Category Archives: politics

Do big companies like regulation?

From USA Today (“Congress sends Obama bill to regulate tobacco,” 2009-06-12, Associated Press):

Altria Group, parent company of Philip Morris USA, the nation’s largest tobacco company, issued a statement Thursday supporting the legislation and saying it approved “tough but reasonable federal regulation of tobacco products” by the FDA. Rival companies have voiced opposition, saying FDA limits on new tobacco products could lock in market shares for Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes.

I’m no fan of cigarettes or smoking, but it seems to me that it’s not a coincidence the Altria likes this legislation while R. J. Reynolds doesn’t.

Cigarettes are probably a little like beer. Making them is easy. Mass producing them is easy. The tricky part is administrative, going through all the legal, regulatory, and tax hoops to penetrate the market. This probably explains why Budweiser is kind of bland; the same bottles are made to be sold in New York and Utah — compare the taste to a local or regional microbrewery (e.g., Brooklyn Brewery in New York or Redhook in Seattle), where the alcohol content is almost certainly higher.

Besides vice, what other industries might have this resemblance to oligopolies because of regulation? Two others I can think of right off the top of my head are automobiles and banking. Making a car isn’t easy, of course, but it got a lot harder in the 1970s or so. Expensive safety regulations, testing, and requirements that parts to be available for years after manufacture all add to the cost — and help guarantee that only a big, established company could survive in the market place. Starting a new bank is difficult, easily requiring tens of millions of dollars in starting capital. The legal and regulatory hurdles require top heavy administrative and legal overhead.

So, is it possible that by restricting vice, governments are reward vice-purveyors? What would happen if the pornography industry became more heavily regulated? When considering regulations the state is pushing, you should always try to see what corporations benefit.

It doesn’t matter

I’m so sick of seeing early polls, like this from Zogby:

UTICA, New York – Illinois Sen. Barack Obama would defeat all five of the top Republicans in prospective general election contests, performing better than either of his two top rivals, a new Zogby telephone poll shows.

His margins of advantage range from a 4 percent edge over Arizona Sen. John McCain and a 5 percent edge over Arkansas’ Mike Huckabee to an 18 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, the survey shows. Against New York’s Rudy Giuliani he leads by 9%, and against Fred Thompson of Tennessee he holds a 16 point edge.

  Romney Huckabee Giuliani McCain Thompson
Obama Obama leads 53%-35% Obama leads 47%-42% Obama leads 48%-39% Obama leads 47%-43% Obama leads 52%-36%

Remember the 2000 election? Bush was ahead of Gore from practically 1998 until the eve of the election, and still….

Oh, hell, nevermind.

Censorship vs. turning your television off: an early chapter

I got to thinking during my last post, actually, that it always surprises me how the debate about garbage in the media is framed. It usually looks something like this: one side (in Amerika, we call this side the “conservative” side) complains that there is way too much unregulated garbage on TV that is accessible to impressionable young minds. The other side says, well, the First Amendment kind of bars government censorship. Sorry. These two points get repeated over and over again in idiotic three-minute cable segments, as if there isn’t any other solution, or even any other side to the issue. It reminded me of this exchange between Frank Zappa and John Lofton on CNN’s crappy show Crossfire:

First, the thornier side, is about sex. The viewing public loves sex. So, naturally, the racier the sexualization of television, the more viewers you’ll get. Whether in Utah or Los Angeles, people watch complete garbage.

The pro-censorship guys

Then, of course, there’s a powerful section of the population, maybe waning in power now, that wishes to impose what might be described as a neo-Christian (or neo-Judeo-Christian*) morality on the public. John Lofton is an early example. In the 1980s, he was playing the quintessential American 1980s conservative: angry, dumb, beedy-eyed, wearing large-rimmed glasses, and ready to sink his teeth into anyone who dares to disagree with him (which, to him, is probably tantamount to disagreeing with the Bible). Today, he runs a blog after having left the Republican Party because they’re too unbiblical.

It’s said neo-Christians (“Christian right”) have theological motivations at times, though I somehow doubt theology was ever the overarching motivation. If they resemble an earlier Christian movement, it’s the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages—people believed in them, and they believed in Jesus, but not too many people really knew what they were talking about. In the jolly Middle Ages, there wasn’t much in the way of enforcement of rules, but there was a lot of talk about rules. Hell was reserved for pretty serious heresy (or Jews). Like the 1970s-1980s, capitalism and borrowing was the new vogue. The bourgeois become popular in government because they were able to manage finances. The church was a big receiver of income (in the climax of the neo-Christian movement, in the early 2000s, there was a lot of talk of federally-financed, likely unconstitutional “faith-based initiatives”). While this was going, the church backed off from its restrictions on usury, as secular governments found themselves needing to borrow to finance wars and later explorations. It was only in the early modern era that religion surged in violence again (maybe that’s next in the 21st century?).

In any event, neo-Christians weren’t necessarily fundamentalist Christians, and some still aren’t. Most are Republicans, but occasionally there’s a Democrat (Joseph Lieberman) or Libertarian thrown into the mix. Most subscribe to some form of evangelical, highly eschatological Christianity, but some are Catholics or even Jews (Leiberman again, or Bill Kristol). Heck, some are Mormons—witness the recent idiotic speech by Mitt Romney, who preaches religious toleration to a point.

If anything, neo-Christians may not even agree about very much. They agree that abortion should be banned, they agree that federal power can be used to enforce morality (to varying extents), and they agree that at least parts of the First Amendment really shouldn’t have any teeth or no heed should be paid to it at all. In all other ways, they have wide-ranging beliefs, though it often seems otherwise because they’re willing to sacrifice almost everything else over their core issues, allowing other interest groups to fill in the vacuum (this is where people like Kristol and other Republican Party sects like big business come in).

The neo-Christian guys first cropped up definitively in the 1970s, though elements of their theology and even influence certainly can be traced back decades, if not centuries. They were around before Roe v. Wade (1973), though Roe certainly boosted them. Pat Robertson had The 700 Club in the 1960s and The Late Great Planet Earth (by ex-riverboat captain Hal Lindsey) was written before Roe (1970). Less polemical, but also at least on the fringes of that movement, was Billy Graham.

By the 1980s, after hot issues like the Vietnam War and Watergate had cooled down, these neo-Christian guys took Washington and the airwaves by storm. They never had full control of the House and Senate until 1994, but they set the legislative tone from 1980 until 1992, and then from 1994 until 2007. They only managed full control of both the Congress and the White House for most of the period between 2001 and 2006. There was a short lull from late 2001 until early 2003 when Vermont Republican Senator Jim Jeffords left the party and handed control of the Senate over to the Democrats (he decided not to seek reelection).

Regardless, from the 1980s on, neo-Christians set the social agenda, and deferred to other sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory sections of the Republican Party to set the economic agenda. Their power to persuade was unprecedented because they learned to master the airwaves as a tool for spreading memes. Constant, non-stop repetition of their ideas made their ideas popular, even when those ideas were obviously stupid. Ronald Reagan’s moronic economic policies, which we’re still paying for in 2007, sounded great: cut taxes, cut spending, cut regulations, get the government out of our lives, spend a lot on the military (I know, but they don’t quite contradict). Either way, he really only managed to cut taxes and some regulations. Meanwhile, Ronnie had no problems using the federal government to thrust social policy on people: he presided over raised drinking age to 21. Meanwhile, the neo-Christians managed to poison to the ‘L’ word and keep the focus of dialog solely on their beliefs until at least 2005, arguably with a break around 1992 when the mess made in the 1980s and early 1990s was really to much.

Keep in mind, however, this movement was a lot more earnest early on than it was by the 1990s, or even in the 2000s when it was partially eclipsed by neoconservatism.

* I’m just going to stick to neo-Christian as the term, because it’s short.

Now you know they had her best interests at heart

This is extremely f’d up (“Heat on Halliburton over ‘gang rape’,” AP, published in The Sydney Morning Herald 2007-12-20):

Jamie Leigh Jones, now 23, said that she was gang raped inside the Baghdad Green Zone in July 2005 while she was working for the Halliburton subsidiary KBR Inc, which has support contracts with the US military.

Jones’ KBR contract however included a clause which prevents her from suing her employer, Poe said, which will likely force her into arbitration, which he described as “a privatised justice system with no public record, no discovery and no meaningful appeal”.

There are many laws that the Department of Justice (DOJ) “can enforce with respect to contractors who commit crimes abroad, but it chooses not to”, Democrat Robert Scott said.

The DOJ “seems to be taking action with respect to enforcement of criminal laws in Iraq only when it is forced to do something by embarrassing media coverage,” he added.

More on what a slimeball Mitt Romney really is

From Frank Rich’s column in The New York Times (“Latter-Day Republicans vs. the Church of Oprah,” 2007-12-16):

Mr. Romney didn’t fight his church’s institutionalized apartheid, whatever his private misgivings, because that’s his character. Though he is trying to sell himself as a leader, he is actually a follower and a panderer, as confirmed by his flip-flops on nearly every issue.

It’s nice that columnists have to do the job of the newsmedia nowadays. This, really, is just one more way that Mitt Romney is a bigot who wouldn’t stand a chance on the ticket of a major party in a civilized country.

(By “institutionalized apartheid,” Rich is referring to the fact that the Church of Jesus F. Christ of Latter-Day Saints institutionalized racism until the late ’70s. Just one more bit of immutable wisdom that, in retrospect, didn’t seem like such a good idea.)

Minutemaniacs: Failing to Stop Immigration!

More immigration madness from Arizona!

Of course, if anybody wants to stop illegal immigration, it’d be easy: just raise the minimum wage exorbitantly for illegal immigrants. That would punish the employers who hire them sufficiently so they won’t be hired. Then, when such workers get hired under the table anyway, enforce it when employees come to the authorities and demand their pay. Illegal immigrants would be doing the policing for the government. The jobs would dry up, and the problem would be negligible.

Of course, concern about illegal immigration isn’t rooted in common sense or concern for American workers, no matter what anyone claims. The root cause is racism, jingoism, xenophobia, ignorance, and stupidity.

Maureen Dowd on Doug Feith

Doug Feith is one of the little-known neo-conservative goons who helped draw the United States to war with Iraq. Here’s an excerpt from Maureen Dowd’s recent New York Times column (“The Dream Is Dead,” 2007-12-12) about him:

Feith told Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Yorker that “My family got wiped out by Hitler, and … all this stuff about working things out — well, talking to Hitler to resolve the problem didn’t make any sense to me. The kind of people who put bumper stickers on their car that declare that ‘War is not the answer,’ are they making a serious comment? What’s the answer to Pearl Harbor? What’s the answer to the Holocaust?”

What’s the answer to bin Laden? According to Feith, it was an attack on an unrelated dictator. He oversaw the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, whose mission was to amp up links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

It defies reason, but there are still some who think the chuckleheads who orchestrated the Iraq misadventure have wisdom to impart.

The Pentagon neocons dumped Condi Rice out of the loop. Yet, according to Newsweek’s Mike Isikoff, Condi has now offered Wolfie a job. It wasn’t enough that he trashed Iraq and the World Bank. (He’s still larking around town with Shaha, the sweetheart he gave the sweetheart deal to.)

Condi wants Wolfie to advise her on nuclear proliferation and W.M.D. as part of a State Department panel that has access to highly classified intelligence.

Once you’ve helped distort W.M.D. intelligence to trick the country into war, shouldn’t you be banned for life from ever having another top-level government post concerning W.M.D.?

Wikibullshit

Stuff like this is what I can’t stand about Wikipedia: “Not expressed as an ideology”? What is it expressed as then? A sonnet?

Anti-authoritarian? Only its rhetoric.

I know Wikipedia has major problems inherent to any group effort on a mass scale, but for some things it’s just not so bad. For issues relating to politics, however, it’s virtually worthless. Of course, there are bigger jokes out there.

Links:

Mitt Romney and Religious “Freedom”

Ah, religious freedom! My favorite subject. Here’s to Mitt Romney, and all others who cure diseases with heavy doses of poison:

“Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone,” he said.

This statement has some interesting implications. First of all, God is perishable? I guess the Catholics would agree. And then, who wouldn’t, as long as you have the correct religion?

Second, would Mitt Romney ban atheism? But permit worship of Cthulhu or the Spaghetti Monster (not to say they’re all that different)? Curious indeed: this would be the first time in American history, I think, where not believing something would be against the law.

Third, and most revealing, we can conclude that Mitt Romney is more batshit nuts than I thought. He communes with God? Is it a two-way conversation? If so, Mitt belongs in Bellevue, not the White House.

Mitt Romney is a bigot. It’s time for people to stop electing charlatans, like Romney and Bush, who play lip service to belief in God, while doing all they can to hurt the public. If you aren’t going to make it easier for the poor and middle class to send their children to a good school, you’re not “pro-family.” If you’re driving up the costs of healthcare for those who can least afford it, you’re not “pro-life.” And, if there is a God, believing in “Him” doesn’t make you any less of an asshole.

More fun:

Update 2007-12-14: Roger Cohen wrote a great piece about religion in American politics in The New York Times yesterday. See “Secular Europe’s Merits.” The relevant part about Mitt Romney:

Romney allows no place in the United States for atheists. He opines that, “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Yet secular Sweden is free while religious Iran is not. Buddhism, among other great Oriental religions, is forgotten.

He shows a Wikipedia-level appreciation of other religions, admiring “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” and “the ancient traditions of the Jews.” These vapid nostrums suggest his innermost conviction of America’s true faith. A devout Christian vision emerges of a U.S. society that is in fact increasingly diverse.

Jefferson’s “wall of separation” must be restored if those who would destroy the West’s Enlightenment values are to be defeated.

Save Tucker?

I never really understood how cable news “stars” rise and fall. I guess it usually comes down to a few gimmicks: sarcasm (Keith Olbermann), yelling at people in lieu of making a point (Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly), being just borderline racist/nationalist enough to still get away with it (Pat Buchanan), exuding a sense that you know what you’re talking about even when you probably don’t (Bill Schneider, Jack Cafferty), hating immigrants (most of Fox News, Lou Dobbs), being inflammatory while looking like a hooker (Ann Coulter), having a funny name (Wolf Blitzer), blind partisanship, being batshit insane (most everyone). One thing’s for sure: being thoughtful or bright isn’t helpful criteria. You pretty much have to be either a frothing right wing nut, or a center-right buffoon acting as an unwitting foil to a right-wing nut. Some guys, like Olbermann, get by on humor and being slightly inflammatory, but they’re a minority. But, fitting a mindless platitude into a 30-second soundbyte is a talent too, right?

Before I continue, I guess I need to lay out the cable news industry as I understand it. In the beginning, in the 1980s, there was CNN, and it wasn’t really all that good. But, 24/7 news had finally gone online (before “gone online” was even a cliche). Then, around 1996, along came MSNBC and Fox News. MSNBC was supposed to be hip and interactive, backed with money from Microsoft and featuring a mix of news and allegedly hip tech-oriented shows. Ratings never really worked that way, and MSNBC later tried other formulas (11 years later, they’re still experimenting*). Fox News, on the other hand, found its niche by catering to a massive, angry swath of American society that doesn’t quite understand why it’s angry—these people are among the incongruous masses who call themselves conservatives without knowing what the term means.

By the 2000s, Fox and CNN were at each other’s throats as the two heavyweights in the cable “news” business. Fox News actually managed to exceed CNN’s ratings sometime in the third millennium. Through it all, MSNBC was sort of like the yappy little chihuahua that got to watch. After every meal, after the two big dogs would eat the entirety of the meal, little MSNBC got to live off the entrails and feces of the kill. Because of low ratings, MSNBC often got left with the worst hosts, the worst personalities, etc.†

Tucker Carlson is one of those guys who really fits a lot of those criteria I mention in the first paragraph: if he’s not dumb as a rock, he’s pretty damn close. Tucker even has a unique gimmick: a bow-tie, like Jimmy Olson! He says he’s not blindly partisan, but he probably is. I guess he rose to stardom on CNN, and was thrown off the air circa 2005 when the so-called Cable News Network realized it hadn’t reported any news in years.

So, what’s this I hear about having to save Tucker?

Liberals want to save the whales. Environmentalists want to save the Everglades. Conservatives want to save the Confederate flag but we just want to SAVE TUCKER.

MSNBC executives are considering cancelling ‘Tucker’ with Tucker Carlson which airs on MSNBC at 6:00pm EST weekdays.

This decision by MSNBC will silence a conservative voice, part of a move by MSNBC to swing left and become “FOX for the Liberals,” dropping any pretense of objectivity or balance. Tucker Carlson is a conservative who brings a tone of civility and his unfailing good-humor to political talk television. Quirky and unpredictable, we love Tucker.

Silence a “conservative voice”? The majority of their pundits aren’t enough? I guess Pat Buchanan is more of a paleoconservative, to Tucker’s neoconservatism. Yikes! And we still have Joe Scarborough. Jesus Christ, I guess there are no conservatives to be heard at all. It must be hard fitting conservative voices between segments about the latest dead blonde woman to hit the airwaves.

“Objectivity or balance”? Do right-wingers think the only way to have objectivity or balance is to have nothing but Bill O’Reilly clones on all the time on every channel? How many frothing fanatics with shitfaced grins does society need hijacking our airwaves before far right Republicans will be pleased? I’m guessing anything less than 100% saturation is, to them, “unbalanced.” There is virtually nothing even watchable for anybody left of Genghis Kahn on television.

The video they post on their web site is precious. Introducing himself, Tucker says, “I’m a journalist.” Huh? Is spouting partisan rhetoric make you a journalist now? Why, every blogger must be a journalist!

Here’s an idea: no more fucking “news” opinion shows. Get Tucker, Pat, Ann, Chris, Lou, Bill, and every other right-wing nut off the air, and shut down the TV after the news is reported. I’d say we should get the left-wing nuts off the air too, but I don’t really think we have any, contrary to media claims about liberals and Vermont being left-wing.‡ I’m talking about what the networks should do, not the viewers. The viewers should read a newspaper, and then go outside and play, and stop watching the idiot box. Get the facts, and think for yourself. Yeah, sometimes newspapers are biased, but at least the better ones aren’t myopic.

* Last I saw, they were playing non-stop discussions about dead white girls.

† It isn’t just MSNBC that slummed for the “worst.” Many of Fox News’ right-wing hosts started out on MSNBC (John Gibson, for instance) before making their way to Fox. Democratic fanboy Paul Begala become CNN’s token “liberal” (whatever that is) after his show with Ollie North was cancelled (Ollie went on to work at Fox as a news correspondent). But MSNBC seems to pick up a lot of the crumbs the other guys can’t stand anymore.

‡ It’s perplexing that there really aren’t “left” or even moderate-liberal voices on television, but the reason probably is that most people intelligent enough to think Bill O’Reilly is an authoritarian windbag probably aren’t the biggest viewers of cable news. Sadly, they probably watch sitcoms.