REAL ART VIDEO WEEK!
Actually, what that means is that I've started rehearsing a new show, and need to back away from blogging for a bit in order to memorize my lines. Instead of stumbling my way through with "Two from AlterNet" or scrambling to put out some haphazard thoughts on something I've barely read, I'm going to post some video, and lemme tell ya, there's quite a bit of it out there.
Essentially, it's just going to be stuff I like, cool TV shows, documentaries, great music videos, that sort of thing. Hopefully, this'll only take a week or so, and then I can get back to alternatively defending and attacking Obama, or whatever it is I do here.
Okay, Real Art Video Week Day One:
DOCTOR WHO: THE SUN MAKERS
In the far future, the planet Pluto is habitable, heated by several miniature suns. However, the heat is available only to the ruling classes, the working population being oppressed by the ruthless, bureaucratic and omnipresent Company. When the Doctor and Leela arrive, they help to initiate a rebellion from the Undercity, and stop the evil company's plans once and for all.
Click here for more.
This one's good. It features my now favorite companion, the savage and primitive but savvy and clever warrior Leela, and some very humorous dialogue from the Doctor's computerized robot dog K-9. The episode is also very anti-capitalist, so you just gotta love it. It's divided into twelve eight-minute parts, and I'm embedding the first one, with links for the rest.
More video tomorow!
Monday, June 30, 2008
REAL ART VIDEO WEEK!
Posted by Ron at 10:39 PM
THE CHUMP CYCLE
Progressives and Netroots Feeling
Abandoned as Obama Tacks Rightward
AlterNet runs a couple Huffington Post essays on Obama's post primary rightward shift. Here's an excerpt from one by a disgruntled Obama Democrat:
But two can play at Obama's game.
To me, Obama's methods are obvious. He is selling out a constituency without leverage (progressives) to burnish his centrist image, which he believes will bring him more votes in November. Obama is practicing, as BooMan puts it, "raw political calculation." Well, guess what; I can do that, too!
I will work to elect Obama because, a la "Crashing The Gate," he is the candidate who will most likely bring about the change I want. But I realize that this raw political calculation is only a marriage of convenience. As soon as Obama is elected, I become his critic, looking to move him left.
Click here for the rest of this one, as well as a more general article over the brouhaha.
Right. Well, all these left-wing Obama supporters have good reason to be angry. Just check out these links:
What Does Obama's 'Love of Markets' Mean for Our Economic Future?
Obama Backs Bill Giving Immunity To Telecoms
Obama's Draconian New Death Penalty Stance
Obama endorses pro-war Barrow
While I haven't specifically been saying all along that Obama is no liberal, I have been saying all along that his rhetoric hasn't given me any reason to make me think he is. I've also been saying that "post-partisan" is completely incompatible with the "change" that has been the centerpiece of his campaign. Well, now that he's got the left side of the Democratic Party in his pocket, his rhetoric and actions have given me the certainty I need: Barack Obama is no liberal.
Or maybe he is!
Maybe his newfound love of the death penalty, his support for federal mass surveillance of US citizens, his self-proclaimed support of neoliberalism, and his support for Iraq war supporters is all just a ruse! Maybe he's only pretending to be a conservative so he can get more conservative votes! Maybe Obama is as liberal as a Kennedy!
I suppose that's possible.
But what's the difference? How is pretending to be a conservative any different from being a conservative? We got the same kind of shit from Bill Clinton, who knew how to emit good vibes to liberals, while, as has been observed by countless writers and pundits, governing to the right of Richard Nixon--I think it was Michael Moore who called old Bill "the best Republican President we've ever had." I've always wanted to believe that Clinton was secretly a liberal, but was simply unable to advance liberal ideas under the withering attacks of Newt Gingrich's GOP. But who really knows? He signed away welfare. He brokered trade deals that enriched his campaign contributers, while offshoring damned good manufacturing jobs, eroding the middle class. He presided over deregulating a financial sector that is now in the midst of collapsing on itself. In short, Clinton, liberal or not, was a warrior in the continuing Reagan revolution that's turned America into a shit hole.
America really does need the "change" so loftily offered by Obama, but it's all just words with him. Whether he's liberal or not doesn't really matter: he's running as a center-right conservative, who loves guns, deregulation, the death penalty, and the Iraq occupation. And that's what he's going to give us if elected.
What's particularly funny about this is the cognitive dissonance progressive Obama supporters are now going through as the awful truth slowly dawns on them. I mean, the writer of the above linked essay is nothing short of pathetic. He wants to get Obama elected in order to mercilessly attack him?!? That's fucking nuts. Why not attack him right now? I mean, if these people really hate Obama's rightward shift, if it's fair to actually call it a "shift," they're crazy to vote for him.
The bottom line is that bigtime electoral politics has absolutely nothing to offer the left. We've been squeezed out, useful for votes in the primaries, but that's about it. And as long as progressives dutifully play their role as springtime dupes every four years, that's all they're ever going to be. A bunch of fucking chumps.
I know my vote for Nader won't count for much in terms of getting a candidate I like elected, but it is a nice little "fuck you" to the Democrats, a nice little personal break from the cycle of chump. And if all progressives, liberals, leftists, whatever you want to call them, took a personal break from the chump cycle, the Donkey Party would be facing a grave crisis: they'd have to reevaluate their role as conservative-enabling, corporate-loving assholes.
Posted by Ron at 2:26 AM
Saturday, June 28, 2008
THE TOP 10 AWESOMELY PLAGIARIZED SONGS
I had completely forgotten how much I love RetroCrush:
The Verve—“Bittersweet Symphony” (1997)
Out of everyone on this list, I think Richard Ashcroft and his band The Verve got screwed the most. Unlike any of our other defendants, Ashcroft actually got permission from the Stones’ music publisher to use a sample from an old, out-of-print orchestral rendition of the Stones’ “The Last Time”. Ashcroft and company built a whole song out of the sampled snippet, and the result ended up an international hit. Enter Jagger and Richards, who now claimed that The Verve had overstepped the bounds of the original agreement by looping the sample and using it as their entire backing track. Ashcroft countered that the Glimmer Twins were only reneging on the deal now that “Bittersweet Symphony” was such a massive—and lucrative—hit. Unfortunately, the courts sided with Goliath on this one, awarding Jagger and Richards composer credit and 100% of the song’s royalties. I’m surprised the duo wasn’t waiting in the wings at Live 8 to shake down Ashcroft as he came offstage from performing the song with Coldplay. The beleagured Ashcroft did, however, score points with one of the better verbal bitch-slaps of recent years when he described “Bittersweet Symphony” as “the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years." Keith Richards may have the last word on this one, though, as it’s hard to argue with his rather pragmatic statement, "If The Verve can write a better song, they can keep the money.” Ah, Keef—Have another fix, mate.
Led Zeppelin—“Whole Lotta Love”, etc. (1970)
This one, on the other hand, hurts. As high as the mighty Zep soars, even it’s not above accusations of cultural appropriation. Like many of their late ‘60s British brethren, Jimmy Page and company were avowed blues freaks—unlike contemporaries such as Cream and the Jeff Beck Group, however, Led Zep did not always properly acknowledge the bluesmen whose lyrics and song structures they used as jumping-off points for their jams. Led Zeppelin II contained no less than three such disputed items: Mega-hit “Whole Lotta Love” bore a striking resemblance to Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love”; “The Lemon Song” was based on Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor”; and on the album’s closer, “Bring It on Home”, the acoustic intro is basically an uncredited cover of the Sonny Boy Williamson song of the same name. Dixon, er, “Wolf” (a.k.a. Chester Burnett”), and Williamson’s music publisher all brought action against Zep, resulting in out-of-court settlements and co-author credits for the blues icons…a fact you’d think would please an aficionado like Page. But he still insists no wrongdoing, maintaining in an interview with Guitar World: “Most of the comparisons rest on the lyrics. Robert was supposed to change the lyrics, and he didn't always do that—which is what brought on most of the grief. They couldn't get us on the guitar parts of the music, but they nailed us on the lyrics.” Sorry, Jimmy, but these particular blues you’re singing just don’t sound too convincing.
Click here for the rest.
Okay, full disclosure, in my own songwriting I've ripped people off on several occasions of which I am aware, both inadvertently and on purpose. When I was nineteen, I accidentally stole the chord progression and part of the melody from the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B," which was itself stolen from a West Indies folk tune. A couple years later, I ripped off some melody from a tune on Yes' Tales from Topographic Oceans; this one I did on purpose, reasoning that the Yes song sucks, my use of the melody was much better than theirs, and nobody will ever know or care, anyway.
Anyway, the point is that, as a theater history teacher I had years ago once explained, there are only seven original ideas in Western Civilization, all originated by the Greeks, who stole five of them from the Egyptians. It's all theft. There are no new ideas under the sun. The real question is what an artist is going to do to reconceptualize the old stuff.
When the Verve used a barely recognizable and obscure orchestral reworking of a famous Kieth Richards riff, they hit an artistic mother lode. That is, they found an entirely new song, waaay better than the little bit which inspired it. Page and Plant, however, were just ripping off old black guys. Yes, the Led Zeppelin versions of those old blues tunes are incredible renditions, but that's all they are, renditions--they had no business erasing the original composers' names and penciling in their own. That is, they didn't create entirely new songs, and then lied about it. Fuckers. And while I'm at it, the Stones are fuckers, too, for fucking over the Verve the way they did.
No good deed goes unpunished, I suppose.
Anyway, go check the list out. It's fun shit.
Posted by Ron at 10:45 PM
Friday, June 27, 2008
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Obama: Nader seeking attention with talk of 'white guilt'
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
"There's only one thing different about Barack Obama when it comes to being a Democratic presidential candidate. He's half African-American," Nader said. "Whether that will make any difference, I don't know. I haven't heard him have a strong crackdown on economic exploitation in the ghettos. Payday loans, predatory lending, asbestos, lead. What's keeping him from doing that? Is it because he wants to talk white? He doesn't want to appear like Jesse Jackson
When asked if Obama does try to "talk white," Nader replied, "Of course." He also said that Obama doesn't want to appear to be "another politically threatening African-American politician."
"He wants to appeal to white guilt," Nader said. "You appeal to white guilt not by coming on as black is beautiful, black is powerful. Basically he's coming on as someone who is not going to threaten the white power structure, whether it's corporate or whether it's simply oligarchic. And they love it. Whites just eat it up."
Obama said Nader hadn't been paying attention because he has discussed predatory lending, housing foreclosures and similar economic issues throughout his campaign.
Click here for more.
Back when I was teaching high school, a white student asked me during a class discussion why it was socially acceptable for black comedians to make fun of white people but not the reverse. I started off explaining how white culture is synonymous with mainstream culture in the US, and it's always acceptable to make fun of mainstream culture. But I went on to explain the extraordinarily racist history of entertainment in America, especially when it comes to comedy: for decades and decades, blacks were portrayed as the butt of all kinds of offensive humor, humor that served to perpetuate very negative black stereotypes, lazy, lecherous, stupid, criminal, and on and on. I explained that, even though we've come a long way since the overt racism of nineteenth century entertainment, you can still see strands of the same stereotypes, the same humor targeting African-Americans, in today's mass media. In short, I lectured, mainstream American entertainment hasn't recovered from its historical racism. And that's why it is so taboo for white comedians to make fun of black people.
Besides, when a black comedian makes fun of white people, once it's all said and done, at the end of the day, white people still run everything in the US. It's like, so what? Make fun of white people. We are in no way threatened by that. Not so in the reverse: white comedians making fun of black people tap into pre-existing racist cultural strains, and reinforce them, thereby promoting racism.
My African-American and Hispanic students, as well as most of my white students, bought the argument. A few of my white kids, however, were outraged. One of them behaved as though she hadn't heard a word I said: "In my family we believe in equality, and it's not fair for black people to make fun of white people when we can't make fun of them!" As if my family didn't believe in equality. To these kids, it was as though history began last week.
Another of them wouldn't shut up, so we took it out in the hall: she said, "you're trying to act like you're not white!!!" She was so offended, coming as she did from a part of town with an active chapter of the Klan, that she later tried to get me fired, accusing me of telling students which drugs they should take. Fortunately, the principal didn't buy it. She was a single mother a year later. Figures.
The point is that it is impossible for me to act like I'm not white, and it was goddamned rude of her to play such a stupid-ass race card. Same here with Nader.
Obama may very well be trying to "talk white," but "white" is the language of American mainstream culture. Everybody to some extent has to "talk white" in order to succeed in mainstream America. Calling Obama out in this way is bullshit. What's worse is that implicit in Nader's words is a judgment on how Obama should express his ethnicity. That is, Nader is telling Obama how he ought to be black.
I wouldn't necessarily call such a statement racist, but, like the student who told me I was acting like I'm not white, I would call it fucking rude. Stupid, too. Everyone's an individual; everyone has an individual relationship with his or her own ethnicity. It's one thing to observe that a person is black or white, one thing to talk about how races interact with each other, one thing to look at generalities in how different groups behave, or dress, or speak, or what their values are. But it's quite another to use such observations as a straitjacketing attack.
It's wrong when people say Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas isn't black simply because his politics differ from those of most black people--he is black, has lived the black experience, has black skin, a black family. But he is not to be reduced simply to his ethnicity. He is an individual. It is likewise wrong to criticize Eminem and other white rappers as black wannabes: Marshall Mathers is white, yes, but his individual, personal cultural experiences have made him the man that he is, with his feet in two cultural worlds.
I mean, it's just as absurd to accuse Lebanese-American Ralph Nader of not being Arab enough, of talking white.
Nader needs to stick to what he does best: trumpeting the issues that the Democrats, who are owned by corporations, ignore. All this pointless attack on Obama does is make it more difficult for me to justify my not voting for him. Hopefully, this ill-conceived "not black enough" gambit is a one-timer. No good can come from continuing along these lines.
(Thanks to my buddy Reuben for the heads up on this.)
Posted by Ron at 11:42 PM
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
How Some Men React When They Think You Want to Take Away Their Porn
Everyone who has ever worked as an activist in progressive organizations fighting gender, racial and economic inequality, has had the experience of seeing their words and ideas twisted by mainstream corporate media. This is what happened to me on Penn and Teller: Bullshit! that is airing all this week on Showtime. And one thing in particular I have learned for sure, after many years of being an anti-porn activist, is that men get very upset when they think you want to take their porn away.
The porn that makes most of the money for the industry is actually the gonzo, body-punishing variety that shows women’s bodies being physically stretched to the limit, humiliated and degraded. Even porn industry people commented in a recent article in Adult Video News, that gonzo porn is taking its toll on the women, and the turnover is high because they can’t stand the brutal acts on the body for very long.
The producers saved the best for last, when they talked about the lack of research on effects, and they edited my words down to: “there are no good studies.” This was a perfect ending for the show as it granted them the final word. The only problem is that the whole thing was a set up. The producer had asked me about studies showing a direct link between porn and rape. While there are no studies that show direct causation, I had told him about a wealth of research on the impact of porn on men’s attitudes and behavior.
Click here for the rest.
And there's the rub. I've always thought it absurd to suggest that porn causes rape, but suggesting that porn affects "men's attitudes and behavior" is a completely different proposition. That is, porn has to affect men's attitudes and behavior. If we're going to accept that advertising and images of conspicuous consumption on television dramas and comedies affect people's buying habits, which they do, then we have to accept that porn does the same thing with men's attitudes toward women.
On the whole, I'm very sympathetic to Penn's hostile attitude toward the anti-porn feminist who wrote the above linked essay. Since the 1970s, the debate has always been in terms of porn/not porn. That is, there has never been, to my knowledge, much of a debate over differing varieties of porn, or how video images of people having sex might be altered to portray women more as human beings than as objects to be fucked. Penn was obviously having a knee-jerk reaction to the decades old monolithic discussion that brands porn as either bad or good.
But he's not really helping anybody out by perpetuating what is obviously a false proposition. Some porn is very woman-friendly: I'm thinking of the stuff that shows women as independent individuals, with their own desires, thoughts, dreams, personalities, who have sex because they like having sex. Unfortunately, an ever increasing percentage of what's available, especially on the internet, shows women as things, existing only for the pleasure of men, who are often behaving like enormous assholes, dominating them just because they're men, and just because that's what men do to women. Okay, this is acceptable, I suppose, in the weird BDSM niche world, but, like I said, such portrayals of women in mainstream porn appear to be taking over.
And I think it has less to do with what men want to see than it does with porn-makers trying to stand out in the cutthroat and profoundly competitive internet porn market. That is, the business is leading the way here, not porn consumers. Indeed, I've found lately that I'm getting bored with porn. Or, at least, I'm getting bored with the shit I find for free on the internet. I'm seeing a lot of naked women who look bored themselves, or sad, or sometimes scared, or disgusted, suffering through humiliation and degradation in order to get a paycheck: that's not erotic; that's not arousing. Pretty lame.
How I long for the laid back, goofy narrative-oriented, "let's get it on" style of 70s porn. At least the women appeared to be having a good time.
The whole point here is that it seems likely that this might be where the entire porn market is headed. And if men keep watching, which they will because that's all that will be available, I just don't see how it won't affect men's attitudes toward women. In short, we're talking about a cultural dehumanizing of women, rolling back decades of feminist gains.
And that bothers me.
Personally, I think it's entirely possible to create hot, filthy, taboo, shock-your-mama porn that portrays women as people rather than things. So it's not about porn versus no porn. It's about what certain kinds of porn do to our culture. Frankly, I think we actually need more porn in America, some kind of counter balance to those religious abstinence lunatics. It's just that we need porn that doesn't oppress women, which is what those religious abstinence lunatics are, ironically, trying to do as well.
Posted by Ron at 10:45 PM
Linguist George Lakoff on Rationality and Politics
Okay, ordinarily I would excerpt a piece of transcript right about here, followed by my usual "click here for the rest" or somesuch, but there doesn't appear to be a transcript available for this really cool interview. And I'm not willing to do one myself. Instead, I'll tell you what's up with it, and hopefully that'll be enough to get you to watch the twenty minute video I'm embedding below.
George Lakoff is a linguist at Berkeley, specializing, according to Wikipedia, in "the centrality of metaphor to human thinking, political behavior and society." If you ever read Real Art at all, you'll automatically understand why that makes me love him. And this interview doesn't disappoint. Right off the bat he asserts that the Democratic approach to politicking is doomed to failure competing against the GOP propaganda machine (that is, in times when it is unfettered by a wildly unpopular President).
Neuroscience has discovered that, counterintuitively, at least as far as the Democrats go, logic and reason are not dispassionate and abstract: 98% of human reasoning is unconscious and emotional--reasoning is a neural, rather than digital, computation. In short, rationality and emotion cannot be separated. People reason in terms of narrative and metaphor, rather than in terms of facts, and this is where the GOP has its edge. Because of their background in business, and especially in marketing, Republicans have a natural affinity for getting across messages which tap into pre-existing cultural narratives and metaphor--they may be wrong on most issues, but they make what they're saying seem right, because they weave their ideas into our most cherished stories and concepts. Democrats, on the other hand, think they can just appeal to people's sense of reason, and that is as nothing compared to the human power of the right-wing storytellers.
Until the Democrats, and the left in general, can figure out how to do the same thing, to tap into America's cultural consciousness in terms of stories and symbols, they're stuck playing on right-wing turf.
Obviously, this is very exciting to me as a theater artist. Stories, myth, metaphor, all these things may be within the realm of business marketing, but they also belong to artists. You know, people like me. I've long said that ultimately there isn't much difference between art, politics, and culture simply because it seems so obviously true: now I've got some scientific support on this, which makes me all the more determined to make it happen on stage.
Wish me luck.
Some other interesting points Lakoff makes:
* Religion is so successful because of its appeal to narrative and metaphor.
* Color only exists because of our perception. That is, it is a construction of our brains reacting to light
* In 1996 an Italian scientist discovered what are called "mirror neurons," which strongly suggest that empathy and cooperativeness are moral mandates hardwired into our brains.
Anyway, this is fun shit. Check it out. From Air America's the Young Lions, courtesy of AlterNet, via YouTube:
Posted by Ron at 12:10 AM
Monday, June 23, 2008
FAREWELL GEORGE CARLIN
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
George Carlin mourned as counterculture hero
Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television. Some People Are Stupid. Stuff. People I Can Do Without.
George Carlin, who died Sunday at 71, leaves behind not only a series of memorable routines, but a legal legacy: His most celebrated monologue, a frantic, informed riff on those infamous seven words, led to a Supreme Court decision on broadcasting offensive language.
The counterculture hero's jokes also targeted things such as misplaced shame, religious hypocrisy and linguistic quirks — why, he once asked, do we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway?
Carlin, who had a history of heart trouble, went into St. John's Health Center in Santa Monica on Sunday afternoon complaining of chest pain and died of heart failure later that evening, said his publicist, Jeff Abraham. He had performed as recently as last weekend at the Orleans Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas.
In one of his most famous routines, Carlin railed against euphemisms he said have become so widespread that no one can simply "die."
"'Older' sounds a little better than 'old,' doesn't it?," he said. "Sounds like it might even last a little longer. ... I'm getting old. And it's OK. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won't have to die — I'll 'pass away.' Or I'll 'expire,' like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they'll call it a 'terminal episode.' The insurance company will refer to it as 'negative patient care outcome.' And if it's the result of malpractice they'll say it was a 'therapeutic misadventure.'"
Click here for the rest.
I used to say that I don't have any heroes. But after awhile, I was like, well, John Lennon is a hero to me, Paul Robeson, too. More recently, I've been thinking of adding George Carlin to my brief list.
After all, both Carlin and Lennon came into my life at around the same time. When I was in fourth and fifth grade in the late 70s, while I was devouring my older brother's Beatles collection, George Carlin specials were a staple on the newly created HBO. Needless to say, I totally grooved on his work, which kept me in stitches for months. Thirty years later, it is impossible for me to not believe that he did something to my thinking. That is, when I was a kid it was all about laughing; as an adult, however, I fully understand just how subversive George Carlin was, intellectual even, and deeply sophisticated.
For instance, I loved Carlin's baseball/football routine from the moment I first saw it:
And yeah, I "got it" at the age of eleven or twelve: baseball is a pussy sport; football is a real man's sport. But decades later, with the cultural criticism background I got from studying radio, television, and film at UT, I now get that Carlin was also commenting on historic changes in American culture. Baseball was a sport for a more naive and optimistic agrarian America, a nation that had no desire, for the most part, to impose its will on its citizens or other nations. Football, however, is a sport for twentieth century America, a nation of industrial and military might, projecting its values and power on the world during "the American Century." For that matter, I now also get the criticism of American materialism and consumerism implicit in Carlin's "Stuff" piece.
I'm certain his cultural criticism masquerading as comedy I experienced as a child put me in an intellectual space where I was ready to reevaluate my role as an American later in life. For that, and his more obvious leftward political leanings, George Carlin was truly a Real Artist, going well beyond the entertainment function of a comedian, toward subversive political activism.
And his death makes me as saddened as I was by John Lennon's passing.
Farewell, George Carlin.
Posted by Ron at 10:51 PM
The New Surveillance Bill: The Worst of Both Worlds
The bill, in short, is worse than granting absolute immunity: it is an effort to suborn the legitimacy of the federal courts by having a judge rubber-stamp the dismissal of cases against the telecoms without looking at the substance of what, in fact, was done. It reduces the separation of powers to a check-the-box exercise.
The bill does no better on privacy matters -- the question of new surveillance power. Title I of the measure grants the executive branch new surveillance powers for collecting the communications of persons overseas. Although it contains several provisions that purport to shelter Americans' privacy both at home and overseas, these parts of the bill are rendered irrelevant by the grant of sweeping collection authorization.
This is a radical break from the FISA regime created in 1978, and risks severe harm to Americans' privacy interests. The most important break with FISA is the absence of any individualized warrant requirement: it is now whole collection programs that are authorized and reviewed. And the abandonment of discrete, individualized legislative authorization and judicial review is only the first of the bill's troubling features.
Click here for more.
I've been wanting to post on this since Friday when the bill was passed by the House, but it's been difficult to find an article or essay spelling out, exactly, what's wrong with it. The above linked essay does a decent job, but still doesn't quite get to the heart of the matter.
The problem with the previously illegal White House warrantless wiretapping program, I mean apart from the fact that they didn't even try to get warrants, was its scope. They were looking at masses of electronic data concerning the communications of millions of Americans, the vast majority of them peaceful and law-abiding citizens. This was, on its face, an enormous and profound violation of the fourth amendment. The government can't search you, which includes your private communications, without a warrant, except under some very specific circumstances, such as imminent life-and-death emergencies. But that's exactly what President Bush's electronic surveillance program did, making a gargantuan mockery of one of our most foundational national values.
This new bill, just passed by the House, and by all accounts headed for success in the Senate, does nothing to change either the scope or the warrant issue. Indeed, there are no warrants at all, in the way the term is usually understood. As the essay observes, the FISA court, under this soon-to-be law, doesn't even glance at individual circumstances; instead, the court reviews the entire fishing expedition, and the standard for judging legality is reduced to simple assertions from the White House--all they have to say is "We're looking for terrorists," and that's it. So no warrants are required, and the very nature of the surveillance is such that millions of Americans are scooped up in its nets.
This is no compromise. Indeed, it's offensively unconstitutional. Anti-American, even.
But the Democrats all love it. What is their fucking deal?!? I know, I know. It all has to do with politics. That is, winning elections: the Democrats are inexplicably still afraid of appearing soft on terrorism. So afraid that they're willing to unilaterally shred the Constitution.
Well, whatever their reasons are, one thing is now achingly clear: our Congressmen understand neither the US Constitution, nor the role that they are required to play under its mandates. That is, our government, both the legislative and executive branches, is in the hands of utter incompetents who just don't get it. This is not unlike allowing an eight year old to drive a car. On the freeway.
Posted by Ron at 12:13 AM
Saturday, June 21, 2008
DEBUNKING RACIST KATRINA MYTHS
From CounterPunch, an essay on all the recent racist Iowa/NOLA flood comparisons, written by my new favorite racism basher, Tim Wise:
The Ugly Side of Disaster
So consider Limbaugh's formulation, where he says, "I don't see a bunch of people running around waving guns at helicopters, I don't see a bunch of people running shooting cops. I don't see a bunch of people raping people on the street."
Fair enough. Those things aren't happening in Iowa. Yet, according to multiple post-Katrina investigations, and stories written up by the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the New Orleans Times Picayune, the London Guardian, the New York Times, Popular Mechanics, Reason Magazine and the American Journalism Review, they weren't happening in New Orleans either. Reports of shooting at helicopters, or rapes or murders were almost entirely false. There were no murders in the evacuation centers, few if any sexual assaults (and none on the street as Limbaugh claimed), no helicopters fired on, and no police officers shot by residents. Yes, there was looting, although by a distinct minority of persons trapped in the city, and overwhelmingly for necessities like food, medicine, water,and clothing to replace the rotting, soaked rags people were wearing after wading through waist-deep water. And according to persons on the ground in the flood zone, even the luxury items taken were typically used as barter chips, to get rides out of the city for oneself and one's family when it became obvious that large scale assistance wasn't going to arrive any time soon. In other words, reports of widespread thuggery in New Orleans during the flooding have been greatly exaggerated, if not entirely fabricated, and have only remained believable to millions because of the race and class biases that allow people to believe the worst about poor black folks even without a shred of actual evidence.
And while Limbaugh and others praise Midwesterners for pulling together in a spirit of cooperation--as opposed to the animalistic chaos we are to envision when thinking of New Orleanians during Katrina--the fact is there were innumerable acts of kindness in the streets of New Orleans as well. Those who personally brought supplies to the thousands trapped downtown reported little if any fighting or random anger amongst the assembled; rather, they saw persons trying to shade the elderly, and make sure that old folks and the very young had first dibs on what little relief supplies were dribbling in. But the media focused on none of that, choosing instead to highlight reports--false as it turned out--of mass violence.
Then of course have been the suggestions, especially common in the e-blasts and blog postings to the effect that Iowans, unlike New Orleanians, have helped themselves, because while the latter had grown dependent on government to solve their problems, Midwesterners in the "heart of America" still value the importance of self-reliance. But the fact is, Iowans are no less likely to receive government assistance than those in New Orleans were prior to Hurricane Katrina, according to the Census Bureau's American Community Surveys, taken in 2006 (the most recent year available) and 2004 (the last data collected for New Orleans before the flooding of that city).
Click here for more.
And this vile racist bullshit isn't just coming from hate-radio, email, and blogs: I was stunned recently while scanning through reader comments on a story about the Iowa flooding in the Houston Chronicle; the majority of them were very much along the lines of the crap-rhetoric Wise describes in his essay.
What is it about so many Americans that makes them so ready to accept such racist narratives that have absolutely no evidence to support them?
I mean, sure, some of this was launched almost immediately by the White House in order to take political advantage of the situation as quickly as possible. But Katrina was a watershed event for the Oval Office: most Americans appear to have not bought into Karl Rove's story line that New Orleans corruption, rather than Federal incompetence, was responsible for the worst events during the week-long Reign of Chaos after the storm hit. Likewise, the corporate news media broadcast unverified frightening rumor after unverified frightening rumor, as fact, for days and days. But the vast majority of these horror stories, the rapes, the shootings, the looting, were corrected within a few weeks of airing. The record is clear: the people of New Orleans did not turn on each other. They were just trying to survive. On their own.
Nonetheless, all this bullshit has a great deal of traction. Many Americans apparently need to believe that NOLA's African-American population turned to savagery and sloth in the face of disaster, in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary. Clearly, the appeal of such mythology is due to racism, even among people who adamantly insist that they are not racist. Fuck man, even suggesting that these comparisons are racist pissed off numerous commenters for the Chronicle story linked above.
At any rate, the Wise essay is longish, but well worth reading, if only to arm yourself with a shitload of facts to counter any thick-necked asshole who might waylay you with the "good white Iowans versus bad black New Orleanians" fiction running around lately. Go check it out.
Posted by Ron at 11:34 PM
Friday, June 20, 2008
QUIS CUSTODIET IPSOS CUSTODES
Means "Who Polices the Police?"
Memphis Cops Caught on Tape Beating Transsexual Prisoner
The video, recorded February 12th, shows Duanna Johnson in the booking area at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center after an arrest for prostitution. The tape clearly shows a Memphis police officer walk over to Johnson - a transsexual - and hit her in the face several times.
"Actually he was trying to get me to come over to where he was, and I responded by telling him that wasn't my name - that my mother didn't name me a 'faggot' or a 'he-she,' so he got upset and approached me. And that's when it started," Johnson said.
Johnson said the officer was attempting to call her over to be fingerprinted. She said she chose not respond to the derogatory name the officer called her.
"He said, 'I'm telling you, I'm giving you one more chance to get up.' So I'm looking at him, and he started putting his gloves on, and seen him take out a pair of handcuffs," Johnson said.
Click here to read more and to see the video.
Okay, I must admit that transsexuals weird me out a bit, and I'm not one hundred percent sure why. My speculation is that it has something to do with Freudian castration anxiety; that is, I see a transsexual person and I subconsciously imagine losing my family jewels--at least, that's what I think is happening. Damn the Butthole Surfers and the sex reassignment surgery film they projected at that concert I attended back in 1990.
At any rate, this is my problem to work out. It's caused by me. It's not caused by transsexuals, who have a perfect right to be whatever they want to be.
That's why this cop beating is so extraordinarily egregious. She was beaten for who she is. Not that it would have been okay if these cops were just being your typical violent asshole cops. But this is so hardcore because you have armed security agents of the government acting out their Freudian neuroses on a citizen who only resisted after what was going on became clear. This is no different from Rodney King. Cops taking out their weird psychological issues on relatively peaceful victims.
And it's no surprise, either. Police culture, nationwide, makes such incidents inevitable. Prevailing cop attitudes are hypermasculine, authoritarian, violent, and paranoid: put all that together with irrational fear of transsexuals and you get beatings. Or worse. The really sad thing is that it doesn't have to be this way. Change cop culture and you change cop behavior.
Unfortunately, that just doesn't seem to be on anybody's political agenda at the moment.
Posted by Ron at 1:09 AM
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The Associated Press to Set Guidelines for Using Its Articles in Blogs
From the New York Times courtesy of Whiskey Fire courtesy of Eschaton:
On Friday, The A.P. issued a statement defending its action, saying it was going to challenge blog postings containing excerpts of A.P. articles “when we feel the use is more reproduction than reference, or when others are encouraged to cut and paste.” An A.P. spokesman declined Friday to further explain the association’s position.
After that, however, the news association convened a meeting of its executives at which it decided to suspend its efforts to challenge blogs until it creates a more thoughtful standard.
“We don’t want to cast a pall over the blogosphere by being heavy-handed, so we have to figure out a better and more positive way to do this,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Even if The A.P. sets standards, bloggers could choose to use more content than its standards permit, and then The A.P. would have to decide whether to take legal action against them. One important legal test of whether an excerpt exceeds fair use is if it causes financial harm to the copyright owner.
“The principal question is whether the excerpt is a substitute for the story, or some established adaptation of the story,” said Timothy Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law School. Mr. Wu said that the case is not clear-cut, but he believes that The A.P. is likely to lose a court case to assert a claim on that issue.
Click here for the rest.
And click here to see the AP's new standards, per word pricing, for using their work.
Okay, this is slightly disturbing, if only because I rely on the AP, usually by way of the Houston Chronicle, so heavily for my rantings here at Real Art. On the other hand, I'm only getting like 70 hits per day, and more than half of those come from Google image searches, so I'm probably fine as far as being sued goes--I seriously doubt anyone at AP corporate even cares about me, or notices me, for that matter.
Beyond that, however, it's still pretty disturbing. Blogging, on both the left and right sides of the blogosphere, has become a rather important overall forum for national political discussion that did not exist before the internet. That is, political blogging, in its totality, has become a strong enhancement to American democracy, and is therefore quite a good thing. Because bloggers are essentially citizens engaging in debate, and not reporters, they must necessarily rely on actual reporting from bona fide news sources: cutting off such news from the grand discussion would heavily stifle it, thereby hurting American democracy.
That's a bad thing.
And the honchos at the AP must surely know this. But then, the news business, in the end, is a business. Clearly, the bottom line trumps social obligation, which is what's been making the corporate news media suck so much in recent years, anyway. But this is just tacky. No better than the heavy handed tactics of the music industry. Worse, actually, because most illegal music downloading is of Britney Spears and the like, you know, shit music, inconsequential as far as democracy goes; this AP gambit, however, stands to snuff out this relatively new arena for political debate on the internet.
Further, I don't really understand why they think this hurts their bottom line. I've clicked through countless blog posts, myself, to read AP stories in their entirety, which are always surrounded by the advertising that pays their bills. That is, as far as I can tell, bloggers give AP web articles much more exposure than they would have gotten otherwise, and in the internet ad business, that's gold.
My best bet is that, as print journalism continues to go the way of the dinosaur, old school news businessmen are panicking, which is making them do silly shit. Hopefully, this will blow over after a few months and the AP will regain its senses--otherwise, they'll end up being like Scientology, suing everybody they can think of, just because they're crazy and pissed.
No fucking way I'm paying $12.50 to quote five words.
Posted by Ron at 11:46 PM
FREE MARKET FANTASIES
From the New York Times, Princeton economist Paul Krugman on how deregulation came to be considered a good thing:
Bad Cow Disease
Thus, when Grover Norquist, the anti-tax advocate, was asked about his ultimate goal, he replied that he wanted a restoration of the way America was “up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over. The income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that.”
The late Milton Friedman agreed, calling for the abolition of the Food and Drug Administration. It was unnecessary, he argued: private companies would avoid taking risks with public health to safeguard their reputations and to avoid damaging class-action lawsuits. (Friedman, unlike almost every other conservative I can think of, viewed lawyers as the guardians of free-market capitalism.)
Such hard-core opponents of regulation were once part of the political fringe, but with the rise of modern movement conservatism they moved into the corridors of power. They never had enough votes to abolish the F.D.A. or eliminate meat inspections, but they could and did set about making the agencies charged with ensuring food safety ineffective.
They did this in part by simply denying these agencies enough resources to do the job. For example, the work of the F.D.A. has become vastly more complex over time thanks to the combination of scientific advances and globalization. Yet the agency has a substantially smaller work force now than it did in 1994, the year Republicans took over Congress.
Perhaps even more important, however, was the systematic appointment of foxes to guard henhouses.
Click here for the rest.
The point Krugman goes on to make, and it's quite a good one, is that, in the end, a great deal of this deregulation mania has come back to bite US business on the ass--Korea's current boycott of American beef comes from reasonable fears that the US does far too little to guard against mad cow disease.
The point I want to make, however, is that I'm not full of shit when I go on and on, again and again, about how conservative philosophy, which is probably too kind of a word to use, concerning the government's role in the economy, is responsible for many of the consumer safety stories we've seen in the headlines so often these last few years. That is, conservatives believe the less government interference in the economy, the better it is for everybody; "get the government off the people's backs" sounds really nice, but without Big Government protecting us from inhuman Big Business, we're all fucked. Poison cat food, lead paint and date rape drugs in toys from China, tainted spinach and tomatoes, E. coli hamburgers, all this stuff should have been caught by government regulation agencies before it injured a single American citizen. But these agencies now represent the interests of the industries who think nothing of harming their customers. All because of the ascendancy of right-wing economic philosophy.
Same thing goes for the California energy crisis of 2000-2001. Ditto for Enron and Worldcom. Same for the subprime mortgage crisis. And on and on.
If we're going to allow massive corporations to have great power over our lives in this way, we simply must have a government that is strong enough to play the policeman. On the other hand, that makes it all the more vital to keep these vast concentrations of wealth away from the levers of governance--all they ever do is fuck it all up.
At any rate, I've got a mainstream bigtime economist here who says I'm right.
Posted by Ron at 12:11 AM
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
SPEAKING ILL OF THE DEAD
From osama husseini courtesy of This Modern World:
How Russert et al Planted the Seeds for War
The survivors of those killed in the U.S.'s war in Iraq since the 2003 invasion cannot simply blame Bush. Under the guise of "tough journalism" Russert and others disseminated lies and built the case for invasion even before Bush got to the White House. A letter I sent to Russert tells a slice of the story:
You now have a serious obligation to correct these errors. Iraq did not throw out the weapons inspectors. Butler did it, apparently at the administration's behest. This is important since it sets the terms of how the new inspections regime should be viewed.
It's noteworthy that a sophisticated, experienced journalist like yourself could get so sucked into the cliche of Iraq as aggressor/U.S. as victim that how the administration launched "Desert Fox" is forgotten. It's a case study in the conventional wisdom trumping the facts. I hope to hear from you shortly so that we can rectify this matter.
Yeah, this was an enormous myth being bounced around during the run up to the invasion. Journalists, Congressmen, and White House officials kept humming the mantra "Saddam kicked out the weapons inspectors." Of course, that never happened. The US pulled them out so Clinton could start bombing Iraq while impeachment proceedings against him began in the House.
Tim Russert engaged in a lot of power-enabling bullshit during his tenure on Meet the Press.
I mean, look. There's evil and then there's evil. When Jerry Falwell died last year, I danced a jig--Falwell was a rub-your-face-in-it prick, pushing dangerous ideas and lies from an authoritative position, happily condemning good people on a regular basis. Russert wasn't an asshole, but, like Falwell, he definitely pushed dangerous ideas and lies from an authoritative position, again and again.
Here, check out this search of FAIR's website for the keywords "Tim" and "Russert," and you'll see what I'm talking about.
To be fair, Russert was really no better or worse than any of his high dollar TV press colleagues, but that doesn't make him innocent. Russert, Rather, Brokaw, Jennings, all those guys, it's the same thing: too close to power to really be able to criticize it, too caught up in Washington's inside the beltway herd-think to come up with any original ideas. Ultimately, they're all nothing more than siphons for corporate and government PR. More often than not, that makes them liars, and worse, enablers of profound injustice.
Like the war in Iraq. Or the health care crisis. Or poverty.
I'm not particularly glad that Russert's gone, no jig dancing this time around; he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. But President Bush appears to be a nice guy, too. And that's no defense when tens of thousands of people lie dead because of your actions. We couldn't have started this awful war without Russert's aid. He's responsible.
The really sad thing is that he's just going to be replaced by another corporate media clone who's going to do exactly the same thing.
Posted by Ron at 12:18 AM
Monday, June 16, 2008
BOBBY JINDAL CONTINUES TO BE A BIG ASSHOLE
My adopted state's governor is now GOP hot shit. Really, just shit, when you get right down to it. From Crooks and Liars:
Face The Nation: Jindal Thinks Intelligent
Design Should Be Taught With Evolution
REID: But how about you personally? Where do you stand personally on the issue?
Gov. JINDAL: As a parent, when my kids go to schools, when they go to public schools, I want them to be presented with the best thinking. I want them to be able to make decisions for themselves. I want them to see the best data. I personally think that the life, human life and the world we live in wasn’t created accidentally. I do think that there’s a creator. I’m a Christian. I do think that God played a role in creating not only earth, but mankind. Now, the way that he did it, I’d certainly want my kids to be exposed to the very best science. I don’t want them to be–I don’t want any facts or theories or explanations to be withheld from them because of political correctness. The way we’re going to have smart, intelligent kids is exposing them to the very best science and let them not only decide, but also let them contribute to that body of knowledge.
Click here to watch the video.
Ah yes. A variation on the old "teach the controversy" point of view, which uses reasonable sounding language to undermine science education. That clever Bobby. He's so reasonable, isn't he? He wants kids to be exposed to "the very best science." How reasonable of dear smart Bobby.
Problem is, "intelligent design" isn't science. It's philosophy masquerading as science. To be fair, science is also philosophy, but it is a very very specific kind of philosophy, with its central tenet being that the physical universe is best understood through use of the scientific method. Including "intelligent design" in any science curriculum does nothing but make a joke of science education.
That is, science requires evidence, and there is no evidence for "intelligent design." Really, as far as I understand it, "intelligent design" isn't even good philosophy: it's essentially "gee whiz, the universe is so amazing and complex that God had to have created it." It's kind of stupid, actually. I mean, I don't have a problem with "intelligent design" being included in, say, elective philosophy courses, or courses on comparative religion, or social studies classes because "intelligent design" is an important concept as far as understanding a lot of American politics goes. But it is not science, and has no place in the science classroom.
Which means that Bobby Jindal is a stupid asshole and has no place in the Governor's Mansion up in Baton Rouge, and definitely has no place in Washington D.C. in, well, any capacity at all. Certainly not as Vice President.
Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. You're every bit as retarded as your chosen namesake from the Brady Bunch.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
Posted by Ron at 1:25 AM
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
Obama says his wife did not say 'whitey' in speech
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Democrat Barack Obama's campaign said today that Michelle Obama never used the word "whitey" in a speech from the church pulpit as he launched a Web site to debunk rumors about his campaign.
The rumor that Michelle Obama railed against "whitey" in a diatribe at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ has circulated on conservative Republican blogs for weeks and was repeated by radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. The rumor included claims of a videotape of the speech that would be used to bring down Obama's candidacy this fall.
"No such tape exists," the campaign responds on the site, www.fightthesmears.com. "Michelle Obama has not spoken from the pulpit at Trinity and has not used that word."
Click here for the rest.
Truth be told, the main reason I'm commenting on this story is because the headline is just about the funniest thing I've seen in a week. I mean, what is she? George Jefferson? Pretty much nobody from Michelle Obama's generation ever says "whitey." Clearly, this "whitey" attack is bullshit at face value.
I would even go so far as to say that, even if it were true, it's not that big of a deal. As far as I've ever been able to tell, the racial epithet "whitey" always had more of a connotation criticizing the white power structure, rather than white individuals, and, believe me, the white power structure is still very much in need of criticism. Further, even if "whitey" is to be taken as a racial attack on white people in general, it's like, so what, white people still dominate the United States--"whitey," "cracker," and numerous other anti-white racial slurs will never ever ever be the same thing as the n-word or its ilk; when you're part of the privileged majority they really are simply words. "Whitey" is just kind of lame; the n-word is patently offensive.
But never mind all that. Michelle Obama did not rail against "whitey." It's fucking absurd to think that. But then, it was also absurd to think that John Kerry got his Purple Heart in Vietnam by shooting himself in the foot: the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an independent GOP hatchet smear squad, managed to blanket the airwaves with all kinds of bullshit about Kerry, pulling off the unthinkable, turning an honorable war vet challenging a National Guard deserter for President into a dope smoking hippie piece of shit. Fortunately, the Obama campaign has not forgotten the lessons of '04, and this new Fight the Smears site appears to be part of a coordinated rapid response effort.
Obama doesn't strike me as the kind of Democrat who's just going to roll over and take it. Cool.
Posted by Ron at 12:16 AM
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Why Oil Prices Are So High
At last, an answer that doesn't leave me asking more questions. From CounterPunch, conservative economist Paul Craig Roberts:
The dollar is weak because of large trade and budget deficits, the closing of which is beyond American political will. As abuse wears out the US dollar’s reserve currency role, sellers demand more dollars as a hedge against its declining exchange value and ultimate loss of reserve currency status.
In an effort to forestall a serious recession and further crises in derivative instruments, the Federal Reserve is pouring out liquidity that is financing speculation in oil futures contracts. Hedge funds and investment banks are restoring their impaired capital structures with profits made by speculating in highly leveraged oil future contracts, just as real estate speculators flipping contracts pushed up home prices. The oil futures bubble, too, will pop, hopefully before new derivatives are created on the basis of high oil prices.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi recently stated, “There is no justification for the current rise in prices.” What the minister means is that there are no shortages or supply disruptions. He means no real reasons as distinct from speculative or psychological reasons.
The run up in oil price coincides with a period of heightened US and Israeli military aggression in the Middle East. However, the biggest jump has been in the last 18 months.
When Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, the average price of oil that year was about $27 per barrel, or about $31 in inflation adjusted 2007 dollars. The price rose another $10 in 2004 to an average annual price of $42 (in 2007 dollars), another $12 in 2005, $7 in 2006, and $4 in 2007 to $65. But in the last few months the price has more than doubled to about $135. It is difficult to explain a $70 jump in price in terms other than speculation.
Click here for the rest.
So I've been avoiding this subject for a while now, even as the gas crunch starts to affect my own personal bottom line. Why? Because I've been extraordinarily dissatisfied with the explanations I've heard, explanations from NPR's All Things Considered, the New York Times, PBS's The News Hour, you know, well respected news sources that are supposed to sort this shit out. The most widespread and most unsatisfying explanation appears to be about supply and demand in a global economy where Asia continues to grow at a quick pace. But the Asian economy has been growing quickly since its late 90s meltdown: why are oil prices only now shooting rapidly into the stratosphere? Like I said, unsatisfying. Some economists being interviewed by the above mentioned news sources have, like Roberts, also talked about oil futures speculators, but, unlike Roberts, are very mysterious and even dubious about the role such speculation might play.
So far, Roberts, a conservative economist who has broken ranks with the faithful in recent years, is offering the only explanation with any internal logic and consistency.
If you don't grok economics well, here's what I get out of the above excerpt. Before I go any further, it is important to note that oil, by an American/Saudi arrangement made during the early 70s, is priced in dollars worldwide. And dollars appear to be a big part of the problem. That is, dollars just aren't worth as much as they used to be; consequently, one needs more of them to buy everything, oil in particular.
Our dual deficits, trade and budget, have apparently created intense pressures on the dollar's exchange rate, primarily because we must borrow heavily from foreign nations in order to finance our red ink spending: borrowing in this way, on such an enormous scale, essentially creates masses of new dollars which are poured into the economy like Niagara Falls, causing inflation. In short, the more dollars there are, the cheaper they are. That's what inflation is ultimately, the devaluing of the dollar.
(It's actually much more complicated than this when factoring the important concepts of petrodollars and reserve currency, but I'm just going to leave it with what I've said about dollar inflation affecting oil prices more significantly than prices for other commodities. Especially because I barely grasp this stuff myself.)
Compounding the inflationary pressures of the trade and budget deficits are the super low interest rates that the Federal Reserve Board has been setting in order to keep our entire finance system from collapsing in the face of the mortgage and lending crisis. This, too, by making it cheaper to borrow, creates new money, and causes more inflation, making the dollar lose still more purchasing power. But if I'm reading Roberts correctly, this particular issue is less about inflation than it is about where much of the new money created by these low interest rates is being spent: it's going into oil futures.
Futures, as an economic subject, makes my head hurt, but my understanding of the idea is like this. Investors will bet that a commodity price will either go up or down. If they're betting that the price is going down, they want to sell now while the price is high. But if they're betting that it's going up, they'll buy now while it's cheap, and sell later when it's high. If you get enough investors betting that the price will go up, the price will go up, just because so many investors think it will: investor perception becomes reality simply because all their purchases now create high demand, and high demand for a finite resource, in turn, makes the price go up.
Just go watch that movie Trading Places to get a better explanation of the commodities market.
At any rate, the irony here is that this entire dynamic turns the law of supply and demand on its head. Global oil demand, in the real economy, has remained relatively stable in recent years; supply, according to the Saudis, is plentiful at the moment for all the world's needs. There should be no oil crisis. But demand among investors, however, has skyrocketed because they need somewhere to put all this money being pumped out by the Federal Reserve Board.
If this is actually the case, what we're looking at is an oil bubble, which, like the tech bubble and housing bubble before it, ought to burst at sometime in the future--oil is not really worth as much as investors think it is at the moment, and at some point, the more cautious among the futures set will start to sell it all off, making billions, but leaving other futures investors holding the bag. In the meantime, we're in the midst of handing over those billions, out of our own pockets, to those first few who sell while prices are high. In other words, right now, we're holding the bag.
Now what I want to know is why this bullshit is being allowed to happen. Don't we have any laws or agencies that are supposed to keep this shit from happening?
Posted by Ron at 1:09 AM
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Salmonella outbreak tied to tomatoes reaches 17 states
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Federal officials today hunted for the source of a 17-state salmonella outbreak linked to three types of raw tomatoes, while the list of supermarkets and restaurants yanking those varieties from shelves and menus grew.
McDonald's, Wal-Mart, Burger King, Kroger, Outback Steakhouse, Winn-Dixie and Taco Bell were among the companies that voluntarily withdrew red plum, red Roma or round red tomatoes unless they were grown in certain states and countries.
In addition, officials at the Los Angeles Unified School District — the nation's second largest — said Monday they have "indefinitely suspended" serving uncooked tomatoes.
The FDA is investigating the source of the outbreak, agency spokeswoman Kimberly Rawlings said. "We are working hard and fast on this one and hope to have something as quickly as possible," Rawlings said Monday.
Click here for the rest.
You can add my place of employment to the list restaurants altering their menus in response to this latest tainted food scandal. It's an Italian restaurant. No fresh tomatoes at an Italian restaurant. Big drag. I mean, we are substituting grape tomatoes where we can, but no Margherita pizza, no fresh tomato bruschetta...of course, we don't have any Italians working there, either, but you get the point.
And I call it a scandal because it probably is one.
That is, even though the FDA hasn't got it all figured out yet, I think it's safe to make a couple of predictions about what they will find. First, if these tainted tomatoes were grown in the United States, they most likely came from some kind of gigantic agri-business farming operation. In his book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser relates in great detail how the corporatization of the American food industry has created circumstances that make what would have been only a small outbreak in the past massive and widespread today. Schlosser deals primarily with the E. coli poisonings of ground beef in the early 90s, but the same principle applies to chickens, eggs, and produce--sometimes, as with the recent tainted spinach scandal, produce growers can do everything correctly and safely, only to find that nearby operations dealing with live animals have tainted local water. In short, the centralization of food creation, coupled with corporate fiscal short-sightedness has made our food much less safe than it has been in the past.
Second, Republicans have gutted the regulatory agencies that are supposed to make sure this doesn't happen. When they had the Congress for twelve years, they continually cut funding, so these agencies for years have had neither the resources nor the staff to inspect our food and the companies that produce it. Now that they've had the White House for nearly eight years, they've restaffed these agencies with industry insiders who see regulation and safety as something that only inhibits profit. That is, many of the people running these agencies are now using them to do the exact opposite of what they were established to do in the first place.
In the end, these tainted food outbreaks we seem to experience every other year are the result of almost two decades of psychotic right-wing delusions about how the "free market" will solve all problems. I mean, I guess they have a point: consumers are now rejecting the bad product, tomatoes which may be infected with salmonella, which is, I suppose, a "market correction."
But I sure would hate to be one of those people who got really fucking sick or died from E. coli or whatever it is this week fucking up our food supply. Caveat emptor is only for Barbarians and savages, which is exactly how our corporate capitalist masters see us.
Bunch of fucking assholes.
Posted by Ron at 12:42 AM