Custom Search

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sculpture As Prophecy

The above sculpture can be found by a Seventh Street Washington Mutual entrance in Los Angeles. In front of the statue is a poem by Phillip Larkin which follows.

They said
I had a head
for business.
They said
to get ahead
I had to lose
my head.
They said
be concrete
& I became
They said
go, my son,
divide, conquer.
I did my best.

The sculpture was built in 1990 to protest the '80s saving & loans bailout (provided to the American taxpayer by John McCain, Shambollocks shall remind you). Its current placement proves distinctly prophetic. Two decades from now, let's make sure hard lessons will be learned so that this statue reflects an understanding that the market not only provides but can just as casually dissolve assets at an alarming rate.

Picture from View From A Loft.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How Tom Wolfe's Masters of the Universe Are Faring

Even though we Americans still await someone, anyone to step into the Great Leadership Vacuum of 2008 (seriously, is there ANYONE out there who wants to be the adult and speak bluntly about what lies ahead of us, post-bailout? McCain? Obama? Jim Belushi? Every passing day makes me a bigger fan of Lincoln and FDR), our great writers have begun to add their two cents. Saturday it was Tom Wolfe, who checked in on his 'Masters of the Universe' for the New York Times. Shambollocks' long and passionate admiration for Mr. Wolfe's career has already been noted. Take it away, Tommy:

So where does this leave the Masters of the Universe? In Greenwich, Conn., mainly. The hottest, brightest, most ambitious young men began abandoning investment banking in favor of hedge funds six years ago. Your correspondent can describe scenes of raging carotid-aneurytic anger as the young hotshots resigned. Security goons seized them by the elbow and marched them off the floor at six miles an hour. They couldn’t touch anything in or on their desks — not even the framed picture of Mom and Buddy and Sis, propped upright from behind by little cardboard wings covered in synthetic velvet — so furious were their superiors. Their biggest producers and future leaders were walking out on them.

Greenwich is the center of the Masters’ hedge-fund world, replacing Wall Street. For five years, the heart of Wall Street, the fabled Floor of the New York Stock Exchange, has been gradually emptying out. A hundred years ago, the Floor was a club for gentlemen oligarchs. Only men with social credentials could have one of the insider “seats” on the Floor. By last year, when your correspondent paid his one and only visit to the Floor, one member came up to another and informed him that he, like so many others recently, was leaving the Exchange for good.

“What will you be doing?”

“I’m joining the Fire Department.”

“The Fire Department? In what capacity?”

“I’ll be a firefighter. The pension plan is awesome.”

Incidentally, there are no seats on the Floor, none that this correspondent ever saw. The Exchange is already an anachronism, like Broadway. Everything is done by computer today. Hanging out on the Floor of the Exchange is like hanging out at OTB. Broadway and the Exchange are like the first thing you see when you enter Disneyland in California. You find yourself in a turn-of-the-last-century town with a trolley and an apothecary and a barber shop. That’s Broadway and Wall Street today.

It may dash your hopes for that nice warm feeling called Schadenfreude, but the Masters of the Universe are smarter than the people they left behind at the investment banks. Their hedge funds have blown up here and there, but unlike the investment banks, they are still very much in business. They have hurriedly pulled themselves into defensive positions inside their shells, like turtles. Their Armageddon, if any, will not come for two more days, which is to say, Tuesday, Sept. 30.

Most hedge funds open up a crack on Sept. 30, Dec. 31, March 31 and June 30 to give investors the chance to “redeem” their investments, meaning take their money out. These moments are called gates, like a series of gates in a prison. The gate is the limit, the fixed percentage of your money, that the fund will allow you to take out at one time. Even with these strict caps on withdrawals, some funds may end up nothing but shells.

Shed no tears for the Masters of the Universe, however, not that your correspondent actually thought you might. Most of the young Masters already have their own personal nut free and clear. “Nut” is the term for the amount of money you need salted away in weather-proof investments in order to generate enough interest to live comfortably in Greenwich on Round Hill Road, Pecksland Road or Field Point Road in a house built before the First World War in an enchanting European style, preferably made of stone featuring the odd turret, with a minimum of five acres around it and big enough to be called a manor. Every Master of the Universe knows the number.

Well, thanks Mr. Wolfe. Now I look toward the end of the month with dread, knowing that this could be The Day The Hedge Funds Die. But that is what writers should do-inform us. And leaders should lead us. Which means someone, please, anyone, step up to a podium this week and, damn the election year, tell us where we are going. I would have much more faith for this bailout if those representatives of ours who have pushed for it could tell us where we will be afterwards with confidence. Scaring people is not leadership. It's fraud.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Sarah Silverman for Obama

I'm not a big Sarah Silverman fan. Much of what I find transgressive about her material is so bound up in the fact that she's a LoooonnngIsland (all one word when pronounced) Jewish Princess...and I don't find that all too transgressive. Yes, when it comes to female comedians I'm a misogynist. Send the complaints to the email at the top.

Sarah has made a video promoting old Jews in Florida to vote for Obama. I further can't stand celebrity endorsements for any candidate. One, who cares? Two, it further emboldens the cavemen that Democrats are all celebrities. But this one is pretty damn funny. Here's the link. Enjoy.

Raiders Of The Lost Ark: The Adaptation

OK, everybody needs a lift today. Too much serious news! Combine the economic mess with the Metrodome massacre my White Sox just endured in Minneapolis, and I, in particular, need a solid smile-maker.

Four or five years ago, I read where Quentin Tarantino planned on showing a fan film of Raiders Of The Lost Ark at his theater in Austin. The film was created by teenagers at the time of the film's release, and it took them eight years to complete their shot-for-shot remake. What a story! I thought to myself. Raiders Of The Lost Ark is one of a small number of works of art that have, no doubt about it, changed my life. It is my favorite film of all time. I selected the location of my honeymoon-Egypt-in part because of the film. For a nerd, the character of a heroic scholar was absolutely intoxicating. I still want to be Indiana Jones.

Well, I've shared the story about the fan film with my fellow Raiders geeks. No one had ever heard of a copy that they could get. It seemed to me like the Ark itself.

Until yesterday. RetroThing found a clip of the film on YouTube and tells more of the behind-the-scenes story. Without further ado, fans. Your guaranteed weekend smile-maker- Raiders Of The Lost Ark- The Adaptation.

I know, only the beginning. I will try to find the whole thing yet, and then we will have a Shambollocks viewing party. Promise.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Libor And Why You Should Know It

I don't know much about economics. I never took Econ 101, and most of what I know I've gleaned from reading Adam Smith or listening to my father. Not very contemporary or altogether reliable sources, those. I've always wondered what the banks take into account when they set their rates. I know they take the Fed's exchange rate into account, but that does not change on a daily basis. International banking must use a more precise indicator.

They do. It's called the Libor (British Bankers’ Association’s London Interbank Offered Rate). The Libor is the rate at which British money traders make their transactions. You can find all of this out and more in this week's London Review of Books.

Brokers in major money-market currencies don’t work as individuals, but in teams of up to a dozen or more, sitting close together in subsections of large, open-plan offices. Good eyesight is useful – trainees still sometimes called ‘board boys’ write unfilled bids to borrow and offers to lend on whiteboards surrounding clusters of brokers’ desks, and you can occasionally see a broker using binoculars to read a distant whiteboard or screen – but a more crucial skill is ‘broker’s ear’: the capacity to monitor what is being said by all the other brokers at nearby desks, despite the noise and while at the same time holding a voicebox conversation with a client. As one broker put it to me: ‘When you’re on the desk you’re expected to hear everyone else’s conversations as well, because they’re all relevant to you, and if you’re on the phone speaking to someone about what’s going on in the market there could be a hot piece of information coming in with one of your colleagues that you would want to tell your clients, so you’ve got to be able to hear it coming in as you’re speaking to the person.’

When you first encounter it, broker’s ear is disconcerting. You’ll be sitting beside a broker at his desk, thinking he’s fully engaged in his conversation with you, when suddenly he’ll respond to a question or comment, from several desks away, that you simply hadn’t registered. It’s an embodied skill that affects the way Libor is calculated. The inputs to the calculation are provided daily by the money-market traders from banks that are on panels established by the British Bankers’ Association. There is one panel for each currency, and those for the main currencies each have 16 banks on them. What each bank has to provide is the rate at which it could borrow funds (‘unsecured’ – that is, backed only by the bank’s creditworthiness, not more specific collateral – and ‘governed by the laws of England and Wales’), ‘were it to do so by asking for and then accepting interbank offers in reasonable market size just prior to 11.00’ in the currency and for the time period in question.

Fascinating. One benefit of entering the New Depression is that you get to learn all this quirky knowledge about how things worked before the fall. Kind of like learning how to do a post-mortem during a post-mortem.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hank Paulson Spam Letter

I don't know if you have seen this. I caught it at Boing Boing. Somebody came up with a satiric letter from Henry Paulson which reads like the Nigerian spam I'm sure you've received. Pretty hilarious and to the point notwithstanding.

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully Minister of Treasury Paulson

It is a scam, people. Our money is now going to bailout arrogant gamblers who wouldn't loan you a dime to save their own life. Watch the way your congressmen vote on this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What Taxes We Will Pay

John McCain keeps stating in ads that under President Obama Americans will pay more taxes. We at Shambollocks actually believe that there should be a tax increase to bring down the sky-high national debt, but that is another issue. We have posted before that McCain's statements are lies. But we also know that most of our readers are, like ourselves, visual learners. The blog chartjunk gives us an exact diagram of how the tax policies of each candidate will effect us:

As you can see from the chart, Obama will actually give bigger tax breaks to most of us. McCain, as per Republican usual, plans on cutting taxes more for the rich. Like I've asked before, when was the last time a rich person did anything for you? So, why would you vote to give them a break?

Four More Years of Bush

The Washington Post today reports about how the top levels of McCain's campaign, in particular the staff around Sarah Palin, are now rife with members of the Bush administration.

From Mark Wallace, a Bush appointee to the United Nations, to Tucker Eskew, who ran strategic communications for the Bush White House, to Greg Jenkins, who served as the deputy assistant to Bush in his first term and was executive director of the 2004 inauguration, Palin was surrounded on the trip home by operatives deeply rooted in the Bush administration.

The clutch of Bush veterans helping to coach Palin reflects a larger reality about Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign: Far from being a group of outsiders to the Republican Party power structure, it is now run largely by skilled operatives who learned their crafts in successive Bush campaigns and various jobs across the Bush government over the past eight years.

The team has been assembled and led by Steve Schmidt, a sharp-witted, low-key strategist who has emerged as the campaign's day-to-day operations chief after the ouster of a group of sometimes undisciplined McCain loyalists. Schmidt's operation is tightly run and hard-nosed -- made up of policy advisers, communications experts, advance people and lower-level aides, many of them old friends who have worked together for the last eight years, and whose presence lends a familiar vibe to the Palin operation.

Republicans have been heartened by the effectiveness of the new McCain organization, which has helped put McCain back in serious contention for the White House, causing restlessness among Democrats who believed the race was Sen. Barack Obama's to lose. Dana Perino, the White House spokeswoman, expressed pride at what her former colleagues have been able to accomplish.

"We had a great team -- they're the best in the business, and I'm sure the campaign feels fortunate to have them," Perino said.

People, people-do not delude yourselves that John McCain will bring any change to the White House. He will continue the same policies that have led to a failed war, a failed economy, and a barnkrupt government. The day after the election, let's have all of these Bushies updating their resumes.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Econ 101

It has been a wild two weeks for the American economy, and we haven't hit bottom yet. We should prepare for the worst, and readjust our expectations that the good times are just around the corner. Many Americans have an asset problem right now. Their savings are tied into their homes and their 401ks, two products that have not grown for a few quarters. We do not have true savings, and thus zero liquidity. In an economic downturn, this is BAD news. My father taught me from an early age to always, always have cash at hand. We Americans must save our way through this economic crisis.

OK, but what about a macro economic view? Well, John Lanchester in last weeks London Review of Books gives a wonderful primer on exactly how we find ourselves in this mess:

The complexity is such that even the people who know what they’re doing don’t always know what they’re doing. Derivatives are extensively used in arbitrage. That’s the name of investments which effectively bet both ways on the market, exploiting small differences in price to make what should be risk-free profits. (It’s what Leeson was supposed to be doing, exploiting tiny differences in the price of Nikkei 225 futures between the Osaka Securities Exchange, where trading was electronic, and the Singapore International Monetary Exchange, where it wasn’t. The gap in price would last only for a couple of seconds, and in that gap Barings would buy low and sell high – a guaranteed, risk-free profit.) The complexity of the mathematics involved in derivatives can’t be exaggerated. This was the reason John Meriwether, a famous bond trader, employed Myron Scholes – of the Scholes-Black equation – and the man with whom Scholes shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Economics, Robert Merton, to be directors and cofounders of his new hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management. (A word on the term ‘hedge fund’: it is misleading. Hedge funds are pools of private capital, operating without the legal restrictions that affect other forms of collective investment. Many of them make big bets on the markets, using super-sophisticated rocket-sciencey investment techniques.) The idea was to use these big brains to create a highly leveraged, arbitraged, no-risk investment portfolio designed to profit whatever happened, whether the market went up, down, sideways or popped out for a cheese sandwich. LTCM quadrupled in value in its first four years, then imploded in the chaos that followed Russia’s default on its foreign-debt obligations in 1998. The fund had equity – that’s to say, actual money you could put your hands on – of $4.72 billion, which sounds pretty healthy, except that it was exposed, thanks to the miracles of borrowing, leverage and derivatives, to $1.25 trillion of risk. So if it went broke, LTCM would leave a $1.25 trillion hole in the global financial system. The big brains had made a classic mistake: they treated a very unlikely thing (the default and its consequences) as if it were impossible. As Keynes once observed (he who made himself and his college rich by spending half an hour a day in bed playing the stock market), there is nothing so disastrous as a rational policy in an irrational world.

The global economy has been run by statisticians and professional gamblers for far too long. Individuals who believe they can model a market flawlessly will lose money flawlessly. It is that simple. If someone comes across as too bright for their own good, they most likely are. We should not bail out these individuals or companies because it only rewards irresponsible behavior. It is the same as giving a drunk the money to get his vehicle out of the city pound. I do not believe markets need to be heavily regulated, but I do believe that there should be appropriate consequences for ridiculous risks.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Conservative for Obama

Last week we had an Obama endorsement from libertarians. This week we have one from a conservative, in particular Wick Allison, a former publisher of the National Review. Writing in this month's D Magazine, Wick writes that Obama is the only true conservative in the race:

But today it is so-called conservatives who are cemented to political programs when they clearly don’t work. The Bush tax cuts—a solution for which there was no real problem and which he refused to end even when the nation went to war—led to huge deficit spending and a $3 trillion growth in the federal debt. Facing this, John McCain pumps his “conservative” credentials by proposing even bigger tax cuts. Meanwhile, a movement that once fought for limited government has presided over the greatest growth of government in our history. That is not conservatism; it is profligacy using conservatism as a mask.

Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world “safe for democracy.” It is John McCain who says America’s job is to “defeat evil,” a theological expansion of the nation’s mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.

This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse.

Barack Obama is not my ideal candidate for president. (In fact, I made the maximum donation to John McCain during the primaries, when there was still hope he might come to his senses.) But I now see that Obama is almost the ideal candidate for this moment in American history. I disagree with him on many issues. But those don’t matter as much as what Obama offers, which is a deeply conservative view of the world. Nobody can read Obama’s books (which, it is worth noting, he wrote himself) or listen to him speak without realizing that this is a thoughtful, pragmatic, and prudent man. It gives me comfort just to think that after eight years of George W. Bush we will have a president who has actually read the Federalist Papers.

Most important, Obama will be a realist. I doubt he will taunt Russia, as McCain has, at the very moment when our national interest requires it as an ally. The crucial distinction in my mind is that, unlike John McCain, I am convinced he will not impulsively take us into another war unless American national interests are directly threatened.

“Every great cause,” Eric Hoffer wrote, “begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” As a cause, conservatism may be dead. But as a stance, as a way of making judgments in a complex and difficult world, I believe it is very much alive in the instincts and predispositions of a liberal named Barack Obama.

Wick, welcome to our side. We need more like you, though, to send a clear signal to Republicans that their brand of greed, God, and guns before good governance is over.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More Vote Suppression

The Daily Telegraph , in London, has an article today about how the Michigan Republican party will try to suppress the votes of those whose homes' have been foreclosed. Why not an American paper? Because the American newspapers suck.

Macomb County Republican Party Chairman James Carabelli was quoted as saying last week by the Michigan Messenger web paper that "We will have a list of foreclosed homes and will make sure people aren't voting from those addresses."

Shambollocks has already noted this Republican strategy here. If you vote Republican this year, please be aware of the kind of people for which you are voting. They hold the importance of the individual vote in contempt, and therefore our democracy.

Drill, Baby Drill!

Thank you, Rudy Guiliani. The man who can't finish a sentence without using the numbers 911 gave America's mindless a new chant to replace "U-S-A! U-S-A!". Thanks to his introduction of Sarah Palin, the new chant is "Drill, baby drill!"

So wait. The solution for our addiction to a substance is to find closer ways to obtain the junk? Who does this help exactly?

Thomas Friedman wrote that this is like chanting "Typewriter! Typewriter!" at the beginning of the IT revolution. He's right. And I was OK with it when it was just Republicans who were foolish, but...

Yes, that's right! According to Time, House Democrats passed a bill allowing for off-shore drilling last night. What maroons! Why don't the Democrats just leave town. Shouldn't the majority party control the debate on most issues? It seems like the Republicans and Bush can do whatever they want.

Yes, the majority of people want off-shore drilling. A majority of people want greater government service. That same majority also doesn't want to pay more taxes. If we ruled by majority, our country wouldn't have lasted twenty years.

Leadership, people. It's why we elect you. Stand up for what you know to be right!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

DFW and John McCain

Over the last two days, I have been nose deep in the work of David Foster Wallace who, unless you don't own a computer, killed himself Friday evening. David suffered from severe depression and had obviously decided that all the medications and electro-shock treatments were not doing anything but prolonging his pain. We at Shambollocks know all too well the staggering difficulties faced by those who suffer from mental illness and their loved ones, and our deepest sympathy goes out to Mr. Wallace's family and friends.

I attended college in what may be called the 'DFW Epoch'. In 1996, Wallace's Infinte Jest was published, and it had the kind of impact in the literature world that Pulp Fiction (at which Wallace sneered) had on cinema. I started university taking creative writing classes and never even having heard of DFW. Everyone loved it! It was everyone's favorite novel, and everyone wanted to foot note their short stories. To an died-in-the-wool, conservative modernist like myself (yes, that's me-light years away from pure nerddom, orbiting an nebulae of academic arcana about which no one cares except lit majors), it was a travesty. I got Wallace. In fact, I believe Jest is fairly ingenious. But the truth was that his work was often too aware of itself, and that awareness made most of it so arch you wanted to watch two hours of commercials after reading him.

Wallace was brilliant. He had an ability to observe and communicate the differences in American society on which yet another political campaign cycle is feeding in order to create the dissonance so necessary for their brand of destructive, electoral vote calcuations. Nowhere is this better observed than in his essay about his week on the McCain Straight Talk Express in 2000 for Rolling Stone. Upon reading this, I am struck at how different the 2008 McCain is from the 2000 McCain.

There's another thing John McCain always says. He makes sure he concludes every speech and THM with it, so the buses' press hear it about too times this week. He always pauses a second for effect and then says: "I'm going to tell you something. I may have said some things here today that maybe you don't agree with, and I might have said some things you hopefully do agree with. But I will always. Tell you. The truth." This is McCain's closer, his last big reverb on the six-string as it were. And the frenzied standing-O it always gets from his audience is something to see. But you have to wonder: why do these crowds from Detroit to Charleston cheer so wildly at a simple promise not to lie?

Well it's obvious why. When McCain says it, the people are cheering not for him so much as for how good it feels to believe him. They're cheering the loosening of a weird sort of knot in the electoral tummy. McCain's resume and candor, in other words, promise not empathy with voters' pain, but relief from it. Because we've been lied to and lied to, and it hurts to be lied to. It's ultimately just about that complicated: it hurts. It denies you respect for yourself, for the liar, for the world. Especially if the lies are chronic, systemic, if hard experience seems to teach that everything you're supposed to believe in's really a game based on lies. Young Voters have been taught well and thoroughly. You may not personally remember Vietnam or Watergate, but it's a good bet you remember "No new taxes" and "Out of the loop" and "No direct knowledge of any impropriety at this time" and "Did not inhale" and "Did not have sex with that woman" and etc. etc. It's depressing and painful to believe that the would-be "public servants" you're forced to choose between are all phonies whose only real concern is their own care and feeding and who will lie so outrageously with such a straight face that you just know they have to believe you're an idiot. So who wouldn't fall all over themselves for a top politician who actually seemed to talk to you like you were a person, an intelligent adult worthy of respect? A politician who all of a sudden out of nowhere comes on TV as this total long-shot candidate and says that Washington is paralyzed, that everybody there's been bought off, and that the only way to really "return government to the people" the way all the other candidates claim they want to do is to outlaw huge unreported political contributions from corporations and lobbies and PACs ... all of which are obvious truths that everybody knows but no recent politician's had the stones to say. Who wouldn't cheer, hearing stuff like this, especially from a guy we know chose to sit in a dark box for four years instead of violate a Code? Even in A.D. 2000, who among us is so cynical that he doesn't have some good old corny American hope way down deep in his heart, lying dormant like a spinster's ardor, not dead but just waiting for the Right Guy to give it to? That John S. McCain III opposed making Martin Luther King's birthday a holiday, or that he thinks clear-cut logging is good for America, or that he feels our present gun laws are not clinically insane — this stuff counts for nothing with these Town Hall crowds, all on their feet, cheering their own ability to finally really fucking cheer.

Unbelievable. Where is this John McCain? Where is the independent McCain who almost was Kerry's running mate in '04? Where is the McCain who spoke out against the Swift-Boating of Sen. Kerry? Why is McCain's campaign lying about what Obama says and lying about what Palin did in Alaska?

The John McCain of 2000 is gone, and so now is DFW. I mourn both today-one who promised a kind of bold leadership that America still needs, and another who so deeply mourned a brand of American political debate which understood our differences. Both men shall be missed.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Those That Fell

Seven years ago today, it really happened. Don't look away from it. You were there.

So was I. Groggy-eyed, I woke up in my L.A. studio apartment to a phone call from my good friend Kevin telling me that New York City was under attack. I turned on the TV just in time to catch the second jet fly into the South Tower.

What we watched over the next two hours changed all of our lives. I watched it with four friends, chasing substance abuse with alcohol. It was horrible. We didn't know if he we would be drafted. We didn't know if someone we knew died, or would die soon.

We experienced, us a continent away, the most salient knowledge of all who learn war: fear.

We were all very afraid.

All day in that smoky apartment, in between the arguments and the urgings to "Turn that fucking TV off!", the fates of those who leaped from the towers prowled our minds. They hang there still today, as if they never landed.

Esquire Magazine has a piece on those who fell, on how it changed us, and how they are the images least seen but most remembered from that tragic day.

Read it.

Sarah Palin: The Clarence Thomas of Feminism

OK, I've done it. I promised myself I wouldn't give any more attention to the Alaskan governor. Ignore her, and she'll fade away as a public figure- a female Dan Quayle who will be in 'Where Is She Now?' articles in fifteen years.

Promise done broke.

Yesterday I was reading an issue of the New Yorker reviewing a Clarence Thomas memoir. I'm not a big Clarence Thomas fan. The man most definitely benefited from his race in climbing through the Reagan and Bush I administrations, but seems hell-bent through his rulings on the Supreme Court to want to lift the rope ladder away from those who would wish to follow him. After reading Rebecca Traister's piece about Sarah Palin in today's Salon I'm pretty certain Mrs. Palin is the feminist Clarence Thomas.

In this strange new pro-woman tableau, feminism -- a word that is being used all over the country with regard to Palin's potential power -- means voting for someone who would limit reproductive control, access to healthcare and funding for places like Covenant House Alaska, an organization that helps unwed teen mothers. It means cheering someone who allowed women to be charged for their rape kits while she was mayor of Wasilla, who supports the teaching of creationism alongside evolution, who has inquired locally about the possibility of using her position to ban children's books from the public library, who does not support the teaching of sex education.

In this "Handmaid's Tale"-inflected universe, in which femininity is worshipped but females will be denied rights, CNBC pundit Donny Deutsch tells us that we're witnessing "a new creation ... of the feminist ideal," the feminism being so ideal because instead of being voiced by hairy old bats with unattractive ideas about intellect and economy and politics and power, it's now embodied by a woman who, according to Deutsch, does what Hillary Clinton did not: "put a skirt on." "I want her watching my kids," says Deutsch. "I want her laying next to me in bed."

Welcome to 2008, the year a tough, wonky woman won a primary (lots of them, actually), an inspiring black man secured his party's nomination for the presidency, and a television talking head felt free to opine that a woman is qualified for executive office because he wants to bed her and have her watch his kids! Stop the election; I want to get off.

Rebecca, I'm with you. Just like Justice Thomas stuck to the Republican playbook to get where he wanted to go, Mrs. Palin has made a career of being acceptable to political neanderthals. How could this woman appeal to Hillary fans? The two are truly from opposite ends of the political spectrum.

I don't believe in any kind of Mrs. Palin character assassination. But she is not a feminist, and her rise has not done anything for women's greater good.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why Libertarians Should Vote for Obama

Shambollocks is a liberal publication. We don't shy away from the term, or the ideology. But we can break bread with libertarians, and in fact believe they make a whole lot of sense on some things. The great libertarian blog, Marginal Revolution, has an eloquent endorsement of Obama which I hope gives some perspective on how wrong the Republicans have been for so long. Take it away, Alex.

First, war. War is the antithesis of the libertarian philosophy of consent, voluntarism and trade. With every war in American history Leviathan has grown larger and our liberties have withered. War is the health of the state. And now, fulfilling the dreams of Big Brother, we are in a perpetual war.

A country cannot long combine unlimited government abroad and limited government at home. The Republican party has become the party of war and thus the party of unlimited government.

With war has come FEAR, magnified many times over by the governing party. Fear is pulling Americans into the arms of the state. If only we were better at resisting. Alas, we Americans say that we love liberty but we are fair-weather lovers. Liberty will flourish only with peace.

Have libertarians gained on other margins in the past eight years? Not at all. Under the Republicans we have been sailing due South-West on the Nolan Chart – fewer civil liberties and more government, including the largest new government program in a generation, the Medicare prescription drug plan, and the biggest nationalization since the Great Depression. Tax cuts, the summum bonum of Republican economic policy, are a sham. The only way to cut taxes is to cut spending and that has not happened.

The libertarian voice has not been listened to in Republican politics for a long time. The Republicans take the libertarian wing of the party for granted and with phony rhetoric and empty phrases have bought our support on the cheap. Thus - since voice has failed - it is time for exit. Remember that if a political party can count on you then you cannot count on it.

Exit is the right strategy because if there is any hope for reform it is by casting the Republicans out of power and into the wilderness where they may relearn virtue. Libertarians understand better than anyone that power corrupts. The Republican party illustrates. Lack of power is no guarantee of virtue but Republicans are a far better - more libertarian - party out-of-power than they are in power. When in the wilderness, Republicans turn naturally to a critique of power and they ratchet up libertarian rhetoric about free trade, free enterprise, abuse of government power and even the defense of civil liberties. We can hope that new leaders will arise in this libertarian milieu.

When liberals and libertarians agree wholeheartedly, you know there must be some crazy dynamic in play. That dynamic is the current Republican party. Let's put them away for good!

Bringing Back Jim Crow

One of the most significant pieces of legislation passed by the Republican dominated government of 2002 was the (love the Rovian title) Help America Vote Act. The act made new requirements for state voter rolls. In reaction, important electoral college states like Ohio and Florida have thrown thousands of black voters off their rolls erroneously. Other states, like Indiana, now require photo ID to vote, a requirement which again disproportionately burdens the state's black voters. In all three cases, correcting these situation requires extraordinary patience. The New York Review of Books has a great piece explaining exactly how the black franchise came under attack during the last ten years.

For many years, the momentum was toward making the franchise universal. Property qualifications were ended; the poll tax was nullified; the voting age was lowered to eighteen. But now strong forces are at work to downsize the electorate, ostensibly to combat fraud and strip the rolls of voters who are ineligible for one reason or another. But the real effect is to make it harder for many black Americans to vote, largely because they are more vulnerable to challenges than other parts of the population.

During their reign at the beginning of the decade, the Republicans passed legislation which would game the system for them in future elections. The Republicans like to say that the Democrats are the party of lawyers. Well, why are the Republican using lawyers to take away the votes of Americans?

This election will be very close. In elections like these, every vote matters. Why does one party want to invalidate these votes? These are questions all responsible Americans should be asking.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Jon Stewart Speaks the Truth

God bless, Jon Stewart. I know he suffers near constant praise, but his responsibility as the protector of reason in the politics of nonsense is unassailable. 3 Quarks Daily has the video of a segment of his from the other day very convincingly showing the cynicism behind Sarah Palin's selection. Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly, Dick Morris (God, won't it be great when those three return to the netherworld), and a McCain talking head all get caught in the circular rhetoric of the Republican spin machine to hilarious results.

Thank you Jon, for calling Dick Morris a 'lying shitbag' on national TV.

The End of 'Mr. Rogers'

This Monday, Mr Rogers' Neighborhood will no longer have a presence on PBS stations all over the country, according to the Chicago Tribune. No Mr. Rogers? Shambollocks lives in fear of a country where Fred Rogers does not untie his shoes and hang his jacket in perpetuity. His death five years ago came as enough of a shock; now we must deal with the knowledge that our children won't learn the timeless lessons of care and responsibilty we all learned in Fred's gentle kingdom.

Cartoonist Chris Ware of Oak Park wrote:

"The show is fundamentally about clumsy, awkward, uncomfortable real life, and it's one of the last places on television where children can see it honestly reflected (regardless of the 1980s clothing and 1970s cars, which young kids don't notice, anyway)," he wrote. "With very little camera editing on the program, it also 'feels' more real."

True, Chris. WTTW's station manager states that most likely Fred Rogers will find a home on the internet. I hope so. Along with Sesame Street, Electric Company, 321 Contact, and Reading Rainbow, Mr Rogers' Neigborhood provided many generations with a foundation of functional knowledge and social responsibility. I want my children to grow up with Fred Rogers. And I know I'm not alone.

Great Ronald Reagan Speech

This Recording gives us a collection of their Top 10 Speeches of all-time. Number one for them is Ronald Reagan's 1984 speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day. You can here the speech here. As you know, Shambollocks does not abide by the Cult of Reagan. We believe the man was one hell of a motivator, but a mighty poor executive. One of my earliest political memories is my grandmother cursing Ronnie under her breath during one of his State of the Unions.

No matter my severe ideological differences with the man, Reagan could speak. No doubt the man was one of the best orators I've ever heard. I do not distinctly remember this speech, but I do recall the story of these Army Rangers, the first on the beach that day. I remain enthralled by the story of these mens' personal bravery. Reagan had a softball (this was no speech calling for social change or justice), but he nailed this softball all the way to the gates of the Kremlin as you shall hear.

Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief. It was loyalty and love.

The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.

Listening to this a bit ago, I myself got a little verklempt. Reagan not only tells this profound story, but he tells it within the context of a plea to end the Cold War. We can spend a good 100,000 words debating the sincerity of this plea, but you can't be skeptical of Reagan's words that day.

Very impressive. Especially in light of a 'War on Terror' which expects so little sacrifice, and is treated with such indifference, from civilian Americans

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Palin: Today's George Bush

Well, we certainly woke up to a new reality this morning. The Republicans jujitsued the anti-Bush zeitgeist, and today Sarah Palin is a rock star. Good for her! Her speech seems to have been unanimously well-received. The Republicans have their Obama. And from what I gather from her speech last night (full disclosure-I wouldn't watch the RNC convention ever, even if it guaranteed me 100,000 hits a day), McCain-Palin will make the rest of the campaign about 'likeability'.

Yes, the Republicans are about to make this an election for ' With Whom You'd Rather Have A Beer'. Again.

Tomorrow Museum has a great post on the oncoming culture war.

I don’t fear Palin is the female Quayle but potentially the female GWB: a weak leader nevertheless capable of getting elected for the likability factor, falling under the influence of the people surrounding her while moving up the ranks. Remember, Bush had “executive experience” as a governor of Texas before the presidency. And they share a speechwriter.

From the Washington Post: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and McCain campaign manager Rick Davis “suggest Palin would be able to handle foreign policy matters by leaning heavily on McCain’s staff.” You aren’t electing a person, you’re electing a party.

And finally...

It all comes back to Karl Rove’s remark, “Even if you never met him, you know this guy… He’s the guy at the country club with the beautiful date, holding a martini and a cigarette that stands against the wall and makes snide comments about everyone who passes by.”

As Jon Stewart put it, “Doesn’t elite mean good?…This job you’re applying for — if you get it, and it goes well, they might carve your head in a mountain. If you don’t actually think you’re better than us than what the fuck are you doing?”

Why can't we elect the person who we believe will do the best job? I know I stated character is a big thing to me yesterday, and it is. But we're not talking about character here, we're talking about relatability. Jon Stewart is right-we're not electing a PTA president. Remember, this is how we ended up with W-even I got fooled. We can't let this happen again.

I guess I'm flummoxed. The Republicans have an Obama, and they are now going to run their Obama campaign. Issues will unfortunately be placed out the window.

Educate yourself, fellow voters. The campaign will now be about who you 'like'. Let's change that. We want real answers. You hear that, Obama and McCain camps? Let's have an issue campaign!


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Wow! McCain's Chelsea Clinton Joke

The Presidential campaign now appears neck-and-neck, thereby abiding by the MSM's vested interest. I am not shocked by this, but I am shocked at the joke Sen. McCain told earlier last month at a Republican Senate fund-raiser.

"Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly?
Because her father is Janet Reno."

Thank you, Salon. No major media outlet printed this 'joke'. A few outlets made mention of an offensive comment. I don't want to get into a tangential argument over the media's bizarre dislike of Hillary, but what I do want to do is highlight the kind of man Sen. McCain is.

I personally believe that character does matter in a candidate. Sen. McCain gets a free-ride on this issue because of his war experience, even though he did not suffer. But this man and his campaign have already gone on the defensive that attacks on Gov. Palin's family are (rightly) petty and mean. Well, what about lewd, non-funny ripostes about another fellow female candidate's family? And remember this incident?

Obama is no Messiah. But McCain is certainly a mean, bitter man. To paraphrase Nixon's comment about Barbara Bush, McCain 'sure do[es] know how to hate'.

Remember who you are voting for when you enter the booth.