Sunday, September 28, 2008

zingers and one-liners

Andrea Mitchell is telling me that Barack Obama failed in last Friday's debate because he didn't have any zingers or memorable one-liners like Ronald Reagan did. He talked about policy issues too much.

What is it Brad DeLong is always saying? Why oh why can't we have a less retarded press corps?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

I bought Cormac McCarthy's most recent book, The Road, at the airport recently, and finished it the same day, even having spent most of my four-hour flight watching the airheads on CNBC explain how essential for my personal well-being it is for me to not raise too much of a fuss while their employers, associates, and benefactors borrow from China my alotted portion of $700 billion and give it to, um, themselves. Not that I have much say in the matter, anyway. But it makes the airheads feel better about taking their cut if they feel they've persuaded some of us to emotionally invest in our own bamboozlement. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I heard George Bush muttering, "If you don't hand over $2000 to my buddy Hank right now, the terr'ists have won."

Guess I was slightly behind the curve on this book, since Oprah endorsed it to her viewers about a year and a half ago. Better late than never.

The Road is, in literary parlance, some dark and foreboding shit. Reading it, I found myself scraping the empty corners of my soul, trying to dredge up some contemporary context, straining to find a moral purchase from which to defend against the horrors McCarthy was projecting into my visual cortex. Then tonight, researching this shitty post, I discovered that McCarthy's apocalypse was not a nuclear holocaust, as I had assumed, but an impact event. So in his world, it doesn't actually matter what happens through the puny self-serving machinations of governance, the construction and arrangement of social interaction to delude the masses for the enrichment of the few, the cosmic paper-shuffle known variously as "productive employment," "public service," "spiritual enrichment," or what have you . . . in McCarthy's world, most of us are inevitably the walking dead, existing only to prepare the ragged remnants of our progeny to endure unspeakable horror and degradation in the service of no greater end than the meagre comfort of a half-empty belly and a warm campfire. And there's nothing anyone can do about it.

Even taken as a metaphor, it's pretty depressing. So Onward and Upward! Toward a Bright and Prosperous Future! Can't wait to see the movie!

And I'd offer a note to McCarthy's other readers, and to Oprah: The Road may seem familiar to some, for whom similar travails constituted their childhood. Like the horror movies and churches to which Western audiences/parishioners flock to reassure themselves that death is only a nightmare (before dying--you'd think the Creator could have come up with a less predictable plot!), the post-apocalyptic genre serves to comfort the world's wealthy billion that they will never experience the sort of deprivation and hopelessness that periodically intrudes at the margins of their consciousness. Maybe that's the moral I was looking for.

speechless, or Palin/Romney 2012!!

For my 500th post at this crappy blog, I will celebrate again the Sugar Bush Squirrel, here commenting on the vice-presidential race.

When scholars dig up relics of American culture thousands of years from now and examine nuances of construction and arrangement for glimmers of insight into our society, I hope to god they find some representation of the Sugar Bush Squirrel. And if they then exhumed and reanimated my dusty remains and compelled me through some dark art to put into context what is pictured here above, I'd be just as lost for words as I am right now . . .

Friday, September 19, 2008

economic intellectual reassessment

As venerable financial institutions bite the dust with increasing frequency and the market jumps around like a hopped-up Charlie Kelly, bloggers are trying to make sense of the broader ramifications of the financial crisis. First, Henry from Crooked Timber weighs in:

[W]hat is utterly startling to me is that . . . the claim that the state shouldn’t be directly involved in running the economy – is under serious threat too. I genuinely hadn’t expected this to happen. As the NYT notes, countries like France are using US actions as a way to justify state involvement in picking and supporting national champions. In a couple of years, perhaps we’ll see a new version of ‘le Plan’ (I’m half-joking here – but only half-joking). As Tyler says:
The economic fallout from these events is dominating the headlines. The intellectual and ideological fallout we are just beginning to contemplate.

Mark Blyth’s book, Great Transformations has a theory of the relationship between economic crises and economic ideas. Very roughly speaking, when a crisis occurs that is difficult or impossible for the prevailing wisdom to explain or deal with, intellectual entrepreneurs have an opportunity to create a new (partly self-reinforcing) collective wisdom. We’re most likely in just such a crisis now. Which set of intellectual entrepreneurs are going to succeed in reshaping a new collective wisdom – economic nationalists like Sarkozy and Putin, social democratic globalizers like Dani Rodrik, or some other crowd entirely – I have no idea.

Jim Henley thinks the national liquidity crisis could be what finally gets us out of Iraq.

Reading casually into the ongoing financial meltdown this week, I keep coming across the bottom-line explanation that the world’s, and particularly America’s, financial institutions just don’t have enough assets to cover their obligations. The dollar seems to be Wile E. Coyote now, or a less sagacious mark than Dummy 2 in the flashlight joke - tiptoeing in midair with nothing under it while gravity clears its throat and prepares. The various central banks are trying to keep it going because the various central banks have a whole freaking lot of them. But the translation of the bottom-line explanation is that the world, and particularly America, are not nearly as rich as most of us thought. Sorry! And I’m not just saying that! I can’t see how that doesn’t mean pretty much all the central banks are going to want to sneak their way out of dollars if they can. I think it’s one of those prisoner’s dilemma things.

Meanwhile, as part of Uncle Sam’s attempt to keep the whole contraption going, the Federal Government has taken on massive, massive liabilities from Fanny and Freddy and AIG and who knows what else is coming.

Things move quickly in a crisis, and now we have an idea of "what else is coming," and it doesn't look good (as John Quiggen puts it, a "US government asset purchase on a scale that will make all past nationalizations look puny.")

Jim then discusses the principal components of the federal budget.

Social Security and Medicare have - nominally - their own funding mechanism. The US is probably not going to default on the debt. Nobody in power is going to want to compound possible Depression-level demand shocks by cutting entitlements or even safety-net spending. That big red wedge [Ed.: military spending] is where the savings are to be had. Because so much of war funding has been tucked into "emergency" appropriations, the big red wedge is probably even bigger. Sorry, American Enterprise Institute, it’s over. (NB: In this case, I am just saying that - the "sorry" part.) We are about to become, fiscally, Britain after Suez and the USSR after 1989. We don’t have the money ourselves, and foreign capital will be looking for the exits. In particular, the Chinese have no long-term incentive to pay us to maintain a military that threatens China. (Short-term incentive? Sure. In the short term, complications arise.)

In five years US military spending is going to be half what it is now, one way or the other. We could have planned a graceful disengagement even a few years ago, but nobody with the power to make it happen was in the mood. Now? I suspect it’s going to be hard no matter what. I have bottomless faith in our ability to make it harder, but why go to all that trouble?

So let's do our pocketbooks a big favor and bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan! As Jim says, pretty soon, we may no longer have a choice.

I'm not quite as sanguine--I think it'll take more than a major financial crisis for Americans to decide that spending ridiculous amounts of money to invade and occupy other countries, with great loss of life on all sides, is a bad idea. But hope (in reason and common sense) springs eternal!

Finally, Roberto Lovato sounds a cautionary, but somewhat hopeful, note:

The big dividend for us, especially the poorer among us, are increasing numbers of cops, national guard, heavily-armed immigration agents and other big gun-toting types whose primary function is serving and protecting-big business. Remember: the CEO’s and their military-industrial partners knew how much funny, fake money was on their balance sheets before we did (and we still don’t know how bad things are!) and surely started laying the policing-military groundwork to “protect” their interests long ago, but did so under cover of “the war on drugs”, “getting tough on immigrants” and “defending the homeland,” to name but a few of the more well-known excuses for militarizing society before the meltdown.

In any case, ou also can get a sense of Roubini’s approach from the MSNBC interview below. Note , for example, the enormous difference between the flubby tone and outlook of the corporate talking heads and Roubini’s diamond-cutter talk as when he predicts that upwards of 700 banks, maybe even including such giants like WAMU, will go belly up before this unprecedented economic threat subsides. Let us hope it subsides soon and brings about a new economic day. Just wanted to signal alert on an economic crisis I think will also be accompanied by even more repression if history holds any lessons. This abject, dangerous failure of and increased state violence prophecied by the Free Market Religion should serve to remind us that it’s High Time to dust off our own sacred books containing the ancient knowledge of self-determination, self-defense and bottom-up socialism. So, pay close attention to this tragic economic development as the seeds of perdition and possiblity are contained therein.
We know that in times of stress, the government's preferred diversionary tactic is to hype fears of outside attack. The powers that be will be looking for another October surprise to bail them out of this mess for another four years. (Remember this? "Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the President.")

Will Americans fall for the con once again this fall? If so, perhaps it's not much of a con after all, but simply a plan of action that the average voter knowingly supports. But the world community will be moving on, whether or not the U.S. can get its act together.

la confusiĆ³n de McCain

The General brings us an update on John McCain's struggle for clarity.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

do your kids deserve health insurance?

I take my talking points on health care from Ezra Klein. And apparently today, he's taking them from Brad DeLong. So here they are:

Brad DeLong has a bunch of them. I'd slim the list down to three for each candidate. For McCain:

• McCain's health care plan will increase taxes on employer-based insurance, and kick 20 million people off the rolls.

• McCain's plan will throw you into the individual market, where the same plan your employer offered will cost $2,000 more, and you can be refused care because you were sick 10 years ago.

• McCain's plan will shift costs onto the sick.

For Obama:

• Obama's plan will cover tens of millions of Americans and reform the insurance industry such that everyone gets a fair deal and no one can be discriminated against because they were once sick or unlucky.

• It will create a group market that businesses can buy their employees into so that a small business that paints homes doesn't have to run a tiny insurance company on the side and an entrepreneur can pursue his idea without having to learn about health coverage regulations.

• It will cover all children. And Christ almighty, isn't it time we did at least that?
Past time.

This topic has special salience for me this month since until October 1, I'm one of the 47 million uninsured in the U.S. Cross your fingers for me and the other 46,999,999!

Georgia man faces execution despite lack of evidence against him

From Roberto Lovato today:

This very sad news from Georgia: Troy Anthony Davis, the Georgia man whose case has garnered international attention for what many believe is a case of shattered justice, is now set to be executed next week. Davis was sentenced to death for the alleged murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he maintains he did not commit. Georgia authorities decided to move forward with Davis’s execution even though there was no physical evidence against him and even though the weapon used in the crime was never found. Unless immediate action is taken, he will be executed by the state based on a case made up entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state’s non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.
Michelle Garcia, in her Amnesty International Magazine's article on Troy Davis, discusses key eye witnesses who withdrew their original testimony condemning Davis (linked to in Roberto's post):
It took nearly a decade for D.D. Collins, who was also at the scene of the shooting, to recant his eyewitness testimony; he had been just 16 when police took him in for questioning without his parents present. “I was scared as hell,” he said in his 2002 statement. “They told me I would go to jail for a long time and I would be lucky if I got out.”

And it wasn't until 2000 that Dorothy Ferrell, a convicted shoplifter who attorneys had argued provided compelling testimony against Davis, signed an affidavit recanting. “I had four children. I couldn’t go back to jail,” she said. “I felt like I didn’t have any choice but to get up there and testify."
Take action to stop this execution here.

accepting my 'pastitude'


Looks like Sarah Palin wants what many of us already have - Brown Skin

Actually, I caught this bit about Sarah Palin installing a tanning bed in the Alaska’s governor mansion yesterday, but it just illustrates the level of vanity and superficiality, which I recently addressed here with this woman. All of this is made more ironic when you consider that Senator McCain has been treated multiple times for melanoma. Personal tanning beds can cost as much as $35,000, which is not out of the ordinary for most folks from small town America, right?
I laughed when I saw the headline. I imagine she'd like the darker skin but maybe not the latinidad that goes with it.

Election commentary aside, I don't know why it seems nobody is happy with their skin color. I've been known to lay out in my back yard (when I had one), on the roof of the building (when I thought the landlady wouldn't catch me), or on the beach for purely cosmetic reasons. My Mii of choice is not the one that looks like me--shaved head, pale skin, blocky glasses--but one with brown skin and a full head of spiky black hair. Even my pseudonym doesn't reflect my Welsh/Scots/English/Scandinavian heritage, but that is probably why I stuck with it. Growing up white in Utah, Texas, and Hawaii, self-deprecatory humor about "pastiness" and ghostly white legs and bellies in the spring and winter months was an essential part of any skin-baring activity (swimming, skinny dipping, etc.). Bronzed skin was always the gold standard.

Then I look at the thriving market for skin bleaching products in Asia and Africa and scratch my head. I watch the Mexican telenovelas on Univision (now in HD!) and wonder why none of the actors look like my clients (in fact, some seem to my untrained eye to have landed roles principally based on their blond hair and blue eyes ... and, ahem, acting skills). I watch(ed) with bemusement as the Chinese women of Bensonhurst walk under umbrellas on sunny days.

It'd be healthier, psychically and physically, for each of us to simply accept the lot we're dealt at birth, but then that's not human nature, is it.

[Adding that the reasons for and consequences of whites aspiring to be tan and nonwhites adopting trappings of whiteness are vastly different and this post doesn't begin to address them.

Also noting that "accepting the lot we're dealt at birth" doesn't come near to adequately characterizing the social implications of skin color. But before I end up fisking my own post, I'll just leave it at that.]

Saturday, September 13, 2008

immigration posts

Here are my posts from the past week elsewhere:

McCain distorts Obama's record on immigration

remembering those who have died shows wait times for citizenship "approach infinity"

Musical Monday - Arcade Fire - Black Wave / Bad Vibrations

shoe on the other foot

Jill at Jack and Jill Politics has a message for the journalists who read her blog:

From Letters to the Editors @ Fort Worth Star-Telegram

How racism works

What if John McCain were a former president of the Harvard Law Review?

What if Barack Obama finished fifth from the bottom of his graduating class?

What if McCain were still married to the first woman he said “I do” to?

What if Obama were the candidate who left his first wife after she no longer measured up to his standards?

What if Michelle Obama were a wife who not only became addicted to pain killers, but acquired them illegally through her charitable organization?

What if Cindy McCain graduated from Harvard?

What if Obama were a member of the “Keating 5″?

What if McCain was a charismatic, eloquent speaker?

If these questions reflected reality, do you really believe the election numbers would be as close as they are?

This is what racism does. It covers up, rationalizes and minimizes positive qualities in one candidate and emphasizes negative qualities in another when there is a color difference.

— Kelvin LaFond, Fort Worth

Posted at 12:05 AM in Letters to the Editor, U.S. Politics
To which I’d add — what if one of Obama’s kids was teenage and pregnant? What if one of his kids was rumored to be an Oxycontin addict? What if Obama just did not know the basics of our mortgage system and how Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae work (like Palin)? What if he and Michelle belonged at one point to a fringe political party advocating secession from the United States (like Palin)? What if he lied to the American public about his opponents’ record and positions over and over and over?
Those seem like reasonable questions.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike hits Texas

I am hoping from Philadelphia that the people of southeast Texas, including blogmigo XP, are able to weather the storm that is hitting them right now.

I went to grade school in Houston, and one of the bayous mentioned in this article ran behind our house in Spring Branch. During one storm, the 20-foot bayou filled to the top and suddenly there was a brown river running behind our back yard. I can only imagine what happens when the bayous’ capacity is overwhelmed and those rivers spill over into neighborhoods.

I hope the damage is contained and the relief assistance can get to where it needs to go. Our thoughts are with you tonight, Texas.

U.S. strikes Pakistan, nominal ally

From Charlie Gibson’s interview last night with Sarah Palin:

GIBSON: Do we have the right to be making cross-border attacks into Pakistan from Afghanistan, with or without the approval of the Pakistani government?

PALIN: Now, as for our right to invade, we're going to work with these countries, building new relationships, working with existing allies, but forging new, also, in order to, Charlie, get to a point in this world where war is not going to be a first option. In fact, war has got to be, a military strike, a last option.

GIBSON: But, Governor, I'm asking you: We have the right, in your mind, to go across the border with or without the approval of the Pakistani government.

PALIN: In order to stop Islamic extremists, those terrorists who would seek to destroy America and our allies, we must do whatever it takes and we must not blink, Charlie, in making those tough decisions of where we go and even who we target.
In other news today:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — As the American campaign against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas seemed to intensify, two missiles fired from American pilotless drones killed 12 people Friday in an attack on a village compound in North Waziristan, according to a local journalist and television reports.

. . .

The missiles were fired at a village called Tole Khel, two miles east of Miranshah, and the dead included women and children, according to residents speaking to Pakistani reporters. There was no immediate word on the reported attack from American or Pakistani military authorities.

Pakistan’s government has little control in the tribal areas which the United States regards as safe havens for Al Qaeda and Taliban militants. In July, President Bush approved secret orders permitting American Special Operations forces to carry out ground assaults inside Pakistan without the prior approval of the Pakistani government, according to senior American officials.

Earlier this month, American forces raided a Pakistani village near the Afghan border in an attack that angered Pakistani officials who asserted that it achieved little except killing civilians and stoking anti-Americanism in the tribal areas.
Using the U.S. military means never having to say you’re sorry . . .

Obama’s not much better on this point, IIRC.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Peaches come from a can
they were put there by a man
in a factory downtown . . .
I forgot about this video.

I had not remembered that the two guys in the band who are not the drummer look like an accountant and a tech guy. I guess you could get away with that in the '90s.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

more civilian deaths in Afghanistan

There's a consensus forming outside the U.S. that last month's airstrike by U.S. forces in Afghanistan did, in fact, kill a large number of civilians, many of whom were children.

To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: more than 90 civilians, the majority of them women and children, were killed.

The Afghan government, human rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a United Nations investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead, and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.

Cellphone images seen by this reporter show at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. Ten days after the airstrikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old. Their shock and grief is still palpable.

For two weeks, the United States military has insisted that only 5 to 7 civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support.

. . .

The Afghan government is demanding changes in the accords defining the United States military engagement in Afghanistan, in particular ending American military raids on villages and halting the detention of Afghan citizens.

“People are sick of hearing there is another case of civilian casualties,” one presidential aide said.
I think what he or she means is “Americans are sick of hearing there is another case of civilian casualties.” Afghans are probably sick of being blown up by American bombs.

I don’t know what’s more upsetting, that the U.S. government is still set on denying the reports that have been confirmed by substantial evidence, including now from U.S. citizen reporters, or that the U.S. public doesn’t appear to care much that it’s government is blowing children into small pieces in its name and on its dime.

The outlines of a cynical strategy emerge: deny, deny, deny for the first week or two until the story recedes from the front pages, then concede in bits and pieces until the story is broken up and defused over time and new distractions materialize. End result: some tiny fraction of the U.S. voting public will remember this story 6 months from now, and most of those who do will reassure themselves that there was some controversy about that strike, wasn’t there, and didn’t the military say it wasn’t true what the UN was alleging, and the Taliban—my god, when was David Hasselhoff replaced by an android?

So let’s take a moment now to internalize just exactly what it is that our military is doing right now in Afghanistan.
Accounts from survivors, including three people wounded in the bombing, described repeated strikes on houses where dozens of children were sleeping, grandparents and uncles and aunts huddled inside with them. Most of the village families were asleep when the shooting broke out, some sleeping out under mosquito nets in the yards of their houses, some inside the small domed rooms of their houses, lying close together on the floor, with up to 10 or 20 people in a room.

. . .

Yakhakhan, 51, one of several men in the village working for a private security firm, and who uses just one name, said he heard shooting and was just coming out of his house when he saw his neighbor’s sons running.

“They were killed right here; they were 10 and 7 years old,” he said. In the compound next to his, he said, four entire families, including those of his two brothers, were killed. “They bombard us, they hate us, they kill us,” he said of the Americans. “God will punish them.”
I’m waiting for Eric Martin to highlight this passage
“This is not fair to kill 90 people for one Mullah Sadiq,” said Mr. Umarzai, the district chief. “If they continue like this, they will lose the people’s confidence in the government and the coalition forces.”
and bemoan the further loss of prestige and influence abroad that this signals. I’m waiting for Matt Yglesias to explain why Iraq is a diversion from real counterterrorism efforts and we need to send more troops to Afghanistan.

[To clarify, I think Martin's and Yglesias's priorities are misplaced and, though they've criticized Bush foreign policy consistently and persuasively, that is not enough. The Democratic Party and the mainstream left has bought into the Afghanistan War, which is why significant discussions about leaving that country are not even taking place.]

I’m waiting for someone to explain why we are blowing up children.

IOZ observes that we had to

. . . destroy the village in order to save it. This shit happens all the time, and it's worth noting in passing just how dishonest is our whole Liberation theme here. You invade a country and depose its tyrannical government. The insane Buddha-blower-uppers go underground and mount an insurgency along with some various and sundry allies. From time to time, some of them enter a village or town in order to . . . what? Resupply? Grab some food and water? Kidnap a hostage or two. And what do you do? You call in air support and bomb the fuck out of the place, then deny that you killed any civilians. Dudes, you bombed a village. One begins to suspect that rather than going to the logistical trouble of constructing suicide bombs, these guys are just rolling into town, waving their hands, and waiting for the Americans to come and kill everyone for them.
Can someone remind me—why are we in Afghanistan as we now approach 2009?

hello Philly!

My wife and I have just relocated to Philly where she will begin teaching this fall at Drexel University. It has been strange the last week not going to work every day as I had for the four previous years since I graduated from law school. My employment situation is somewhat up in the air at the moment. I'll either be working at a local nonprofit or working as a solo practitioner here--under either scenario, I'll keep doing immigration representation, ideally working in the same low-income communities that I did in Brooklyn.

So big changes are underway! It's exciting--I relish change and a feeling of adventure, while these things tend to make my wife anxious. I know she is looking forward to getting started teaching soon, though.

So, my god, the views from our apartment are rather stunning and I feel compelled to share them here. Here's the sunset we're treated to after baking for two hours in our currently un-curtained west-facing apartment:

And here is the view at night.