Saturday, July 09, 2011

Pity the poor Koch Brothers, just a couple of regular guys trying to do the right thing

Big joke. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) says that it inadvertently sent a letter to the Koch Brothers asking for a political contribution. Given the Koch Brothers' long history of financing fake "grassroots movements" and throwing money at every conceivable roadblock to creating a fairer society for more Americans, it does, at first blush, appear to be an obvious mistake.

Having said that, like most corporations in America, the Koch Brothers have probably, over time, financed both Democrats and Republicans if the candidate in question happened to be either on side with a particular corporate interest or deemed "swayable."

It seems too obvious to say, but, because corporations have so much cash to distribute, they throw their money in all directions on the chance that it might somehow have an impact consistent with whatever public policy goal they find useful.

That the Koch Brothers would have ended up on a list of those who had previously donated to individual Democratic candidates, and therefore be a potential target for a DSCC fundraising pitch, seems not only possible, but likely. It's the nature of list management in the world of high volume political fundraising. Lists are the real currency of politics: donors, supporters, opinions leaders, volunteers, sign locations, etc.

In fact, Politico reports that the Kochs did donate almost $200,000 to Democratic organizations in 2010 and $30,000 to the DSCC in the same cycle.

So, the "how dare you" response by the Koch Brothers seems a little strained to me, but predictable.

Clearly, though, if the DSCC had been paying more attention they would have pulled the letter, knowing that it would be a minor public relations bonanza for those on the right with too little else to do with their time. In that sense, it was a mistake.

Blah, blah, blah.

More interesting for me, though, was the final paragraph in the letter sent by a Koch Companies public affairs hack to the DSCC complaining about the request for financial support. It read:

It is troubling that private citizens taking part in the discourse have become the targets of White House and DSCC fundraising missives, and we would certainly encourage you to rethink that approach.

Give me a break. Holding aside that whole bizarre thing about corporate personhood, an entity as large, influential and powerful as the Koch Companies is a behemoth able to act in the public sphere in a way so dramatically different from what a "private citizen" could do as to make the Koch claim ridiculous.

In 2008, Forbes called Koch the 2nd largest privately held company in the United States, stating that it had an annual revenue at that time of $98 billion. Say it to yourself slowly, "an annual revenue of $98 billion."

I guess Koch's political activities would sort of be just like the guy down the street with a photocopier and a pet political issue to flog, except that it would be totally different from that.

It seems that we are supposed to feel sorry for the Koch Brothers because some would want to shine a light on their political activities to get a firmer grasp on how they spend some of that money to makes friends and influence people.

Oh, cut the crap.

Koch Industries is a monster corporation that has and will continue to grease whatever palms it thinks might be useful on whichever side of the aisle.

Nice try at indignation. Not buying.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Michele Bachmann signs anti-gay, anti-porn pledge

Michele Bachmann has risen to the #2 in the Republican presidential field, behind Mitt Romney. Can she actually win the nomination? Yes, particularly if it comes down to a one-on-one against Romney and she manages to secure both Tea Party and "social conservative support" from the grassroots base.

But the question is how she gets there.

While she's certainly crazy, in terms of advocating extremist positions on a wide variety of issues and advancing ridiculous conspiracy theories, the only way she can defeat Romney and whoever else might challenge seriously for the nomination (e.g., Rick Perry, who would eat into her support from social conservatives) is to appear to be not crazy, or at least much less crazy than she really is. This is why she's recently been in walk-back mode, distancing herself from her own views and assertions in order to present herself as a viable presidential possibility, that is, as sane.

But she can only walk back so much. She's still a Tea Party darling and, lest we forget, a rampaging social conservative, and while she needs to appear to be less crazy she also needs to continues to stress her right-wing bona fides in order not to lose her core support, particularly if someone like Perry gets in the race. And, of course, she is what she is. It's as simple as that. She can't run away from herself altogether.

And stress her bona fides she did:

Michele Bachmann became the first presidential candidate to sign a pledge, vowing to support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage between a man and a woman, and which calls for a ban on all pornography.

"The Marriage Vow – A Declaration of Dependence upon Marriage and Family," sponsored by the Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative organization, equates same-sex marriage with bigamy and polygamy and calls on candidates to promise to be faithful to their spouses.

Etc., etc. In other words, right-wing evangelical theocracy, just the sort of thing you'd expect from her, along with her anti-government Tea Party views. There is undeniable inconsistency here, of course. How is it possible to combine theocracy with the sort of libertarianism that prevails among Teabaggers? Well, it doesn't matter, and it needn't make all any sense, not as she aggressively courts multiple Republican constituencies. She can talk about small government and the Tenth Amendment while also pushing for an activist, bigoted government regulating morality, a government that leaves our money alone while closely monitoring what we do in our bedrooms or in front of our computers or televisions. Maybe that makes some sort of distorted sense way out on the right. It probably does. Republicans are full of inconsistencies. Bachmann is hardly alone there.

But how would this sort of thing play out in a general election. Not well. While Bachmann may win much of the extremist GOP base, there's no way independents or even many establishment-minded Republicans would ever support her, and this ridiculous pledge just makes matters worse for her in that regard. Which is why she'll need to keep walking back and walking back so much of what she has stood for in the past. Who knows, she might even have to walk this back in the not-so-distant future. Anti-gay bigotry plays well in the GOP, after all, but are Americans really prepared to give up their porn?


Oh, by the way, the pledge also states that black children were better off under slavery than they are now:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President.

This is appallingly ignorant even by conservative standards.

But Bachmann signed the pledge, so she must believe it. One hopes that the media question her about it and refuse to let her brush it aside.

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Betty Ford (1918-2011)

The former First Lady died on Friday at the age of 93. There are a lot of obits out there to read, but allow me to recommend one by journalist Robert Stein:

She came to the White House unexpectedly and never stopped being herself, unlike those before her who could have passed for inflatable life-sized dolls permanently positioned to stare adoringly at their husbands.

Betty Ford spoke openly about everything, from equal rights for women to abortion to what she would do if her 18-year-old daughter were sexually active. Even more, by example, she went beyond politics and set new standards for openness about her own life.


Betty Ford, who died today at 93, was one of the most honest and caring women ever to live in the White House.

Honest and caring, courageous and influential. The legacy of Betty Ford will live on.

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Friday, July 08, 2011

Down the Hatch

By Zandar Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch is either dense or just mean or both.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is going after Sen. Orrin Hatch for saying that the poor need to "share some of the responsibility" for shrinking the debt.

"The top 10 percent are paying 70 percent of all income taxes. The top 50 percent pay something like 98 percent of all income taxes. Fifty-one percent don't pay anything," Hatch said.

"Democrats say they [the 51 percent] pay payroll taxes. Well, everybody does that because that's Social Security. They pay about one-third of what they're going to take out over the years in Social Security," Hatch said. "Obamacare -- a family of four earning over $80,000 a year -- gets subsidies. Think about that. That's what we call the poor?"

Well, plus that 51 percent pay sales tax and gas tax too.  But think about it, Hatch complaint is that the millionaire needs a tax break, but the family of 4 where the breadwinner is earning $8 bucks an hour and can barely feed their kids needs to be paying more in taxes?  Really?  What percent of their income is the person making $15,000 a year spending on sales taxes for food, clothing, and essentials?  What about housing?  Could the person bringing in seven figures possibly be able to afford a bit more in taxation?

Republicans will do anything to preserve tax breaks for the people who own them and donate to them, and anything to hurt those of us at the bottom of the ladder instead.  America's most precious resource is rich political donors, you know.

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This day in history - July 8, 1889: The first issue of The Wall Street Journal is published

The Wall Street Journal is the largest newspaper in the United States by circulation and, sadly, since 2007 owned by the Rupert Murdoch news empire, which also owns the Fox News Channel among many other media entities.

In a week in which another Murdoch-owned media outlet, the British tabloid News of the World, announced that it will shut down due to despicable invasions of privacy, it seems important to remind ourselves what a cancer on the world of journalism Murdoch has been.

Despite earlier assurances from him that he would not turn the Journal into a right-wing advocacy rag, that is exactly what he has done.

And Fox News is just another "objective news source." Yeah, right.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Photo of the Day: Cleaning up the ExxonMobil oil disaster in Montana

Photo from The Globe and Mail: "A cleanup worker uses oil absorbent materials on the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana. An Exxon Mobil pipeline near Laurel, Montana, ruptured and spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone."

With all the attention on Casey Anthony, the debt ceiling, and the Fourth of July long weekend, this story didn't get nearly the attention it deserved.

But it's yet another environmental catastrophe caused by the oil industry, a disaster that hardly registers because there have been so many and because apparently we're used to it by now.

Yes, of course, these things happen.

But isn't that the problem? Even if there isn't negligence or incompetence -- and it's not clear yet what happened here (the rupture may have been caused by the surging river, but the pipeline may not have been entirely secure in the first place, and it looks like ExxonMobil hasn't been entirely honest about the spill) -- this sort of thing can happen. And does happen. And when the pipeline runs just eight feet below the river, well, the consequences can be -- and are -- enormous and devastating.

Meanwhile, the cleanup continues. As does the suffering -- to the environment, to animals, to humans, to the economy.

It seems to me we should care more than we do.

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Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

If you have not already had the chance, though it seems to be everywhere, you may enjoy seeing Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in this trailer for the movie The Iron Lady, which I believe will have a winter release.

By now we know that Streep can do almost anything, but this should be a particularly interesting portrayal.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Debt ceiling madness: Standing on the brink of economic apocalypse

There may soon be a deal, and maybe even a "grand" one (or maybe this more realistic one), that will see America's debt ceiling raised. It has to be, if economic apocalypse is to be avoided, but the default deniers in the GOP are resisting to the end and seem to have no problem, probably because they have no idea what's really going on here and what the consequences would be, accepting, as Sen. Jim DeMint ignorantly put it, "serious disruptions" to the economy.

Of course, there wouldn't just be "disruptions." Defaulting would wreak havoc on the economy and on millions and millions of Americans:

If Congress fails to raise the national debt limit by early August, the Obama Treasury Department will have to choose between defaulting on obligations to the country's creditors -- triggering higher interest rates and perhaps damaging the country's credit rating for months and years to come -- or freezing outlays to contractors, entitlement beneficiaries and others who are also expecting prompt payment as well. In either case, the macroeconomic impact will be staggering.

This according to Mark Zandi, Moody's chief economist and former McCain advisor.

Now, if there's no deal, there's another option, a constitutional one:

Last month, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner suggested that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional because of Section 4 of the 14th Amendment, which states that "the validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned." If the Obama administration were to embrace this view, the country could avoid default in the event that the debt ceiling is not raised by the Aug. 2 deadline.

This may not be the preferred option, and it may just be the option of last resort, but what else is there to do when the other party has succumbed to sheer madness?

And mad it is. House Republicans are actually considering filing articles of impeachment against Obama should he end up having to go the constitutional route. That's how wildly disconnected from reality they and their priorities are, how blindly partisan they are, how closed to compromise in the name of any sort of common good they are, how unable or unwilling they are to dealing in any meaningful way with the country's long-term fiscal problems, not to mention the debt ceiling crisis they themselves have created.

Look, there are good reasons to criticize the president. To say the least, he has handled the debt ceiling issue poorly. He seemed (and still seems) to have all the leverage, with Republicans torn between the party's corporate establishment (which understands that the debt ceiling needs to be raised) and the Tea Party (which fervently opposes any compromise on the debt ceiling and will launch a primary challenge against any Republican who violates its extremist demands). Boehner is the one in the difficult position, not Obama. And yet it is Obama who is the one giving in, and who is prepared to give the other side almost everything it wants just to get a deal done. No, not what the extremists want, but certainly what Republicans should be prepared to accept and what would, for them, constitute victory.

Obama has even put Social Security and Medicare cuts on the table. This has justifiably incurred the ire of many liberals, including this one. It appears that Obama is desperate to do a deal -- or, if not desperate, willing to go to great lengths, willing to give up a great deal, to avoid risking a debt ceiling crisis, even if it would be the Republicans to blame for it. (The White House is pushing back against the story, saying that it "overshoots the runway" and that the president wants to strengthen Social Security. But that's awfully vague and keeps everything on the table.)

But, seriously, impeachment? Republican craziness is piling up, higher and higher, at a time when what is needed is maturity and sobriety, a willingness to work for the American people, including for future generations of Americans, by putting aside ideological extremism and working towards a deal that makes sense to both sides.

Yes, Obama deserves to be criticized -- though we'll have to see exactly how much he gives up if and when a deal gets done -- but we mustn't forget that this is all happening because Republicans simply refuse to work constructively with the president and the Democrats, that is, refuse to help govern the country in any productive way. They're such extremists, and so ignorant of what they are doing, that they're taking the country to the brink of economic apocalypse and are willing, it seems, to pull it into the abyss.

Ultimately, Obama and the Democrats, along with the few Republicans who actually want to help, must do whatever it takes to save America.

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Thursday, July 07, 2011

I'd almost forgotten Ann Coulter existed -- lucky me

I stumbled upon an interview on television the other night with conservative author, commentator, loudmouth, and all-around vile creature Ann Coulter.

I had not seen her around in a while and surely would not have gone looking for her unless compelled by some reason I could not imagine. But there she was being interviewed, and I had to stop and watch, if only for a moment.

I have no interest in dredging up the compendium of obnoxious things she has said over the years, though it would be easy to do. Do it yourself, if you have the stomach for it. And I am not the least bit interested in having a discussion about the value of her arguments, because they have none.

I only know that Ann Coulter and a handful of other right-wingers who crop up now and again to spew undisguised hatred depress the hell out of me. And, make no mistake, this mode of presentation is a speciality of the right.

There is nothing clever in what she has to say. There is no nuance or argument worth parsing. It's bile plain and simple, it is hate speech, and she exists simply because a certain subset of the population will always be receptive to arguments based on hatred. She has figured that out and is, apparently, making a good living from it.

I don't know if it's an act or if she really is, deep down, this horrid. Either way, she deserves no attention and I would suggest that any media outlet, any organization, that continues to provide a way for her to be heard ought to be ashamed.

Coulter should remind us that there are limits to the opinions that deserve to be entertained.

Lines of that sort can and should be drawn.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Bush tax cuts cost $329,220 for each job created

Guest post by Publius

The Bush tax cuts cost $329,220 for each job it created. That, according to the math recently employed by The Weekly Standard in its analysis of the cost per job from Obama’s stimulus package.

The Weekly Standard argued that because the overall cost of the stimulus to date is $666 billion, and the number of jobs created since the stimulus was passed (according to the low estimate by the Council of Economic Advisors) is 2.4 million jobs, the cost per job from the stimulus equals $278,000 per job. The Weekly Standard went on to note that we could have simply written a check for $100,000 to everyone whose employment was allegedly made possible by the stimulus and come out $427 billion ahead.

Sounds pretty bad, right?

Well, using the exact same formula, the Bush tax cuts passed in 2001 were estimated by the Joint Committee on Taxation to cost about $864.2 billion from 2001-2008 (the first year of the Bush tax cuts through the last year of his presidency). During that period, according to The Wall Street Journal, 2,625,000 jobs were created. That comes out to a total cost of $329,220 per job under the Bush tax cuts. And that’s if we assume that every single job which was created during Bush’s presidency was attributable to the Bush tax cuts (pretty unlikely) AND if we exclude the costs of the 2003 tax cut (estimated to cost another $350 billion over 10 years). We could have written a check for $100,000 to each person who “allegedly” had their job created by the Bush tax cuts and saved $600 billion, but they wouldn’t have received it because the check was instead delivered to really wealthy people.

My point isn’t that the Obama stimulus was good because the Bush tax cuts were bad. Instead, my point is that the math employed by The Weekly Standard is absurd. This example highlights the absurdity.

It’s wrong to suggest that the sole purpose of the stimulus was to “buy jobs.” If that was the sole purpose, then yes- the cost would arguably have been $278,000 per job. As White House spokesperson Liz Oxhorn noted the other day, however:

[The Weekly Standard] study is based on partial information and false analysis. The Recovery Act was more than a measure to create and save jobs; it was also an investment in American infrastructure, education and industries that are critical to America’s long-term success and an investment in the economic future of America’s working families. Thanks to the Recovery Act, 110 million working families received a tax cut through the Making Work Pay tax credit, over 110,000 small businesses received critical access to capital through $27 billion in small business loans and more than 75,000 projects were started nationwide to improve our infrastructure, jump-start emerging industries and spur local economic development.

The concept of the stimulus was grounded in Keynesian economic theory- government countercyclical spending is critical to countermand the effects of a recession. Increased government spending increases GDP, frees up capital and, consequently, creates jobs. Jobs are part of the benefits of stimulus. They aren’t the direct purchase.

By most metrics, the stimulus was a success. According to the CBO, the stimulus increased GDP by 3.1%. It added as many as 3.6 million jobs to boot. It gave us new factories, roads, bridges, and other infrastructure which we benefit from each day. Boiling all of this down to a cost per job is just silly.

The Weekly Standard would also be wise to note that about $288 billion of the projected $747 billion stimulus came in the form of tax cuts (about 38.5% of total spending), despite the fact that according to many prominent economists (such as Mark Zandi), tax cuts are far less stimulative than other types of spending, such as food stamps, unemployment benefits and infrastructure spending (all of which Republicans opposed).

If The Weekly Standard wants to argue the stimulus could have been more effective, it won’t find many on the left who disagree. If it wants good ideas on how to make it more effective, step one is to stop believing tax cuts are the best solution to all economic ills.

(Cross-posted at The Fourth Branch.)

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And still more on the special election in Nevada's 2nd Congressional District

Just because I have been following this story for so long, I thought I might as well close the loop. This is the one about the Sept. 13th special election in Nevada's 2nd Congressional District, which, you may recall, is necessary because former Rep. Dean Heller was appointed to the Senate to replace John Ensign, who resigned amidst a sex scandal having to do with the wife of a staffer.

In Nevada, for reasons unclear to me, a primary cannot be used to determine party candidates for special elections. The Secretary of State of Nevada, Ross Miller (D), initially ruled that multiple Republicans and Democrats could run to fill the vacant seat, which meant that a Democrat might be able to sneak through with many candidates running in what is traditionally a Republican seat. This was what they were calling the Battle Royale scenario.

If this is starting to get confusing, just consider that if many Democratic and Republican candidates ran, it could allow an unexpected result, which might have been the only way a Democrat could win.

Anyway, the court ruled on July 5th that parties could in fact choose a singular candidate to run under their party banner, which is what will happen.

It seems as well that both parties have already determined their nominees. Republican Mark Amodei, of the really weird "China will take over America if we raise the debt ceiling" political ad, will take on Nevada State Treasurer Kate Marshall.

Not that it matters anymore, but nut job Tea Party darling Sharron Angle had been in the running earlier but dropped out for reasons only known to herself.

I don't know that the Democrats can't win the seat, but having a crazy person like Angle in the mix or a quirky Battle Royale scenario might have been their best hope. A Democrats has never won a general election for the 2nd District since the district was created after the 1980 census.

Not to go on about this, though I see that I already have, but the most interesting part of this whole story may be the extent to which local courts can have an impact on electoral outcomes. I'm no expert on election law, but it does vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and, as we know, especially in general elections, both sides have teams of lawyers ready to swoop in at the slightest hint of impropriety or, shall we say, at the opportunity to create impropriety.

What was it that Shakespeare said about lawyers in Henry VI?

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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Here We Go Again!

By Carl
Another spring, another oil spill. This one, however, is not anywhere near a coastline. It's worse. Much worse.

BILLINGS — Exxon Mobil Co. had reassured federal regulators and officials from a Montana town since December that an oil pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River was safe, buried deep enough to avoid any accidental ruptures.

Then, on Friday night, the pipe failed, spilling an estimated 42,000 gallons into the flooded river.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation, but the prevailing theory among officials and the company is that the raging Yellowstone eroded the riverbed and exposed the line to damaging rocks or debris.

There is still no definitive word on how far downriver the spill could spread.

Here's a few simple background facts to keep in mind as you read the story at that link:

1) The infrastructure of America, from roads and bridges to rail lines and water mains, is in shambles. It could conceivably cost the equivalent of a year's GDP just to bring the entire infrastructure of the nation up to code.

2) There are only 110 inspectors in the US government for over 400,000 miles of pipeline for oil and natural gas. Current requirements are for inspections to be done on a rotating basis every five years, but those don't take into account follow ups to ensure compliance with any repairs.

3) Exxon claims "only" 42,000 gallons of oil spilled. By comparison, BP's first claims last year was zero oil was released. The US Coast Guard had an initial estimate of a 1,000 barrels a day. 42,000 gallons translates to....1,000 barrels. The final official estimates for the BP spill were 62,000 barrels (about 2.6 million gallons) a day. Worst case estimates were nearly triple that.

4) The Gulf oil spill affected a wide swath of open water. The Yellowstone spill is concentrated and on a moving body of water. Oil has been unofficially reported as far away as 240 miles.

5) Wildlife in the Gulf can swim away from the oil. Wildlife in Montana relies on the oil for drinking, and eventually the river creatures bump into barriers to further movement, effectively trapping themselves in the spill.

6) Overlaying all this, of course, is the fact that Republicans control the purse strings to assist in all this.  Montana has a Democratic governor who is, in fact, a soil scientist, so Exxon will be hard pressed to buffalo him.
(crossposted to Simply Left Behind)

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Is this now, finally, the end of DADT?

A federal appeals court ordered a halt [yesterday] to the armed forces' discharge of openly gay service members, citing the Obama administration's disavowal of laws that discriminate based on sexual orientation.

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco had intervened in November to allow the government to continue enforcing the "don't ask, don't tell" law, despite a federal judge's decision that the law was unconstitutional.

[Yesterday], however, a three-judge panel of the court lifted the stay, saying, "The circumstances and balance of hardships have changed."

The court noted that Congress has voted to repeal "don't ask, don't tell" as soon as President Obama and the Pentagon certify that the change will not interfere with military readiness or recruiting. The administration has said most troops should be trained for the new policy change by mid-summer, although it had told the court the law should probably stay in effect for the rest of the year.

Enough already. The military will be fine. The troops specifically will be fine. It's long past time for this awful, bigoted policy to be tossed for good into the dustbin of history.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Bring back the Pet Rock

By J. Thomas Duffy 

When they get around to making the Idiocracy sequel, this has got to find its way into the script.

On July 4th, while many where camped out on blankets, or stuck in traffic, awaiting the evening's display of incendiary pop, I was doing some work, and had the radio on, only stopping, mouth agape, to shake my head in disbelief, when this report came on.

It was from PRI's "The World": 

Digital Pop Star Hatsune Miku’s First Live Concert 

This weekend, one of the hottest tickets in Los Angeles was to a concert by Japanese pop culture icon Hatsune Miku. She’s a big persona but not a flesh-and-blood person. And her sold-out show, “Mikunopolis,” marked her debut in the US.


But Miku is neither animal nor human. She’s a virtual “singer” whose only appearance on stage is as a life-like 3D hologram. She’s what you’d call a Vocaloid — basically the consumer-friendly interface for sophisticated voice-synthesizing software.


Vocaloid was spawned far from the shores of LA. Hideki Kenmochi developed Vocaloid at Yamaha Corp. in Japan; then a host of other companies created characters and voices — like Miku, whose parent is Crypton Future Media — that give Vocaloid technology a more human range.


The Vocaloid process does for singing what a keyboard synthesizer does for pianos. In the Vocaloid scene, this means a gifted songwriter may not have to rely as much on their own pipes or looks. But despite the sold-out concert in LA, the Vocaloid style is still an acquired taste, most popular among early cultural adopters in Japan

“According to our research,” Kenmochi says, “eight percent of female teenagers listen to only Vocaloid music. That’s amazing statistics.” 

(Go here to listen to the podcast.) 

Sold-out show? Shrieking fans?

Over a synthesized 3-D hologram?

Even Woody Allen, in his 1973 futuristic Sleeper, didn't dream of such dreck.

Give me a F'ing break?

With all the music, hundreds-upon-hundreds-of-thousands, made by real, live human beings, available (an entire second argument on if it's good or bad), across a multitude of genres, and people are actually going gaga over, as the article ends, "partying in a concert-sized video game"?

Didn't Denzel Washington and Russel Crowe do this before? 

Help Me Mister Wizard! 

Methinks this audience would be prime to bring back the Pet Rock as well. 

Wait ... wait ... 

Even better... a synthesized 3-D hologram Pet Rock!


Bonus Riffs 

Adam Frank:  Rise Of The Machines: Japanese Popstar A Computer Construct

Pop Star Turns Out To Be Computer Generated 

Jena Isle:  Aimi Eguchi and Hatsune Miku: Japan’s Computer-Generated Pop Stars Gain Millions of Fans; Miku has Upcoming Debut in Los Angeles

Idiocracy - trailer 

Idiocracy Brawndo's Got Electrolytes

Idiocracy, the Sequel 

(Cross-posted at The Garlic.)

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This day in history - July 6, 1957: John Lennon and Paul McCartney first meet

John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles (as if you didn't know) were introduced on this day in 1957 when Lennon's band, The Quarrymen, performed at the St. Peter's Church Hall fete in Woolten.

Some might argue that this hardly qualifies as a momentous historical occasion. I would argue that they are wrong. I prefer to live in a world where The Beatles once existed and their music is still frequently heard. Yes, I feel pretty strongly about that.

And I will also admit that I posted this for the immensely cool picture.

(Cross-posted to Lippmann's Ghost.)

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The thing is

It's not any one thing. It's never one thing. All the things that have led up to my crisis of caring are old things; have been around a long time and I've been aware of all of them all along. Whether things have become so crazy that some trigger point was passed or whether being chronically weak because of a strict diet or a passing virus or whether somehow, the realization that all suffering comes from believing, from having faith that things can ever be all right in the long run, finally seeped through from that repository of things I always say to whatever core of self awareness exists deep down somewhere. 

The thing is -- I just don't care. Neither more or less than the last time I said it, but I don't care. Someone apparently got away with murder? What's it to me? My country is making strides toward being neo-feudal, toward a police state, a corporate oligarchy with no collective concern for anything but maximum profit and maximum exploitation by those who can make the most of it? So what? The great accomplishments of science? That's over, unless it's the science of sales and manipulation and the technology that exists only to make people buy it. I don't give a damn. I don't even give a damn that I don't give a damn and I've forgotten why I ever believed in the progress of man and the slow climb up from the insanity of animals toward enlightenment and civilization -- or even decency. 

But it's always something. 

I got a phone call the other day. It was a recorded voice asking to contribute to the fight against the persecution of Christian parents' rights to raise their families as they saw fit. I have no idea what they meant but I can have some confidence in the assumption that it has to do with interfering with some other group's right to do the same. I pushed the "never call me again" button. I don't care, it's someone else's fight after all, and if they do win, it will take so long they might as well just wait for the next asteroid or gamma ray burst or solar catastrophe. 

I got a flier in the mail, too. Cover photos of grey haired people smiling like they were drugged under a headline of "happy Seniors." Now I hate like hell to be called a "senior," and it damned well is a gratuitous pejorative. I'm still a man and no less entitled to be one than when I was an idiot teenager, fulfilling my duty of buying things to be hip. But no, these happy folks were just in ecstasy because Representative Tom Rooney and his friends Mr. Ryan and Governor "Medicare Fraud" Scott were going to keep Medicare and Social security from being taken over by "unelected bureaucrats" and presumably given over to those entitled by party affiliation to a big Goddamn profit from it. You know, the Republican peerage, the elect. Happy, happy days, but I'm not going to be able to do a damn thing so why worry? 

I bought one of these little flat screen portable HDTV's recently. Figured it would be a good thing for hurricane season, but trying it out today, I was was disappointed to find nothing on the air but Jesus and informercials, but I shouldn't be, of course. That's all there really is in this episode of the Truman Show and all there will be allowed to be because all this amazing technology has no other purpose than to sell to those at the bottom of the pond. The people already borrowing at 400% from Wells Fargo payday loan stores to meet the mortgage payment to Wells Fargo Bank and the credit cards they maxed out at Wal-Mart and who just found out they have to die because they have no insurance and can't even get welfare because they can't pass a drug test because they had to take something for the pain and they can't afford a prescription or prescription drugs. Yes, it's gonna be all right after we 'save' Medicare. 

Some "Practicing physician" as he continually reminded me had the ultimate cure and preventative for heart disease which "we now know" is only caused by "Toxins" that need to be chelated out of our blood stream with his snake oil pills. "I don't wancha getting a bypass. I don't wancha getting a stent." He just wants to sell pills that will stop the "epidemic of sickness overwhelming all of us." It would take more than a pill to stop the irony, but nothing will stop the two born every minute. 

Another channel appeared to be a cooking channel, showing children how to cover apple slices with sugar sprinkles because, as the nice Church lady tells us, "God wants children to eat healthy food" unless of course the fruit contains knowledge of morality. Perhaps that's why so many children are hungry - not enough red and green sprinkles -- or maybe, like me, God doesn't give a shit -- at least not as long as he sells enough air time. And he does sell it. Four stations available on the indoor antenna and three of them have Jesus, or at least so they say. They don't show him, but perhaps he's tied up in the back room while those polyester puffballs strut and parade and chant and solicit money. JEE- Suss! wants you to be rich so buy my prayer towel and my blessing -- call now. 

So why feel sorry for myself. I don't need to if I don't care. I don't feel sorry for America either, they're fed all the crap they can chew on and they will die, or at least make sure you do, rather than make anything better. If I feel sorry for anyone it's people like poor old Jesus who not only thought they could, but tried -- only to be defeated, have their history stolen and used to sell product, to support tyranny and exploitation and persecution, the fleecing of the poor, the fearful, the desperate and to stifle knowledge, damn decency and prostitute hope. 

But who cares? 

(Cross-posted from Human Voices.)

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Right-wing evangelical theocrats love them some Rick Perry

The Republican presidential field is still embarrassingly weak (and even more embarrassing because the best Republican candidate by far, Jon Huntsman, isn't really catching on at all), and there is still a good deal of talk about some savior coming to the rescue.

With Huckabee not running this time, social/religious conservatives perhaps more than any other core Republican constituency seem to be driving that talk. Much of the rest of the party is already represented, after all, particularly the moneyed establishment (Romney) and the Tea Party (Bachmann, Paul). The theocrats only have Santorum, a distant also-ran with zero electability, and Gingrich, a joke of a candidate who's in it to glorify his ego and fill his coffers, and also Bachmann, though she doesn't seem to be what they're looking for.

The so-called "social conservatives" (actually moralizing right-wing evangelical theocrats) used to be a powerful force in the party, if not the dominant one, but they've been reduced to a bit of an afterthought, even though they still wield enormous influence at the grassroots level. And so it would be foolish to ignore them.

And who are they now looking to as their savior? Why, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, of course, who has done a great deal to appeal to them, presenting himself as their kind of theocrat. They're pushing him to run and no doubt he'd be a formidable candidate if only for their support. Could he actually win the nomination? Maybe. Or maybe he'd be the #2. (How does Romney-Perry sound?) Either way, social conservatives aren't about to let this election cycle pass without trying to wield their influence, and they may just be able to do that through Perry.

For more on this, see Amy Goodman's piece at Time: "Christian Right leaders have sought to find a new – preferably electable – candidate to carry the social conservative banner." They've picked Rick Perry.

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Is Paul Ryan drinking his own bath water on Medicare reform?

I used to work with a very experienced campaign manager, who had a colorful term to describe the phenomenon of politicians or their surrogates actually believing the spin they put on things. This isn't about making a case for something you truly think would be good policy, despite the fact that most don't agree with you. It's about taking a position that has limited support and believing that the majority must be with you simply because you've fallen in love with your own reasoning or, perhaps, because those in closest proximity are always telling you how right you are.

He used to say, "let's be careful not to drink our own bath water."

I thought of this when I read Greg Sargent's post recently about Paul Ryan being in total denial about how unpopular his Medicare plan is. As Ryan said:

Those polls don't describe it well. When the plan is described accurately, it actually polls very well.

Uh, no. That's just not true.

Sargent runs through polls by Bloomberg, CBS, Pew, and The Washington Post, all showing strong opposition to the plan when described as replacing traditional Medicare so that individuals buy their own private insurance with the help of government subsidies. In other words, when the plan was described as exactly what it is, those polled rejected it. To be sure, the language of the question asked varied from poll to poll, but the description of the program was clear and consistent in each.

Only when the question was unclear, as was the case in a New York Times poll, did a plurality support the Ryan plan. Here, when people were asked if they would support a proposal to create "a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance," they were marginally okay with that idea. But if we aren't talking about replacing the current system, we are not being accurate, which makes the Times response more or less meaningless.

Despite polling that finds privatizing Medicare consistently unpopular, Ryan thinks that Americans would support the idea. Despite proof that when people understand the Republican plan accurately, they reject it, Ryan's thinks the opposite is true.

Honestly, I don't know how to categorize his attitude. Does he truly believe that there is another level of understanding that Americans have not yet realized that will make them supportive of his plan? That something will kick in?

Or does he really know that most don't support his plan but hope that over time he can sway them?

Or does he have such confidence in the fact that he's right about Medicare reform that he has convinced himself that the majority of Americans are already with him? Is he drinking his own bath water?

I actually think Ryan is a true believer, who is only confused by the facts. How else do we explain his comments? Let's just hope he continues to deny reality and that he keeps chugging from the tub he's sitting in and, more importantly, that he has lots of company from fellow Republicans. Now, there's a picture you won't be able to get out of your head for a while.

(Cross-posted at Lippmann's Ghost.)

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