Saturday, February 12, 2011

Craziest Republican of the Day: Lee Bright

South Carolina's Republican secessionist flag

Republicans really seem to miss the Confederacy. And they certainly seem to hate America. For yet another example of secessionist, anti-Washington thinking, let's head down to South Carolina, one of the craziest states in the union:

Continuing a pattern of attempts to assert South Carolina's independence from the federal government, State Sen. Lee Bright, R-Roebuck, has introduced legislation that backs the creation of a new state currency that could protect the financial stability of the Palmetto State in the event of a breakdown of the Federal Reserve System.


"If there is an attempt to monetize the Fed we ought to at least have a study on record that could protect South Carolinians," Bright said in an interview Friday.

"If folks lose faith in the dollar, we need to have some kind of backup."

The legislation cites the rights reserved to states in the Constitution and Supreme Court rulings in making the case that South Carolina is within its rights to create its own currency.

Um... really? I'm hardly an expert on constitutional law, but Article I, Section 10 states no state shall "coin Money" or "emit Bills of Credit," which is to say, no state may have its own currency. Yes, a state may allow "gold and silver Coin" to be "a Tender in Payment of Debts," but as Madison explained in Federalist 44, "it may be observed that the same reasons which shew the necessity of denying to the States the power of regulating coin, prove with equal force that they ought not to be at liberty to substitute a paper medium in the place of coin. Had every State a right to regulate the value of its coin, there might be as many different currencies as States; and thus the intercourse among them would be impeded." That's pretty clear, it seems to me.

Now, Bright wants South Carolina's currency to be "gold or silver, or both," according to the legislation. His target is the federal reserve system, which is to say, the federal government (which is explicitly authorized by the Constitution (Article I, Section 8) to "coin Money" and "regulate the Value thereof," and one suspects that the Founding Fathers would not be amused.

But we're not there yet. "Bright's joint resolution calls for the creation of an eight-member joint subcommittee to study the proposal and submit a report to the General Assembly by Nov. 1."

As Phil Bailey, the director of the state Senate Democratic Caucus, quipped, "[i]t's a waste of time; it's a waste of resources. I mean who's paying for this study? Will they be paid in actual dollars or gold doubloons?"

Good question.

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Bush talked freedom, Egypt walked it

Corruption is out, liberty is in, and with the recent uprisings in Egypt and throughout the Arab world the media are hoisting up former President George W. Bush as the retrospective hero of democracy for what is turning out to be an effective "freedom agenda."

In a column published on February 3, 2011 -- titled "Was George Bush right?" -- The Economist gave a balanced overview of the conservative spin being applied to the people's backlash in Africa and throughout the Middle East:

With people-power bursting out all over the Arab world, the experts who scoffed at Mr Bush for thinking that Arabs wanted and were ready for democracy on the Western model are suddenly looking less clever – and Mr Bush's simply and rather wonderful notion that Arabs want, deserve and are capable of democracy is looking rather wise.

This is, simply put, a severely exaggerated, self-aggrandizing example of the political butterfly effect. Though we may believe that America is the beautiful epicenter from which all international reverberations of freedom and culture and wealth and greatness commence, it is also a rather shallow, ethnocentric interpretation of causality.

Can we honestly take even partial responsibility for the Egyptian people's uprising on the basis that our president invaded Afghanistan and dumped trillions of dollars into a 10-year mission of wandering the hillsides and peaking into caves in a fruitless search for the 9/11 mastermind? Are we the bricklayers of this new foundation of liberty because Bush took America to war in Iraq on the pretense of some imminent nuclear threat that eventually proved utterly false?

If that is true, then the opposite could be argued just as easily – that Bush's vacancy of the White House gave Arabs the go-ahead to fight for democracy without having to fear that the U.S. military would flatten their cities, control their borders, manage their natural resources, and play puppet master with their "democratically elected" officials.

Bush never called on the people to overthrow corrupt regimes. He did it for them or he did nothing, as The Economist noted when it contextualized the media's recent attempts to vindicate the former president:

The big thing Mr Bush did in the Arab world was not to argue for an election here or a loosening of controls there. It was to send an army to conquer Iraq. Nothing that has happened in Tunisia or Egypt makes the consequences of that decision any less calamitous... (Bush) wanted Arab democracy on the cheap. That is to say, he wanted Arab leaders to empower their people but at the same time to protect America's strategic interests. That put a limit on how far he dared to push the reliable old autocrats. And, knowing this, the reliable old autocrats thought all they needed to do to stay safely on their perches was to wait Mr Bush out.

Of course, no praise of Bush would be complete without a fair and balanced critique of President Barack Obama. Highlighting the criticism of Obama's failure to double-down on Bush's "freedom agenda" and his "lack of presumption" in foreign meddling, The Economist cited Obama's 2009 Cairo speech as proof of this administration's "diffidence" when it comes to international diplomacy. I provide a significantly larger chunk of Obama's speech than was quoted in The Economist: 

I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq.  So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people.

America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.

Okay, so Obama is a pacifist, perhaps even a neo-isolationist – on top of the usual criticisms spewed daily by the Republican sound machine (socialist, Communist, anti-colonialist, ististist...). But if we're competing for who can best swindle the masses into buying a series of baseless assertions about which president has done more to usher in a new era of international peace, one could brainstorm plenty of logical reasons why Obama, not Bush, is responsible for the recent removal of an Egyptian dictator.

For one, Egypt made no progress through eight years of Bush's "war on terror," and yet only a year and a half after Obama told the Egyptians to stand up for themselves, they did.

Second, while Bush half-assed lobbied the leaders of Arab nations to maybe, if they had some free time, perhaps start thinking about thinking about representing the people, it was Obama who spoke not to the comfortable dictators but to the oppressed people themselves. He threw the ball in their court, essentially saying, "We're not your liberators. You must decide how your government represents you. The United States will not jump into another international quagmire only to be abandoned by allies, rebuked by the world and bankrupted by war, again. America fought for her freedom and independence. So must you, if that is your wish."

The truth, I believe, is somewhere in between. Neither Bush nor Obama is to blame or thank for having any more than a peripheral influence on the uprising in Egypt. America is but an example of how it is possible to establish a government that is of, by, and for the people. The Egyptian people are now fighting, and dying, for that dream. If it is achieved, it will be because the Egyptian people acted.

Credit is due them, not us.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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Free Egypt

It's not clear what the military, now in control after Mubarak's resignation, will do, but, for now, there is good reason to celebrate.

What an incredible time for Egypt, shedding decades of oppressive tyranny and now looking towards a much brighter future.

It is so deeply moving, the courage and conviction of the Egyptian people, an inspiration to all of us who value liberty and self-governance, a reminder that we often take what we have, our democratic luxuries, for granted.

Progress isn't easy, but the fight is a noble one. Let us all stand with the new Egypt.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Jason Linkins channels Morning Joke

(Ed. note: Some of you may know this, but I should note that I'm a blogger at The Huffington Post. The views expressed here are solely those of JTD. I may or may not agree with one or more of them. -- MJWS)

Apparently, for any of us who have criticized Arianna Huffington and her Huffington Post, building her empire on the fingertips of unpaid writers, Jason Linkins, of HuffPo, today tells us to all go back to our parents' basements and eat Cheetos in our underwear.

Or that we are lazy sacks of shit who don't want "[n]o daily hours, no deadlines, no late nights, no weekends..."

Let's backtrack for a moment.

From Amanda Terkel of Think Progress:

Also during this segment, Scarborough attacked liberal bloggers for correcting McCain's error, saying they were probably "just sitting there, eating their Cheetos" and saying, "Let me google Anbar Awakening!" He added, "Dust flying — Cheeto dust flying all over. They're wiping it on their bare chest while their underwear — you know, their Hanes."


Now let's swing back to today, and to the Linkins lecture he doled out today on -- you guessed it -- Huffington Post:

Being a paid employee comes with many expectations and responsibilities. Let's run some of them down, shall we? First of all, there's this expectation that on a daily basis, you will show up and do work. In an office and everything! There you are subject to things like deadlines -- you actually have to produce writing on a regular basis. You receive assignments, from editors, that you are expected to fulfill in a timely fashion. You participate in editorial meetings. You coordinate your efforts with your colleagues. You try to break news. You try to cultivate sources. You go, whenever you are able, to where news is occurring.

Stop for a moment, class, everyone is not paying attention:

Is the State of the Union tonight? You'll be working during that time. Is there a debate? Got a night of election returns coming? Plan on staying late. Did some madman just put several people in Tucson, Arizona in the hospital on a Saturday? Cancel your plans, because you've got to call in and get to work. You are, theoretically, on call, 24-7, to get the work done.

Those are the sorts of responsibilities, that, when they are fulfilled, entitle one to a "salary." And that's the life of the people who get paid to do original reporting and content for the site. And the content they produce is the most important content on the site. It's the stuff that is most widely read. It's the primary driver of everything else.

Does everyone follow that, class?

Big people do big, important jobs every day, and it's important to understand that, because when you grow up, you'll have to do big important jobs everyday, so you can get a paycheck.

Or not.

Here is where he channels Scarborough:

Now, people often wonder: why would anyone blog for free, at a place that pays other contributors? Please note, that part of what "free" entitles you to is a freedom from "having to work." No daily hours, no deadlines, no late nights, no weekends. You just do what you like when the spirit moves you.


Of course, there remain hundreds of contributors to The Huffington Post who do so for no other reason than that they want exposure. Now, the value of "exposure," in and of itself, is a subject for debate. And it should be! But nevertheless, we have hundreds of people who want to take something they've written and put it in front of potentially millions of people, instead of their Facebook friends or their Twitter followers.

And here Linkins bends down to fill our bowls with some more Cheetos, and to tell us to be quiet and that someday we can eat grown-up food:

I suspect that there are a lot of blogger-contributors who are of a similar mind to me. Still others probably like having a big megaphone for their hobby. Naturally, there will probably be people who want to graduate from unpaid contributor to employee -- and where they can make a case on merit, and assume all of the responsibilities of employees, such "promotions" will be considered. But it's a dramatic change in your life to go from somebody who's writing whenever they feel up to it, to someone who has to come in and make high quality contributions on a regular basis -- even when that sporadic writing is brilliant writing. And that's the sort of thing that has to be considered before that jump is made.

Got that, class?

You'll have to make a "dramatic change in your life" if you want to be somebody ("I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender...") -- even if you are brilliant -- to earn that paycheck.

No lightweights or Cheeto-eaters need apply.

If there is a Patronizing Hall of Fame, somebody needs to nominate Jason Linkins and his trivial post.

He's a lock to make it on the first ballot.

Bonus Riffs

(Cross-posted on The Garlic.)

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Question of the Day

With respect to the advancement of liberty, which is more important, Hosni Mubarak's resignation or Jon Kyl's retirement?

Oh, sure, it's the former, of course. As bad as he is, Kyl is no Mubarak.

I just thought I'd mention that Kyl was our 2010 Douchebag of the Year.

So good riddance to him as well.

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Elephant Dung #17: At CPAC, Ron Paul libertarians attack Cheney and Rumsfeld

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.) 

Highlighting a major divide within the Republican Party -- that separating isolationist (often Tea Party) libertarians from interventionist, warmongering neocons (and their ilk) -- Ron Paul supporters used the right-wing insanitarium known as CPAC to launch into a verbal assault on two of the major figures of the Bush regime, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the latter (hilariously) receiving this year's CPAC "Defender of the Constitution" award:

One shout of "where's Bin Laden?" rang out as Cheney spoke of Rumsfeld.

That led to the pro-Cheney contingent (which it should be said greatly outnumbers the opposition) to shout the hecklers down with the familiar "USA, USA" chant.

It was all very odd, especially considering that when Cheney appeared as the "surprise guest" at last year's CPAC he was greeted with the kind of cheers generally reserved for a rock star.

But Team Paul -- whose numbers appear to have grown at CPAC in 2011 -- were not going to let that happen this time around.

"Uh, Defender of the Constitution?" Justin Bradfield of Maryland scoffed when I caught up with him after he walked out of Rumsfeld's speech. "Let's see: he expanded the Defense Department more than pretty much any other defense secretary and he enforced the Patriot Act."

"[Speaking] as a libertarian, that's not really the type of person who should be getting Defender of the Constitution," he added.

Bradfield said the moment showed that "half" of CPAC this year is libertarian, which means his side is winning in the civil war between "libertarians and right-wing conservatives."

"We're loud," he said.

Ah, yes, the GOP civil war. (Hence this whole Elephant Dung series.) Good times.

Oh, by the way, someone even shouted "war criminal" at Cheney. Sure, that could have been someone on the left who just happened to be there, but the battle was clearly being waged between the Ron Paul Teabagging libertarians and the supporters of the warmongering neocons.

That divide isn't going away anytime soon, and it promises to contribute to the further fracturing of the GOP's coalition, not least with the Teabaggers gaining more and more confidence.

Here, watch it for yourself:

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Elephant Dung #16: House Republicans face internal turmoil

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

Poor Republicans. Poor, poor Republicans.

It looked like they were doing so well in 2010, propagandizing against health-care reform and otherwise lying to stir up their base, with the media eagerly repeating their talking points, obstructing anything and everything the Democrats proposed, using the filibuster in the Senate to block any number of Democratic initiatives, and capitalizing on angry Tea Party sentiment to whip up electoral success. Their poll numbers rose, they crested into the midterms, and they gave Obama and the Democrats a shellacking, slashing the Democrats' majority in the Senate and winning back the House with overwhelming force. Obama was down, the Democrats were in a state of apparent disarray, and the Republicans were back, baby!

Or not.

Lame-duckery notwithstanding, Congress used its time after the elections to put a cherry on top of Obama's first two years in office, repealing DADT, ratifying New START, and giving the Democrats hope that all was not lost.

Maybe it wasn't the Republicans' time after all. Maybe it was all something of an illusion, their success having more to do with a terrible economy and low voter turnout than anything else.

And then there was the question of what they would do back in power in the House. Obstruction would still be the name of the game in Congress, thanks to Mitch McConnell et al., and there would be overreach by over-eager Republicans looking to paralyze Congress through hearings and investigations to score political points, but with the Tea Party emerging as a major force in the Republican Party, and with Teabaggers and those sympathetic to them heading off to Washington, it was probably inevitable that the cracks in the GOP would deepen, dividing the party and threatening even the limited power it could wield in Congress. 

Yes, of course, House Republicans voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a meaningless vote, but since then things haven't exactly gone smoothly: 

Under pressure to make deeper spending cuts and blindsided by embarrassing floor defeats, House Republican leaders are quickly discovering the limits of control over their ideologically driven and independent-minded new majority.

For the second consecutive day, House Republicans on Wednesday lost a floor vote due to a mini-revolt, this time over a plan to demand a repayment from the United Nations. Earlier in the day, members of the party’s conservative bloc used a closed-door party meeting to push the leadership to go well beyond its plans to trim about $40 billion from domestic spending and foreign aid this year, demanding $100 billion or more.

The spending rebellion came after the House on Tuesday rejected what was expected to be a routine temporary extension of anti-terrorism Patriot Act provisions when Democrats and about two dozen conservative Republicans balked at a fast-track procedure. Republicans, still searching for their footing after assuming control in January, were also forced to pull a trade assistance bill from the floor after conservatives raised objections. They found themselves mediating other internal fights as well.

Speaker John A. Boehner conceded that the fledgling majority was encountering turbulence. "We have been in the majority four weeks," Mr. Boehner said. "We are not going to be perfect every day."

There's your understatement of the day. 

Now, Washington has a way of corrupting everyone who steps foot in it, and it's likely that some of these supposedly principled conservatives, many of them Teabaggers of some variety, will ultimately cave. They may want to stand for their extremist right-wing ideals, but such extremism generally doesn't go over well in Congress, not least when you have to compromise to get anything done and when you have to bring home some bacon to win re-election votes.

But what these two votes tell me is that the Tea Party is very much for real not just as a loosely coordinated "movement" at the grassroots level but within the Republican Party in Washington.

The fraying of party unity, if not of a scale or intensity that imperils Mr. Boehner's ability to advance the main elements of his agenda, nonetheless stood in sharp contrast to the record of Republicans in remaining remarkably united against President Obama and the Democrats over the past two years. The infighting foreshadowed potential difficulties for Republicans in holding their troops together for clashes with the White House and the Democratically controlled Senate as well as their ability to corral reluctant Republicans to vote to increase the federal debt limit.

Yes, Republicans like order and stability and are awfully good at being a united front against Democrats, but how long will that last in the current Congress, what with the competing priorities of the leadership, the more conservative (and rigidly ideological) rank and file (including the new Teabaggers), and renegades looking to advance various personal interests, with Obama rising again in the polls and looking extremely strong (along with a strengthening economy), and with Republicans already at each other's throats in anticipation of 2012?

This series -- Elephant Dung -- is about highlighting the divisions within the Republican Party. Much of the time, the divisions are personal, with one leading figure attacking another (often Sarah Palin), but what these latest developments in the House show is that the divisions are also political and ideological, with the various constituencies of the party, usually at peace with one another, eagerly vying for supremacy in the wake of the party's reacquisition of power (at least in the House). There have been such divisions before, there always are to some degree, but what makes their emergence more threatening this time is the rise of the Tea Party, which came out of 2010 with a sense of arrogant righteousness that makes it feel entitled to get its way and therefore not to have to compromise not just with Democrats but even with other elements of its own party, the GOP, mostly notably the less rigidly ideological establishment represented by the likes of John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. 

And I think we ain't seen nothin' yet.

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Top Ten Cloves: Things Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak might do when he steps down

10. Nothing, until he sees the new X-Men: First Class movie

9. Maybe a trip to Los Angeles, as he sheepishly admits to having a crush on Lindsey Lohan

8. Has a hankering to do one of those reality shows, like Sarah Palin's Alaska show

7. See if there's another opening at Current TV

6. Would like to lose a little weight -- plans on connecting with Kevin Smith to see how he did it

5. If they can work out the kinks, might like to try having camera implanted in his head

4. Already talking with Arianna Huffington about being the CairoPatch correspondent

3. Look into one of those $1,000 houses Detroit Mayor Dave Bing is offering

2. Join Faux News -- thinks he can make up stuff just as good as anyone else

1. Might give that posing shirtless on Craigslist, to pick up women, a try

Bonus Riffs

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Mubarak refuses to step down. And so the Egyptian people now need to remove him from power.

As you've probably heard by now, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has refused to step down. Though all signs seemed to be pointing to his imminent departure, he used a 17-minute speech yesterday to prove that he is completely out of touch with the Egyptian people, desperately clinging to his tyranny while making vague promises of reform that, under his watch, will surely never come to be.

The Egyptian people, other than pro-regime thugs and others who benefit from Mubarak's tyranny, are understandably enraged, and it's not clear what will happen now. It's possible that what have been generally peaceful demonstrations will turn if not violent at least significantly more agitated. And the question remains how the international community, and particularly Obama, will respond to Mubarak's snub. Will it now rush to support the pro-democracy movement? Or will it allow Mubarak and Suleiman to continue to block Egypt's transition to freedom?

Whatever the case, Mubarak's position is now completely untenable. He may be able to hold onto power until his "term" is up later this year (there are elections scheduled for September), but he has lost whatever shred of legitimacy he had left. There's the NYT's Nicholas Kristof with some excellent observations:

He offered cosmetic changes and promises of reform down the road. For example, he said that he would lift the state of emergency... down the road... sometime when the time is right. He seems to have delegated some powers to his vice president, Omar Suleiman, while remaining in office himself.

This is of course manifestly unacceptable to the Egyptian people. Mubarak's speech was a striking reminder of the capacity of dictators to fool themselves and see themselves as indispensable. If he thinks that his softer tone will win any support, he's delusional. As he was speaking, the crowd in Tahrir was shouting "Irhal!" or "Go!" And the Egyptian state media — from television to Al Ahram, the dominant newspaper — have been turning against Mubarak, so he's losing control even of his own state apparatus.


It was interesting that Mubarak tried to push the nationalism button and blame outside forces (meaning the United States) for trying to push him out. That won't succeed, but it's actually beneficial to America, giving us credit for siding with people power that I don't think we actually deserve.

My guess is that we'll see massive demonstrations in many cities — not just Cairo — on Friday, a traditional day for demonstrations. In effect, Mubarak and Suleiman have just insulted the intelligence of the Egyptian people — and they will respond.

And I hope they do, though with restraint, for what would not be helpful would be for the demonstrations to turn violent and for the demonstrators to lose credibility and international support, which would only benefit Mubarak and Suleiman. Still, the time has come for the Egyptian people to remove Mubarak themselves. It may fall to the military at first, which would seem to be in a position to do just that, but ultimately Egyptians need to rid themselves of this monster. There is no time to wait. 

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mark Buehrle vs. Michael Vick

Chicago White Sox pitcher and animal rights activist Mark Buehrle told recently that there were times this season he wished Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick would get hurt.

In 2007, Vick was convicted of a felony related to a dogfighting ring and served 19 months in prison.

"He had a great year and a great comeback, but there were times where we watched the game, and I know it's bad to say, but there were times where we hope he gets hurt," Buehrle told "Everything you've done to these dogs, something bad needs to happen to these guys."

One doesn't necessarily wish injury upon an athlete, even Vick, but it's hard not to appreciate the sentiment.

Yet while I admire Buehrle's and his wife's efforts on behalf of dogs, he's not exactly against animal suffering altogether. You know, because he's a regular dude who loves hunting -- so much so that he even goes bear hunting with a bow and arrow:

The kill was made from about 20 yards away, and the bear ran about another 30 yards before going down. Buehrle plans to have the head stuffed and have a necklace made out of a bear claw.

I know it's bad to say, but there are times I wish he'd gotten mauled by a bear and experienced a bit of suffering himself. It would have served him right.

What a fucking hypocrite. To say the least.

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Top Ten Cloves: Ideas for Mayor Dave Bing to save Detroit

10. Tell those 400 Super Bowl Fans who got mushed that you won't let them down, that you have 400 seats for them in Detroit

9. Get on the phone with Dolly Parton and see if the two of you can brainstorm "Detroitwood"

8. Help out the Egyptian protesters and see if President Hosni Mubarak would be interested in one of those $1,000 houses

7. Recruit LeBron James so we can hear, "I'm bringing my talents to the Motor City"

6. Beat her to the punch and trademark the name "Sarah Palin" -- you'll make millions

4. Announce that you're bringing in Christina Aguilera to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner at all sporting events in Detroit -- people will flock to the city to see if she flubs the lyrics again.

3. Work out a deal with Faux News and Glenn Beck, and offer Detroit as the first line of defense against the coming Caliphate

2. Call Tim Armstrong and see if AOL is still in the buying mood

1. Run a commercial: "Detroit ... Apply directly to your forehead ... Detroit ... Apply directly to your forehead"

Bonus Riffs

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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June 5, 1985 -- the day Ferris Bueller took off

Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus has figured out that the Cubs game Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane attend in the great Ferris Bueller's Day Off took place on June 5, 1985, a 4-2 loss to the Braves. (Although they, or rather the actors playing them, may have been filmed at Wrigley Field at a later time and then edited into the game footage.)

Interesting stuff, to those of us who love the movie.

Go to the 2:17 mark:

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Corruption kills -- especially in sub-Saharan Africa

Guest post by Aaron Scheinberg 

Mr. Scheinberg, a Truman National Security fellow, is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and served in the Army for five years. He was an infantry and tank platoon leader in Iraq from 2005-07 and was awarded the Bronze Star for combat service in the “Triangle of Death” before becoming a Civil Affairs Officer in the Babel Province of Iraq. Upon leaving the military, he enrolled in a dual degree program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (MPA/ID) and Columbia Business School (MBA). He spent this past year working in international development and fighting corruption in Tanzania. This is his first guest post at The Reaction.

In a region where over 70 percent of citizens still depend on subsistence farming to survive, and where the number of people living on less than a dollar a day has increased fifty percent over the last 15 years, any barrier to growth in farming and agro-business can literally kill millions. And who is to blame for strengthening this hideous poverty trap? Certainly, some blame lies with the African governments and international donors, but one of the most corrosive agents operating in Africa today is China. President Obama must take advantage of Chinese President Hu Jintao's recent visit to the U.S. to press China on its enabling of corruption in Africa.

This past summer, as part of my internship for the Harvard Kennedy School International Development Program, I had the opportunity to work in East Africa. I joined a social for-profit company called Anza Technologies that sells low-cost, "poverty alleviating" products to rural subsistence farmers. Our business model relies on the fact that we can make our products out of recycled materials and sell them for a very low price. Every cent matters when it comes to these farmers, yet we’re constantly struggling with the high costs of distribution. The culprit – other than poor roads and railway systems – is corruption.

In fact, bribery along the supply chains in Tanzania accounts for 10-33 percent of the total cost of transportation and distribution. Along the major road from Dar-es-Salaam to Iringa, an average truck is stopped between 10 to 15 times by police and traffic cops. Foreign businesses must decide whether to "grease the wheels" and pay off these police or take a long-term outlook and refuse to engage in bribery. But of course, not only do these businesses pay the bribes, they account for bribery as a "cost of doing business" in Africa.

While American companies may not be immune to such bribery, it’s the BRIC countries, most notably China, that are most likely to engage. Transparency International's Bribe Paying Index reveals that China is one of the largest suppliers of bribery around the world (second only to Russia), particularly in Africa. With all of the rhetoric surrounding China’s desire to invest in Africa, leaders should beware of the cost that comes with such investment.

Consumers in sub-Saharan Africa also need to beware of China's so-called "investments." This summer I witnessed first-hand the huge influx of fake and sub-standard consumer products from China into the local village and city markets. Chinese businessmen trying to make a quick yuan dumped millions of dangerous consumer and electronic goods onto unknowing consumers and unregulated markets.

For some poor farmers, these products were just an inconvenience, breaking down long before they should have. For others, the goods were a real health hazard, made with harmful materials and wires that were prone to starting fires. By pushing prices so low and subsequently de-legitimizing entire industries, these businessmen squeezed honest dealers out of the market. The situation has gotten so bad that last week the Tanzanian government issued a 30-day ultimatum for Chinese businessmen to leave the Kariakoo market entirely, one of the largest markets around Dar-es-Salaam.

The culture of corruption and its acceptance by the Chinese starts at the top. It's no wonder that Chinese businesses in Africa are so comfortable with unethical actions when Hu Jintao's own son was involved in a corruption scandal in Namibia in 2009. Therefore, targeting China's leadership is essential to solving this crisis. President Obama needs to use the Chinese president’s recent visit as an opportunity to pressure China to act more responsibly around the world, particularly in Africa.

Instead of furthering the suffering of the African people, foreign businesses should team up together to form an ideological-economic union that will fight bribery. If the thousands of businesses in Africa jointly decide to refuse to pay bribes along the supply chains, pressure will mount against the police and companies engaging in bribery.

And African citizens must demand products that come from "corruption-free" companies. Any "prisoner's dilemma"-type risk in this union could be ameliorated through education in the long-term costs of corruption. The end of bribery and corruption is good for business and is good for the African people.

In his upcoming book The New Harvest: Agriculture Innovation in Africa, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Calestous Juma shows that Africa could make the transition from a hungry importer to self-sufficiency in a single generation. Africa could feed itself in our lifetime. The first step, the step we can take today, is to reduce the debilitating corruption propelled by the Chinese. It's clear that business as usual is not working. We must change our strategy now to prevent millions from starving in the future.

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Too sexy for his seat: Rep. Chris Lee resigns over Craigslist scandal


I'm not sure this story needs all that much commentary. It's just so juicy as is:

Rep. Christopher Lee, R-N.Y., abruptly resigned from the House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon after a report emerged that he had sent flirtatious e-mails, including one with a bare-chested photo of himself, to a woman he met on Craigslist.

Lee is married and has a young child.

"It has been a tremendous honor to serve the people of Western New York. I regret the harm that my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness," Lee said in a statement Wednesday evening.

"The challenges we face in Western New York and across the country are too serious for me to allow this distraction to continue, and so I am announcing that I have resigned my seat in Congress effective immediately."

On Wednesday, the gossip website Gawker posted a story that included the e-mails allegedly exchanged between Lee and the unnamed woman. According to the story, a single 34-year-old woman from Maryland posted an ad on Craigslist's "Women for Men" section on Jan. 14. Soon afterwards a man named Christopher Lee replied, identifying himself as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist.

In the exchange that followed, Lee reportedly sent the woman an e-mail including a photo of Lee with his shirt off, flexing his arms and chest. The woman later broke off her correspondence with Lee after she did an online search for him and determined that he had lied about his age and his job, the Gawker story reported. 

Well, you know what? There are any number of snarky comments that I could make, but why? A lot of people keep things hidden, and of course no one's perfect, and actually this story, while great fodder for a site like Gawker, is quite sad. How does his wife feel? What about their marriage? Was he unhappy or just horny, or both? Can he put his life back together?

To his credit, he immediately took responsibility for his actions, apologizing and stepping down (which may be more than should be expected of him -- how many in Congress have done, and/or are doing, far worse?). We don't know the details beyond the Gawker story, we don't know what he was thinking/feeling, and we don't know anything about his relationship with his wife, nor what is now going on behind closed doors. There is a temptation to play up a scandal like this, to wallow in the muck, to tsk-tsk and express our supposed moral superiority. Personally, I think we should just leave him alone.

Yes, this is yet another Republican "sex" scandal, as Steve Benen notes, and Republicans, unlike Democrats, usually get away with it. But to me -- and, again, we don't know the details -- this is different than what, say, Mark Sanford did (use of government resources, repeated lying), or what David Vitter did (adultery with prostitutes), or what Larry Craig did (seeking gay sex in an airport washroom and denying it while being rigidly anti-gay). And he's not denying it, he's admitting it and taking responsibility for himself. There's something to be said for that, is there not?

So let's see. For now, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and to take his apology as sincere and his commitment to seek forgiveness as genuine.


Here's Gawker's salacious image:

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Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Arianna escalating her wage-less empire

By J. Thomas Duffy

Oh boy, I have to speculate the AOL purchase of The Huffington Post is going to be a bonanza of great fodder for weeks/months/years to come.

The World Wide Web is still buzzing with some great stuff from multiple angles.

First off, in the "Told-You-So" Department, Greg Sargent at The Plum Line has the scoop on Arianna's plans to continue not to pay her writers, and it's called "Citizen Journalism":

Arianna Huffington is planning to use AOL's infrastructure to launch a major expansion of citizen journalism in advance of the 2012 presidential campaign, she tells me in an interview, sharing new details about her vision of expanded political coverage in the wake of the merger with AOL.

Huffington described her plan as "Jeffersonian," and she says she plans to use AOL's Web site, a network of sites that cover local news at the granular level, as a vehicle for expansion modeled on HuffingtonPost's 2008 "Off the Bus" coverage. "Off the Bus" made a splash when candidate Barack Obama was caught on tape suggesting that economically distressed voters are "bitter" and "cling to guns or religion," and if Huffington has her way, she will oversee a massive increase in such coverage next year.

"We are going to dramatically accelerate this in 2012," said Huffington, who discussed the idea on a conference call yesterday with employees. "We will have thousands and thousands of people covering the election. Covering the Repulicans. Covering the Democrats. Just being transparent about it."

Huffington -- who said high-level editorial staffing decisions were still being worked out -- also provided the first clear glimpse of her plan to graft the HuffPo vision on to the AOL infrastructure. "Patch already has professional editors," she said, adding that freelancers across the country would work with those editors "the way that the Huffington Post pairs young reporters with established editors. It's something we can also do at the local level."


The expansion of citizen journalism seems likely to expand the current model by which a massive amount of content is generated by unpaid freelancers who are looking to get their voices heard. If she gets her way, the site's current identity won't change, preserving the site's community feel but expanding it in new directions.

"The first thing I said about Huffington Post is that I don't want to talk to the choir," she said. "I wanted to use this platform to inform millions of people. Now that can be dramatically accelerated."

Cute, throwing in the "Jeffersonian" thing.

From Wikipedia:

The third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, acquired and sold hundreds of slaves throughout his lifetime. Jefferson first acquired slaves through his father's inheritance and by his marriage to Martha Wayles Skelton. According to one historian, Jefferson remained silent and did nothing to challenge slavery after the Revolutionary War era, America's most urgent and pressing social problem. Jefferson's lavish spending left him in debt, and all but one of Jefferson's slaves that remained were sold after his death to pay his debts. Jefferson today remains a complicated American icon and his writings and behavior on slavery are full of contradictions. Jefferson, master of Monticello, relied heavily on slavery to support himself and his family's luxurious lifestyle.

Slaves ... freelancers ... and, coming, "Citizen Journalism."


It certainly is "Jeffersonian."

"It’s like Friendster buying Facebook."

Meanwhile, it appears a majority of Huffpo-ers are despondent, feeling like Arianna sold them out.

From Howie Kurtz:

From this large sample, a whopping 81 percent (405) opposed the acquisition in terms that ranged from confused to pessimistic to, most frequently, downright livid. Only 19 percent (95) were optimistic, though many of those were far closer to neutral.

"We made HuffPost and we are being abandoned," one aggrieved reader wrote. "They will aim for the center. That's where the big money is." Another added: "Corporate greed and intelligent analysis don't merge." Others couldn't even bear to read the news: "I have no interest reading about yet another monopoly creation and the slow erosion of diversity in terms of news sources."

Within hours after the merger was announced, Huffington Post readers had even made a game of one-upping each other with metaphors that conveyed the depth of their despair about the sale. "This feels like walking into my credit union only to find out it was bought by Bank of America," one said. "[It's] like Carol Channing taking over for Fergie in the Black Eyed Peas. Legendary, but past the expiration date by about 10 years," another lamented. A user with the tech analogy might have been the closest to the broader sentiment: "It's like Friendster buying Facebook." 

Dana Milbank pulls back the curtain on the revolving door of Ariana's ideology:

"It's time for all of us in journalism to move beyond left and right," Huffington said Monday on PBS's "NewsHour." "Truly, it is an obsolete way of looking at the problems America is facing."

That is almost exactly what Huffington said in 2000 when she was making her last ideological transformation, from a conservative Republican into a liberal icon. "The old distinctions of right and left, Democrat, Republican, are pretty obsolete," she told Fox News then.

It's a stock line for Huffington, but if she and Armstrong are taken at their word, they are planning a radical reshaping of what had become an important voice for liberalism and a gleeful participant in the left-right game. "It can no longer be denied: the right-wing lunatics are running the Republican asylum and have infected the entire country and poisoned the world beyond," Huffington wrote in her 2008 book, "Right is Wrong ."


I say this with admiration. Huffington deserves every one of those millions she'll be paid by AOL for creating this online sensation. She was once derided as "the most upwardly mobile Greek since Icarus" because of her many well-connected friends, but Huffington has earned her place as one of the extraordinary personalities of our time: an entrepreneur and writer who is always chasing the next big idea, wherever it is on the ideological spectrum.

Yet this is also why Huffington and her Web site are unlikely to remain as they were. Anybody who expects her to continue as a reliable voice of the left is a poor student of Huffington history.


But in the late 1990s, Huffington began to reinvent herself. She covered the '96 political conventions for Comedy Central with Al Franken. She broke with Gingrich. She disparaged Bob Dole. She promoted Warren Beatty for president. She published a book favoring campaign finance reform. In 2000, she hosted a "shadow convention" protesting both parties.

She later explained the "transformation" of her political views by saying the right had "seduced, fooled, blinded, bamboozled" her.

That's crazy talk. Nobody bamboozles Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington. If anybody was fooled, it was those who believed she would be a more enduring progressive than she was a conservative.


That's a whirlwind of changes.

But, as has been noted before, and what we offered up above, one change that won't occur is Arianna paying her writers.

Can't wait for all those "Citizen Journalist" posts in 2012 about all the funny signs and costumes at the Conventions, and tweets about "Where's the best place to eat?" and "I missed the Press Bus, can anyone give me a ride?"

Bonus Riffs

Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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Elephant Dung #15: Santorum jabs Palin for skipping CPAC

Tracking the GOP Civil War

(For an explanation of this ongoing series, see here. For previous entries, see here.)

As we get closer and closer to 2012, more and more Republicans seem to be taking shots at one another, mostly subtle jabs meant to knock an opponent, or potential opponent, down a notch or two, as well as to reinforce one's own partisan, ideological bona fides. Take this, for example:

Rick Santorum knocked Sarah Palin's decision to skip CPAC, saying on Tuesday that she must have "business opportunities" that are keeping her from the annual conservative conference that is a showcase for potential presidential contenders.

"I have a feeling that she has some demands on her time, and a lot of them have financial benefit attached to them," Santorum told conservative commentator S.E. Cupp, who hosts an online radio show on Glenn Beck's website.

Santorum added that Palin has "other business opportunities" -- implying her paid speeches were the former Alaska governor's priority.

Ouch! Take that, Sarah!

Now, there's little doubt that Palin is in it -- politics, that is -- for herself, to enhance her stardom and to make more and more money. That's not to say that she isn't really a right-wing extremist with sincere views, just that those "opportunities" are driving her.

So Santorum is basically saying that she's not committed enough, not enough of a team player, and he's pretty clear that she should just stay the hell up in Alaska, out of the way:

Santorum -- the father of seven children -- also said that Palin has "other responsibilities," such as raising her children, that he doesn't.

"I don't live in Alaska and I'm not the mother to all these kids and I don't have other responsibilities that she has," he said.

I guess a good Catholic father like Santorum doesn't have any such responsibilities, what with his wife staying home and obeying his every command.

Here he's just being a jerk, and for once I'll defend her. Palin has just as much right as he has to be in politics, and Santorum can take his sexism and go fuck himself.

That aside, though, this is all getting better and better -- and worse and worse for Republicans. And there will be a lot more to come, from Santorum and others, as they try to position themselves in holier-than-thou ways in anticipation of 2012.


Update: Perhaps not surprisingly, Santorum is now in full-on revisionist mode:

"This article is garbage," Santorum tweeted this morning, linking to the POLITICO story. "All I said was- she is VERY busy, PERIOD. Reporter trying to create something out of nothing."

Um, no, that's not all he said. So much for taking responsibility for yourself.

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