Why $700 Billion?

I figured this out in a moment of clarity, why it is that the Bush Administration is pushing for $700 billion for bailouts. That’s a very specific number for a situation that is not at all straightforward, so why $700B rather than $500B or $850B or $1 trillion?

There is a concept in poker called the “value bet.” When you get to the final betting round, all the cards have been dealt or drawn and now the probabilities have all collapsed into what hand you actually hold. If you are convinced you have the best one, you make the value bet, which is a bet you want called. You are sure you are going to win this hand no matter what, so you want to get your opponent to commit the maximum into the pot. You don’t want to bet too little because then you aren’t exploiting this fully but you don’t want to bet so much as to make them fold because then you get nothing additional. The ability to feel out this number is a key part of the advanced game that the pros work on.

Why is Bush asking for $700 billion? Because he’s got a few more months to try to transfer as much money from the public coffers into the hands of his peers in the privileged “ownership society” class. This is George W. Bush’s real legacy. It’s a value bet.

Update: I knew it. My intuition is confirmed. Thank you, good night.

The Coup in America

I am tentatively pleased that the attempted coup in the United States of America, the one that would install Hank Paulson as acting leader of the American Junta, is running into problems. The first laugh I’ve had from the whole situation came from the image attached to this NPR story. I’m very proud of Christopher Dodd for staring down the Bush Administration on this point. He is the hero of this Congress, and I wish he was the majority leader rather than Harry Reid. Every point where the Democrats looked like they’d do their standard act of caving in to threats and then ended up hanging tough and fighting, Christopher Dodd was involved, sometimes the only one standing up.

Here is a copy of Dodd’s proposed bailout legislation via the Sunlight Foundation. Compared to the original floated, which would have made any congressional or judicial oversight illegal, it is a damn sight better. You can annotate and leave your comments over there, which I encourage anyone to do who has the time to do. I just heard Larry Lessig’s talk about the Sunlight Foundation the other day, and it was fantastic. This is the first legislation that I’ve seen it in action, and this my friends is what democracy in the 21st century should look like.

Update: Whoops, didn’t actually include the link to Dodd’s marked up legislation. Thanks to Adam for pointing that out.

No Free Gift Money For the Rich

I’m calling my representative (Henry Brown) and both of my Senators (Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint) tomorrow. I’ll have a script somewhat prepared so that I can remain coherent through my brain melting anger. What I will be expressing is that I do not want Congress giving a $700 Billion bucket of money for Hank Paulson to toss towards whichever firms he most wants to get a no-strings gift from the taxpayers. For one thing, I’d like this to be tied to repeal of the Bush tax cuts on the rich. The rich are the ones who benefit from this, so their usual canards about how they are immune from having to pay into the common good have never been more obviously false.

It’s time for the Republicans to apply that rhetoric of personal responsibility that they apply to you and me to the corporations that need our help. Companies that get this money need serious strings attached. One of my pet strings is that I’d like to see all executive salaries capped at say, $200K a year during the period they are are on the public dole. When they’ve repaid the money to the US taxpayers, they can lift the cap. Here’s Robert Kuttner’s list of strings he’d like to see. That’s a pretty good list. Rather than linking to individual posts about the unbelievable outrage of this bailout slush fund, I’d suggest reading Avedon Carol’s recent posts. I’d just be cribbing her links anyway.

Time to call your senators (here’s all their phone numbers) and representatives (find your representative’s contact info by your zip code at the top of this page).

Democrat Thought Experiment

If I were running for president as a Democrat right now, I’d be hammering on this whole Karl Rove immunity from subpoena thing pointing out that people in my administration are not above the law and are subject to congressional oversight. Then I’d try to force my opponent to say whether his stance is the same, forcing him to either repudiate the Bushista stance or claim the same nonsense. Puts him in a lose/lose.

I don’t know if the Obama campaign will do this. They’ve had ample opportunity to – rather than talk about vague values and leadership – actually put Obama out there to lead. I’ve been underwhelmed with Obama all through this campaign, which has made loyal Obamites insane with me for the last year. I lived in Chicago in 2004 and got to experience his rise from a crowded Democratic primary field to a complete domination in the general election. I was highly impressed by him then, but ever since then he has demeaned actual progressive values. Constantly for the last four years he has hammered about how we need to “stop bickering and foster bipartisan cooperation.” I’ve slowly learned to hate him for that stance. When your opponents are attempting to reinstitute monarchy and tyranny and destroy the rule of law, we don’t need bipartisan cooperation in that effort but Obama does it anyway.

Really, when Edwards left the race there went actual progressive values. I think people are beginning to experience buyers remorse, as we are seeing in the whole FISA bill debacle. I’m tired of bloggers expressing shock and disappointment over this. It’s exactly the same things as Obama has been saying all campaign and all during his tenure as a senator. If you are surprised by this, you just haven’t been paying attention because this was always entirely predictable and from some of us, predicted.

Let me head off what comment #1 will be: “So what, you are going to vote for McCain?” No, I’m not. I’ll vote for Obama because he is what we have to work with. McCain is a corrupt, war-mongering, unprepared partisan hack who is barely a notch above what we have now. However, both Clinton and Obama were in my opinion tied for 4th best choice in the primary, at best. I want to see Obama win, but I sure wish it was John Edwards winning instead. If that happened, we might actually get some progressive policies in place and a rollback of the shredding of the constitution of the last 7 years. What I expect from Obama is at best a stop to the bleeding. But, in lousy times like this I’ll take it.

Get Out, Hillary Clinton

Reading the news yesterday of the Democratic Primary, an insight hit me. Even though there are ways Hillary Clinton could win the nomination there are none still in play that wouldn’t taint the process, make it feel stolen and drive away all the new energized Democrats who have been signing up for the last six months. She could pull some chicanery with Florida and Michigan or she could appeal to the superdelegates but in either case she plays right into the scumbag Machiavellian stereotype many of us have about her and her husband.

I think this week is the one where the thing many of us feel becomes impossible to miss: HRC would rather be the nominee and lose in November than see her party win. I’ve felt this all along which is why I’ve never had a glimmer of support for her. No one should buy that she cares about the good of the masses when she obviously does not care about the good of even her political allies. If she persists on this this course from here forward, I want to see her lose her senate seat, and there be no chance whatsoever of another presidential run. She and Joe Lieberman can go form the “It’s All About Me” party and have a good ol’ time there. For the people whose primary concern is staunching the bleeding of liberty from our government and Constitution, there are more important things than individual quests for power.


I haven’t really taken an interest in the Democratic primary since John Edwards dropped out. I don’t believe the media talking point that this long primary is “hurting the Democratic party.” I think the opposite is true and that it actually helps in the long run. Despite all that, I’m ready for it to be over. I’m sick of Barack Obama, but not nearly as sick as I am of Hillary Clinton. I never voted for her husband and I sure don’t want to vote for her. Mostly I’m just fatigued by the bullshit, mostly perpetrated by the lazy media in endless service to an ever shifting master narrative. If one thing makes me proud of America, it is the way voters seem to be generally resistant to the manipulation. You go, America!

Ed Cone on the Political Ground Game

My acquaintance Ed Cone has a great article on the convergence of politics and the internet. He articulates something I noticed but couldn’t put into words as well as he did. The Howard Dean campaign in 2004 and the Ron Paul campaign this time around had a lot of internet juice but neither seemed to translate into many votes. He lays out why he thinks that is and some suggestions for using the internet in a campaign.

A single one sentence observation carries much of the weight of wisdom: “The ground game matters.” I made some phone calls for John Edwards (not many, fewer than a dozen) but his online virtual phone bank tool made that easy. In 2002, I had to drive to a boiler room in Chamblee GA to make calls for Max Cleland and it really sucked. I agree with Ed that the strength of the internet lies in coordinating the rest of it. It is a means, but not an end. Of the people I know personally that were supporting Ron Paul and involved in the process, they did internet style things for him but I’m pretty sure that didn’t involve making phone calls or pounding on doors. The ground game matters.

Goodbye John Edwards

Today John Edwards threw in the towel. I was working up a big citation post about this argument between my brother and me, comparing why in the head to head comparison between Edwards and Obama I found Edwards more compelling. He had my support and I think the best Democratic candidate has now left the race. Here’s a snippet of his farewell speech:

And I want to say to everyone here, on the way here today, we passed under a bridge that carried the interstate where 100 to 200 homeless Americans sleep every night. And we stopped, we got out, we went in and spoke to them.

There was a minister there who comes every morning and feeds the homeless out of her own pocket. She said she has no money left in her bank account, she struggles to be able to do it, but she knows it’s the moral, just and right thing to do. And I spoke to some of the people who were there and as I was leaving, one woman said to me, “You won’t forget us, will you? Promise me you won’t forget us.” Well, I say to her and I say to all of those who are struggling in this country, we will never forget you. We will fight for you. We will stand up for you.

But I want to say this — I want to say this because it’s important. With all of the injustice that we’ve seen, I can say this, America’s hour of transformation is upon us. It may be hard to believe when we have bullets flying in Baghdad and it may be hard to believe when it costs $58 to fill your car up with gas. It may be hard to believe when your school doesn’t have the right books for your kids. It’s hard to speak out for change when you feel like your voice is not being heard.

But I do hear it. We hear it. This Democratic Party hears you. We hear you, once again. And we will lift you up with our dream of what’s possible.

I wish I had as much faith in the other candidates or the Democratic Party as I do in John Edwards. I don’t, but at this point what else do I have left? Maybe I’ll be able to vote for him in 2016.

I’m Voting Edwards

John Edwards in Conway SC
Originally uploaded by evilgenius

Over the course of the primary season, my only real question was whether I was going to vote for Kucinich or Edwards. That question has been answered over the last few weeks, and I’m proudly voting for John Edwards.

I’ve long ago decided that I hate that triangulating style of politics that Bill Clinton mastered so well. If I hate that from politicians, how can I do any different with my vote? I hear people not wanting to vote for candidates because they “aren’t electable.” That’s crap. It just makes it a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’d have been happy to vote for either because they are the two candidates in the field who unwaveringly support the ideas and ideals that I care about. Kucinich disappointed me hard in Iowa when he urged his supporters to move to Obama, despite the fact that Edwards is much closer to him in his beliefs. At the Myrtle Beach debate and really all through the campaign, Edwards has stood out for me as the true progressive candidate.

I’m voting for him today and I’m using his “virtual phone bank” tool to make phone calls to other South Carolinians on his behalf. I refuse to accept the Big Media brokered coronation of Clinton over the last year, or Obama since Iowa. Let’s throw a wrench in their game plan and have John take this state, the state he was born in. Stick it to the man, vote Edwards!

The Beancounter Bubble

Here’s a sad article but one that seems true to me about how our country and economy has been sucked dry by beancounters.

The American ship is sinking from the weight of its own economic narcissism. Our accountants and finance professionals have been richly rewarded for squeezing the last microscopic drop of profitability out of every other profession. That’s why American newsrooms don’t bother with news. That’s why American old age homes imprison their residents as cheaply as possible. That’s why American insurance companies refuse to pay out claims for sick people or destroyed homes. That’s why we’ve proven that America is massively incapable of nationbuilding in Iraq or in Afghanistan or even in Louisiana.

So, thanks to the beancounters who know what things cost but not how to actually do anything, American is accelerating toward becoming a third world nation. And no one in the rest of the world will give a shit, and rightfully so, thanks to our cavalier attitudes toward Iraqi civilians, toward Sudanese refugees, toward the Chinese children who sew our clothing, toward the immigrants who work on our farms and in our hotels and hospitals and in those extremely profitable old-age homes, and toward anyone who isn’t white and speaks English.

This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night. Are you more worried about getting blown up or watching your house, savings and job disappear into the nothingness?

Mike Huckabee, Theocrat

Here in South Carolina, there is a campaign ad for Mike Huckabee in which he says “I will put values above politics.” I’ve always thought that was a coded message to his supporters that was really said “I put Jesus above the Constitution.” That turns out to have been the correct parsing, because now he’s not even coding it.

Via Avedon Carol I found this article at Lawyers, Guns and Money. It’s hard to believe, but Huckabee actually made these outrageous statements:

“I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution,” Huckabee told a Michigan audience on Monday. “But I believe it’s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the living god. And that’s what we need to do — to amend the Constitution so it’s in God’s standards rather than try to change God’s standards so it lines up with some contemporary view.”

Mike Huckabee believes we need to change the Constitution to be be more in line with the Bible. Political reporters, are you pressing him on this? What does that mean, exactly? He will be in town this week. I’m considering going to his rally with a video camera, just to see if he volunteers an answer to this very Bible Belt crowd or if I can throw out the question and get a response. This is a very important substantive bit of information about a candidate, which matters far more than meta-political horserace strategizing. Help us out, here.

If The Media was Truly Even-Handed

Imagine if the fires in California were reported on with the same kinds of lies and panic as the flooding in New Orleans? You’d get this. I wish this were funny, but people died because aid was not sent in because “New Orleans was too dangerous” based on information that was all wrong and proven so later.

I Choose Panter

You know this is a sad election cycle when artist Gary Panter (the guy who does comics, did the Pee Wee’s Playhouse Set, Zappa album covers, etc) has a presidential platform that excites me far more than any of the candidates for either party’s actual platforms. I wish I could vote for Gary. We are doomed.

Thomas Ravenel Has My Tax Money and A Bag of Coke (Allegedly)

Last fall Thomas Ravenel was elected as the treasurer of my state of South Carolina. Now he has been indicted on charges of cocaine possession with intent to distribute. In fact, here is the indictment. That was a pretty quick fall from grace. There are a few interesting angles on this. One I found via Avedon is this interesting way the drug is mentioned. Some call it “cocaine” and other “crack cocaine” as analyzed here. What’s the difference? Crack cocaine carries stiffer penalties than does the same amount of powder cocaine. “Stranger” is pointing to a conspiracy theory but I think it is way too early for that when the possibility of some reporters just being wrong is alive. The indictment doesn’t use the word crack, so wouldn’t that be the operational point, and what does it matter how it is spun in the media? What really matters is whether the physical evidence they submit is a bag full of powder, or chunks.

Another interesting wrinkle is that Ravenel is the SC campaign manager for Giuliani’s presidential bid. It will be interesting to see if there is any political fallout in that direction. It kind of makes sense because as John Perry Barlow pointed out several years ago, cocaine is a Republican drug.

Falwell Fallen

Jerry Falwell died today. There is only one possible interpretation of this event – God is so upset with the homosexuals and the ACLU that he killed Falwell. Falwell himself taught us that all disasters are evidence that his political enemies have angered God, and that God will take that anger out on innocents. Now that anger has extended even to Falwell himself.

I thank the Reverend Falwell for getting me to appreciate the interpretation of God as a celestial mafioso. He’s fun to be around when things are good, but when it all turns sour the most convenient person will get whacked just for being there. This is brilliant theology, combining America’s two great loves – Jesus and the Sopranos. What a shame Reverend Falwell will not be able to share this sort of brilliance with us anymore. Maybe if he’s really a good boy up in heaven, God will let Jerry steer the next hurricane into a city full of people that he most wants to kill.

Politics in a Small Town

I’m still pissed off that a year and a half before the next presidential election, half of all the news I hear is about jockeying in this race. It’s manufactured by those who make money off news, which not coincidentally is where the vast majority of those grotesquely large fund raising war chests will go. Media companies and the candidates are locked in this weird embrace, not quite symbiotic but more mutually parasitic. This is what Gerry Spence is on about lately, how the relaxed media ownership rules and relaxed political requirements of media companies make true democracy impossible. What we end up is something like an oligarchy, where a handful of media owners and a handful of rich Americans work together to make sure only the richest citizens are truly represented.

Living in a state with an early primary, we’re getting an eyeful of this sad process. John McCain and Sam Brownback have both spoken at places so close to my house I could walk there. Barack Obama was about 40 miles away yesterday. I took a phone poll yesterday that was all about democratic issues, but I got the vibe that maybe the poll was commissioned by Obama’s people. I can’t cite specifics but something about it felt like that. It was boring and I was tempted to hang up but I wanted to get my datum in there where I feel about the issues. On a scale from 0 to 10, I gave a 0 to all the questions about “how important is faith to you in this election?” If there is one thing I don’t like about Obama, it is the incessant chiding about our faith and values.

A lot of the questions were framed about “restoring moral values in our country” which seemed tilted to me, because it came from the perspective that moral values have been eroded generally. I think most people in this country do not have moral values that are in question. That is reserved for the handful of people that think torturing people to get useless information is a worthwhile pursuit, that the only way to preserve our liberty is to reduce our liberty, that risking the lives of our fighting men and women while systematically siphoning the treasury into the hands of military contractors is the way of the future, and that rebuilding Baghdad is more important than rebuilding New Orleans. Those sons of bitches have morals that are questionable as to whether they exist and they need a long time out of government to contemplate that.

The Ten Commandments Vs the Constitution

I decided I’d post an entry in the blogswarm supporting the separation of church and state. It seems appropriate to do it on Easter. My blogging has risen again.

For most of my adult life I’ve lived in the south and periodically down here a state senator or congressman or judge starts a furor to get plaques of the Ten Commandments put in a civic space – government buildings or courthouses or such. I saw the episode of the Colbert Report where Representative Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia, who sponsored legislation to display the commandments in the Federal House of Representatives and the Senate buildings could only name three. There was much blogosphere hooting and hollering as a follow on about how dumb this guy was, but friends, you were played. There is a reason he could only name three:

Stephen Colbert: What are the Ten Commandments?

Lynn Westmoreland: What are all of them?

SC: Yes.

LW: You want me to name them all?

SC: Yes.

LW: Uhhh.

LW: Ummmm. Don’t murder. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Ummmmm.

LW: I can’t name them all.

He didn’t name any more than that, because those are the only three that have any place in a government building. Like most people, my original inclination was to make fun of the dumb guy. “Hell” I said, “I can name more than that. Remember the sabbath, have no other gods … Hey!!!” When you sit and down and think about the balance of the commandments, most are actually illegal and unconstitutional to enforce. As an exercise in thoroughness of thought, lets go down the list and see the legal implications of each of the Ten Commandments and see how appropriate we think this list is for government buildings. I am using the list as distilled by Wikipedia.

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me
    By the First Amendment to the Constitution, I am expressly permitted to have other gods than Jehovah.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol
    By the First Amendment to the Constitution, I am expressly permitted to have and make graven images of other gods. I have an image of Ganesa hanging on my desktop monitor right now. That violates the 2nd commandment, but I am in compliance with United States law.
  3. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of your God
    By the First Amendment to the Constitution, I am expressly permitted to take in vain the name of Jehovah, Jesus or any other god that is holy to any other citizen. It is part of my right of free speech.
  4. Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy
    By the First Amendment to the Constitution, I am expressly permitted to keep the Sabbath as holy or unholy as I choose. I chose to go grocery shopping this morning whilst Christians were at church celebrating their dead god. There was no one in the checkout line. Thank you, 4th commandment!
  5. Honor your parents
    While this is a good idea, there is no legal implications of it. I am permitted by American law to not honor my parents. It would make me a dick, but you couldn’t send me to jail for it unless accompanied by an action that was illegal in and of itself.
  6. You shall not murder
    Commandment #1 that is in line with the law and also one Westmoreland mentioned.
  7. You shall not commit adultery
    At the federal level, there is no legal implication of this commandment. Depending on the sodomy laws of the state or locality, this may or may not be in compliance with the law.
  8. You shall not steal
    Commandment #2 that is in line with the law and also one Westmoreland mentioned.
  9. You shall not bear false witness
    Commandment #3 that is in line with the law and also one Westmoreland mentioned.
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife and house
    Under United States law, I am allowed to covet my neighbor’s wife, house and donkey. I could not commit an action that was illegal in and of itself to act on that, but there is nothing illegal in thinking about it. If you talk your neighbor’s wife into divorcing him and marrying you, there is no legal implication of that.

So there you have it. Depending on how you score the adultery issue, there are 3 or 4 commandments in line with United States law, 2 or 3 that the law is indifferent to, and 4 that are contrary to the rights spelled out under the United State Constitution. That is why conservatives who push this issue “can’t remember” all the Commandments. If they named them all as part of the debate, it is obvious on its face that this document has no place being associated with the United States Goverment. 65% of it is illegal for the government to attempt to enforce. When someone wants to display the Ten Commandments in a civic space, question #1 to ask is “Are you planning to show all 10, or just the 3 that aren’t illegal?”