Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nightmare Alley

Did you ever have one of those dreams that was just mundane enough to be totally believable and just freaky enough to be terrifying?

Eventually you decide it may be a dream. You're not certain, mind you, you mostly are just hoping its a dream. You try to wake yourself up but, of course, you can't. You are getting more and more desperate and all you want to do is just go home.

Finally, your eyes open for real and you are lying in you very own bed. Yes!! It was just a dream! You need to relax after the stress of that dream so you close your eyes and.... Bam! You're back in that damn dream.

I had one of those this morning.

Nightmare Alley is a film noir classic from 1947.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Biggest Non-Surprises in the Wikileaks Dump

The biggest secret revealed by Wikileaks has been that there really are no secrets.
  1. Diplomats are catty gossips. Mumammar al-Qadhafi uses botox and travels with a "voluptuous blonde." That is useful information for diplomats to share, how?
  2. Arab governments want the US to bomb Iran. Sunnis hate Shi'ites. Arabs hate Persians. It really has nothing to do with any nuclear weapons Iran may (but doesn't) have. It is all about the US being a tool in a Muslim feud dating back 1300 years.
  3. The US spied on Ban Ki-moon. Hell, the US spied on everybody. Since when is this a surprise?
  4. Any idiot can spy on the US. Everybody spies on everyone else. It's not hard. All it takes is a pissed off Army private with a Lady Gaga CD.
The only surprises here would be for naive people who actually believed that government (the US, Italy, Russia, all of them) is run any better than the corner Burger King.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Five Most Worthless US Military Bases

The United States controls well over 700 bases and other installations around the world (and an additional 4000+ within the US). One could successfully argue that they are all worthless and a waste of money. Here are five of the most worthless foreign bases.

Kaiserslautern Military Community
An American city within Germany that houses over 50,000 servicemembers plus another 100,000 dependents and contractors. Includes the Ramstein Air Force base (above) and the Landstuhl Army Hospital.

The original usage as a defense against a Soviet invasion of Western Europe is long ended. It is now used as a staging area for America's Asian wars and a way station for dead and wounded soldiers from those wars.

Guantanamo Bay Naval Station
America's Devil's Island Prison. Originally a prize from the Spanish-American War used as a coaling station. It has no strategic or military value except as a petty insult to Fidel Castro. In 2002 the Bush Administration created there the most notorious penal colony since Île du Diable.

Diego Garcia
The only base on this list which actually has some strategic value. In 1971 the United States and United Kingdom expelled the people living on this little atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean to convert it into Naval and Air Force bases. Its major purpose is to house B-2 bombers.

The highest point on the atoll is only 22 feet. Meaning this multi-billion dollar base will soon be flooded by rising sea waters.

There are over 100 Army, Navy, and Air Force bases in Italy. In the 1950's they were key to making the Mediterranean Sea into an American lake. They were also important in preventing free elections in Italy and Greece that might have elected Communists to power.

They now serve no function.

Originally a victory prize after World War II, US bases occupy 18% of the island. Now mostly used by the Marines for recreational rape. The Japanese on the island hate the American presence for its arrogance, and did I mention the frequent rapes.

The Okinawa bases serve no useful function.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The President's Worst Month Ever

Sometimes you just ought to stay in bed for the whole month. November, 2010 was that kind of month for President Obama.
Kicked in the ass to start the month, kicked in the mouth to end it, with several groin kicks in the middle. Absolutely positively the worst month in Barak Obama's life. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Six Books Banned in the United States

Huckleberry Finn
Banned from many school libraries because of the use of the word "nigger." Considered the finest novel in American history.

The Dictionary
Banned by the Anchorage School Board for having words like "bed" and "knockers."

Catcher In the Rye
Banned frequently because the protagonist is a teenage boy who acts and speaks like a teenage boy.

Lord of the Flies
Won the Nobel Prize in literature; banned for telling a disturbing story.

Banned by authoritarian anti-sex school boards because it attacks anti-sex authoritarians.

Harry Potter
One word, witchcraft.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Grand Theft Home

Matt Taibbi has a horribly depressing article in Rolling Stone on the conspiracy between banks and state judiciaries to steal peoples homes. (i.e. the nation's foreclosure crisis)
You've heard of Too Big to Fail — the foreclosure crisis is Too Big for Fraud. Think of the Bernie Madoff scam, only replicated tens of thousands of times over, infecting every corner of the financial universe.
The courts have decided to ignore all of the annoying niceties like due process and rules of evidence and go for pure speed.
One Jacksonville judge, the Honorable A.C. Soud, even told a local newspaper that his goal is to resolve 25 cases per hour.
The banks, you see, have created such complex securities out of mortgages in an effort to defraud investors that even the banks can't figure out who actually owns the debt anymore. As for accurate paperwork, forget about it. So the banks just make shit up.
Such rank incompetence at doctoring legal paperwork is typical of foreclosure actions, where the fraud is laid out in ink in ways that make it impossible for anyone but an overburdened, half-asleep judge to miss. "That's my point about all of this," Kowalski tells me later. "If you're going to lie to me, at least lie well."
And the judges go along. The judges swallow any lie, every fraud, all the perjury to keep the foreclosure mill grinding. A homeowner can hire a lawyer and maybe forestall foreclosure for a couple of months but the thieves always win in the end.
"Who's next?" Judge Soud says. He turns to Mark Kessler, the counsel for the big foreclosure mills. "Mark, you still got some?"
"I've got about three more, Judge," says Kessler.
Kessler then drops three greenish-brown files in front of Judge Soud, who spends no more than a minute or two glancing through each one. Then he closes the files and puts an end to the process by putting his official stamp on each foreclosure with an authoritative finality.
Of course, the judge was outraged at some sun being shined on his clown court. Judge Soud threatened one homeowner for talking to Taibbi and threatened the attorney who accompanied Taibbi into the court with contempt charges. All quotes are from Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone article.

And for those whose disgust quota has not yet been reached, here are:
13 Foreclosure horror stories
And three stories of banks foreclosing on the wrong house, including one where the bank auctioned a house they did not have rights to. Las Vegas. New Bedford, Mass.
Vultures feeding on the misfortune of others.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trouble in Tartarus

Could it be that Satan's Domain on Earth (Goldman Sachs) is in trouble? A Justice Department probe into insider trading appears to have caught Goldman Sachs in its net.

Could this begin the grand battle between good and evil - Christian versus Apollyon, Beowulf versus Grindel, the Thundercats versus Mumm-Ra? Probably not.

This isn't the first time that the Justice Department had Goldman Sachs by the short hairs. Last spring they had the Devil's Bank dead to rights for fraud over mortgage securities deals. If Justice had any fight in it several Goldman execs would have been looking forward to a few years of prison romance. Instead Goldman's punishment was a half-billion dollar fine (just a fraction (4%) of Goldman's take from the government AIG bailout) and a tepid mea culpa.

Atrios predicts, and I agree, that the worst Goldman will face from Justice this time will be a tiny fine. Goldman is just too powerful for the Justice Department. (think Doomsday versus Jimmy Olsen).

Standard Disclaimer: The wondrous evil that is Goldman Sachs deserves daily worship. Please don't sue me.

On Tartarus
Art is Tartarus by Charles Katz

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Obama, the TSA, and Presidential Power

Shorter President Obama on TSA groping: There's nothing I can do, I'm just the President.
I don't fly so this is just an intellectual discussion for me. The TSA could force passengers to strip naked and engage in bestiality as a condition for flying and it would be no skin off my nose. But President Obama Saturday address on the TSA indicates my main problem with him, he doesn't seem to realize that he is the fucking

We saw it with the BP oil spill. Obama was clearly frustrated with the clean up but he never did the boss thing. It often seems that the President doesn't see himself as the leader but as simply the principle PR flack for the bureaucracy.

Getting back to the TSA. President Obama could order the TSA to clean up their act. He could give them a time frame (two weeks or two months, it doesn't matter) to develop policies that forbid all physical contact searches without probable cause (and refusing to be x-rayed is not probable cause). Just give the order and leave it to the bureaucracy to get it done.

Instead he tells us that he "understand people's frustration" and that it is out of his hands. If President Obama wants to understand why his popularity is low he need look no further than this tendency to punt on first down.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Politics As Farce

I have concluded that modern politics is a farce. Consider:
  • Republicans shift the tax burden away from people with money to people without it. Democrats keep that unfair shift because they are afraid of mucking up a rotten economy.
  • Republicans start stupid wars. Democrats maintain those wars even as they become more inane because they are afraid of losing what should never have started.
  • Republicans begin abusive airport search programs. Democrats enhance the searches into simulated rape because they want to cover their asses in the event of a terrorist attack. (Note: for the TSA, the only asses being covered belong to politicians)
  • Republicans run up absurd deficits. Democrats try to balance the budget by cutting Democratic programs and preserving Republican programs.
  • The Republicans who hate gays the most are closeted gays. Democrats defend anti-gay policies because they don't want to appear gay.
  • Republicans hate science because they are too stupid to understand it. Democrats defend anti-science policies because they don't want to look like nerds.
Republicans are voted out of office for their failures. Democrats, once in office, repeat the Republicans failures and get voted out of office. The cycle repeats.
Don't you love farce?
My fault I fear.
I thought that you'd want what I want.
Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns?
Quick, send in the clowns.
Don't bother, they're here.
~ Stephen Sondheim, Send In the Clowns

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thoughts on Republican Policies

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice. ~ Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
or Ice?
Saul Anuzis is running for RNC Chair.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Short Takes

Better to Curse the Darkness than Light a Candle
Susan Gardner at DailyKos points out that the Tea Party Republicans who have made the most noise about spending are turning down seats on the Appropriations Committee. The last thing they want is anything resembling responsibility.

Baby Snatching
Jesus' General found the story of an undocumented worker who had her baby stolen from her by Immigration which, in turn, gave it to a white couple to own. It reminds me, on a small scale, of the Great Arizona Orphan Abduction.

Security Theater
I like this phrase for what the TSA does at airports. It is not security, it is just a grand show of pretending to be secure. The TSA allows passengers to carry complex electronic equipment with an internal power source weighing over three pounds (laptop computer) onto an airplane with only a cursory examination. However, four ounces of water is strictly verboten. Laptops will explode without even being rigged as a bomb, add a pound of PETN and you've got quite the explosion (Video of 100 grams of PETN vs. a pine tree).

The TSA makes a grand display of frisking people. They have publicly groped celebrities, humiliated cripples, and felt up young children in ways that most societies consider to be heinous sex crimes.
It is not about security. It is about intimidation and pretending. And copping the occasional feel.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Where's Bonnie & Clyde When We Need Them?

Bankers have made a total botch of their business. And, of course, they are going to extort another taxpayer bailout by threatening to bring down the economy. And, of course, their first priority is billions of dollars in executive bonuses. And, of course, we have to give these fat cat executives tax breaks too.

In a rational world there would be a whole lot of big bank executives going to jail for fraud. There would be a whole lot of nationalized banks with stock equity zeroed out to cover their losses. In a rational world we would cut off the hands of crooked bankers. But, this is not a rational world.

So it looks like the best we can hope for is a new rash of bank robbers. Lets have some heroes in banks we can root for.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Sun Never Sets On the American Empire

The United States maintains over 700 military facilities in scores of foreign countries. Some are small, the Pentagon leases 3,200 square feet at a landing strip in Aruba. Others are massive. The Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany covers over 3,000 acres with over 10,000 personnel.

Most make no military sense. We maintain over 50,000 troops in Germany even though the threat of Soviet tanks storming through the Fulda Gap is long gone. The Pentagon has 32 bases and facilities scattered around the small island of Okinawa that have no purpose except as World War II trophies.
We have troops in friendly countries (United Kingdom), unfriendly countries (Cuba), dangerous countries (Iraq), and peaceful paradises (Netherlands Antilles). Some make sense (South Korea), others are just plain silly and useless (the 10,000 troops stationed in Italy).

The purpose is the same as why the Roman Empire established fortifications at the far reaches of their known world. The United States is projecting its power around the world to threaten and intimidate. And we do it out of fear. The rest of the world scares us.

See also America's Empire of Bases by Chalmers Johnson
The World Wide Network of US Military Personnel

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Professional Warriors

The citizen soldier is one of the founding principles of the United States dating all the way back to the Minutemen - farmers and shopkeepers who picked up their weapons when danger struck only to return to their quiet civilian lives soon after.

The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, both world wars, even Korea and Vietnam were fought by regular Joes brought, most often unwillingly, into the ranks of fighting men. Sure, there was always a cadre of professional soldiers among the officers but the vast majority were civilians who just wanted to do their duty and go home.

That all changed with the Vietnam War. The Pentagon realized that they couldn't fight wildly unpopular and unnecessary wars using an army of conscripted civilians. They needed an army that would go where it was told and kill who it was told without question or conscious. They needed an all volunteer, professional army.

Endless Wars
A professional military class makes endless wars not only possible but necessary.

Take the now completely worthless war in Afghanistan. Most Americans think it is unwinnable. If conscripted sons were fighting and dying there, there would be a very active anti-war movement. Since it is professional soldiers who chose this career, we barely care.

While citizen soldiers want peace above all else, professional soldiers need wars. War means promotions, war means more money, war means using your training. A professional soldier without a war is a meaningless as a third-string quarterback.

A Breed Apart
You've seen all the TV commercials where actors dressed as civilians say "thank you" to actors dressed as soldiers. Has anyone ever seen that is real life? The fact is that most Americans don't know anyone serving in the military. During conscription, everyone knew someone whose family had a member who had served or was serving. The military was a cross-section of America then. The professional soldier class today is distinct and separate from America.

We might see some, from time to time, walking along the street conspicuously, and needlessly, dressed in cammies. They are deliberately setting themselves apart more like hari krishnas on parade.

That Cult Thing
Take a look at US Soldiers Creed and how it has changed in the last decade. Once it concentrated on service to others. Now its focus is on "the mission" and "the team." Even caring for their weapons has a higher priority than serving the country. Soldiers are indoctrinated to care only about the Mission, whatever it may be, and their fellow soldiers. It is Mission ahead of self; Mission ahead of country.

And in this country a form of Mithraism is preached where soldiers are to be worshiped by a mantra, "support the troops."

To Worship or Not
This past Veterans Day we were inundated with calls to worship the troops for their "service in keeping us free." Only this professional class of soldiers is not serving us. They are not fighting to preserve the Constitution or protect our shores. They are not fighting for their friends back home since all of their friends are fellow professional soldiers. The professional soldier fights because it is his job.

And soldiering as a profession is not honorable, it is not respectable. Professional soldiering is killing for money. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.

See A Look Into the Mind of One Soldier
See also Citizen-Soldiers versus Professional Military

Friday, November 12, 2010

Catfood Commission

I haven't used the common nickname for Obama's Deficit Commission because they hadn't earned it. Until now. Let me count the ways.
  1. The co-chairs, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson (hereafter known as B&S), kneecapped the president. Obama was out of the country and unprepared for their surprise.
  2. B&S undercut the commission's actual final report by issuing their own private report first. There are sixteen other members of the commission who have just been marginalized and trivialized by the chairs.
  3. Their plan would reduce the tax rate on the richest Americans to a level (24%) not seen since 1929. 
  4. At the same time they would eliminating mortgage deductions thus significantly increasing taxes on the middle classes.
  5. The end result of 3 & 4 would be a huge transfer of wealth to the richest 1% of Americans.
  6. B&S would eliminate the Earned Income Tax Credit in a cruelly targeted attack on the working poor.
  7. B&S would bankrupt the elderly unto death with caps and limits on Medicare. (Talk about a Death Panel.)
Even after it collapses from the weight of its own stupid it will be a millstone around the President's neck. In 2012, B&S will be forgotten men and President Obama will be the one who wanted to feed the rich and starve the elderly.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Afghanistan Forever

    Before the Beginning
    Fifty years ago, Afghanistan was a peaceful place. Kabul was a modern city with a coeducational university. The Pashtun hinterland was little changed from the 12th century. Opium was used by locals as medicine and was just beginning to be sold in small quantities to foreigners.
    Kabul University, circa 1960.
    The Beginning
    In 1979, the CIA set in action a deliberate plan to sucker the Soviet Union into a ground war in Afghanistan. The goal was to draw the Soviets into a quagmire which would kill their soldiers, drain their economy, and promote internal dissent within the Soviet Union. It worked better than anyone could have predicted causing the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism.

    The Soviets helped bring about their fall by trying to institute a western, secular society throughout Afghanistan. This brought in Muslim fanatics like Osama Bin Laden whom the CIA was more than happy to sponsor. During this time the CIA also helped the mujahedeen become major drug traffickers.

    Our Turn In Hell
    After the Soviet Union fell the CIA lost interest in Afghanistan. The civil war left behind was resolved with the victory of extreme fundamentalists called the Taliban.

    And Bin Laden did not lose interest. He switched his sights to the "Crusaders," meaning the United States. After several spectacular, if minor, one off attacks Bin Laden hit pay dirt with 9-11. The US responds, determined to punish the Taliban and kill Bin Laden. Fail.

    Afghanistan Forever
    Fast forward nine years. The United States is stuck in a ground war in Afghanistan that is killing their soldiers, draining their economy, and promoting internal dissent. And the US is determined to stay in Afghanistan until, by force of arms, we have made Afghanistan into the country it used to be before we started interfering (peaceful and moderate).

    Quag, meet mire.
    Kabul, 2009

    Monday, November 08, 2010

    Football Described Right

    One of the great comedy riffs was some 57 years ago when a very young Andy Griffith describing a backwoods country boy's first exposure to football.

    Equally good is George Carlin comparing baseball and football.

    Sunday, November 07, 2010

    Is the US Still a Superpower?

    When I was born the United States was the arsenal of freedom with an economy that dwarfed the rest of the world. Today, well, let's see.

    In a word, no. The United States economy is being supported by China. In the production of actual things (agriculture and industry) China is far ahead of the US. Our GDP depends on "services," the slight of hand where the idea of things are moved around. China has computers, the United States has derivatives. The US makes debt; the Chinese own debt.

    China also controls much of the strategic metals of the 21st century and that is a power they are willing to use.

    The reason why the United States is no longer an economic superpower is the military. The United States chews up a spectacular 46.5% of global military spending. But, what has that gotten us?

    We have the nuclear power necessary the obliterate any nation on the Earth at will.
    Yea, us!
    Beyond that, we have what is generally considered the most powerful conventional military on Earth. And, along with Israel, we have the most battle tested military going. For what its worth.
    We have troops spread throughout the world but when it comes to combat we cannot muster enough force in any one location to accomplish much of anything.

    So, is the United States still a superpower? Economically, the answer is a clear no. We are like a ne'er-do-well son who squanders his allowance on gambling and debt. Militarily, we are a lumbering giant. Big and powerful but unable to accomplish much of anything. Does that make the United States a superpower or a pathetic titan?
    The best picture I could fine of the United States
    military's global influence.

    Friday, November 05, 2010

    Gaia and the Election

    Putrescent dirts
    in impressive disgusting mountains
    among the shrill cries of greedy gulls.

    Filthy flowers of plastic bags
    on the dirty river sides.

    The sea waves
    viscous bitumen
    on beaches already dirty
    of sewages and scum.

    Chimneys and smokestacks
    puff away
    black smoke clouds
    saturating with fetid hazes
    the stinky, polluted air.

    A day of ordinary violence
    again begins.
    A day of violated Nature
    again begins. ~ Dawn by M. Ivana Trevisani Bach
    One thing I am certain will suffer over the next two years is the environment. Republicans in Congress plan vengeance against scientists over global warming warnings. President Obama has never been very interested in environmental protection issues. I suspect it is an issue he will willingly sacrifice.

    The problem, of course, every moment we continue to act like demented apes fouling our own nests we come ever closer to the tipping point where nothing we can do will be able to reverse the damage we have done.

    Thursday, November 04, 2010

    The Supreme Court's Battle to Destroy Democracy

    that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
    The Citizens United case was the first step in the Supreme Court's efforts to kill Abe Lincoln's dream. The next step will be AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion where the conservative majority on the court will decide that corporations can deny the people any right for the redress of grievances.

    The goal of Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, Alito, and Kennedy is to convert the United States into a corporatist state where major corporations wield all the power and the people are mere chattel.

    First they had to make the people's voices subordinate to the financial might of corporations in election campaigns. Then they will make it legal for corporations to exempt themselves from lawsuits. The next step in the Supreme Court's efforts will likely be to severely restrict the ability to tax corporations.
    The resulting society, a corporate democracy, will most closely resemble the society in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World where people are subsumed into a corporate culture and individualism is illegal.

    Wednesday, November 03, 2010

    Election Postmortem

    The election went off pretty much as predicted. The House turned, Democrats barely held on to the Senate, and Alaska is going to be a comedy showcase for months to come. Now what?
    1. Impeachment of Barack Obama? Possibly. The more rational arm of the Republican Party will not want to go there but Michelle Bachmann will be in the House leadership, so anything goes. The rabid Tea Partyites will demand it and they only need a majority in the House. The litmus test for how far insanity has possessed the Republican Party will be where it goes on this question.
    2. Infinite Investigations? Absolute certainty. Call it Death by a Thousand Cuts. House committees will holding so many hearings Administration officials will have trouble finding time to go to the bathroom.
    3. Economic Recovery? Only by accident. The Republican economic play is to borrow money to give tax cuts to the wealthy. That is a recipe for economic stagnation, if we are lucky.
    4. Government Shutdown? Who knows? This also depends on just how much power the insane wing of the Republican Party has. Will Republicans look into the abyss and step back or will they close their eyes and walk off the cliff? If California Republicans are typical of the breed we can expect some spectacular base jumping.
    Republican economic policy.

      Monday, November 01, 2010

      Election Premortem

      Difficult to see. Always in motion is the future.  ~ Yoda
      It's going to be ugly, although with sunny weather over most of the country it may not be as bad as predicted. Or, it may be worse. Still, it is not too soon to sniff out the root causes.
      1. Citizens United Case ~ This had the exact effect the partisan majority on the Supreme Court desired. By reversing 200 years of legal decisions the SCOTUS rewrote the Constitution and with a single act converted the United States from a republic into an oligarchy. 
      2. Martha Coakley ~ It is impossible to overstate the importance of the botched campaign of Martha Coakley. Her campaign should have been a cakewalk. By losing she 1) energized the nascent Tea Party movement (if we can make it there we'll make it anywhere) and 2) lost the Senate supermajority.
      3. Divided We Fall ~ For a year the Democrats had a supermajority in the Senate. And they never used it. Whether you blame egocentric Blue Dogs (Ben Nelson) or a timid leadership (Harry Reid) Democrats squandered their chances to accomplish change when they had the opportunity.
      4. Surrendered the Low Ground ~ President Obama was so determined to stick to the high ground that he refused to fight back against dirty, sleazy attacks (think "Death Panels"). By staying above the fray, President Obama has lost all of the battles being fought down in the muddy valleys. To many liberals, that refusal to fight looks like cowardice.
      5.  Tim Geithner ~ Insofar as the Tea Party movement is energized by the prolonged recession, Geithner is the one person most responsible for their growth. As a salesman for the Administration's economic policies, he is worse than Willy Loman. As an advocate for anybody other than Wall Street bankers, he is an abject failure. Geithner is the worse Treasury Secretary since Andrew Mellon.
      6. Collegiality ~ Or more accurately, Democrats repeated attempts at collegiality in the face of the "Party of No" just encouraged Republican obstructionism. The 111th Congress is a Do-Nothing Congress because of Republicans. But because Democrats were in charge they will be blamed for all the inaction.