Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Confidence in our Financial System is Not What We Need

The recession and gazillion dollar bailouts have provoked a whole slew of articles about the loss of confidence in our financial system.

Frank Rich says that the "wholesale loss of confidence is a catastrophe that not even the new president’s most costly New Deal can set right." Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said in his October 14th statement justifying the bailout that "there is a lack of confidence in our financial system – a lack of confidence that must be conquered because it poses an enormous threat to our economy."

The Bernie Madoff scandal has now set off a whole new slew of articles about the lack of confidence in Wall Street - articles like Bernie Madoff, Confidence Destroyer and Madoff Scam Saps Confidence in Wall Street. But nobody seems to be questioning the underlying premise that we should have confidence in these people. Isn't too much confidence exactly what got us into this mess?

When I began my current employment, I dutifully filled out my 401k investment form. I glanced at the prospectuses for the funds I chose, but I didn't know the companies that I was investing in. I never met the person who was responsible for investing my funds. I don't read and investigate the claims of the companies in which my money is invested. I don't know how they treat their employees or if they are dumping mercury in a lake somewhere. How many of us know?

Should we be handing over our money to people we don't know to invest in organizations we know nothing about? Should we trust fallible humans with the power and temptation of dealing with billions of dollars? Power corrupts. Nobody is immune. And money buys a lot of power.

What I'm really saying is, shouldn't we have seen this coming? Is it confidence that we need to cultivate or some healthy skepticism?

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Terrorists are Criminals, Not Soldiers

Terrorism is not new. It did not begin with the twin towers falling. It did not begin with the Oklahoma City bombing. It did not begin with car bombs in Israel. It did not begin with hangings and church fires in the south. But all of these things were terrible, violent, and reprehensible acts of terror.

Wouldn't it make sense, given humanity's long history of dealing with terror, to study the cases where terror, if not ended, at least subsided?

In 1963, members of the klu klux klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church and killed four little girls. This was not the first time the kkk had perpetrated acts of terror. They have over the years been responsible for many bombings, hangings, kidnappings and deaths.

If we are to use the logic provided to us by President Bush when he wanted to invade Afghanistan or by Israel when they respond to terrorist attacks by bombing, then we would have expected the United States to fly a bombing mission over Birmingham in 1963. We would have expected that, after they bombed the innocent civilians of Birmingham, they would have blamed the kkk for hiding amongst civilians

But we did not do that. We did not do that, because terrorists are not soldiers. We did not do that because it is the soldiers responsibility to protect civilians, not harm them. We did not do that because many people live in Birmingham who are not terrorists and the idea that they harbored terrorists by having the pure dumb luck of being a Birmingham resident is ridiculous.

What the United States did do, far too slowly and painfully, is investigate the crimes of the kkk. We sent undercover operatives to infiltrate their organizations. We paid off inside informants. We treated terrorists like the criminals they are. (I know many of them walked free for many years and I don't make light of that travesty, but my point is that the terror began to ease without a war against the entire town.)

Violence is always tragic. War is always tragic. But it is so much more tragic when it is painfully clear that it can never bring the security and peace that most people want. Even if you are not a pacifist, the cold hard fact remains that responding to terrorists with war is irrational and effective only in creating more enemies.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Krispy Creme and Plastic Surgery Save the World

If you have not yet heard, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon may have just solved our energy crisis.

According to this report from Fox/Faux news, Dr. Craig Alan Bittner "claimed on a Web site that he created 'lipodiesel' from his patients' fat and used it to power his Ford SUV and his girlfriend's Lincoln Navigator."


We may not have much fossil fuel left in the United States, but our fat deposits are legendary. We could power the country for decades. I may even start a business. We could hire people to sit around and eat Krispy Cremes until they reach the proper mass and then suck it all out and sell it for fuel.

You know what the best part of the story is? "
California law apparently forbids the use of human medical waste to power vehicles."

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Pope a Dope

Today, in his Christmas address, the pope asked for people to work together to solve our problems "in a spirit of authentic solidarity."

I thought about using this post to rant about someone who would call for authentic solidarity out of one side of his mouth while vilifying large swaths of humanity by talking about the evil dangers of homosexuality out of the other.

I thought about marveling at the shear audacity of someone who can add the accumulation of wealth to the deadly sins that will take you straight to hell, all the while sitting in the midst of thousands of years of accumulated riches.

I thought about a little diatribe on how many human beings have died of aids because they won't use a condom, as the pope thinks birth control is a sin. Or perhaps on how many women have died because of back alley abortions or because a doctor in Nicaragua suspected a miscarriage might have been an abortion and didn't want to risk prison.

I thought about recounting the history of Catholicism in the world. I thought about the crusades, the inquisition, forcible conversions, decimation of indigenous culture, appeasement of nazis, priests abusing children and concealment of their crimes...

But then I thought, who gives a damn what the pope thinks? The pope looks like what he is, a decrepit relic.

Catholicism is on the decline all over. In the United States, Catholic numbers have held somewhat steady due to an influx of immigrants from places like Mexico, but native-born Americans are dropping the religion. And with anti-immigrant hysteria and a declining economy keeping immigrants away, that number is bound to decline further.

Spain, once a bastion of Catholicism, is going the way of the rest of Europe and leaving the church behind. Latin America has been hemorrhaging Catholics. The number of nuns and monks in the world is on decline. The number of Catholic priests is on decline. And Catholic school enrollment is down. The drop-off in the United States has been precipitous, causing all sorts of ogeda in the conservative community. In fact, according to the Vatican themselves, Islam has now overtaken Catholicism as the worlds most practiced religion.

So who really cares what the pope thinks. Not even practicing Catholics pay much attention his dictates anymore.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Oh Great, Another Protest

Tis the season of protests here in DC.

In the last week I have seen a Code Pink shoe display at the Whitehouse gate, a dancing man wearing a paper mache George Bush head, and a pathetically small gathering of women marching for sex workers rights. In addition to which, at least two groups of drum wielding protesters have marched by my office building.

So what the hell do these people think they are accomplishing? I hate to be the one to break it to them, but protests don't do a thing. Millions of people around the world streamed out into the streets before the Iraq war and it didn't do a damn bit of good. Seattle protesters got themselves in the news and even managed to shut down a meeting, but the WTO is still here, the World Bank and IMF are still doing the same crap, and we all just mortgaged the rest of our lives to pay off a bunch of international bankers.

Much of this protest delusion comes from the notion that it was protesters that ended the war in Vietnam. United States participation in Vietnam went on for more than a decade, despite all the protesters. And it wasn't a bunch of marginalized kids marching that made your average Joe fed up with the war. It was seeing body bags come in by the thousands. It was learning about the lies the government was telling. It was seeing My Lai photos plastered all over the paper. In short, it was journalists who risked their lives telling the truth about what was going on, not a bunch of burnt hippies in moccasin boots.

I'm not saying that it is impossible for a large movement of people to force powerful interests to change their tune, but it is rare and requires strategy. The other day I received an email about arranging a general strike across the whole country. Nowhere in the email does it mention what we would be striking for. Where is the focus? Where is the strategy? How are you going to accomplish something if you don't even know what you are trying to accomplish?

The email I received says that Gandhi showed us how it could be done. Gandhi did show us how it could be done. Gandhi did not dress up in paper mache heads or turtle costumes. He didn't gather together disparate small groups all asking for different things. He didn't conduct protests just to pat himself on the back or meet and greet with like-minded people. Gandhi had a plan.

Gandhi's most famous protest was marching to the ocean to make salt. Gandhi wanted India out from under British colonial rule and knew he needed to show the world the injustice of British rule. The British imposed a salt tax, which gave them a monopoly on salt. Gandhi's march to make salt fulfilled a real need, highlighted the injustice of British laws, and showed the strength of his movement.

Gandhi was thrown in jail for starting these protests. His treatment by authorities, and the support for his cause, started a domino effect and protests broke out in other areas of the country. That was all part of his plan, as was the media coverage that he cultivated beforehand. He did not just throw something together at the last minute. Today, people just show up at the National Mall on a Sunday afternoon for protests that resemble support groups.

Your average person sees someone dressed as a stuffed animal or with F&#$ the Gap painted on their bare ass and just discounts everything the group is trying to say. Worse, some of my fellow anarchists seem to think that if you destroy everything now, something better will miraculously spring up in its place. Violence is a sure way to turn people off from what you are trying to say.

So please, don't send me any more calls to protest. Send me a plan. Invite me to a strategy meeting. Let's pick a realizable goal, identify the obstacles, figure out whose support is needed, and devise a cleverly effective way of pounding away at it until we get somewhere. And if you try to make me wear some ridiculous costume, we're through.

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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Obama Bursts Black v. Gay Narrative

Barack Obama picked Rick Warren to speak at the inauguration. When I heard it, I was appalled. And what rational, compassionate person wouldn't be pissed that a man who compared homosexuality to pedophilia and incest was chosen for this honor. Take a gander at Rachel Maddow's take on the issue:

But while I am still pissed about the choice, I do find one thing rather interesting. Just a short while ago, I found myself writing a post to try and dispel the myth that African Americans were to blame for the passage of Proposition 8 in California. And I still keep hearing people blab about how African Americans are more homophobic than white people.

So isn't it ironic that it is the black religious leader at the inauguration who supports gay rights and the white guy (from the oh-so-liberal left coast) who is the homophobe?

The benediction is being given by The Reverend Dr Joseph E Lowery. Not only is the Reverend a respected civil rights leader who has come out in support of gay rights, he has also been supportive of the leftest of the lefty causes (like showing up to lead prayers for Camp Casey peace activists).

Watch him speak at Coretta Scott King's funeral. Watch the crowd go crazy when he says that there were no weapons of mass destruction. Note how he points out King being against homophobia.

Can people finally shut up now about how black people are so homophobic?!

Thanks to dmac and Pam's House Blend for bringing this story some coverage.

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Honesty or Congeniality?

I'm not always a very nice person.

It isn't that I go out of my way to hurt or offend people. It isn't that I'm completely oblivious to how people are going to take things that I say. It's just that I have an overwhelming, internal compulsion to say what I really think. I also have a very hard time pretending to feel or think something that I don't.

Sometimes this honesty compulsion comes out in small things. Gift giving is a perfect example. I think obligatory gift giving is stupid and irrational. I know I'm supposed to act pleased in order not to offend people, but I just can't do it. Perhaps it is small minded of me to deny a person whatever benevolent feelings they get from gift giving, but why keep it a secret that I resent being saddled with some slave labor-made piece of landfill?

Being honest is bound to lose you some friends along the way, but being phony ensures that the friends you have will be superficial. And in the end, superficiality and dishonesty will erode any relationship.

While being honest can appear to cause more conflict and hard feelings at first, over time it actually causes far less. This is in no small part because, when you don't explain what you really think, the people around you are sure to make (often negative) assumptions about your motivations.

Work is the most difficult place to be honest. Many have blamed Dubya's disastrous presidency in large part on a staff full of "yes men". But how many of us are really honest with our bosses, especially if it would cost us our current and potential jobs?

If I had a dollar for every time one of my bosses wasted time making grand plans that they themselves would undoubtedly be the biggest obstacle to fulfilling, I'd be on a beach in Jamaica right now. But you're not going to keep your job for long if you tell your boss they are an impediment to getting things accomplished.

That, of course, is where power intersects with honesty. It's one thing to be honest with someone who might stop being friends with you. It's another to be honest with someone who can fire you.

As Dave Chappelle so brilliantly showed in his skit "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong", honesty comes at a price. But what is the price of not being honest? What's the cost of going along to get along? Is there a problem that can be solved without a willingness to risk the offense, conflict, and discomfort that comes from honesty?

What would happen if we all suddenly refused to be phony?

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Hillary Gets a Bailout Too?

This week, the Obama campaign (Joe Biden specifically) sent me an email asking that I give $100 or more to help Hillary Clinton pay off her primary debt.

Are they f'ing kidding me? Let me try to wrap my head around this one.

  • Hillary "loaned" her campaign $11 - 13 million so that she could string out her electorally impossible challenge against Barack Obama
  • About $5.3 million of the money the Clinton campaign owes is to pay slimy Mark Penn who ran her campaign into the ground and is also a lobbyist for people like the government of Colombia.
Oh yeah, and
  • We are in a major recession
So first I'm informed that billions of our tax dollars are going to pay for the greed fest of a bunch of uber-wealthy Wall Street billionaires who liked to play mortgage craps.

Then they want us to swallow paying billions more to bail out car company executives who couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag and who continued to make gas guzzling SUVs even though we were undoubtedly headed for an oil crisis.

Now I'm supposed to take some of what's left of my pathetic non-profit administrator salary to pay off some lobbyists so the Clinton's don't suffer a setback on their way to billionaires row?

Sometimes, I swear, I think my head is just going to explode.

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Monday, December 1, 2008

Clinton as Secretary of State, a Disappointing Choice

It is now official. Hillary Clinton is Obama's pick for secretary of state. I am really bummed.

During the primaries, Obama consistently said that Clinton showed bad judgment in the biggest foreign policy decision of her career, Iraq. Was he just being a slimy politician, saying what he thought would play, even though he didn't believe it? Or does he truly believe that Hillary Clinton has poor judgment, but he is appointing her anyway because he thinks it will keep the party together. I'm not sure which scenario is more disappointing.

I'm particularly disappointed for what this means for Israel policy. Clinton has consistently come out on the side of the uber-Zionists, even when faced with massive evidence of human rights abuses and violations of international law by the Israeli government. Check out this report on the Lebanon war and Hillary's speech at the end.

That speech was during her senate race in New York. Her democratic opponent was Jonathan Tasini. He is a Jew who lived in Israel and has seen first hand the situation on the ground. When he asserted that Israel had violated international law, Clinton spokespeople said his comments were "beyond the pale." Tasini responded to them with a letter calling Clinton out for her irresponsible policies. I should note that human rights organizations agree with Tasini and that a 2007 Human Rights Watch report found that:

Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes, not Hezbollah’s shielding as claimed by Israeli officials, caused most of the approximately 900 civilian deaths in Lebanon during the July-August 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
The Israeli Palestinian conflict is a vitally important focus for any secretary of state. It isn't just the conflict itself, but the backlash when we are seen as taking Israel's side no matter what they do. World opinion polls consistently rate Israel as having a mostly negative effect on the world. We cannot dismiss this as pure anti-semitism. There are very legitimate criticisms to be made against Israeli government policies. When Bishop Desmond Tutu is comparing your policies to apartheid in South Africa, it's time to listen.

The fact that the U.S. so rabidly defends Israel, including consistently using our UN security council veto to block resolutions related to Israeli crimes, is a major sticking point in any effort to improve our moral standing in the world. How do we turn over a new diplomatic leaf with an old, compromised hoe.

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