Monday, November 30, 2009

C Street and Uganda's Homosexual Death Penalty

On tonight's Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel's first guest was Dan Rather, fresh back from Afghanistan. Her second guest was Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, talking about connections of The (C Street) Family and other American evangelicals to the proposed Ugandan death penalty law for homosexuality, which would also imprison anyone who knowingly failed to report a homosexual to the police. Specifically, Pastor Rick Warren (of the Saddleback Church and of the Obama Inauguration ceremony) and Senator James Inhofe (R–OK) have strong ties to Ugandan politics, but have pointedly refused to denounce the proposed law.

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If you missed the live broadcast or the first repeat, you still have one more shot, in about an hour, at 2 a.m. Eastern/11 p.m. Pacific on MSNBC. (The whole show is top-notch TRMS.) Failing that, you can watch the clip here above (courtesy of, and check back here for my expanded comments tomorrow. Rachel also covered several other issues, like Tiger Woods' failure to speak out against the sex trade in Dubai, despite his familiarity with the financially troubled emirate, perhaps because of his financial dealings there.

It's quite simple: advocating the death penalty for homosexuality is so abhorrent that no member of civilized society can stand idly by without at the very least condemning the proposal. President Obama said that he would be a tireless advocate for LGBT rights but yet he failed to speak out against Maine's Question 1; will he also stand idly by when it's not LGBT marriages at stake but their lives? In particular, Kenya shares Uganda's largest border, so it's not unreasonable to think that a well-crafted comment from President Obama, as both Kenya's "favorite grandson" and a sincere Christian, would have some influence. But certainly people with strong ties to Uganda itself must speak out publicly and unequivocally.

Am I right in recalling that The Family held up as role models, not only Hitler and Stalin, but also Idi Amin? Those were all people whom God had "anointed" to have power over the ignorant and unworthy. I'll have to double check with Jeff Sharlet's book and/or past TRMS clips, but I think they did. A bit of digging, and then more to say tomorrow....

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Colbert's WØRD on Same-Sex Couples

On tonight's Colbert Report (Comedy Central), Stephen Colbert used his "THE WØRD" segment to talk about "Skeletons in the Closet": the rights we should or should not give to gay couples. The full transcript and embedded video follow below the fold.

Colbert Report, 2009-11-16, ©Comedy Central

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
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Nation, life is full of little ironies, none greater than the fact that God decreed that gays must never marry but then made them such great wedding planners. Gays, I believe thou hast been punk'd. But homosexuals just won't give up trying to create a nightmare future where they live in committed, loving relationships. And they don't care who it hurts, folks. Look no further than Washington, D.C., where, if a same-sex marriage law passes as expected, the Catholic Church has announced that it will be "unable to continue the social service programs" it runs for the city, including shelters that serve "one third of Washington's homeless people." I mean, they have no choice: after all, Jesus said, "If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor ... unless a couple of dudes register at the Pottery Barn, in which case fuck the poor" ... in bed. (That is my own translation from the Aramaic.)

Now, either these gays are too selfish to see that they're ruining God's commandment to be charitable, or that's part of their plan. You see, gays ruin everything sacred. Just look what Michelangelo did to the Sistine Chapel! They'll never scrub that stuff off.

Well, now they're comin' after the most sacred human act of all, and it brings us to tonight's WØRD: Skeletons in the Closet

Folks, last year Mark Goldberg, a Rhode Island resident and confirmed homosexual —
  • Skeletons in the Closet
(We have confirmed that, right? Okay, good.) — was kept from claiming the body of his partner, even though the two had been together for 17 years and were married in Connecticut.
  • Check
Not only was he not allowed to claim the body, he couldn't put an obituary in the paper — although that might just be because there aren't any newspapers left in Rhode Island.
  • Mafia Wraps Fish in Laptops
So of course the left-wing legislature decided to grant gays "special rights," like "the right to claim the bodies of — and make funeral arrangements for — their loved ones."
  • [The Providence Journal online, 2009-11-11, by Katherine Gregg]
Typical activist legislature, legislating through legislation.
  • How a Bill Becomes Bill & Gary
Thank God Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri (R) vetoed the bill, calling it "A disturbing trend ... of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage." [2009-11-10]
  • [photo of Carcieri]
Exactly! The gays are always trying to steal the best parts of marriage — you know, like claiming the body of your spouse. This is an assault on marriage from beyond the grave.
  • Getting Fat Together
They're like gay zombies. They start with marriage, but what they really want is to change our minds. That's right: these gay zombies want our brai-ains. Governor Carcieri knows this is even more important than the sanctity of marriage.
  • The Sanctity of Buryage
You're married for — what? — if you're lucky, 50 years. You're dead for eternity.
  • And Talking to Jennifer Love Hewitt
Well, folks, I say God did not intend for death to be between a man and another man. Death is between one man and one very hungry worm.
  • Lost Page of "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"
Now, let's suppose that one day — God forbid! — the governor dies. How is he supposed to rest in peace, knowing that, a couple of plots over, two dudes are being gay-dead?
  • Gives New Meaning to Headstone
Remember, folks: Jesus said, "What is bound on earth is bound in Heaven." If we bury them gay together down here, they're gonna be gayin' it up in the afterlife. That's not Heaven! Heaven is singing in a choir, in a flowing white robe, playin' the harp — you know, "guy stuff"!
  • Don't Ask How the Gates Got Pearly
And the governor — and folks, I believe that the governor might not be going far enough. If we really want to protect the sanctity of traditional decomposing, it might be time to bar gays from having funerals. Now hear me out, hear me out: I am not a monster. I am in favor of civil end-of-life ceremonies.
  • Eulogy Delivered by DMV Clerk
It's just like a funeral, except, legally, you don't have to bring a covered dish. And instead of defiling our traditional graveyards, gay people can have their own same-sex cemeteries. We'll call them "same-eteries."
  • Totally R.I.P.-ped
All the governor and I are saying is that we shouldn't have to watch these people flaunt their alternative deathstyle. So, no open caskets, and no viewing of the gay deceased, because if gay couples are going to die in accordance with their present legal standing, they need to be dead the same way we want them to live: invisibly. And that's the WØRD.
  • Skeletons in the Closet

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Daily Show on KSM Trial, Giuliani, Geraldo

On tonight's Daily Show, Jon Stewart and Samantha Bee took on the decision to try 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in the ordinary civilian court system, and specifically the flip-flop of New York City Mayor turned Presidential Candidate Rudy Giuliani and the frightening dangers to the American public posed by this trial. A full transcript follows, with embedded video link.

2009-11-16 Daily Show with Jon Stewart, segment #1, "Law & Order: KSM," ©2009 Comedy Central

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Jon Stewart: Our top story tonight, a long-awaited development in our War on Terror:
After 8 years of delay, those allegedly responsible for the attacks of September 11th will finally face justice. — U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, 2009-11-13
Stewart: [Jon celebrates] Yes! Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-professed mastermind of 9/11 and his four back-up douche bags, the Terror-ettes, are finally gonna face American justice. Ooh! How do you think we're gonna do it? I'm torn between "Seacrest crushes them in Times Square under the New Year's Eve ball" or "We wrap old Fella up here, we wrap him in bacon and deep-fry him at a state fair while Lee Greenwood stabs him in the face."
Holder: They will be brought to New York — to New York — to answer for their alleged crimes in a courthouse just blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood.
Stewart: Oh. I guess you could go that route, too. So, we're gonna go with "living up to our nation's highest ideals"; yeah, I was hopin' we were gonna go a little more Old Testament, quite frankly. A little more Tarantino, if you will. But I recognize we must strike a balance between the Rule of Law and my emotional need for what I like to call "street justice." And then, of course, there is the third equally valid consideration: Aaaaaah!!!
Brian Kilmeade, Fox News: Can you imagine here, where New York City is still a terror target, and then you bring the mastermind of 9/11 here??

MSNBC: Will a trial put the Big Apple at greater risk?

Fox News: Do you really think it is possible that they might get off??

Frank Gaffney (fmr. Asst. Sec. of Defense), on Fox News: They use our prisons as incubators.

Karl Rove: This is the biggest recruiting opportunity provided to Al Qaeda in decades.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–SC): It would be the biggest mistake we could possibly make, in my view, since 9/11.

Gretchen Carlson: These five characters are coming to the United States of America!

CNN Newsroom: What happens if he's acquitted??
Stewart: Yeah! "What happens if he's acquitted?" Then they'd have to let him out onto the streets of New York. And I get what I originally wanted! [crowd cheers] [falsetto voice with beer bottles hanging off two of his fingers:] "Khalid Shaikh Mohammed! Khalid Shaikh Mohammed! Come out and pla-a-ay!"

[graphic: Law & Order: KSM]

Stewart: But former New York City mayor and Nine-Elevenologist Rudy Giuliani felt that a criminal trial would be a mistake:
We're kinda granting his wish. His wish was to be brought to New York. — 2009-11-15
Stewart: Hey, just be happy his wish was to come to New York and be tried as a mass murderer — I mean, the guy coulda wished to do anything. I mean, if we were granting wishes. I mean, he could've wished to meet the Rolling Stones, or he could've wished for infinite wishes — I mean, all I'm sayin' is, Mastermind, my ass! The guy's a fuckin' idiot!

Although when the 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, was tried during the Bush Administration, Mayor Giuliani was slightly more forgiving:
America is dedicated to the Rule of Law. [...] and maybe, just maybe, it will occur to some people [who] maybe have an open mind, that we're not the demon that we're portrayed as in this radical world. — 2006-05-03, on Hannity & Colmes, Fox News
Stewart: Mmm, Old Giuliani, I guess you have a point. Can anyone refute that?
Basically, in this particular case, we're reaching out to give terrorists a benefit that is unnecessary. — 2009-11-15, ABC This Week
Stewart: He's got a point. Why should we give this guy rights??
I think there is value in demonstrating to people what America is like, that we can have these kind of emotional disagreements, but then there's the Law, and we're gonna follow it. — 2006-05-03, MSNBC
Stewart: I just don't know which Giuliani to believe!! I guess it's gonna come down to the lightning round.
We are a free society. We have respect for people's rights. — 2006-05-03, on MSNBC

This seems to be an over-concern with the rights of terrorists. —2009-11-15, Fox News Sunday

This is the system that we have for justice. — 2006-05-03, MSNBC

We generally don't bring people back to the scene of the crime for justice. — 2009-11-15, Fox News Sunday

It demonstrated that the legal system that we have, that it works to be fair. Even if we disagree. — 2006-05-03, MSNBC

The Obama Administration is repeating the mistake of history. — 2009-11-15, CNN, State of the Union
Stewart: Asdrheofnasehjflk! I guess Giuliani from 2006 is saying that the Rule of Law is something either you have or you don't. You can't cover up the lack of Rule of Law with some thin strands of principle that you pull, almost comically, over giant barren areas of ... (It was a ... it was a bald joke.) For more on the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed trial, we are joined by Senior Judicial Correspondent Samantha Bee. Samantha, thank you so much for being here. This is unbelievable.

Samantha Bee: Yes.

Stewart: In your mind, watching trials — good idea, to try Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in New York?

Bee: Uh, no. No.

Stewart: So, you feel the judicial system cannot handle it?

Bee: Oh, no. No. The courts will be fine. They've tried worse.

Stewart: You fear, then, for the safety of New Yorkers?

Bee: Okay, of New Yorkers?? Listen: those guards aren't there to protect us from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. So....

Stewart: Right, I see; it's the other ...

Bee: Yeah.

Stewart: If you trust the courts, and you trust that we'll be safe, then why shouldn't we do the trial?

Bee: Okay, Jon, because I don't trust the media. They lose their shit during trials that don't matter. They are not ready for this. Okay, this is how they reacted to a Paris Hilton DUI [news footage from 2007-06-26].

Stewart: Well, maybe they learned a lesson. Maybe they won't get so obsessive.

Bee: Yes, I imagine they would want to keep themselves flexible, because you never know when you'll have to drop everything to follow a balloon that may or may not have a boy in it. [crowd cheers]

Stewart: I mean, with the security at the trial and different regulations for KSM, maybe the media won't even get much access, and that'll slow them down.

Bee: Yeah, well, "from your lips to the E! Channel's ears." God knows, "access" didn't stop their nightly re-enactments of the Michael Jackson trial [footage from 2005-06-13]. I hope you like fake beards and bad acting. And then, of course, the trial puts us at risk for the two words that no God-fearing American ever wants to hear.

Stewart: Uh, "boner cancer"?

Bee: No, "Nancy Grace."

Stewart: [shudders in horror]

Bee: Yes. Yes.

Stewart: [loud whisper] I heard she gives people boner cancer.

Bee: Mmm-hmm. That's how they advertise her.

Stewart: That's what I heard.

Bee: That is how they advertise her now.
[clips of Nancy Grace, Fox News]

2006-04-06: Finger pointed at Duke's elite lacrosse team ...

2006-05-02: I don't think they want a lie-detector test because they're afraid they won't pass a lie-detector test.

2006-04-10: If these guys assaulted this lady, and then ejaculated into a towel ...

2006-04-06: The oral swabbing ...

2006-04-14: Vaginal trauma ...

2006-04-06: Anal bruising and tearing ...

2006-04-10: Question: was it sperm?
Stewart: Umm, at least this case won't have any sperm.

Bee: Oh, no! Nancy Grace will find some; it's what she does! And we can't even look forward to this trial ending, because then comes the reporting of the verdict.

Stewart: Oh, God. Are you thinking about —

Bee: Yeah. Yeah.
2004-03-05, CNBC:

Okay, Count 4, Martha [Stewart] is — that is — I'm sorry, on Count 3, is Guilty. That is ...

It's Guilty, Michael.

I'm sorry. Guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.



Count 1 —

[Count] 8, Guilty.

Okay, all charges for Martha Stewart — I apologize, the confusion out here is immense.
Bee: Okay, the media's wheels came off because a famous lady who makes tarts would be gone for 6 months to a fancy ladies' prison.

Stewart: Well, at the very least, the KSM trial hasn't started, so —

Bee: Ohhh, Jon. The madness has already begun.
Gretchen Carlson: Let's say he's convicted and he ends up in our prison, and he infiltrates his thought process — which is already happening in U.S. prisons — to lure more people behind bars, and they get out and they do nasty things.

Geraldo Rivera: I think that is a fear that is absolutely unfounded.

Carlson: This case could be tossed out for technicalities, because of torture.

Geraldo: Frankly, I think that is a preposterous and irresponsible — and with all due respect to Frank — I think that people put their politics ahead of their common sense when it comes to terrorism.
Bee: Yes! That's right. Geraldo Rivera is now the voice of Reason. [crowd cheers]

Stewart: May God have mercy upon our souls. Thank you, Sam Bee; we'll be right back.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Colin Powell on the "Terror-Industrial Complex"

On tonight's MSNBC Countdown, Keith Olbermann highlights a two-year-old interview by Will Prescott, a college newspaper reporter, with former Secretary of State General Colin Powell, following up on Powell's comments about the "Terror-Industrial Complex" in an interview with Walter Isaacson in the September 2007 issue of GQ magazine. I had to hunt around to find the video — several sources had broken links — and I didn't find the text of the full interview. The complete transcript follows below the fold, with verified links to the original video of the interview, the articles from The Oklahoma Daily before and after the interview, and the GQ interview. Incidentally, Keith Olbermann credits Terry Gilliam, the one American-born member of the Monty Python crew, with bringing this interview back to his attention.

Colin Powell "terrorist-industrial complex" video on OU's website (interview by Will Prescott, The Oklahoma Daily and Nick Tankersley, The Hub)
The Oklahoma Daily/Hub article before the interview [2007-09-11]
The Oklahoma Daily/Hub article after the interview [2007-09-12]
GQ interview by Walter Isaacson of Colin Powell, Sept. 2007
The specific part of the Isaacson interview about the Terror-Industrial Complex [near the bottom of the page]

Will Prescott: Good morning - good afternoon, Sir. Again, in a [September 2007] GQ interview with Walter Isaacson, you said we need to be beware of creating a "Terror-Industrial Complex." What would a Terror-Industrial Complex look like, and are we headed in that direction?

Powell: Well, I think we have to beware of it. We're spending an enormous amount of money on homeland security — and I think we should spend whatever it takes — but I think we have to be careful that we don't get so caught up in trying to throw money at the terrorist and counterterrorist problem that we're essentially creating an industry that will only exist as long as you keep the terrorist threat pumped up. And so that would be the context of that comment, and I feel strongly about it — just as, many years ago, [U.S. President] General [Dwight] Eisenhower warned [PDF] about a Military-Industrial Complex. I just wanted to make a point: defend ourselves, screen ourselves, do everything we can to go after terrorists and defeat terrorism, because it is a threat, it is an enemy — but let's keep it in perspective. Let's keep it in context, because the United States has many needs. We have needs to deal with the poverty of some of our people, education, the environment. There are lots of things America needs to do, and we have to make sure we only spend that which is absolutely essential on our military, on our police forces, and on our [anti-]terrorist activities.

Prescott: And then the second part of that was, again, do you see warning signs that we're headed in that direction? Or is this just a general warning?

Powell: No, I think we've spent a lot of money, and you've noticed in press releases recently, in some commentary recently, we spent a lot of money to put a lot of equipment out there, counter-terrorism equipment, but now we need more money to keep that equipment going. Well, let's make sure that what we send out there is absolutely essential. And let's be cautious in our appropriations and in spending money. I don't think we're out of control; I think we had to respond in an aggressive way, but it's now [2007-09-11] been six years. Let's make sure that we are spending money on the right things, and not spending money just to spend money.

Prescott: Okay, last question: As a former soldier and general yourself, how do you feel about the outsourcing of security and combat positions to private contractors like Blackwater [now "Xe"] in Iraq.

Powell: We have always used our contractors and our civilian enterprises to support our military forces overseas. I think, however, that there is a danger that if you put so much reliance on contractors, you might run into an emergency somewhere, some time, a place even more dangerous than Iraq, where you will not be able to count on those contractors — because they are civilians — and so I think you have to find the right balance between what troops we have in the active force, what troops we have in the reserve force, what kind of civilian workforce the Department of Defense has, and then how you back all that up with contractor support. Make sure there's a right balance. I don't know what that right balance is, and I am out of the Army all these many, many years, I'll leave that up to the generals and the civilians who are in charge now.

Prescott: Is it fair to pay these contractors more than what soldiers make when they incur comparable risk?

Powell: You pay what is necessary to get somebody to do the — to do the job as a civilian. And so they are not expected to be front-line soldiers going into battle, and they are there in order to perform a service but also to get a good salary for it. So, it's not a matter of fairness; if you need these people, you have to pay them a wage that will get them there. You're competing in an open labor market.

Prescott: Why can't we use, say the Army [or the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group], to protect people like [L. Paul ("Jerry")] Bremer and the ambassadors, instead of Blackwater?

Powell: Yeah, uh, because the Army is limited in size: it's only about 500,000 troops plus a couple hundred thousand reservists, and they can only go so far, and you have an army to take the battle to the enemy, and not just to be bodyguards. And if you can get qualified contractors — many of whom are ex-[military-]service, ex-Secret Service, and have those skills — then, why not do that? Okay.

Prescott: Thank you, sir.

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Greetings from Our Nation's Capital

I haven't been writing in the blog much this year — I've been busy with other projects, and, quite honestly, I kind of lost steam after Barack Obama's inauguration instantaneously solved all the world's problems: Mission Accomplished! However, there's just something about the autumn that rekindles the political spirit. Maybe it's the approaching High Holy Day, the day after the first Monday of November, although the biggest issue I'll be voting on next month is whether to add city-owned billboards to a two-block stretch of downtown San Francisco. In any case, I find myself in Our Nation's Suburb due East of the Capital. I'm in the 'burbs 'cause it's way cheaper, but I'm in metro Washington to attend tomorrow's National Equality March for LGBT rights.

A number of my friends decided not to attend the March this year, in part from concern that the focus may be overly centered on the issues of marriage equality and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." They point out — quite rightly — that universal health care is an issue with far greater direct impact on the substantial majority of LGBT people than marriage and DADT combined. However, the March tomorrow is not just about marriage and military service. It also includes health care (and specifically the fact that it remains illegal for men who have sex with men to donate blood), employment discrimination, housing discrimination, hate crimes, and more generally the relegation of LGBT people to second-class citizenship. We are created equal, and endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, but the political establishment, and especially the Republican Party of the last three decades, have been loath to acknowledge that equality and those rights. For the first time in half a generation, the Democratic Party controls the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives. Sure, there are other important issues in our country, but our President has shown the ability to multitask — I'd be willing to bet that he could even walk and chew gum at the same time, if he put his mind to it — and also there are strong tie-ins of specific LGBT issues with broader national issues. For example, facing two wars and the unending threat of further terrorist attacks, can we really afford to toss out qualified military personnel (including, for example, Arabic translators), just because they stand up and say, "I'm gay"? In an economic crisis worse than any in two generations, employment security is a key issue that every American can relate to.

I'll post more about the March, and maybe some photos, in the next few days. Until then, I'll see you on the National Mall.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Jon Stewart v. Jim Cramer, round 2

On tonight's episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart picked up where he left off in March, utterly destroying any credibility Jim Cramer has as a financial analyst. The video and full transcript follow below the fold.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, 2009-07-14, ©2009 Comedy Central

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Jon Stewart: Welcome back. I'm gonna say something right now. We were actually talking about this earlier with the audience: I love baseball. And the team that I love the most in all of baseball — the New York Metropolitans. In fact — [audience cheers] — No! I've written a song about it; it goes a little something like this: [singing badly off-key] Meet the Mets! Meet the Mets! ... But I digress. As you can imagine, 1986, the last time the New York Mets won the World Series, was one of the best years of my life — which, I think, says quite a bit about my life up to that point. It was an amazing year — so many heroes: Mookie! Hojo! And of course Lenny Dykstra, seen here for some reason in a Phillies uniform, eating what appears to be a mouthful of shit. (All right; I don't know why he was doin' that.) But I loved Lenny Dykstra: he was my size, tough as nails, and he had that classic "NAILS" poster. I actually still have that hanging in my office ... and I have one also in my garage ... and my bedroom. I'm not gonna lie to you: I also had it airbrushed onto a denim jacket. I, umm, it's a really good poster.

Anyway, the one thing everybody knew about Lenny Dykstra, back in the day, was how tough he played — and also that he was kind of stupid. That's why this report, on Real Sports from last year, was so surprising.
HBO® Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, 2008-03-10, episode 132, story 3, "Nails"

Bernard Goldberg: [voiceover] Lenny Dykstra, financial whiz kid, started after he left baseball. [...] When Lenny Dykstra speaks these days, people actually listen. He flies on luxurious private jets [...] the $18½ million mansion [...] and his shiny German car. Now, the guy who probably couldn't spell "financial guru" in his playing days, has become one.

Wow! Lenny Dykstra is a "financial guru"!
Goldberg: You don't read books because they "might hurt your batting eye"?

Dykstra: Yeah. Them little words, plus it makes you think too much, and —

Goldberg: Reading?

Dykstra: — too confusing. I still don't like to read.

Eh, so what?? You don't like reading. You don't like reading — money is a "numbers" game anyway; it's not some stupid "word" thing, full of book-thingie words. Who better to trust your investment portfolio to than a not-so-literate horse-shit-chomping man named Nails? So, maybe, when Real Sports went back for a follow-up piece a year later, this should've come as no surprise.
HBO® Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel, 2009-06-23, episode 147, segment 3; "Broken Nails"

Goldberg: [voiceover] A year ago, he had millions in the bank. [...] When the stock market tanked, so did Lenny. [...] [to Dykstra] You owe everybody and his brother money – [...] the printers [of the magazine] —

Dykstra: The printers? Fuck the printers. The printers are criminals. [...]

Goldberg: The flight attendant, your assistant —

Dykstra: Fuck that flight attendant. [...] I don't owe anybody anything.

Goldberg: Really?

Dykstra: These cases, they're all bullshit.

"My broker is Lenny Dykstra, and when my broker talks — you cannot air it on national television." In fact, not only has the man known as Nails just declared bankruptcy, he's $31M in debt, and has something like 20 lawsuits filed against him. Apparently, he thought somebody gave him the sign to "steal" [audience laughs] So why am I bringing this up? Settle down, I'm getting to the point. Why am I bringing this up? Because this story encapsulates all that my life is, has been, and will be. I moved to New York in 1986, the Mets won the World Series® that year; Lenny Dykstra was one of my favorite ballplayers, he is now stricken by an economic crisis that is enveloping us all. If only there was one connecting fiber that would make this the greatest story that I have ever seen in my entire lifetime — perhaps someone who stood up for Dykstra, vouching for his financial bona fides, staking his own sterling reputation on the broad shoulders, yet apparently pin-headed back, of Leonard Q. Dykstra. [puppet voice] Roll 212! [normal voice] What was that? I didn't hear that. [puppet voice] Roll 212! [normal voice] Okay....
2008-03-10, episode 132, story 3, "Nails," Goldberg interviewing

Jim Cramer: I tell ya, a guy who is applying the same skills to money that he applied to sports, it's brilliant! [...] I think people don't think of Lenny as sophisticated, but I am tellin' you, Bernie, that not only is he sophisticated, but he's one of the great ones in this business. He's one of the great ones.

[audience cheers]

[haltingly, with several silent false starts] I won't! I can't! [pulls out a glass jar and screams into it] Dykstra [inaudible]? Are you fuckin' kidding me? [bleeeeeep] [bleeeeeep] [inaudible]! [closes jar, which then tries repeatedly to jump from his hands] We'll be right back!

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

TARP COP on The Daily Show

On tonight's Daily Show, Jon Stewart prefaced his interview with Professor Elizabeth Warren, the chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the TARP bailout process, with an exploration of the inside connections that one might suspect had something to do with the record quarterly profits of the just-bailed-out Goldman Sachs, coming right on the heels of record profits for bailout recipient Wells Fargo, contrasted with the yoinking of the safety net right from under Lehman Brothers. Video of the segment about Goldman Sachs follows below the fold, with a summary of the key points raised. Video of both portions of the interview with Elizabeth Warren follow beneath, with a full transcript of the interview.

Jon Stewart on Goldman Sachs' Connections

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Clusterfu#@k to the Poor House - Goldman Sachs' Connections
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Summary of key facts:

After taking $10 billion in government money, Goldman Sachs today reported a quarterly profit more than double analysts' projections, $1.5 billion.

Henry "Hank" Paulson went directly from being CEO of Goldman Sachs to being Secretary of the Treasury. The guy whom Hank Paulson picked to run AIG was a former member of Goldman Sachs' board, Edward Liddy. Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary, who planned the financial industry deregulation, was Paulson's predecessor as CEO of Goldman Sachs. Lehman Brothers, which the federal government decided to allow to go bankrupt, holds 450,000 lbs. [200,000 kg] of yellow-cake Uranium, an important ingredient in many nuclear terrorism scenarios.

Jon Stewart Interview with Elizabeth Warren, head TARP COP

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Elizabeth Warren Pt. 1
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The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Elizabeth Warren Pt. 2
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Full Transcript:

Jon Stewart: Welcome back. My guest tonight, a Professor of Law at Harvard University — [aside] safety school! — she's also the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel on TARP. Please welcome to the show Elizabeth Warren.

Welcome to the show. You are the head of the Congressional Oversight Panel on this relief effort, on the money that is being funneled to these companies. How much money has been sent to them, and what have these companies done with it?

Elizabeth Warren: Well, we think it's about $590 billion that's gone out —

Stewart: Now, you said, "We think"; do they have Excel? Do they have a spreadsheet that they're keeping track, these companies?

Warren: Actually, the companies are not the ones that are supposed to be keeping track. It's actually supposed to be Treasury keeping track.

Stewart: Are they?

Warren: There's a little dispute about some of the numbers, but we're workin' on it.

Stewart: [puts his face in his hands, then says:] You have a difficult job.

Warren: So, my job is to stand on the outside and basically to say, "I want more transparency. I think we should have more accountability, up and down the line. And I think we need to have more clarity — you know, better articulation of what the government's policies are here and better explanation of what's going on.

Stewart: Maybe, in pursuit of that, the first thing we could do is rename it from TARP to something like MONEYHOSE.

Warren: I think it helps when we give things clear names.

Stewart: [laughter] Is this — with what you've found out so far, are you confident that the right thing to do was to hand over billions of dollars to these companies? Do you believe that this is going to work? Do you think this was the right thing to do? Are we already behind the 8-ball?

Warren: You know, we started this process when [Bush Administration Treasury] Secretary [Hank] Paulson basically said, "Here's $350 billion," to the financial institutions, and he did it on a kind of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Stewart: Was the money stolen? Is that why he didn't want any of it?

Warren: No. The point — what he [Paulson] said at the beginning is that, in effect, what Americans are gonna do, we're gonna make an investment, and the investment's gonna be that we're gonna put money in, and we're gonna get stock back. And the good news will be, there'll be money in banks, and that'll free up credit, and there'll be plenty of credit, and at the same time, the American Taxpayer won't lose anything — he kept calling it an investment. So our panel sent him a letter, and said, "Now, you're telling us this is a fair deal, the amount of money we're getting?" And he said, "You bet!," in effect.

Stewart: So, we got $700 billion of stock in these companies?

Warren: $350 [billion] — remember, it's the first half.

Stewart: The first half?

Warren: The first half. And that's what he told us. And we could've accepted that and stopped, but instead we said, "We're gonna do some independent investigation on that." So we crunch a bunch of numbers and we get some other academics to help us take a look at it and take a look at these models, and it turns out, after he told us it's even, dollar for dollar, it turned out that for every $100 we put into these companies, we got back stock and warrants that — on the day we got them — were worth $66.

Stewart: Well, that sounds like — wait a minute! So we gave them $100, and for that we got $66 worth of product?

Warren: That's right. And when you do that enough times, it turns out that we gave away $78 billion.

Stewart: Out of the first $350 [billion]?

Warren: Yeah.

Stewart: What's the deal we got on the second $350?

Warren: Well, it's not all gone yet. And some of the money has been committed to the mortgage foreclosure plan, which I think is a really good idea, some of the money is now being committed to P-PIP. [audience laughter]

Stewart: Are you about to curse?

Warren: [shakes her head No]

Stewart: Is that an acronym?

Warren: Yeah.

Stewart: Pee Pit?

Warren: P — P-PIP.

Stewart: I'm not even gonna try on this one. What does Pee Pit stand for?

Warren: I don't remember. [audience laughter and applause] It's the — it's an investment ... thing. Oh! I remember! It's the Public-Private Investment Program. I'm sorry, it took me a minute.

Stewart: Public-Private Investment Program?

Warren: P-PIP.

Stewart: P-PIP?

Warren: P-PIP. And so —

Stewart: Thank God that's what you were investing in, 'cause I was thinking something entirely different. Continue.

Warren: So, the idea is, we're gonna put in some money, and private investors are gonna put in some money — we, the taxpayers, are gonna take a lot of risk if it doesn't work out.

Stewart: But we took the risk originally! We're the ones who lost 40% of our investment — they're giving us $66 on the $100 that we've already invested $100 and gotten $60 back on. So, we're really down ... [scribbles]

Warren: $34.

Stewart: Pee Pit. We're down twice that.

Warren: Well, actually, we're down more than that, because the value of the stock dropped, and the value of that $66 actually shrank after that, so —

Stewart: To what?

Warren: We don't actually have —

Stewart: [face in hands, laughing] Oh, God!

Warren: No —

Stewart: They've told you nothing!

Warren: It's not that, exactly.

Stewart: Can you find — what kind of powers do you have, to crush them? Do you have subpoena power? [shakes her head No] Do you have —

Warren: No, but look: what I can do is, I can talk about this, and that's exactly what I am going to do.

Stewart: Yeah, but on a show that really doesn't have a big audience.

Warren: You know, I like this audience. It's okay with me, because —

Stewart: We're gonna take a commercial break, we're gonna come back. I want to get to the bottom of, what the road ahead — there must be something, there must be a plan within this, that gets us back to a fiscal responsibility, because this is crazy, because you're a Professor of Law at Harvard who knows this inside and out. All you've done is bankruptcy law, all you've done is everything, and they are, uh — you sound like me. So, we're comin' back and [inaudible]. Elizabeth Warren; we'll be right back.

[commercial break]

Stewart: Welcome back! We're here with Elizabeth Warren; you head up the Congressional Oversight Panel on the Toxic Asset Relief Program — did I say that right?

Warren: You did.

Stewart: Thank you. Why are we giving them money and streamlining them along? Everybody keeps saying, this is the Japanese model that turns zombie banks into living zombies, for years, and didn't fix the problem — why not liquidate the banks that truly should be liquidated, and not just keep throwin' good money after bad?

Warren: We wrote a report on this, and we said, that's one of the tools in the toolbox. We could liquidate them, close the ones that are bad; we can reorganize them in place; or we can subsidize them. Those are basically the three choices, right now.

Stewart: Which would you choose?

Warren: Well, it depends on the particular circumstances — and it really does. It's a bank-by-bank thing.

Stewart: Is that what the "stress test" is? They say we're going to "stress test" a bank.

Warren: And find out where they fall, are they —

Stewart: How do you stress test a bank, if you will?

Warren: Well, you basically run it through a bunch of mathematical models, and you figure out whether you think the [bank] is financially healthy or the [bank] is really dead.

Stewart: Do the banks think they've done anything wrong?

Warren: [long pause] You should ask the banks. [audience laughter]

Stewart: I think I know what the banks would say to me. They — so, in your mind, they don't see this as a kind of a "Come to Jesus" moment. You had a very interesting statement: you said that this relief program — sort of, capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell.

Warren: Right.

Stewart: Which actually is Judaism. But [audience laughter], beside the point. So what are the repercussions here for these — why isn't the first thing we do is to say, "No one will be allowed to be 'Too Big to Fail'"? That is a license to commit poor banking practice.

Warren: Okay, so what you're asking is, if we can get this bus pulled out of a ditch, the economy, what does the road look like going forward?

Stewart: Yes!

Warren: Because this really is the big question. Let me start that question in 1792. Okay, young country, George Washington is in his first term, and we have a credit freeze. There's a financial panic. Every 10 to 15 years, there's a financial panic in our history; you just look at it. And there's a big collapse, big trouble, people lose their farms, wiped out. Until we hit the Great Depression. We come out of the Great Depression, we say, You know, we can do better than this. We don't have to go back to this kind of boom-and-bust cycle. We come out of the Great Depression with three regulations:
  • FDIC Insurance — it's safe to put your money in banks.

  • Glass-Steagall [Act of 1933] — banks won't do crazy things, and

  • Some SEC regulations.
We go 50 years without a financial panic, without a crisis —

Stewart: A couple of recessions, and then, there are some down times.

Warren: But no crisis. No banks failing. You know, no big crisis like that.

Stewart: S&L, that sort of thing.

Warren: Well, now, wait a minute: I said fifty years, because then what happens is we say, "Regulation? Ahh, it's a pain, it's expensive, we don't need it." So we start pulling the threads out of the regulatory fabric, and what's the first thing we get? We get the S&L crisis. 700 financial institutions failed. Ten years later, what do we get? Long-term capital management, when we learn that when something collapses one place in the world, it collapses everywhere else. Early 2000's, we get Enron, which tells us the books are dirty. And what is our repeated response? We just keep pulling the threads out of the regulatory fabric. So we have two choices. We're gonna make a big decision, probably over about the next 6 months. And the big decision we're gonna make is, it's gonna go one way or the other. We're gonna decide, basically, "Hey, we don't need regulation. You know, it's fine: boom-and-bust, boom-and-bust, boom-and-bust" — and good luck with your 401(k). Or alternatively, we're gonna say, "You know, we're gonna put in some smart regulation that's going to adapt to the fact that we have new products," and what we're gonna have going forward is, we're gonna have some stability and some real prosperity for ordinary folks.

Stewart: And that's socialism? [audience laughter and applause] That, by the way, that is the first time in, probably 6 months to a year, that I felt better. Something — I don't know what it is that you just did right now, but for a second, that was like financial chicken soup for me. [audience cheers] Thank you. That actually put things in a perspective that made a little bit of sense, and I really do appreciate that, and good luck with that — and if they don't give you transparency, you tell me, because I'll keep talking about it, on the same network right after Mind of Mencia. [laughter] Elizabeth Warren.

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It's Been a While....

Yup, I haven't written in this blog in 2½ months. I've been busy with other projects, taking a breather from blogging, watching only 2 or 3 hours of political TV per day.... Tonight, though, I am moved to do another transcript. I'm hoping that Rachel Maddow will get Elizabeth Warren on her show soon, and I'd love to see her on Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley. I'm backdating this entry a few hours so it will go underneath the big transcript, but it's really a little past 3 a.m. and time for bed....

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rush gets schooled by CNBC

There was an item on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight about an interview that Rush Limbaugh did on CNBC, talking about his "bipartisan stimulus plan," as he called it in today's Wall Street Journal. The interviewer — hardly a wild-eyed commie pinko on what is unmistakably the least liberal of the NBC siblings — made clear his contempt for Limbaugh's sudden epiphany of bipartisanship. Oddly, though, the transcript shows up not on CNBC's web site (video) , but on Rush's own site.

My favorite quote, by Mark Haines to Rush Limbaugh:

I hear hypocrisy. You're saying in this — in this piece, you say, uh, you know, "our economy doesn't know the difference...this is about jobs now...leave politics aside," and yet the first thing out of your mouth is politics! About liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat!

Haines began by pressing Limbaugh on his statement earlier this week that he hopes Obama fails, asking him if he now thought it was "a stupid and mean-spirited thing to say"; Limbaugh, in an act of almost Blagojevichian obliviousness, insisted that it was the right attitude to take with a new President in a time of national crisis. Limbaugh, of course, insists that Haines' skepticism must be rooted in "left-wing liberal sites that take me out of context," but Haines says he doesn't read any of them — he's basing his assessment purely on Rush's own words. Haines goes on to press Rush on his idea of splitting the stimulus money 54/46 (roughly the popular vote margin for Obama), "a refreshing breath of air" [sarcastically], in striking contrast to Rush's ideas on bipartisanship when his side was ahead 51/49.

Of course, Rush wants to use his 46% of the stimulus money for tax cuts — tax cuts for the investor class and the large corporations, specifically. As Rachel Maddow summed up on yesterday's program, a dollar spent on food stamps produces $1.73 in economic activity. A dollar spent on infrastructure produces $1.59. A dollar of individual tax cuts, $1.03. A dollar of corporate tax cuts, $0.30 — the pinnacle of corporate welfare, siphoning money not only out of the taxpayers but sucking it right out of the national economy to the detriment of everyone else. George W. Bush looked like he was about to jizz in his pants every time he said the words "tax cut," but this is a case where what's good for the Fortune 500 is quite different from what's good for Joe Sixpack.

So, why are we still talking about including corporate tax cuts as part of a stimulus plan? The very best tax cuts can do in return-on-investment (ROI) terms is $1.29, for a payroll tax holiday — the most direct way to encourage companies to hire more employees. The ROI for cutting the capital gains tax ($0.39) is only marginally better than the corporate tax. Extending unemployment insurance, on the other hand, clocks in at $1.64. It seems that the conservatives should be red-faced with embarrassment for advocating policies that are overtly counterproductive, but instead they continue to insist that the government waste money on tax cuts instead of spending it on genuine stimulus measures — measures that directly preserve jobs and give the neediest a hand in times of hardship are much more effective at growing the economy than giving tax breaks to the economic elites. (The numbers are from the Congressional testimony of Mark Zandi, one of McCain's economic advisors, House Committee on Small Business, Thursday, 2008-07-24, page 5; hat tips to Media Matters and The Rachel Maddow Show.)

In other words, the Republicans, and especially Rush Limbaugh, are fighting to make "the pie" smaller for our children so that we can eat an even bigger piece of it, before it's even baked.

(cross-posted to my DailyKos blog)

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An executive summary of the interview, with some expanded analysis of Rush's "plan," below the fold....

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Reason and Instinct

I've been thinking about what tomorrow's inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States means. To be sure, Obama's election is a repudiation of many aspects of the Bush era, and particularly the Iraq War and the economic meltdown, but I also see a shift from George W. Bush's "gut instinct" to Obama's thoughtful, reasoned analysis.

Bush values his instincts above all else. Indeed, many of his minions spoke derisively of the "reality-based" critics, who thought that facts somehow trumped ideology. How silly! In the partisan political arena, for the most part, Bush's instincts served him quite well, particularly with Karl Rove's nurturing guidance. However, his instincts also led him to stifle dissent among his advisors (although he is desperately trying to claim the contrary, in his efforts to polish his "legacy"), and to elevate personal loyalty above basic subject-matter competency. Bush's instincts led him to put Cheney and Rumsfeld in charge of what passed for "planning" for the Iraq invasion and occupation, to put "Brownie" in charge of FEMA, to nominate jaw-droppingly underqualified or mismatched candidates for everything from the Supreme Court to the United Nations to the Attorney General. Bush went out of his way to publicly snub those who displeased him, including restricting lucrative reconstruction contracts in Iraq to countries that had supported the invasion. He took pride in not weighing down his decision-making process with lots of facts.

Bush's instincts also told him to never waver, because any lack of absolute moral certitude would appear as weakness of character. As it turned out, though, his steadfastness proved to be more ignorant pig-headedness than stalwart adherence to principles, and history will not be kind.

Obama presents a striking contrast in this perspective as much as in his disagreements on specific policies. Obama seeks to have as much information as possible, and as many knowledgeable assessments as possible, before making a decision. When circumstances change, the decision can be reassessed and then adjusted or even reversed. Obama brings to the job of President his background as a lawyer and a law professor, in contrast to Bush's background as a lackluster and indifferent student, unbothered by self-reflection, guided more by faith than facts. Obama represents a counter-offensive in what Al Gore aptly termed The Assault on Reason.

Barack Obama's religious faith is no less genuine than George W. Bush's, but Obama understands the crucial distinction that sometimes you have to do your own homework, to do your best to understand the choices you face, rather than putting on a blindfold and trusting that Providence will inerrantly guide your hand. It is one thing to pray for the wisdom to draw the right lessons from the facts before you; it is quite another to pray for a deity to give you all the answers by miracles or magic or mystical mumbo-jumbo. Even if God is your co-pilot, you still need to keep your eyes on the road.

Of course, it's easy to go overboard in fantasizing which irrational government policies might disappear under the Obama Administration. Our federal guidelines on sex education are downright criminal, leading not only to higher pregnancy rates, but higher rates of STDs. Our so-called "War on Drugs" wastes billions of dollars fighting a drug that is not a threat to society (marijuana), thereby starving efforts at combating the real threats (for example, crystal meth). Decades of "tax simplification" have resulted in an ever-increasing thicket of regulations, answered only with meaningless gimmicks like the "flat tax." Our military throws out decorated soldiers because their sexual orientation "threatens morale" even more than the shortage of Arabic and Pashtun translators. More broadly, our government mostly refuses to acknowledge the diversity of family structures today, in many cases deeming an orphanage a better option than a loving home with a same-sex couple. The idea that markets will regulate themselves better than the government can, is plainly false, and yet we find that banks are turning their bailout windfall into new loans with the same problems that led to the financial crisis.

One thing I can guarantee is that not all of those irrational policies will be overturned, but at least we can have the audacity to hope that results will trump ideological purity, and that the reality-based community will put the Bush Administration in its rightful place on the ash heap of history.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Earthquake in Afghanistan

[cross-posted from my DailyKos blog]

No, I'm not speaking in metaphor. There was a magnitude 5.8 earthquake tomorrow morning in Afghanistan, near the borders of Pakistan and Tajikistan. It occurred at 3:43 a.m., 2009-01-05, local time, which was 3:43 p.m. Sunday here on the US West Coast. So far, no one is reporting any significant damage or injuries, although some minor damage will doubtless come to light through the day. Still, as any Californian can tell you, a 5.8 is strong enough that you know you've just been in a quake, and in places like Afghanistan, a magnitude 6 will often have fatalities. There is another reason that I took notice of this quake: the specific region of Afghanistan where it happened, Hindu-Kush.

If the name "Hindu-Kush" is familiar to you more than other places in the region, that might be because of the strain of cannabis or the variety of heroin named for this mountain range that sprawls over the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area. The region is also one of the most linguistically complex in the world, with Farsi (Iran), Pashto (most of Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan), Chinese and Hindi (India) joined by about two dozen local languages. It's also a seismically active area: just a few days ago, on Christmas Eve, there was a 4.6 quake in the wee hours of the morning.

I'm glad this quake was a small one, but it's a reminder of just how little most of us know about Afghanistan. Geography trivia: what two countries border both Iran and Afghanistan? [answer 1, answer 2] More than 90% of the world's heroin comes from Afghanistan, much of it from these mountains — opium poppies are a larger chunk of the Afghan national economy than everything else combined, with the Taliban skimming off enough to fund their resistance for decades.

I haven't decided exactly what I'm going to do, two weeks from Tuesday morning, to mark the end of the Bush Era and the beginning of the Obama Epoch, but most of all I'm glad that there will be someone at the head of our government who will try to make informed, reasoned decisions — somebody who can find Afghanistan on a map, and someone who understands that we need to focus our so-called "War on Drugs" on the point where it intersects with the so-called "War on Terror."

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