Monday, December 26, 2011

10 Dumbest Moves of 2011

Year-end lists are a longstanding tradition, so who am I to struggle against them? The following is my contribution, a list of the stupidest things done by persons and institutions over the past year. As is customary, they are listed in reverse order of stupidity:

10! Bank of America announces debit card fees

Really, they should have known better. Clearly, people were going to notice. One assumes they now have found other, less in-your-face ways to gouge the same revenues from depositors.

9! Wisconsin governor Scott Walker attacks public sector unions

I guess he though he'd get away with it and become a Republican icon with a clear path to the White House – but it kind of backfired. Unwittingly, he managed to revitalize the labor movement and become the target of a recall campaign.

8! Dominique Strauss-Kahn gets blow job

It may have been the most expensive blow job in history, surpassing the Bill Clinton blow job of 1998. Clinton kept the presidency, but DSK never will be Premier of France.

7! The Supercommittee


6! Democrats buying into the "deficit problem"

The biggest concern of the largest number of Americans is unemployment. Even the people with jobs seem to understand that high unemployment rates are depressing their wages, but, as usual, Democrats let Republicans define the parameters of the debate — and, as usual, wound up on the defensive. Given that the Treasury currently is borrowing at less than 2%, nobody who matters is too worried about US solvency.

5! Republicans having all those debates

The more the Republican primary candidates debate, the more obvious it becomes that they're all genuinely defective. The most victimized victim was Rick Perry. Hell, he has great hair, rugged good looks, solid conservative credentials, and cowboy masculinity. Difficulties arose, however, when his handlers let him open his mouth, thereby demonstrating just what an ass he is. (Nevertheless, the debates have been the most entertaining "reality television" I've ever seen.)

4! Ongoing US support for al-Maliki in Iraq

It's been clear for years that Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is a corrupt, self-aggrandizing piece of shit, and about ten minutes after our long overdue withdrawal from Iraq, he showed us just how stupid we were to put any trust in him whatsoever. Sorry, Barack. There goes democratic Afghanistan.

3! European austerity programs

So, where's the growth supposed to come from? Just because the eternally anal-retentive, moralistic Germans have all the money doesn't mean the rest of Europe should buckle under to their demands. Outside the Eurozone, I'm thinking David Cameron, too, might be in trouble.

2! Egyptians putting trust in their military

Damn, it's rough when, after your revolution, you have to do it again. Maybe there should be a handbook telling people how to tell the difference between a revolution and a military coup.

1! Obama attempting to compromise with Republicans

Dammit, he's not that stupid! Well, maybe he is. Maybe he thought his neo-liberal stances would somehow endear him to his sworn enemies. (That kind of thinking would have been very stupid indeed.) More likely, he thought his Wall Street friends would come to his rescue. Well, they didn't. Wall Street execs still value short term outcomes over long term outcomes, because the short term still is where their bonuses are generated.

So there you are, and a happy New Year (uh-huh!) to all.

Friday, December 23, 2011

As 2011 draws to a close...

It's nice to see Republicans attacking Republicans for a change — including, of course, the attack ads against Gingrich in Iowa, but especially the Establishment Republicans slapping around the Tea Party maniacs to stop them from blocking an extension of the Payroll Tax holiday. Could it be the GOP (with an especially fond wave to Dick Armey) created Frankenstein's monster leading up to the previous election cycle? Probably not. Not only are most American voters not paying attention, but most didn't even know what the controversy was about.

Okay — if they'd seen their take-home pay go down as of their first paychecks in January, they might have figured out what was happening, and perhaps even who was at fault. Now that the crisis is averted (or at least delayed for two months), there will be spin — and individual perceptions will depend on individual choice of news outlets.

And, yes, I'm one of those arrogant asses the average American loves to hate. Needless to say, so is Newt — and his "all positive campaign" is meant to suppress memories of just what an arrogant ass he's been in the past. Honestly, though, I can't imagine him winning the nomination. People don't change that much as they age, and he's overdue for a self-destructive detonation.


Meanwhile, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Egypt, and other so-called countries are strenuously enacting these famous lines from Yeats (1919):

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

No, I don't think "the Second Coming is at hand." Just the same old shit. Happy holidays.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Leaving Iraq

Okay, the United States has officially withdrawn the last of its armed forces from Iraq as of today — but what have we left behind? Is Iraq in any better shape now than it was in 2005, when we might have pegged a troop withdrawal to the election of the Iraqi parliament? I don't think so.

US troops had been there roughly half a year when it was concluded that the "weapons of mass destruction" the Bush administration offered as a justification for invasion did not exist. After another couple of months, Saddam Hussein was captured and turned over to the Iraqis. We could have been gone by a year later, when they (very picturesquely) hanged him. They really didn't need us for that.

Today, Iraq continues to be splintered along religious and ethnic lines. Nuri Kamal al-Maliki shows little regard for the rule of law, the Iraqiya coalition of secular and Sunni Iraqis is boycotting the parliament in protest, and militias loyal to individuals like Muqtada al-Sadr have not been disarmed nor disbanded. No agreement has been reached with the Kurds about sharing oil revenues, and the Kurds seem willing to fight to maintain their autonomy. The forces of our allies in the "Sunni Awakening" are complaining of persecution by the majority Shi'a government. Iran's influence is extensive, and growing.

When the US leaves Afghanistan — at some unspecified date in the future — that country is likely to be even more disordered, corrupt, and crazy than Iraq is today. So, why wait? Let's bring all the troops home.

Friday, December 9, 2011

SB 1867

It's been easy to miss, but this year's Defense Appropriations Bill includes some language that has civil libertarians in an uproar. See if you can figure out what's wrong with this section:

(1) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in paragraph (4), the Armed Forces of the United States shall hold a person described in paragraph (2) who is captured in the course of hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40) in military custody pending disposition under the law of war.
(2) COVERED PERSONS.—The requirement in paragraph (1) shall apply to any person whose detention is authorized under section 1031 who is determined
(A) to be a member of, or part of, al-Qaeda or an associated force that acts in coordination with or pursuant to the direction of al-Qaeda; and
(B) to have participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners.

So far, it seems almost reasonable — military detention for terrorists, right? There are a couple of little problems, though. First, there is no burden of proof involved. An accusation is enough to justify detention indefinitely, with no right to anything resembling a trial. More importantly, perhaps, it authorizes the military to exercise police powers within the borders of the United States, thereby overturning the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 — but stay tuned for the real kicker:

(1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS.—The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.

On first reading, you might think US citizens are exempt but, as the ACLU has pointed out, the fact that there is no requirement that the military detain citizens without trial (or even a grand jury hearing) does not mean that the military cannot choose to do so — nor that the President cannot order the military to do so. Remember, all that is necessary is an accusation — no actual evidence is required.

Currently, the bill is in the hands of a Conference Committee to reconcile House and Senate versions, but there is no reason to believe that committee will do anything to ease civil liberties concerns. An attempt to amend the Senate bill to change the language failed. Our President has threatened a veto — not because he doesn't think he ought to have the powers of a military dictator, but because he sees other sections of the law as an attempt by Congress to micromanage the so-called "war on terror." Violations of roughly half the Bill of Rights don't seem to bother him.

George W. Bush began the campaign to suspend the right of Habeus Corpus. Barack Obama has continued it. Somehow, I can't see Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich sacrificing any executive powers if one of them becomes our next Commander in Chief.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Occupy CUNY

I'll start with a complaint. Why am I making contributions to an alumni association that did not inform me of the November 21st "Occupy CUNY" march on Wall Street? I'd have been there, and so would a lot of other long-ago graduates who went to CUNY... those of us who went for FREE.

We geezers who attended the schools of the City University of New York before 1976 paid no tuition. Why, I have to wonder, was New York City able to do it then, but not now?

Well, the city has lost a hell of a lot of state aid over the years — but where did that money go? I'm still not sure. Also, I'm not sure where the federal money went, specifically, except that the later seventies were the time that tax rates on the rich began their precipitous fall.

College should be free. It's hard enough to make it out of the working class — and if you have to put yourself in ridiculously crazy debt you can't even shed in bankruptcy court to get a little bit beyond where your parents were, it may never happen. (Are there any corporate debts that can't be shed in bankruptcy? I can't think of any.)

Back in the sixties, I'm sure I could have qualified for some financial aid, and probably won a scholarship or two, but I doubt it would have been enough to get me all the way through a private college. It's certainly not enough for many students today, especially since jobs for those without college degrees are in such short supply and pay so poorly (and since full-time work and full-time school really are incompatible.)

The Occupy movement is about economic inequality — but also points out how generally screwed up our priorities have been for the past few decades. It's really time to get them straightened out.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Demise of Herman Cain

Sex scandals? Jesus Christ!! Newt surges ahead, with not much attention paid to the fact that Newt was banging a Congressional aide while he was leading the thrust (pun intended) to impeach Clinton for getting head from a Presidential aide.

For all I know, Cain is not guilty of the accusations against him. Well, what do I know? It all could be a plot hatched by Mitt Romney, who may have had his own kids by immaculate conception. Okay. Cain has been a CEO, a lobbyist, a politician, and probably part of many other categories of lying scumbags with more testosterone than is good for the world order. Sorry, though, but when a guy (any guy) is trying to be President of the United States, you can't believe a word anybody else says about him (or a word he says.)

Here we are, in the world of unimpeachable lies — lies that are unimpeachable because scarcely anybody is paying attention.

Pay attention, damn it!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I tore this paragraph out of today's Times.

Just how stupid are we supposed to be? Mind you, it's not just the asshole Republicans, but also the asshole Democrats. Did they think we wouldn't get it?

I am acquainted with some people whose ideology dispenses them to agree with every idiotic thing they hear on Fox News, even though they're not idiots. I'm also acquainted with some idiots, but even they are not that stupid. All of us should be offended right now. According to recent polling, 91% of us are offended. The rest, for inexplicable reasons, approve of the job being done by our Congress.

* * *

There's a promo on Comedy Central where Carlos Mencia says, "Barack Obama looks like Curious Fucking George! There! I said it!"

We really need humor these days — but, preferably, not from Congress.