Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tragedy large and small

The Taliban shot and killed an Afghani senior policewoman on her way to work in a drive-by.

I don't really know what to say about this without making it about ME ME ME, so I won't. I just ask that you take a moment to remember Malalai Kakar.

In among the sweeping geopolitical analyses and the totalizing numbers, we tend to forget the people involved.

Frivolous musings


Seems the British have to bail out one of their banks for 150 billion pounds (or about 300 billion dollars). All those behavioral economists and cognitive psychologists must be right that we measure our happiness by how we compare to others, because knowing that British taxpayers are paying out about as much as we are just now makes me feel better (when it really shouldn't).

Also, while I truly appreciate Dr. Montgomery McFate's work in bringing social science to the army (anthropology in counterinsurgency, for example), right now I honestly appreciate her name more. I mean, come on, it's like someone straight out of Watchmen.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, our government at work:

They have no idea what's going on. Dandy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I have no words

So. Um.

John LaBruzzo, a State Representative of Louisiana, apparently thinks the way to get people off welfare is to pay poor women $1,000 to get sterilized, thus eliminating the chances that their offspring will also be on welfare! See, poor women of color have more kids than white people do, and the poor WOC are on welfare and the white people are taxpayers, so...


...I...I just...what fucking year is it?! This is racist eugenics in place of meaningful policy. (He also wants to create tax incentives for white educated people to breed more.) FOR THE LOVE OF--OF--fuck it, I'm not feeling any love right now.

And if anybody comes back at me with some bullshit about how it's totally the free choice of any woman who does this, I will reach through the screen and feed you your own reproductive organs.


At the Banking Committee hearing today, Chuck Schumer—not generally known as someone who is tough on Wall Street—asked Hank Paulson a reasonable question: why do you need $700 billion right now? You said you were going to use about $50 billion a month; so why don’t we give you $150 billion now and then come back in 3 months?

And Paulson simply refused to answer the question.

H/t Balloon Juice.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Nipping it in the bud

conservatives are coming to campus:

Acknowledging that 20 years and millions of dollars spent loudly and bitterly attacking the liberal leanings of American campuses have failed to make much of a dent in the way undergraduates are educated, some conservatives have decided to try a new strategy.

Acknowledging that 20 years and millions of dollars spent loudly and bitterly attacking the liberal leanings of American campuses have failed to make much of a dent in the way undergraduates are educated, some conservatives have decided to try a new strategy.


Their goal is to restore what conservative and other critics see as leading casualties of the campus culture wars of the 1980s and ’90s: the teaching of Western culture and a triumphal interpretation of American history.

“These are not ideological courses,” said James Piereson, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, which created the Veritas Fund for Higher Education to funnel donations to these sorts of projects. The initiatives are only political insofar as they “work against the thrust of programs and courses in gender, race and class studies, and postmodernism in general,” he said.

...So they're only political insofar as their basis is a political fight over the tools students use to understand the world, divided along left-right lines. Right.

Monday, September 15, 2008

What she said


Long form links: financial crisis edition

More on Lehman's end game:

This isn't like Y2K, when if computers were still working at 1am, you knew that they'd survived the test. If AIG (AIG) hasn't collapsed after New York markets open and the broader stock market is down less than 5%, all that will mean is that there hasn't been a systemic meltdown yet. It's going to take a long time to liquidate Lehman and unwind all of its positions, and nobody has a clue how that's going to play out. Specifically, there might well be a levered-to-the-eyeballs multi-billion-dollar hedge fund or two with enormous Lehman Brothers counterparty risk, and if they start defaulting on their derivatives contracts, delayed contagion could spread very quickly indeed.

It's not just hedge funds, either, which could end up being the vector by which crisis is spread. It could be a big insurance company, or it could be a series of failures of small and medium-sized banks. Or it could come out of left field entirely: the "shadow banking system" is now so big and so global that for all we know a series of bad decisions by a mid-level technocrat in Kazakhstan could precipitate cataclysm across America and the world.

An interesting point from Tim Duy.

"...the Fed has already pushed their legal boundaries; some would argue they have stepped well beyond those boundaries. And it hasn’t stopped – the Fed expanded the collateral it will accept in repo operations, putting taxpayer dollars at risk in a less explicit manner (I see no legal justification to open a credit line to AIG – if them, why not Ford or GM?). Still, despite the Fed’s creative efforts to date, the crisis is moving to a stage that is simply too big for the Fed; Congress needs to step up and define the parameters of any mass bailout of the financial sector. Some version of the Resolution Trust Corporation is the most likely outcome. I suspect that taxpayers will ultimately absorb significant losses, but it will be a crime if such a bailout does not entail a radical reevaluation of financial regulation. But to what extend will Congress be willing to perform a hard look as an industry that has brought the illusion of wealth that hides gaping and undeniable equity flaws in the US?"

Identity politics indeed

Ezra Klein at The American Prospect has a piece up about "Sarah Palin's Retrograde Gender Politics" that's really worth reading for its parsing of her political language. A sample:

And, in perhaps the most offensive display of her "wimp factor" agenda, she attempted to discredit community organizing by feminizing it. She sarcastically told conventioneering Republicans (along with millions of Americans watching on television), "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a ‘community organizer,' except that you have actual responsibilities." It was an eerie echo of what oblivious men in positions of traditional power have been saying for centuries: that the work of community building -- whether it be child-rearing, elder-caring, teaching, nursing, social work, or, yes, community organizing -- isn't really work at all. That, despite being the backbone of our economy and the heart of our civic life, it doesn't count because it doesn't involve power suits and bottom lines. What makes this ridicule of community-building even more ironic is that the GOP is simultaneously glorifying Palin's role as caregiver of her own sprawling family.


Men are, first and foremost, protectors in Palin's antiquated world. McCain is "not afraid of a fight;" he will "defend America." She assures the American voters that there is "only one man in this election who has ever really fought for you," discounting with one pithy line the 35-year political service of Joe Biden (many of them spent specifically focused on foreign relations) and all the ways in which Obama has tried to fight for the security and safety of this country, including his role in nuclear non-proliferation policy. The Palin worldview is clear -- real men are warriors and the rest of 'em are wimps.


Palin is standing by her new man, McCain, in the sugary-sweet manner of a '50s pop song. Sure, she's a little feisty, but only in the service of making her war hero look manly and her own heroics look momly. She was strategically chosen as the sidekick who can call Obama a sissy without fearing the repercussions, and sway disappointed women voters in the process.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Freaking creepy

From The Telegraph: Neoconservatives plan Project Sarah Palin to shape future American foreign policy

A sample:

Sources in the McCain camp, the Republican Party and Washington think tanks say Mrs Palin was identified as a potential future leader of the neoconservative cause in June 2007. That was when the annual summer cruise organised by the right-of-centre Weekly Standard magazine docked in Juneau, the Alaskan state capital, and the pundits on board took tea with Governor Palin...

Now many believe that the "neocons", whose standard bearer in government, Vice President Dick Cheney, lost out in Washington power struggles to the more moderate defence secretary Robert Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, last year are seeking to mould Mrs Palin to renew their influence.

A former Republican White House official, who now works at the American Enterprise Institute, a bastion of Washington neoconservatism, admitted: "She's bright and she's a blank page. She's going places and it's worth going there with her."

Asked if he sees her as a "project", the former official said: "Your word, not mine, but I wouldn't disagree with the sentiment."

Guys, she is literally a bot. A mole. I mean, how creepy is this whole "she's a blank page" thing? She is a tool to them, and that's all. Remember that the next time they start bleating about sexism.

Truth in superheroes

Obama is Batman, McCain is the Penguin, and the liberal bloggers are Robin. GO!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The obligatory post on Sarah Palin

The experience argument isn't really what it's about. I don't think she's ready and I don't think this was a natural next step in her political career; and yes, Obama is also inexperienced, but has had many tests of judgement and grasp on the issues since he's been running. But do we actually think McCain is going to drop dead his first week in office?

Of course it's possible. But for many people, this really isn't about the dangers of having a neophyte running the country, because it's not actually imminent. It's about values, culture wars, and most importantly self-representation.

The Left can't stand her not because she's inexperienced but because they can't take her seriously. Obama signaled from the beginning that he was a serious and thoughtful person, and a big part of that for the Left was demonstrated intellectualism and curiosity. I don't see anything wrong with that; those are two qualities I would certainly want in my President. Sarah Palin is not about intellectualism. She's about biography and strategy and working her way up. Again, nothing wrong with that, in large part (for me) because she is in fact very smart--but intelligence is not what her persona is about. It's not how she defines herself.

Now, I keep hearing that Palin exemplifies Red State-ness, and that that's why she makes lefties nuts. Part of it, of course, is because Democrats have seen the last two elections slip away in a manner that was frankly baffling to us: George Bush was simply not a credible candidate, and Gore and Kerry were both smart guys and distinguished public servants. How the fuck, we wondered, could this be possible? There was a serious sense of alienation in our own country for many people who could neither stand nor credit Bush. The second time around, especially, was like a slap in the face: clearly half the country was living in a different world than we were.

I also keep hearing that many conservatives see themselves in her; that "she's just like us," "she's real," "she knows what we go through." Many media and blogger types have made the point that we should not want a President who's just like us; rather we should want a President who is exceptional. Fuck beer, the argument goes; get the smartest person you can for this job.

To be honest, though, here's what I think about that. I think it's the exact same thing on either side. I think a lot of the people who write those things are very smart and furthermore probably think that they wouldn't want to try, but if they had to, they could get a team together and handle being President. If I'm being honest, then yes, I think I am smart enough. Resilient and morally able enough? Perhaps not. Able to win an election, absolutely not. But once sitting there, could I manage to understand these problems and tackle them with the best wisdom available to me? Yes, I viscerally believe I could, no matter how much I try to foster greater humility in myself.

So of course people like me want to see, well, people like us in the White House. We want smart people who turn to their intellects above all else to tackle these massive problems, because that is the way the world makes sense to us and that is what has worked for all of us in our own lives. By the same token, people like Sarah Palin want to see people like them in the White House--people who believe in hard work, who have stories that they recognize, who draw on their culture and background in tackling these problems. (The intellectualist lefty types draw on their culture, too--we just don't admit that that's our culture, not just pure lofty rational thought. That's the difference between rationality and rationalism, see?)

I believe elections, underneath all the hoo-ha and the shitty advertising, are statements about who we are as a country and who and what we value. Within the nation, there are wildly varying views about what each statement really means, but at the very least we as observers interpret elections as such.

This is why the conservative movement began as a political insurgency: it was about resentment (which is not at all unique--if you think current liberals aren't feeling some resentment you are living in a very happy bubble), as Nixon's tactics from college on through Willie Horton demonstrate, and it was about saying that the people it drew on had voices, too. It was about saying that they still mattered even though the discourse had been about someone else for a long time. This is why Bush's elections hurt many of us so much: they said not only do we lefty intellectuals not matter, we're irrelevant and out of touch with the country, and everything we believe about how to make your way in the world (intelligence) is wrong (see: gut).

So the Obama campaign is precious to many as the campaign of an explicitly smart guy who owns his intelligence and has demonstrated its efficacy several times by correctly predicting the course of world affairs (don't go to Iraq; now that you're there, get out; we should really send more troops to Afghanistan; we're probably going to have to make ground strikes in Pakistan). In many ways, his inexperience speaks to us because it says that all you have to do is bring a sharp intellect and ravenous curiosity and do a lot of homework, and you'll be all right. Not just all right--you'll do pretty damn well. In a continuation of the bizarre yin and yang this campaign has turned into, Palin's inexperience appeals to the people who are "just like her" because it says that their ways of making their way through life and succeeding are valid.

Palin twists the knife further in the liberal ribcage because she is stealing our beat. We watch with disbelief as she twists feminism, populism, and concern for working people into shapes we don't recognize. It's like a bad dream where a friend is possessed and you're the only one who knows--beneath that familiar and beloved exterior is something completely different, something that doesn't speak to you; your greatest fear is that other people will take it for the real thing.

Now, this is an unusual amount of Republican empathy for me, and I still believe that a lot of the small number of people actually pulling the levers for the past eight years have been highly disingenuous. I also believe that the lefty brand of authenticity is much easier to possess in reality after spending years in Washington than the conservative brand is--it's just hard to remain working class, un-elite, etc. in that environment. Intellectualism, I believe, is easier to maintain. This may or may not have something to do with liberals' willingness to forgive personal transgressions of liberal politicians: their main qualification, intelligence and judgement that makes sense to us, remains untouched. Family values are more easily compromised, at least in the public eye.

At this point I'm just rambling. But my main point is this: we all vote based on who's just like us. It's just that intellectual types like me and many bloggers and liberals I've known remain convinced that our calculus is purely rational when it is not. If you ask me, it's that more than anything else that makes us vulnerable to elitism--because we pretend we are immune to cultural solidarity.

Oh, yeah, Sarah Palin--I completely disagree with her polital positions. But what this post is really about is this: what bothers me more than anything else about her is the fact that those positions might be approved of by enough people that she and McCain win the election, and I might have to go on living as a stranger in a strange land.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some odds and ends

1. Bob Herbert defends liberals. I think Obama should too. You want a strong argument for voting for "the most liberal Senator in Congress"?

Liberals have been so cowed by the pummeling they’ve taken from the right that they’ve tried to shed their own identity, calling themselves everything but liberal and hoping to pass conservative muster by presenting themselves as hyper-religious and lifelong lovers of rifles, handguns, whatever.


Why liberals don’t stand up to this garbage, I don’t know. Without the extraordinary contribution of liberals — from the mightiest presidents to the most unheralded protesters and organizers — the United States would be a much, much worse place than it is today.


It would take volumes to adequately cover the enhancements to the quality of American lives and the greatness of American society that have been wrought by people whose politics were unabashedly liberal. It is a track record that deserves to be celebrated, not ridiculed or scorned.

Self-hatred is a terrible thing. [...]

Liberals need to get over it.

2. David Brooks has some campaign advice: Surprise Me Most. Weirdest takes all.

3. Finally, FiveThirtyEight (Polling Done Right) has some PR suggestions.

I think they're all correct. Which matters oh so much.

Finally, we've been so pathetic about waging any kind of sensible War On Terror that many in the Arab world don't believe we're really doing it. Instead, conventional wisdom holds that the U.S. and Israelis planned it as an excuse to invade Iraq for oil or wage a general war on all Muslims. NOW can we all agree that the efforts, prejudices, and rhetoric have been COMPLETELY MISDIRECTED? I mean, fuck. Whatever happened to hearts and minds?

ETA: Thank god for Robert Gates. We're not going to go poke Russia in the eye and run away giggling.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Mommies and Mamis

I am quoting this post by Maegan “La Mala” Ortiz from
in its entirety because I think it's so spot on in terms of why Sarah Palin's being hailed as a progressive moment bugs me. [Note: I have placed all Spanish words in italics. I would rather not have done so as it violates the integrity of Ortiz's bilingualism and alienates the Spanish words, but I have seen people mistake them for misspellings or bad grammar before and I wanted to avoid that.]

Last night, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin accepted the nomination to the vice-presidency at the Republican National Convention.

Originally the buzz about Palin, focused on her having a vagina. Her presence was analyzed as a calculated McCain strategy to lure disgruntled, hard core Hillary Clinton supporters.

Then the shift went internal, to her uterus, her identity as a mother to five, the youngest with some form of developmental delay, and a 17 year old daughter, unmarried and pregnant.

So what does this Palin parranda of information and analysis mean to mamis of color, Latina mamis like me? Not surprisingly, nada.

Sarah Palin wants to put herself out there as “every woman”. She wants to be seen as “just your average hockey mom”, and other mommies see themselves and their reality reflected through Palin, except, mamis of color, that is.

The talk returns to mommy wars, not mami wars, because the entire conversation excludes Latinas and other moms of color. We are not even soldiers. Even for so called progressive white feminist, the war is fought by them and maybe, if mamis like me are lucky, we’ll reap some benefit. When I was a pregnant teenager, in a Latin American country where abortion was and still is illegal (Chile), there was no opting out of pregnancy or working. Which is why the debate of how Palin could go back to work after having a baby with special needs or how a pregnant unmarried teenage daughter is being used, feels like a sideshow with little significance in reality. The politics of choice is being raised, with the emergence of a woman who is anti-choice, even in cases of rape or incest and with no talk of how for women of color, choice goes beyond an abortion and means the very right to have children (forget 5!) Imaginate if Michelle Obama had five children? ImagĂ­nate if one of the Obama children were older and pregnant? Imagine the hate and stereotypes that would be unleashed? Oh wait, I don’t have to imagine, as a single mami of color, I live it. Palin’s large brood isn’t seen as a strain on the system. They are a beautiful portrait of an “American” family making every other family, families like mine, ugly.

And let’s talk about the perceived double standard, that if a man had five children no one would be making a big deal of it, that men are held to a different standard, as stated in the video above. Claro if you take race out of the picture, it’s easy to follow along, pero if Obama was the father to five instead of two children, you don’t think the media and politicos would be making all sorts of references to black men and their hyper-sexuality? Or black men and responsibility? I hear no one telling Palin’s husband to put on a damn condom.

Just as many of women of color couldn’t get behind Clinton and her campaign because of racist attacks on Barack Obama, attacks that asked women of color to choose a candidate based not on a complex and painful history and reality, but rather because of perceived shared genitalia. Palin positions herself as continuing Clinton’s struggle, as continuing the struggle set forth by Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run as a vice-presidential candidate. Let’s not forget that Ferraro called Obama “lucky” for being black. Is Palin then lucky for having five children, like my abuela did before being forcibly sterilized? You wanna talk about Palin’s uterus or the uterus of her daughter? I want to talk about my abuela’s uterus, how it’s power was deemed dangerous because of it’s power to bear brown Spanish speaking babies, my uterus and it’s abortions, miscarriages, and pregnancies, violations upon it, the uterus of an immigrant woman being viewed as a weapon in a culture war and the need to put those immigrant women in chains as they push babies from them and the need the U.S. government has to separate mamis and babies and deport and dispose.

My uterus and my head is tired.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

All I have to say about the RNC

That, and (not that anybody's listening, certainly not guilty parties that I know of): if you want Obama to win, lay OFF Sarah Palin. Because every time people sneer at her, or mock her accent, or her outdoorsiness, or her conservative Christian mom-ness, you reinforce the feeling that a lot of people have that you're laughing at them too.

That is "elitist" behavior (more properly: acting like you're culturally superior), and I fully sympathize with people who are turned off or offended by it. Hell, I'm turned off by it.

Also, shut up about whether she should be at home with the kids, and probably the safest thing to do is just not to mention Briston Palin's name.

Attack McCain, and emphasize, if you must, that she's so right wing she has to go in a full circle when she wants to turn left. But the last--THE LAST--thing to do is to allow this to turn into an argument about Obama vs. Palin. Because you just demoted the Democratic Presidential candidate.

Trans modeling goes public

So America's Next Top Model has a trans woman in the running this time around.

I think that's awesome. Isis has not had surgery (she can't afford it), but here she is, going for it. She has a lot of talent (she was a background extra in the "homeless shelter" shoot last season--which was INCREDIBLY problematic, but let's not get into it--and she did amazing), and she's just in it to win it.

It was interesting to watch the other girls' reactions. A larger number than I would have thought took it in stride, and one (that they showed) defended her place on the show. There was, of course, a sizable amount of just straight up shock and nervous laughter, and then the inevitable hostile faction.

But it was interesting to see. And I think the producers, or whoever controlled the editing, wanted to make a positive statement that Isis belongs here and that her female identity is valid. Because they showed a lot of neutrality; they showed a somewhat extended defense of her presence ("whoever has the most talent should win. It should be about your spirit and how much you want to be here." Also compliments on how strong and unconcerned with others' objections Isis was); they showed the "WTF?!" committee acting kind of childish; and the individual whose interview they chose as a negative reaction was the girl they've already been setting up as the overcompetitive, manipulative bitch.

I don't know what was left on the cutting room floor, but that sounds like a quiet endorsement to me. Cool cool.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Oh, when the saints/Come marching in...

From George W. Bush's speech (which I find a little sad--yeah, he's dangerous to their chances, but he was sort of exiled from the convention, and I don't know, that's sad) by satellite to the Republican Convention last night:

"I am optimistic because I have faith in freedom's power to lift up all of God's children and lead this world to a future of peace."

Honestly, this explains more about his foreign policy than anything else I've heard in the last eight years.

Of course we don't need to understand history and real people's needs wherever we're going! Of course we don't need to plan for after the invasion or for exit! Of course we don't need to worry what other nations think of us! Freedom will take us there, all by itself.

Honestly, the parallel that comes to mind is the Marxist doctrine that once one nation undergoes proletarian revolution and begins its utopian transformation, all others must inevitably follow. Is there any broad political theory involving inevitability that is not unrealistic, doctrinaire, and ultimately totalitarian in its cultishness?

Guh. It gives me the shivers that mainstream political figures talk like this.

I wonder what it's like to think this way. Does one ever get confused and downbeat because it didn't happen? Does one question the ideology? Or does one just conclude that Satan's still going strong and keep on truckin'?

(It depends, obviously, I'm just trying to comprehend.)

On that note, Sarah Palin called the Iraq war a task "that is from God" when speaking to her hometown church in Wasilla. I don't like this. I need the media to stop talking about the baby drama (which is what the McCain camp wants them to do) so we can discuss the fact that she's an utter far right wingnut (which is what the McCain camp doesn't want them to do).

Also, as Michelle Cottle points out, if Sarah Palin is so anti-abortion, it should follow that she's in favor of providing support for girls and women who choose to keep their babies, no? However, while Governor of Alaska, she cut funding for a state program providing shelter and support for single teen mothers--by more than 20%.

I'm sorry, but a politician who opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest and who opposes comprehensive sex education should be at the forefront of championing support systems that make it easier for young mothers to keep their babies.

I would have assumed Palin herself felt this way. After all, she is a proud member of Feminists for Life, an anti-abortion nonprofit whose stated aim is to give women a real choice -- that is, to make certain that women faced with unplanned pregnancies have access to the information and support systems that will enable/encourage them not to have an abortion. Surely a program aimed at assisting the most desperate of young mothers -- those whose boyfriends aren't amenable to a shotgun wedding or who don't have a strong family support system -- would be something a pro-life feminist such as Palin would work to expand not destroy.

Pro-life conservatives have for years faced accusations by abortion-rights activists that they only give a damn about a woman and her baby until the moment that baby is born. After that: Best of luck! Don't come looking to us for any help! Palin's rough handling of Passage House does nothing to combat that unfortunate image.

I have nothing to add.

Past not dead, not even over

Damn. Somebody tried to assassinate Pakistan's prime minister (Gilani).

Again. (Again for the office, not the man--as far as I know). This is the part where Ozair would tell me yet again that they've never had anyone democratically elected complete a term in all of 61 years and I would politely pretend he hasn't told me that eight times already.

Sigh. Conflict traps indeed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

I don't know if you guys know about InTrade, but it's pretty cool.

Basically it's a futures trading market for political prospects. Rather than betting on trading on projections for the price of oil, for instance, people trade on their predictions of what will happen in the presidential campaign, or in Congress.

Because it functions as a free market, InTrade and other sites like it reflect aggregates of individual decisions (just like the actual market), and as a result they tend to be pretty damn good predictors of what actually will happen. Not perfect, of course--market failure FTW!--but given that politics, too, is in large part an aggregate of individual opinions (or individuals responding to an aggregate), it's not a bad crystal ball.

It predicts, so far, that Sarah Palin will be taken off the Republican ticket.

Personally, I think JMac is way too stubborn for that--not to mention it almost ensures defeat and it would piss off the religious right base, further ensuring defeat. She would have to be a really, really, REALLY huge liability for that to be feasible even to someone who isn't as proud and sulky as John McCain.

In addition, the people who tend to hang out on these sites, I wager, are some very politically savvy people--junkies, poeple who follow the media and the news cycle, the blogs, etc. Most people may not be aware of everything that's been coming out about SP lately. Many may not even know it's POSSIBLE to replace your VP candidate; I didn't, until all the Eagleton comparisons started popping up.

Anyway, I doubt it'll actually happen. But The Market that those fiscal conservatives love so much is telling them to lose her.