Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Presidents don't salute

By Capt. Fogg

In the 24 hour news world, domestic abuse, particularly athlete and celebrity domestic abuse is the theme of the week.  It's likely to remain so until the abuse stories become so minor it becomes necessary to manufacture them or until some other chew toy is tossed to the media by circumstances.  What that will be, which of many will be picked up by CNN or Fox as the gonfallon of the next cycle is hard to predict.

Today's prime candidate for our next obsession   is the video clip of
Obama exiting a helicopter and saluting the marine guard with a cup of coffee in his hand.  The local Fox outlet took time out from covering wars and calamities and domestic abuse stories to discuss the implied disrespect for the people who sacrifice for "our freedom" or get dressed up to help the president off a helicopter, which ever comes first.

One characteristic of the news in our time is that we get enough information to prop up the theme of the story but never nearly enough to let you speculate on how it fits into the big picture.  Surprise surprise, presidents saluting the military is rather new to be calling it a tradition.  I believe it started with Reagan, who of course served WW II in Hollywood.  Some nations forbid saluting while "uncovered" or not wearing a hat.  According to Marine protocol:

" Marines do not render the hand salute when out of uniform or when uncovered."  

Whether or not an "uncovered"  or out of uniform president,  or any other civilian is required to return such a salute is open to interpretation .  There is no universal rule and one must remember commuting by helicopter is as common as driving to work or taking the bus is for the rest of us -- not much of a public ceremony. There is no rule about doing something because Reagan's PR people told Reagan to do it.


"The gesture is of course quite wrong: Such a salute has always required the wearing of a uniform.  It represents an exaggeration of the president's military role."  Wrote author and historian John Lukacs wrote in The New York Times in 2003 when Bush was in the White house and it was un-American to criticize the Warpresident..
It does seem that saluting with a cup of coffee seems a bit thoughtless or impolitic, or while talking on the telephone -- even if you're talking to Putin or scheduling an attack on Syria, but that alone doesn't sufficiently serve the cause of providing fodder for the Obamabashers.  We have to call it a "latte" because coffee with milk in it isn't as funny or as easy a target for scorn.  We must not mention or take note that when Bush saluted with a dog under his arm or when Eisenhower didn't salute at all we didn't melt into a puddle of contempt on the floor. We must not question the fact that the president is a civilian and  doesn't have a uniform to wear even if he is a commander in chief or ask whether he's subject to military protocols.  This is Obama we're talking about and this is the man we must impugn and impede and insult whether the nation is at peril. or not.

(Cross posted from Human Voices)

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The man who would be king

By Capt. Fogg

President Obama wants to be a king, you know.  We hear that all the time.  He's a tyrant, he appoints Czars to run things, but of course he gets nothing done and plays golf while hordes of armed terrorists cross the borders disguised as children he invited here with his "policies." Never mind that the influx peaked in 2008. 

His policies -- his executive orders -- you know he's issued more of them than any other president and he's trashing the constitution by doing it!

Rand Paul, the man who would be president says his first executive order would be to repeal all previous executive orders, doesn't seem to see that particular order as trashing the constitution or indicating royal presumptions of his own and perhaps because he also asserts that revoking all previous orders would be his only and final order.

Of course the entire premise, that our current executive branch operates primarily by autocratic executive order and in disregard for the "will of the people" (as ignored and filibustered by Congress)  is false.  In fact Obama and his predecessor issued far, far fewer of them than any president in my lifetime.  If the facts don't fit, you're full of shit as Mr. Cochran might have said -- and he would be right.

But Paul's presidential campaign is not about truth or even about Democracy.  It's all about appealing to the irrational and fact-free passions of  the Party and apparently he had to think for a moment about repealing Truman's integration of the military and indeed Lincoln's executive order freeing of the slaves and Eisenhower's desegregation of schools before saying he would repeal and re-instate those which had some saving grace.  One can only imagine the debate about re-instating those three, but I have to wonder about the Napoleonic ego of someone who would repeal all the executive orders of the Washington administration onward and using his own judgement, re-order those he agreed with.  

To the people who cheered and applauded this proclamation without bothering to check any facts or perhaps to those who care little for facts or are able to dismiss them for some metaphysical reasons President Paul is a prospect devoutly to be wished because to those who really would be kings, all that which stands in the way must be done away with, whether true or false, good or bad or disastrous.

(Cross posted at Human Voices)

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Thursday, September 11, 2014


By  Capt. Fogg

Riding my new bike yesterday, an elderly driver decided that the exit ramp was no longer the place for her and suddenly swerved back into the road  without looking.  It just so happens that's exactly where I was.  I managed to avoid her at some risk of falling, but it happened so fast there was no question of using my horn and she simply continued on her way somewhere at ten under the limit. Why do I mention this?  Because it's 9/11 again, the day of self pity and choreographed mourning and as the fellow on the news this morning said, "I used to feel invincible but now I feel so vulnerable."

Do we need a better example of how erratically, erroneously and stupidly people assess risk?  If we were to make a statistically accurate list ranking the possibility of being harmed by a terrorist attack on any given day, would it be below a list of thousands of possibilities -- tens of thousands -- hundreds of thousands?  But I didn't look over my shoulder in fear and dread getting on the bike on a sunny Wednesday afternoon and I'm not expecting an airplane to crash into my house in rural Florida today either. The chances of getting hurt by some nice old lady just a mile or so from home is almost incalculably larger, yet still small enough that I don't tremble in my steel toe boots thinking about the danger stalking the roads.  Heart attacks, cancer, strokes, a fall in the bathroom, these are all things I legitimately worry about at my age and try to avoid.  Terrorist attacks? Really?  Isn't that an insult to people who wake up every morning in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Israel, Lebanon? 

But self pity and self absorption are so American.  Beheadings and the other horrors of the day don't count so much unless it's an American head rolling and thousands dead anywhere hardly count in comparison to one possibly unjust American death.

I don't know how much Cola and shoes and Toyotas the obsession of the day will sell on CNN and Fox, but it sells fear by the carload.  It sells so much fear that most of us still haven't noticed that we -- or our congress, that is, signed away the 4th amendment for the great majority of the country, that we began pumping up our police departments with heavy weaponry even in remote places like Wyoming in order to equip them for the hordes of Muslims falling from the sky over the Cheney ranch. It sold domestic surveillance, it sold countless quasi-military weapons. It sold the longest and  most expensive wars in our history. We went to war with an uninvolved country and created so much chaos and so big a power vacuum that Iraq became helpless to keep out Al Qaeda and now ISIS.

But we still feel not only sorry for ourselves, but guilty for not feeling sorry enough.  Eventually 9/11 will go the way of the Alamo, the Maine and Pearl Harbor, but not soon enough for me because as long as we weep and moan and fear to turn our heads lest a fearful beast pursues us, as long as we continue to conduct our petty civil wars,  we won't do a damned thing about the real world and its real troubles.

(Cross posted to Human Voices)


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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Lunatic Soul: "Cold"

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Here's a track off the forthcoming album, its fourth, by Lunatic Soul, Walking on a Flashlight Beam.

Lunatic Soul is the solo project (known for its lack of electric guitars) of Riverside singer and bassist Mariusz Duda (no relation that I'm aware of to Lucas Duda of the New York Mets, currently lighting it up on my fantasy team).

So basically, this is a song off an album by the lead member of a band that is often compared to Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree, being released by my favourite label, Kscope.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Welcome to the world of Polish post-prog.


Lunatic Soul - Cold (from Walking on a Flashlight Beam) from Kscope on Vimeo.


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Friday, September 05, 2014

Economy does better under Democrats: It’s the policies, stupid!

By Frank Moraes

If you look at economic data even as casually as I do, you cannot have missed noticing that the United States’ economy does better under Democratic presidents than it does under Republican presidents — a lot better. Looking at all the presidents after World War II, the economy grows at about twice the rate under Democrats as it does Republicans. I’ve never thought that much about it. I’ve always figured that it was due to a lot of luck.

Well, I was just over at Mark Thoma’s blog (absolutely essential daily reading if you are at all interested in economics) and he posted a paper by Alan Blinder and Mark Watson, The US Economy Performs Better Under Democratic Presidents. Why? These two Princeton economists look seriously at this question and conclude… Well, they are academics and so it is all very nuanced and complicated. But let me see if I can lay it out for you.

First they looked at both fiscal and monetary policy to see if that explained anything. There was no correlation with fiscal policy (stimulus), and the monetary policy actually favored the Republicans. So the two colossal economic drivers have nothing to do with the fact that Democratic presidents are far better for the economy than Republicans. That’s important to remember.

They next looked at five kinds of economic shocks that might indicate that it is just a matter of luck. The shocks are: oil price; productivity; foreign growth; consumer expectations; and defense spending. When they included all of these, half of the effect was explained. But that doesn’t mean that these things are all random. Oil and military shocks are both affected by government policy. What’s interesting is that consumer confidence goes up during Democratic presidencies. This is a big part of the correlation. The authors ask, “Did [the public] know something economists didn’t?” All I can say is that it wouldn’t be surprising; the economic profession is known for its cluelessness.

But that leaves half the effect of better economic performance under Democratic presidents unexplained. I have an idea: it’s the policies, stupid. Especially over the last four decades, Republicans seem far more interested in enriching their already rich friends than doing what is best for the economy. For example, I’m sure that the Iraq War was terrible for our economy. The economy did grow through the early years of it, but that was what it was already doing. I’m talking opportunity cost here. We could have built roads and bridges and factories; we could have educated more people and done more research; in other words: we could have built our nation’s infrastructure with the money we spent blowing up things in Iraq. I have been very hard on both Presidents Clinton and Obama for their foreign policies. But there is no doubt that as lethal as their policies are, they are not huge economic drags.

Similarly, when Republicans want to stimulate the economy, they generally do it in the most inefficient way possible: they give lots of money to people who already have more money than they can spend. Democrats are much more efficient with programs like the payroll tax holiday and extended unemployment benefits. While Blinder and Watson looked at total fiscal policy, they didn’t look at it’s effectiveness. I suspect if they did, they would find a big effect there as well.

So the bottom line is that Democratic presidents produce better economic growth because they offer better economic policy. The Republican prescription of convincing people to vote for them to “get the darkies” so they can give tax cuts to the rich and start bloody good wars does not lead to a good economy.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Louisiana judge exposes his ignorance (and bigotry) in upholding state's same-sex marriage ban

By Michael J.W. Stickings

With most of the country moving in a progressive direction on same-sex marriage, you knew you could count on a retrograde place like Louisiana to strike a blow for good-ol'-fashioned stupidity, bigotry, and medievalism:

People who think gay Americans do not deserve the same rights as straight Americans finally have something to celebrate.

After a disastrous losing streak in the federal courts — every single federal court to consider the question after the Supreme Court struck down the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013 has sided against marriage discrimination — Team Anti-Gay finally found a single court in Louisiana that was willing to stand up for the the principle that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry. Judge Martin Feldman, a Reagan appointee to the federal trial bench, has now written the only federal court decision in the country holding that gay couples are not entitled to the same rights as straight couples.

Oh, but it took some of the usual right-wing ignorance to make it happen:

Political operatives seeking to cast aspersions on Feldman's approach to gay rights will find a lot to work with in his opinion. At one point, he describes being gay as one of several "lifestyle choices" a person can make. At another point in his opinion, he compares same-sex marriage to marriage between "aunt and niece," "aunt and nephew," or "father and child." He also likens marriage equality to polygamous marriages.

And on and on. ThinkProgress goes on to pick apart what turns out to be a remarkably unlearned opinion, an opinion obviously rooted not in an appreciation for the law, nor in an understanding of the issue at hand, but in the judge's own biases, an opinion that screams right-wing judicial activism. It's bigotry with respect to gay rights, but also astonishing ignorance with respect to the law, as well as to the basic elements of judicial review.

But this guy's a Republican. What else did you expect?

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The crisis of the new order

By Richard K. Barry

I am currently reading Arthur M. Schlesinger's 1957 book The Crisis of the Old Order: 1919-1933. It's not really important why. I just am.

On page 68 of the Houghton Mifflin edition I came across this commentary on factors that led to the stock market crash of 1929:
In time it would appear that even the leaders of business could not decipher the intricate financial structures they were erecting. But for the moment everyone understood that there was an endless source of money and power, a roulette wheel at which no one lost. More and more the nation's passions centred on the feverish trading in the narrow streets at the lower tip of Manhattan Island.

Unless one is particularly dense, it's difficult not to think of 2008 and the subprime mortgage crisis, derivatives, etc.

Closer to today, however, I recall reading a piece in Forbes Magazine back in April which discussed Warren Buffett's current thinking. 

Robert Lenzner wrote:
Warren Buffett is well known for his famous warning about derivatives as “weapons of mass destruction.” Well, recently he went much further with Forbes Magazine, flatly prognosticating someday (he doesn’t known when) a massive financial “discontinuity,” which the dictionary refers to as an “ending, expiration, halt, lapse, a shutdown, a stoppage,” that could very well be worse than 2008. What terribly worries him is that he simply doesn’t understand the massive derivatives position on the balance sheet of J.P. MorganChase .” Like many other financial experts Buffett can’t really figure out the financial health of JPM’s derivatives. It is impossible for anyone to divine the extent that JPM is profiting or losing money or the risks entailed in the identity of counterparties, the quality of the collateral used, and the amount of leverage employed.

Yes, well...

(Cross-posted at Culturolio.)

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Hard to be a pacifist

By Mustang Bobby

After hearing about another execution of an American journalist held hostage by ISIS, the visceral reaction comes easily.  Even the most even-tempered and non-violent soul finds the gorge rising in their throat and the simple solutions easily form in the mind: "Find them, kill them, and make sure they know who did it and why."

We have the forces; we have the means and the power to hunt down these wretched fanatics and grind them to powder.  There is no place on the planet they can hide.  We got bin Laden, so why can't we marshal all the secret weapons and black ops teams like the ones we see on TV?  Why isn't a bullet between the eyes the way to do it?

Because it's what they want.  It is what they are counting on.  To ISIS and al-Qaeda, life is expendable and replaceable.  One more dead leader to them means they replace him with another; one more drone attack by us furthers their cause and draws new men to their cause.  We have been taking out their leaders since before we invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and still they grow.  We took out the most hunted man in the world and that hasn't stopped them from replacing him.

We are seeing the consequences of being goaded into war.  We are seeing the result of generations of exploitation and lorded-over exceptionalism and self-styled supremacy.  The attacks against the West are not because we are not Muslim; they attack people of their own faith.  They are using religion as a facade in the same way a bigot uses the bible to justify racism, homophobia, and misogyny, and they allow their visceral hatred of those that bullied them to control their actions as well.  Their only hope is that we will respond in kind.  And we have.

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Some thoughts on prejudice

By Capt. Fogg

Well, if you told me you were drowning
I would not lend a hand
I've seen your face before my friend
But I don't know if you know who I am
Well, I was there and I saw what you did
I saw it with my own two eyes
So you can wipe off that grin,
I know where you've been
It's all been a pack of lies

-Phil Collins-

What is an observation without a frame of reference? We like to think we can observe facts and make rational deductions, but we can't. Anyone with training in psychology as it pertains to law enforcement is likely to tell you that eye witness accounts of the same occurrence will vary markedly and it's been clearly demonstrated that observers concentrating on one thing will be completely unaware of important people and objects in their direct view.

When I read about an unarmed African American "child" kneeling with his hands up being shot multiple times, I was truly irate, I was ready to write off reports of his just having perpetrated a class B felony and his having charged a policeman who had ordered him to stop as racism. It fits with my habitual beliefs about the police and racism. I may well have been totally wrong and it may not be the first time, but if it turns out that the 6 foot 4 200 pound "Child" did in fact charge the officer, things might just be other than I was primed to believe.

You might relate it to the halo effect: the tendency to have a view of people and things because of, in this case, his being a member of a traditionally disadvantaged class We do after all read about all sorts of injustice based on race and racism seems to explain a lot. But sometimes, of course we're wrong. Sometimes we fail to see things through the eyes of people who run stores and gas stations in "bad" areas whose lives are in danger every day. Is it too easy for me to condemn it from the safety of my gated community and the comfort of my air conditioned office? It depends on your viewpoint, your frame of reference, the things you associate with other things because your human and you have a memory.

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Saturday, August 30, 2014

Robert Stein (1924-2014)

By Michael J.W. Stickings

(I apologize for the lateness of this post. I was away on vacation for a while and not doing much writing. So I am coming belatedly to this sad event.)

Last month, Robert Stein, author of the blog Connecting the Dots and guest contributor here at The Reaction, died at the age of 90. Bob led an amazing life as an editor, publisher, media critic, and journalism teacher. (Go to his site and have a look at the wonderful photo album his family posted, including photos of Bob with celebrities and politicians, as well as more domestic moments.) My own relationship with Bob was limited to e-mails and our joint interest in political blogging, but even in our limited interaction over the years I could tell he was a warm, kind, generous, extremely intelligent, and truly remarkable man.

He was blogging up until the end of March, and the last guest post of his here was one that meant a great deal to me, "The View from 90." You see, unlike so many of those who write about politics, Bob was not full of vitriol. He had some strong views, and he expressed them, but he was not out to cause harm, not out to score political points, and in many of his posts what came through most clearly, and most elegantly, was his desire to share his experiences with us, his readers, experiences from a long life well lived, having seen and having learned so much, having acquired a perspective – and, indeed, the wisdom – that far exceeds the morass of our day-to-day political arena. And as one of his readers, and as an acquaintance, I did learn a great deal from him, and there was just so much to admire in what he had to say about the world around him, and about the incredible things he had done and seen.

I wish I could pick out 20 or 30 or 50 or 100 posts of his that you should read, and you should go have a look through his archives, but I'll single out one more, which also appeared here, "A Life in Black and White," about race in America, from July of last year. What struck me then, and what lingers still when I think about Bob, is the hope for a better future that shines so brightly through everything he was ever writing about, that gave his writing so much life and that seemed to define his outlook on the world. (Another great post that stood out for me was "A Day That Lives in Infamy and Me," from last December, about World War II.)

As he wrote at the end of "The View from 90": "As I blew out a blast furnace of birthday candles on this weekend of ominous headlines, I was silently repeating Dr. Pangloss' mantra, that with a little courage – and some luck – we may all soon be living again in "the best of all possible worlds."

I hope so, Bob. I really hope so. Rest in peace.


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