Saturday, December 30, 2006

YouTube Wars

Atrios started it, but we're not going to roll over for it anymore. Take this, you wankers:

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Christmas Wish from the Mojowire...

Here are a couple of Christmas videos for you to ponder...

And who could forget...

So on behalf of S9, Hebisner, and myself, have a happy Christmas/Kwanza/Chanukah/Saturnalia/Solstice, etc., blissfully unaware of the madness and horror lurking just on the edge of our perception of the thin veneer of reality that shields us from the unholy shrillness and insanity of the Great Old Ones...

...Or perhaps you did vote Republican...

The Editors

Friday, December 22, 2006

More Tin-foil Hat Theater

Have a look at this video of a purported FEMA detention camp I found via Another Day In The Empire, linked from the invaluable Cursor.Org [see sidebar].

I'm really not sure what I'm seeing in that footage, but if it's what David Neiwert has been writing about, then well, um, uh…

This stuff appears to be originating from Alex Jones and the very strange people at I have no idea who these people are, or what planet they'd like to be living on instead of this one, but there's something about the smell of the place that doesn't look wholesome. Anybody else know where these geeks came from?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Surreality-Based Community

At PressThink, Jay Rosen writes once more about Ron Suskind's excellent scoop on the senior adviser to the President who said this:
The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality— judiciously, as you will— we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''
Rosen is writing about the end of empiricism as policy in the Bush administration, and I cannot recommend this latest piece highly enough.

Incidentally, amid all the amazingly useful, timely and important insights he provides, there is also a bit that might help to explain why I chose to modify the MojoWire blog template to declare that we are "proudly serving the surreality-based community" in the header.
That passage caused a sensation when it was published, and the sensation introduced a new term, the reality-based community, into political talk. Two things happened right away. Many on the left adopted the term. “Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community,” their blogs said. The right then jeered at the left’s self-description. (They’re reality-based? Yeah, right.)

Spooked Republicans

Neither of those responses highlights the fact that in Suskind’s reporting it was Republicans spooked by Bush and his anti-empiricism who were beginning to speak out. After his portrait of Karen Hughes, after his book with bounced Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, after he wrote about Karl Rove’s operation, Suskind’s phone began to ring. His sources, he has said, were people who had been left out of decision-making or put off by the Bush team’s projections of certainty. Republicans, insiders. They had a disturbing pattern to report.

“By midyear 2001, a stand-and-deliver rhythm was established. Meetings, large and small, started to take on a scripted quality.”

“The circle around Bush was tightening.”

“The president would listen without betraying any reaction.”

“The president would rarely prod anyone with direct, informed questions.”

“By summer’s end that first year, Vice President Dick Cheney had stopped talking in meetings he attended with Bush. They would talk privately, or at their weekly lunch.”

Suskind had a lot of it figured out:
A cluster of particularly vivid qualities was shaping George W. Bush’s White House through the summer of 2001: a disdain for contemplation or deliberation, an embrace of decisiveness, a retreat from empiricism, a sometimes bullying impatience with doubters and even friendly questioners.
That “cluster” is not idealism. In the current New York Review of Books, Mark Danner talks of a “war of imagination” that Bush and his advisers preferred to fight. The thing is, it takes a leap of imagination to realize they did it that way. As Danner puts it, anyone trying to understand how the current mess in Iraq started “has to confront the monumental fact that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, invaded Iraq with no particular and specific idea of what it was going to do there, and then must try to explain how this could have happened.”
I have a theory that goes along with Mr. Rosen's observations here.

The Bush people aren't retreating from empirical reality so much as they're engaging in a "retrograde advance" into a surrealist fantasy where action is its own prelibation. There's a lot of hundred-euro words in there, but the basic distinction I'm trying to draw is that they aren't really running away from the observable facts so much as they're captivated by the seemingly unlimited potential of unfettered imagination. I think Mr. Rosen is saying the same thing.

So, when the rest of Left Blogovia was busy trumpeting their membership in the Reality-Based Community, I thought it was important to stay more focused on the surreality that animates the Bush administration policy apparatus than in the reality actually created in the wake of its actions. Other blogs and news aggregators are very good at covering the trail of wreckage and viscera left behind by movement conservatives, and we link to some of them from time to time. What I want to do is highlight the direction they're headed, the trends in their thinking, so maybe you too can imagine what horrible crimes they will find it necessary to commit next.

Meanwhile, the rest of Mr. Rosen's essay is lip-biting good. Go read it. Now.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Let Us Now Gather On The Veranda...

...and watch the U.S. dollar gradually lose its reserve currency status while we nibble on Cheez-Whiz™ and Saltines™ and drink down a six-pack of Budweiser™.

That didn't take long...

Via Ezra Klein, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden just proposed a comprehensive reform of the U.S. Healthcare system
Here's how it would work: The Healthy Americans Act of 2007 would begin by dissolving all employer-based insurance. Instead, it would mandate that every employer who had covered his employees in 2006 convert the total they spent on insurance into salary increases creating, in one day, the single largest pay raise America has ever seen. Now, why would employers go along with that? Well, legislatively they'd have to, but, as Len Nichols explained to me, they'll also want to: Health costs are accelerating, every year costs 10 or so percent more than they ear before. By freezing the total at what employers paid in 2006, Wyden's plan would exempt them from 2007's increase.
Meanwhile, an individual mandate would be implemented, forcing every American to purchase one of the options offered by their state's newly formed Health Help Agency (HHA). The HHA's will have a menu of private insurance plans, all of which must provide coverage equal to or better than the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Plan used by Congress. All plans will be community rated by the state, meaning an end to adverse selection and preexisting condition problems. The only acceptable variables for price will be geography, family size, and smoking status. Subsidies will be offered up to 400 percent of the poverty line, will full coverage provided to those below 100 percent. Employers will contribute through a set equation related to business size and yearly profits. There's quite a bit more, but that's the basic outline.

This makes good sense to me not only on a policy level, but on a political level as well. This is what I want Democrats to be talking about, workable policy solutions on a problem that is a) real and in need of addressing, b) moves the political debate into a place where Democrats can control the agenda. I want them to be in the governing business, not just picking a fight with the Bushies. (Although I want them to do that too)

In the past, the insurers killed the effort as a threat to their business model, which is basically stick the other guy with the bill. Has the climate changed enough for them to believe that gravy train might be coming to an end? There is an upside for them here. Everyone will have insurance of some kind, the pool of potential customers would consequently expand, and could concievably increase profits without having to chase people around in collections.

The problems I foresee are for Health Care providers who have built their business model around the employers. What mechanisms would or could be put in place for them to want to support this without threatening their business model. I think most of those could compete in this new market, but the devil will be in the details.

Wow, those hippies sure are eager...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It was the soy all along...

Okay, so I've been debating whether this qualified as STES material or not...

I mean, blaming soy-based food products for "feminizing" the populace and making young men choose to be well groomed and tasteful decorators is certainly about as stoopid as it gets without actually having to be hospitalized... although as comedian Ron White says "you can't fix stupid..."

But generally, we (or perhaps, just I) have been trying to get quotes from the powerful; those who are actually part of the power structure in some significant or perhaps self-important way...

So while sentences like: Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. Does it rise to the level of STES, in that it comes from what should ordinarily perhaps be a more cogent or at least thoughtful source in a reality-based world, or is this simply the raving of yet another WND crank who can't come to grips with the how badly their team has cratered in the recent past and the complete trainwreck that is the conservative movement.

Editors? What do you think? Do we bestow the precious tin foil hat on the dread Dr. Rutz?

mojo sends

Monday, December 11, 2006

The truth grenade

I've been trying to put my finger on what is truly missing in the ISG report. While there are a few things I think are a good idea, such as their suggestions about the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and it's importance in the Middle East, something essential was missing. Joe Galloway, a former DOD beat reporter for Knight Ridder who has covered several conflicts, reminds me of what that something is
What we need to do is what none of the commissions and their reports dared to suggest: Begin withdrawing American forces from Iraq right now. Not in 2008. Not after the American death toll has crossed 5,000. Not just in time for a presidential election.

Here is the reason I more or less agree with this. There is no strategy, no matter how brilliant or well conceived, that this administration is competent enough to pull off. They are simply incapable of it. Not to mention, they are incapable of telling the truth. They lie constantly, and for ridiculous reasons. Yes, all Administrations have lied. These people have taken it to a whole other level. Even Nazi Propagandists would have been impressed at the level of schadenfreude this Administration and it's enablers conjure up. They are venal, mendacious and criminally stupid, they cannot be trusted to pull off the amount of sophisticated decision making it would take to salvage Iraq.

I want our troops out of Iraq period. I am open to strategies to minimize the subsequent carnage. I am absolutely opposed to the idea of increasing troop strength. What the fsck is 20,000 more troops going to accomplish? Or even 50,000, on the unlikely chance they could be scraped up. The escalating violence and the apparent inability of anyone to stop makes me truly afraid of the possibility of American troops retreating under fire.

And please, spare me the "we might appear weak" to our enemies. What an utter load of crap. What the hell does that mean anyway? This has got to be the biggest farce in American policy discussions today. How can that be possibly worse than wasting lives and resources in a futile effort? Answer: It's not. Retreat in the face of certain failure is not weakness, it's how you preserve your forces to fight another day if need be. This appearing weak to our enemies is crazy right wing crap that should have died with the Cold War. I don't care if Osama Bin Laden thinks we are weak. I do care if we actually are stupid. Are you seriously pimping me Bin Laden attacks the United States because he thinks we are weak? He does it because he hates us and what stand for, or used to. He keeps telling us that, I don't why some people will not believe him, its no secret.

I assume that readers of this blog assume we are more or less in this camp, but I wanted to lay my view clearly, leave as soon as possible. Cut whatever deals are neccesary to accomplish this that we can morally and ethically stomach. Anything else is a tragic policy Kabuki.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

This Is Really Pissing Me Off

Step right up. Today's contestant is Atrios with a bit about the gasoline tax that just goes off the rails.
I once shared Matt's opinion about the gasoline tax - that it was a good idea to raise it, no politician would dare do it, so finding some way to provide cover for them to do so would be smart.

But it's really not a good idea. [...] What's needed isn't a blue ribbon panel to provide political cover for politicians, what's needed is better leadership on these issues. [...] ...adding, to be clear I think raising the gax tas is a good idea. If I were the Decider I'd stick on $3/gallon [...]
Kill me now.

Atrios! You're a moron.

There is a perfectly sensible way to raise taxes on petroleum fuels (why stop at gasoline? why not hit natural gas, diesel, JP, coal and basically everything that requires an extraction right to feed the refinery?) Here's what you do: you cut the payroll tax by an equal amount.

People who commute short distances get their payroll taxes cut by more than they pay in fuel taxes, but let's be honest, not by that much. Fuel taxes have a way of propagating through the economy because they have to be paid by commercial shippers and they'll show up in retail prices for everything that gets shipped to a store near you. Obviously, you can't just flip a switch and have the new tax structure go into effect overnight. It needs to be gradually introduced over a multiyear period, like we've done with other major changes to the tax code.

The problem is this idea encourages conservation and lower consumption of petroleum fuel products. Oil and gas companies wouldn't actually be hurt, but they're too stupid to foresee that. It may be a perfectly sensible idea from a pragmatic view, but oil and gas companies are often completely anti-pragmatic, c.f. the ongoing denial of greenhouse gas effects on the climate.

The real reason raising the gasoline tax isn't going to happen is that it can't be done in a pragmatic fashion by a government completely controlled by anti-pragmatic businessmen and corporate elitist pseudo-intellectuals.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

St00pidest Things Ever Said... Act VII (oh God, make them stop edition)

Apparently, this feature has become a staple of right wing intellectual circles, such as they are, and the competition for one of these shiny tin foil hats with "I'm With Teh_St00pid" embossed on the front that we are bestowing on the truly worthy, is quickly becoming firece and cutthroat. Seriously, there's a lot of low-hangning fruit out there, and all three editors could spend 24/7 knocking these ducks out of the yard on a frozen rope... no, we are looking for something a little more.

Less than a week has transpired since we had David Frum decrying populism in college education than we find he is hotly followed by local Los Angeles radio gas bag and wing nut archangel Dennis The Menace Prager.

Now in the last few days, Dennis has been bloviating about a Muslim Congressman-elect, Keith Ellison from Minnesota, who has apparently decided that he will swear his oath on a Quran, not a KJV Bible.

"America, Not Keith Ellison, Decides What Book a Congressman Takes His Oath on." sayeth the Dennis. This was on the bubble, and nearly rated an entry of its own, but as is so often the case in all contact sports, the foul gets called on the pushback, not the original infraction.

Prager's turgid fornication of American history, tradition and constitutional law seemed to have set off something of a semi-literate circle jerk in certain circles of East Blogistan, as well as drawing fire from many of us here in the West. This lead Prager to respond today with another column "explaining" his take.

As he attempts to clarify he gives us the following beautiful bit:
"Why wouldn't Ellison bring a Bible along with the Koran? That he chose not to is the narcissism of multiculturalism that I referred to: The individual's culture trumps the national culture.

You don't have to be Christian to acknowledge that the Bible is the source of America's values. Virtually every founder of this country knew that and acknowledged it."
The secret is to allow the quote sit on the back of the pallet until the gag reflex forces the fruity esthers into the sinus passages...

I swear I don't know where to start with this one. I guess with full disclosure, would be a good place. I am a Christian, Roman Catholic to be specific, and about as liberal as it gets. I mention this because the relflex will be to dismiss this take as, "oh it's just another God-hating liberal."

But this is about more than religion. This is about cultural primacy, and the idiocy of statements like Prager's is tantamount to declaring himself the arbitor of a mythical collective "American culture" that is rooted in the Christian bible.

"The individual's culture trumps the national culture..." Forget his apocryphally shrill assertions about the Biblical foundation of this "American culture" of which he speaks, his statement doesn't even parse logically. How can the national culture be trumped by individual culture when the national culture explicitly acknowledges the individual's right to freedom of religious expression and thought?

So even while he attempts to lamely turtle up over charges of racism, bigotry, anti-Islamic prejudice, he at least comes out as an apparently irony-impaired cultural supremacist, by making baseless assertions that there is an American mono-culture that is firmly grounded in Biblical principles.

This is possibly the lamest part of this. He attempts to get around it all by saying that he doen't mind Ellison taking his oath on the Quran, only that the Bible should be there too... you know, to supervise.

So how about it Dennis? How is the culture trumped? There is a right answer here. The culture can only be trumped, as it is meant here, if there is a cultural imperative for the primacy of European Christian tradition as superior to all other cultures.

So at the end of the day, Dennis doesn't really believe in a free society, he believes that you are free to an extent to pray to whatever two bit kitchen gods you call almighty, but at the end of the day you and your culture and spirituality will always be second rate to Dennis, and not really American.

The thin veneer civility he tries to trowel over the gaping abattoir of his own disdain and contempt for anyone slightly less European and white, cannot cover up the smell of fear and loathing oozing out his pores at every moment of the day. Congratulations Dennis, your tin foil hat is in the mail...wear it with pride. And watch out for Larry Elder, he's been wanting one for a while, I wouldn't put it past him to snag it from you when you weren't watching.

mojo sends

Saturday, December 02, 2006

St00pidest Things Ever Said... Part The Sixth

So, serioulsy... could this occasional feature have gone much further without hearing from AEI shill and all around neocon ass-monkey David Frum?

No, of course not... and his entry, while perhaps not quite on par with hall-of-lamer Falafel O'Reilly, is nevertheless quite the stunning piece of dada, if for no other reason it demonstrates how fast and how savagely the wheels have come off the logic bus over at AEI.

With no further ado, I present to you: Federal Student Aid Is Ruining Our Nation's Educational System

Now, this, in and of itself is not anything really new, especially from the hivebrain over at AEI. However, when I heard him spewing this on NPR, what really got me was the following bit that he was using as intro.
"Imagine if the Republicans had retained their Congressional majority and the first thing they did was suggest big new subsidies for, say, the oil industry. Would there no public outrage?

But that's exactly what the Democrats are now offering their staunch supporters in academia. The Democrats are proposing big new subsidies for college tuition: new loans, new grants, new tax deductions. Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House, promotes these giveaways as a way to make college more "affordable." "
This bit of horrific sophistry is what qualified this for St00pidest Things Ever Said.

Because in one fell swoop, it claims that subsidies and give aways to the politically connected, already fabulously wealthy petro-chemical industrial giants is the moral, political and economic equivalent of helping poor kids afford college... I especially love the sneer quotes around the word "affordable." What's weird, is that when he read this on air, you could actually hear the sneer quotes.

Don't worry, it gets better. He actually posits an arguement that kids are encouraged to forget all that great high school AP material by getting subsidies to attend expensive colleges ... according to a "recent survey.

You know, the intellectual dishonesty of these people is stunning. Even a cursory examination of the survey shows what everyone already knows, American college kids are not into history and civics, so much. Somehow, Frum manages to focus his massive coal fired difference engine with laser-like precision to deduce that this is now a national crisis directly being caused by Pell Grants and low interest student loans.

But there is a much uglier reality that Frum only hints at, but the initiated know, and you kinda have to read between the lines. The problem is that college should only be for the star-belly sneetches, and the rest of you should just get on with flipping our burgers and cleaning our kitchens... We are dilluting the intellectual and social gene pool of academia by making college accessible to the unwashed masses, and these surveys prove it...

Not that Frum would come right out and say that. No, he is too circumspect for that. Instead, he will simply make bogus, and unfounded claims that the federal government is ruining the nation's colleges by helping young people afford it, who might otherwise just end up in the tire-retreading factory.

mojo sends

Friday, December 01, 2006

The cart before the horse

Big Media Matt has an interesting post about the NY Times Tough article on Education. Matt says in reference to the conclusion of Toughs article:
This seems to me to involve assuming a can opener. Schools full of poor kids could do just as well as schools full of middle-class kids if they had more resources at their disposal than the middle-class schools had. But why would they have more resources? It's hard to imagine suburban homeowners voting for a politician who promises to raise their taxes in order to pay their kids' best teachers to go teach in inner city schools, thereby making it harder for their kids to get into selective colleges and reducing the value of the homes they own.
To really make this work, you'd need to totally change the way the American education system works and gets paid for.

Before we even can get to changing the funding mechanisms of education, we need accomplish a few things. First, we need access to accurate and relevant empirical data on student and school performance. That is a key goal of NCLB. But many of the states have failed to act in good faith to implement them. The most glaring flaw in NCLB in my opinion was to allow the states to come up with their own systems. What we currently have is some states with decent statewide testing methods producing useful data, some states trying to get there, and some states, either deliberately or not, using testing methods that are deeply flawed. DOE is attempting to force those states into compliance. We need solid data to know what the hell is going on and if our reform efforts are working.

Next we need to game out a variety of school governance, teacher related reforms, pedogical strategies, and community strategies to name a few before we go to the taxpayers and ask them for more money. Tough discusses some of the success stories of the Charter movement, but to achieve the kind of education system we want, we need in my opinion to be creative and more than a bit daring in trying out various reforms. That takes money, which the federal government could play a key role, and that takes real leadership to forge the kind of political consensus that allows that sort of environment to be created. That last part is the most difficult and the failure thus far to create it is broadly shared, from voucher advocates who want to create an analog of the parochial system on the public dime to paranoid dimwits at groups like the NEA who only recently seemed to have grasped the publics deep unhappiness with the education status quo. There has to a broad consensus for reform and experimentation. Everyone needs to ante up. That means Unions as much as it means tax demagogues and voucher geeks. That is why I view NCLB as a largely good thing. The Federal Government can play a key role in helping to forge that consensus by providing leadership on a national level. That might be as important a contribution as the fiscal resources.

I think Matt is not quite correct about how funding for schools would have to be played out. Obviously, it will be a tough slog for anyone to try to convince taxpayers to take money out of the schools their kids go to and send it somewhere else. No one is going to try to sell it that way. Instead you sweeten the pot for them as well as your underperforming schools. But you need to have a credible plan for using their money, and some plan of accountability. Schools are something that I think we have seen people willing to accept some measure of increased taxation for, but there is legitimate skepticism about the status quo, as there should be.

Getting solid data and some effective reform strategies tested by that data will be a big achievement. I would argue it's a terrible argument to simply dismiss these efforts as worthless because we haven't achieved Education nirvana yet. Demanding huge gains in resolving the intractable problems associated with racial and economic related differences in education outcomes out of the gate is at best unfair, and at worst the result of a deliberate effort of certain stakeholders in the status quo and outright enemies of public education to derail the whole effort. Let's not allow these people to get away with it.