Monday, January 31, 2011

Gov. Haslam: Who Do You Work For?

Pilot Oil or the people of Tennessee?

It’s a fair question in light of his decision to keep his Pilot Oil holdings out of the blind trust and now, THIS:
NASHVILLE -- Gov. Bill Haslam says he didn't know his freeze on new state regulations delayed a proposed environmental rule affecting his family's convenience stores and truck stops.

The would-be rule directs businesses and local governments to replace single-walled underground fuel storage tanks installed before July 2007 with double-walled tanks if they are used to dispense fuel blends with more than 10 percent ethanol.

Haslam announced the 45-day freeze on new regulations four days after taking office Jan. 15, part of his promised "top to bottom review" of state government. The freeze affects dozens of proposed rules.

I find it really hard to believe that Haslam didn’t know about a new state environmental rule requiring new fuel storage tanks at his Flying J Truck Stops. That just defies belief -- just as I’m sure he knows about a gazillion other new rules or proposed rules that could affect the bottom line at the family business.


Haslam said in the interview he didn't think the rule affected Pilot a great deal because the company already has been double-walling its tanks. But the governor stressed he wasn't entirely certain that was the case.

On Friday, TDEC provided figures showing that at Pilot Flying J, 80 tanks are double-walled while 62 are single-walled.

At Pilot's convenience stores, 63 tanks are double-walled while 87 are single-walled, according to TDEC.

Nothing to see here, move along ....

This is why I’ve never understood the argument that having someone from the business community in elected office is better than, say, having a lawyer or scientist or community organizer. I happen to think clean groundwater is pretty freaking awesome, maybe even more awesome than the Haslam family fortune. Call me crazy, that’s just how I roll. That's why government makes regulations, after all -- even regulations that are unpopular with people who own truck stops and convenience stores. Because Tennessee's water resources belong to us all, and polluted ground water affects us all.

Anyway. I’m sure this is just the first of many future decisions our newly-minted governor will be making that benefit the family business at the expense of Tennesseeans.

Nobody could have anticipated ...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Here We Go Again

A stray dog showed up in front of our house this morning: no tags, collar, etc. We've alerted the neighbors and put up flyers but I think he's settled in. What do you think?

Reality Bites NASCAR

If you’re not up to speed (ha ha, get it? Up to speed, oh I crack myself up) on Nashville’s racetrack controversy, temporarily kicked down the road by the Metro Council, read my previous posts here and here.

And now we have this piece of news involving one of the Nashville racetrack’s biggest boosters:
Baker Curb Racing, Middle Tennessee’s only full-time NASCAR team, has suspended operations indefinitely due to lack of funding.

Gary Baker, who co-owns the Nashville-based team with Mike Curb, said Saturday the team has not officially folded. He said it would reopen its doors if and when a sponsor is found.

But with the season less than a month away and no driver, crew or mechanics on board, Baker admitted the outlook is dismal.

“As it stands right now, we won’t be racing,” he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Baker, a veteran of four decades in the sport as a driver, marketing official, track owner and team owner. “Corporate America is scared to invest in the future.”

Umm, no. They just aren’t investing in NASCAR racing. They’re still spending $3 million for a 30-second Super Bowl spot. With NASCAR dying a slow death for a variety of reasons can you blame them? Apparently the free market fairies have spoken.

And then there’s this:

Baker said that if he could secure $1 million in sponsorship funds — considered a bare minimum for a team in NASCAR’s second-tier series — Baker Curb Racing could win this year’s Nationwide Series championship.

Yes and if only I would secure the winning Powerball numbers I would finally have my villa in Tuscany. Dangit, there is clearly something wrong with the world that this hasn’t happened yet!

I have to wonder if things might not have gone a little differently at Metro Council had this news hit the papers two weeks ago, before the “master plan” compromise. I wonder why it didn’t. Oh well, that’s all water under the bridge. Probably the Council would have acted the same way. But as I’ve said from day one, if you want to save the slab of concrete that you keep telling us is hallowed ground because someone famous once slept there (or raced there), then you have to show us it can make money. And right now it’s just not looking good for you guys.

We aren’t a historic town. Never have been. We routinely bulldoze historic buildings with impunity. All anyone cares about is progress and profits. That’s reality. Every year Nashville’s preservationists are told to step aside because we stand in the way of progress -- often by some of the same people who have been trying to save the Nashville racetrack. So now that the shoe is on the other foot it's been interesting, to say the least.

Fairgrounds redevelopment isn't dead; the issue will be back. And I suspect the mayor will ultimately get what he wants because the economics are on his side. Just a thought.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Revolution Won’t Be Twitterized

Seeing Egypt “turn off” the internet got me wondering: how? And could it happen here?

FastCompany has the goods:
Turns out, it's pretty easy, at least in Egypt. "At the end of the day, the Internet is a bunch of cables in dimly lit, pretty chilly rooms. A country like Egypt probably has a dozen of these," explains Craig Labovitz, chief scientist for Arbor Networks, an Internet security company. "It's as simple as literally unplugging these devices. From a practical standpoint, it's more likely a phone call and then making a few changes on the computer to change the configuration."

It's simple to make these changes in the country because there are only 10 Internet providers and a centralized government that can quickly order them to yank out the cables. If the providers refuse, they can lose their licenses from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority.

On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on Egypt to restore communications, and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reiterated the U.S. position that access to the Internet is a "basic human right."

Congress has contemplated implementing an Internet "kill switch" at home, for use in emergencies., but it would be more complicated to effect that here, or in Western Europe, where there are more fiber-optic cables and thousands of providers.

Really, the United States only seems to have a handful of providers, almost all of which have already shown themselves to be too happy to capitulate to the government on issues of warrantless wiretaps (ominously, the one who did not alleges NSA retaliation). So it seems to me that yes, it could happen here, easily.

On top of which, reading that Congress has contemplated an internet “kill switch” is very disturbing to me. Stick that in your tricorn hats, patriots!

You know, I’ve always been amused by right-wing fantasies about their beloved “Second Amendment solutions.” It’s like you guys are watching an old movie from 1950 or something. Everyone imagines they’ll be the hero in these teleplays, “Red Dawn”-style, but that’s just hilariously outdated. I once suggested that anyone wanting to take down the government will be writing computer code, not waltzing around guns a-blazing. That’s reality. And if you want to start a revolution, you’ll be doing it on your BlackBerry and your iPhone and YouTube.

Nothing makes that more abundantly clear than seeing how quickly Egyptian authorities pulled the communications plug. They had learned their lesson from last year’s Iran uprisings, after all. Future popular revolts around the world will see similar communications crackdowns, you can bank on that. So while a bunch of people pretend they are defending democracy by waltzing around outside presidential rallies with guns strapped to their legs, they might be better off paying attention to their internet access.

Just a thought.

Adding ... I just remembered I know some ham radio enthusiasts who have always considered themselves the "last defense" in case of an emergency, disaster or uprising ... Now I see why.

Friday, January 28, 2011

False Advertising, Cultural Narrative Edition

Adding to my earlier post today .... Have you seen this Simpson’s Coca-Cola ad? I think it ran during last year’s Super Bowl. I missed it then, but they’re playing it at the movie theater now, so I’ve seen it a gazillion times:

What’s interesting to me is that during this current recession, billionaires didn’t go broke. The “C. Montgomery Burnses” of the country got giant bailouts from the taxpayers and are safely ensconced in their mansions surrounded by their family heirlooms. The people getting yanked out of their homes and selling mementos at the flea market are the middle class and lower class folks -- the people the ad shows enjoying the simple, carefree joys of a day in the park and a Coke.

So why does a corporate multinational like Coca Cola choose to present our current dilemma in this way? Was this rewriting of history deliberate? This misrepresentation of facts to put the wealthy in the same boat as everyone else: intentional? A blatant attempt to change the cultural narrative before our very eyes? I mean, unless you’re really paying attention, you might not even notice.

It’s all very fascinating.

Recession? WHAT Recession?

It’s always a sunny day for some people!
Hedge-fund manager John Paulson personally netted more than $5 billion in profits in 2010—likely the largest one-year haul in investing history, trumping the nearly $4 billion he made with his "short" bets against subprime mortgages in 2007.

Mr. Paulson's take, described by investors and people close to investment firm Paulson & Co., shows how profits continue to pile up for elite hedge-fund managers. Appaloosa Management founder David Tepper and Bridgewater Associates chief Ray Dalio each personally made between $2 billion and $3 billion last year, according to investors and people familiar with the situation. James Simons, founder of Renaissance Technologies LLC, also produced profits in that range, say investors in his firm.

By comparison, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Wall Street's most profitable investment bank, paid all of its 36,000 employees a total of $8.35 billion last year. James Gorman, chief executive of 76-year-old investment bank Morgan Stanley, is expected to receive compensation of less than $15 million for 2010.

But don’t hate on them, the WSJ reminds us: it’s mostly just paper gains! And heaven forbid we should tax these people at a rate that, say, Ronald Reagan found acceptable. Why should these people pay for our resource wars that make their life of luxury possible? That's crazy talk!

Ah yes, putting the “gross” in gross profits. There is injustice and inequality in this country, children. And anyone who dares point this out is swiftly put in their place by these self-satisfied, spoiled, amoral assholes.

They are rioting in Egypt and Yemen and Tunisia. Some asshole on Wall Street is probably making a few hundred million off of it, too. That’s just the way it is.

I am reminded that this is our eternal human story, played out a thousand different ways throughout history. It has been ever thus. Read the Bible and you will see our past, present and future laid out before you. The cast of characters has changed but the play remains the same.

Sometimes the oppressed rise up and throw off the yoke that has been placed upon them, sometimes the rich shake a few coins from their coats and the oppressed improve their lot modestly, sometimes human greed surges to the forefront and the oppressed take a step back. And this is how humanity makes its slow, inexorable creep toward enlightenment.

Yes, it’s all for the best.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Yearning To Breathe Free

Apparently the Middle East is exploding, as people who have been oppressed for generations take to the streets. What started in Tunisia has spread to Egypt and now, Yemen:
Thousands of Yemenis are demonstrating in the capital Sanaa, calling on Ali Abdullah Saleh, president for more than 30 years, to step down.

This comes after mass protests in Egypt and a popular uprising in Tunisia that ousted its long-time leader.

Yemeni opposition members and youth activists gathered in four parts of the city, including Sanaa University, chanting anti-government slogans.

This is exciting to watch and also a little frightening. The U.S. government has always supported dictatorships around the world, and this region is no exception. I get it: we prefer to work with totalitarian regimes, because from our point of view they create stability, albeit by oppressive means. As far as American interests are concerned -- and the interests of our multinationals like ExxonMobil and Chevron -- the ends justify the means. We need strong, authoritarian leaders who can keep a lid on things so we can go about our resource plundering, and we will intervene to make sure it happens (Shah of Iran, anyone?)

The results of our efforts have been predictable: hatred for our meddling. Hijackings in the ‘70s, terror attacks on our overseas installations in the ‘80s and '90s, and finally, the 9/11 attacks at home in 2001.

They didn’t hate us for our freedom. They hated us for standing in the way of theirs.

It’s been really hard to find news about what’s happening now, save a one or two minute sound-bite. I found the most extensive coverage on the BBC and DemocracyNow! That just figures: perhaps the most important event in the world is taking place while our news media still rehashes the State of the Union address. Clueless, as always.

This region of the world has always been a powder keg. But the Saudis have got to be quaking in their $17,000 boots. The hypocritical Saudi princes, presiding over the austere, puritanical branch of Islam called Wahhabism while living a lavish, jet-setting life that includes flying palaces, diamond-encrusted Mercedes, and hand-holding with the infidel American president, an old family friend. The entire Arabian peninsula is a powder keg and it’s shamefully irresponsible that our news media gives these events little more than a passing mention.

If a popular uprising does overtake the Arabian peninsula I wonder what this means for our energy supply (remember 1973 and 1979)? We have over 100,000 troops in the region, still: we still have troops in Iraq and we still have troops in Afghanistan. Will we get dragged into this? How involved are we already? What’s going on?


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

American Trash

Yeah, I kinda had a feeling the news media’s infatuation with “golden voiced homeless man” Ted Williams wouldn’t end well. Thank God Jon Stewart provides the proper mocking of this truly crass performance by an Indianapolis Fox affiliate (it starts after the James Franco bit, sorry I don't know how to edit Comedy Central clips):

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Indianapolis Homeless Talent Show
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

What we have here is the inevitable, predictable outcome of an American culture which no longer values people. That is it in a nutshell. That is what ails America.

We do not value people. Not in our policies, not in our attitudes, not in our discourse.

Maybe it’s our increasing isolation from one another. Maybe it’s our wealth which breeds this contempt, our consumer culture which views people as bank accounts and credit scores, not human beings. Maybe its our national narcissism, our national sense of entitlement. Maybe it’s the overall breakdown of American society which has been underway for the past 50 years. Maybe it’s biochemical, a product of the crap in our food and water supply. I honestly don’t know where this disdain for our fellow citizens comes from, but it's the root of all our troubles as a nation.

I wrote about this last April, when I was reading Natural Capitalism: Creating The Next Industrial Revolution. The part which resonated with me then:
People are often spoken of as being a resource -- every large business has a “human resource” department -- but apparently they are not a valuable one.


In a world where a billion workers cannot find a decent job or any employment at all, it bears stating the obvious: We cannot by any means -- monetarily, governmentally or charitably -- create a sense of value and dignity in people’s lives when we are simultaneously creating a society that clearly has no need for them.

Every day, in a hundred ways, we are telling people we have no need for them. From the outsourcing of jobs to the foreclosure crisis to, yes, even the Citizens United case, Americans are being told they don't matter. We are trash, we will eat trash and we will buy trash and we will live in trash heaps because we don't deserve any better. That is the message the culture sends every day.

And this pathetic Indianapolis news station trolling the alleys for homeless people with a talent -- any talent! Can you sing? Dance? Play the cello? Anything? -- is just another example of the general devaluing of humanity. You don’t have a talent? Oh well, back on the streets for you with your sign and tin cup along with the rest of the trash! Simply being a human, a brother or sister, a neighbor, a fellow traveler: that is not enough! You must prove your worth in modern America or we don't have time for you and we certainly don't have the money or energy to help you out.

What next, “sing for your healthcare” fairs? Need that heart surgery? Well, are you deserving? Do you have some kind of value to the nation? Can you at least sing? Dance? No? Pfft. Fuhgeddaboudit.

Death panels, indeed. Modern American culture is one giant death panel, shunting off people we've decided are superfluous or drains or "mooches" on society because they aren't sufficiently "productive." Off into the trash heap of humanity with you, leech!


Along the same lines, please, please PLEASE go over to Gin And Tacos and read Ed's post today. He hits on the same idea, in a slightly different way. To wit:

[...] Everything "engineers" and scientists can do can and will be done more cheaply there. And we did this to ourselves when we decided that having cheaper consumer goods for the top 10% of income earners was more important than having a middle class making decent money and driving the economy with (non debt-supported) purchasing.

When the upper- and middle classes decided 30 years ago that it would be a good idea to phase out the working class in favor of cheap foreign labor it appears obvious in hindsight that they were opening floodgates that would eventually result in white collar and highly skilled jobs going overseas as well. But something – subconscious racism, American exceptionalism, or perhaps good ol' fashioned cockiness – convinced everyone in the suburbs and penthouses that this could never happen. Chinamen using computers? An Indian getting an MBA? Be serious! The unwashed masses of the Third World will never be able to do our jobs, said the comfortable elite. They will be useful for helping us break unions, but their skills are and ever shall be limited to menial physical labor.

First they came for the autoworkers, and I did not speak up. Then they came for the steel mills, and I did not speak up. Then they came for the white collars, and there was no one left to speak up for them.

Yes, yes and more yes. We hit on this path a long time ago. The top 10% decided the bottom 90% was trash and packaged their vision of dehumanization and cheap Chinese crap from WalMart and this is the inevitable result.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Don’t Run For The Border

As my readers know, I deplore fast food. It’s bad for the people who eat it, it’s bad for the people who grow it, it’s bad for the people who harvest it, it’s bad for the neighborhoods where the restaurants are located. It’s just bad. I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say a big problem with America today is the prevalence of fast food.

So it’s about time someone sued these assholes for hawking poison as food:
"Where's the beef?" Wendy's restaurants once famously asked through its advertising, a swipe at its competitors' burgers.

The same question is now being asked by a California woman regarding Taco Bell's beef products, which she claims contain very little meat. So little, in fact, that she's brought a false-advertising lawsuit against the huge fast-food chain.

The class-action suit, which does not ask for money, objects to Taco Bell calling its products "seasoned ground beef or seasoned beef, when in fact a substantial amount of the filling contains substances other than beef."

It says Taco Bell's ground beef is made of such components as water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate, as well as some beef and seasonings.

Just 35 percent of the taco filling was a solid, and just 15 percent overall was protein, said attorney W. Daniel "Dee" Miles III of the Montgomery, Ala., law firm Beasley Allen, which filed the suit.

"Taco Bell's definition of 'seasoned beef' does not conform to consumers' reasonable expectation or ordinary meaning of seasoned beef, which is beef and seasonings," the suit says. Beef is the "flesh of cattle," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"You can't call it beef by definition," Miles said. "It's junk. I wouldn't eat it."

When I was growing up back in the late '60s and '70s, we didn't have Taco Bell. My mom made us tacos using 100% ground beef, which she browned in a giant iron skillet with fresh onions and garlic, and she bought corn tortillas which she fried in vegetable oil. And we topped it with tomatoes and onions and cheddar cheese and sometimes a dollop of fresh guacamole, if avocados were in season. And damn it was good.

That's how we eat tacos at our house today. Sometimes if I'm lazy I buy the pre-made shells (organic, of course) but otherwise, that's how you make a taco. Mr. Beale likes his a little spicier than I do, so he adds some cumin powder to his beef. And it's real beef, not filled with Frankencrap like "isolated oat product," "wheat oats," "soy lecithin," "maltodextrin," "anti-dusting agent," etc. What the hell are "wheat oats" anyway? Which is it? Wheat or oats?

Can I tell you how sick and tired I am of picking up fast food trash from the street in front of my house? We live near a Krystal's and a Wendy's, and just about every week some asshole finishes eating his or her chemically-modified sandwiches and tosses the bags out the window. Fuck you.

And when my church participated in this human rights action targeting Taco Bell, I learned a lot about how damaging this entire industry is, not just to our bodies but to our entire economy.

It's a damn shame what the fast food industry has done to this country.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Going Rogue Electric Boogaloo


More on this from Wired. And we wonder how the U.S. government gets faulty intelligence about things like Saddam Hussein having WMD?


Nobody could have anticipated this:
Former Spy With Agenda Operates a Private C.I.A.

WASHINGTON — Duane R. Clarridge parted company with the Central Intelligence Agency more than two decades ago, but from poolside at his home near San Diego, he still runs a network of spies.

Over the past two years, he has fielded operatives in the mountains of Pakistan and the desert badlands of Afghanistan. Since the United States military cut off his funding in May, he has relied on like-minded private donors to pay his agents to continue gathering information about militant fighters, Taliban leaders and the secrets of Kabul’s ruling class.

Well, that’s just peachy. Any rich asshole, or person with rich asshole friends, can field their own private CIA or NSA. Hell why not? Can’t imagine there being a problem with everyone fielding their own private spy operation, can you?

Oh, and this:

His dispatches — an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports — have been sent to military officials who, until last spring at least, found some credible enough to be used in planning strikes against militants in Afghanistan. They are also fed to conservative commentators, including Oliver L. North, a compatriot from the Iran-contra days and now a Fox News analyst, and Brad Thor, an author of military thrillers and a frequent guest of Glenn Beck.

For all of the can-you-top-this qualities to Mr. Clarridge’s operation, it is a startling demonstration of how private citizens can exploit the chaos of combat zones and rivalries inside the American government to carry out their own agenda.

Yeah this is so awesome. How great that a bunch of rich assholes can decide all on their own that they don’t like the policies of the duly elected President of the United States, and just go off to pursue their own foreign espionage campaigns. How awesome that they can feed certain salacious bits of information to their rich asshole-funded private propaganda machine, too.

First of all: how is this legal?

Second of all: how is this legal?

Third of all: Can you imagine what our allies are thinking when they read this? WTF? “We thought so-and-so represented the United States government!” “Oh, no! He’s just running his own rogue operation. Pay no attention!”

None of this would even be possible if we hadn’t decided a few years ago to “outsource” critical national security operations like intelligence gathering to “private contractors.” Who thought that was a good idea, anyone know? That is a colossally stupid idea.

Of course, this is the same U.S. government which decided it was a good idea to out a CIA agent just out of spite. So, I’m not surprised.

But back to my first question: How is this not illegal? It appears it is, but someone at the Pentagon decided to use some clever semantics to skirt the law:

Four months later, the security firm that Mr. Clarridge was affiliated with, the American International Security Corporation, won a Pentagon contract ultimately worth about $6 million. American officials said the contract was arranged by Michael D. Furlong, a senior Defense Department civilian with a military “information warfare” command in San Antonio.

To get around a Pentagon ban on hiring contractors as spies, the report said, Mr. Furlong’s team simply rebranded their activities as “atmospheric information” rather than “intelligence.”

Mr. Furlong, now the subject of a criminal investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general, was accused in the internal Pentagon report of carrying out “unauthorized” intelligence gathering, and misleading senior military officers about it. He has said that he became a scapegoat for top commanders in Afghanistan who had blessed his activities.

This whole thing stinks to high heaven. Wonder if Darrell Issa will be investigating this? I’m guessing ... no.

As they say ... stay tuned.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another Wingnut Myth Debunked: Entrepreneurship Thrives Under Socialism

I’ve had a love affair with Norway forever, since I first visited there back in the ‘80s, which has prompted more than a few mash notes on this blog.

And now I get to write another one, thanks to Inc.'s story on entrepreneurship in Norway. It appears that, right-wing talking points notwithstanding, entrepreneurship and innovation aren’t stagnant in places like Norway, where taxes are brutally high and socialism is embraced whole-heartedly:
Norway is also full of entrepreneurs like Wiggo Dalmo. Rates of start-up creation here are among the highest in the developed world, and Norway has more entrepreneurs per capita than the United States, according to the latest report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a Boston-based research consortium. A 2010 study released by the U.S. Small Business Administration reported a similar result: Although America remains near the top of the world in terms of entrepreneurial aspirations -- that is, the percentage of people who want to start new things—in terms of actual start-up activity, our country has fallen behind not just Norway but also Canada, Denmark, and Switzerland.

That’s gotta hurt. This flies in the face of every Republican talking point we’ve been given since, well, forever. I’m sure we won’t be hearing about the “Norwegian miracle” in the Wall Street Journal.

In fact, I actually know people who live and work in Norway. One American friend recently told me about how his Norwegian partners laughed in his face when he asked about liability insurance for the hotel they were opening. Not necessary, he was told. What about lawsuits? “Silly Americans, always with the lawsuits!” they laughed. “Why would anyone sue? If you’re hurt you go to the hospital!” Apparently Norway’s strong social safety net and socialized medicine is a better defense against frivolous lawsuits than the “tort reform” conservatives are always pushing.

Imagine that. Indeed, that appears to be what Inc.'s reporter found. It's a fascinating read, I hope you will hop over there and give the article your time. (And that goes for my wingnut friends--*cough*cough*JIM*cough*cough*--who I'm sure are dying to post Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation links here. Read the damn article first, please. Thanks.)

I found really interesting the article's discussion of taxes. Tax rates in the U.S. have basically been slashed in half over the past 30 years but what did we get for it? Zip:

But there is precious little evidence to suggest that our low taxes have done much for entrepreneurs—or even for the economy as a whole. "It's actually quite hard to say how tax policy affects the economy," says Joel Slemrod, a University of Michigan professor who served on the Council of Economic Advisers under Ronald Reagan. Slemrod says there is no statistical evidence to prove that low taxes result in economic prosperity. Some of the most prosperous countries—for instance, Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, and, yes, Norway—also have some of the highest taxes. Norway, which in 2009 had the world's highest per-capita income, avoided the brunt of the financial crisis: From 2006 to 2009, its economy grew nearly 3 percent. The American economy grew less than one-tenth of a percent during the same period. Meanwhile, countries with some of the lowest taxes in Europe, like Ireland, Iceland, and Estonia, have suffered profoundly. The first two nearly went bankrupt; Estonia, the darling of antitax groups like the Cato Institute, currently has an unemployment rate of 16 percent. Its economy shrank 14 percent in 2009.

Moreover, the typical arguments peddled by business groups and in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal— the idea, for instance, that George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 created economic growth—are problematic. The unemployment rate rose following the passage of both tax-cut packages, and economic growth during Bush's eight years in office badly lagged growth during the Clinton presidency, before the tax cuts were passed.

And so the case of Norway—one of the most entrepreneurial, most heavily taxed countries in the world—should give us pause. What if we have been wrong about taxes? What if tax cuts are nothing like weapons or textbooks? What if they don't matter as much as we think they do?

Ah yes, what if? What if “we” have been wrong, lo these many years?

It’s almost laughable. Of course “we” haven’t been wrong, but conventional Villager wisdom has been. Folks like Paul Krugman have been writing about this for years. Nobody but a bunch of Dirty Fucking Hippies have bothered to notice what a bunch of voodoo nonsense “trickle down economics” and “the Laffer Curve” are. But, ya know, don’t listen to us!

Conservative economics doesn’t work, never has, we all know it yet people keep repeating the same tired old canards about high taxes crushing entrepreneurship and killing jobs because they’re fucking children, little itty bitty babies who want their cake and candy and not their nutrition. We’re children who prefer to believe fairy tales because they feel oh so good even though they aren’t real.

No wonder the empire crumbled.

But don’t worry, America. You will never, ever have to suffer the slings and arrows of affordable healthcare, a clean environment, low unemployment, and a high standard of living like our Norwegian friends. That’s because we in America have been brainwashed for an entire generation into thinking certain things like taxes are a soul-crushing evil. Who needs taxes when we have our beloved Puritan work ethic, and “rags to riches” mythology, ammiright? The idea that America is the land of opportunity is as central to our national identity as the Stars and Stripes and National Anthem. Continually these national talismans prove to be worthless fairy tales, yet we cling to them because the idea that America is not the land of opportunity is just too painful to bear.

Norwegians have a completely different attitude toward taxes which I just can’t imagine flourishing in the United States. They don’t see it as a “punishment” the way some people, especially conservatives, do. Norwegians see taxes as an investment in their families and their country. Because they receive such high level of tangible services -- healthcare, pensions, free education (from preschool to college), robust family leave, etc. -- there’s an actual value. America never invested in itself in such a fashion; instead, what we get for our tax dollar is war. Buyers’ remorse, anyone?

This may help explain why entrepreneurship in Norway has thrived, even as it stagnates in the U.S. "The three things we as Americans worry about—education, retirement, and medical expenses—are things that Norwegians don't worry about," says Zoltan J. Acs, a professor at George Mason University and the chief economist for the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy. Acs thinks the recession in the U.S. has intensified this disparity and is part of the reason America has slipped in the past few years. When the U.S. economy is booming, the absence of guaranteed health care isn't a big concern for aspiring founders, but with unemployment near double digits, would-be entrepreneurs are more cautious. "When the middle class is shrinking, the pool of entrepreneurs is shrinking," says Acs.

I guess one could say Norway has never had to worry about being overrun by Russian tanks in the past 60 years -- I mean, since the end of World War II America has basically decided to be the world’s police force. I’m not smart enough on foreign affairs to ascertain how credible such a threat has been, anyway. But when comparing our two countries, it does seem like we got a raw deal.

Ultimately, the problem America faces is psychological. We're just completely unable to have a serious conversation about anything right now, and I don't see that changing:

Holte was fascinated by this last topic, particularly the angry opposition to President Obama's health care reform package. "It makes me laugh," he says. "Americans don't understand that you can't have a functioning economy if people aren't healthy."

Holte's American subsidiary pays annual health care premiums that make his head spin—more than $23,000 per employee for a family plan—and that make the cost of employing a software developer in the United States substantially higher than it is in Norway, even after taxes. (For a full breakdown, see "Making Payroll.") Holte is no pinko—he finds many aspects of Norwegian socialism problematic, particularly regulations about hiring and firing—but when he looks at the costs and benefits of taxes in each country, he sees no contest. Norway is worth the cost.

This makes so much sense -- in fact, it is the logic behind such things as liberals' desire for single-payer healthcare -- yet we just can't seem to have a rational conversation about these things anymore (if we ever did). Because as soon as someone tries to point out the economic impact of our lack of any reasonable social policy, America's Vuvuzela Chorus strikes up and it's all "job killing healthcare reform" and "death panels" and "Socialsim-Fascism-Nazi-baby-killer" bullshit. We never get to have a grown-up conversation! Everything immediately disintegrates into lies and bullshit.

It's killing this country and it's leaving us in the dust behind more progressive countries like Norway.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Man I hate this weather. It snowed last night ... AGAIN!! I’m so OVER it, already. I left Southern California for this? God.

This is Nashville and we don’t get this kind of snow. At least, we haven’t in the 26 years I’ve lived here. Cripes. But this is two winters in a row, now. Apparently we’ve hit some kind of milestone. I mean, shit. If I’m going to have to deal with snow and ice every damn winter I might as well live somewhere that also gives me universal healthcare and a strong social safety net. Oh, and a population that appreciates professional hockey! I mean, Jesus. This fucking sucks.

I hate this because I know it means the hellacious summer we experienced last year (which prompted this grumpy dog-days-of-August post ) is going to return as well. And don’t think we’ve seen the last of the flooding, either. We are Nashville! We’re gonna get wet! Oh, we might not get another weather penis, but I predict this spring will see some pretty hellacious rainstorms. Just a guess. Hey, better stock up on those pumps and Shop-Vacs now, folks. Thank me later.

This is one reason I laugh when our idiot legislators decide the road to riches for Tennessee is to lure retirees. I mean, I have nothing against retirees -- I aspire to be one some day, after all -- but this isn’t the first time someone decided what Tennessee needs to do is compete with Florida and Arizona for the retiree market. Yessiree, resource-sucking seniors are just dying to get a load of this sucky climate: snow and ice in the winter, unbearable heat and humidity in the summer. Basically this place is livable four months out of the year. If you're looking for the ideal place to spend your sunset years, this ain't it.

So with everyone snarking about how Al Gore is fat and all, I'm reminded of the hissy fits this Hollywood blockbuster spawned a few years ago. It actually suggested, in a Hollywood blockbuster way, that global warming could cause extreme winters! Crazy, I know! But true! Might be something to add to the Netflix queue since it's too damn cold to leave the house.

Hall Tax Hilarity

Here in Tennessee we believe that every time you levy a tax to fund a government program Jesus kills a kitten. So it’s no surprise to read in today’s fish wrap that a plan to do away with the Hall Tax has “broad support” in the legislature.

The Hall Tax is a 6% tax on investment income, dividends, and the like over $1,250 for individuals and $2,500 for couples. It’s the state income tax no one ever mentions when they brag about how Tennessee doesn’t have an income tax, because of course not everyone gets income from these sources. Mostly it's a tax on rich people and senior citizens and, well, rich senior citizens.

What I love about this story is how the legislature plans to pay for the projected $186 million loss of income:
Ramsey said he plans to pay for his proposal by eliminating the legislature's joint House and Senate oversight committees — which deal with TennCare, education, corrections and long-term care — and shifting their function to committees that have overlapping jurisdiction within each chamber.

Oh! Well that ought to cover $186 million dollars! Riiight.

Er, maybe not. But then there’s this:

Eliminating the tax would cost far more. But supporters argue that phasing out the tax would encourage retirees to move to the state, stimulating the economy and offsetting the cost with higher sales tax revenues.

Sure, because we all know folks on a fixed income are just cash cows waiting to be milked. You know, as I push my cart around the Kroger on Senior Discount Tuesdays the one thing that’s always occurred to me is that this state needs more old people.

Okay, that’s just me being snarky.

Seriously, this is a terrific idea, if for no other reason than the entertainment value. Let’s watch wealthy cities without a significant commercial base try to fund their operations without the Hall Tax. I’m thinking of places like Belle Meade, whose residents have come to expect a rather high level of service -- 16 police officers for what is basically three square miles, for example. How y’all gonna pay for that without the Hall Tax? Or what about Forest Hills, which near as I can tell is 100 percent residential. Good luck providing trash service to your 4,500 or so residents, building code and zoning enforcement and the like. I’m sure that influx of seniors with their Medicaid-funded Hoverounds will fill that budget hole nicely. If not, I'm sure the wealthy denizens of Forest Hills -- TNGOP moneybags Lee Beaman, for instance -- won't mind a teensy hike in their property taxes.

This is gonna be fun, folks!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Today’s IOKIYAR: Asian Parody Edition

Hey I know we’re all accustomed to hearing Rush Limbaugh spew intolerant, racist, bigoted nonsense. It’s like, “Really? In other news, water is still wet.”

So I really didn’t give two thoughts to Rush’s mockery of Chinese President Hu Jintao or the Chinese language, which he did not once but twice and which went on and on and on and on for what felt like a painful eternity.

But something seemed awfully familiar about the whole thing, and then I remembered when Rosie O’Donnell was raked over the coals by conservatives for essentially the same thing. Michelle Malkin, I recall, took special umbrage at O’Donnell’s insensitivity, even calling her an “obnoxious hypocrite” in this video:

So I’m sure Malkin will be all over Rush Limbaugh, right? Ha ha, don’t be silly. That stuff is just for liberals! IOKIYAR.

Okay, big deal. Conservatives are always reaching for their Faux Umbrage Concern Kits when a liberal does something, then looking the other way when a conservative like Limbaugh does the exact same thing. But I'm really sick of this stuff. And it's not just the conservative media, either.

When Rosie O’Donnell does something like this, it’s front page news everywhere! It sparked a huge outcry from all quarters: the Asian American Journalists Assn., New York City Councilman John Liu, even hitting tabloids like People magazine. Liu even sent Barbara Walters this letter demanding that she hold O’Donnell accountable. It was a huge freaking deal and we didn’t hear the end of it for a week until O’Donnell had apologized three times.

Why is there no outrage about Limbaugh’s comments, save from the usual lefty quarters -- Media Matters and the like? Why no articles in People magazine or demands for accountability from the Asian American community? Are we just so accustomed to Limbaugh saying racially charged, offensive things that he gets a pass? Why? Why does he get a pass? Why the double standard?

Mind you, I’m not saying Rosie O’Donnell shouldn’t have faced criticism for her parody in the national media, but if that's the case then Limbaugh should too. It's always this way and it's pissing me off. Why is the Left always held to a higher standard than the guy who makes $40 million a year and has one of the highest rated radio and TV shows in the country and who is basically the de facto leader of the Republican Party because every time he says "jump" they say "how high?" Why is accountability always, always a one-way street in the national discourse? Why is the media always so quick to make an icon of the Left look bad, and so quick to ignore it when someone on the right does the same thing?

And here's another thing: if the right wingers are going to call for the fainting couches every time a liberal does something, but completely ignore it when one of their folks does the exact same thing, doesn't that signal an utter lack of credibility? Shouldn't we just ignore them the next time they call for the the Faux Umbrage Concern Kits? Why are right wing pundits never called to account for that?

I know, you may say I'm a dreamer. But I'm not the only one! I'm just tired of seeing this same play over and over again.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Haslam’s Near-Sighted Trust

Well, so much for my news fast. I swear I turned on the local news to find out about the weather! Instead, I learn our new Governor Bill Haslam has put all of his money in a "blind" trust ... except his holdings in Pilot Oil because,
Haslam said in a release Tuesday that Tennesseans are "very familiar" with his relationship with Pilot, a privately held company with annual revenues of $20 billion.

Um ... so? What does that have to do with anything? The blind trust isn't to shield the public from information about your financial holdings. It's to shield YOU from information about your financial holdings! So your actions as governor are made completely separate and independent of any potential gain or loss to your personal fortune -- even an unintentional one! It's to protect YOU from conflict of interest, not us.

I mean ... how can you not get that? Or do you just think we're stupid? Nice way for the new Republican Governor to start off his term, eh?

So, now that we have Mr. Pilot Oil keeping a keen eye on his family business I’m wondering if that will have any bearing on his approach to issues like, say, alternative energy, EV automobile incentives, enforcement of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act, environmental regulations, sales of wine in stores like Pilot’s Flying J convenience markets, etc. etc. I mean, we'll just never know, will we? Any action Gov. Haslam takes from here on out will be tainted by his $20 billion private corporation: good, bad or indifferent. The fact that he will be kept informed of the profits and losses of the family business means his every act as governor will be tarnished by a cloud of potential self-interest.

Even worse, this comes right on the heels of Mr. Transparency’s first official action being to shield his personal bank account from the prying eyes of the voters. Classy.

So just to be clear: Haslam wants to keep us from knowing how much money he and his top aides make during his term, and he wants to keep an eye on his family fortune while in a position to set government policy affecting said family fortune.

Can you imagine the uproar if a Democrat did that? But so far it's crickets from the Tennessee Center For Pouring Over Al Gore’s NES Bill Policy Research.

Because, ya know, IOKIYAR.

Wednesday News Fast

Going to try to stay away from the chattering classes today. So I bring you feline adorableness instead. Sylvie and Frasier have been snuggle bunnies for over 15 years; this is one marriage that will last:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Obama’s First 2 Years Were Very Good

Death of another Republican talking point:
While voters may have been unhappy, President Obama has quietly maintained his position as one of the equity market’s most well loved Presidents. As shown in the table below, the 47.6% gain in the DJIA since he took office ranks as the third best first two years for any President since the start of the 21st Century (FDR 90.5% and Coolidge 52.6%).

Note the story should read "start of the 20th Century," as well. Anyway, so much for that “most anti-business President in U.S. history stuff.” The chart:

Monday, January 17, 2011

“The Terrible Disconnect”

Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has a sobering article on the coming end of oil. Actually, it’s supposed to be a profile on the modern day deepwater “wildcatters,” the optimistic geophysicists who have mapped all the oil in the globe and get to spend $100 million drilling an exploratory well miles and miles beneath the ocean floor to find if their guesstimate is correct.

But it’s hard to see the glass half-full after reading stuff like this:
The possibility of a boom commands particular attention now, because the industry’s faith in a limitless future has begun to diminish. The International Energy Agency — which had until recently been optimistic about oil — concluded last fall that the world has very likely already passed its peak oil production.

“The deepwater was one of the last big exploration plays on the planet,” says Gerald Kepes, a partner and head of upstream and gas at PFC Energy, a consulting firm. “We’re now looking at the second half of the global deepwater play. You can see the end of it, maybe 25 years from now.”

This should be sobering news to everyone who still thinks opening ANWR to oil drilling will make a hill of beans worth of difference to anyone. There are 650 billion barrels of oil left in the world that we can actually pull out of the ground. We know where it is. Some of it is in war-torn areas like Angola, some of it is off-limits to us in places like Russia. Most of it is so far under the ocean floor that it’s extremely dangerous and expensive to tap. The Deepwater Horizon accident of 2010 gave a lot of folks their first clue how hard it is to drill far below the sea floor.

This is nothing new, nor is this the first time I’ve written about it. But it’s not something we’re talking about. And there’s a huge disconnect among the American people who hear stories about massive oil finds off the coast of Brazil and think, “see? We don’t have anything to worry about!” What they don’t realize is that these wildcatting geophysicists have known about that Brazillian oilfield, it’s been mapped out for years. The news is not that we found it, the news is that they were able to tap it without blowing the oil platforms to kingdom come. Again: we already know how much oil is left in the world and we know where it is.

Even our optimistic wildcatter is a little frustrated at how uninformed the general public is:

“It’s frustrating to me,” Farnsworth told me. “It’s never going to change, but the general public always thinks, I should be able to get a gallon of gasoline, and it should be damn cheap, and whether I choose to drive a 10-mile-per-gallon car or a 40-mile-per-gallon car should have no impact on that price. We know how hard it is to explore for oil, and we know how hard it is to get it out of the deep water. And there’s been this incredible disconnect, which might have been lessened by the spill, between what people think it takes to get gasoline in their car and what we do.”

Americans need a wake-up call, but unfortunately politics has colored how we talk about oil in this country, and we have some incredibly irresponsible people who want to see their party in power who are not being honest with the American people about this stuff. If you know there are only 650 billion barrels of oil left in the entire world and you know that we know where it is and the issue isn’t finding it but figuring out how to get at it, wouldn’t you start cutting your use? Finding alternative energy sources? Instead of telling people we need to “drill here drill now, dagnabbit!” -- which we are already doing -- wouldn’t you be telling people, “we’re running out let’s find out how we can switch to something else and conserve what we’ve got left”?

In fact, power players like Newt Gingrich notwithstanding, that is in fact what we are doing. Yesterday’s article made reference to a TED talk by geophysicist Richard Sears, former vice president for exploration and deepwater technical evaluation at Shell Oil, and now a visiting scientist at MIT. “Planning For The End Of Oil” is a quick talk, and I highly recommend you watch it here:

According to this, our use of carbon-based fuels is steadily declining, and has been for decades. Not just since the current economic downturn, but since 1985. This was fascinating to me. Despite what political partisans on the right are saying about how we can drill our way out of this mess (we can’t), the global economy is steadily transitioning away from oil. Oil is playing a less significant role every year.

In fact, says Sears, we have been “de-carbonizing our energy systems” for generations.

This is a very hopeful message to me because it tells me despite the rhetoric, we can and will innovate. I love it when Sears says “the Stone Age ended not because we ran out of stones.” The human experience is one of constant innovation and change, it’s in our very DNA. We cannot drill our way out of Peak Oil but we can innovate and, indeed, that is exactly what we have been doing.

Pastor John Shuck has been talking about Peak Oil over at Shuck and Jive, most recently in his What is Peak Oil and Why Should the Church Care? post. I agree with Shuck that we need to do more to educate the public, to remove that “terrible disconnect” that Farnsworth referred to between what consumers think about our energy supply and what reality tells us.

But that said I have a huge beef with a big contingent of the Peak Oil crowd. I know a lot of these folks, many are good friends of mine, but I see them spreading a message of fear that shuts people down and weakens the message. I know people who have bought farmland off in the country and are preparing for the coming Peak Oil Apocalypse by hoarding seeds and planting fruit trees. Their vision of the future is one of fear and food shortages as all transportation comes to a grinding halt.

I just don’t buy it. And I don’t think you can educate people about the reality of peak oil when you’re spreading a doom and gloom message about how our future looks like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” or “Mad Max.” In fact, I think that’s counterproductive. When you have one side saying, “ZOMG we’re all gonna die we’re dooooomed,” and another side saying, “all we need to do is drill in ANWR and build some more refineries,” which side are you going to gravitate towards?

I see a terrible disconnect on both sides of the argument. But in the middle is the reality of geophysicists like Richard Sears and Jim Farnsworth, people who know how much oil is left and exactly where it is, and how expensive it is to reach. People need to understand we have reached the limits of what is available but there are vast new energy resources out there of the non-carbon variety that we have just begun to tap. And we started on that path decades ago, long before Al Gore had a slide show or the Bush Cheney Oil Wars or any of that.

People need to understand the reality of our energy situation. They need educating. And they need a positive message, not one of fear.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Turn OFF The Noise Turn OFF The Funk

What the hell anyway?

First Ted Williams loses his shit and goes into rehab on the orders of Dr. Phil. Then 63-year-old Tucson shooting survivor Eric Fuller loses his shit and is arrested for threatening Tucson Tea Party founder Trent Humphries.

What do these stories have in common? You have two people famous for two completely different reasons. One person sought out his fame, one had it thrust upon him, but both were instantly shoved into the national spotlight.

Williams, wrote the Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts, was “our national reclamation project.” Fuller and the other Tucson shooting victims are our national mourning project. In Williams we hoped to reclaim our economic hope, in Tucson we mourned the loss of civility in public life. Both projects were destined to be epic fails as soon as the media’s hungry maw chewed them up and spat them out.

Seriously, who thought it was a good idea to thrust Ted Williams onto every national news program in America? Really, ABC News? You thought it was a good idea to put a bunch of people who are probably suffering from PTSD onto the national stage? You thought one week after the shooting was a good time to rehash these horrific events with “an emotional town hall event”? It might have been good timing for your ratings, but did you really think it was good for the victims?

One problem with America’s discourse is the sheer number of loudspeakers out there demanding our attention. It’s not just what’s being said that’s the issue, it’s the fact that these messages are being thrust at us over more mechanisms and devices and networks than ever before. Now we have talk radio--satellite and terrestrial--and blogs and Twitter and Facebook and television networks and cable programs and iPhones and Blackberries and Droids all pushing information at us 24/7, 365 days a year, and all demanding “content” in return.

Jon Stewart said, “if we amplify everything we hear nothing.” But with this many loudspeakers demanding our attention we’re still going to amplify everything. Our Little Shop Of Media Horrors is still shouting Feed me! Feed me! It demands to be obeyed.

I’ll never forget that summer in the early '80s when we got MTV at our house. This was back in the days when MTV played one music video after another, hour after hour, day after day. There was no programming in the early days of MTV, just videos. One night my friend Ellen and I were watching MTV, struggling to stay awake, and losing the battle. Then I had an epiphany. I turned to Ellen and said, “I just realized this program never ends. We have to turn it off.” And she said, “Oh my God. You’re right.” We had been waiting for “the show” to end but it didn’t have an end. It was an endless flow of information.

And this is where our discourse is today. Politics is a program that never ends. When I was growing up you maybe got political news for a few minutes on the evening news at night, maybe a few minutes in the morning news. It was in the newspaper. And that was maybe it.

You didn’t have it on every TV screen in every public place, from the sandwich shop to the airport to the place you get the oil in the car changed. It wasn’t sent to your Blackberry, and on the radio in your car, and on your computer screen at work.

People need to voluntarily turn this shit off, pull themselves out of the vortex of rancorous messaging and just unhook from the noise. It’s not going to be the end of life as we know it, I promise you.

I doubt the media will ever behave responsibly. It will continue to chew up and spit out the Ted Williamses and Eric Fullers of the nation. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it chew us up too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hope For Those Latte-Drinking NASCAR Fans

Regarding Nashville’s “future of our fairgrounds” controversy, which I wrote about here, I thought this was really funny:
The proposal detailed Thursday calls for replacing the swath of asphalt parking lots with trees and grass to retain rain and help drainage, a wind farm to take advantage of the hilly location, solar panels and bike paths and walking trails for neighbors. Charging stations for electric cars also are on tap with sound barrier walls to dampen track noise to keep neighbors happier.

Guffaw. This would be the proposal by Sterling Marlin and Chad Chaffin. It sounds just peachy. Why heck, just add a Starbucks, Volvo dealership and a wine store selling the best chardonnays and those snooty liberal elites who want to rip the “historic” slab of concrete out will be right on board. Why I’m sure the neighborhood will completely withdraw all opposition now that “sweeteners” like solar panels and EV charging stations are in play.

Again: guffaw. Y’all don’t seem to know much about the neighborhood do you? I'd say the only thing on that list anyone gives a damn about are the sound barrier walls.

Oh, and:

Darden Copeland said the group has serious investors ready, though no estimate is available yet for the cost for all those renovations. They want at least a 15-year lease from the city.

Right. By the way, Mr. Copeland, you wouldn’t happen to have a bridge in New York to sell folks too, would you? Just wondering.

I’m sure this will go the way of the Music City Center’s green roof, which they keep hacking away at to save money as the project’s budget balloons.

Look, as I said in the beginning, I really don’t care one way or the other about saving the fairgrounds or getting rid of it. Seems like the space could be put to better use, but if someone can prove me wrong then have at it. But as I said last week, money is what talks in this town: not saving history, not green roofs, not EV charging stations or solar panels or wind farms. Show us the money.

The fact that they’re already talking about closing the 10-year-old built-for-NASCAR superspeedway in Lebanon is rather ominous. These events either make money or they don’t. Saving something simply because Richard Petty once raced there ain’t gonna cut it. That’s what historic markers are for.

Solar panels and wind farms aren’t going to change that.

Gas Prices: Historical Perspective

(Note: I've updated this post to use a better chart going back 6 years and also showing the price of crude oil).

Some folks on the intertubes are wondering why people aren’t blaming President Obama for rising gas prices the way they did President Bush. I’m not entirely sure that’s true, but perhaps the reason there isn’t more outrage about rising gas prices is because, well, we’ve been here before:

Note gas prices have actually been more stable during Obama's term, and have yet to reach some of the peak prices that they did under Bush (and note the chart only goes back to 2005). Now, I’m not giving Obama the credit for this -- the sucky economy and drop in manufacturing has done more to reduce demand than anything else, hence the more stable gas prices (note gas prices took a nosedive along with the economic crash at the end of Bush's term). But there it is.

Gas prices are a lot like that metaphor about the frog in the boiling pan of water: throw a frog in boiling water and he'll jump out; slowly warm the water to boiling with him in it, and you're eating boiled frog legs for dinner. I remember being so outraged when gas exceeded $2 a gallon for the first time! Now it's like, "Meh. Been there, done that."

There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what affects gas prices, oil prices, etc. People tend to think of gasoline in terms of simple “supply-and-demand” economics but this is only partially true ... in addition to which, Newt Gingrich-types pushing “drill here, drill now, pay less” talking points tend to conveniently overlook a key component of the supply cycle, which is the refineries. Oil companies have been getting out of the refining business for years because the profit margins have shrunk.

Every time gas prices tick upwards Sitemeter tells me people are furiously Googling “why are gas prices going up?” For that answer, read my previous posts here (2009), here (May 2009 again) and here (2010). They all pretty much say the same thing: gasoline is not just a supply and demand business. The price of oil and gasoline is affected by a lot of things -- world events, the value of the dollar, refinery capacity, and yes, demand such as summer travel.

So here’s an actual conversation that was had recently between a liberal and a conservative about gas prices. The liberal mentioned that refineries are cutting capacity to maintain high prices. The conservative said that the U.S. government should build its own refineries if the private ones refused to refine enough to keep prices low.

Chew on that one for a second. Apparently nationalizing certain industries is fine with conservatives as long as it keeps gas prices low. I mean, I just wanted to bust out laughing when I heard that one. Actually, I did.

Anyway, I’ve long been of the belief that we need gas prices to be as high as they are in, say, Europe. Why the hell not? Using less oil and gasoline is in our national interest. It keeps us out of hostile regions of the world, is better for our health and environment, can spur domestic job growth as we manufacture the infrastructure necessary to transition to the new energy economy.

Want to piss off a Yemeni terrorist? Conserve energy. Ride the bus. Support solar and wind energy. Get off the oil tit.

And don’t tell me we can’t, I’m sick of hearing this shit. America was able to completely transition its industrial and manufacturing base away from civilian goods to armaments and war materiel to take on World War II. We can do this.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Umm ... CNN?


Via Doug at Balloon Juice:
I would not be shocked if Palin eventually makes up some crazy story about an attempted attack on her, maybe along the lines of the Ross Perot story about how the Viet Cong tried to put a hit on him.

And her appearance on Hannity on Monday will be the perfect opportunity for her to tell us how oppressed and beleaguered she is by the big, mean liberals.


Predictably, CNN Correspondent Erick Erickson hated on the President’s speech in today’s column. No big shocker there. But he really wallowed in the mud on this one:

Out there somewhere is someone who would love to kill Governor Palin. God forbid they do it. But you and I both know there is some crazy MSNBC watcher and Media Matters reader who even now is dreaming of doing so.

And should they try, we can be equally sure of something else. The left will be divided into two camps: (1) bitch deserved it and (2) not my fault.

It is unfortunate. I hope it never happens. But you and I both know the reality in which we live.

Wow. Way to go, buddy. You really topped yourself this time. Way to take the whole “civil discourse” stuff to heart. As if Sarah Palin were even important enough to bother with. Well, maybe in her own mind, but really. Can you imagine? Most of us ignore her, except when the mainstream media insists on shoving her latest ghost-written Tweet or Facebook post in our faces. Then we point fingers and laugh. Not quite the same as assassination but then again, maybe it is to people like Erick Erickson.

I think those three paragraphs say a whole lot more about Erick Erickson than they do about the Left, Media Matters or MSNBC. And I can't help but wonder why this hack still has a job on CNN.

Adding .... Mr. Beale heard that Erickson thinks some MSNBC watcher "would love to kill Governor Palin" and cracked: "Wait, I though none of 'em have guns?" Which reminded me: I'm always amazed at the right's two completely contradictory characterizations of us liberals, which they seem able to hold in their minds at the same time. We're either weak-kneed surrender monkeys who are "soft on defense," want to offer therapy and understanding to our enemies, and can't be trusted to keep the nation safe OR we're the whacked out anarchists rioting in the streets and fomenting civil unrest.

Cognitive dissonance much?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

How Far We Come

Man, how I miss Chris Whitley. He knew that all which ain't all good is yet all God.

She goes, make my presence felt by
By all the innocence you destroy
She know, angels even devils too
Await to show how far we come to joy
How far we come

Monday, January 10, 2011

Loose Lips & Peer Pressure


This is a nice start but what about the rest of us? What about all of the folks who are targeted by other kinds of hate speech -- the Muslims, the gays, the Hispanics, the African Americans, etc. etc. etc.? Still, I'm encouraged that a Republican is at least thinking along these lines.

Adding .... The more I think about this idea, the more pissed off I get. It's like how in Tennessee you can take a gun anywhere except the state house. If legislators and "government officials" don't want guns near them, why are they so quick to make sure the rest of us have to come in constant contact with them. What makes you guys so special?



What the hell were you thinking, local edition.

Go read it ... excellent reminder that "passion" on local issues can easily be turned into intimidation, too.


The Tucson shootings have prompted me to revisit this column by Rick Perlstein, which I linked to back in September.

Perlstein was responding to the Koran-burnings a couple of right-wing pastors were planning. He observed:
The problem is that elite media gatekeepers have abandoned their moral mandate to stigmatize uncivil discourse. Instead, too many outlets reward it. In fact, it is an ironic token of the ideological confusions of our age that they do so in the service of upholding what they understand to be a cornerstone of civility: the notion that every public question must be framed in terms of two equal and opposite positions, the "liberal" one and the "conservative" one, each to be afforded equal dignity, respect — and (the more crucial currency) equal space. This has made the most mainstream of media outlets comically easy marks for those actively working to push public discourse to extremes.

At the time I agreed with Perlstein, and noted just because people are going on about FEMA camps and Koran-burning pastors, that doesn’t mean the media has to cover it ad nauseum. But now I’m not so sure.

Perlstein, a historian, revealed that back in the early ‘60s there were anti-JFK rallies promoting fear and lies about Communist infiltration of America; some of these rivaled today’s Tea Party rallies in numbers. As Perlstein pointed out, the national media thought better of reporting on this “fringe” in the interest of "civil discourse." But let’s remember what happened to JFK, shall we? It’s not as though not covering the anti-JFK fringe kept a lid on violent acts and prevented tragedy.

Conversely, today we have “pastor” Fred Phelps presiding over a group of about 90 people who are primarily members of his own extended family, spreading their hate all across the national news media. But Phelps is universally reviled. Both right and left find his protests of funerals repulsive and the Southern Baptist Convention has condemned Phelps and his “church.” Sunlight is the best disinfectant, or so the saying goes, and perhaps making the nation aware of the fringe factor is actually the first step to confronting it.

The second step, of course, is what Perlstein called "stigmatizing uncivil discourse." Ed at Gin And Tacos wrote this morning:

[...] We need people in general, and Republicans in particular, to take a more active role in condemning this kind of rhetoric – before something terrible happens, not when the body count starts rising.

There is a very simple, useful question that we do not often enough ask in the United States, especially where politics are concerned. The GOP, in the last several years, has avoided it altogether. We need to make a concerted effort to stop excusing or encouraging insane behavior and ideas with one question: "What in the hell is wrong with you?"

No one asks that anymore, which is odd given how often the need to do so arises.

That's precisely the type of question which has shoved Fred Phelps and his cult of merry hatemongers off to the fringe and completely deflated his anti-gay message. You're going to protest a soldier's funeral? What the hell is wrong with you! You're going to protest Elizabeth Edwards' funeral? What the hell is wrong with you!

As I stated yesterday, our problem is not violent rhetoric, it is our violent culture from which this rhetoric springs. But when violent rhetoric does enter the discourse, why does the Right always go on the defensive? The Left, after all, is the group that held a Rally To Restore Sanity two and a half months ago -- which was derisively mocked (and misrepresented) by Righties like the folks at Fox & Friends. Ironically the mere concept of a "Million Moderate March" completely confused the mainstream media. So, you know, it's not like anyone is listening to us on the Left. The Right needs to quit its reflexive wagon-circling and call out its own when they do things like bring an assault rifle to a presidential event.

At one time I had hoped my own Senator Lamar Alexander would be that person. He's an elder statesmen of the Republican Party, a man who has served his country in a variety of capacities and has a long, distinguished career in public service. I begged him during the whole "death panels" brouhaha to come forward and tell everyone to calm down and quit the lies and misrepresentation so we could have a real conversation about healthcare. Sadly, I got crickets.

So yesterday Sen. Alexander told CNN's Candy Crowley that we need to stop talking about Sarah Palin’s “cross-hairs” ad and remember that, unlike the Tea Party, Jared Loughner had “The Communist Manifesto” and “Mein Kampf” on his reading list. The implication being, of course, that such books are on liberals’ reading lists (and he ignored more benign books on Loughner’s reading list like “Aesop’s Fables” and “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.”).

So I’m calling out Sen. Lamar Alexander: what the hell is wrong with you? If you won’t step up and condemn this stuff, who will?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

How Are Those 2nd Amendment Remedies Workin’ For Ya?

Another mentally unbalanced nutter with a criminal record legally gets his hands on a gun and goes on a rampage. Just another day in the Wild West.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said it all:
"When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government. The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous," the sheriff said. "And unfortunately, Arizona I think has become the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

Four days ago an armed man barricaded himself in an Arizona mall with hostages. And back in April Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into a law a bill allowing people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Oops.

But let’s look at the big picture. Southern Arizona’s largest employer is Raytheon Missile Systems, Arizona’s largest defense contractor.

Live by the gun, die by the gun. As without, so within. As in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm.

We spread violence around the world with our wars for oil, we spread violent rhetoric around the country on talk radio, we have leaders putting political rivals in crosshairs and candidates calling for “Second Amendment remedies.” Our children play violent video games and we watch acts of violence as entertaintment. We are a culture ruled by violence.

So don’t act so fucking surprised, America. This was entirely predictable.

More ...

Friday, January 7, 2011

Something To Ponder

There’s something surreal about watching Ted Williams, the “golden-voiced homeless man,” recite corporate slogans on the morning news. It’s the perfect rags-to-riches story for the Wall Street age: you, too, can find redemption hawking Kraft mac’n’cheese, Hershey’s Kisses, and AT&T cell plans! Yes, even the chronically homeless have a valuable role to play in modern capitalism. Huzzah.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled Williams’ life has taken a 180; it’s hard not to shed a tear watching him reunite with his mother. But while we break our arms patting ourselves on the back for bringing in one homeless man from the cold, let’s not forget the hundreds of thousands of other people -- including veterans, children, senior citizens, and the disabled -- who remain on the streets at any given time. And by all means, let’s not overlook Williams’ partially-blind ex-wife who raised his five children -- including the son he had with another woman -- while Williams was AWOL. This woman is every bit the hero that Williams is, perhaps more so. It annoys me that she’s getting so little attention.

There’s a “treasure among the trash” quality to the way look at homelessness in this country. Maybe every journalist in America will sit down for a chat with the man or woman holding the “Will Work For Food” sign by the side of the interstate. Ya think? And maybe they’ll find that Juilliard-trained cellist pushing a shopping cart or stock broker in training sleeping in the public restroom.

Then again, they’re just as likely to find the psychotic who can’t or won’t stay on their meds, the person who refuses to go to a shelter for whatever reason, the addict, the Iraq war veteran or the single mother. There are as many ways to be homeless and reasons for being homeless as there are homeless people. Every story is unique. And all I’m saying is, every person deserves to be treated with dignity, whether they have a golden voice or not. I’m glad for Ted Williams but I’m also worried for him, and I’m worried for the thousands of people who weren’t lucky enough to catch the attention of a local news videographer.

So, now that corporate America and the corporate media have stepped in to help this one homeless man, what about the rest? Could Kraft Foods make a nice, long-term commitment to the nation's homeless -- maybe by supporting some homeless advocacy groups?

Could the corporate media maybe stop covering bullshit stories like Sarah Palin’s re-Tweets and maybe devote more than just casual attention to this issue?

Could those of us touched by Ted Williams’ story volunteer at a homeless shelter or, at the very least, pick up a copy of The Contributor?

Hell, I’d be happy of we’d stop setting homeless people on fire. Or how about something a little harsher than a slap on the wrist to those who commit these violent acts?

Just something to ponder.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It Will Be Different This Time, Honest!

I swear, the narrative coming out of Democratic Party circles as Republicans take over the House of Representatives is driving me nuts. The message we’re hearing repeated everywhere is that “now Republicans have to lead,” and “governing is oooh so different from campaigning,” and “put up or shut up”, or as Rep. Anthony Weiner told Face The Nation:
"It's their ship to run now," he said. "That's the responsibility."

No, it’s not! It’s totally not! Because, they’re Republicans, which means they can do whatever the fuck they want and no one ever calls them on it, ever. Like, when Peggy Noonan famously claimed in a 2008 Wall Street Journal op-ed that “At least Bush kept us safe,” which neatly overlooked Nine-Fucking-Eleven, the anthrax attacks, Hurricane Katrina, etcetera, etcetera. Heh heh, we all know that shit was Clinton’s fault!

Or how about the time Karl Rove wrote, also in the Wall Street Journal, that President Obama’s stimulus package is “the biggest peacetime spending increase in American history,” forgetting that it’s not peacetime, asshole, we’re still embroiled in the two wars started under your watch.

In a sane world, someone over at the Wall Street Journal might have pointed these things out before running these pieces to begin with. But this is not a sane world, this is a world where Republicans are allowed to get away with saying and doing whatever they want. Republicans are Teflon, Democrats are glue. When will the Dems figure this out?

You know, you can never, ever say anything about what a budget-buster the Iraq War has been without someone pointing out, “Well, Democrats voted for it toooooo!” Yeah, but they wouldn’t have if a) Republicans weren’t fearmongering 24/7 about smoking guns being mushroom clouds, b) Republicans weren't given free rein to question the patriotism of anyone who had the temerity to doubt the Bush Administration’s war rationale, and c) Bush Administration officials, in collusion with the media, hadn't personally threatened and intimidated war critics like Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson. So get over your damn selves.

Yeah, we all know this routine. As long as there is one liberal within 30 yards of a bad decision, that is the person who is getting the blame. Wake up, Democrats.

Democrats never, ever remember this stuff. They never remember that the media is not liberal, that the networks and cable news bots are infatuated with sniffing Republican shorts and will rarely call Republicans on their lies, spin and revisionist history.

I mean, I don’t recall hearing a lot of media hacks rushing to correct the lies of Rush Limbaugh, who claimed Obama tanked the economy as payback for racism. This only makes sense if you are insane, and also if you forget who was president in fall 2007, when the economy actually crashed. Remember how John McCain was going to suspend his campaign and rush to Washington to fix the economy?

Ah yes, but the Democrats took the Senate in the fall 2006 elections, so everything that happened after that is their fault! Heads we lose, tails they win.

Already today we are seeing Republicans rewrite their brand-new House rules to suit their agenda. You know, like how deficits matter except when they don’t, which would be when pushing for war and tax cuts and pretending that a repeal of healthcare reform won't add $230 billion to the deficit.

Got it, Democrats? It’s always Republican Rules. IOKIYAR is the guiding principle of modern American governance. Republicans can get away with everything and anything, Democrats cannot.

So don’t be pushing this pablum about how “Republicans have to govern now.” No, they don’t! They just have to show up on some Sunday morning bobblehead show and mouth some bumper sticker bromide about Freedom and Real America and What The American People Want and blargheddy blargh. It's not like anyone in the media, save maybe Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, ever holds their feet to the fire.

This will only change if Democrats finally grow a spine and really wise up and make a big stink about this hypocrisy. And that won't happen until they stop caring about what Tweety and David Broder think, and start really pushing back.

But I don't hold out much hope.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


If you have a few minutes today, you absolutely must read Ken Whitehouse’s story on fraudster/Ponzi schemer/aspiring Tennessee Republican politician Jeff Cassman. Cassman's fraud is considered "small potatoes" compared to, say, Bernie Madoff: he defrauded far fewer people and took much less money. But his victims were not nameless, faceless people. They were his friends and family, members of his church congregation and the like. In short: the people who trusted him the most. There surely has to be a special place in hell for people who will abuse someone's trust this way.

The article is called Banana Republican because as the law began closing in on Cassman and his web of lies (including the fib that he holds a Master’s in Theology from a Connecticut seminary), he and his family of 10 children skedaddled to Antigua, Guatemala. There Cassman lived under various assumed names and set up shop seeking out investors for his various schemes.

Guatemalan authorities arrested Cassman in October and he was brought home to face the music. He's since pled guilty and now awaits sentencing. It’s an absolutely unbelievable story, in part because I don’t remember a ton of coverage in the local media about the case and also because it's an absolute freaking miracle the guy was apprehended to begin with.

Writes Whitehouse:
How could a family that large disappear? The answer is simple: It’s easy to hide when no one is looking for you.

In 2008, when the Cassman family went missing, there was only one federal agent on the case. It wasn’t an agent from the FBI, SEC or treasury department. It was a member of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and he was about to be transferred out of the region. Over the past few years, postal agents have been integral parts of the teams that apprehended Ponzi schemers like Park, Grigg and Stokes, to name a few.

Well, good on the U.S. Postal Service! I can't believe this snake almost slithered away.

The guy is obviously a sociopath. And while he ran for Tennessee’s State House, twice, as a “family values” conservative, his actions show him to be anything but. Above and beyond the illegal activity, look how he treated his family while they were in Guatemala:

While Cassman was cataloguing his adventures online, his wife and kids were living in a squalid home where the children slept on tile floors. In 2009, his wife gave birth to their 10th child (she is currently expecting their 11th). In a letter to his in-laws, which they shared with The City Paper, Cassman’s children wrote that his then-14-year-old son delivered the baby and that Cassman couldn’t be reached because he was in church.

Cassman was actually at a bar smoking cigars, drinking and playing chess, his main activities most days. Writing about his children on “Our kids go outside only under our supervision, during the morning hours when local kids are most likely to be in school, with a guard dog we don’t feed until after play time, and we always have one person scanning the surrounding area for threats.”

While Cassman tried to put on the front that he was a devoted father, others have a different opinion. first reported in February 2010 that a friend of the family had witnessed Cassman punishing his son by pouring hot sauce down his throat after a disagreement. The person who saw that incident confirmed it to The City Paper, calling Cassman a “psychopath.”

This is a story that deserves to get some attention on 60 Minutes or Dateline NBC. Aboslutely amazing.