Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Adventures in World Domination

The Post's Eugene Robinson points to a brand new instance of Geraldo Rivera's douchitude:
On "Fox and Friends" last week, the mustachioed infotainer gave his take on Barack Obama's borrowing of his campaign chairman's words: "When I saw that they were the same words that Deval Patrick, the black guy who won as Massachusetts mayor -- as Massachusetts governor -- had used, I said to myself, it seems so premeditated. It's almost as if they went to a camp where these black geniuses got together and figured out how to beat the political system. . . . What's the other formula that they're going to use?"

Wait, are black people the new Jews? That's cool; I'm sick of running the world anyway. Damned Azeris. You know what you did.

Robinson goes on to say that this crazy stereotype, while still irksome, is better than the current stereotypes about black men. He has a point, but I'm not sure a new view of black America is what is underlying Rivera's comments. Rather, it's apparent that Rivera views capable black leaders as some sort of anomaly - "black geniuses," like there's something innate that makes them better than the rest of black America. He makes this comment because it's so unbelievable to him that black men could succeed in politics. My thought is that Rivera's really saying that Obama and Patrick didn't get to where they are by hard work, education, and ambition, but by being freaks. So it's not a new stereotype, per se - it's simply an outgrowth of the old one that puts black abilities below white abilities. Able black people must be freaks, right? Perhaps the idea that all black people have it in them to succeed if given the opportunity is one that Rivera just doesn't want to face.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Pundits Are Obviously Bored

You know how McCain is boinking some lobbyist in exchange for legislative favors? Or how Obama stole campaign lines from Deval Patrick? If so, that's because you listen to the pundits too much. Because as far as we know, neither of these things actually happened.

McCain first. The flap is over the allegations allegedly raised by this New York Times article. The pundits are all abuzz about McCain's possible inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist thirty years his junior. The left is making accusations, the right is accusing back. Of course, it seems no one bothered to ACTUALLY READ THE DAMN ARTICLE, which doesn't make a single accusation or allegation regarding the relationship between McCain and the lobbyist. The point of the article is that McCain's self-assuredness on ethical issues often makes him oblivious to the fact that it sometimes looks like he has conflicts of interest. The article uses his dealings with Ms. Iseman - which the article states may well be perfectly legit - as an instance of McCain not realizing how things look, and in this case having to be "rescued" by his staffers.

McCain has hurt himself, though, by attacking the Times for printing the article. That's stupid. The Times did a really good job with this article - it avoids being accusatory about any of McCain's relationships and simply explains one of McCain's weaknesses. His target of ire should be at those who read the Times article incorrectly and assume that he's screwing around.

Not that I care whether or not McCain is cheating on his wife. If he's trading sexual favors for legislative ones, that's a different story, but there's no evidence that he has, so let's all just shut up about it.

We can all shut up, as well, about Obama's supposed mooching of lines from Massachussets governor Deval Patrick. I don't know the specifics of this one all that well, but... well, it's kind of like a band covering a song on stage. You know the song was written by someone else, but it still has a different sound, a different feel to it when the new band plays it (unless it's 311 covering "Lovesong," but that's another story). And if the original band has no problem with it, who cares? It's entertainment. That's what this boils down to - politicians are in part entertainers, and he's "covering" a few lines from a speech made by one of his supporters - with his supporter's blessing, I might add. Why does anyone care?

Stupid pundits.

Friday, February 15, 2008

More Republican Rock Fun

Not to be outdone by McCain's affront to John Mellencamp, Mike Huckabee has drawn rebukes from Boston guitarist/creative force Tom Scholz for using "More Than A Feeling" at a campaign rally. Wrinkle in the storyline: Huckabee, a bassist, actually played the song live in Iowa... with a former Boston bandmate of Scholz', Barry Goudreau.

(Huckabee also plays "Sweet Home Alabama." Does he replace "Birmingham" with whatever city he's in when "In Birmingham they love the Governor" comes up? And do the backup singers still boo afterwards?)

Also, the last line of the article ensures that I'm voting for Obama. "City of Blinding Lights" is way, way, WAY better than Hillary's Celine Dion crapfest. (Honestly, though, there's not a whole lot else distinguishing those two.)

Spy On This, Cont.

Mike McConnell defends the administration's FISA bill in today's Post. He addresses the retroactive immunity issue and states that providing retroactive immunity is crucial to terrorist surveillance. I don't buy it. Why would a private company refuse to assist in legal surveillance now because they'll get in trouble for illegal surveillance that has already happened? You'd think that the telcos would accept the past and move on. After all, if they're all doing things according to the law now, why would retroactive immunity matter?

Unless, of course, the current surveillance that McConnell is asking the telcos to help out with is illegal.

The only message that retroactive immunity sends to the telcos is that they can break the law with impunity and expect Congress to bail them out whenever they do. If your current activity is legal, retroactive immunity means nothing to you. But if the spies are asking you to break the law, wouldn't you want a guarantee that what you're doing is going to be forgiven by Congress? And wouldn't you be a little hesitant to engage in more illegal activity if Congress is reluctant to forgive your past indiscretions?

It's clear that the spies want to engage in illegal surveillance, and that they believe that they have to do so to do their job. So why does effective surveillance require illegal activity? What objectives can be accomplished by illegal activity that can't be accomplished legally, and are these objectives worth a revision of the law? To my knowledge, no supporter of intelligence law revision, McConnell included, has sufficiently answered this question yet. They should at least attempt to do so.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Bad News For Obama/Clinton

Sorry about that last post - I was a bit angry.

Anyway, I wanted to link to this fun little bit about Mellencamp asking John McCain to quit using his songs at campaign rallies. Mellencamp, an Edwards supporter and ardent Democrat, doesn't want anyone to think he supports Johnny Mac.

The bad news is this - every time in recent memory an artist complained about a presidential candidate's music selection, the candidate went on to win. In 1984, Ronald Reagan (somewhat quixotically) wanted to use Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A" and was shot down by the Boss - he went on to win. In 2004, George W. wanted to use the Foo Fighters' "Times Like These" and Dave Groel said no.

You have to feel for the Republicans, though. If they want to rock, they're pretty much left with Skynyrd and Ted Nugent. (I think the Ramones were Republicans, but "I Wanna Be Sedated" is not the message you want to be sending to the voters.)

Spy On This

(Those with eyes that are sensitive to swearing might want to be careful. This one's kind of salty.)

Dear Congress,

You goddamn idiots.

What the hell are you thinking? That it was too hard to spy on people before? The only thing the Administration had to do under the FISA law was to get a warrant from a secret court - set up for the sole purpose of handing out spy warrants, mind you - within three days of the beginning of surveillance activities. That's it. It's not that hard to go to a judge and get a warrant, is it? Doesn't the whole process usually take a few hours?

This isn't about national security. This isn't about whether we can listen in on terrorists or not. This is about an administration that is too damn lazy and too damn conceited to follow the law. And you, in your infinite wisdom, think that if the President's too damn lazy to follow the law, the best course of action is to make it perfectly legal to be lazy. It doesn't matter if the new law opens the door to all kinds of potential abuses. We have to accommodate this President's laziness, don't we? Are you assholes going to peel him a grape and make his lunch, too? How about a law providing for members of the Intelligence Committee to carry Mike McConnell to work because he doesn't want to drive his car or take the Metro or even walk a couple of blocks?

Oh, wait, I forgot - the President's legal staff is too busy thinking of ways to screw over the gays to be bothered with paperwork. I guess it's just stupid of me to think that if the Administration can marshal all those lawyers to defend Scooter Libby that they can have someone fill out some paperwork within three days of a wiretap. My mistake.

And what the hell is that provision giving retroactive immunity to anyone who broke the law in previous illegal spying efforts, including the patsy spineless jackasses at the telecom companies and the lazy fat fucks in the Administration who apparently would rather listen to some Arab drone on about their love life to their friend in Saudi Arabia than simply file the paperwork for a warrant? Why do these idiots deserve immunity? Is being too lazy to follow the law not punishable any more? I got a parking ticket for not turning my car around so it faced the right direction before parking it, for fuck's sake. Can I get immunity, too? Oh, wait, that's right, I can't scare you with some bullshit claim about how national security interests depend on my laziness.

I don't know why the fuck y'all decided that you had to put in the effort to allow the President to be lazy. But pardon me for thinking that we ought to hold the highest law-enforcement agencies to the same goddamn standard that we hold the local cops to. Warrants mean something. They mean that it's that much harder for the Administration to fuck us all over.

But apparently causing a minor inconvenience in order to prevent massive abuse is passe for you guys these days. So fuck y'all.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Another Perspective On The Subprime Mess

Here's an interesting article claiming that the lenders who offered the adjustable-rate mortgages and other subprime loans are not primarily to blame for the crisis in the lending market. Rather, we should blame housing costs that are rising far too quickly. The writer points out that the median cost of a house was roughly equal to the median national income forty years ago - it is now roughly four times that, and worse in major housing markets. The writer proposes that financial minds get to work on coming up with new ideas for lending so that people can afford houses without getting hosed.

But the writer fails to address why the median house prices have exploded. Then I noticed the writer's vocation - president of a luxury house-building company. And on a lark, I looked up this chart on average house size since 1973. My conclusion: house prices have gone up, in part, because houses are getting too damn big.

The median newly constructed home size in America has gone up 47% since 1973, and 12% since 1998. In metropolitan areas, new home sizes have increased by 42% - remarkable since major metropolitan areas have less room for new houses as construction increases. Bizarre also is that new homes built in metropolitan areas are 20% larger than homes built in rural areas. That's gotta lead to a land crunch that drives prices of existing homes way upward too. (Not to mention your power bill - all that square footage has to be heated and cooled somehow.) Oh, and the population of the U.S. has increased by about a third since the '70s too. That's a third more people buying houses that are roughly one and a half times bigger.

All this would make sense if people were having more kids. There's some truth to this - our fertility rate was 1.7 in 1976 and 2.1 now. That's a 24% increase - enough for maybe half the growth in house size. But certainly not all.

What I'm getting at is that there was a market goof at the root of all this, but it may not be the market goof we all think there was. The market goof is this: somewhere along the line builders, perhaps sensing a demand signal, stopped building small houses in metropolitan areas. This created a land crunch that drove prices up. Logically, high new single-family home prices would lead to more people buying townhouses and small existing houses, but urban population exploded between 1973 and now, so there weren't enough affordable properties to go around... which drove prices up even more. People now had a choice between renting and buying a house that was way too big and at the margins of affordability - they chose the latter. Lenders were uneasy about giving loans to people who could barely afford to pay it back, but they still wanted to make money, and so lenders came up with the tape-and-string alternative: the subprime loan. And builders noticed that people kept buying the bigger houses, assumed that people bought big houses because that's what they really wanted, and kept building them. The demand for smaller houses was still there, but builders didn't recognize it because consumers' pride prevented them from saying they wanted a smaller house.

Sheesh. This crap's complicated. I guess my point is that had house sizes not been expanding rapidly, we would have had more affordable houses, we wouldn't have had the rapid price expansion that led to the housing bubble, and the subprime market wouldn't have been so slapdash and may not have suffered a cave-in of this magnitude. Of course, I don't understand economics, so this is probably just an incoherent rant. But whatever.

A Brief Thought

People enjoy mentioning Sen. John McCain's military service (especially his time in the Hanoi Hilton) a lot, but electorally speaking, does it matter? If history is any indication, it doesn't. In the last four Presidential elections, a person who actively avoided serving in a war defeated a war veteran. Clinton (who dodged) beat Bush I (a WWII fighter pilot) and Dole (injured in WWII). Bush II (avoided Vietnam in the Air National Guard) beat Gore (sent to 'Nam as an army journalist) and Kerry (decorated 'Nam vet). Of course, neither Clinton nor Obama actively avoided military service - Clinton couldn't be drafted for obvious reasons, and Obama was 12 when the Vietnam draft ended.

From the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War, only one election (1964) was won by someone who was not a veteran of a foreign war. Since then, only one election (1988) was won by someone who was a foreign war vet. So I guess it would behoove McCain supporters to not concentrate on his military record. (And to Mac's credit, so far he has avoided doing so.)

Oh, speaking of military vets, a fond farewell to Rep. Tom Lantos, who passed on today at the age of 80. Lantos was a Hungarian Jew who fought as a partisan against the Nazis, escaped from concentration camps twice, came to America to study after the war, and never left. Lantos, when he announced that he was going to retire, thanked America for the opportunities he never would have had back home. America thanks you back, Mr. Lantos.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Torturous Path

First off, I'd like to extend a warm thank-you to CIA Director Michael Hayden, who put an end to years of speculation that the CIA has tortured prisoners by just coming out and saying it. At least that's cleared up - the US government has tortured people. Three people, all al-Qaeda higher-ups, to be exact.

Hayden claimed that waterboarding provided a significant portion of the intelligence on al-Qaeda over the past five years, which of course has been oh-so-useful in capturing bin Laden and other group leaders. (My bullshit meter: beep. beep.) Hayden said it hadn't been used since George Tenet was in office, but Bush's office says they'll use it again whenever they damn well please despite its apparent illegality (according to Hayden: "In my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that that technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute"). Hilariously, Hayden asked Congress to approve the technique, saying that outlawing it or any other specific technique would "substantially increase the danger to America." (beepbeepbeepbeepbeep) And Attorney General Michael Mukasey claims that the DoJ cannot investigate, since apparently in whatever bizarro world the DoJ is living in, waterboarding was perfectly legal when it was used, though of course if it were used against the AG it'd be illegal. (BEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEPBEEP)

Torture - or, as our loquacious friends in the White House bureaucracy like to call it, "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is illegal. It has been illegal for some time now. That "some time" dates back to well before 2003. The military thinks it's over the top - and you'd think that if there were people with a hard-on for torture, they'd be in the military.

It's easy to talk yourself into allowing torture, especially if you've watched too much "24" and are convinced that if you don't get information out of every terror suspect RIGHTFRICKIN'NOW then a nuclear bomb will go off in Kansas City or something. When the frantic pace of mythical terror plots is applied to the situation, torture almost seems logical. But the truth is this: 1) that never happens, 2) torture doesn't work, and 3) torture is illegal.

To me, that last part is what it boils down to. Torture "Enhanced interrogation," including waterboarding, is illegal. And last time I checked, we are a nation of laws. All branches of our government, legislative, judicial, and executive, from the CIA and Congress to the local sheriff's office and the town council, need to follow the law. The enduring legacy of the Bush presidency will be a routine willingness to flout the law whenever it was judged to be convenient to the Administration. We have an election coming up - let's make sure that our next president, whether it's McCain, Clinton, or Obama, has ample respect for the law. Or at least enough respect for it to follow the important bits - you know, like the "don't torture people" or "don't spy on people" stuff.

(Funny how so many people who want to blur the legal lines when it comes to torture are the ones berating undocumented migrants for "breaking our laws," even though it seems to me that breaking a law against crossing an imaginary line without authorization is much more benign than breaking a law that prohibits torturing people. How the hell is illegal immigration more morally bankrupt than torture? Imagine the uproar if some undocumented worker waterboarded Lou Dobbs...)

Somehow, I'm Not Surprised

According to this, the original income tax form was designed by the person who co-wrote the Boris Karloff horror thriller The Mummy.


Thursday, February 07, 2008

I can haz lite? An lite wuz.

Not to interrupt the interesting gay-marriage discussion going on in the next post down, but I had to link to this.

Someone, somewhere, can haz waaaay too much time on their paws. I mean, hands.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Domestic Partnerships For All!

It's been at least four years since gay marriage first became a major issue, and only now does some state legislator propose the blindingly obvious solution to the impasse. I think I mentioned this on here before - replace the legal institution of marriage with a "domestic partnership" that's open to any two consenting adults, and leave marriage to the churches and communities. Gays get their legal rights, right-wingers get to deny marriage to gays unmolested by the government, and everyone's happy, right?

Of course, I'm sure someone will make up some bullshit about how this bill "threatens marriage" (presumably more than the stratospheric divorce rate). Well, if your relationship with your spouse requires the government's recognition as a "marriage" (as opposed to a "domestic partnership" with all the same benefits) to be meaningful, go find a relationship counselor, because you probably need it.