Friday, 27 July 2012

Mitt’s Charm Offensive: Definitely Offensive, not Charming

Mitt Romney continues to put his foot in his mouth on his trip abroad. Not exactly the best start or showing for someone who wants to be the Leader of the Free World. Prime Minister David Cameron had this to say in response to Weathervane’s rambling faux pas:

“We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active bustling cities anywhere in the world, and of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.”

No secret what he’s referring to, there… Romney’s trip has been surprisingly shambolic, which to me just raises even more questions (to add to the oh-so-many already being raised) about whether or not he is remotely prepared or even suited to be President of the United States. Here’s Ezra Klein’s segment from The Rachel Maddow Show:

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Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Last Word on O’Reilly’s Muddled Gun Control Position

Just wanted to share a segment from Lawrence O’Donnell’s The Last Word (July 25th episode), in which the host looks at Bill O’Reilly’s muddled recent coverage of the shooting in Aurora, Colorado and what should be done about gun control. It’s presented in O’Donnell’s signature, snarky style (which doesn’t really do anything for me), but there’s some good coverage and commentary:

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Tuesday, 24 July 2012

“Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt” (Nation Books)

I’ve been interested in reading this book for a while, but in advance of a review, I thought I’d share this book-trailer, narrated by Chris Hedges:

Here’s the synopsis:

Two years ago, Pulitzer Prize winner Chris Hedges and award-winning cartoonist and journalist Joe Sacco set out to take a look at the sacrifice zones, those areas in America that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement. They wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like in places where the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit. Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is the searing account of their travels.

The book starts in the western plains, where Native Americans were sacrificed in the giddy race for land and empire. It moves to the old manufacturing centers and coal fields that fueled the industrial revolution, but now lie depleted and in decay. It follows the steady downward spiral of American labor into the nation's produce fields and ends in Zuccotti Park where a new generation revolts against a corporate state that has handed to the young an economic, political, cultural and environmental catastrophe.

“Guns are already political”

This is an excellent segment, from Ezra Klein, MSNBC’s resident wonk:

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In typical (and excellent) Klein fashion, he trots out tons of statistics, painting a picture that can only be described as depressing. Beyond the specific event that sparked this debate, the truly depressing thing, though, is that none of this information is new – it’s updated, of course – and the arguments for tighter gun-control have been outlined, detailed and explained ad infinitum and ad nauseam.

There is a fundamental crack in American politics and society, into which collective sense and intelligence appear to have fallen. Reason and rationalism have fled the building when it comes to firearms in the United States, and as a foreigner, the continuing spiral of violence and entrenchment on this issue is most depressing.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Romney’s Personal Olympic Rescue

I’m glad someone’s actually talking about this, now – Matt Taibbi (I think – it could have been Tim Dickinson) wrote about Romney’s “rescue” of the Salt Lake City Olympics months ago, and it’s been driving me nuts that everybody is just swallowing Romney’s word hook, line and sinker.

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The fact of the matter is, Mitt Romney was only able to save the Salt Lake City Olympics by getting a huge loan from the Federal Government (it wasn’t all in response to 9/11, either, as some people have been led to believe – the vast majority came before it). Not only that, the debt was transferred across to the Government, too. This is just another example of “successful market capitalism” as it is practiced by oh-so-many Republican “successful market capitalists” – with the help and safety net provided by the Federal Government.

America’s political, historical and factual amnesia is becoming extreme. Something has to be done about this, and I think the media has definitely dropped the ball.

It is not “partisan” to state fact. It is not “partisan” to point out when a politician – Republican or Democrat – has either missed something, distorted something, or misunderstood something. They don’t have to editorialise it, if that’s what they’re afraid of – there are ways of phrasing and framing facts as… well, facts:

“Candidate/President/Congressperson X said this. However, records suggest that this is false.”

“X claimed Y said this. However, research has not found any evidence of this.”

“Romney claims he’s a Rand-ian, market capitalist. However, the record shows he’s everything under the political and economic sun.”

See? There are ways you can do this…

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A Valid (if Facetious) Point

Although, from what I’ve read and seen of the 2012 Presidential Campaign, facetious points seem to be the only ones being made… God knows, there is a lack of much of anything else going on. In fact, I’ve been entirely underwhelmed by this election campaign. It doesn’t help that President Obama is hyper-disciplined and seems to be, you know, trying to govern while also running; and Candidate Romney… well, he doesn’t really have anything new to say that he hasn’t said millions of time before, and even in the early days it was boilerplate, entirely predictable and pointless.

Anyway. This is what I meant to share, before I started writing the intro to this post…


College/School Standards…

Another great cartoon from Steve Breen:


Thursday, 12 July 2012

“It’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs!” Except when it isn’t…

The Republican-controlled Congress have now tried to “fake repeal” Obamacare THIRTY-THREE times. Now, I use the word “fake”, because that is exactly what these votes are – the attempts to repeal are purely symbolic stunts. That is all.

Here’s Rachel Maddow on the bizarre, counterproductive behaviour from the Republican caucus:

The clip also has some interesting information about the Affordable Care Act, which has frankly been all-too-thin on the ground. Yet another great segment from America’s best news presenter/commentator. Also, Representative Peter Welch (D-VT), who is interviewed in the segment, provides some important points about Republican shortcomings in the healthcare debate – where are their alternatives? The simple fact of the matter is that they don’t have any.

One problem, of course (again mentioned in the clip), is the fact that the most successful Republican-created healthcare ‘alternative’ was… Romneycare. Which Candidate Weathervane has washed his hands of, despite its popularity in Massachusetts.


UPDATE: More “Proof” it’s Not all about “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” (12/7/2012)

Rachel Maddow has long been pointing out how the Republican Congress and national Party are more interested in pandering to their base than helping fix the economy, and here’s a graph that speaks volumes:


Now, imagine if they were investing as much energy into fixing the economy, rather than legislating on something like this…

The Power of SCOTUS

Found this in an Atlantic article, and it’s is an incredible statistic:

“The Affordable Care Act, according to a Washington Post/ABC News survey, is now backed by 47 percent of Americans, up from 39 percent in April 2012. Opposition to the law in the wake of the Supreme Court decision upholding it is also down, from 53 to 47 percent.”

The WaPo/ABC polling service is, according to the article, “the most accurate” polling outfit, so this could be a considerable boon for the President. It’s also an incredible statement on the power of the Supreme Court. And 8% bump in popularity because the Supreme Court ruled that Obamacare was constitutional. Garance Franke-Ruta, the author of the article, suggests that the increased support came from Democrats who had originally been dissatisfied with the Act:

“Democratic unhappiness with the bill is more likely to have softened than GOP objections since it was upheld.”

However, I think it is possible that some independents and moderate Republicans, who genuinely were concerned about the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, may now be taking the Supreme Court’s lead and accepting that it is constitutional. Some Democrats will, of course, have come around, but if they were “dissatisfied” with the Act before the Roberts Court took a look at it, then I don’t understand how they will all of a sudden be satisfied with it? Nothing’s changed with the Act…

Franke-Ruta does, however, offer some evidence from the Washington Post that “independents don’t really like what either candidate is offering”, so maybe not so many independents have been brought into the fold.


[Photo from the Atlantic piece, but sourced from Reuters originally.]

Chips are down for London Olympics

This is a rather funny story. It also highlights some incredibly restrictive sponsorship terms, which nevertheless retain a wonderful British twist.

As many will know, McDonalds is a huge sponsor of sporting events – from World Cup Football/Soccer, to the Olympics. Never mind that it’s fast/junk food and connecting it to sports, which are played by some of the healthiest, fittest people on earth – if there’s a big sporting event, the chances are McDonald’s golden arches will be somewhere.

The London 2012 Olympics have apparently run afoul of McDonald’s strict sponsorship terms. Specifically, the right to sell chips (or “fries”) in official Olympics catering venues. It is apparently not allowed. Except in one situation…


I must say, I love that there is a loophole for Olympics Catering to sell chips only in combination with fish. Fish & Chips are, of course, quintessentially British, and the notion of barring that dish from the plates of Olympics spectators would be quite horrendous. At the same time, the idea that only McDonald’s fries can be served in official Olympics catering venues… That’s ridiculous.

[I found this story via Brian Fung’s story on The Atlantic. This is where I got the image from, too.]

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Seriously, TNR? Imagination Failure

Oh look, problems in the UK give rise to a visual gag about British people having bad teeth… Sigh. I also just don’t understand why they think this is… well, I don’t know what. It’s not funny, clever, shrewd, intelligent or anything else. It’s just quietly offensive. For no reason.


I’m not someone who normally get precious about things, and I’m not really a standard bearer for the UK, but this is just bad. There must have been a better graphic they could conjure up, surely?

Sunday, 8 July 2012

TRMS, Republican Donors & Weinstein

A segment from Friday’s The Rachel Maddow Show, about big-money donors in the US presidential election. The amounts from Republican mega-donors are frankly staggering, with a handful promising to donate $100-400million to Republican Congressional campaigns, right-leaning SuperPacs and the Romney campaign.

This clip lays it all out rather well, but also brings on Harvey Weinstein. I particularly like how Weinstein used two movies he’s helped fund and produce to explain the right’s approach to funding Romney – through a marketing lens.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

“Boomerang” by Michael Lewis (Allen Lane/W.W. Norton)

LewisM-BoomerangUKThe Meltdown Tour

As Pogo once said, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 and 2008 was more than a simple financial phenomenon: it was temptation, offering entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge.

Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers. The Greeks wanted to turn their country into a piñata stuffed with cash and allow as many citizens as possible to take a whack at it. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish.

Michael Lewis’s investigation of bubbles beyond our shores is so brilliantly, sadly hilarious that it leads the American reader to a comfortable complacency: oh, those foolish foreigners. But when he turns a merciless eye on California and Washington, DC, we see that the narrative is a trap baited with humor, and we understand the reckoning that awaits the greatest and greediest of debtor nations.

Lewis’s Boomerang is a fine example of Financial-Disaster Travel Journalism, and anyone with an interest in the global economy of the past couple of years should absolutely read it. He takes a number of case studies and details how the global economic crisis either effected them, or how they had a hand in creating it: Iceland, Greece, Germany, and the United States. The author makes the case that the way nations acted when the money was made freely available to them “obviously told you a lot about them: their desires, their constraints, their secret sense of themselves. How they reacted when the money was taken away was equally revealing.” The international credit glut

“offered entire societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could not normally afford to indulge… Americans wanted to own homes far larger than they could afford, and to allow the strong to exploit the weak. Icelanders wanted to stop fishing and become investment bankers, and to allow their alpha males to reveal a theretofore suppressed megalomania. The Germans wanted to be even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. All these different societies were touched by the same event, but each responded to it in its own peculiar way. No response was as peculiar as the Greeks’, however: anyone who had spent even a few days talking to people in charge of the place could see that.”

Boomerang is Lewis’s account of what he saw in these countries. The book is packed with quotable comments and statistics. As a result, this review is rather long, but I have reigned myself in somewhat.

Tomasky on Romney

Over on the Daily Beast today, Michael Tomasky’s written an interesting (and frustration-inducing) article about the presidential election. The bits that are of real interest to me are when Tomasky’s describing Romney’s hypocrisy-laden-confused-mess-of-proposals:

Romney is Bush on steroids. His tax plan is far more extreme. He wants to give millionaires an average… tax cut of $250,000. The same plan would add $3 trillion to the deficit over a decade. Haven’t we tried this before, and didn’t it help lead – along with massive deregulation, which Romney also promises to pursue – to the biggest meltdown in 80 years?

The radical tax plan and its affect on the deficit hasn’t stopped Romney from backing “cut, cap, and balance,” a congressional GOP plan that calls for a Balanced Budget Amendment! Imagine that chutzpah… Cut, cap, and balance is so extreme, so ludicrous, that 35 GOP senators – a pretty hardened assemblage, you’ll agree – haven’t signed it. It’s out there in Tea Party land.

Want more hypocrisy? … Cut, cap, and balance requires gargantuan and immediate cuts to the federal budget. But remember what Romney told Time magazine in May?: “if you take a trillion dollars, for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5 percent. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.”

Then there’s the Ryan budget and assaults on Medicare. The fact that Romney has no actual jobs plan beyond letting the free market work its magic...

The continued support for Romney still boggles my mind, and despite the gaffe-filled “awful week” Romney’s had, it really troubles me that Obama isn’t wiping the floor with him. So the Wall Street Journal told him off for cavorting like John Kerry – big woop, that as a “news” story will disappear in a couple of days, maximum.

When discussing the Romney “strategy”, Tomasky doesn’t pull any punches:

Complete and willful vacuity. Vacuity as a matter of principle. Almost virginal vacuity, as if intercourse with facts were somehow deflowering, leading to a lapsarian state of loss of ignorance. Nothing adds up at all. No attempt is made for things to add up. Except, of course, for those core items that Romney and the congressional Republicans will agree on: cut taxes for the rich, deregulate as much as possible, and re-wreck the economy.

This is the sort of thing I’ve been saying for years about so many loud-mouthed Republicans (and just a few Democrats). This “vacuity” is the greatest threat to America. The idea that “anyone” can do it has been a disaster for the modern United States. [I know of plenty of serious-minded and conscientious Republicans, some personally, which is why I keep using qualifiers.]

Tomasky continues, noting a recent study from a Democratic SuperPac that found people “simply refused to believe” Romney could possibly support both the Ryan Budget Plan (“and thus championed ‘ending Medicare as we know it’”) and advocating tax cuts for wealthy Americans at the same time. It’s a bizarre, more-than-perverse instance of “a politician benefiting from the fact that his plans and commitments are so radical that voters simply can’t believe he’d pursue them”!

Tomasky finishes:

… the GOP’s Pottersville – no General Motors, no Chrysler, no health care for 32 million, no public investment at all, no regulation of banks, and all the rest – is an ugly place where we don’t want to live.

Part of me, that part that sometimes will believe in conspiracies and the worst in people, wonders if there’s some kind of Faustian bargain between business leaders and certain, crazy members of the Republican Party – promise to cut corporate and our personal taxes, and we’ll slow job-growth to screw Obama’s re-election chances. The chances of this being reality are, of course, slim. That would be a massive conspiracy and the paperwork would have come out by now.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The TIMES & China

Much has been said and written about Rupert Murdoch’s courting of China in the past decade or so, but it does seem to not have effected the content of at least some of his newspapers. On July 2nd, two articles cropped up in the Times that caught my eye, due to their distinctively negative tone. The first also suggested that the issue of Tiananmen Square is alive and well in the Western press (I noted not so long ago that the issue seemed to disappear when the American press reported on Chen Guangcheng).

“Fear and loathing after 15 years under Beijing's rule” by Leo Lewis (TIMES, Monday July 2nd 2012, p.28)

“Everything bad comes down to the interference of Beijing” one Hong Kong resident told Lewis.

“On the surface, Hong Kong seems to be booming since the handover, but underneath life just gets more difficult. Free speech is falling away. Promises are broken. They don’t even let reporters ask questions.”

Following up on that statement, Lewis reports that Rex Hon Yiu Ting was “removed” from a question-and-answer session with Chairman Hu Jintao after asking “a question about the Tiananmen Square crackdown”. Tiananmen remained a sticking point, as

“Mr Hu received another shrill reminder of disgust at Beijing’s record on human rights and the bloody suppression of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square.”

Having written this, though, for some reason Lewis does not actually describe or provide any details about what this “shrill reminder” actually was. A strange omission. Perhaps Lewis is referring to the “huge protest march” that coincided with the swearing in of Hong Kong’s new, “tainted by scandal” millionaire Chief Executive, Leung Chun Ying.

Lewis also included a mention of the “suspicious” death of dissident Li Wangyang, who died at a Chinese hospital, which appears at first to be rather peripheral to the story he is covering.

I get the feeling this article was heavily edited by someone who was less-than-careful about what they were taking out and making sure what they left in actually made sense and didn’t suddenly hang there along and without context.

“Shanghai ‘must focus on opening markets’ to realise its 2020 vision” by Emily Ford (TIMES, Monday July 2nd 2012, p.43)

There’s not much to write about this article, but I thought there were a couple of interesting comments within it. For example, the rather negative portrayal of China’s economic council/officials as Hu Jintao’s “economic henchmen”.

“Some economists say that if China does not move quicker to open up its financial markets and liberalise interest rates, it will risk creating another Tokyo, whose early promise as a global financial centre dwindled with economic malaise.”

“China’s Doormat”?

China enters the presidential election, again. This time in a way that is oh-so-familiar.

According to the Rachel Maddow Show clip below, the Obama administration has gone after China’s mercantilist policies at “twice the rate of the George W. Bush administration”. The case used in the clip is of the $189,000+ Jeep available in China – a result of massive tariffs Beijing has slapped on the vehicle.

Nevertheless, politics has entered the discourse, in a really weird way. Despite the Obama administration “being confrontational toward China in a way no modern administration has ever been”, Mitt Romney is calling the administration “China’s doormat”. It still amazes me that Romney’s message is such a damned mess and divorced from reality, and the fact that nobody can seem to make it stick or have a lasting impact on the race or even on Romney’s behaviour.

Here’s the clip:

TRMS last night actually had two segments related to China, the second about a strange, apparently Chinese community rally in support of coal ash. This one’s rather amusing:

The segment ends with some good commentary on the role of the energy industry and anonymous political donors.