Saturday, May 31, 2014

Kathleen Parker Sounds Reasonable. Why, Then, Is She Wrong?

I could have just said, "Good luck, Michelle Obama, healthy lunches is
a good idea, but where's the fun in that?

In WaPo syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker's latest tome, she takes on what's wrong with Michelle Obama's Let's Move! teenage health initiative. Parker's thrust here is that advocating for healthy school lunches is nice and all -- "Don't get me wrong" -- it's just fascist -- "Which I don't actually believe, but gastro-fascism is a cool term." I'm paraphrasing here, but getting straight to the sub-text. Parker means to declare that having a good idea is great, but don't do it all or you risk being ineffective at best and openly mocked and condemned at worst.

This is classic conservative concern trolling here; like all "reasonable" conservatives, she doesn't want Michelle Obama to succeed in a vital job even though she admires her for her efforts. Parker is also saying "Americans are too stupid to live, anyway." Their kids will throw out the healthy lunches because they don't taste good. So why bother?
But, as is often the case with mammoth federal programs, one size does not fit all. Many school districts have inadequate funding to meet the new nutrition standards and have had to borrow from educational programs, in some cases shutting them down.
Moreover, the kids detest the food and are tossing their lunches, so to speak, into the dumpster. Some school districts report having to purchase or lease more trash cans to accommodate the extra garbage, increasing their waste-collection costs as well.
Hence the "why bother?" rhetoric. Thanks, Michelle, but the kids are going to throw your good intentions in the dumpster.

Wait, there's more. Parker gets to the place that all the concern-trolling conservative pundits go -- yep, I'm talking to you Ross Douthat and David Brooks -- and that's "if the parents loved their kids we wouldn't need the federal government to handle the loving." Awwwh, how sweet...
We can’t all have a chef or send our children to private schools with meatier lunches, as the Obamas do. But we can feed our children for less trouble and money than some think. Maybe the first lady can modify her message along with our menus: Cook for your kids and they’ll grow smart and strong.
Not to get too carried away, but food, you know, is love.
Like I said, how sweet. Here's the deal, though, soul-sister Parker: TONS OF PARENTS SEND THEIR KIDS TO SCHOOL HUNGRY AND WITHOUT LUNCH MONEY OR A BAGGED LUNCH. There, you made me shout.

Federal lunch programs don't exist by accident. They fill a gaping hole, and making them more healthy isn't a matter of "compromise on the tortillas and the fried chicken for fuck's sake." I've spent years teaching in public schools and watched kids eat gargantuan cinnamon rolls dripping with white-sugar frosting at morning break, later watching the same kids have a slice of pizza and a large fries and Coke for lunch. And these are the kids with the lunch money. For the rest, it's "Don't let 'em eat cake," except that here's where the federal lunch program comes in.

Kathleen Parker knows exactly why she feels better after lunch because she knows how to buy a healthy salad so you don't have a monster sugar crash an hour later.

It's just more of that good-for-me-but-not-for-thee attitude copping with a dash of if-the-poors-won't-feed-their kids-then-why-should-we? It's a love thing, don't you know? No, it's moralizing concern-trolling, and it's utter bullshit dressed in I-don't-feel-this-way-but-if-the-poor-can't-get-out-of-bed-then-why-should-blah-blah-blah.

So their kids are healthy and become better learners, Parker. It ain't rocket science, true, but it does take compassion, something moralizers rarely have in sufficient supply.

Wait a minute: The peaches in sugar syrup, that's fruit, right?
And the 1% chocolate milk is low fat, right? Okay, then!

Note on how editorial boards work their schtick. Kathleen Parker's actual article is entitled "Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ goes too far." The tease title on the front page is "Michelle Obama's disastrous program." Nowhere in Parker's op-ed does she imply in the slightest that the program is a disaster. Somebody, a Fred Hiatt or one of his minions, decided, let's put Michelle Obama and disaster in the same sentence. So there! Sheesh... (I did a little bit of that, too, calling one of Hiatt's assistants a "minion." See how that works?)

Friday, May 30, 2014

Hey, Putin, You Can Shove Your Soyuz

This probably was part of the dynamic of diplomacy all along. Now Elon Musk makes it official:

Reminder to people who may have forgotten: The U.S. has, since the Space Shuttle was retired, used the Russian Soyuz capsules and rockets to participate in the International Space Station. Putin has recently threatened to end that cooperation. Sorry, Vlad, you can keep your Soyuz, and drop out of the space station program if you want. You are no longer vital. Pwned!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

I Like My Glenn Greenwald Undaunted and Relentless

Greenwald understands that the truth trumps power
unless you or someone else don't let it.

By way of introduction to my thoughts on the recent mainstream journalistic condemnation of Glenn Greenwald and his unrelenting campaign to let truth be the antiseptic it can be when brave people are unbowed, I've long understood why this sort of thing -- even among the so-called liberal press -- might happen, especially in DC. It's changed how I view journalism, and it didn't start yesterday.

When I came back in 1990 from Japan where I'd lived for several years, I developed viewing habits driven by my growing obsession with politics. I really did undergo a kind of tectonic shift. I wasn't uninterested in politics before, I simply didn't make it what I did with my time.

Then I started watching Washington Week with Paul Duke, and one or two of the Sunday morning shows. I especially liked Cokie Roberts, I confess, and I even admit to admiring David Broder. I suspect there was still a lot to admire about Broder at the time. He hadn't begun his long slide into embarrassing irrelevance.

But the point was that all the elite Washington reporters impressed me, and I waited each week to have them shape or fine-tune my opinions. I trusted them that much. I suspect, as I said, that they were more relevant in those days.

At some point -- I recall it was about the time Gwen Ifill took over Washington Week -- the group of elite reporters, among them John Harwood, John Harris, Elizabeth Bumiller, Jackie Calmes, etc., just started to seem to espouse opinions as if they were in some infinite loop, laughing at their own insights, smarmy in their elitism. I got it. They played by inside-the-Beltway rules and maintained access.

Frankly, I began to yell at the TV; even my wife was thinking of having me banned from the living room. I relented eventually, and we both solved the problem. Fridays were no longer about the politcal wrap-up shows. They were about good food, good wine, good company, and maybe some Netflix thrown in toward the end.

The same thing eventually happened with our Sunday viewing. We reduced it to web replays of ABC's This Week. I just wanted to hear what the mainstreamers were selling. Eventually, though, just how much of Peggy Noonan saying "My sense of this is..." can a sentient being take? Now we don't even watch that anymore.

I might as well throw in that I was a big fan of Slate in the early days when Michael Kinsley was Editor-in-Chief. I admired his insight and his sly humor. Watching him turn into a snide asshole over the last few years has been painful.

So when it comes to this Greenwald bashing -- with Kinsley leading the way by proclaiming in a review of Greenwald's latest book that we should listen to the government and only print what they say we can, and that, further, it's possible to view a Glenn Greenwald as a criminal for conducting fearless journalism -- the background for my reaction is that I've long since given up thinking that the elite press of Washington and even New York can be trusted anymore. There were many reasons for this shift over the years, a chief example being Tom Friedman's endorsement of the Iraq War on Charlie Rose  with his famous Suck. On. This. comment. I haven't been able to read him much ever since.

And so it is with the rest of the mainstream political press. There still are good ones -- sad to say one of the Greenwald bashers, Jonathan Chait, I thought was among them -- worth listening to. But we may be at the point of some Great Churning, where the real journalists with real spine start to emerge, and the old guard, some hiding in new-guard's clothing, start their long slide into irrelevance. It's a pity.

I've been reading Greenwald since his very early days on his blog, Unclaimed Territory -- here's an example, he's not an overnight sensation -- and I hung through a lot of interminable blog posts at Salon, god the guy can run on, but I always valued his insight, his tenacity, and his integrity.

Would that these clowns who condemn him now had the spine to even be in the same league with him. Let the Great Churning begin. Time to get out the buckets and clean up the scum.

Michael Kinsley: When does integrity become a liability? When it threatens access.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Okay, Then, Why Didn't You Say So

Joe the Plumber, neither a Joe nor a Plumber, but why be picky?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, Joe starts swimming in it. Who invited him back in the pool? Oh well, here's Joe "Samuel Wurzelbacher" the Plumber:
Wurzelbacher said his letter is directed "only to the families of the gunshot victims in Santa Barbara" and not to the families of three who were stabbed ahead of the shooting spree.
"I am sorry you lost your child. I myself have a son and daughter and the one thing I never want to go through, is what you are going through now. But: As harsh as this sounds -- your dead kids don’t trump my Constitutional rights," Wurzelbacher wrote.
Okay. Please make this the last time anybody listens to this guy. Please. Only humans from now on.

Note. While we seek to cleanse our spirits of the words of this horrific freak, let us be reminded that we've gotten it all wrong. Joe Nocera looks at it and gets it right.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sometimes I Read David Brooks and Assume Nobody's Listening...

Requisite picture of David Brooks looking
like a doofus. Found another one!

...and I'd be wrong. People do read him, and people do criticize him. It's not enough. He should be ridiculed up and down the block, from Wayne, PA to  Georgetown or whatever suburb he lives in now.

Atrios flags his latest nonsense and sends us to Krugman who, like the gentleman he is, references some other guy who criticizes Krugman's NYTimes' colleague. Well played, sir!

(Me, shorter: Brooks gets paid! What?)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Random Notes on Spain and Portugal

Henry the Navigator: Dude could navigate.

Henry the Navigator was a reason the tiny nation of Portugal ruled a lot of the world for a while. As for Spain, how about Christopher Columbus (okay, he was actually Italian, but he sailed for Spain) or throw in Vasco da Gama (dammit, he's Portuguese!), so let's go with Magellan (another damned Portuguese) or, okay, how about de Leon, Cabeza de Vaca, or Balboa?

The point is the Spanish and Portuguese started checking out the world, and before you know it, they need a pope to divide South America between them.

Now it's 2014 and they're not what they used to be, but that doesn't mean they're not great nations -- meaning, I suppose, they conquered vast amounts of land around the world and exploited both the physical and human capital of their territories when they weren't butchering their populations or infecting them to death.

From an historical perspective, it's hard to make a case for a lot of nations in terms of greatness. The U.S. was butchering savages long before we decided to butcher Iraqis, er, I mean neosavages. The neocons just love their neosavages dead if not under their thumbs, for democracy, of course. The Spaniards did it for Christ. I assume the Portuguese were similarly inspired.

These thoughts are a bit more random than I expected them to be, but that's what happens when you begin with an historical perspective. Don't get me started on the British.

Two other important data points you need to know is that both countries suffered under fascist dictatorships in the 20th century before finally throwing them off, both in the 70s if I remember correctly. Also, like, say Kansas, they're sort of corrupt, but democratic, after a fashion, which means people vote and stuff happens, rarely what the people themselves hoped for.

Anyway, it's 2014, I've been on the Iberian Peninsula for about three weeks, and the one thing that I've found is that the Spanish and the Portuguese are a damned fine, if a little beaten-down, people. I've been travelling using ride-sharing and home-sharing (, where I can find low-cost rides with everyday people, and, where I can borrow a room at low cost from everyday people), and the advantage is there is no such thing as fly-over country or whiz-by bullet-train country. There's just country and people who like to talk.

This doesn't deliver non-anecdotal, peer-reviewed data, but it does tell me that two of the nortorious PIIGS don't deserve what they're going through. Unemployment is high, folks I meet tell me they've been laid off, are getting by with one-income-per-family earnings, and often rent out a room if they've got one to try to get by.

Portugal seems by far to be the more beaten-down, a term I feel is fit, in that an EU-wide fiscal policy that looked to stimulus rather than austerity might light a fire under either economy that just isn't being lit.

I don't feel the expertise to go beyond what I've said. But, in the random thoughts department, here are a few:
  • A major bank in Portugal is called Banco Espirito Santo. I want my money there during the Rapture. But, hell, who times the market and wins?
  • I don't know what to say about this: All the street hawkers of knock-off handbags, sunglasses, and random stuff are jet-black Africans, 99% of the mini-marts and dollar-store-like "bazaars" are run by Asians, and the vast majority of döner kebab places are run by Arabs, even though the current iteration of the döner kebab was invented by a Turk in Berlin in 1972. This is true not only of Spain but most of western and eastern Europe. What's up with this, exploitation, self-selection, or weird-ass crime syndicates? (Look up döner kebab for yourself. It's a go-to fast food all over Europe. I'm totally down with it.)
  • Larry Ellison, Oracle CEO, owns the Atletico Madrid soccer (football over here) team, which just won the Spanish league championship. He was tossed in the air, like a champion himself. His arrogance -- winning America's Cups and Spanish League and, possibly, the Champions League this weekend, by dint of being filthy stinking rich -- sticks in my craw. Fuck him. Go Atletico, though! (I rode from Ghent, Belgium to Bordeaux, France, then on to San Sebastian, Spain, with a 20-year-old die-hard Atletico fan, so after 14 hours in a car with him, I'm a fan, too, seriously.)
  • Thomas Piketty -- celebrated author of Capital in the 21st Century -- was on the nightly news tonight in Barcelona, something that will happen in the U.S. when hell freezes over and all the Ealges' albums melt into a huge four-dimensional portrait of Jackson Browne.
  • If you're in southern Europe and you've got access to a clean toilet with actual toilet paper, and it's free -- meaning you don't have to pay almost a buck for it -- use it. If it's got a toilet seat, like totally use it. Figure out how, just don't pass it up. You don't know when you'll have a chance again. I bring this up because I have the same feeling toward microfoundations. Really.
  • The history of the human race is totally filled with horror. You're reminded of that when you come to Europe. Americans and our forebears -- the Europeans are our chief forebears, except for our slaves and our neo-slaves (you can guess who I mean there) -- have spent a great deal of our history killing each other and other peoples, and we're the good guys! I don't know who the good guys are, actually, but it takes a great deal of hubris to think it's us, and it's been a long time since anyone in western Europe has tried any of the shit we Americans, and, say Africans, have in the recent past. Oh my God, two hundred Ukrainians have died in the past two months. That's a gun-violence report in the U.S. for a week.
  • Last night my hosts in Madrid wanted to have a special going-away dinner. I happily and graciously said yes! We ate at 11:15 pm. Shit, I knew the Spanish eat late, but... It was delicious, and special. Buena fortuna, Buena suerte.
I talked about toilets, wars, economics, exploration, colonization, exploitation, the Eagles, rich assholes, and really kind, welcoming people. I'm going to stop now, with the really kind people.

I took this picture at Cabo de Roca, Portugal. I, uh...

Monday, May 19, 2014

There Must Be Thousands and Thousands of Hours of This Stuff

...and this is only 48 seconds of it:

Katy Perry's Hear Me Roar (admittedly not her best work) has 498,213,983 views. This Glenn Beck gem has 3,207. So there's hope.

Will the Crazy Ever Be Satisfied? (GOP Edition)

Sometimes there's not enough Windex to clean the batshit off the windshield:
Common Core may not be a well-intentioned set of improved educational standards, as supporters would have you believe, but instead a trojan horse designed to turn every schoolchild in Florida, if not America, gay.
This ominous warning came at an anti-Common Core event in March courtesy of Florida State Rep. Charles Van Zant (R). Speaking at the “Operation Education Conference” in Orlando, Van Zant warned that officials implementing Common Core in Florida are “promoting as hard as they can any youth that is interested in the LGBT agenda.”
Their aim, Van Zant warned, was to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.” He then apologized to the crowd for having to be the bearer of bad news. “I really hate to bring you that news,” the Florida Republican said, “but you need to know.”
Now, of course Glenn Beck wouldn't be behind this:

Now, I know your first instincts are that Glenn Beck is out of his mind. But that's facile, I think, and a mighty fine line. In Beck's case it's a really, very, pretty, incredibly fine line. Okay, there's no line. Problem is, he does has viewers, and they aren't that good at distinguishing lines and stuff.

Socialism for Capital, Capitalism for Labor

Between people and banks, I chose banks. You call me
inhumane. What's up with that?

Geithner got it wrong because his priorities were wrong. He came from the New York Fed. What did we expect? I don't know what Paul Krugman expected, but he doesn't like what we got:
In the end, the story of economic policy since 2008 has been that of a remarkable double standard. Bad loans always involve mistakes on both sides — if borrowers were irresponsible, so were the people who lent them money. But when crisis came, bankers were held harmless for their errors while families paid full price.
And refusing to help families in debt, it turns out, wasn’t just unfair; it was bad economics. Wall Street is back, but America isn’t, and the double standard is the main reason.
And Geithner worked for the Democrats. If workers think they should lean Republican, they should check out which side the GOP is on.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Benghazi Madness Is Just Another Example of the Unhinging of the GOP

From my vantage point across the Atlantic -- I've spent most of the last week in Portugal -- American politics looks as wacky as it did last fall when I spent five weeks roaming the cities and towns of Europe. Today in my in-box comes a link to a clear declaration that the Republican Party is unfit for human consumption, that it should be quarantined until the patient can be cured of a disease that has infected most corners of its body politic. (Mixing metaphors doesn't begin to explain the GOP's disjointedness.)

The Week, a magazine I subscribed to when paper print was still a good way to stay abreast of news and views, once was a balanced this-is-what-happened-last-week-and-here's-how-it-was-covered enterprise. Now it has changed into, as far as I can tell, an email-distributed opinion outfit with a highly editorial slant. It now leads with its opinion and analysis.

Which is fine. I don't always agree with its writers, who make no attempt to disguise their stridency, but they do offer opinion from different points on the political landscape. Today's piece, entitled "I'm no Democrat. I'm an anti-Republican," nails exactly what's happening in the GOP and what the best medicine should be. Here's Damon Linker:
Today, my voting record says I'm a Democrat. I voted for Kerry in 2004 and Obama in 2008 and 2012. I nearly always support Democrats in House, Senate, and gubernatorial elections. But I don't identify closely with or feel deep loyalty to the Democratic Party, its agenda, or its electoral coalition.
You could say that I'm less a Democrat than an anti-Republican. I vote the way I do because I want the GOP to lose, lose badly, and keep losing until it comes to its collective senses, which at this point seems a very long way off indeed.
There are so many reasons why I've come to this position that I almost don't know where to begin. So let's just start with recent headlines — which means the Benghazi Obsession.
The piece is a well-crafted takedown of Republican lunacy. Read it. Also, he doesn't spare Fox News, which he dismantles with this combined graphic from last year and just this month:

Fox News is as whacked as the party it shills for. Both deserve a shellacking and will get it once the full demographic shift reaches its inevitable turning point, which I suspect may occur in 2016. We've got a lot of bad ju-ju to go through until then.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

How Afraid of Hillary Clinton Is the GOP? Really Afraid.

Hillary is not unstoppable. But the GOP is still panicked.

How worried are the GOP that Hillary Clinton can't be stopped by one of their clown-car passengers? Judging by the "throw anything that can stick" attack MO, I'd say plenty.

Here's Amanda Marcotte's takedown of Fox News' latest attempt to place Hillary at the center of a tragedy almost a year and a half after she ended her tenure as Secretary of State. But of course everything is her fault. I blame the Golden State Warriors' failure to defeat the L.A. Clippers in the playoffs on her for sure, but Fox has failed, utterly failed, to connect the dots!

Newt Gingrich piles on from his perch at CNN:
(CNN) -- Hillary Clinton's leadership as secretary of state regarding the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram could become at least as serious an issue as her decisions surrounding the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.
With a lede like that, who needs to read the rest of the article? She's guilty!

For fun, google "hillary boko haram." And remember: Firing up the Republican base brings in not a single anti-Hillary voter into the fold. They're already in the batshit crazy tent, and a rational Hillary supporter won't budge with this nonsense. Instead, it makes centrists and independents think the GOP is wacked.

Rand Paul Has Precluded Himself From the Presidency by Precluding Hillary

Rand Paul is calculating, and calculating, and calculating...

Rand Paul proclaims that Hillary Clinton is precluded from becoming president because, of all things, Benghazi!

Rand Paul brought up Monica Lewinsky. How'd that work out?

Rand Paul may be senator-for-life in Kentucky, but he's now precluded from the presidency himself. It's something he doesn't understand. When you say stuff, it gets remembered, especially in the Internet age. It's on YouTube-for-life.

Mitt Romney said, "Corporations are people, my friend." He thought he was being clever. Instead, he was building his list of "He said what??"

When the country finally reaches the stop-with-the-Benghazi! moment, Rand Paul will have his own "He said what??" list.

Sorry, Charlie. Game over.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Understanding Europe, Sociopolitically: There Are No Soccer Moms

Can we get over this yet?

I probably shouldn't have to tell you this, but there are no soccer moms in Europe. It's called football in Europe, and there are no football moms in Europe, either. There are only moms. And dads. And kids that play soccer, er, football.

This has been another edition of who-invented-this-nonsence-to-begin-with.

Note. I'm in Europe, watching the natives, is why I'm sharing observations. Yes, they still think Republicans are batshit crazy, but that has nothing to do with soccer, er, football, so...

Monday, May 5, 2014

Europe: A Socialist Paradise!

Okay, maybe not. But the three countries I've been in so far, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Belgium, all have the feeling of societies that function outside the hysteria of the politics of America. Also, the ordinary citizens I meet hold enhanced political views -- enhanced by knowledge -- and they know generally how and why their cultures, political and otherwise, work. They're generally satisfied, perhaps except for the Italian I met, who was depressed by his own country's political life. I don't blame him.

From Europe, I look back, and our political dysfunction is laughable. And that's what the Europeans do, laugh, especially at Republican antics. Here's the latest example, as explained by Paul Krugman. What he says, unfortunately, is all too true.

I'm in Ghent, Belgium, headed to France and then Spain and Portugal. I'd better go sightsee for an hour or two before I have to head out. But I thought I'd better report, before you forgot me. I'll send you more news when I can. In the meantime, I'll reflect on how societies, like here in western Europe, can be responsive to the people's needs. It's not perfect, but it's at least socialist. And that's a start.