Thursday, March 31, 2011

NAILED IT: Why Obama's handling of the Libya crisis has actually been pretty good

We'll have to see whether or not the situation in Libya turns out to be another Iraq, but at this point that seems unlikely. As hard as I have been on Obama lately for various reasons, I actually think he deserves some credit on this one. A few specifics:

  • Timetable: Some call Bush's response to 9/11 decisive, I call it impulsive. By going it alone and invading Iraq the way we did, we overstepped our bounds in a country that didn't want us there and completely alienated ourselves from the rest of the international community. While Obama received some criticism for taking so long to intervene in Libya, he recognized the fact that we needed to wait until a consensus was reached by the world that action needed to be taken. He was also smart in waiting for the invitation to arrive from the Libyan rebels before crashing the party.
  • Coalition-building: Jon Stewart recently teased Obama for mentioning in his speech that we would be handing over the reins to NATO on Wednesday the 30th. After all, he's right in that our huge role in NATO means we'll still be fronting much of the bill on this one. Buuuuut NATO also includes pretty much the entirety of Europe, which means we're not only divvying up much of the liability here but also avoiding the PR disaster that comes along with (as Sarah Palin would say) going rogue.
  • No points awarded for regime change: Nobody likes Gadhafi, but for shit's sake look what happened when we decided to oust Saddam. In Obama's 3/28 speech (transcription here) he admitted that "broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake." He even went on to say that "regime change [in Iraq] took eight years, thousands of American and Iraqi lives, and nearly a trillion dollars. That is not something we can afford to repeat in Libya." Our role is to prevent a genocide and hamstring Gadhafi's ability to bomb his people from the sky. Things get nasty when we start telling people how to set up a government.
  • Truth hurts, but it's better than bullshit: Two lines from Obama's speech stand out to me: "given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action" and "America has an important strategic interest in preventing Gadhafi from overrunning those who oppose him." Yea, there was still plenty of soaring rhetoric in the speech, but it was still better than when Bush used to stand at the podium and pretty much recite crappy Toby Keith songs to an audience who wanted to hear all about how "freedom isn't free blah blah blah blah." Let's be honest, we all want to see the right thing done here, but Obama's job is to weigh morality against practicality. So, yes, part of the reason why we're spending a fortune to intervene in Libya has to do with the fact that it aligns with our own national interests. That has always been the case and always will be, only Obama has the balls to put it right out there.
So that's my two cents. For those who wish to see the speech and weigh in I have embedded the video below.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Devil is in the Details: How the WI GOP Got Their Way

Alas, the battle of WI rages on. What started as a series of protests over an *ahem* unfavorable bill has gone on to become a hallowed battleground in America's class war (along with Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio). The latest is that the GOP senators in WI, amidst a background chorus of millions of Americans wondering "WHAT THE FUCK?!?!," somehow managed to get Walker's bill passed without meeting that pesky 20 senator quorum that we had all been hearing about. Then again, this is America, land of the free and home of the loophole. We're used to seeing these kinds of sneaky maneuvers and writing off the entire standoff as mere theatrics. But this time it's different. The devil is in the details, and I intend to drop a bomb on those who haven't already heard how the GOP managed to turn the tables.

Republicans, ASSEMBLE!!!

But first, the quorum. According to WI state law, any bill that is labeled as budget-related (this is the key here) requires 3/5 of the senate to vote on it. That's 20 senators, for you see the GOP has a 19-14 majority in that state. The incredible part is that all they needed was one Democrat to stick around and they would have been golden. Instead, every last Democrat fled the state. All for naught, but still impressive for a party that can't seem to agree on the correct way to put on a pair of pants.

So how did this quorum become irrelevant? Simple. The GOP stripped that little "budget" component from it. In other words, they didn't have to change the bill, just admit the fact that it really has nothing to do with balancing the budget. So the question that remains is this: if this isn't about saving taxpayer dollars, what reasons could the GOP possibly have for slowly chipping away at the workers' right to unionize? Well I don't have the internet completely memorized (only mostly), but nowhere have I seen this question being asked (although FOX does still have a tour de force piece on the Harry Baals building in Indiana hidden on the front page).

Nonetheless, the WI GOP still might not get away with it. The voters there have a terrible case of buyer's remorse, and fortunately the state constitution includes a generous return policy. Any senator who has served their entire first term in office is eligible for a recall, and there are 8 GOP senators that fit the criteria. The process dictates that separate petitions be created for each senator, and within 60 days they must collect a number of signatures equal to 25% of the total votes in the last governors election in each senators' respective district. So far two weeks have gone by since the recall effort was put into place, and Dems are reporting that they have roughly half of the signatures they need in each of the eight districts eligible for recall. As you can see, this isn't just a formality. 

So we could be watching history unfold or this could all just fizzle out... we'll find out in 46 days.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Lesson in Socialism for the Truly Confused

Well I've gone and done it now. I dared to utter the "S word." We hear socialism brought up all the time in this country: "socialism is un-American," "socialism killed the dinosaurs," "socialism causes severe indigestion when consumed in large doses," etc. Frankly, I have been defending it at every opportunity simply because if Sarah Palin fears it then it must be good. But even I don't really know what it is. Were I to believe everything I was told, I would know that capitalism is the way of God (note: I'm not dissing God or religion here, I merely question the validity of the claim that Jesus was capitalist) and socialism is when the government ritualistically summons your grandparents to die. Well in light of what capitalism has done for us lately, I thought I'd so some research.

Cash money bitches!!!! (Source: Banksy)
Before moving forward, though, I'd like to clarify that I am not necessarily advocating for a socialist America (just a mostly socialist America). It's ridiculous to look at this as black and white because no single modern industrialized political system fits entirely into one bucket. We are a capitalist country with welfare programs, state highway systems, public parks and conservation land, national scholarships and grants, and all sorts of socialist initiatives that have served us well. So yes, we can have our cake and eat it too.

So on to the main event: what is socialism? When researching the term, I kept seeing similarities to another one of our greatest national treasures (besides capitalism) - democracy. In fact, socialism is much more democratic than capitalism ever will be. Capitalism favors command, whereby the very few control the means of production and are looked up to by everyone else because they are very very rich. Yes, people can rise to greatness riding on wings of their own resourcefulness (or a trust fund), but they go on to become kings of industry in that they literally have the power to rule the country like kings. Socialism is about equitable distribution of power. There are countless versions and theories, but they all favor majority (i.e. democratic) control of either factors of production (investment, commodities, etc.) or outputs of production (the actual goods and services produced). Or it could simply be a scenario in which individual companies dissolve traditional hierarchy and adopt a system where every worker has equal decision making power (there are actually plenty of companies that do that already in America). In other words, decentralization of power combined with an economic system in which goods and services are allocated based on social need rather than revenue generation. Alas, I was able to find no mention of goose-stepping or death panels.

The first picture that comes up when you Google the term "socialist."
(Source: - check it out, it's a riot)
So what does this mean for us patriotic Americans? Would everyone have to give up their hard-earned wages in favor of equal government handouts? Short answer, no. Long answer, absolutely not. Nowhere does it say that some people can't earn higher wages than others because they have more expertise, work harder, or generally contribute more. But when decisions are made by everyone with everyone in mind, those differentials will be smaller. The top 2% would definitely make less in a socialist economy, but then again only 2% of us get to be them anyway. The majority of people would see their wages and standard of living go up because the money that those privileged few have to give up would be redistributed.

The problem is that we keep getting scared by things that aren't really true. Capitalism and socialism don't have to be mutually exclusive. Privatization still occurs under many socialist ideologies, but only where it is appropriate. We just have to realize that in some cases profiteering simply results in people getting screwed (health care, cable and broadband internet, prisons, etc.). Also, we keep letting jackasses like Hugo Chavez ruin socialism for us. That's like letting Mel Gibson ruin Christianity for everyone else. Most of the fear that exists comes from people who benefit from our current system of exploitation telling us what to believe.

I'll finish this with a story from last night. I was having a conversation with a man who works as a driver for FedEx. He has been there for many years, is extremely loyal to the company, and knows the game of supply chain operation like the back of his hand. He told me that, in order to keep costs low, the company has to cut corners on trivial things like the trucks they drive every single day. His vehicle is the newest on the lot... it's a '94. Most of them are from the late '80's to early 90's, have 300,000-400,000 miles on them, and sit on rotted frames. They are being asked to make more deliveries in less time, greatly sacrificing customer service. And these drivers care very deeply about their customers. But while the company can't afford these nice things, they can afford $7.6 million / year to purchase the Washington Redskins' stadium and $20-25 million to sponsor a Nascar team. None of the workers have a say in that decision. Funny how we reject the idea of a monarchy as a country but put up with it every day of our lives when we go to work. What if all FedEx employees from the CEO down to the drivers were allowed to vote on where that $32 million should be spent? Then again, we wouldn't want to accidentally commit an act of socialism now would we?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Say it Ain't So Glenn Beck!!

Ladies and gentlemen... today I came across something very disturbing. Something SO DISTURBING that it may just signal the end of civilization as we know it. The and Gawker Media just reported that Fox News may not renew Glenn Beck's contract when it ends in December. Of course, neither of these are considered to be the most reliable news sources in the world. But I ask myself, would Glenn Beck be so quick to write off such an earth-shattering and apocalyptic rumor?!?!?! Glenn Beck would have the courage to see the deeper conspiracy here, that forces too great and powerful for us to comprehend are plotting to silence the voice of truth!!


I would gladly offer proof of this conspiracy, and THERE IS PLENTY OF PROOF. But in lieu of a chalkboard and ridiculous props, I shall honor this leader of men - this watchful protector who guards us from the socialist agenda that threatens to swallow us whole every day - in the best way I know how: with a video montage of some of his timeless theories performed by Jon Stewart

Godspeed, Glenn.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Strange, these numbers don't seem to add up...

So the country's debt is spiraling out of control and sacrifices need to be made. The Republicans have taken the offensive on this one, courageously sticking it to the soulless parasites that caused this mess in the first place - the finance execs whose irresponsible manipulation of the system resulted total economic collapse and whose recent bailing out by the tax payers has preserved their right to live extravagant lifestyles at the expense of everyone else the teachers and public workers' unions. That's right, those bastards have been living the good life on our coin for far too long. Luckily, we're ready to fight back. Governor Scott Walker took the spotlight with his heroic attempts to strip public workers of their collective bargaining rights (firefighters and police officers exempted) so that income increases could not be negotiated beyond that which is noted in the Consumer Price Index. Now Ohio and Indiana are doing the same. So that's it, right? Problem solved?

Some men just want to watch the world burn (Source:
As it turns out, not so much. This seemingly honest attempt to attack the already underprivileged backbone of our society may actually be a bit... misguided. As alternatives, liberal politicians and blogocrats have been throwing around some pretty farfetched ideas such as cutting defense spending, clamping down on corporate tax evasion, and letting tax cuts to families making over $250,000 / year expire. But as crazy and nonsensical as those sound, they may be right. Don't take my word for it, though, let's take a look at the numbers.

Using Gov. Walker's proposal as a benchmark, Republicans expect to create $300 million in savings over the next 2 years ($150 million per year) in WI. Assuming these results represent the average for what other states could expect, and that these projections are reliable, this would mean $7.5 billion in savings if all 50 states took the same union-busting measures. How do some of the other proposals compare? (note: defense spending is notably omitted because some things don't even need commentary)

  • Corporate tax evasion: One of the biggest methods that U.S. based multinational corporations use to avoid income tax is called the "Double Irish" or "Dutch Sandwich" (both of which sound like sex positions you'd encounter in a threesome). Our friends at Bloomberg calculate that this accounts for $60 billion in lost revenue every year.
  • Bush Tax Cuts: First of all, these cuts applied to more than just the super-wealthy. Nearly everybody received cuts. What the Democrats had hoped to do last year was maintain cuts for low- and middle-income families, while allowing cuts for those making over $250,000/year to expire. As we all know, the compromise that was struck did not achieve this. But what if they had succeeded? The Pew Charitable Trusts estimated that making the cuts permanent to all would have costed $3.3 trillion over 10 years, while limiting extension only to those below the $250,000 bracket would have costed $2.2 trillion. In other words, tax cuts for the wealthy account for an estimated $1.1 trillion over 10 years. That's an average of $110 billion every year. To be fair, though, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that for 2011 specifically, tax cuts for the wealthy would account for around $40 billion.
I'm sure there are plenty of holes in these equations, but the result is still pretty straightforward. We could save $7.5 billion / year by abandoning our teachers and unionized public servants OR we could save $60 billion by closing corporate tax loopholes and $40-$110 billion by restoring taxes on the wealthy to Clinton-era levels. Then again, we don't want our best and brightest to have to miss any payments on their private yachts.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Things Always Get Worse Before They Get Better: The Life of a Homosexual in Uganda

Reading the text of the bill, I remarked to my partner that, according to the proposed law, we deserved the death penalty. Well, we are “serial offenders,” aren’t we? That was the lowest ebb in our lives. I remember that I felt the worst kind of despair. There was even something called the “homosexual touch”—as if our touch could spread homosexuality like a disease. We are lepers, to be shunned. The only thing good for us was death or life imprisonment: that is what our countrymen thought of us.

- Gay Uganda

With so much going on in our own lives and in our own country, it's easy to become isolated. But damn, things could be so much worse. This morning I read a story from a man who refers to himself as "Gay Uganda" (link here) It describes in painful detail the difficulty of being a gay man in a country that morally and legally abhors homosexuality. His form of suffering is one I could never imagine - discovery, denial, guilt, and constant fear. It's a reality that we would do well to understand because it shows us the very real consequences of prejudice and hate. And it is a story that is very apropos given the context of recent events.

On January 26, 2011, Uganda was thrust into the spotlight with the murder of David Kato Kisule, a teacher and high-profile human rights activist who was a leading figure in the underground LGBT rights movement. Shortly before being killed, his picture and address was featured along with roughly 100 other gay Ugandans in the popular tabloid, Rolling Stone, under the headline "Hang Them." Whereas many would be tempted to go into hiding, Kato actually took the case to court. The ensuing legal battle resulted in the dismantling of Rolling Stone and reparations of 1.5 million Ugandan shillings each to Kato and two other plaintiffs. But it also put a target on Kato's back and arguably led directly to his death.


Unfortunately, this incident is the latest in a line of human rights disasters in a country that has long reviled homosexuality. The story was first reported in America in March, 2009 when three evangelical Christian Americans arrived in the Uganda capital to give a series of talks on the "Hidden and dark [gay] agenda." The talks were met with rapturous attention, and only one month later a Ugandan politician proposed the Anti Homosexuality Bill of 2009. The exact text of the bill can be read here, but for those who want the abridged version it goes on to define acts of "homosexuality" and "aggressive homosexuality" (the latter including serial homosexuality or having engaged in more than one act) and calls for anything from a 7 year prison sentence to life sentences to death penalty for those that are ruled guilty. The bill passed September 2009.

Upon learning this brief history, my first impulse was to wonder what in the world happened to all the progress we were supposed to have made as a human society. But it would be premature to forget how far we've come. Our own country has seen similar battles for equality throughout its history - abolition of slavery and ethnic equality, women's suffrage, immigration, gay rights, etc. Some of these have seen equal drama and bloodshed, and all are ongoing to some extent. But in each of these cases, one thing remains true: progress will always win. I can guarantee that in a few years, decades, or whatever those opposed to gay marriage in America will be considered among the distant minority. Uganda probably has a much longer battle ahead of it, but things always get worse before they get better. Still, let's not forget the story of Gay Uganda and the consequences that it teaches us. These battles take a heavy toll.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Information Age and Why Anonymous Makes a Good Point

Today I came across an open letter to the world that Anonymous put out online. Anonymous, for those who don't know, is a loose organization of like-minded "hackers" that have become best known for their distributed denial-of-service (DoS) attacks against those that they have identified as enemies of internet free speech. They have recently gained a great deal of renown amidst the ongoing WikiLeaks controversy. Their stance has always been to preserve open exchange of information on the internet, and today's letter eloquently explains why.

I highly recommend that everyone give the letter a good read. I'm sure many would be quick to write this off as a bunch of crazies just flying off the handle, but they bring up a very good point. There are two things that everyone should understand. First, a free and open internet is incredibly important and it is something that we take for granted every day. Secondly, it is very much at risk

The internet is how we get our information, whether that means seeing your friend's post about the chicken teriyaki they just man-handled via Facebook or reading first-hand accounts of protesters in Cairo. It is how we stay informed, connected, and organized. It is a tool that puts incredible power into the hands of the people, and we are reminded of that every day when we access the news. The protests spreading across the Middle East and North Africa - Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Oman, Yemen - are all connected in one way:  the use of the web and social media to coordinate and raise awareness. When revolutionaries became a threat to Mubarak's regime in Egypt, his first move was to cut off access to the internet. Twitter postings about the "Jasmine Revolution" in China prompted their government to start deleting all mention of planned protests in Shanghai and 11 other cities. And similar acts of online censorship can be seen in Syria and other countries. Here in the states, we are drowning in shit from media powerhouses that would rather talk about the Oscars and Charlie Sheen's arrest record than real news. How else are we to learn about what's going on around the world?

Poor Qaddafi has every right to be scared (

The scariest thing is that the fight for an open internet is going on right now within our borders. Many have likely heard of the FCC's recent action around net neutrality, something that Senator Al Franken recently referred to as "the most important free speech issue of our time." Internet providers are vying for the right to paid prioritization or even to outright block certain content. Imagine if Comcast allowed YouTube to pay for faster browsing or download speeds. Any up-and-coming competitors would be hamstringed by the fact that they don't have the coffers to afford the same privilege. As Franken asks in an editorial in the Huffington Post, what if Verizon decided to block Google Maps (a free app) on your phone in favor of Verizon Navigator, a paid service that isn't nearly as good? What if Comcast decided to block access to Netflix in favor of their more expensive Video OnDemand service? Hell, what if an internet provider with an agenda could prevent access to the website of a political party or candidate? The FCC, in a phenomenal display of ineptitude, put out a piece of legislation that actually opens the door for this kind of corporate control (at least over wireless networks) and proves their inability to protect our right to digital free speech. And while this is more anti-competitive than downright censorship, it shows that all it takes is a series of misguided or malicious political maneuvers to put us in the same unfortunate situation as that of China or North Korea.

So the question that remains is what we can do about this. As the letter from Anonymous so wisely states, don't sit on your ass. I would say this:  pay attention when you're mindlessly surfing the internet. Ask yourself, did I learn anything valuable? And is this something that I couldn't have easily learned elsewhere? Even more importantly, exercise your right to learn from and share with others online. Go to Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, or your favorite blog and start saying or reading shit. Leave comments, update your status, post a URL to an interesting website or article, whatever it is just do something. For those who are really motivated, call your congressman or state senator and ask what their position on net neutrality is. What Anonymous is really saying is that nobody is going to keep the internet free but us. And some things are worth fighting for.