heard and seen most of it before, this was good. It packaged up the best of his message in an immediate and direct way. The stories and the testimonials worked, because they were the frame of the message, rather than key to the message itself.

But what got me most was listening to Michelle talk, and watching Barack with his daughters. It is so clear that this father loves his children, and enjoys them in a way that we rarely see in politicians. That little bit of overwhelmingly human action, I think, sways me more than all the other things.

Out Of Sync

Andrew Sullivan notes that O'Reilly over at Fox has a slightly different take on the race than everyone else in the universe. Just for comparison's sake, here's O'Reilly's map (courtesy of Sullivan),


the map from RealClearPolitics (GOP-leaning),

and the map from FiveThirtyEight (Dem-leaning):


and even the map from dear old Karl Rove:

Like they say on Sesame Street, one of these things.....


From the BBC:
Polls here suggest 10% of Americans still think Obama is a Muslim.

This Texan woman who didn't want to give Newsbeat her name is one of them.

She said: "I really don't care what Obama says because I don't want someone with a Muslim background running our country.

"He'll be letting them all come over here and he'll be buddy buddy with them all.

"We'll be giving them nuclear arms. Next thing you know they'll be attacking us again."
I begin to remember the downsides of Texas life.

If that 10% figure is anywhere near correct, then we have more than 30 million Americans who are inclined toward this sort of crypto-racist xenophobia, as well as endorsing a lie.

That's a whole lot of people. Let's hope Obama's win clears it up for them.

...And The Response

From Yahoo Finance:
2:20 pm : The FOMC cut the fed funds rate by 50 basis points to 1.00%, which was widely expected. The discount rate was cut 50 basis points to 1.25%. The action was unanimously approved, with the Fed citing increased economic risks and improving inflation expectations.

The stock market has a negative response immediately after the announcement. [emphasis mine]
I can't say I'm surprised. And now the rate stands at its lowest since 2003, without much room to cut further, and far more volatility still to shake out than we had five years ago.

UPDATE: And you gotta love this lede, from Reuters:
Analyst reaction to Fed move: “With today's 50 basis point rate cut the Fed is throwing gasoline on an inflationary fire that it created but continues to ignore."
If that doesn't inspire consumer confidence, I don't know what will.

I suspect we all are pretty well screwed for the next few years. In the jargon of the BBC, this whole situation is beginning to bite.

What's In Store

One analyst's view of what needs to happen today over at the Fed:
As Bernanke looks into the early part of next year, it should not be hard for him to imagine a jobless rate which moves over 10% and quarterly GDP drops of 3% or 4%. He has one last chance to slow the economy's momentum in that direction.
He votes for a radical rate cut. Unfortunately, we don't have much to cut; the low rates held for so long have left Bernanke very little wiggle room. You can't cut much from 1% and still expect a significant response.

The End of History?

Francis Fukuyama endorses Obama.

The Fallout

What happens when you overreach your limits of power. Right now, it looks like the SU does not have the political capital to pull off the sort of raid which we engaged in on the Syrian border. Our damage control is looking about as poor as our ability to finesse the raid itself: The US Embassy is closing to the public, out of fear of violence (thanks, Syrian gov't, for fanning the flames!); Iraq is now demanding a clause specifically excluding this sort of action in a new, rewritten security agreement; and Pakistan is (as I mentioned below) waking up to its own potential. Of course, Pakistan is still our ally, and also needs a massive IMF bailout in order to survive, so they may only peep rather than roar.

All this says less about Iraq, and Syria, and Pakistan than it does about the remarkably weak position the US finds itself in, in this mix of electoral shifts, economic decline, and general dysfunction.

Hump Day

Good Morning.

It would seem that between the noise being made by Syria over our raid across their border, and the devastating earthquake in Quetta yesterday, that Pakistan has woken up to the fierce urgency of now. Or at least to the opportunity of the moment to show a protest against US preemptive aggression. with the buying spree from yesterday buoying the markets, along with the expected rate cut from the Fed today, I expect we won't have another fallout on Wall Street until Monday. And that's nice.

In the meantime, here in CA the Governor is warning that we may have to gut our already paucity-struck and strained school system, to the tune of $4 billion. This is the outcome of the stupid ideological standoff that ended with a faux-budget in Sacramento, and a shortfall of $10 billion, no additional revenue, and no agreement on how to pay for what we seem to be unable to stop consuming. Add to that the billions in bonds that are going on the ballot in a week, and it makes one wonder just what the impact of an entire state actively spending far beyond its means will be---since we don't have the strength or position of an actual national entity. And we all know how well it has worked for Washington the last ten years. Like the GOP folks here have said,
"The last thing that Republicans want is to take money out of the classroom," said Jennifer Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines of Clovis (Fresno County). "We'll be working to ensure that, but raising taxes is not on the table."
And yet our tax revenue has shrunk, we are headed into recession, we already have a shortfall of more than $10 billion, and we've cut services back significantly. So how do they plan to pay?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Big Day

On this busy day of yet more market volatility --- the closing bell saw an almost more than 10% gain of 889 points --- and all the rest, this political silliness catches my eye. Over at Politico, Ben Smith notes that people are clamoring over an LAT unreleased video clip on which they reported more than six months ago, regarding Obama and Palestinian scholar Rashid Khalidi:
"A major news organization is intentionally suppressing information that could provide a clearer link between Barack Obama and Rashid Khalidi," said McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb, citing Obama's friendship with Khalidi, who is now a professor at Columbia University.
Now, Smith outlines many of the very good reasons why they might not release this video; the paper has already noted that they were the ones originally reporting the video, rather than suppressing the info it contained; but even more so: WTF???

Granted, I'm not a big Khalidi fan. I've always thought he was over the top, a bit too partisan, a bit too fanatical in his approach to history and political economy. But you could supply a pretty clear link between me and Khalidi as well. I read his work, and listened to him speak, many times. To put the comment in context, it is generally:
"This information could supply a clearer link between one respected academic and another respected academic!"
This is either rash silliness of the neocon variety, desperate grasping at straws to pump up the conservative Jewish vote count in Florida, or maybe Goldfarb really does think that all Palestinians must be terrorists. In which case McCain is in deeper doo than I thought.

UPDATE: Apparently, it's the desperation play for the Jewish fear vote, after all.

Stupid Stupid Stupid

Another example showing that stunning insensitive stupidity is not solely confined to Sarah Palin rallies.
From AP:

Vienna tram driver fired for Nazi remark

VIENNA, Austria – A Vienna streetcar driver says it was all a joke, but his "Sieg Heil" to passengers has cost him his job — and could potentially land him before a judge.

Officials at Wiener Linien, which operates the Austrian capital's subway, bus and tram system, said Tuesday the man has been fired after uttering the Nazi greeting over the tram's public address system over the weekend.

State-run ORF radio and television said on its Web site that the unidentified 35-year-old made the comment at the end of a a brief statement mentioning that this was his streetcar's last trip on the historic Vienna Ring encircling the city center. Transit authorities ended some streetcar routes on the Ring and changed schedules for others Sunday.

"This is a historic moment and is a day of remembrance of historic events," the Web site quoted him as saying. "Sieg Heil!"

Transit authorities took action after a Jewish newspaper reported the alleged remarks. After some passengers booed — while others laughed — the driver reportedly said: "Can't you take a joke?"

Ha. Ha. Ha.

The Dying Throes

As the beast is worn down, it begins to spit out....truth:
ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, on a “demoralized” McCain campaign: “Palin is going to be the most vivid chapter of the McCain campaign's post-mortem. … Those loyal to McCain believe they have been unfairly blamed for over-handling Palin. They say they did the best they could with what they got.”

***In convo with Playbook, a top McCain adviser one-ups the priceless “diva” description, calling her “a whack job.”
Tee hee.


Three things going on in Iraq:

First, the Iraqi government has condemned the Special Ops raid into Syria the other day, and in a show of their newfound sense of sovereignty (in the real sense), al-Dabbagh had this to say:
"The Iraqi government rejects U.S. aircraft bombarding posts inside Syria. The constitution does not allow Iraq to be used as a staging ground to attack neighboring countries."
Good for them. Regardless of whether it was a valid raid, or a samrt move on the part of the US, this is the only reasonable stance for Iraq to take as they move toward a post-occupation status.

Second, Turkey is continuing its border war with the PKK and the Kurds in Northern Iraqi Kurdistan. The relative silence on this is all the more noticeable in light of the comment above. Today's bombing was the fourth raid in less than three weeks. For Iraq it is less politically volatile right now to satnd up to US military action against someone else than it is to make noise over Turkey's activities on their own soil.

Third, the BBC is just now reporting that the Iraqi parliament has voted to reopen negotiations on the "sealed deal" that the Bush administration was hoping had been put to bed, over troop reduction and withdrawal. The cabinet has given authorization to Prime Minister Maliki to reopen talks with the US on security pact.

These are rumblings. The NYT is running a piece on Kurdish - Arab relations in Iraq, and how fractures are opening in that strained partnership. But that's only a piece of the larger puzzle as the central Baghdad government tries out its fledgling strengths, and tests how far it might go in the current climate. And it could easily misjudge. The three items above all are a part of this puzzle. I expect to see more boundary pushing with the US, more friction with the Kurds, and more aggressive posturing within the Baghdad ranks...at least until January.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Grey Day

(George Grosz, "Grey Day")

So with almost synchronous timing today, the Jury found Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) guilty on seven counts of corruption, while the stock market dropped 200 points (or 2.4%) to close just below 8200. leaving us at the lowest water mark since 2003.

I'm not sure if there was any correlation, but I think it's curious at the least that the corrupt moneygrubbers (or their lackeys) flailing in the trading pits drove the economy down again on the news of the decade's poster boy for political greed corruption and arrogance took a fall.

The Other Real America

ATF Disrupts Skinhead Plot to Assassinate Obama

October 27, 2008
Filed at 4:24 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The ATF says it has broken up a plot to assassinate Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and shoot or decapitate 102 black people in a Tennessee murder spree.

In court records unsealed Monday, agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target an unnamed but predominantly African-American high school by two neo-Nazi skinheads.

The REAL "Real America:

George Packer supplies a pithy comment from the heart of America.

Roger Catt, a retired Wisconsin farmer, describes his choice as this:
“McCain is more of the same, and Obama is the end of life as we know it.”
Roger Catt, retired Wisconsin farmer, will be voting for the end of life as we know it.

All That Blue!

Granted FiveThirtyEight is a Dem leaning site, but even so it's remarkable to see where the country is after the long Reign of Red. What the graphic doesn't show are the tossups; you can see on Pollster's interactives that the country looks less like a swath of monochrome right now---as it has too often in the last 35 years---than like a patchwork quilt. And frankly, that seems pretty healthy to me. While I am routing for an Obama win, and a strong down ballot showing, I don't like the idea of a monolithic party at the head of the nation, and a universal lockstep support of that party. I'd rather see strong and reasoned opposition, and a jumble of competing interests, and a living discourse that reaches beyond the black and white simplifications we've seen for too long.

If Obama takes 351 electoral votes, and the GOP regroups (or some other group comes along to usurp its role as opposition party) and provides a strong and sensible opposition, built on something other than the glorification of cultural illiteracy, anti-intellectualism, rabid religious revivalism, and xenophobic self-retrenchment, and we wind up with a vocal but thinking bicameral congress and a legislative strength to balance the executive, then I'll be pretty happy. I don't expect it to happen all at once, but we have a chance, at long last, to make it so.

Closing Remarks

This week is apparently going to be a rolling close, heading back to the lofty rheotric of 2004. Very structured, very classic, and with any luck very powerful. We'll see.

From Barack Obama's prepared remarks today:
The question in this election is not “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” We know the answer to that. The real question is, “Will this country be better off four years from now?”

Equal Opportunity Offensiveness

I don't really care if it's right-wing hate or left-wing hate; it's all hate, and as offensive as it is destructive:
(10-27) 09:52 PDT WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA (AP) --

A Halloween themed effigy has generated several complaints because a mannequin — dressed in vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's trademark updo, glasses and a red business suit — is hanging by the neck from a noose.

On That Syrian Raid

Al-Jazeera has a good rundown of the issue. This should come as no surprise, and the fact that Syria---no great friend of the US, and a nation that see significant profit in maintaining a porous and somewhat unwatched border with an unstable Iraq---is making noise about it, is par for the course.

The concern here is whether or not, at this particular moment, the US has enough clout in the region and willpower at home to support this sort of activity. And that is an open question.

Leaving At The Top Of Your Game

Remarkably, whenever anyone is sane enough to do so, it still shocks and astounds those who don't get it.

David Geffen is walking away from Hollywood. Seems to have caught everyone off-guard, even Spielberg.

But hell, with $100 million dollars for each year of his life (he is now 65), and leaving empires in his wake, I have to say power to him.

Monday Morning Countdown

As we approach election Tuesday, and the sense of frantic action only grows around us, a few things to chew on this morning.

Economy: While global markets are still tanking, and the lending spreads are still out of control, Wall Street has had a day (so far) of relative calm. I expect that won't last more than a few days at best, though. We are far from out of the woods of volatility yet.

Middle East: Special Forces raided across the Syrian border from Iraq yesterday, and Syria and Iran are making a stink of it. That this is little different from actions taken since 2003 in one form or another, and that it follows form with our activities in Pakistan, is beside the point: it's election time in Israel and in the US, which means discord and distraction. And this will be played up as much as possible to achieve the most of both.

Polls: mostly on the same trajectory. For any of you wondering how New Hampshire might go, here's a dose of reality:

Eight more days.