Saturday, January 29, 2011

To Tunisa... To Egypt... To Where

This all started over a fruit cart in Tunisa.

A poor man, struggling to earn some money for his family and for his sisters' educations, unable to get any other work other than selling fruit in the marketplace.  Tunisian economy is pretty rough: rampant unemployment, and political corruption from the top on down where only the powerful get jobs.

Like in a lot of places, you need a permit to sell in the marketplace.  Mohamed Bouazizi couldn't afford either the permit nor the bribes that corrupt local police wanted, and so they kept shutting him down.  On Dec. 17th 2010, they did more than that: they humiliated him.  It drove him to an act of self-immolation: burning himself in front of the government offices that denied him any justice or recourse (He died early January).  To a nation seething under the 23-year rule of a corrupt President-for-life, it was the final straw.

It took a few days, and almost no international notice (outside of the social media sources Twitter, Facebook and others), but the Tunisians overthrew the dictator and are currently in the throes of rebuilding a nation.  God help them and may they succeed in making a more open, less corrupt Tunisa work.

But once President Ben Ali fled to exile, the rest of the Arab world... and the rest of the world period... sat up and took notice.  Because if there's one thing about politics in the Middle East... it's that a lot of the nations are one-person, one-party places.  Places like Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia... I'd mention Iran, but you might notice they've had their own uprising attempt a few years ago and their government is most likely keeping all this stuff off their news as much as possible...

The American understanding of the Middle East has been "there are guys who side with us and those who don't," with our key allies being Israel (with our alliance part of the political turmoil in the Middle East to begin with, and that would take a whole book to discuss), Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.  Turkey is democratic and for the most part solid allies (just don't talk about the Kurds or Armenians).  But it's the protests in Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are gaining U.S. attention... and our concerns.

Especially as the Egyptian protests ratchet up and as President Mubarak is doing what he can to clamp down.

The problem is Islamic fundamentalism.  Primarily the reactionary elements that oppose Westernized culture (the openness of sex, vulgarity, and jazz/blues/rap/country music) and values (gender equality).  They also have a few issues with Israel (basically its right to even exist), and a few geopolitical extremists who are still upset about how the spread of Islam stopped at the Spanish and Bosnian borders.

Most of our allies in the Arab world are led by Westernized Muslims (that is, they're willing to do business with us and allow American tourists to take snapshots of everybody).  Problem is, those nations have small but very-well-organized extremist terror groups who would love nothing more than to blow everybody up, drive out the non-Muslims, take over their governments, install religious law (based on a twisted reading of the Quran, and not on actual justice or human rights), and pretty much become as corrupt as the one-party rulers they're trying to throw out (SEE Iran 1979 to now).  As a result, those American allies tended to rule by fiat, becoming dictators and staging rigging elections to maintain the status quo.  You get extremes at both ends, with the majority population screwed by both sides.  It's been quiet until now: the global economic meltdown of the last decade has hurt, with a lot of Arab nations suffering high unemployment and food prices inflation.  Now, the masses of the Middle East are out of money and beginning to starve: they have nothing to lose if they take to the streets...

In Tunisa, the ruling party was relatively successful in exiling their extremists, which was why U.S. interests in what happened there were meager.  And why, even with all the chaos ongoing there, Tunisa is viewed as gaining some moderate stability soon.  But Egypt is a different story: they have groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (who openly renounce violence but clearly oppose womens' rights and want to place Egypt under Sharia law), and worse groups like Islamic Jihad with ties to Al-Qaeda.  If the protests do succeed in ousting Mubarak, the fear is (SEE AGAIN Iran 1979 to now) that the extremists will be the only organized group to take over Egypt and start their reign of terror.

An Islam extremist Egypt will certainly break all treaties with Israel, their agreements having been the keystone to Middle East peace efforts over the last 30 years.  They'd also expel most of the tourists, arrest every Coptic, and place their women in Third-Class status (think Taliban but in hotter climes).  What's worse - Iran fell to extremists in 1979 but they were Shiite by faith, and they are a minority of Muslim followers and thus had little influence across the Islam world: Egypt is mostly Sunni, and if they fall to extremists the Sunni extremists in other nations will have a rallying cry and a base of support. 

All of the rising protests in the Middle East should bring concerns to the rest of the world.  If even one of these nations - Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia - falls to an extremist government, no matter if the others become solid democracies they will still have a poisonous asp sitting in their midst looking to spread their violent jihad everywhere they think their faith should be (which starts with their Sunni neighbors, then every nation ever touched by Muslim rule, then the rest of the world).

There's little the United States can do with regards to these uprisings: like the recent Iranian protests, a heavy U.S. presence will do the exact opposite of what our nation would like.  We'd like a pro-Western Iran to have risen from the anger of the Green Revolution of 2009... but any U.S. public support would have been used by the corrupt regime to justify their crackdown of "foreign-influenced rioters".  We'd like a pro-Western Egypt (and Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and Algeria) to remain ticking along like a reliable clock, but we can neither public upbraid Mubarak to have him open up his government (which would humiliate and weaken him), nor back any violent crackdowns that would keep the extremists from power (but would also harm a ton of honest Egyptians in the process).

The best we can do is hope that saner heads remain in control of the uprisings.  That the extremists are viewed as obstacles and not allies by the protesters.  That we do get to see genuine democratic nations in the Middle East when this is all over.  And that as few people as possible are harmed in the chaos befalling their nations.  There's been too many deaths already...


Best we can do is pray.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Here Comes The State of the Union

"...He shall, from time to time..."

The biggest question about Obama's upcoming SOTU speech among the Talking Heads on television will be if he speaks out against Keith Olbermann's ouster from MSNBC.  Kidding.  But I wouldn't be surprised if those self-absorbed nabobs went there.

No, the biggest question is if Obama will surrender his forces to the GOP House / Teabagger leadership under threat of government shutdowns and whatnot.

The buzz is that Obama will address the deficit as the primary issue, but how he will address it is the key.  Will Obama push for drastic cuts on everything the Republicans hate - Social Security, social safety net spending, education, state funding, etc. - or will he aim for more moderate cuts with a stronger emphasis on spending caps?

For myself, I hope that Obama comes out swinging on the issue that's REALLY the major issue for most Americans: the ongoing unemployment crisis.  For every Congressperson obsessed with the deficit (THAT THEY CAUSED) there's about ten Americans obsessed with how bad the job market is and how bad the wage earnings are.  Obama's probably unable to push for any government project (the Republicans still hate Obama's stimulus package with a vengeance, and most Americans still aren't aware how effective that stimulus was in keeping us out of a full-blown DEPRESSION), but he's got to do something to address the fact that there's at least 15-20 million Americans who have been unemployed longer than 27 weeks... and that those long-term unemployed are frozen out of the sluggish recovery we've recently been watching on the financial news.

Obama better have something good on the table for the jobs issue.  If he doesn't, we're screwed.  It's jobs, people, it's JOBS that help keep this economy going...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Because No One Demanded It... A Revised Lost Battalion Logo

Never heard back from Ta-Nehisi if he was gonna use the logo I crafted to start his own t-shirt line (damn Sully, stealing my ideas!), so out of boredom I went and carved out a variation on the logo.





I changed the fonts around, using Stencil as the primary font and BattleLines for the secondary font.

So who wants this on a t-shirt!

EDIT (1/21): So far I got one vote for, one vote against.  The against vote objects to the use of military imagery for what is supposed to be a platonic group.  So... I need an image of book readers charging against the defenses at Balaclava?

EDIT PART TWO: Okay.  I got the Cafe Press store up.  I have no idea if it will work until people attempt to waste their money on it.  Address is http://www.cafepress.com/TNCLostBattalion

Monday, January 17, 2011

Words of Wisdom On This Day

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. ... Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

--Martin Luther King Jr. from Where Do We Go From Here (1967)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Chart That Ought To Scare The Crap Out of Politicians... But Doesn't.

This was actually last week on Sullivan's blog, but there was a distraction or three going on...




This chart points to how long unemployed people are actually staying unemployed.
It shows that recently unemployed people have about double the chances of relocating a new job to get back into the grand economic circle of life.  But the second you get over that 27 weeks or more of unemployed... well, you're screwed.  That, by the by, is where the real problems of our current unemployment crisis is...

There's a couple of reasons for this:
  • Those long-term unemployed are from sectors of the economy - construction, public works, finance, manufacturing - that have lost jobs that are NOT coming back any time soon.  The housing and foreclosure crisis has put a crimp on new housing and housing repairs, for example.  Manufacturing jobs are bleeding to overseas markets with cheaper non-union labor.  Public sector jobs - state and county and city - have been hit hard with massive deficits forcing spending cuts.  The quick rehiring of those out of work under 26 weeks involve industries that are fluctuating but not losing job openings that can be refilled.
  • The other reason is psychological on the part of HR departments.  They seem reluctant to hire anyone who's been out of service for so long, as though there's a stench of failure all about a candidate who's been out of luck for 27 weeks or more.

The reason the long-term unemployed is a major problem for our government and our economy is that they will sooner rather than later become a burden on society in the worst way.  Sooner or later they drop out of the job-hunting and unemployment benefits system.  Unemployment really isn't at 9.8 percent: that's just the people still reporting for benefits.  REAL Unemployment, including the ones who've given up on benefits or no longer able to garner them (known as the 99ers for the ninty-nine weeks (and counting) they've been out of work), is actually past 10.4 percent (and might even be worse than that).  But what happens when the unemployment benefits end or the unemployed move on?  They move on over to Food Stamps, or some other form of welfare.  The burden merely shifts to another public sector that's facing cutbacks in the wake of statewide and national deficits.  Worse, they become a burden to family members or friends who may be employed (or retired living on benefits themselves) but who are incapable of paying for the needs of their out-of-work relative/friend.

Look.  Having one-tenth of your employable population out of work is NEVER good.  But there's little sign that the federal government is going to do anything about it, which sucks.  And the conservatives' solution - tax cuts that DON'T REALLY go to job creation or wage improvements - isn't going to work (all those tax cuts after 2001... and this is the shape of our job market today.  Buy a clue, Republicans: TAX CUTS DON'T WORK.  Grrrr.)

  • We need laws in place to force HR departments to look at hiring the long-term unemployed first.  We're the ones at greater risk.
  • We need laws in place to keep international corporations from shipping OUR jobs elsewhere.  You wanna get our tax breaks?  Give some breaks to the people who live here!
  • We need a works program similar to the ones that FDR had back in the 1930s that helped us climb out of the Great Depression.  Nothing huge like the CCC, but at least something to get people back to work and stimulating the economy with their efforts and their spending.  I honestly don't get why there's this huge hate on for Keynesian policies of the 1930s that worked (nations like Japan that quickly adopted Keynesian economic models were the ones that survived the global economic meltdown).  I know that Keynesianism was choking on itself by the 1970s, but that was when our government and economy could operate without it... but today, dammit...

So an open call to all unemployed persons across the nation.  To all my fellow 99ers, this is pretty much the only solution left to us.  Run for office.  Run at the county level, state level, federal level, whatever it takes.  Go to your party if you've registered with one and sign up to run for any openings in the coming election cycle.  Trust me, you gotta start looking into the paperwork on that stuff before it gets too late... and the deadlines come up on the calendar faster than you realize.

Run for office, unemployed people.  We need more elected officials who have a damn good idea just how bad the job market is out here in the Real World.

Wartenberg in 2012.  I Need The Work.

(this has been edited for some grammar errors and to highlight additional thoughts)

Monday, January 10, 2011

I Link to Things I Like

Following up on my previous post:

John Cole at Balloon-Juice:

The point we have been trying to make for the last couple of years is that Republicans need to stop whipping up crazy people with violent political rhetoric. This is really not a hard concept to follow. There are crazy people out there. Stop egging them on.

I followed a thread to a place called Driftglass:


In other words, no mention of the fact that Right's interlocking political/media/religious keiretsu has been a massive paint-shaker for Crazy for as long as anyone can remember: when they need a few more votes or a few more dollars, they notch it up; when someone takes them up on their elimination rhetoric and blows up a federal building or flies a plane into an IRS office or murders a doctor, they dial it back a little and pretend they have no idea where anyone could have gotten such ideas...  What Mr. Sullivan and his expatriate tribe have never come to terms with is that this problem didn't just precipitate out of the pellucid ether two years ago with the arrival of "The Palin forces". It was right there, in plain sight, during all the many, many years he was cheer-leading for the Right because Palinism is nothing more or less than the latest, mutant manifestation of the violent, paranoid and often-racist rot that has always been at the very heart of Mr. Sullivan's beloved Movement.  There was no Palin when McVeigh blew up the federal building in Oklahoma to stop the Evil Government whose imaginary treachery had been dinned into his ears for years, or when militias armed themselves against the coming of the Black Helicopters and the U.N. New World Order, or when the Clintons were being gutted in the press every day as a murderers, assassins, depraved monsters and drug dealers...  Palin is merely an emergent property of all that preceded her: just the latest inheritor of Conservatism's long and obscene legacy who is using that inheritance exactly as she was taught to use it by her Conservative forebears.

Digby:

There are certainly left wing people who spew incendiary and violent rhetoric. But they are few and far between compared to the drumbeat of hatred and consequential acts of violence we've seen over the past two years and none who make the kind of profit at it that the right wing noise machine does. There is no comparison, it's ridiculous to frame it that way. And it ends up distorting the truth, which is that we have a violent right wing political movement developing in this country with the help and acquiescence of a major political party which refuses to police its own... 

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

...As appalled as I've been over the past couple of years by ads like this, veiled allusions to insurrection, and the otherizing of the president, I've found arguments drawing connections between a "climate of hate" and Loughner unpersuasive. Simply put, the case that far-right rhetoric contributed or caused this killing spree strikes me as squishy, and, at the moment, unprovable. In The Times and Post this morning, there are some of the calling-cards of the conspiratorial right. But more relevant, there are hallmarks of severe mental problems, and a troubled home-life...

Sully:

A survey of the bloggy scene suggests a rigid, uniform, passionate position that this assassination has nothing whatsoever to do with violent rhetoric and political polarization. It is as if some loony had just randomly shot some schoolkids or ran into a mall killing strangers. If you are looking for reflectiveness, you won't find it, in what strikes me as an ominous sign of a right-wing movement more willing to see its opponents gunned down than ever engage in introspection... I don't disagree with the sentiment that we should not refrain from robust or colorful or exuberant rhetoric. But constant resort to violent imagery directed at specific and named human targets is not a sign of a lively discourse but of thuggishness... There is the obvious third option that has occurred to almost anyone not ideologically primed to defend anything Republican. That option - voiced even by Palin apologist Howie Kurtz - is that Palin's words were "highly unfortunate" and certainly regrettable. Does Glenn Reynolds believe otherwise? Does he endorse the gun-sights imagery? Does he see nothing wrong with it in retrospect? Would he have attended the Jesse Kelly "Fire an M-16" to show you want to defeat Gabby Giffords? We know the answer...

At Moderate Voice, Joe Gandelman

...In the short term, politicos of both parties are now talking about how perhaps it’s important to adjust the tone of American politics. And that would certainly be a nice, lofty goal: almost day by day, American politics on so many fronts is increasingly personal and toxic, where the operative goal seems to be to paint the other side as evil as possible. You see and hear it in Congress, on the radio, on TV, on the web and (most assuredly) in comments sections on web-logs of all political persuasions.  But don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen. You’ll turn blue.  Most likely, there will be a period where politicos, talk show hosts, bloggers, talking heads, newspaper columnists and partisan activists from both parties rein in some of the vitriol. But then place money in Vegas that it’ll be business as usual. There is now too much of an institutional and cultural vested interest in American politics in keeping the tone and pundit flow as it now exists: partisans and ideologues on both sides find that pushing “hot buttons” is a way to rally sympathizers to your side and talk radio and cable ideological shows and websites make money throwing red meat to an audience that shows up because they already agree with an opinionated host or info-outlet...

Personally:


Cole's comment nails it.  Stop egging the crazies on.  That's the one thing we need to take away from this tragic killing spree...  Pity is, Sullivan and Gandelman are most likely right that this isn't going to tone down... it's going to get worse...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Blood On The Streets of Tuscon AZ

Today has been a terrible day for the nation.  A gunman opened fire at a public event being held by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.  Eyewitness reports have the gunman coming right up behind the congresswoman, shouting something and pulling the trigger.

Giffords was shot in the head.  Ten others were wounded and along with her taken to hospital for rescue.  One of the wounded, a nine-year-old girl, died at the hospital.  For hours, word kept getting out that Giffords had died, but surgeons finally came out to report that they were able to save her life and that she will with hope recover.  Five others, including a federal judge John Roll attending the public meet-and-greet, were killed on the spot.

It is difficult to explain the rage I have at this moment, for almost the whole day...

Regardless of the political leanings of the shooter - and the Far Right are eager to point out how Loughner is some left-wing hippie, with the Far Left pointing out Loughner's gold-standard obsessions fit right in with Ron Paul's - this horrifying crime underscores a LOT that is f-cking wrong with this country.


In case Giffords was someone you didn't know before today, she was one of 20 Democratic House members targeted - LITERALLY TARGETED - by Sarah Palin's crew during the 2010 midterms.  And in case you didn't know this by this evening, but Palin and her supporters had quickly pulled that poster (THAT THEY STILL HAD UP ON THEIR WEBSITES AFTER THE MIDTERMS) from their pages, trying desperately to scrub away the violent rhetoric that they have been pushing on our nation over the last two, no eight, no eighteen years.  That bulls-eye poster reminds me of the John Bircher crap back in the 1960s... for example that infamous WANTED poster of JFK that happened to be in a Dallas newspaper around Nov. 22 1963...

We had violent rhetoric about an abortion doctor in the midwest, and Bill O'Reilly kept talking about him and about how he needed to get taken out...  Someone comes along and shoots him AT A CHURCH.  The Fox-Not-News crowd of opinionated pundits rail against liberals as socialists and how they're destroying our nation... Someone who listens and reads their crap, writes up his own list of targets to kill before driving out to a Unitarian church to shoot up a recital of Annie.  A white supremacist with an obsession about Obama's Hawaiian birth certificate works up the nerve to start a shootout at the Holocaust museum filled with families and kids.

We get political candidates on the Right running for office screaming about "gathering your armies" and relying on "Second Amendment remedies," throwing tantrums for special treatment and privileges and reviling their opponents for un-American actions they can't ever prove in court but are able to convince their teabagger followers as God's honest truth.  But then the second any actual violence on a Democrat or Liberal takes place, then by God the same Far Right talking heads come out of the woodwork insisting the violence is all from the Left while quickly scrubbing away the evidence that it was the goddamn Right wingnut lies in the first place.

There is blood on the streets of Tuscon Arizona.  There is sorrow within most of our souls tonight as we mourn the dead.  But will there ever be any semblance of accountability on the Right for their lying bullshit, for their obsession with violence?

Probably not.  Welcome to our Hell.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

That Wasn't Me Doing the Heckling

Someone at Rick "MEDICARE FRAUD" Scott's inauguration heckled the proceedings, calling him "a criminal and not a Christian."

Someone at TNC's open threads asked me if I was the heckler.  Hell, no.  As a Gator alum and an honest man, I tend to avoid Tallahassee as best I can.

I'm innocent on this one.  Just don't ask me where I was when I heard about JFK.

NOTE: is it me, or does that photo from the linked article show a sparsely attended inauguration?  What was the attendance on that?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Today Is Different, Because Today Really Sucks

On this day, January 4, 2011, the State of Florida is going to swear in a well-known MEDICARE FRAUD as Governor.

May God Have Mercy On Us All.  All because 2.5 million of my fellow Floridians didn't know (which is impossible, because GODDAMMIT WE KEPT SCREAMING ABOUT IT) or didn't care.

From Howard Troxler's article:

He did not mortgage himself for campaign money. He famously (or infamously) spent his own fortune.  (PERSONAL EDIT: Do I recall Scott still hosting fund-raisers to get people to cough up even more money to him?  I *was* too busy trying to ignore him in the godforsaken hope he'll disappear while I wasn't looking...)

He did not kiss up to interest groups to win. True, he is totally pro-business, but he came that way out of the box — they're kissing up to him.

He does not seem to care about offending, or how he looks in the media (which he largely ignores), or the critics. This is a good thing, since he starts with a 43 percent unfavorable rating.

Troxler's article tries to be fair and balanced... but dammit this is no time for that.

But Question No. 1 is how much his platform of creating jobs and cutting "red tape" will conflict with Florida's environmental and growth laws. At best, he will balance the two; at worst, he will be willing to sacrifice the second for the first — with a Legislature eager to help.

As soon as he gets started, Scott has to figure out how he would close a gap in next year's state budget that is growing toward $4 billion. It will be interesting to see his "business" approach.

If his "business" approach was anything like the business approach he had with Columbia/HCA - where he ran a corporation into BILLIONS of dollars worth of Medicare fraud so heinous that the company had to fire him and pay BILLIONS in records fines - we are... all Floridians are honestly screwed.

I do not trust Rick Scott considering the employment crisis.  He and his party are more focused on corporate tax cuts than on job growth: despite their snake oil salesmanship, the truth is that TAX CUTS DO NOT CREATE JOBS (investment in capital and business expansion does), so if they go that route I can guarantee you a flat job growth rate that cannot keep up with job losses.  Raising taxes isn't even a fix: there is sizable evidence that businesses and banks (that can loan money to businesses to expand and increase jobs) are just sitting on tons of money that can well be used to boost the economy and get businesses starting and growing again.  If Scott makes honest attempts to get private money plugged into the economy to increase jobs (if I were governor, I'd be calling those money hoarders every day to the carpet in front of live cameras and asking each one if they are investing that money into jobs), then and only then will I be impressed...

But I have no hope in his regard.  Scott is a crook.  His track record points to it, and his lack of accountability for the damage he's done suggests he thinks he'll keep getting away with it.  I've got a pool going on how soon Rick "MEDICARE FRAUD" Scott gets nailed with felony charges during his governorship.  Personally, I got him by July 14 of this year.  Any takers?  Winner gets first rights to travel cross-state to meet every 2.5 million voters who went with that bastard, and shout in each voter's ear "WE TOLD YOU!"