Saturday, October 11, 2008

Valid Security Concerns (by Phila)

Apparently, US export regulations forbid the shipment of vaccines to countries that are designated as "state sponsors of terrorism."
Under this little-known policy, North Korea, Iran, Cuba, Syria and Sudan may not get the vaccines unless they apply for special export licenses, which would be given or refused according to the discretion and timing of the U.S. Three of those nations — Iran, Cuba and Sudan — also are subject to a ban on all human pandemic influenza vaccines as part of a general U.S. embargo....

Officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they were not even aware of the policies until contacted by The Associated Press last month and privately expressed alarm.
Christopher Wall of the US Commerce Department explains that "valid security concerns" necessitate keeping avian flu vaccines out of the wrong hands. The fear seems to be that state-sponsored evildoers will reverse-engineer a bioweapon from the vaccine.

Pretending for a moment that this is within their power, it sounds like an awful lot of work for a weapon that might well cause higher mortality in the originating nation than in the United States or Europe. In any case, Iran, North Korea, and Sudan already have access to naturally occurring H5N1; their highly trained teams of evil geniuses would presumably find it easier to make a bioweapon from the live virus than from a vaccine.

You'd also think that vaccinating people in other countries would be in our best interests. But perhaps the oceans started protecting us again, at some point after the 2001 anthrax attack.

Part II. What If We Dodge The Bullet?

Part I.

What if they lose? What if the crimes of the Bush regime are stopped? What if things go back to normal?

After what we've seen the past forty years, if things can go back to normal it won't be a blessed relief, it will be a disaster. Our recent history proves that we have fatal problems in the foundation of the American government.

Our elections have to be fixed, not just returned to c. 1964. We have to secure the vote, from before it is cast to counting to reporting the results to their fulfillment. No elections official, secretary of state, or judge can ever be allowed to prevent another legal ballot being cast or counted or made to count. The sleazy behavior we've seen from every level from elections clerk to Supreme Court and the Executive wouldn't be tolerated in a real democracy. A democracy needs it to be an impeachable crime for a Supreme Court Justice to say that a Citizen of the United States does not have a right to vote. That is a fundamental contradiction of the role of the court in a democracy. Anyone who believes that has no place on our court or in our government.

The media, and today that means the electronic media, have to have their self-interested biases exposed and its pollution scrubbed out of our politics. They have to be forced to perform the public service they promised, including meeting standards of fairness. Broadcast stations must provide real news, including local news, which has to be unbiased and fair as a condition for holding a license. And as a comment here yesterday said, without diverse ownership of the media, they won't serve the entire public.

The cable "news" channels have betrayed the public trust even more flagrantly than broadcast, spreading lies effective enough to start the most idiotic and dangerous war of our history. We will pay the cost of their lies for decades, in blood as well as money.

They also aided the Bush putsch of 2000 and the earlier scheme to remove a genuinely elected President on trumped up charges and lies. Pretending that a rogue cable industry isn't a danger to freedom has to stop. Anyone who defends them on their crimes against democracy is a dupe or a profiteer. Put them under the same public service requirements as broadcast media. Media passes itself off as the voice of the people, then let them show it by putting the public before their investors and owners.

Recent history proves that self-government can't depend on leaving it to chance. Laissez faire democracy dies and the death is never a natural one. It lets the powerful and wealthy swamp the Peoples's voice almost all of the time. In the same comments mentioned above, it was pointed out that the Supreme Court rulings making corporations artificial people made that all the more true.

Our government is always presented as having three branches, those are where almost all of the pitiful efforts at reform are concentrated. And that hasn't worked. We have the most dishonest government of our lifetimes. Putting patches on the process to make it a level field is unrealistic to the level of willful blindness. Powerful interests have power. They will always win when they have equal access to the process and own the media. The handful of examples where individuals or small groups win over the big guy make for sentimental TV movies, using them as proof that the system works is calculated dishonesty.

If the People are neglected then it all goes wrong. They won't even show up to vote. That step isn't a naive social studies lesson that you stop thinking about after the test in fourth grade. You don't go on to the higher study of civics and leave it behind. There is nothing higher in a democracy than the People, there is no act of government more important than their Vote. Abraham Lincoln, one of the real founders of the country we live in today, gave the formula for it. You know it by heart. He didn't mention the congress, the executive or the high church of the judiciary. He said that the enormous sacrifice of the American People in the Civil War was so that government of the People, by the People, and for the People shall not perish from the earth.

Any aftermath of the Bush II disaster that doesn't include changes to these laws will be just the beginning of the next time. Not securing the Vote, the will of the People; and forcing their own chosen responsibilities on the media, the only guarantee of an informed and realistic Vote, is a welcome mat for the next would-be dictator. Any liberal, leftist, Democrat, independent, even "moderate" Republican who lets two years go by without enacting real electoral and media reform had better beware. It's just a matter of waiting before the same coalition of corporate interests, bigots, oligarches and haters tries again. They might be as slow and stealthy as they were this time, buying up media, using it to spread lies that "more speech" can't drown out, but they'll make a come back. June 2006

Update 2008: None of this depends on theory, it depends on what actually happens in real, flesh and blood life. An uninformed vote cannot ensure that the will of The People is enacted in government, a fact that accounts for such things as the lack of universal health care and sound, reliable infrastructure in the United States. The right to full and accurate information is as much a part of securing the vote as letting someone mark a paper and accurately reporting the results. That depends on fixing the mass media. As that is an absolute requirement of the right of The People to self government, it isn’t an optional step. And those who inform themselves can’t just content themselves with the idea that the information is there for those who want it, Good government depends on an effective majority of the voters knowing the truth and that truth determining their vote.

The right of self-government, without which a legitimate government can’t exist, is superior to the right of the press to their profit and to promote their owner’s profits. The free press ultimately depends on the choice The People make. It can’t retain its freedom for long unless it informs them to the extent necessary to produce a good, democratic government. Like it or not, today, that means that the electronic media has to be required to accurately inform those it corrupts for profit now. It can not be allowed to continue to be a lie machine which it has freely chosen to be since the fairness doctrine and other requirements of public service were removed from it. The ability for those willing to mouth the lies to make enormous salaries has, I absolutely believe, corrupted almost the entire media, including print. Even some of our non-commercial media sounds and reads like an audition to work at FOX.

A Winning Mentality (by Phila)

A marriage counselor named M. Gary Neuman suggests that men are complicated, and may have multiple reasons for doing -- or not doing -- a given thing.

Take cheating on their partners, for instance. You might think that they do it simply because they want sex. In fact, they often do it because they're underappreciated. (We know this is true, because a number of them said so after getting caught.)
"The majority said it was an emotional disconnection, specifically a sense of feeling underappreciated. A lack of thoughtful gestures," Gary says. "Men are very emotional beings. They just don't look like that. Or they don't seem like that. Or they don't tell you that."
Why don't they tell you? And why don't they seem like "very emotional beings"? Beats me. Maybe they get something out of it...some sort of authority or power, perhaps. Or maybe they got the idea, somehow, that men are supposed to be emotionally opaque, hyperaggressive lunkheads who'd rather watch sports than talk about their "feelings."
Men have a winning mentality, Gary says. Just think about how the men in your life act while watching their favorite sports teams.

"They love to win," Gary says.
Got that, ladies? We love to win! So if you can make us feel like we're winning, everything should be fine. And if not...well, any port in a storm, as the saying is.
[I]f you want to secure your relationship and understand and have the knowledge of men, make them feel like they're winning with the things that they do for you."[I]f you want to secure your relationship and understand and have the knowledge of men, make them feel like they're winning with the things that they do for you.
Here's an example. Normally, you make the breakfast, because you're the woman and that's what women do. But once in a while, your husband may decide to give it a whirl...perhaps because he feels guilty about fucking the babysitter.
[I]f a man tries to make breakfast and burns the toast, Gary suggests staying positive.

"[Men] want to feel like they're pleasing their wives... When you give him the message mainly that you screwed up, then believe it or not, it makes him feel insecure. [He thinks,] 'I can't win,'" Gary says.
And as we all know, men love to win.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, Neuman explains his motives: "My book is about one thing. It's really about empowering women."

What If We Dodge The Bullet? by Anthony McCarthy

Three pieces.

I. How Close We Are To It Happening Here This Time, October 2008

The news that is coming in shows that Republicans are again attempting to suppress the vote in minority communities and among others they believe will favor Democrats. This is in addition to and perhaps along with, the Supreme Court’s ruling last term allowing states to place burdens on the abilities of citizens to vote in the complete absence of the proof of a problem needing to be remedied and in full recognition that it could keep some of the same groups from voting.

The other day I saw that a “reporter” from CNN had been given a voter registration paper which had been submitted for confirmation, which he waved on TV as “evidence” of Democrats trying to rig the vote. I hadn’t been aware that the officials in custody of such documents could hand them out to the press, especially if they were potentially evidence of a crime. You would have thought that a state or federal prosecutor was the proper channel for possible evidence of crimes, not CNN. Have the cabloid flacks been deputized? If so, they are going about it the wrong way. I believe those poll workers in Indiana could well have a partisan motive and should be investigated for abuse of their position and fired and/or, prosecuted as warranted. It all has the smell of a Florida 2000, Ohio 2004 style Republican election stealing campaign. It smells like the activities flowing out of some of the branches of the Resolution Trust Corporation which became centers of Republican propaganda in the early stages of the White Water putsch attempt. Crime, including voter fraud, has to be punished but this doesn't look like an attempt at due process, not in the least. It looks more like the Jim Crow era propaganda from The Birth of a Nation with sound and modern dress.

Anyone who pretends that this is not a continuation of the line of activities including the infamous Bush v. Gore ruling is lying willfully. It is exactly in line with Republicans’ activities before the last election, which, among other things, led to the firings of the U.S. Attorneys because they were unwilling to participate in a partisan Republican attempt to use the Justice Department as an arm of the Republican campaign. We know of at least one member of congress and a Senator who were involved with that.

The late William Rehnquist, who got his start in politics by intimidating minority voters and who was placed on the court despite perjuring himself about it in sworn testimony, works on in the votes of that narrow court majority and Republican officials in may places. Reconsidering the role the judiciary has played during this decade, nothing short of making judicial election rigging a felony seems prudent to me. Justices and others who attempt to deprive citizens of their right to cast a legitimate vote must be removed from the bench and punished severely.

All of this, all of the past several decades is conclusive proof that tinkering with the process in order to prevent disastrous government such as we experience here and now, hasn’t worked. It didn’t prevent the most corrupt administrations under Reagan and the Bush family, it didn’t prevent the Gingrich and Hastert congresses or the activities of Tom Delay and Karl Rove. It has not prevented the post-Warren court from progressively making those more possible. If we are not lucky, we might be in for much worse, despite the best efforts of Common Cause and other diligent process patchers. How long does the effort get to fail before we try to get at the reasons for that failure or try something else?

Any process reform without a change in the basic constitutional structure will either be nullified by corrupt courts, such as we have now, or gamed by the massively funded anti-democratic hirelings of would be oligarches and plutocrats. The difficulty and length of time that the shoestring budget process reformers need to pass watered down reform makes it in impractical way of saving democracy from its subverters. And that isn’t considering the disparity of funding that the opposing efforts work within. Corruption pays off for those with money and the influence it buys, of course they aren’t going to lose to public interest groups with neither. And if there was any danger of that happening, they can always find an ally on the courts to stall it if not stop it. And that legal community suffers no professional or social cost for their anti-democratic efforts. Many of them are quite genteel and work quietly at some of our most respected universities. They are the placid, acceptable PR face of despotism.

The assertion of the Unitary Executive, the denial of the right to vote by the Supreme Court, and a myriad of acts subverting democracy have not woken up enough of those who purport to believe in the superiority of democracy to the real and intentional danger it is in. It’s time to prod them awake now.

The Unitary Executive, which John Yoo felt safe enough to state in its clearest and least dishonest form*, is a bald faced advocacy of real fascism here and now. This is clearly a partisan, Republican ideology. Yoo definitely doesn’t see a Democratic president as having that level of power, he argued that Clinton didn’t have the powers he claimed for Bush II. Samuel Alito was one of it’s theorists. Antonin Scalia’s stealth introduction of aspects of that abomination into actual Supreme Court argument is more than just a sign of what they intend. There is no indication that John Roberts intends to be anything but the golden boy of the Republican-far right who will deliver the monster full term. Clarence Thomas, is the reliable fourth vote, so long as it is a Republican who is to be handed the power.

If we dodge the bullet this time, it will not be due to the process, the judiciary or the press working, it will be due to The People facing the military and financial disasters that the Republican oligarches have brought us and, at least this time, making the right decision. It all depends on The People voting for democracy instead of against it next month.

Democracy cannot last that way. It cannot depend on disasters due to incompetence and corruption to come to its rescue. We’ve had close calls before, the Bush II regime is the closest one yet. It could easily happen here. Americans are not a different species which is immune to the allure of dictators, we are not insusceptible to being led into it unawares or being propagandized into accepting it.

We have to change the flaws in our constitutional framework and present The People with the truth. You cannot have competent, free government without The People, who - not the Constitution - are the REAL foundation of our government, taking their responsibilities as informed adults to do what’s right and necessary, not what’s transiently felt to be agreeable on the basis of false, brainless, anti-democratic, TV and video propaganda.

* "If the president deems that he's got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person's child, there is no law that can stop him?"

"No treaty," replied John Yoo, the former Justice Department official who wrote the crucial memos justifying President Bush's policies on torture, "war on terror" detainees and domestic surveillance without warrants. Yoo made these assertions at a public debate in December in Chicago, where he also espoused the radical notion of the "unitary executive"

As the quoted article continues, Yoo asserts that a president is not bound even by laws made by Congress.

Yoo's interlocutor, Douglass Cassel, professor at Notre Dame Law School, pointed out that the theory of the "unitary executive" posits the president above the other branches of government: "Also no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo" (one of Yoo's memos justifying torture). "I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that," said Yoo.

If anyone needs reminding, this wasn’t a frustrated, fringe nut case far from the hope of gaining power. John Yoo was working in The Bush Office of Legal Counsel, he is presently working at the Law School at a university as well respected as Berkeley. Perhaps he’s just biding his time before reentering the government. Perhaps he is on someone’s short list for a permanent position.

The Unitary Executive, when coupled with the Bush era creation of permanent, undefined and undeclared wars, isn’t the equivalent of fascism, it is fascism by any definition. It is identical with the ways and means of fascism as defined by the founders of it. War is seen as a means of gaining, exercising and maintaining concentrated, unified power. War, at best a horrible and occasional necessity of last resort in a democracy, is a virtue for fascism. John Yoo, member of the Bush administration acceptable faculty member at a major university, is all the proof any honest person needs that American fascism is now in the Republican main stream.

If Republicans were in a position to put him there, Yoo could be a Federal judge. Look at what is known about those they have placed on the Supreme Court. Alito and the rest of the ascendant wing of the Supreme Court are in place as you read this. Despite that cute rule about saying the word “fascist” losing you the argument, talking about fascism is essential to preventing it happening, no matter how uncomfortable that makes luke-warm liberals feel. The creation and promulgation of that stupidly cute bromide was a real service to actual fascists.

If it turns out we are lucky, we are about one vote short of making the Unitary Executive Supreme Court enacted law. “If” because democracy might depend on what Anthony Kennedy has for breakfast any given day. These people are that close to doing it, but one suspects not during an Obama administration.

If Republicans who don’t share the views of Yoo and Alito don’t like being associated with fascism, it’s their responsibility to actually purge them from their party and publicly denounce them. It is their responsibility to remove the Unitary Executive from being just an acceptable ideological position. They are the ones who have made it respectable enough to place one of its architects on the Supreme Court. It isn’t our responsibility to ignore this in order to spare the tender feelings of the most genteel of “moderate” Republicans’. Not only is that misguided kindness not an option, we don’t have the right to remain silent on this.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Things Can Be Useful, People Can Be Helpful, Users Are Not by Anthony McCarthy

The extraordinary financial crisis should be a time for sizing up ideas and getting rid of those that don’t work. Why that wasn’t done in previous crises is an important question. What’s the point of making mistakes if you don’t learn from them?

If the S&L crisis had been taken as a learning opportunity, it’s possible the present disaster wouldn’t have happened. But the materialistic religion of the unfettered market, with enormous backing by those who could use it to steal everything in sight. had powerful and most interested parties to keep the swindle going. Instead of looking under the shells and getting rid of those with nothing but deceptive intents, successively larger shells were put over those in order to elicit higher bets from those foolish enough to place them. What else are the “new instruments” but just these kinds of empty shells covering up a lack of any real value? That a few were smart enough to pull out of the game and take their winnings before being subject to the big kill is only a confirmation of the nature of the thing.

As many of those responsible for this mess work in the mass media, pulling the wool over the eyes of the marks was the full time job of the “free press” during the last forty years. They have been the croupiers and floor show of the great “free market” con job. The few who weren’t part of the theft, generally didn’t prosper in their profession during the past several decades.

Maybe, eventually, those ubiquitous faces and voices who have been calling it wrong all along, will disappear into the ignominious obscurity they’ve earned by deceiving The People. Though that hasn’t happened yet. They’re still the guests that the talk shows have on speed dial, most of the cards in the Rolodex, the ones who the hosts allow to talk over other, more realistic voices. William Greider, please, don’t get discouraged.

But it goes deeper than that.

I really did mean it the other day, that there was a basic difference between the way liberals and conservatives think. It comes down to either seeing people as either possessing equal, inherent rights or seeing them as unequal. In some the majority of people are seen as either being of some utility, to be exploited, or entirely unimportant and to be disregarded or even disposed of. It is a narrowed class of people who are seen as having rights important to the conservative, they either don’t believe or don’t care about all people being created equal.

There is a turn of phrase in the English language that has always bothered me but it wasn’t until this week that I understood why. The idea of someone being a “useful person”, people being “of use” of the duty of people to “make themselves useful”, never sat well with me. It is exactly the concept of a person having economic value, of having some utilitarian measure of worth based in their potential for being exploited. The extension, that there are people who are “useless”, and so, perhaps, their very existence is unimportant, is inescapable. The relationship of this to the idea of the “worthy” and the “unworthy” poor and destitute is very important too.

I think a democratic way of looking at it would be to completely drop the idea of human utility, of having one person being to some extent at the disposal of another person. The idea and the language should concentrate on whether or not someone is helpful, whether someone lends aid to others, of people rendering help to other people on the basis of their own choice.

There is a subtle but very real distinction to make between the two ways of seeing things. Being helpful is an act of volition on the part of a person who would be the one used by a superior in the analysis of usefulness. Just for a start, it overturns the dynamic of dominance by a “user”, to the free choice of the one lending their aid. It is a lot more in keeping with both seeing people as equals having rights and with a more friendly way of conducting human affairs. You choose to be helpful, you are compelled by circumstance or by the will of others to be useful. Help verses use.

And I think there is a component of helpfulness that acknowledges that people are fully worthy of and entitled to help in obtaining what is necessary. It affirms the equal right to the necessities of life. I think that a person who is helped, without the nasty burdens placed on the need by our use-oriented thinking, would make the aid a lot more appreciated as well as those who freely give it as an act of friendship.

There is almost certainly an aspect of gender role in this. I’ve got a really strong suspicion that it is generally seen as manly to use people, to compel them to do something for you and to find those of no use to you to be “useless”. Asking for help, relying on help freely given, is seen as unmanly if not “effeminate”. You have to be stronger than someone else to compel their being useful to you. Without inequality there is no ability to enforce use. Cooperation is certainly seen as unmanly as compared to setting up a competitive dominance structure.

It could stem from the deep insecurity of self-centered people and their fearful, violent preemptive assertion of will over others. If that’s true, you would probably be able to elicit an overblown reaction from attempts to subvert this dynamic, along with the kind of coercive assertion of conformity, that is the hallmark of macho insecurity. I’d imagine you could run experiments on some of our more macho blogs to test that idea.

There is also a class aspect to it too. Wealthier, more powerful, people use other people but they abhor the idea of needing help, those who need help are lesser human beings. That is what lies behind the repulsive, and, most tellingly and entirely “unChristian”, phrase “as cold as charity”*.

It seems like a small point but it seems like a helpful way to understand the differences between two widely divergent views of live.

* I once heard an Islamic woman say that in her branch of Islam that there was a duty to give charity but there was also an equal duty to accept charity. It seems like a really good idea to do that, in order to prevent the view of “charity” prevalent in conservative “christians”. How did people who claim to be followers of Jesus turn what he called the greatest virtue and most compelling human duty into a dirty word? Paul went farther than that, he said that without charity all the other virtues are nothing. The Jewish prophetic tradition, of which Jesus was a part, was largely concerned with the government, religious authorities and The People in general practicing charity.

Pre-empting racism in the sub-prime debacle

Apparently, if you don't follow the Faux News genre of the media (as I don't), you might have missed this odious layer of blame that is rapidly arising in the mire of the subprime crash.

I first got wind of this on MSNBC's first-person, main-street Gut Check, where Joe Sixpacks, Jane Hockey Moms, and real people too were sending in stories of life under the financial crisis; MSNBC was running the vignettes on the face page of their news site for several days a week or so ago. The original quotes are down now (sorry, no link), but a gentleman from a heartland city unequivocably stated that if we hadn't been pushed to lend to minorities and po' folks - what with the push for affordable housing for all and all that nonsense and whatnot - we would never be in this mess.

Huh. Minorities at fault for the subprime crisis? Affordable housing on the hook for banking failures, in a market bubble? This was the first I had heard of it, but this sort of rhetoric never comes out of nowhere.

Sure 'nuff, the theme of blaming the poor people and minorities is nothing new even in good times - but a frightening specter as the creep of bad times rises of over the horizon like the bad moon of a Creedence Clearwater Revival tune.

If you google "community reinvestment act subprime," you'll get a gander at this burgeoning debate. The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 to push banks and other lenders to be accountable for their historic discrimination against minorities and poorer demographics when deciding on who to loan out mortgages to; it's been amended a handful of times since then. The rightward-leaning elements of the media would have you believe that this Carter-era legislation was responsible for the 2008 crash - some thirty years after the fact - and that mortgage companies and lenders were simply forced, forced!, to hand over fistfuls of cash to the high risk pool that is poor minority families.

Not so fast.

There have been a number of very fine op-ed pieces debunking this racist, blame-the-victim rhetoric, and it behooves every progressive out there to keep one of these debunkings in their back pocket. As times get tough and the inevitable scrambling begins for the dregs of the recessionary economy, it is vital to remember - and be able to successfully argue - that racism has no place at this table.

To wit, Newsweek (yeah, go figure, Newsweek) ran a thorough and well-sourced piece on how and why the subprime crash does not fall on the backs of poor and minority owners:
"The Community Reinvestment Act applies to depository banks. But many of the institutions that spurred the massive growth of the subprime market weren't regulated banks. They were outfits such as Argent and American Home Mortgage, which were generally not regulated by the Federal Reserve or other entities that monitored compliance with CRA. These institutions worked hand in glove with Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, entities to which the CRA likewise didn't apply. The CRA didn't force mortgage companies to offer loans for no-money down, or to throw underwriting standards out the window, or to encourage mortgage brokers to aggressively seek out new markets. Nor did the CRA force the credit-rating agencies to slap high-grade ratings on subprime debt.

"Second, many of the biggest flameouts in real estate have had nothing to do with subprime lending. WCI Communities, builder of highly amenitized condos in Florida (no subprime purchasers welcome there), filed for bankruptcy in August. Very few of the tens of thousands of now-surplus condominiums in Miami were conceived to be marketed to subprime borrowers, or minorities - unless you count rich Venezuelans and Colombians as minorities.

"Third, lending money to poor people and minorities isn't inherently risky. There's plenty of evidence that in fact it's not that risky at all. That's what we've learned from several decades of microlending programs, at home and abroad, with their very high repayment rates. And as The New York Times recently reported, Nehemiah Homes, a long-running initiative to build homes and sell them to the working poor in subprime areas of New York's outer boroughs, has a repayment rate that lenders in Greenwich, Conn., would envy. In 27 years, there have been fewer than 10 defaults on the project's 3,900 homes. That's a rate of 0.25 percent.

"Investment banks created a demand for subprime loans because they saw it as a new asset class that they could dominate. They made subprime loans for the same reason they made other loans: They could get paid for making the loans, for turning them into securities, and for trading them - frequently using borrowed capital."
Well said.

There's an old adage liberally stolen from an old West bank robber, I believe it was Willie Sutton: when asked why he robbed banks, he simply looked sideways and said, "'Cause that's where the money is." How's about we employ a nineteenth-century tactic to sorting out the who and how of the fault for the subprime crash: we just look at who is holding fistfuls of cash at the end of the game, and there you might find your answer of who was rifling through the til while the regulators were asleep.

Friday sunset blogging (by Suzie)

Phil Sheffield, a retired professional photographer, took this photo on Anna Maria Island in Florida last month. 

Things that shouldn't get thought out loud

If McCain is Maverick, does that mean that Palin is Goose?

Just asking.

Information and change (by Suzie)

         In a recent thread, a man insisted that gender inequality stemmed from men stereotyping women and vice versa. If only we understood each other better, he said, discrimination would disappear.
         One problem with this argument is that it assumes people are equally motivated in their desire to understand one another, and that they are equally motivated to change society.
         I believe in giving people information, in hopes they will see the light (i.e., think like me). But I have to remind myself that people need some impetus to listen, to think, to change.
         I bought Allan Johnson’s “The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy” because I wanted a Feminism-for-Dummies book that I could give male friends. I thought they would be more receptive to a male author, and Johnson writes so that anyone can understand.
        I have female friends who reject feminism or whose beliefs differ from mine. In general, however, they have a better grasp of the problems facing women, as you might expect.
        I gave Johnson’s book to a colleague who expressed interest in my beliefs. He read only a few pages before concluding Johnson was president of the men-haters club. My colleague is a liberal Democrat who believes in women’s rights. But words like “patriarchy” sound crazy to him, as they do to many of my liberal friends. He’s busy, and he has only a passing interest in feminism.
          Johnson says: 
Liberal feminism’s main assumption is that privilege and oppression result from ignorance whose removal through enlightened education will clear the road to equality and a better life for all. But it doesn’t see gendered behavior in a larger framework in which some people benefit by “ignorance and misunderstanding.” 
          I can't give up on the liberal project of providing information, even though I know that that alone is not sufficient. But sometimes I want to flag down Echidne's aliens and ask them to take me back to their world.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Useful Reading On The Financial Markets

Yes, I know that nobody wants to read anything about those markets. They're like a nightmarish version of the free marketeers' dreams: A Market Run Amok. Besides, further panic is exactly the worst possible response to the recent events, and it's very hard to read about the recent events without feeling all panicky (though remembering that even during the Great Depression the majority of workers were not unemployed might help).

In any case, there are steps that can be taken. For example, both Roubini and Krugman explain the severity of the crisis but they also explain what can be done especially this weekend when all the high-and-mighty are gathering together in Washington D.C..

Added later:

Thanks to Nancy in the comments for drawing my attention to this NYT article about Greenspan's role in the development of the markets with the ability to go totally amok. You should read it, especially the third page which discusses the way the Big Guys shot down a regulatory attempt by Brooksley Born:

Ms. Born was concerned that unfettered, opaque trading could "threaten our regulated markets or, indeed, our economy without any federal agency knowing about it," she said in Congressional testimony. She called for greater disclosure of trades and reserves to cushion against losses.

Ms. Born's views incited fierce opposition from Mr. Greenspan and Robert E. Rubin, the Treasury secretary then. Treasury lawyers concluded that merely discussing new rules threatened the derivatives market. Mr. Greenspan warned that too many rules would damage Wall Street, prompting traders to take their business overseas.

"Greenspan told Brooksley that she essentially didn't know what she was doing and she'd cause a financial crisis," said Michael Greenberger, who was a senior director at the commission. "Brooksley was this woman who was not playing tennis with these guys and not having lunch with these guys. There was a little bit of the feeling that this woman was not of Wall Street."


Ms. Born pushed ahead. On June 5, 1998, Mr. Greenspan, Mr. Rubin and Mr. Levitt called on Congress to prevent Ms. Born from acting until more senior regulators developed their own recommendations. Mr. Levitt says he now regrets that decision. Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Rubin were "joined at the hip on this," he said. "They were certainly very fiercely opposed to this and persuaded me that this would cause chaos."

Ms. Born soon gained a potent example. In the fall of 1998, the hedge fund Long Term Capital Management nearly collapsed, dragged down by disastrous bets on, among other things, derivatives. More than a dozen banks pooled $3.6 billion for a private rescue to prevent the fund from slipping into bankruptcy and endangering other firms.

Despite that event, Congress froze the Commodity Futures Trading Commission's regulatory authority for six months. The following year, Ms. Born departed.

In November 1999, senior regulators — including Mr. Greenspan and Mr. Rubin — recommended that Congress permanently strip the C.F.T.C. of regulatory authority over derivatives.

Wow. Just wow.

This Worries Me

The unreasoning anger I see in this:

So I look for the ones who should be adult and moderate this anger, such as people in the McCain campaign and McCain himself. Is he doing what he should be doing?

Today's Silly Thought

You know the way Haloscan sometimes throws up the message: "An internal server error occurred. Please try again later."? Next time I get a migraine attack I'm gonna use that as the explanatory post.

And no, this isn't very funny, after all.

Lame Duckery

We shouldn't forget that the Bush administration is not yet in the past but busily fighting the hidden war against women of this world:

The Bush administration this month is quietly cutting off birth control supplies to some of the world's poorest women in Africa.

Thus the paradox of a "pro-life" administration adopting a policy whose result will be tens of thousands of additional abortions each year — along with more women dying in childbirth.

The saga also spotlights a clear difference between Barack Obama and John McCain. Senator Obama supports U.N.-led efforts to promote family planning; Senator McCain stands with President Bush in opposing certain crucial efforts to help women reduce unwanted pregnancies in Africa and Asia.


The latest bout of reproductive-health madness came in the last couple of weeks when the U.S. Agency for International Development ordered six African countries to ensure that no U.S.-financed condoms, birth control pills, I.U.D.'s or other contraceptives are furnished to Marie Stopes International, a British-based aid group that operates clinics in poor countries.

The Bush administration says it took this action because Marie Stopes International works with the U.N. Population Fund in China. President Bush has cut all financing for the population fund on the — false — basis that it supports China's family-planning program.

It's always fun to punish poor women in some far-distant country for some perceived political advantage in a totally different place, is it not? The poor are easy to punish, in general, because their voices will not be heard. But we should be aware of all the stuff that even a lame-duck president can manage.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Politics in Pictures. A Feminist Essay.


Several picture games are being played about the presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The first picture I saw (thanks to Ali for finding it again) is this one:

The second one (from Pharyngula) is this one:

A Fark comments thread has many, many more. They mostly share the same joke: While Obama and Biden are up-to-date, functioning and technically complex McCain is old, out-of-date and falling apart while Palin is a toy (preferably something girlish) or a joke and very stupid.

It's possible for me to see these images as a person who very much wants to see Obama/Biden win this race. That person finds many of the comparisons quite funny.

But if I put my feminazi glasses on and use their wider lenses to look at these pictures I notice something different: All these pictures let us laugh at a picture of a woman because she's stupid, a sex kitten, not to be taken seriously. They let us put up the pictures of three men and one woman and to always rate two of the men as the best and in most cases the woman as the worst of them all.

"Ah," you might be saying. "But Palin really is a disaster of disastrous proportions. That she just happens to be a woman is irrelevant." To which I answer: "So in your universe being a woman is irrelevant in politics? You must have lots of female politicians and very few misogynists."

The Firsts As The Best We Have

Well, in my universe female politicians are fairly rare. Indeed, Sarah Palin is the very first female Republican vice-presidential candidate ever! The very first!

It's useful at this point for you, my erudite and keen reader, to lean back, close your eyes and imagine that you are back in the pre-Palin era, in those halcyon days when no woman had ever been the Republican vice-presidential candidate. Which names might have cropped into your mind as possible female running mates for John McCain? Which Republican women had shown themselves to be experienced and skilled politicians, well equipped for the job? I'm sure that you can jot down a few names on that mental list, a mental list of possible "Firsts."

That's what I call the very first black or the very first woman or the very first Latino who enters some new field of endeavor. These Firsts are usually carefully picked. They are almost flawless individuals, because otherwise the prejudice people feel towards against anything new and untried, combined with racism and sexism and other such -isms many people also feel, otherwise those will tear the First into small shreds.

The first black and/or female students at elite universities were superbly talented individuals, often most carefully groomed for the jobs of being Firsts. Jackie Robinson, the first black baseball player introduced into white professional baseball player was not just an excellent player; he had also attended UCLA and served as a second lieutenant in the army. His self-control was impeccable. That he was all this was not a random accident but a very careful choice by those who wanted to integrate professional baseball.

This is how the Firsts are usually chosen. Usually, but not in the case of Sarah Palin. Yet she IS the first Republican female vice-presidential candidate and this allows her to be viewed by the sexists among us as the best women can offer (or at least the best Republican women can offer). It allows the sexists among us to make fun of all women in the disguise of making fun of only Sarah Palin. And trying to differentiate between these two intentions is almost impossible.

Note that my post is not intended to denigrate Sarah Palin's qualifications. A country which has had eight years of George Bush and his qualifications and found them just fine shouldn't suddenly get all red-faced and furious about her qualifications or the lack of them. But Palin is not the kind of an individual who is picked to be the First in a new and important arena, certainly not if the intention is to have her break the path for other women to follow (always assuming that she'd let them). Yet there she is.

Back to the Pictures

Let's look at those pictures again, from that feminazi angle. Note how in the first one all the three men wear somber business suits and white shirts. They are all portrayed indoors, apparently giving speeches. Note how the one woman in the pictures is dressed very informally, even messily and portrayed in a non-professional outdoors setting. All this makes the point about Palin's lack of judgement and experience --- how? I believe that it's done by linking her to the archetypal images of women as belonging to the home, not the office.

The second picture compares each candidate to a different type of train engine. McCain's engine is an ancient one but Palin's isn't even a real engine. It's a toy. Her engine would never have actually moved by itself. It's not a train. It pretends to be a train. Just imagine how much fun those who look down on women in general have with that picture! And what freedom all this allows for the misogynists among us who also happen to be Democrats! On the other hand, some conservative misogynists must feel almost as unhappy with this setup as I do...

There you are. It's a mess, this situation, because however hard I wish it not to be the case Sarah Palin is seen both as a First Woman and also as an individual and it's not truly possible to criticize just the latter if the criticism is based on general sexism.

The Firsts As Invisible

The most common trick to get around this problem is to ignore the essential nature of some types of Firsts, to pretend that they are not happening at all. That way focusing on the individual seems valid and the criticism can be as nasty as you can make it be. Hillary Clinton was treated in this manner by many among the liberals and progressives. She was interpreted within the framework of Bill Clinton's reign, as a sneaky way of getting Bill back into the White House, as a representative of the old and stale in Washington, D.C., as hopelessly tainted by the hatred she elicits among the conservatives.

That she may or may not have been all this AND also the first woman ever to have a real chance at the U.S presidency somehow disappeared from sight. Indeed, the whole idea of a First Woman in any new arena was itself deemed as old hat, as something silly, given the existence of Nancy Pelosi (she should be enough for you wimmenfolk) or the success of girls at school or the yuckiness of tokenism in general. That children learning about the presidents or vice-presidents of the United States will not learn a single female name was unimportant, given the urgency of the problems of our time and the need to pick the best possible candidate. Besides, one day a woman will turn up, good enough and pure enough to qualify whatever the urgent problems of that time might be. In the meantime, the majority of Americans are still female.

Now, it could well be that Hillary Clinton wasn't the best possible candidate and that other matters than feminist concerns took precedence in the minds of the voters, especially given the First nature of Barack Obama, too. But still, Clinton was a First and her Firstness has not been celebrated the way it should have been. It has not been acknowledged the way it should have been: As path-breaking. And sadly, those who grieve for the respect that was never paid to a fallen First will not find support and understanding on the largest and most influential liberal and progressive blogs. Rather the opposite, and I believe the reason for that is the way we have made the Firstness of these women invisible, just as women and their concerns often turn invisible in various political discourses.


Not being "the other" has some great advantages. For instance, when John McCain or Joe Biden do something stupid they only affect their own reputations, because white men are not "the other". They are individuals. When Barack Obama or Sarah Palin do something stupid they affect the reputations of African-Americans or women respectively (at least among all racists and sexists). They serve as embodiments of the groups they represent. This is the case as long as Firsts are necessary, as long as we only have a handful of individuals on which to base our group assessments.

On some level most women, for example, know this. Thus, when I look at the pictures in this post I can see them as making fun of Sarah Palin but my stomach thinks differently. It suspects that the pictures also make fun of me.

Note that the dilemma this puts us in is not one with an easy or rapid solution. The obvious solution is to have enough politicians from all gender and race groups so that they all come across as just individuals. Then we can criticize them to our hearts' content without saying anything about the group they happen to come from. But that must await some future century.

Let's Pretend

That we have been chosen as the guides and hosts of very intelligent humanoid-type alien tourists from outer space and that it's our duty to explain to them how this planet functions.

So we show these guests pictures of the earth, pointing out China as "the place where we make everything but weapons" and then we point out the U.S. as "the place where most of the weapons are created" and then we point out places in the Middle East and in Africa as "the places where we kill people more efficiently than in other places."

When they ask about the mines and the smog and so on (they ask these questions because they are MY aliens and if you don't like the questions manufacture your own aliens) and why we cut off the tops of the mountains and wallow deep inside the earth to make long tunnels we, the guides, must clarify that "no, we are not a worm-type species which needs to digest the earth and then fart it out in big dark clouds." We are simply eating up our home planet. At which point the aliens will tsk tsk in their own weird language while shaking their antennae.

We then try to explain to them why the outer shell color of people matters so much on this planet and why those individuals who can lay eggs (sorta) are regarded as second-class quality essentially everywhere while the egg-laying ability itself is lauded to high heavens. The aliens then roll all their eight eyeballs and decide to vacation on Alpha Centaur next time.

And so on. I'm sure you can add to these thoughts. The point is to step outside the little petri dishes in which we have grown up and to try to see the system from a distance. It's a fascinating way to spend time while getting your teeth cleaned, for example.

The Second Debate

The transcript is here. I listened to the debate on the radio which means that I have nothing to say about body language and such. But mostly it sounded a lot like a re-run of the first debate about economics and foreign policy, even in the questions that were asked.

I don't see how the reactions to the debate would help McCain.

I assume the third debate will be about stuff like women's rights? Hmm.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Restoring Confidence in the Markets

George Bush spoke about that the other day and Dan Froomkin pointed out that as people don't have confidence in Bush as a president they are unlikely to have confidence in what he says about restoring confidence.

Bush is not the only voice which has asked for confidence to be returned. Confidence is that magical thing which would stop people from taking their savings out of the banks or moving all their investments into gold and under-the-mattress funds. I doubt that confidence is easily returned, however.

My old parable about the financial markets as a person turning up at the ER of a hospital with severe and inexplicable bleeding still applies. Of course the bleeding must be stopped and the patient's condition stabilized. Of course.

But the next stage is not just releasing the patient back on the streets with no actual diagnosis or long-terms treatment plans, and that's how I view the current rescue packets. They are like the first-aid at an ER. Yet we are asked to view the treatment as sufficient to give us "confidence" in the patient's future health, even though we don't have a real diagnosis or a real prognosis or any long-term treatment information.

Once again, I'm returning to my frequent pleas to make sure that the markets have proper rules and proper oversight. Installing those now will not cancel the crisis we are in but it's imperative for the avoidance of worse things in the future. It's like long-term medical supervision and care for a patient who was ill enough to turn up at the emergency room.

I also think that it's useful to distinguish between "confidence" and "trust" in the markets. It's trust that we really need, trust that the markets won't suddenly implode and destroy our retirement savings or the value of the most important capital asset most people own: the value of their homes. And for that trust to return we need to understand and treat the ultimate reasons for what ails the markets.

I'm Tickling the Back of Yer Knee!

Did you ever see this picture of the blogosphere? This blog is there, right at the knee of that weird boot with the sharp heel (called Artemis' boot though everyone knows that Artemis wears steel-toed loggers' boots). Right below Chomsky!

How odd is that?

I'm not sure what I should feel or think about this.

Money Makes The World Go Round

Do you get the image of Liza Minelli in a top hat when you read that title for this post? The point of the song wasn't quite to tell us that firms and consumers need liquid assets, something that can be used to ease transactions in general and to make barter unnecessary, something that allows a firm to pay its employees this month while waiting for its customers to pay it next month. Money or short-term credit.

It is short-term credit which appears to have almost dried up in the financial markets of many countries and the injections of money into the system are an attempt to oil the gears sufficiently so that somehow the markets for short-term credit get going again. Whether it works is a big question mark.

Paul Krugman, among others, has argued for a while that the crisis we are living is not a liquidity crisis but one about lack of capital, and if that is right the liquidity injections will not work. Now he has written a short paper (pdf) about the reasons the crisis globalized so very rapidly. (You can skip the squiggles and just read the bits in English if you don't like squiggles.)

He concludes that the financial markets are a whole lot more global than we have thought, or at least more global in ways we did not prepare for. They allowed the exporting of the American crisis more rapidly and efficiently (sarcasm) than many economists expected.

Then to the House Oversight Committee which has discussed the sad story of the Lehman Brothers' demise:

Prior to the hearing, Republican members of the Oversight Committee released a report in which they concluded that deregulation is not to blame for the current trouble in the financial system.

The report goes on to discuss the net-capital rule, which is a regulation limiting the amount of debt that financial institutions are allowed to take on. In the report, House Republicans argue that there should be no such rule, because bankers will just "find ways around" it:

Banking regulations require financial institutions to limit their asset risk per unit of capital, but writing regulations that simply mandate an appropriate level is unlikely to work for very long because it is in the interest of bankers to find ways around these requirements in pursuit of profit.

However, the report completely fails to note that financial institutions carrying huge debt-to-capital ratios contributed to the recent meltdown. Furthermore, it was the Bush administration, through the auspices of the Securities and Exchange Commission, that actively relaxed the debt-to-capital regulation.

In 2004, the SEC loosened the rule mandating "that broker dealers limit their debt-to-net capital ratio to 12-to-1." The five investment banks that qualified for an alternative rule - Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley - were allowed "to increase their debt-to-net capital ratios, sometimes, as in the case of Merrill Lynch, to as high as 40-to-1."

According to the New York Times, the investment banks themselves lobbied for the rule change, because it would "unshackle billions of dollars held in reserve as a cushion against losses on their investments." However, when the subprime mortgage bubble burst, the investment firms no longer had enough cash on hand "to weather the storm."

Chairman of the Oversight Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), said this lax regulation "proved to be a temptation" that the investment firms "could not resist," but "when asset values decline — as the subprime market did — leverage rapidly consumes a company's capital and jeopardizes its survival.

Barry Ritholz wrote that the SEC exemption is "in large part responsible for the huge build up in financial sector leverage over the past 4 years — as well as the massive current unwind":

It's always interesting that the "law-and-order" Republicans are so very unwilling to have any laws apply to the marketplace and that they justify this by saying that the clever buggers would just get around them. This reminds me of George Bush telling us how there's no point in trying to really tax the rich as they'll run rings around the government and take their money abroad.

I still think that the whole financial markets fiasco is because of lack of proper oversight and proper regulatory rules. For instance the credit default swaps were insurance, but they were not subjected to the rules insurance companies had to follow.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Killing Me Gently

I just read the horrible story about a man who killed his wife, his mother-in-law and his three sons before killing himself. The story gets so much publicity, because of its fit with the current financial markets mess. The murderer was someone who had been employed in the financial industry, who couldn't find another job and who was in deep financial trouble despite having a house in a gated community and so on.

It's a dreadful story about multiple murders. Or about multiple murders and a suicide. But the manner in which it is reported is extremely odd:

A man distraught because he could not find work shot and killed his mother-in-law, his wife and three sons and then killed himself inside a home in an upscale San Fernando Valley neighborhood, police said.

Authorities said the man had an MBA in finance but appeared to have been unemployed for several months and had worked for major accounting firms, such as Price Waterhouse, police said.

The two-story rented home is in a gated community in Porter Ranch, about 20 miles northwest of Los Angeles.


Inside the house, police also found three letters, one to law enforcement acknowledging responsibility for the killings, a second to friends and relatives and a third that appears to be the suspect's will, Moore said.

"He attests to some financial difficulties, and he takes responsibility for the taking of the lives of his family members and himself as a result of those financial difficulties," Moore said.

There ya go. A multiple-murder story which begins with explaining why the murderer committed the murders and how he "takes responsibility" for the crimes. Except that he didn't take responsibility, because he offed himself.

Here's more about his motives and responsibility:

Moore said it was clear to police that the family members were close and "had an affection for each other." He said the parents had given up their master bedroom to their eldest -- who was spending the weekend home from college -- "out of respect."

"This is a perfect American family behind me that has absolutely been destroyed, apparently because of a man who just got stuck in a rabbit hole, if you will, of absolute despair, somehow working his way into believing this to be an acceptable exit."

There's lots of empathy in that quote, empathy towards the man who was so tormented that he killed five people, but zero empathy towards those five people. Did he ask them if they wanted to die with him? Did he think of them as separate individuals, entitled to make those choices themselves? Perhaps he did, but the story as told here doesn't convince me of some kind of a shared suicide pact. It looks a lot like a murder of five people who didn't want to get killed.

That should not be forgotten just because the story fits in with the financial market turmoil.

The Power Of Porn

How interesting and unexpected:

Larry Flynt is using the power of porn to express his views on Sarah Palin.

The Hustler founder and freedom of speech advocate has produced an X-rated movie using an adult-film actress who resembles the Republican vice presidential candidate.

And Flynt isn't alone in his desire to turn a female politician into a porn star, whether she has agreed to it or not.

I'm sure that this is the usual way porn producers express their political views: By making porn about politicians. So let me know the names of the porn movies that have been made about George Bush, Dick Cheney, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. I really, really want to watch those.

Should you happen to be one of those who think that Sarah Palin is exploiting her own sexuality in the campaign and might not mind if others join in, think about the Hillary Clinton nutcrackers or the way her cleavage was discussed all over the political media.

The Second Deep Thought for a Monday

Migraine is more controllable than the financial situation right now:

U.S. Stocks Decline, Dow Industrial Average Falls Below 10,000

By Elizabeth Stanton

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. stocks dropped, driving the Dow Jones Industrial Average below 10,000 for the first time in four years, after bank bailouts in Europe widened and commodities producers slid on concern global growth is slowing.

Equities fell worldwide, erasing more than $2 trillion in market value. Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. sank more than 5 percent after the German government led a bailout of Hypo Real Estate Holding AG and BNP Paribas SA bought parts of Belgium's Fortis. Chevron Corp. lost 3.2 percent as oil declined to the lowest since February. The Dow rose 430 points from its intraday low on speculation the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates to unfreeze credit markets.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index tumbled 42.34 points, or 3.9 percent, to 1,056.89, the lowest since November 2003. The Dow retreated 369.88, or 3.6 percent, to 9,955.50 and earlier fell as much as 800 points for its biggest loss since October 1987. The Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index surged to a record high of 58.24.

``It's a financial panic, total dislocation in the financial industry across the board,'' said Ralph Shive, chief investment officer at 1st Source Corp. Investment Advisors in South Bend, Indiana, which manages $3 billion.

I recommend J.K. Galbraith's little book The Great Crash 1929, because it gives a very good idea about the steps which were taken (and not taken) at that time and which of those steps made things much, much worse. We can learn from that, even though the economies then and now are quite different.

Deep Thought for a Monday

Having a bad migraine attack is more enjoyable than writing about what Sarah Palin means for feminism.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Tim Wise: Might wanna adjust your hairshirt, your sexism is showing (by Skylanda)

Apparently I'm the last liberal on the block to get forwarded a copy of Tim Wise's latest missive on racism in America. I hadn't heard of Tim Wise before, but maybe you have. He is, self-proclaimedly, "among the most prominent anti-racist writers and activists in the US." Judging by a strangely come-hither picture attached to the bio on his site (as well as a lot of titles that indicate that his racial background up front), he is a white dude. Aside from the usual questions that brings up (like, say, why is a white dude sucking down so much media time - what with his bragging bio noting that he's been "a featured guest on hundreds of radio and television programs worldwide" - when an actual person of color could be getting some air time), there is some credit to be given where credit is due: he makes a lot of good points.

Chief among those good points are things like the comparison of what reaction you typically get when a young white man (versus a young Hispanic man or young black man) pontificates publicly on their enthusiasm for guns, gun ownership, and gun rights. Racism: hard to argue there.

So might might not seem necessary, even though he seems to think it is, to spend more than half the essay bagging on Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin's daughter. Sarah Palin's extended family. And, oh yes, Sarah Palin's vagina. Uh huh, you didn't read that wrong:
"White privilege is when you can take nearly twenty-four hours to get to a hospital after beginning to leak amniotic fluid, and still be viewed as a great mom whose commitment to her children is unquestionable, and whose 'next door neighbor' qualities make her ready to be VP, while if you're a black candidate for president and you let your children be interviewed for a few seconds on TV, you're irresponsibly exploiting them."
I'm sorry, but who the hell is this guy and what the hell is his business judging the personal obstetrical practices of a woman he's never met? And fer chrissakes, but where did this tidbit about Sarah Palin's amniotic fluid come from, how was it confirmed, and why on god's green earth was this made fodder for any kind of public debate?

Unlike some of his finer points, this one does not even provide a one-to-one match between the white privilege he is criticizing and the moments of oppression of people of color he is highlighting (come again, what does amniotic fluid leaks have anything at all to do with children on television?). In fact, these have nothing to do with each other. And in fact, I've never heard of a woman of color being criticized for taking too long to get to the hospital while leaking amniotic fluid - and I've worked labor & delivery in two major metropolitan areas and a handful of small rural towns to boot; women of color certainly get criticized for all kinds random criteria that wealthy white women get a free pass on (don't for a second believe that poor white women don't face down similar drive-by critiques of their mommying skills), but to make up extra points of contention just so you can get a few extra digs in at Sarah Palin? There was no anti-racism content in this paragraph at all; this was pure put-her-in-the-stocks-and-throw-tomatoes-at-her crap from a white dude toward a white woman.

And so once again, the take-down of racism against men of color (as Obama is the main target of his defense, just as Palin is the main target of his attack) will be performed on the backs of the nearest woman. The entire column consists of roughly 22 paragraphs of similarly pithy comparisons, of which no less than thirteen are dedicated to bagging on Palin, her educational record, her family, what have you. Number of paragraphs dedicated to George Bush? One and a half. Number of paragraphs dedicated to McCain - ya know, the guy that's running this campaign? Six, sorta maybe seven. In case you thought he would generously spare McCain's family, nah - Cindy McCain even gets a nod for her prescription drug addiction...again, terribly lovely fodder for debate.

This kind of rhetoric, it doesn't sit well for so many reasons.

It forces me into the untenable position of feeling obligated to defend the likes of Sarah Palin, which is something I am loathe to do.

It forces women of color to engage once again in that counter-productive, ridiculous, second wave-crushing question of whether race or gender is their primary source of oppression, and conversely, whether race or gender is their primary loyalty. This only has to be an either-or question when someone who pretends to be on the side of either women or people of color drives a wedge this deep and forces loyalties to split - otherwise, it's a question that does not ever need to be asked or addressed. You can be faced with multiple sources of strife; you can have split loyalties; reasonable people can maintain all this in the same brain and not implode. It does no one any good to pit race against gender; this is a loser situation all around.

It forces the undermining of his very real and important points - which should be able to stand on their own without the blunt force repetition of just how much we should hate Sarah Palin and what goes on her family and her vagina.

But most of all, it forces me to realize - once again - that whatever the perspective (pro-racism, anti-racism, whatever, you name it), women will always be little more than grist for the mill when a white dude wants to make a point. A good point, a bad point, a self-righteous point, an important point, an inane point, whatever kind of point he wants to make: a stranger's vagina is his bizness to make it with.

P.S. In case you don't believe me, here's another paragraph:
"White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a 'second look'."
Good going, Tim. Way to believe that liberal white women actually flocked to Sarah Palin - thanks for the confidence in our ability to think for ourselves and withstand the undeniable temptation of voting for a pro-life, anti-environment conservative just 'cause she's got a vajayjay just like us (would it be too hard to convince him that hey, most of the women who flocked to Sarah Palin really have little to no substantative disagreement with her philosophy? nah, that would cause him to have to address real racism, instead of just bagging on women for the sake of bagging on women). And way to totally dismiss the desire that some of us women have to actually see a woman in the White House before the end of our lives; it is this kind of bull that made the clash between Clinton and Obama so profound - thanks for reminding us all over again that racism is justifiable if it's in offense against sexism, and sexism is justifiable if it's in the offense against racism. Really, we could have lived without banging our heads against that wall over and over again.

Louder Oceans (by Phila)

New research suggests that ocean acidification reduces sound absorption, which means that underwater noise will travel for longer distances:
Conservative projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that the chemistry of seawater could change by 0.3 pH units by 2050 (see below for background information on pH and ocean acidification). In the October 1, 2008 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, Keith Hester and his coauthors calculate that this change in ocean acidity would allow sounds to travel up to 70 percent farther underwater. This will increase the amount of background noise in the oceans and could affect the behavior of marine mammals....

Hester's research shows once again how human activities are affecting the Earth in far-reaching and unexpected ways. As the researchers put it in their paper, "The waters in the upper ocean are now undergoing an extraordinary transition in their fundamental chemical state at a rate not seen on Earth for millions of years, and the effects are being felt not only in biological impacts but also on basic geophysical properties, including ocean acoustics."
Things affect other things. Go figure.

Presumably, calculations of the allowable noise levels for wind-farm turbines, and undersea warfare training exercises, and acoustic deterrent devices will take ongoing acidification into account.

What depresses me about all this -- aside from the obvious -- is that the more effects climate change has, the less seriously it seems to be taken among skeptics. Just as consensus is seen as collusion, each new concern is met with greater disbelief: "Now they're saying global warming will make fish go deaf! Bwa ha ha!"

It's certainly not due to any lack of imagination. The same people usually have no problem teasing out the hidden connections between gays and subprime mortgages, or immigrants and Morgellons disease. And the analogical intricacies of liberal fascism are as child's play to them.

But even among people who accept that warming is real but natural, the idea that it could have serious, wide-ranging, unexpected effects remains downright alien: perhaps the world's getting a tiny bit warmer, the argument goes, but how could that possibly affect disease transmission, or the incidence of wildfires? If anything, the inactivists seem to be even more complacent than the denialists, which is no mean feat.

A recent article in Science discusses the tendency to find connections and patterns where they don't exist. I'm more impressed by the ability to ignore them where they do.