Monday, December 14, 2009

Deal with the devil

Obama's Big Sellout
The president has packed his economic team with Wall Street insiders intent on turning the bailout into an all-out giveaway
by Matt Taibbi
PhotoBarack Obama ran for president as a man of the people, standing up to Wall Street as the global economy melted down in that fateful fall of 2008. He pushed a tax plan to soak the rich, ripped NAFTA for hurting the middle class and tore into John McCain for supporting a bankruptcy bill that sided with wealthy bankers "at the expense of hardworking Americans." Obama may not have run to the left of Samuel Gompers or Cesar Chavez, but it's not like you saw him on the campaign trail flanked by bankers from Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. What inspired supporters who pushed him to his historic win was the sense that a genuine outsider was finally breaking into an exclusive club, that walls were being torn down, that things were, for lack of a better or more specific term, changing.
Then he got elected.
What's taken place in the year since Obama won the presidency has turned out to be one of the most dramatic political about-faces in our history. Elected in the midst of a crushing economic crisis brought on by a decade of orgiastic deregulation and unchecked greed, Obama had a clear mandate to rein in Wall Street and remake the entire structure of the American economy. What he did instead was ship even his most marginally progressive campaign advisers off to various bureaucratic Siberias, while packing the key economic positions in his White House with the very people who caused the crisis in the first place. This new team of bubble-fattened ex-bankers and laissez-faire intellectuals then proceeded to sell us all out, instituting a massive, trickle-up bailout and systematically gutting regulatory reform from the inside.
How could Obama let this happen? Is he just a rookie in the political big leagues, hoodwinked by Beltway old-timers? Or is the vacillating, ineffectual servant of banking interests who Obama really is?...
There's no other way to say it: Barack Obama, a once-in-a-generation political talent whose graceful conquest of America's racial dragons en route to the White House inspired the entire world, has for some reason allowedhis presidency to be hijacked by sniveling, low-rent shitheads.
Obama pulled a bait-and-switch on us. If it were any other politician, we wouldn't be surprised. Maybe it's our fault, for thinking he was different.

Obama as Poker Player Cover Story in the National Journal

The first thing that caught my eye when I saw the cover of the new issue of National Journal was the hand: Obama already has Jacks-or-better, but could also be drawing to an inside straight. Great artistic display of poker metaphor … and I can't believe, after more than six years since Moneymaker, someone has finally posed a hand as something other than a royal flush. That in and of itself tells me the story's gonna be good … as the editor clearly understands a little something about politics and poker.

Once and future NJ subscribers can click here:

COVER STORY: High Stakes
by Will Englund / Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009

Or click below to read (the full text from) an email that has been floated through the poker-political ether:

December 5, 2009

National Journal
Cover Story: When Is Obama Bluffing?
The President Approaches Issues with a Poker Player's Sensibility, Learned By Playing the Quintessentially American Game.

by Will Englund

High Stakes
An analysis of Obama's potential approach to four major issues.

The Players:

Obama, Republicans, "Blue Dog" Democrats, liberal Democrats, insurance companies, hospitals, doctors

The Stakes:
Health care availability, the federal budget, political power
His opponents think they can drive Obama out of the tournament in this game.

Life is not a crapshoot. Politics is not chess. Character is not a round of golf.

If there is a single game that comes closest to recapitulating modern existence — that both mimics and informs the logic of a cluttered, challenging, bewilderingly complicated, less-than-all-knowing, partially comprehensible human society — it is poker, where quantitative analysis and calculated deception come together, and where skill wins out over luck in the long run, except that most people don't have the luxury of waiting until then.

President Obama calls himself a pretty good poker player, with skills honed back when he took part in a regular game in Springfield, Ill. The other players in that game — lobbyists and fellow members of the state Senate — describe him as a cautious participant: patient, conservative, patient, level-headed, patient, affable — and did we mention patient?

That game started more than a decade ago. Today, Obama confronts more-formidable foes, and for much bigger stakes. But in his first 10-plus months in office, he has approached the major issues facing his administration and the country with a poker player's sensibility. That doesn't mean that he necessarily has been dealt good hands. It doesn't even mean that he has always played his hands well. He hasn't. What he has done, though, is to make an effort to read his opponents, hold his own cards close, keep a straight face, and wait, calmly, for the winning play.

Killer Earth


  The Gaia hypothesis, proposed by the British scientist James Lovelock in the 1970s, states that life preserves the conditions for its own survival. Just as plants breathe out oxygen and humans breathe it in, the whole biosphere keeps the chemistry of air, oceans and soil in a balance that allows life to flourish. The entire planet works together as a giant living organism.

Peter Ward, a paleontologist at the University of Washington who specializes in mass extinctions, this year expressed a dimmer view of life on earth. He sees not a self-optimizing biosphere but a tangle of organisms that have evolved to starve their competitors and pollute their surroundings, behaving in ways that are "inherently selfish and ultimately biocidal." In his book "The Medea Hypothesis," named after the Greek mother who slaughtered her own children, Ward argues that for billions of years the biosphere has been its own worst enemy. "Life seems to be actively pursuing its own demise," he wrote recently in New Scientist, "moving earth ever closer to the inevitable day when it returns to its original state: sterile."

According to Ward, the mayhem started soon after the emergence of bacteria billions of years ago, which choked the earth's atmosphere first with a heat-reflecting haze of methane and then, a billion years later, with dangerous levels of oxygen, which at the time was toxic to life. Soon after, plants sucked up so much carbon that temperatures plummeted, creating a pair of deep ice ages. Of the five great extinctions since the rise of animals, Ward claims, four were caused not by volcanoes or by meteors but by life itself. To top it off, biomass has been declining for the last billion years.

After the current round of man-made global warming, both Ward and Lovelock predict that our descendants will eventually confront a long-term drop in carbon dioxide that threatens to wipe out all plant life within roughly a billion years. Grim as it may seem, a Medean perspective could help us avoid environmental guilt and nostalgia as we face these crises. "We must overcome nature," Ward writes, and later continues, "We do not want to go 'back to nature."'

Hanukkah Mix from the Idelsohn Society

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My pal
David Katznelson is co-founder of Idelsohn Society, a non-profit dedicated to the musicology of great old Jewish music. Indeed, it was named after Abraham Zevi Idelsohn, a musicologist who also wrote the classic tune "Hava Nagila." The Society reissues incredibly strange, offbeat, "space age," and fantastic vintage Jewish albums by the likes of Irving Fields, Gershon Kingsley, and The Barry Sisters. I have all of the releases and every one is absolutely fantastic. I can't recommend them enough. Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, and in celebration David and his gang put together what is now my favorite Hanukkah compilation ever. Hit play below and head over to the Idelsohn Society to buy some CDs in support of the organization!

From the Idelsohn Society:
In honor of the holiday season, we are proud to offer this little mix of music culled from our various albums, archives and projects. There's plenty of choice old-school tracks mixed in with new school Idelsohn exclusives like the re-mix of the Yemenite Trio by Soulico's DJ Sabbo. Songs from Lionel Hampton and Marlena Shaw are just a taste of what's to come on our next release forthcoming in 2010, Black Sabbath, an homage to the musical history of Blacks and Jews. Of course, there's also a couple of classic Christmas anthems courtesy of that other tradition's most beloved holiday crooners, Barbra and Neil.

Track list:
"The Problem"- Ray Brenner & Barry E. Blitzer
"White Christmas"-Barbra Streisand
"Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel"- Ella Jenkins
"Hava Nagila"- Lionel Hampton
"Mizrachi on the Drums (Sabbo Remix)"/"Seeing Israel"- The Yemenite Trio Vs. George Jessel
"Kale Kale"- Avram Grobard
"Holiday Mambo"- Machito & His Afro-Cubans
"They're Serving the Fish"- Benny Bell & The Brownsville Klezmers
"Blue"/"Santa Claus"- King Midas Sound vs. Ray Brenner & Barry E. Blitzer
"Where Can I Go?"- Marlena Shaw
"The Jewish Experience (MIS Remix)"/ "In The Beginning"- Gershon Kingsley vs. Charlton Heston
"Songs My Mother Loved"- Milton Berle
"That Old Black Magic"- Johnny Mathis
"Loco"- Don Tosti
"Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"- Neil Diamond
"Hanukkah Dance"-Woody Guthrie
Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation

Marijuana's big fat zero

Smirking Chimp

Of course most people know - or should know by now - that cannabis [the Evil Weed, Marijuana!] doesn't kill anybody. It is not carcinogenic and appears to be an untapped source of new medicines.

For those who ARE behind on their information about cannabis I point you to this pdf Congressional Research report on Medical Marijuana:Review and Analysis of Federal and State Policies

This is a special report produced for the US Congress on your tax dollar. This report is made available to all your legislators and this represents the information available to them. It is a little over 50 pages in length and is focused on medical marijuana policy, but the real value is in the details of the report which clearly show that cannabis is not remotely the health hazard or social disruption tobacco or alcohol - or other hard drugs - are.

If you read this report you will pretty much know what you need to know in order to talk about the topic of "marijuana" like a knowledgeable person and not sound like the clueless people who just regurgitate US Government propaganda.

There is a review of the history of cannabis prohibition, and an overview of actions taken to ease or end this extremely backwards situation. Tobacco and alcohol kill millions each year: cannabis kills nobody. Yet it is still severely illegal most places. Even in states like California, which has pioneered the end of cannabis prohibition, the US Federal government and numerous right-leaning private organization maintain an endless blitz of false information and scaremongering about the issue whilst the US DEA continues to raid medical marijuana growers and 'dispensaries' for lack of a better term for the places where folks can obtain legal medical cannabis.


Safe haven...

A sharp turn toward another Vietnam

By George McGovern
As a U.S. senator during the 1960s, I agonized over the badly mistaken war in Vietnam. After doing all I could to save our troops and the Vietnamese people from a senseless conflict, I finally took my case to the public in my presidential campaign in 1972. Speaking across the nation, I told audiences that the only upside of the tragedy in Vietnam was that its enormous cost in lives and dollars would keep any future administration from going down that road again.
I was wrong. Today, I am astounded at the Obama administration's decision to escalate the equally mistaken war in Afghanistan, and as I listen to our talented young president explain why he is adding 30,000 troops -- beyond the 21,000 he had added already -- I can only think: another Vietnam. I hope I am incorrect, but history tells me otherwise.

RIAA, MPAA and US Chamber of Commerce declare war on blind and disabled people

Boing Boing

Earlier this week, I told you about an open letter for writers in support of a treaty that would ensure that blind and disabled people all over the world would have legal protection when they converted books and other written matter to accessible format.

You'd think this would be a slam-dunk at the United Nations' World Intellectual Property Organization. Who could oppose non-profit blind/disabled groups helping disabled people get access to written work?

Well, The US Chamber of Commerce, the MPAA and the RIAA, that's who. All three organizations have urged the US trade delegation to oppose the treaty, because they fear it might set a precedent that users have rights to copyrighted works.

But that prospect doesn't sit well with American business. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation's largest lobby representing 3 million businesses, argues that the plan being proposed by Brazil, Ecuador and Paraguay, "raises a number of serious concerns," (.pdf) chief among them the specter that the treaty would spawn a rash of internet book piracy.

The treaty also creates a bad precedent by loosening copyright restrictions, instead of tightening them as every previous copyright treaty has done, said Brad Huther, a chamber director. Huther concluded in a Dec. 2 letter to the U.S. Copyright office that the international community "should not engage in pursuing a copyright-exemption based paradigm."

Echoing that concern, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry of America told the Copyright Office last month that such a treaty would "begin to dismantle the existing global treaty structure of copyright law, through the adoption of an international instrument at odds with existing, longstanding and well-settled norms."

Copyright Owners Fight Plan to Release E-Books for the Blind

A Leak For Everyone: All Things to All People

Lloyd Dangle