On Jan. 14, Marvel Comics is releasing a special issue of Amazing Spider-Man #583 with Obama depicted on the cover. Inside are five pages of the two teaming up and even a fist-bump between Spidey and the new president.
Friday, January 9, 2009
by Ed Naha
As 2008 stumbles to the finish line like the last member of "The Wild Bunch" to eat the dirt, it's time to pause and reflect on the past twelve months. Yet, how to do so without using George Carlin's famous "Seven Words" a thousand times in five minutes? There's only one course to take. It's time for the "2008 'WTF?' Awards!
THE GOP BIG (TENT?) PLANTATION AWARD goes to RNC candidate Chip Saltsman who sent out a Christmas gift CD to committee members including the song "Barack the Magic Negro." It was part of a handful of right-wing parody tunes with the umbrella title "We Hate the USA." Saltsman is reportedly surprised at the subsequent uproar. Insiders say that he's secretly relieved he didn't send out his first gift choice: "The Songs of Al Jolson in Blackface."
THE "I GOT A ROCKET IN MY POCKET" AWARD is bestowed upon CIA operatives in Afghanistan. In an attempt to win the loyalty of grizzled warlords, the agents are giving them the gift of Viagra. In an effort to win the loyalty of warlords' wives, they are giving them running shoes and a six-hour head start.
THE "THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS" PRIZE goes to economics whiz Rush Limbaugh who, shortly after the election, declared: "The Obama recession is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen. Stocks are dying, which is a precursor of things to come. This is an Obama recession. Might turn into a depression." He then forecast a return of zeppelin travel and told his maid go get more of his special take-out.
THE BOP 'TILL YOU DROP AWARD goes to Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez who, back in 2003, authorized loud music to be played 24/7 for months at a time at Gitmo in order "to create fear, disorient…and prolong capture shock." Among the artists on the recently revealed Git Parade are Queen, AC/DC, Pentera, Nine Inch Nails and the cast of "Sesame Street." This past year, Gitmo guards began to complain of side effects. "It's not easy being green," declared one. On the plus side, they'll be primed for the new "Torture Me, Elmo" doll due next year.
THE "DEAL OR NO DEAL" CONSOLATION PRIZE goes to Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich who was caught trying to sell Barack Obama's Senate Seat to the highest bidder. "Blago" didn't believe in the soft sell approach: "I've got this thing and it's fucking golden, and I'm just not giving it up for fuckin' nothing. I'm not gonna do it. And I can always use it. I can parachute me there," he said, putting the kibosh on a future career in advertising. ("Hi. I'm a Mac. And I'm a fucking P.C!")
THE ORIGINS OF FECES GOLDEN PLUNGER is awarded to McCain/Palin poster child "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, who is neither named "Joe" nor is a licensed plumber. Currently working on a book, Joe revealed that being on the campaign trail with McCain "appalled" him and made him feel "dirty." The proposed title of his tome is "I Don't Know Shit."
THE TURN THE OTHER CHEEK PRIZE goes to president-elect Barack Obama who, honoring The Golden Rule, asked controversial preacher Rick Warren to say the prayer at Obama's Inauguration.
THE SIZE NINE BETWEEN THE CHEEKS AWARD is given to all of Obama's shocked supporters who find Warren's brand of Christianity as appetizing as rat's ass-on-a-stick.
THE VERY INTERESTING – NOT! Certificate of Merit is given en masse to nervous investors who've recently snapped up $30 billion of four-week T-Bills that boast a zero interest rate. That's right. Zero. On the plus side, the T-Bills have a higher rating than Bush.
Mastering the art of the all-you-can-eat buffet
Munch lunch at a Chinese restaurant, brunch at a Holiday Inn, or dinner at a wedding reception, and chances are good you will come face to face with the The All-You-Can-Eat Buffet.
If you're a Buffet Amateur like me, your pupils dilate and your mouth starts watering as soon as you spot the long table full of steam trays and criss-crossed table cloths. Soon it's game on, and you grab a plate and pile it high with some bread, a few salads, and a couple rolled-up salamis or a bowl of Won Ton soup. For plate number two you tackle the entrees, scooping up sticky heaps of Kung Pao chicken, soggy French Toast, or paper-thin slices of roast beef soaking in dark mushroom gravy. Then you go back for a third plate, this one featuring a tipsy mountain of desserts — maybe some assorted squares, a thick, gummy slice of cheesecake, or some fluorescent pink, freezer-burned ice cream sliding around your plate.
Then as you lay bloated on your chair, your buttons bursting, your eyelids drooping, you face a final decision: Do you go back for The Fourth Plate?
The Fourth Plate is almost always a good idea before you do it and a bad idea afterwards. It's the helping after the helping after. It's the Greatest Hits Plate, a star-studded collection featuring the most popular items from Plate 1, 2, and 3, coming together for the reunion tour, the last hurrah, the final dance at the dinner table.
The Fourth Plate is also a famous mark of a Buffet Amateur, because it can be the sign of someone who realizes that Plate 2 was the best plate and they really just want more of Plate 2. For years, I scarfed down The Fourth Plate at the Indian buffet near my college. Buttery, pillowy-soft naans piled high, thick and creamy Butter Chicken, and spicy, simmering lamb in a hearty broth. It was just too much. I caved in every time and walked away with a curry-busting gut and a samosa hangover.
Since then I've been tutored on the art of mastering the all-you-can-eat buffet. Everybody's got their own techniques, but here's what I've learned over the years:
1. The Walk-Through. Don't do what I used to do and blindly take a spoonful of everything. No, you've got to do your Walk-Through First. You're a detective, popping open steam tray after steam tray, looking for recent fill-ups, traffic around popular items, and sure winners like omelet stations or a guy in a chef's hat slicing big slabs of meat. Now's also time for some Belly Space Analysis, where every item's Tasty Deliciousness is weighed against it's Projected Stomach Volume. Bread, soup, and salad rarely pass the Belly Space Analysis test. Skipping those means you just gained an extra plate and are on your way.
2. Drink Later. Sugary drinks just fill you up with carbs and cost extra. If you can postpone your Pepsi, then you'll save belly space for the hot goods.
Regulation is everywhere. Let's choose who benefits.
The extraordinary financial collapse of recent months has been commonly described as a testament to the failure of deregulation. The events are indeed testament to a failure—a failure of public policy. Blaming deregulation is misleading.
In general, political debates over regulation have been wrongly cast as disputes over the extent of regulation, with conservatives assumed to prefer less regulation, while liberals prefer more. In fact conservatives do not necessarily desire less regulation, nor do liberals necessarily desire more. Conservatives support regulatory structures that cause income to flow upward, while liberals support regulatory structures that promote equality. "Less" regulation does not imply greater inequality, nor is the reverse true.
Framing regulation debates in terms of more and less is not only inaccurate; it hugely biases the argument toward conservative positions by characterizing an extremely intrusive structure of, for example, patent and copyright rules, as the free market. In the realm of insurance and finance over the last two decades, calls for deregulation have been cover for rules tilted starkly toward corporate interests. And the recent change in bankruptcy law, hailed by conservatives, requires much greater government involvement in the economy.
False ideological claims have circumscribed the public debate over regulation and blinded us to the wide range of choices we can make. Without these claims, what would guide regulatory policy? What kinds of choices would we have?
* * *
Patent and copyright protection are good examples of government policies obscured in the debate. They are forms of regulation, not elements of a "free market."
It does not matter that we call patents and copyrights "property" or even that we have a clause in the Constitution that authorizes Congress to grant patents and copyrights. Suppose autoworkers were given a property right to a job in the automobile industry, a right they could even sell. Would anyone say that this right to a job is part of the free market?
Patents and copyrights are government-granted protections designed for a specific public purpose, as stated in the Constitution: "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts." But granting intellectual property rights is one of many possible mechanisms for accomplishing this important public goal. Whether patents and copyrights are the most effective mechanisms for the promotion of the arts and sciences is an empirical question. And the answer could be different depending on the specific social and economic circumstances. However, we cannot have a serious discussion of the relative merits of patents and copyrights until we recognize that these are public policies and not intrinsic features of the free market. Debates about both patent and copyright have been hugely distorted by the failure to recognize this obvious fact.
In the case of patent protection, policy disputes arise most frequently with regard to prescription drugs. If drugs were sold in a competitive market (i.e., without patent protection), the overwhelming majority of drugs would sell for just a few dollars per prescription. Wal-Mart and other major drug store chains now sell most generic drugs for less than $10 per prescription—we know these drugs can be manufactured safely and sold profitably at low prices.
The drugs available as generics are not chemically distinct from their brand-name counterparts that often sell for hundreds of dollars per prescription. The only difference is that the latter, as a group, enjoys a government-guaranteed monopoly. Patents constitute a government policy that effectively raises drug prices by several thousand percent above the free market price.
Recognizing this should be the starting point in any policy debate.
Obama hasn't taken office yet and Bill O'Reilly has already thrown down the "he's going to kill us all" guantlet.
Bill's been working overtime since he's been back from holiday vacation basically covering two subjects. Al Franken's "stealing the Minnesota Senate seat." Bill couldn't help but go there. Other than Franken murdering Coleman, the theft card was about the only one in the deck he could wrap his embittered fair and balanced fingers around.
The other one took a wee bit of cajoling. Like about two days worth. The president-elect doesn't want the U.S. to torture or send prisoners to other countries where they will be tortured. That, combined with the selection of former Clinton Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, to head the CIA set up the O'Reilly declaration this week that our new president is a sociopath.
Speaking of Obama and his administration, O'Reilly stated…
Why hadn't Bill warned us prior to the election that we were electing a president with a severe anti-social disorder? How many kitties did Obama drown? How many houses did he burn down? Does the White House have a good fire-detection system?
After 150 years, Walden endures as a monument to frugality, solitude, and sophomore-year backpacking trips. Yet it's Thoreau's ulterior motive that has the most influence today. He was one of the first to use lifestyle experimentation as a means to becoming a published author. Going to live by the pond was a philosophical decision, but it was also something of a gimmick. And if you want to land a book deal, you gotta have a gimmick. Recently, with "green living" having grown into a thriving and profitable trend, the sons and daughters of Thoreau are thick on the ground. Not many retreat to the woods anymore, but there are infinite ways to circumscribe your life: eat only at McDonald's, live biblically, live virtually, spend nothing. Is it still possible to "live deliberately"? What wisdom do we take away from our postmodern cabins?
The most notorious neo-Thoreauvian might be Colin Beavan, a 45-year-old New Yorker better known as No Impact Man, and even better known as The Man Who Doesn't Let His Wife Use Toilet Paper. That last detail was the highlight of a 2007 New York Times profile of Beavan, which portrayed how he, his wife, and their two-year-old daughter were attempting to live in downtown Manhattan with zero "net impact" on the environment. This goal involves eating only organic food grown within a 250-mile radius, composting inside their small apartment, forgoing paper, carbon-based transportation, dishwashers, TV, and adhering to whatever new austerities Beavan dreams up.
Naturally, Beavan is hoping his no impact experiment has maximum impact. Like Thoreau, who, after all, was living on Emerson's land, Beavan is well connected. He has a book contract. His wife's friend has made him the subject of her documentary film, and he has a website, where people praise his boldness and question his motives. One commenter, Naysayer, speaks for the cynical: "Well, you've found your ticket to fame and fortune. Just undergo a period of time where you are inconvenienced (but plenty of exceptions) then cash in with book and movie deals, then speaking engagements around the globe." And then there are those whom Beavan has simply annoyed: "For the next year, I will be your polor [sic] opposite," writes Full Impact Woman. Unlike his deadly earnest spiritual mentor, though, Beavan views his project with an ironic distance, telling the Times, "Like all writers, I'm a megalomaniac. I'm just trying to put that energy to good use."
Eleven gay bars in Seattle were sent letters Tuesday threatening ricin attacks — in what some are describing as a hate crime. The Seattle Police Department said it takes the threat seriously. The department has seized the letters and is processing them, and is coordinating efforts with the FBI and other federal agencies.
By Nick Perry
Eleven gay bars in Seattle were sent letters Tuesday threatening ricin attacks — in what some are describing as a hate crime.
The anonymous letters say, "I have in my possession approximately 67 grams of ricin with which I will indiscriminately target at least five of your clients. ... I expect them to die painfully while in hospital."
A 12th letter was sent to the alternative weekly The Stranger, according to its Web site. That letter says the paper should be "prepared to announce the deaths of approximately 55 individuals."
The letter lists the bars as: The Elite, Neighbours, The Wildrose Bar, The Cuff, Purr, The Seattle Eagle, R Place, Re-bar, C.C.Attle's, Madison Pub and The Crescent. The letter implies the attacks will take place one Saturday this month.
In a statement, the Seattle Police Department said it takes the threat seriously. It has seized the letters and is processing them and is coordinating efforts with the FBI and other federal agencies.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says ricin is a poison found naturally in castor beans that can be deadly if purified and then ingested or inhaled.
Dan Giroux, a bartender at The Elite, said he read the contents of the letter through the envelope with a flashlight after being warned not to open it and found the experience "a little horrifying."
"I expect to feel safe at work. Being here is like being at your house. But this doesn't make you feel safe," he said.
Elite manager Kay Hansen said the bar has been informing customers of the threat and warning them to make sure they don't leave their drinks unattended: "On the one hand you don't want to overreact, but on the other hand, you want to make sure your staff and clients are safe."
Stranger editorial director Dan Savage said he didn't take the threat too seriously: "I get a death threat a day with Savage Love," he said, referring to a sex column he writes.
In places like Detroit and Cleveland, banks are unloading rundown homes for next to nothing. And they're tremendous bargains, even after factoring in renovation costs.
By Les Christie
The real estate market is so awful that buyers are now scooping up homes for as little as $1,000.
There are 18 listings in Flint, Mich., for under $3,000, according to Realtor.com. There are 22 in Indianapolis, 46 in Cleveland and a whopping 709 in Detroit. All of these communities have been hit hard by foreclosures, and most of these homes are being sold by the lenders that repossessed them.
"Foreclosures have turned banks into property management companies," said Heather Fernandez, a spokeswoman for Trulia.com, the real estate Web site. "And it's often cheaper for them to give these homes away rather than try to get market value for them."
In Detroit for instance, Century 21 Villa owner Randy Eissa has a three-bedroom, one-bath bungalow of about 1,000 square feet listed at just $500. It's a nice place with lots of light, but it needs a total rehabilitation inside, which Eissa estimates will cost between $15,000 and $20,000. But that's not bad, considering that the home last sold for $72,000 in late 2007, according to Zillow.com.
With prices this low, lenders aren't looking to make any money on these deals. They just want to get these houses off their books, so they don't have to bear the cost of maintaining them and paying property taxes.
In fact, the $500, $1,000 or $3,000 that a buyer forks over often goes straight to the real estate brokers as a commission. And often the lenders have to kick in extra cash to make it worthwhile for a realtor even take the listings, according to Eissa.
"Usually these homes are bank repossessions that the lenders have already tried to sell on the market, perhaps then put up for auction without success and then re-listed," he said.
A moratorium on housing foreclosures and evictions is a good idea. So is making the tax code more progressive. Obama's plan to build new public works is smart. But those are half-measures. Even if they don't come out of Congress watered down and wankified, they'll come too little and too late to kill the rapidly metastasizing disease that threatens to kill the U.S. economy: income inequality.
Employers are shedding jobs at a breathtaking rate: more than 560,000 per month. The rate of job losses could soon hit a million. People who still have jobs are being squeezed by pay cuts and freezes; even those who have yet to be affected are closing their wallets out of fear that they'll be the next to get chopped. So consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity, is plunging. Moreover, millions of individuals and businesses have lost access to credit and thus the movement of capital that might have pulled us out of this tailspin.
"The key is that the consumer is in the worst condition since the Great Depression," retail consultant Howard Davidowitz told NBC News. Boarded-up shops will abound. Experts expect 73,000 retail locations to close during the first few months of 2009. Between 20 and 40 percent of national retail chains will shut down. This isn't a recession. It's a depression, and it could destroy the country.
If broke consumers are the problem, shoveling money into their pockets is the way to get them spending again. Where do get it? The reason Willie Sutton robbed banks, he supposedly said, was because "that's where the money is." These days, the money is the hands of corporations and rich individuals.
(Warning: boring economic statistics and analysis follow. But stick with me. You could get a check!)
Starbucks bought a $45 million corporate jet last month at about the same time it told employees that it is reconsidering how much it will match in their 401(k) plans this year. The new jet, a Gulfstream 550, spent its first two weeks under Starbucks ownership in Hawaii, according to flight records at FlightAware.com.
Starbucks bought a $45 million corporate jet last month at about the same time it told employees that it is reconsidering how much it will match in their 401(k) plans this year.
The new jet, a Gulfstream 550, spent its first two weeks under Starbucks ownership in Hawaii, according to flight records at FlightAware.com.
Starbucks ordered the jet three years ago, according to spokeswoman Deb Trevino. She said the Seattle coffee company determined canceling delivery would be too expensive. She declined to say who took the jet to Hawaii over the holidays, but said it was a combined personal and business trip. She pointed out that Starbucks policy requires employees to reimburse the company for personal use of the jet. That policy was instituted in fiscal 2007, when Chairman Howard Schultz reimbursed the company $400,919 for flights.
"That's not an acceptable answer in 2009," said Nell Minow, editor at The Corporate Library, a watchdog-research firm. "It's not acceptable to use it for anything but the most efficient possible business use."
Companies should be transparent about which employees use the jet and where they fly, she said. They also should not be allowed to make personal trips even if they reimburse their companies, because the reimbursements often are not sufficient.
While many companies have corporate jets, Starbucks' new arrival comes at a delicate time. Plunging profits are forcing the company to make unprecedented cost cuts, including closing 616 U.S. stores last year and slashing thousands of jobs.
by William Rivers Pitt
Take me down little Susie, take me down
I know you think you're the queen of the underground
And you can send me dead flowers every morning
Send me dead flowers by the mail
Send me dead flowers to my wedding
And I won't forget to put roses on your grave ...
- The Rolling Stones
To: George W. Bush
From: Your biggest fan
Re: Your imminent unemployment
Greetings, Mr. Bush.
I was sorry to hear about the passing of your cat, India. Eighteen years is a long time for a cat - my mother has one that's 20 and still going strong, if you can believe it - and I'm sure India had a comfortable, caring life with your family.
I got to spend part of last weekend with an old friend of mine. He's a bit older than 18, and he's also a troop who recently rotated back from a tour in Falluja. He just had a baby daughter, and he will be sent to Afghanistan before too much longer. He did his duty in Iraq, dealt his share of death and saw his friends die or be ripped to shreds right in front of him.
He was hollow in a lot of places that had been full before he went to Iraq. He was not the same man we'd said farewell to. But he was alive, and if he survives his upcoming Afghanistan tour, maybe he will get the chance to have a long, comfortable, caring life with his family, just like little India.
At present, my friend's life is the polar opposite of comfortable, and he still has Kabul waiting for him just over the horizon. His life is the way it is because of you, Mr. Bush. You have been the single greatest influence upon his time in this world; you put him over there and hollowed him out, and because of you, it's about to happen again. You were the single biggest influence upon the lives of every person he knew over there, every person he saw over there, and every person he killed over there.
It's funny. I was thinking the other day about when I marched in one of the first large-scale post-inauguration protests against you in Washington, DC. It was May of 2001, it was The Voter's Rights March to Restore Democracy, and it was a few thousand people shouting down the unutterably ruinous Supreme Court decision which unleashed, just as we then feared, everything that has since come to pass. "Not my president!" we bellowed. "Not my president!"
It's funny because that memory seems so very quaint to me now. A stolen election? Pfff. To paraphrase a different president, Americans get scarier stuff than that free with their breakfast cereal nowadays. Thanks to you, governor.
The U.S. Senate is looking more and more like the House of Soprano. "Disgraced" Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (note how every news organization feels compelled to add "disgraced" before his name, as though it's an official title) has appointed Roland Burris to fill Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat. I go back and forth over this. On the one hand, Blago is a sleazebag who ought to be dragged through the streets of the state capital, and Burris is a spectacularly mediocre Congressman who, only weeks ago, was calling for Blago's head.
But it's the Democratic Party leadership in the U.S. Senate that may be the most ridiculous player in this drama. In particular, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the kind of gutless politician who makes people want to move to other countries.Good Old Harry claims he will refuse to allow Burris to be seated. Harry Reid, of course, has his head so far up his ass on this one that he can see Russia better than Sarah Palin can from her boudoir. This is the same Harry Reid who dithered about for years rather than confront the criminal Bush Regime in any meaningful way. This is the same guy who allowed Joe Lieberman to make a mockery of his own party. This is the same guy...oh, never mind...just thinking of Reid makes me too depressed to continue.