Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Since then it's been a book you read in reverse
So you understand less as the pages turn,
Or a movie so crass
And awkwardly cast
That even I could be the star. — The Shins

Ever notice how reading a blog is like reading history in reverse? So the top post is like the last page, and you have to go to the end to start at the beginning?

But there are no chapters, just labels, and the frequency of the labels tabulates what occupied my blog and my thoughts: John McCain (46), Barack Obama (44), George W. Bush (43), election (42), Sarah Palin (28), Iraq (26), terrorism (15), Hillary Clinton (14), economy (11), Dick Cheney (10), Saddam Hussein (10), Iran (9), civil liberties (7), Russia (7), environment (6), Condoleezza Rice (5), debates (5), electronic voting (5), impeachment (5).

The year is mostly easier to read about when it's all in the past tense! So, to all my readers... all 5 of you... have a happy new year! Here's to more happy blogging in 2009!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Deterrence and Retribution

"Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens." —Plato
The recent assault on Gaza that has left more than 300 dead is a foolish attempt at deterrence and retribution. The most foolish parties are, of course, Israel and the U.S. They say another brutal war will create security and topple Hamas. It will do the opposite. The Palestinians will look to Hamas (the government they elected) for protection. From a Haaretz report in East Jerusalem:
"The Israeli operation surprised terror elements in the West Bank," a police officer said, adding, however, "It is clear to us that the calls from the heads of Hamas to renew suicide bombings will eventually be heeded by those who will try to put those calls into action."
But still, it will be the battered Palestinians who suffer the most at the hands of Israel. Gideon Levy, writing for Haaretz, dares to identify Israel as the neighborhood bully repeating war crimes at an accelerated pace:
Blood will now flow like water. Besieged and impoverished Gaza, the city of refugees, will pay the main price. But blood will also be unnecessarily spilled on our side. In its foolishness, Hamas brought this on itself and on its people, but this does not excuse Israel's overreaction.

The history of the Middle East is repeating itself with despairing precision. Just the frequency is increasing. If we enjoyed nine years of quiet between the Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanon War, now we launch wars every two years. As such, Israel proves that there is no connection between its public relations talking points that speak of peace, and its belligerent conduct.

Israel also proves that it has not internalized the lessons of the previous war. Once again, this war was preceded by a frighteningly uniform public dialogue in which only one voice was heard - that which called for striking, destroying, starving and killing, that which incited and prodded for the commission of war crimes.

The war crimes referred to are the acts of collective retribution -- punishment against protected people who did not personally commit an offense. Hamas's rocket attacks -- though far less deadly -- are also war crimes.

Such attacks achieve no military benefit, and if our hearts and souls do not change, the violent cycle will continue until the bitter end.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas: Paid In Full

Yippee! I don't have to pay my Christmas bills if I just download this sheet of stickers from Benny Hinn and follow his simple instructions:


Place a sticker on your mortgage, loan, and credit card bills, as you ask God to give you a financial breakthrough.

As you send in your seed-gifts and prayer requests, place a sticker on the reply form, which Pastor Benny and Dr. Oral Roberts will lay hands on, and believe that you will receive a mighty outpouring.

Hey, if Benny knew about supernatural debt cancellation all along, why didn't he save Washington Mutual, IndyMac or any of the other failed banks? It probably wasn't God's will or something. That's it.

By the way, if I pay my bills online, do I just stick these to my monitor?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

That Shoe Thrower Guy

I've been thinking about that shoe thrower guy a lot today. Well, obviously he's hard to avoid if you even turn on the TV or read the news...

But I'm pondering whether the act of throwing his shoes at Bush was a violent act or a symbolic act. If it was intended as a violent act, he kind of failed. Nobody was hurt. Bush smirked -- even looked proud of himself for dodging the projectiles. There was even a bit of laughter in the room.

My impression is that the thrower, Muntazer al-Zaidi, knew his protest would be symbolic. He had his lines prepared and had an exact purpose. On the first shoe throw, he shouted "This is a gift from the Iraqis. This is the farewell kiss, you dog." And he consecrated the second shoe with "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq."

With this act, he evoked memories of how Saddam's statue was toppled and then beaten with shoes in the early days of the Iraq war. Even if westerners don't grasp the supreme insult of shoe throwing, we understand Bush is being equated with that dictator.

I'm sure al-Zaidi knew what he was doing. He could have been truly violent if he wanted to, but he wasn't. And the consequences for his actions? He's an Iraqi so he knew what horror he might be facing. The reports indicate that he now has a broken arm and ribs. I suspect this new Iraqi regime has no more respect for human rights than the previous one. So much for the progress we were bringing them.

But the most extraordinary thing is that al-Zaidi has, with this one brave protest, brought about more praise, admiration, and inspiration than all previous bombers and gunmen combined.

Now if Bush could only put on those shoes and walk a mile in them... nah, it's Bush we're talking about.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Bland Humor

I usually don't torture myself with morning radio shows. Listening to morning "zoo crews" or whatever they call themselves now is like reading the dumbest YouTube comments but without the "thumbs down" button.

But you've probably guessed why I'm writing this. I did listen to a morning radio show this morning... for a few moments... before I hit the off button.

The topic was Governor David Paterson's comments about this Saturday Night Live Weekend Update skit that mocked his blindness. The first predictable and juvenile joke the deejays made was along the lines of "oh my god, he's blind! He can't even watch the show!" The genius morning hosts, not catching the irony, proceeded to play the the SNL skit for their listeners... on the radio. They played the SNL skit on the radio -- that primitive device without pictures.

Then they went on with some other blunt ignorance scratching their empty skulls pondering why blind people would even rent DVDs or go to the movies.

But I think the attitude that annoys me the most is the idea that nobody should be offended by the SNL piece because "it's just a joke." The reality, however, is that comedy is part of our discourse now more than ever largely due to shows like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show. These shows, through humor, change attitudes, and that's truly awesome.

Minorities like the blind and the disabled also try to change attitudes. A spokesperson for Paterson said, "this particular 'Saturday Night Live' skit unfortunately chose to ridicule people with physical disabilities and imply that disabled people are incapable of having jobs with serious responsibilities." People with disabilities struggle every day to create a new consensus that they are capable, smart, and ready to work.

The SNL skit failed because it reinforced the old hindering consensus -- the blind are hapless, clumsy, disoriented. The comedian portraying Paterson repeatedly wandered in front of the camera. The real David Paterson, however, is described as "rarely out of step with his surroundings and seems comfortable in virtually every setting."

I think the best humor is not merely comic relief. The best humor changes the way we view our world, breaks the established order of things, forces you to question your habits and prejudices. Nothing was daring about the SNL skit. It was a lazy reinforcement of the Mr. Magoo stereotype.

I'm sad that Amy Poehler's goodbye message was combined with this lousy humor. I'd like to see the real David Paterson on SNL's Weekend Update. He can at least show them that no matter what way you hold the charts, the economy still looks like crap.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Midnight Madness

This really does sound like a late night Christmas bargain bonanza. I'm talking about the midnight regulations -- actually more like deregulations -- that President Bush is zealously handing out at an accelerated pace as his reign comes to an end. Each new rule is a special gift tied in a bow for one of his friends:

To the coal companies: a new rule that makes it easier for companies that mine for coal buried under mountaintops to dump rock and sludge near rivers and streams.

To a British mining company: a permit allowing them to explore for uranium just outside Grand Canyon National Park, less than three miles from a popular lookout over the canyon’s southern rim.

To the oil companies: (considering that Bush already gave them the war in Iraq, this one is more like a stocking stuffer) new regulations to develop oil shale deposits straddling almost two million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

To the industrial farms: new regulations to circumvent the Clean Water Act, leaving it up the the farms themselves to decide if animal waste discharges are harmful or not.

To big chemical companies: a decision to exempt perchlorate, a known toxin found in jet rocket fuel and our water supply, from federal regulation. Hey, if it ends up in our drinking water, just think of it as recycling... right?

To business: a new rule that makes it harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

To fundamentalist pharmacists: a new rule that says health care providers can refuse to assist, due to religious or moral reasons, in the performance of any part of a health service program or research activity financed by the Department of Health and Human Services. Many believe this regulation might prevent some women from obtaining birth control.

And to the rest of us, he leaves debt, two wars/occupations, a shitty economy, an imperiled planet, and a government that spies on its citizens. They always say "it's the thought that counts," but be thankful for gift receipts...

I thought I read that it was easy to undo these midnight regulations, but the process is not simple. From a Rolling Stone article on Bush's Final FU, the Congressional Review Act (CRA) may be the best hope for overturning these rules, but it's not easy:
But even this option, it turns out, is fraught with obstacles. First, the CRA requires a separate vote on each individual regulation. Second, the act prohibits reviving any part of a rule that has been squelched. Since Bush's rules sometimes contain useful reforms — the move to limit the Family and Medical Leave Act also extends benefits for military families — spiking the rules under the CRA would leave Obama unable to restore or augment those benefits in the future. Whatever Obama does will require him to expend considerable political capital, at a time when America faces two wars and an economic crisis of historic proportions.
So what should the world give Bush for Christmas? An Iraqi journalist already gave him a gift with sole (if video doesn't show, click here):

Too bad he missed, but hey, it's the thought that counts.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mistakes I Can Eat

I know my blog posts are switching between seasonal and serious this month, but I'm enjoying the distractions.

So my five year old nephew came over today, and we made some miniature gingerbread houses. After we were done, he got the wise idea that his grandparents should judge whose house was better. I don't know where he gets his competitiveness from!

But his houses were definitely better than mine, so I turned his attention towards video games before I could be humiliated. Luckily, he can't beat me at those yet.

By the way, if you're making this particular gingerbread mini village, and you accidentally break a few of the roof pieces, Hershey's miniatures are a perfect substitute.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Heckuva Job, Rummy

It seems that Bush is on a "Save My Legacy" tour. As he worked the crowd at West Point on Tuesday, he gave a shout out to his old pal and former defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld:
Finally, we are transforming our military for a new kind of war that we're fighting now, and for wars of tomorrow. This transformation was a top priority for the enterprising leader who served as my first Secretary of Defense -- Donald Rumsfeld. Today, because of his leadership and the leadership of Secretary Bob Gates, we have made our military better trained, better equipped, and better prepared to meet the threats facing America today, and tomorrow, and long in the future.
Wars of tomorrow, Mr. President? Exactly how many did you and your criminal friends plan? And although I won't question the skills and training of our military, I will question any statement that they are somehow better off because of these wars. By many accounts, our military is stretched, strained, and suffering. They deserve better!

But Bush's speech leaves me with a sense of deja vu. While Bush praises Rummy, a government report blames Rummy for detainee abuses:
A report released Thursday by leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee said top Bush administration officials, including Donald H. Rumsfeld, the former defense secretary, bore major responsibility for the abuses committed by American troops in interrogations at Abu Ghraib in Iraq; Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; and other military detention centers.

The report was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican. It represents the most thorough review by Congress to date of the origins of the abuse of prisoners in American military custody, and it explicitly rejects the Bush administration’s contention that tough interrogation methods have helped keep the country and its troops safe.

The report also rejected previous claims by Mr. Rumsfeld and others that Defense Department policies played no role in the harsh treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 and in other episodes of abuse.
Heckuva job, Rummy.

And because Christmas is coming, I'd like to offer you this fine stocking stuffer. Imagine the fun you and your children can have with this Donald Rumsfeld talking action figure!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Worst Gift Ever

Holidays bring crazy traditions. Tell me, who thought up this one? A group of friends or co-workers get together and agree to bring an "exchange gift." You have no idea who will get your gift. It could be a man or a woman, single or married, a drinker or a non-drinker. So you aim for that special something-for-nobody-in-particular type of gift. And oh yeah, it's supposed to be in that $5 - $10 price range. Right.

So I go about my shopping earnestly. I decide on a festive holiday oven mitt with a package of sugar cookie mix, and I throw in some measuring spoons for... uh... good measure.

So after a lovely dinner, the exciting moment arrives. For lack of creativity, we all pick random numbers, and then somehow the person in charge decides who gets to pick the first gift. My turn came second. I must have had 14 wrapped packages to choose from, but I remembered that "good things come in small packages." Right. Also, I didn't want to carry home a bulky casserole dish or some other awkward thingamajig.

The little package was tightly wrapped in tape, but before it was completely opened, I realized I made a big mistake. When I saw THIS, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry:

Keep in mind, nobody said anything about a "white elephant" gift or white hippo gift for that matter. But that's what I got -- a ceramic white hippo with a red hat, and oddly placed cracked and peeling heart stickers. One tattered decal on the hippo's belly said "to the greatest mom." I'm not even a mom.

Later we discovered that the hat unscrews, and it was obviously once a perfume bottle. My friend John bravely wafted the open bottle under his nose. Not a drop of the fragrance remained which was probably a blessing.

Next, we did the obvious -- rubbed it to see if a magic genii would come out. Nothing. We placed it under a cloth napkin hoping to forget about the pathetic thing, but it was still good for a few more laughs...

We thought of playing this fun scavenger type game, but I couldn't imagine walking up to a strange man at the restaurant bar and saying "can you show me something bigger and better?" (Now that I'm sober, I realize that would have been hysterically embarrassing.)

We thought of bringing the hippo to a target shooting range, but apparently they don't like you to fire upon ceramic items.

Anyway, somehow, accidentally-on-purpose the hippo disappeared on the way home. But please, nobody email me and tell me that the hippo was a rare 16th century Yiddish tchotchke. Just leave me with my happy memories.

Monday, December 08, 2008

In Infamy

Yesterday marked the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The day after the surprise strike, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed Congress and asked for a declaration of war, describing December 7, 1941 as "a date which will live in infamy."

But what exactly was so infamous about this Japanese attack on military targets? This article on explains it simply:
President Roosevelt used the word "infamy" because the raid was an act of military aggression. Until that moment Japan and the United States were not at war, although their conflicting interests had been threatening to boil over. The attack turned a dispute into a war; Pearl Harbor was a crime because the Japanese struck first.
What we once considered a crime was molded into official US policy 60 years later. It's called The Bush Doctrine, and it's the illegitimate policy of preventive war. It was a bad idea in 1941, and it's still a bad idea now.

But at least we haven't recycled every bad idea of that era. In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner, James Ziglar, pushed back against a "roundup" of Arabs and Muslims stating "We do have this thing called the Constitution." That's a stark contrast and blunt repudiation to Roosevelt's authorization of the internment of Japanese Americans...

The internment of Japanese Americans was probably the most shocking thing I ever learned in a high school history class. Well, when I say "learn" I mean read about in a short sidebar in our history textbook. Even back then I realized that the brevity of the lesson indicated a national shame over our actions. But I was also left with a curiosity about life inside the camps. Only recently did I find this little piece of the answer...

Here is a complete scan of a 1944 internment camp high school year book. Between normal pictures of student councils and proms there are poems about "Hope out of Gloom" and drawings that include barracks and barbed wire fences. I found this page particularly poignant.

I'm left wondering how textbooks 10 years from now will document the Bush legacy. Can they relegate every single crime and immoral act into a tiny sidebar or footnote? What else would be left to write about?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

A Working Kitchen

I discovered the joy of cooking this year when I started taking a weekly class at the Silicon Valley Independent Living Center (SVILC) -- a nonprofit agency that serves people with disabilities. I took the class so I wouldn't have to rely on frozen microwavable meals my entire life. However, the benefits of the class have been more than just culinary. I've also made some wonderful friends which is a salubrious side effect.

But the SVILC operates on a tight budget and the kitchen appliances are broken and inadequate. The organization is seeking donations this holiday season, and the class will be featured in the San Jose Mercury News Holiday Wish Book. You can read all about the class and make donations on the SJ Mercury web site.

Don't look for me in those pictures though. I wasn't there that week! I'm camera-shy anyway!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Walk of Shame

President Bush has 46 days left in the White House, and he's desperately trying to recast his legacy. I've watched parts of his recent exit interview, and although nearly everything he says boils my blood, I haven't commented because at this point, writing long essays on his failures is like kicking a corpse. Luckily, Jon Stewart is up to the task (if video doesn't show, click here):

However, now that Jon Stewart has fired me up, I think I am going to kick the corpse just a little bit... Bush made this one particularly wistful remark that I can't let pass: "I wish the intelligence had been different, I guess." What?

Let me just address the president personally (because I'm certain he reads this blog)...
Sorry Mr. President, but I've been paying attention, and I remember that major Senate committee report last June which concluded that you and your aides built the public case for war against Iraq by exaggerating available intelligence and by ignoring disagreements among spy agencies about Iraq’s weapons programs and Saddam Hussein’s links to Al Qaeda. In other words, you lied to us about the intelligence, and if the information had been different, you still would have lied because you were determined to go to war. Maybe you should read the report. Maybe you'll put a copy in your library. Whatever you do, you can't successfully rewrite history because too many people are watching you.
However, now it's time to keep an eye on little brother Jeb Bush because he's prattling on about setting up a "shadow government" which sounds vaguely treasonous. Between the Bushies and McCain, they've certainly done some damage to the Republican party.

The good news though? That McCain-Palin t-shirt you wanted to buy your grandpa for Christmas is now 75% off! Image via erin m on flickr:

Monday, December 01, 2008

Gifts I Won't Be Giving

It's my favorite time of year again. Seriously. I plan to be very busy with the decorating, wrapping, baking and visiting festivities this month... but the shopping? I've done pretty well this year, and I'm almost done. I even avoided Black Friday.

But here is an unfortunate dilemma most people don't find themselves in. I found the craziest gift ever, but there is no man (or exhibitionist) in my life to give it to. Boohoo:
This book contains no nudity. No profanity. No sexual material of any kind. And yet it just might be the naughtiest book of the year!

Penis Pokey is an illustrated board book with a large die-cut hole in its center. Every spread features a dazzling full-color illustration with one thing missing — a banana, perhaps, or a fire hose, or a sea serpent. Male readers can complete the illustrations using the talents God has given them.
I know many of my readers have some interest in politics, so here is another unique gift. Even if I don't have anybody on my list who would appreciate this, maybe you do: Hillary Nutcracker and Corkscrew Bill.

I really try to find creative gifts for my friends, and I feel like a total failure when I resort to giving gift cards!

Sunday, November 30, 2008


"Only the dead have seen the end of war." — George Santayana
On a holiday to give thanks, I watched the Mumbai Massacre unfold on TV. I don't have anything authoritative to say on the tragedy. I haven't even sorted out the facts on who did it and why. I don't have anything profound to say either.

But the story of Alan and Naomi Scherr does touch me. Naomi was 13 and her father, Alan, was 54. They were on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to India with the Synchronicity Foundation to teach seminars on meditation. I didn't know these people, but by all accounts that I have read, the two were pursuing peace and tranquility. And then they met with anger and violence. Like so many victims in Mumbai, they would have extended a helping hand to those same people who would rather use guns and bombs. It's an eternal paradox.

My hope right now is that India does not imitate the disastrous policies of the US, and that the US, at the very least, ends our wars and the shameful practice of torture. We are all to blame for the suffering we cause each other.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Subprime Marriages

'You loser!" screamed Katie, aiming a vase at her husband. "You've destroyed my life,'' she continued, hurling it. "Just look at my hair, look at my nails! You loser, you jerk, you nobody."
I don't feel sorry for the rich men and their gold-digging wives described in this recent Telegraph UK article. Both sides are selfish and materialistic: the women who marry men for money and then leave them when the property portfolios shrink, and the stupid shallow men who want trophy wives and can't recognize real love. Maybe they deserve each other.

Whether these stories of toxic wives are a real trend or not, I think the super-wealthy are deserving of some kind of comeuppance. These are the people who enabled the current financial crisis. Using Citigroup as one example, the New York Times exposes how some of these millionaire bankers either had no idea what they were selling or took no responsibility for it:

According to a former Citigroup executive, Mr. Prince started putting pressure on Mr. Maheras and others to increase earnings in the bank’s trading operations, particularly in the creation of collateralized debt obligations, or C.D.O.’s — securities that packaged mortgages and other forms of debt into bundles for resale to investors.

Because C.D.O.’s included so many forms of bundled debt, gauging their risk was particularly tricky; some parts of the bundle could be sound, while others were vulnerable to default.

“Chuck Prince going down to the corporate investment bank in late 2002 was the start of that process,” a former Citigroup executive said of the bank’s big C.D.O. push. “Chuck was totally new to the job. He didn’t know a C.D.O. from a grocery list, so he looked for someone for advice and support. That person was Rubin. And Rubin had always been an advocate of being more aggressive in the capital markets arena. He would say, ‘You have to take more risk if you want to earn more.’ ”

It appeared to be a good time for building up Citigroup’s C.D.O. business. As the housing market around the country took flight, the C.D.O. market also grew apace as more and more mortgages were pooled together into newfangled securities.
Of course, it wasn't impossible to predict the meltdown. Meredith Whitney, an obscure analyst of financial firms for Oppenheimer Securities, understood the mismanagement of Citigroup and predicted the company would go bust:
From that moment, Whitney became E.F. Hutton: When she spoke, people listened. Her message was clear. If you want to know what these Wall Street firms are really worth, take a hard look at the crappy assets they bought with huge sums of ­borrowed money, and imagine what they’d fetch in a fire sale. The vast assemblages of highly paid people inside the firms were essentially worth nothing. For better than a year now, Whitney has responded to the claims by bankers and brokers that they had put their problems behind them with this write-down or that capital raise with a claim of her own: You’re wrong. You’re still not facing up to how badly you have mismanaged your business.
Pair these idiot bankers with the regulators who destroyed regulations, and you have one big dysfunctional relationship which is, sadly, a very real trend. Although I'd personally prefer the cathartic act of smashing a vase across their skulls, we are instead expected to bail them out.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A Colbert Christmas

"I'm so excited right now, I'm sporting a yule log." — Stephen Colbert
A tip of the hat to Stephen Colbert for his war on the War on Christmas. A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! is reminiscent of those old variety-show Christmas specials we haven't seen since the 70's... except this star-studded extravaganza has Willie Nelson, as the fourth of the three kings, telling the story of a plant that smokes more sweetly than either frankincense or myrrh:

The show airs again this Thursday and Friday on Comedy Central.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cutting Red Tape

I wish I could say it was photoshopped, but this outrageous picture of regulators destroying regulations was taken at a 2003 press event. Yesterday's Washington Post article titled Banking Regulator Played Advocate Over Enforcer mentioned this unfortunate image:
In the summer of 2003, leaders of the four federal agencies that oversee the banking industry gathered to highlight the Bush administration's commitment to reducing regulation. They posed for photographers behind a stack of papers wrapped in red tape. The others held garden shears. Gilleran, who succeeded Seidman as OTS director in late 2001, hefted a chain saw.
The other men in the picture were identified by CalculatedRisk: John Reich (then Vice Chairman of the FDIC and later at the OTS), James McLaughlin of the American Bankers Association, Harry Doherty of America's Community Bankers, and Ken Guenther of the Independent Community Bankers of America.

As we lurch from financial crisis to financial crisis, we would all like a simple explanation. Unfortunately, life is complicated:
As Congress and the incoming Obama administration prepare to revamp federal financial oversight, the collapse of the thrift industry offers a lesson in how regulation can fail. It happened over several years, a product of the regulator's overly close identification with its banks, which it referred to as "customers," and of the agency managers' appetite for deregulation, new lending products and expanded homeownership sometimes at the expense of traditional oversight. Tough measures, like tighter lending standards, were not employed until after borrowers began defaulting in large numbers.

The agency championed the thrift industry's growth during the housing boom and called programs that extended mortgages to previously unqualified borrowers as "innovations." In 2004, the year that risky loans called option adjustable-rate mortgages took off, then-OTS director James Gilleran lauded the banks for their role in providing home loans. "Our goal is to allow thrifts to operate with a wide breadth of freedom from regulatory intrusion," he said in a speech.

At the same time, the agency allowed the banks to project minimal losses and, as a result, reduce the share of revenue they were setting aside to cover them. By September 2006, when the housing market began declining, the capital reserves held by OTS-regulated firms had declined to their lowest level in two decades, less than a third of their historical average, according to financial records.
With no end in sight for this financial crisis, some are perceiving a fundamental flaw in capitalism which will leave us all relying on the barter system. I guess now is a good time to learn how to hunt and fish?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

But Do We Believe Him?

As White House Press Secretary, Scott McClellan had a lucrative career lying to us. Now, with the recent change in political climate, he makes his bucks exposing those lies. His most recent revelation is that George W. Bush outed CIA agent Valerie Plame (if video doesn't show, click here):

So this video is already a week old. Has Bush been impeached yet? Let me check... nope. However, Dick Cheney has been indicted on something totally unrelated. I'm shocked -- the charges aren't shocking but the indictment itself surprises me. In a government where an executive order can grant the VP limitless power, I thought Cheney was untouchable...

So let's optimistically imagine we can get to the point where Bush is put on trial, and Scott McClellan is called as a witness. I am sure that McClellan's loyalty and character will be attacked along with his honesty. In an astonishing contradiction, Scott McClellan told members of the House Judiciary Committee last June that he didn't think that the president knew in advance about the Plame Wilson leak. He has clearly changed his story.

However, I still feel that McClellan's claims corroborate other reports and charges against Bush and Cheney. I could care less about McClellan's apparent lack of loyalty to a political party. I just wish he wasn't a professional liar.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

What Does This Mean?

I first saw the above footage on The Daily Show, and it was offered without the usual wisecracks. I watched in mild disbelief, but concluded that our President Numb-Nuts was simply oblivious to the fact that it was hand-shaking time again. After all, as the Daily Show noted and documented, Bush had already greeted every world leader at the commencement of the Global Economic Summit in Washington, D.C., and the two day event was probably boring Bush to tears!

However, in the above CNN video, anchorman Rick Sanchez thinks Bush looks like "the most unpopular kid in high school that nobody liked."

So which is it? Was Bush oblivious, bored, and rude, or did all the G20 leaders conspire to snub Bush as some kind of response to his catastrophic presidency? If so, why didn't Bush even extend his hand? Why didn't he hold his head up or make eye contact? If he didn't make a single gesture, then you can't say the others rejected him.... Unless Bush was tipped off ahead of time that he was going to be snubbed, and so he decided he would rather whistle pass those guys.

Another possibility is that all these adults are in some kind of snit over something somebody said, but it's hard to tell. The consensus among key politicians, commentators and economists is that nothing extraordinary was accomplished but nothing extraordinary was expected.

Maybe the whole event was irrelevant due to the lame duck host and the absence of president-elect Barack Obama.

Still, I'm left with the impression that if these world leaders are indeed ostracizing Bush, then they are ostracizing the whole United States. Even if you hate Bush, you shouldn't be gloating over this possible snub. This situation is alarming. I think we will suffer many years for Bush's mistakes.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We Are Not Toys

The Iraq Veterans Against the War recently staged Operation W.A.N.T. (We Are Not Toys). The demonstration was a peaceful attention-grabber. The veterans infiltrated an unidentified gas station and deployed a battalion of 4171 toy soldiers, together with a sign reading, "Price of Gas: 4171 U.S. Soldiers." (If video doesn't show, click here):

I see the protest as a somber response to a public that does not acknowledge the consequences of the American lifestyle and a president who has often seemed like a spoiled child-commander for toy soldiers.

We are not toys. Our soldiers are not toys. Iraqis are not toys. Look at this heart-rending picture. We need to see these consequences.

Related Post: Bang Bang! Kiss Kiss!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality is a new technology that brings real and virtual objects together. You really have to see it in action before you can begin to understand it (if video doesn't show, click here):

Your first impression from that video might be "Oh a hologram!" But no, it's not a hologram. The gadget, created by Geisha Tokyo Entertainment Inc., comes with two "cybercubes" and two "cybersticks." You aim your webcam at these real objects, and the software renders video of virtual Alice responding to your taps and... umm... touches.

Ok, if your first impression was not amazement over new technology, then maybe it was bewilderment over stripping, touching, and paddling a four inch tall virtual girl who cries like a child then collapses into a fetal position.

Of course I'm a fan of video games, virtual worlds, and new technologies, but this cyber geisha is disturbing. Maybe it's her submissiveness and distress followed by sudden happiness over a mere teddy bear? What kind of guy has these fantasies? Or maybe I should ask how many guys have these fantasies?

I'm not naive. I've had my own forays into the red light districts of Second Life, but ultimately those online trysts are with consenting humans on a cyber landscape. A computer controlled girlfriend can be as cutesy and unreal as any geek can imagine...

... or maybe I am naive to deny that our imaginations have long been the stage for these fantasies before the technology caught up? The $57 billion worldwide pornography industry drives many new technologies. So today we see cyber geisha, and tomorrow maybe we'll see a new generation of The Sims, or maybe even something practical.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Working for Change

If you want to work in the Barack Obama administration, you'll have to answer a few questions. The 63 item questionnaire includes the typical inquiries about employment history, lobbying history, and financial and tax information.

But you will also have to disclose your online aliases and all your writings including diaries, blogs and comments on blogs.

Also, you must explain "any association with any person, group or business venture that could be used -- even unfairly -- to impugn or attack your character or qualifications for government service." Neocons are predictably screaming "hypocrisy" over that question, but I yawn. I think the transition team simply wanted a quick way to weed out Todd Palin's application.

And then, of course, list three professional references just like every boring job you've ever applied for.

Obama's transition team has about 7000 positions to fill according to the 2008 Plum Book, the quadrennial list of positions subject to presidential appointment. Well maybe one less position now, but you didn't want to be Secretary of State anyway, right? And you weren't hoping for this job either:
The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code).
Dick Cheney and his lawyers must have written that ridiculous job description. No wonder Sarah Palin was so confused.

Anyway, if you're ready to work for change, the Washington Post has tips on how to actually apply.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Image via Crooks and Liars.

Politico explains how Barack Obama can hit that undo button:
It could take Obama years to undo climate rules finalized more than 60 days before he takes office — the advantage the White House sought by getting them done by Nov. 1. But that strategy doesn’t account for the Congressional Review Act of 1996.

The law contains a clause determining that any regulation finalized within 60 legislative days of congressional adjournment is considered to have been legally finalized on the 15th legislative day of the new Congress, likely sometime in February. Congress then has 60 days to review it and reverse it with a joint resolution that can’t be filibustered in the Senate.

In other words, any regulation finalized in the last half-year of the Bush administration could be wiped out with a simple party-line vote in the Democrat-controlled Congress.
Well, I hope this is true! One day maybe we will wake up to these headlines. Hey, I can dream, can't I?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Open Secrets

I was reading this article entitled Predatory Scapegoating and learned a few things I'm surprised I had not yet heard. Nine months ago, before Eliot Spitzer was forced to resign as governor of New York, he published this op-ed about the marked increase in predatory lending practices by mortgage lenders and how the Bush administration stopped the states from helping consumers:

In 2003, during the height of the predatory lending crisis, the OCC invoked a clause from the 1863 National Bank Act to issue formal opinions preempting all state predatory lending laws, thereby rendering them inoperative. The OCC also promulgated new rules that prevented states from enforcing any of their own consumer protection laws against national banks. The federal government's actions were so egregious and so unprecedented that all 50 state attorneys general, and all 50 state banking superintendents, actively fought the new rules.

But the unanimous opposition of the 50 states did not deter, or even slow, the Bush administration in its goal of protecting the banks. In fact, when my office opened an investigation of possible discrimination in mortgage lending by a number of banks, the OCC filed a federal lawsuit to stop the investigation.

Bush and his friends really know how to break a government, but unfortunately it was our government. And unfortunately the MSM is too easily distracted by a SEX SCANDAL!

But here is another interesting fact from the Predatory Scapegoating article. George Herbert Walker IV is a second cousin to George W. Bush and is also a managing director at now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers. Obviously that family has a certain gift for finance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Misplaced October Surprise?

Remember back in August, right before the Democratic National Convention, when there was that little five day South Ossetian War fought between Georgia on one side, and Russia, and the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on the other? Remember when McCain spoke of his conversation with Georgian president Saakashvili? "And I told him that I know I speak for every American when I say to him, 'Today we are all Georgians.'"

I thought McCain sounded totally cocky. I'm not a Georgian. I never have been and I never will be. I'm an American. Between McCain's saber rattling and pretending to be president, what was really going on?

Last week the New York Times reported on the observations of international monitors working under the mandate of OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) in South Ossetia when the conflict started:
Newly available accounts by independent military observers of the beginning of the war between Georgia and Russia this summer call into question the longstanding Georgian assertion that it was acting defensively against separatist and Russian aggression.

Instead, the accounts suggest that Georgia’s inexperienced military attacked the isolated separatist capital of Tskhinvali on Aug. 7 with indiscriminate artillery and rocket fire, exposing civilians, Russian peacekeepers and unarmed monitors to harm.
As the conflict was developing, I noticed how the media framed the entire thing in terms of the U.S. presidential election and portrayed McCain as the tough guy who would put Russia in its place even if that meant using Georgia as an unwilling proxy in a long, bloody guerrilla war... as if the world needs another war.

But McCain's posturing during election season was no accident. Tom Hayden on TPMCafe asks if the Georgian war was a neocon conspiracy and early October Surprise:

The new evidence increases the likelihood that the August 7-8 clash between Georgia and Russia was an "October Surprise" that would highlight John McCain's greater foreign policy experience at the height of the presidential election.

The Georgia fighting occurred immediately before the Democratic convention in Denver. McCain, the leading public advocate for Georgia, immediately declared "we are all Georgians now" and promised "to blast Russia." Obama, on vacation in Hawaii, at first called for greater diplomacy, but quickly fell in line with a bipartisan consensus of national security advisers and the mainstream media. Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, openly applauded the White House for its rapid response, including support for NATO's inclusion of Georgia and the Ukraine and a one billion dollar emergency appropriation.
The relationship between McCain and his top foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann, definitely adds credibility to Hayden's claims.

Although Russia has withdrawn all troops, and the U.S. State Department has admitted that the Georgian attack was a mistake, we shouldn't forget about this incident. Indeed I think we need to learn more about it. Hillary Clinton has introduced S.3567 "to establish a Commission on the conflict between Russia and Georgia, and for other purposes."

I hope that president-elect Obama will favor diplomacy in these situations, and I hope that he will rethink the U.S. relationship with Georgia, because I'm afraid this misplaced October surprise will come back to haunt us.

About The Human Heart

I've been terribly sick with a cold for two days, and I've spent many hours in bed. However, the urge to blog is stronger than shivers, sweats and sneezes.

I'm going to let Keith Olbermann provide the heart of this post for me. Here are his special comments on California's Proposition 8 (if video doesn't show, click here):

On a lighter note, this guy who I've never heard of before wants you to know that his only serious concern about gays getting married is that they'll "register someplace pricey."

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Crafty Confrontations

I went to a craft fair today and won this lovely embroidered pillow. The arts and crafts scene isn't my usual thing, but it was something to do with my mom this Saturday...

And all would have been enjoyable, except my mom brought up politics which she doesn't really follow except for those chain e-mails her friends at the Y keep sending her. As I mentioned once before, my mother has developed a serious and unshakable case of Baracknophobia. Reason and logic can't cure it.

My father also fears Obama, but dad's opinions are more a product of Fox News and a yearning for a social order that hasn't existed for 40 years.

So here is the gist what my mom said: your dad was really upset about those comments Obama made about Nancy Reagan. He said "Obama had to apologize for it, but you won't hear the liberal media reporting on that!"

At that point, I'm not sure what happened to me. I don't know if it was the past few weeks of anxiety over the election, or the realization I'd be facing a multitude of silly manufactured outrages from neocons over the next 4 years (and hopefully 8) -- but my anger exploded like verbal fireworks. Or a singular firework -- one big explosion and then it faded. But I ticked off in one long sentence everything that Bush has never apologized for. You know the list of fuck-ups that have happened on his watch: 9/11, anthrax attacks, hurricane Katrina, war in Iraq, not catching Bin Laden, etc. Then I finished with the revelation that it will be nice to have a president who cares enough to apologize when he makes a mistake.

I used to be such a quiet person. I surprise myself with this recent anguish. Should I starve it or nurture it? I don't know.

But after my little burst, my mom finished the story. She said, "well I found Obama's apology in the newspaper, so I neatly folded the paper with that article showing, and left it at the table for your dad."

I guess that's the pathological way I've learned to avoid confrontation. Don't argue. Just leave a note.

Friday, November 07, 2008

We've Earned A New Puppy

Over on Gawker, they have the scoop on the people who will fix your money. The BBC has the scoop on who has been named for the new Obama administration. And over on Newsweek, they scoop the poop on past White House lawn poopers.

I find that all fascinating, but I want to talk about a different type of animal. The elephant. The mascot of the Republican party, right? So why not dress your little Republican offspring as an elephant for Halloween? I wouldn't have given much thought to that idea until I was watching Countdown tonight and was alarmed at what I saw at about 5:30 into the following video (if video doesn't show, click here):

Did you see it for yourself? Sarah Palin dressed her son with Downs Syndrome in a Dumbo costume! He's mentally challenged and in a Dumbo costume. Does that woman ever think? Am I being hyper sensitive?

When I was a child back in the dark ages (the 1970's), I had to go to a "special" school where they placed children with physical disabilities in the same classrooms with children with mental disabilities. It actually wasn't a bad deal. The class sizes were very small and my lessons were individualized for my abilities and pace...

But what I'm remembering is that when they put on an annual play, and they chose Snow White -- it was changed to Snow White and the Six Dwarves. They intentionally left out Dopey. There was no need to teach new and demeaning labels to vulnerable children. There was no need to reinforce the epithets they may have already heard from their crueler peers.

Palin's baby boy is too young to remember this event, but I hope she gains a modicum of political correctness before her son goes to school.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Above Ground

Yesterday morning, as millions were going to the polls, Bill Ayers emerged from his home to give a short interview for the Washington Post. Ayers had this to say:
"Pal around together? What does that mean? Share a milkshake with two straws?" Ayers said in his first interview since the controversy began. "I think my relationship with Obama was probably like thousands of others in Chicago. And, like millions and millions of others, I wish I knew him better."
I can honestly say I'm glad he didn't know Obama better. But at least this story dismisses all the dire warnings, innuendo, and bullshit we've been hearing from Sarah Palin for the last month.

Regardless of Palin's efforts, these attacks were ineffectual. Maybe they even backfired. Why did McCain even agree to such a strategy? Well, Newsweek's postmortem on the McCain campaign has this tidbit:
Palin launched her attack on Obama’s association with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground bomber, before the campaign had finalized a plan to raise the issue. McCain’s advisers were working on a strategy that they hoped to unveil the following week, but McCain had not signed off on it, and top adviser Mark Salter was resisting.
I guess that's what you get for picking a "maverick." I wonder if McCain has any regrets? Bill Ayers certainly has regrets about his own past:
"I wish I'd been wiser," he said. "I wish I'd been more effective. I wish I'd been more unifying. I wish I'd been more principled."
In other words, he wishes he had been more like Barack Obama.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obama Wins!

When the news was announced a little after 8pm Pacific time, I was pleased to hear a few firecrackers go off in my own neighborhood. It sounded like New Years, and in a way it feels very much like a new world...

Let's not forget that this historic win is not the answer to everything, but I feel like my faith in this country has been restored. USA! USA! USA!

I wish I could have the same pride in California tonight, but it's not looking good.


Everybody should get out and vote! Even underachievers and dyslexic cake decorators!

(Image via Cake Wrecks.)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Hope and Wait

I have already cast my vote. Tomorrow I will simply hope and wait. I'll watch a little news, and maybe I'll blog, but I think I've already said everything I can possibly say about these presidential and vice-presidential candidates. I can't imagine who these undecided voters are. Luckily, David Sedaris can explain it:
To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. "Can I interest you in the chicken?" she asks. "Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?"� To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked. I mean, really, what's to be confused about?
I find nothing to be confused about. I've examined every lie, half truth and innuendo during this malignant election, and I feel completely confident in my vote for Barack Obama.

I'd prefer not to write anything more about election 2008 until I can perform an autopsy.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Nailin' Palin

Oh, no! Not another Sarah Palin post! I'll try to be brief. Yesterday a Quebec comedy duo notorious for prank calls to celebrities reached Sarah Palin, convincing the Republican vice-presidential nominee that she was speaking with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Hilarity ensued (if video doesn't show, click here... or if you simply can't stand that shrill voice, read the transcript here):

I'm not going to criticize her for falling for a prank. Hell, I fell for at least one good one in my younger years (maybe that will be a blog post for another day). But what irks me about her conversation with the impostor Sarkozy is her girlish laughter. I imagine that I sounded that way when I was 14 and talking to a cute boy. I've since learned to control myself, and I would hope a VP candidate could also learn to behave a little more appropriately...

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm talking about a ditsy woman with superstitious beliefs and a gross and shamelessly erroneous interpretation of the First Amendment:
Palin told WMAL-AM that her criticism of Obama's associations, like those with 1960s radical Bill Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, should not be considered negative attacks. Rather, for reporters or columnists to suggest that it is going negative may constitute an attack that threatens a candidate's free speech rights under the Constitution, Palin said.
Glenn Greenwald comments on this profound ignorance:

The First Amendment is actually not that complicated. It can be read from start to finish in about 10 seconds. It bars the Government from abridging free speech rights. It doesn't have anything to do with whether you're free to say things without being criticized, or whether you can comment on blogs without being edited, or whether people can bar you from their private planes because they don't like what you've said.

If anything, Palin has this exactly backwards, since one thing that the First Amendment does actually guarantee is a free press. Thus, when the press criticizes a political candidate and a Governor such as Palin, that is a classic example of First Amendment rights being exercised, not abridged.

You can listen to Palin's comment here, but it's painful... and I'm not talking about the pitch this time.