Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama's Whatever of the Union Address

Welcome back to James Call: Expert!

Today, reader "Janelle" asks, "Let's hear all about the state of the Union address!" You got it, Janelle!

The State of the Union: Kinda Ok, Like, Whatever, January 27, 2010

Obama's first SOTU can be best described as "tepid," or, in polite terms, "Clintonian".

It was a smörgåsbord of small little concepts, some of which are nice but essentially harmless, and others of which are potentially dangerous and stupid, but appealling to lots of people politically.

First of all, the good stuff: smackin' the face of the Supreme Court over that corporate free speech ruling, calling the Senate on their BS, and calling the Republicans on their super-BS...

Now, the bad stuff. First of all, there's this "we should have 'done' jobs first rather than health care reform in the first year" meme that's floatin' around society right now. Everyone who's anyone is saying this. It's kind of like when everyone, including the majority of hipsters, starting saying, out of the blue a few years ago, that they hate hipsters. I mean, do you -really- hate hipsters? Or are you just saying that?

The bottom line is that the current health care system, in which employers provide health care to the vast bulk of the populace, is a burden on employers. Lift that burden, and there'd be much more money to HIRE people with. In other word, health care reform = jobs.

But people are freakin' the hell out, calling for health care reform to be killed right when it was almost at the finish line, and screaming about "jobs" instead. Obama in his SOTU sure doesn't help, waiting 'til more than half way through to make a half-hearted "health care reform will continue" pledge, which is really just meaningless lip service since he doesn't say HOW it's going to continue.

Instead, he's all "tax cuts! small business!" People love to hear these words, but you get 30¢ to the $1 on your average tax cut, especially capital gains tax cuts. Since we're all freaking out about the deficit, are tax cuts really the key forward?

Which brings us to the real stinker in Obama's SOTU - the "spending freeze". This is just about the stupidest possible idea in the world you could come up with. Ok, the vast bulk of "independents" in this country are worried about the deficit. But the vast bulk of "independents" in this country are also morons with short attention spans, who vote Republican, Democrat, Republican, Democrat, basically always with a "kick the bums out" mentality. Sure, kicking the bums out is easy to relate to, but also reminds me of a lot of drunk sports fans I know. Is pandering to these people really ever a good idea?

The bottom line is - the private sector is not investing right now. The government HAS to step in and fill that demand-gap because otherwise ain't nobody gonna have a job. In other words, a REAL jobs program, that will result in hiring, is directly incompatible with a deficit-cutting program. I will probably say this about 100 times in this blog over the course of this coming year: We are not Zimbabwe. We aren't even Japan yet. We don't need to worry about inflation; WE DO NOT NEED TO WORRY ABOUT OUR DEFICIT.

Besides, Obama isn't going to touch the big, huge, swelling programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Defense spending, and Social Security, because those are sacred cows - too much pork in those fuckers - so instead he's going to "freeze" lesser items. Let's assume for a second that cutting the deficit really IS important (probably is in the long run) - this little "spending freeze" is a drop in the bucket. It'll suppress demand and hurt hiring in the short term, but in the long term, we'll still have a ginormous deficit.

So, yeah, I was not blown away by the SOTU. It didn't really contain any surprises. Then again I'm a tough customer to please. I would have liked to hear "the day of negotiating with Republicans is OVER," and "I am pleased to announce my new government-as-employer-of-last-resort program," but then again, I would like a free backrub from Mariah Carey and a private jet made of gold.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hillary vs. Obama: Hypothetical

Ok! Welcome back to James Call: Expert.

Today reader "Tore" asks me not to summarize an article, but rather, to just give my opinion on something. Fair 'nuff. But be forewarned that in my usual summaries, all cursing and pontificating aside, I do attempt to somewhat summarize the factual content of the article in question, whereas right now, I'm straight gonna just bust some hypothesizing on your ass.

Tore sez:

I remember you being a Hillary Clinton supporter early on in the primaries. My memory is probably butchering your argument, but I seem to remember you effectively thinking that she would be more of a "take no prisoners" kind of president. Perfectly comfortable with crushing the right and ignoring any kind of attempt at bipartisanship that Obama rolled in with.

My question is:
Given that a) The republicans seem dug in and ready to do whatever it takes to take power again whoever the Dem is, b) Obama surrounded himself with all these Clinton 1 wankers anyway-

Do you think Hillary would have been able to get more done by now? In your "expert" analysis...

Secondary question:

How much of the "scary black guy who might not have been born here" bull shit would have made a difference for her? In your humble what-the-fuck-if opinion.

Ok! Before I get going let me state for the record that I was a Kucinich supporter first and foremost, and when it was looking like Edwards-Cliton-Obama, an Edwards supporter, then a Clinton supporter, then at last, an Obama supporter. Does this make me primarily a racist and secondarily a sexist? Maaaaaybe. But I'd like to think it has more to do with their policy positions, Edward's being more pro-labor and more to the left in general, and Obama's being the most center-right. With that out of the way, let's begin.

So among the President's many functions/powers is the ability to build consensus for legislation using the bully pulpit. As evidenced by the campaign, few politicians are as saavy on television, nor as good at rallying mass opinion, than Barack Obama. By contrast, Hillary Clinton is pretty much a flat-effect speaker. She's not Sarah Palin, but her rhetoric doesn't exactly soar like an eagle to the sea. So that would seem to make the score Clinton: 0 Obama: +1. Except that Obama hasn't really used his rhetoric in this first year. He was pretty much silent/hands off towards health care reform the whole time, leaving Nancy "Not well liked because she's a strong woman" Pelosi and Harry "Just not well liked period" Reid to be the public faces of health care reform, along with Max "Clearly a dick" Baucus and a few others. So I'm going to give Barry O. -1 for not using his greatest tool, putting the score at Clinton: 0 Obama: 0.

Now how about another very important function of the President - to bully Congresspeople into voting the way they want? It would appear that Obama doesn't really do this. Sure, there's scary ol' Rahm Emmanuel, but so what... he hasn't been whipping the House (Pelosi's been doing that) and he's been following his boss' hands-off strategy towards the Senate - ergo, no public option, amongst other things. That's 0 or perhaps -1 points for Obama. Would Hillary have been more effective? Well, she probably would have had way fewer qualms about bossing folks around and threatening to end their careers if they don't get on board, so that's +1 for her, but look at the notoriously undisciplined campaign she ran, and her general miscues as Secretary of State - I'm going to award that -2. So that makes the score Clinton: -1, Obama: 0.

What about the initial bargaining position? We'll never know for sure what Hills would have actually put forth as President. But since we got more or less what he promised us, policy position-wise, out of Obama - and it's true, we did; complaints that Obama "betrayed" his progressive base are coming from people who were not paying attention to what he said and promised during the primaries, people who juxtaposed their own views on Obama, used him a tabula rasa of sorts, which is something Obama publicly recognized - let's assume we would have gotten what Clinton promised us as well.

Well, that's +1 or maybe even +2 points for her, because if you start from a more extreme negotiating position, your negotiations will yield a moderate result. Whereas if you start from a timid negotiating position, as Obama has, your enemies are going to get the better of you. The reason I'll give her +2 rather than +1 points is that, in addition to starting from a more liberal position on health care reform and other issues, Hillary would probably have a much bigger axe to grind with the Republicans than Barack, resentments dating back to the 90s, and if we've learned anything over the course of this last year, it's that it's not worthwhile to negotiate with Republicans - they will use negotiations as a way of fucking you. I suspect, though we'll never know, that Hillary would have realized this from the get-go, and played hardball accordingly. Therefore, +2 points for her, leaving the score at Clinton: +1 Obama: 0.

That brings us to the final tricky question, part two of what Tore asked, really, which is: which is more crippling and virulent, Racism or Sexism? To me, the answer is obvious. Look at the reception of white men to Sarah Palin over the last year, and compare that with some of the outrageous racist bullshit we've seen directed Obama's way. People hate, HATE, Hillary Clinton with a passion, and the sexism is undeniable, but white men (still the most important voting bloc in this country*) see a raving dumbass like Palin and think "she's hot," and they see just about the "whitest," most well-spoken black man on Earth, Pres. Obama, and they still come up with fried chicken and watermelon jokes. The bottom line is, white men may think ill of women, but they are still scared in large part by black men. This would be a -2 for Obama, except for he and his family's intense personal charm, which alleviates the race reaction for the "casual racist," who might like Will Smith but can't handle Al Sharpton, so let's give Obama just -1 for the skin color. That makes it -1 points for Obama, and -1 for Clinton.

That leaves our final score at Clinton: 0 and Obama: -1.

That would suggest I view Clinton as "the winner," but the bottom line is this: a.) we'll never know, and the incompetence of the Clinton campaign team might suggest a lot of unnecessary political drama at the cabinet level that could have derailed her Presidency, and b.) these are basically both pro-market, indifferent to labor, mild "New Democrats". Not at all what this country needs.

This country needs someone who views the market as a rabid dog that needs to be put down, who thinks that bondholders can go fuck themselves, and who is ready to build a new infrastructure for this country for the 21st century.

Until we get that, we're fucked.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cuttin' Deficits by Meager Amounts, Back to the 19th Century Campaign Culture, and other lousy/borderline terrible news

Hello my friends! Reader "Kirstin" has not one, but FOUR articles to summarize today for your slacking blogmeister. To compensate for my sins in taking several days off, I'm going to pithily summarize all of them.

Spending Freezes or "How to Make an Economic Recovery Even More Tepid in One Simple Politically Half-Hearted Step"

NY Times, January 25, 2010

So basically Obama has decided that the public is angry over government deficits and wants the deficit cut. This is basically true, this is what a big chunk of the populace is angry/worried about, because no one in this country ever got anything higher than a C- in high school econ.

Cutting gov't spending in an economic downtown, or, I guess, technically, "jobless recovery," is exactly the wrong thing to do. That's because government demand (spending) is making up for a lack of private demand (dudes who employ you and buy shit). Getting rid of gov't spending = less demand = fewer jobs. It's simple, man!

But, you know, cutting the deficit is Super Responsible. And Barry O is nothing if not an Adult Person who Reaches Across the Aisle to do Responsible things. So he's proposing to freeze spending on discretionary items. That's everything other than defense spending, social security, and medicare/caid, i.e., everything other than the huge, ballooning cost items. All the small, unimportant shit, you know, like the budget for the departments of housing & urban development, energy, education, transportation, and justice...

In short, the small items, which support the neediest people, not to mention the future development of our country (esp. education and transportation, also energy, natch) will essentially be cut - after inflation, a spending freeze is a spending cut - while the items that are causing the deficit to balloon will get off scott-free.

It's ridiculous - "fiscal hawks" are still going to slam Obama for being a free-spending communist, because he's not touching the non-discretionary items, while liberals and other people with brains in their head are going to be rightly upset. Saving a meager $250 billion over 10 years doesn't do anything to really address our fiscal "crisis," which is not really a crisis, because it's easily solved by printing more money and then raising taxes should inflation occur, BUT WHATEVER.

Fucking people. And this is supposed to be Obama's "big comeback" for ditching health care reform. Good grief, Bill Clinton II.

If it was good enough for Mark Hanna, it's good enough for the 21st century!

Business Week, January 24, 2010

Oh man. The Supreme Court. Can't wait until they revoke the 14th-16th amendments to the constitution! How about that unnecessary "bill of rights" while they're at it. In interpreting a challenge to a law that blocked the broadcast of a politically-oriented character attack on Hillary Clinton posing as a "documentary" of sorts, the Roberts Court (remember that one scene where the Emperor first shows up in Return of the Jedi?) interprets the law AS BROADLY AS POSSIBLE and strikes down McCain-Feingold entirely, which had limited somewhat the ability of large corporations* to buy as much political ad time as they could.

It's a crude ruling, and goes way too far, but the cynic does have to ask how substantive a difference it will make. Yes, the many small contributions to the Obama campaign are an inspiring story of how many little voices can make a difference. But on the whole, the bulk of his contributors were giving several thousands of dollars at a time, not all that different than before McCain-Feingold. Is our political culture THAT different since McC-F? I mean, we still got the Bush years out of that shit, didn't we? And this pending Return of the Contract With America that seems to be coming up? Yes, it limited some "soft money" style attacks, but still...

However, while I would argue that this is not the end of the world, nonetheless, fuck, what the hell is wrong with the Supreme Court. Corporations are NOT PEOPLE, people. They are highly complex structures and should be regulated as such. And the ability to spend unlimited amounts of money is not free speech. It isn't even fucking speech, period. CAN WE PLEASE GET RID OF THE CONCEPT OF THE CORPORATION AS A LEGAL "PERSON". Aaaarururughghgh.

* You often hear "corporations and unions" mentioned in the same breath, as if they were somehow equals, but unions have nowhere near the purchasing power as corporations, on the whole. Consequently, expect most of the new flood of corporate campaign contributions and political advertising to go to the GOP, for the most part.

The End of Air America

Reuters, January 22, 2010

Well, so much for Air America. It was a nice concept, but the bottom line is: this is a center-right country. The only people who want to hear angry, screaming nitwits are right wingers, who are angry all the time. Liberals are known for having cooler heads and preferring the comedy of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. Shit, I'm the only liberal I know who actually LIKES Keith Olbermann. We liberals, as a species, do not get angry. So a "liberal Rush Limbaugh station" was never going to fly, in the long term. Be happy we got it at all.

The Worst Spokesperson for the Gays Ever

LA Times, January 22, 2010

Oh man! Crazy-ass super-medicated Cindy McCain is standing up for the right for gay people to get hitched. Well, that is nice for her, but that's a damn shame for our homosexual friends in Cali, because you couldn't imagine a worse person to represent "moderate Republicanism" than a McCain lady (Cindy or Meghan). Neither of them are the red-meat, NASCAR lovin' Republican that raving homophobes actually LIKE. And further, Cindy has that well-documented perscription pill abuse. Really, really choice for a campaign. I guess I'll change my mind if it works out, but, damn, if I woke up one day and Lindsey Lohan was the new spokeswoman for epileptics*, I'd be pissed.

* full disclosure: I'm an epileptic. But I pay taxes!!!

And that concludes the smarmiest, least informative James Call: Expert to date. Send me your articles!!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm Sorry, We Have No Blogs Today

No blog today! Send me those articles you want me to summarize! Try again next Monday, i.e., "The angry part of the week," when I will return to form. Huzzah!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Net Neutrality: Actual Freedom for the "Land of the Free"

Reader "Kirstin" again (where're the articles from the rest of you, schweinen? but thanks, Kirstin) asks today about Net Neutrality, which, in the humble opinion of your Expert, is kind of hard to get excited about, but is nonetheless one of the most important corcerns for the future civic life of this country, and the world. So here we go! (I apologize in advance for this post being more "serious" than "snide")

In Which I Whip Google Again, Because It's Fun and Countercultural

NY Times "Topics," Net Neutrality

NY Times, December 27, 2009

Ok! In a nutshell, currently, you pay your cable bill and you can get on the internet and find anything. And I mean that almost literally: we all know about the porn and the comedy sites, but the internet truly is a cornocopia of useful information, once you wade through all the crap.

This is especially true if you're trying to stay educated on the state of the world. There are about three quality newspapers in national circulation (the NY Times, the Washington Post, and the WSJ, all with plenty of flaws, but, still, indispensible, and pretty good) and television is an utterly contemplible joke with the sole exception of PBS. In particular, television is a source of alarmist short-term news cycle items that spread fear and disinformation amongst the populace. But on the internet, you have,,,,, etc. You name it, the information is THERE. If you are a good, Jeffersonian-style citizen, you can go get it. And it's still - unbelievably - basically uncensored.*

So naturally the media barons of the world are not very happy about this "neutral" state of affairs. They would like to start charging certain websites higher rates to provide their content at the normal speed, and let the poorer types suffer. That would inevitably lead to an internet very much like the television, where you could only get,,, with actual, informative websites going the way of public access TV.

The threat is obvious. The rich and powerful will always seek to expand their power at the expense of the weak. I frankly wish I knew a little bit more about the early history of radio and television, how broadcasting channels were diivied up and handed out, and what the public reaction thereto was. I would not be surprised to see a lack of citizen attentiveness towards net neutrality leading to an end to net neutrality, probably sold to us in terms of market "fairness" and "efficiency" (classic explanations for doing away with public goods and putting them in private hands).

But internet provider neutrality is not the only concern. "Search neutrality" is also a big consideration. Google is a monopoly; it controls 71% of the American internet search market. The likely response to this is, "well that's because Google kicks so much ass," and it's true, Google is pretty useful, but most of Google's knicknacks were developed by other companies, and bought out by Google; Standard Oil was pretty kick-ass too, but it became kick-ass by smothering it's competitors, which led to Standard Oil setting the terms. And Google is increasingly setting the terms, putting Google-backed products first in every search result, and shoving competitors way towards the back.

What we need to fear is that Google becomes the CNN/Fox of the internet; everyone who's anyone starts using Google, and getting their news from Google-sponsored websites. This would put the internet on the quick path towards TV-like irrevelance and de facto censorship, where you're hearing about Terry Schiavo nonstop but very little/never about the Employee Free Choice Act, for instance.

Thankfully, the Obama administration seems committed to net neutrality. Kudos for them, and let's hope it stays that way. Attacks on net neutrality are NOT going to be high-profile items, so we who enjoy and love our internet freedom will have to remain quite vigilant about it. In a nation where George W. Bush was appointed President and we didn't rise up and overthrow him, and where the most organized and dedicated protests routinely originate on the far-right, that strikes me as a dubious proposition.

* Let's not even get into the issue of workplaces firewalling off certain websites. Porn and online games, sure, no biggie. But shouldn't it be our constitutional right, if we have to sit in cubicles all day long, to have access to the public information of the internet? It's not like we have time to keep our citizenship up to date when we go home... that whole "come home and get your news from the TV" crap has not worked out so well, since at least the Reagan era forward.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Martha Coakley's Depressing Defeat and the Future of HCR

Oy vey. It's time for a very sad edition of James Call: Expert, where we summarize the news you can't understand, or simply don't want to read.

Reader "Skinny D" asks this question, yesterday, before the election: "Alright jim so the article I want explained is the one on the front page of todays New York Times about the health care bill. I think I'm completely lost as to what's going on with this thing. Didn't they already pass something like two months ago or did they just pass something saying they where going to think about passing something?"

And then good ol' reader "Kirstin" asks me to summarize this related article, post-election: NY Times, January 19, 2010

Scott Brown Beats All Hope For the Future

Well alrighty then. We have a GOP Senator from Massachusetts. Read it, and weep. What does this mean for health care reform?

The first part of this article is procedural background

First, to Damian's question, let me summarize the process thus far. In your ordinary piece of legislation, one chamber (the House or the Senate) either passes a bill which the other one then passes, becoming law after the President signs it, or both chambers pass similar legislation, and then go in to conference to make a compromise bill, which is then voted on by both chambers. Thus was the health care bill: the House and Senate had each passed their own, broadly similar, versions, which were to go to conference, and then to a vote. It looked like a done-ish deal.

However, now that Scott Brown is elected, and due to be sworn in soon, and has said he'll oppose the health care bill - along with every other Republican in the Senate - there isn't time to go to conference. The Senate will not pass the current House bill, for various reasons (many of them quite stupid, but at least this has been known for some time); either the House can pass the Senate bill, or we can have nothing.

Now in theory, the House Democrats should just swallow hard and pass the Senate bill, and then "fix" it via a separate bill passed via reconciliation, which is filibuster-proof in the Senate (requiring only 50 votes, rather than 60; now that Brown is the Senator from Ma., the GOP can filibuster anything that isn't done via reconciliation). Then we'd have the beginnings of health care reform.

But - these are Democrats we're talking about. They have the cojones of jellyfish. So already they're huffin' and puffin' about going back to the drawing board, listening to the "will of the people," throwing in the towel entirely, etc. Even liberal as pie Anthony Weiner from NY is saying this! Enough of them have come out and said they'll vote against the Senate bill that tough-as-nails Nancy Pelosi, good as she is at her job (and she's good), doesn't have the votes. Health care, in its current form, barring a miracle, is dead.

Further, in the Senate, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., has said the congress should wait until Brown is seated to consider healthcare. Some nonsense about listening to the will of the power, or some such. Probably trying to C his A with independents...

Now here's my fucking opinion/analysis.

Dems are toast. They're freaking the hell out about being defeated for re-election this year, but guess what, NO MATTER WHAT THEY DO, they are going to be defeated for re-election this year. This is a 1994-style wave we're looking at. Dems're going to throw in the towel on health care reform, but the angry "independent" voters (see: illiterate morons with the attention span of gnats) have ALREADY turned against them. They can either pass health care reform, and lose, or throw in the towel in an attempt to position themselves as "Republican Lite" ... and lose. As usual, Krugman puts it very well.

Part of the outrage is over government spending. Many Dems are crying about how we should be focused not on health care, but on paying down the deficit. First of all, you cunts, as long as the US dollar remains the reserve currency for the world - and what can challenge it? - our deficits are NOT A PROBLEM. At all. Period. End of subject. The dollar is a fiat currency and therefore deficits are NOT A PROBLEM FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, WHICH PRINTS THE MONEY FOR GOD'S SAKE. Secondly, let's assume for the sake of argument we do want to pay down the deficit - well, what the hell do you think the number one deficit problem is, you shitheads? That's right - ballooning medicare costs, which health care reform would have gone some ways to address.

Another part of the outrage is over jobs. That's reasonable, but out-of-control health care costs prevent hiring. Cut down on costs, and businesses will have more money to hire. Prrrrretty simple to understand, folks.

Now let me speak to the "throw the bums out" mentality. I'm all for that. No big fan of the Obama/Clinton brand of Democrat-cy here. But for God's sake, how piss-poor is your memory. Do you not remember what Republicans have done when they were in power for the past thirty years!?!? What the hell is wrong with you people?

In addition to health care reform, Scott Brown also opposes cap-and-trade, amnesty for illegal immigrants, the usual slieugh of Republican nonsense, so expect a further uphill battle - perhaps no progress at all, now that the filibuster is stronger - on those issues as well.

It's truly amazing that Democrats don't grok that by trying to cleave to a centrist viewpoint, they'll just alienate their liberal base and be wiped out further. Their seats are not going to be any safer if they "vote Republican". Hell, their seats won't be any safer if they even FLIP Republican, as evidenced by Parker Griffith, a Dem from Alabama who flipped to the GOP recently, and is being - guess what - primaried by teabaggers. The tea-party nutjobs are running the show right now, and they view former Democrats or "centrists" of any stripe as nothing short of traitors.

These folks are going to lose their jobs anyways - they should, at least, accomplish something that will make them look good in the history books. But it's a safer bet that aliens will contact the Earth, than that'll ever happen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Taxin' the Banks and Other Ineffectual Measures

Welcome back to James Call: Expert, your source for Snide Commentary from today's Hottest Young Pseudointellectual.

Reader "Kirstin" asks me to summarize this sonnuvabitch:

Obama Gon' Tax Some Banks Somehow'r'nother

New York Times, Jan. 14, 2010

Ok. I can summarize this bad boy real quick. Prez Obama, a big friend of the banks, is catching a LOT of political heat for the fact that the banks are raking in record profits, and everyone else (you, me, our family, friends, the dudes at the bodega, etc.) are starving/not earning frequent flier miles to death. And this anger is totally justified - yes, we DID had to give banks tons of cash to keep the economy alive, but the banks were supposed to invest that cash in businesses that employ people. And they are not doing that. They are instead just sitting on the money, floatin' bonds at well above the effective Fed rate (basically, 0% interest) and rakin' in the cash. These bonds are regarded as incredibly good investments, because everyone on Wall St knows the gov't won't let any of the big banks go down.

This situation is complete bullshit, so of course, there are cries for a "windfall profits" tax, and that's probably what the Obama admin is going to propose.

The problem is, what critics are saying is true: yes, the banks will probably "pass the tax along in the form of higher charges to their customers," both depositors and businesses taking out loans. Which could cause a small credit contraction. Not that that matters a whole lot, because the banks AREN'T LOANING ANYWAYS, BECAUSE WE DID NOT FORCE THEM TO WHEN WE GAVE THEM ALL THE CASH IN THE WORLD, the pricks, but still.

More to the point, a tax is not really what's needed. What's needed is to put some serious pain on these banks, to ensure that they cannot ever engage in the kind of wretched behavior that got us to this point again. What form should the pain take?

First of all, the banks should be broken up. Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Exist. All the Lawful Good economists agree on this point. Secondly, the weird derivative bundles and other "innovations," which were the tools used to get us in this huge mess, shouldn't be regulated - they should be straight-up banned. And finally, we need to insist on no overleveraging of the banks. If you're going to have $75 outstanding in loans, you should have at least $25 on hand to back those loans up, not $1 (for instance).

But - Obama is ideologically committed to keeping the big banks intact. He is a New Democrat, a friend of Big Money nine times out of ten. And shame on so-called Progressives for not realizing this during the primaries - can't y'all read??! Weren't you listening to what the man actually said in the primaries??! True, financial regulatory reform wasn't a cornerstone of his campaign, but a general soft line towards Big Business in general was... how can we now be surprised?

Man, this post is already too long. The point is: this tax is totally cosmetic, probably slightly unhealthy, and completely misses the point. The banks don't need a one-time slap on the wrist, they need to be hacked to death by machetes. And that I why I propose we import Congolese irregulars and use them to police Wall St... to set the tone, if you will.

Amen, goodnight.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Why is Chinese so Weird, Mannn?

Welcome back to James Call: Expert, containing cynical and dismissive, yet truthful, summaries to articles YOU need dissected by an expert!

Today's article comes again from reader DJ Pu Yi. Come on, people, aren't some of the rest of you gonna send something in? Anyways...

It's another Google vs. China article, but the good DJ isn't really asking about that; he wants to know "more about how China talks about these things and the fucked up way we translate their phrases."

I'll get to that, but first, here's the article, and a brief synopsis thereof:

The New Yorker, January 14, 2010

The main narrative surrounding the First Google-China War is one wherein the Chinese people = victims, the Chinese gov't = the villain, and Google = the hero.

But this narrative overlooks the fact that Google isn't leaving China primarily over moral concerns; hell, they've had those concerns for years. They're leaving because they've failed to penetrate the Chinese market effectively, and China just hacked Google to steal American industrial secrets (pretty common practice internationally... Israel, our Staunch Ally and Only Democracy in the Middle East, ha ha ha, has stolen plenty of secrets from us before without major fallout), which is a pretty fugly thing to do, and quite damaging to Google's brand.

So the real casting is: the Chinese people = the victims, the Chinese gov't = the villain, and Google = another, less compelling villian, or if you want to be generous, Google = disinterested assholes posing as the morally righteous.

But now on to DJ Pu Yi's REAL question!

Why is Chinese so fucking weird for us 'mericans?

Well, Mandarin/Cantonese ("Chinese"... there are other dialects as well, but those are the main two) is built on an alphabet of several tens of thousands of characters. That alone is mighty strange. And in Cantonese, the inflection of a word gives a totally different connotation to it... imagine if, in English, when you said "Cow," you meant "cow," but if you said "Cow!" you meant "milk".

But where it gets REALLY weird is when it comes to syntax, baby.

Chinese sentences put the TOPIC of the sentence first, not necessarily the SUBJECT. I.e., "I was hella mackin' on this girl in the library" would be rendered as "In the library mackin' on this girl I was". This seems pretty intuitive and Yoda-like.

But Chinese might drop the subject entirely. It's assumed you know the subject based on the context of the conversation. For instance, in the above, let's assume I was telling you about my week. The sentence might be "In the library mackin' on this girl". You would just KNOW that "I was" doing that. If we had BOTH been mackin' on this girl, we'd mentally insert the "we were".

It gets stranger, from our Western perspective. The Chinese often employ postpositions rather than prepositions. "Club at the" instead of "at the Club," etc. And how about this little twist? You can change the syntax of a sentence to give it extra gravitas. For instance, "I shat my pants" might be a colorful phrase to indicate my own surprise, but "Pants I shat my" would imply that I quite literally had a serious personal accident, as it were.

Or how about this one? In English, we can stack adjectives all we like. "This is a big, smelly, tasty hunk of cheese," for instance. In Chinese, you can stack VERBS. "With you I yell-cry," implying, I yelled at you so much, it made me cry. That's not the best example, but then, understanding complementary verbs is tricky for the Western mind!

There's so much more to get into, but those are kind of the highlights. In any event, you can see, Chinese is a much more complex language than any of our Latin-derived ones, and either we're way better than the Chinese because of it, or vice versa (if you're trying to figure out who's, here's a hint in the form of a question: which civilization has been around without being eradicated for at least 6,000 years?).


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Thursday, January 14, 2010

A New Year, A New Format for JC:E!

Hello my children! It's 2010, the Mayans are coming to kill us all in 2 years, and in the spirit of growth and change I hereby re-launch (sort of) this blog.

The old format, of in-depth answers to a variety of questions, was too difficult to keep up with daily.

Instead, I'll be adopting the "flippant summaries of news items, containing nuggets of truth" approach. You send me articles, I read them, and synopize, in my own snide fashion.

We start today with an article sent to me by reader "DJ Pu Yi"

Google Pulling Out of China, China Not Preggers

Wall Street Journal, Jan. 13, 2010

Ok so basically Google is getting the hell out of China, because China totally googled "American indutrial secrets and Tibetan sympathizers" plus "students" and hacked the hell out of some poor kids (bad), and stole some proprietary info from big American companies (neutral/all's fair in love and capitalism). Google can now sort of claim a moral victory over the evil Communists, and their censorship, except that now the Chinese (people, not gov't) are going to have to use this super-censored search engine called "Baidu," which is Mandarin for "No Freedom For You".

The REAL reason Google is pulling out of China is that it wasn't making any money there; Google can concievably get more money by saying all "look how democratic we are and stuff" than hanging around China, anyways. Please note that our major manufacturers aren't about to split town anytime soon, now that China is the largest market for cars and cellphones in the world...

Also, the general "international business community" is upset because the Chinese are making the business environment more uncomfortable for foreigners, i.e., exactly what the United States did in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is what led to the USA we know and love today, and Britain too, so the "international business community" can go "fuck itself".

Also also, it might actually be good for the assorted dissidents, students, etc., to use US google instead of China google. Maybe. We'll see.


Please leave articles you'd like me to summarize in the comments section. If you have my personal email, you can use that as well.