From the "Art Imitating Life Imitating Art" Department

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This news is a few months old but just as funny now as it was then. A few hours after television producers set up a replica of Occupy Wall Street for the filming of a new episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, the real Occupy Wall Street announced plans to occupy the fake one.
As Mother Jones put it, “It’s straight out of a Don DeLillo novel.” I frankly just love the speed in which this happened – further proof the “art-life-art” cycle is moving faster than ever.


The Sh*t |Insert Type of Person Here| Say Meme

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Memes are an interesting little phenomenon – I love how quickly they can take off, like how a video one day can have zero views and the next day have over a million views.
The most recent meme to catch on like wild fire is the “Shit |INSERT TYPE OF PERSON HERE| Say” meme.
It started with “Shit Girls Say,” which was followed by “Shit Black Girls Say” which was followed by “Shit White Girls Say to Black Girls,” which was then followed by all sorts of derivatives, including the great “Shit New Yorkers Say – “You have to go to Brooklyn, it’s the law!” though I love the Pat shout outs as well – and the not so great “Shit Long Islanders Say.”
Not one type of person has been spared this meme’s wrath. Not Rednecks. Not Hippies. Not gays. Not lesbians. You name it. No one. And this all happened in the span of a few weeks. Amazing.
One organization that is jumping on the meme bandwagon is Americans Elect, which Media Bistro basically said made this meme jump the shark. Check out their Sh*t Politicians Say video below:


Closing Out The War Tab

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Last week the war in Iraq, a long hard slog, something that I’ve commented a lot about over the past decade, finally ended (at least officially). This war has cost us more than we will ever know, but the easiest and hopefully-not-but-who-knows-it-very-well-might-happen way of tabulating the cost is saying that it’s all down hill from here. One should know that Afghanistan is where empires go to die. First the British, then the Soviet Union. Now us? Hmmm….
One thing that is certain through the fog of war is that we took our eye off the Tora Bora ball to concentrate on Mesopotamia and while we took the hanging gardens, and the barbarian dictator of a gardener who looked after them, we didn’t exit nearly as fast as we thought we would going into the event and it didn’t turn out the way that the rose colored projections said it would.
So, in that vein, let’s bring up once again my main topic, the one that I’ve commented on in the past which is the costs associated with the war. Now that its “over,” forces more experienced and much more well researched than me, namely the Center for American Progress’ Matt Duss and Peter Juul, have added up the costs of the second Iraq War lead by the second Commander in Chief named George Bush, and by costs I mean the human, financial, and strategic costs. The results are not pretty:
Human costs

  • Total deaths: Between 110,663 and 119,380
  • Coalition deaths: 4,803
  • U.S. deaths: 4,484
  • U.S. wounded: 32,200
  • U.S. deaths as a percentage of coalition deaths: 93.37 percent
  • Iraqi Security Force, or ISF, deaths: At least 10,125
  • Total coalition and ISF deaths: At least 14,926
  • Iraqi civilian deaths: Between 103,674 and 113,265
  • Non-Iraqi contractor deaths: At least 463
  • Internally displaced persons: 1.24 million
  • Refugees: More than 1.6 million

Financial costs

  • Cost of Operation Iraqi Freedom: $806 billion
  • Projected total cost of veterans’ health care and disability: $422 billion to $717 billion

More detailed costs:

  • Total U.S. service members who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan: More than 2 million
  • Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA health care: 1,250,663
  • Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans who have used VA health care since FY 2002: 625,384 (50 percent of eligible veterans)
  • Total Iraq/Afghanistan veterans with PTSD: At least 168,854 (27 percent of those veterans who have used VA health care; does not include Vet Center or non-VA health care data)
  • Suicide rate of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans using VA health care in FY 2008: 38 suicides per 100,000 veterans – PLEASE NOTE: National suicide rate, 2007: 11.26 per 100,000 Americans

Iraq reconstruction (as of September 30, 2011)

  • Total funding: $182.27 billion
  • Iraqi government funds (including Coalition Provisional Authority spending): $107.41 billion
  • International funds: $13.03 billion
  • U.S. funds (2003-2011): $61.83 billion
  • Total U.S. unexpended obligations: $1.66 billion

Strategic costs
The foregoing costs could conceivably be justified if the Iraq intervention had improved the United States’ strategic position in the Middle East. But this is clearly not the case. The Iraq war has strengthened anti-U.S. elements and made the position of the United States and its allies more precarious.

  • Empowered Iran in Iraq and region.
  • Created terrorist training ground.
  • Loss of international standing.
  • Diverted resources and attention from Afghanistan.
  • Stifled democracy reform.
  • Fueled sectarianism in region.

I wish this was better news but transparency is important. I read today that “When everything is changing, be consistent. When everyone is confused, be transparent. And when the world seems bleak, be good.” When thinking through the “What did we get our of this war?” question, everyone is definitely confused.
All info was obtained for the Center for American Progress


99 versus 1

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I was surprised to get an email from at around 2:30 AM yesterday which read,

According to multiple reports, police are raiding Occupy Wall Street right now. Occupiers have asked anyone who can go down there and offer support to do so. Please do if you’re able.

It seems that the best home grown NYC tourist attraction since The Naked Cowboy set up shop in Times Square is gone, at least for now. While the protesters are regrouping and figuring out where they go from here (already there was talk that the movement would move to college campuses, because they are friendlier to protest and due to weather reasons), I am sure however that this isn’t the end of the 99 Percent Movement or the fight for an economy that works for everyone.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka summed it up pretty well:

But the 99% is undaunted. Occupy Wall Street’s message already has created a new day. This movement has created a seismic shift in our national debate—from austerity and cuts to jobs, inequality and our broken economic system.

Here are some stats for your Turkey Day table when you wind up arguing with your Tea Party loving family member about the validity of the movement:

Considering it’s the state motto of New York, as Stan Lee would say, excelsior!
Stats via Think Progress


Election Day is Next Tues and No One Cares

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Election Day is next Tuesday, November 8th. In my home state, the great state of NJ, voters will decide who represents them in the Legislature. All 120 seats are up for grabs, however as Alfred Doblin in the Bergen Record so aptly put, “Well, not really.”
He continues to by stating,

“At best two, maybe three legislative districts are considered competitive. That means either most incumbents will be reelected or the party faithful who were socially promoted up the food chain in a safe district will become legislators”

and the sad part is, he is absolutely correct. Regarding the men and women who make our laws and govern us, we are given very little choice in this country, a country that prides itself on giving its citizens 31 flavors of ice cream. I mean, there are 8 different varieties of Wheat Thins for god’s sake! An organization called Americans Elect is trying to alter this dynamic for the 2012 Presidential Election, but that is a topic for another post. Let’s instead go back to the two (potentially good, probably bad) choices that we do have.
We’ve spent $120 billion (that’s billion with a ‘b’) fighting to give people in Afghanistan the right to vote – we are trying to bring democracy to them and that is what you do in a democracy, you elect your leaders – but only 1/4 of our population actually votes, and that is in a good year. If you divide that number equally between the two parties that dominate politics (Democrats and Republicans) then you see how its possible that someone who only 1/8 of the population wants to be elected winds up in charge of your life. It’s possible that people do not vote because they think they are just deciding between a giant douchebag and a turd sandwich. It’s possible that they do not have time and/or it is not convenient. These are topics for another post as well. Again, let’s instead go back to the two (potentially good, probably bad).
I vote, year in and year out, and I usually vote for a Democrat because the Democratic Party’s platform is the one that is the most aligned with my worldview. I’ve never missed an election since I turned 18 and never plan to either. I care, and believe that the only wasted vote is the vote you do not make. I’ve complained about this issue before on this blog and five years later, nothing has changed.
Doblin concludes his op-ed with the following:

State legislatures are the test kitchens for new public policy, some of it down-right anti-American — that is, if you believe civil liberties aren’t decided by the popular vote. Some of the people elected this November to go to Trenton will be the people going to Washington in future years. If they are inarticulate, if they lack creativity, and most important, are incapable of looking at both the needs of their district and the needs of the state now, they will not change in two, four or six years.
New Jersey needs its best leaders in Washington and it needs to mold them in Trenton. If mediocrity is the gold standard, democracy is what is devalued. State elections should matter. They don’t.
And you wonder how these things begin.

To that I say, “hear hear!” Unfortunately, most of the population will not…


Why Pay Attention to WI?

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Why should you pay attention to the hubbub that is happening in Wisconsin right now? Are you frustrated that so many public sector employees currently receive much better benefits than you do Mr. or Ms. Private Sector? Does it strike you as unfair that their future well being is taken care of as they are set to receive relatively generous pensions while you not only will not get a pension when you retire but you aren’t sure if you are even going to have a job next week?
These are valid but misguided feelings. Paul Krugman makes a very compelling argument that we need to pay attention to what our government did in Bagdad in 2003 to truly understand what Gov. Walker is doing in WI right now and why Unions are being unfair demonized. From the article:

The story of the privatization-obsessed Coalition Provisional Authority was the centerpiece of Naomi Klein’s best-selling book “The Shock Doctrine,” which argued that it was part of a broader pattern. From Chile in the 1970s onward, she suggested, “right-wing ideologues have exploited crises to push through an agenda that has nothing to do with resolving those crises, and everything to do with imposing their vision of a harsher, more unequal, less democratic society.”

Klein’s statement rings very true because in all of the oxygen that has been given to the “unions are evil” rants that you’ve heard so much of these days, no one has ever said that if the ultra-rich just paid their fair share in taxes, then we would have more than enough money to pay for our pension commitments. The George W. Bush tax cuts to the rich which were supposed to expire somehow haven’t yet and the great redistribution of wealth from the lower, middle and even upper classes to the upper-upper class, a.k.a the wealthiest of the wealthy, continues unabated since Reagan started this trend back in 1980.
Here is more from the article:

[It is] an attempt to exploit the fiscal crisis to destroy the last major counterweight to the political power of corporations and the wealthy. And the power grab goes beyond union-busting….For example, the bill includes language that would allow officials appointed by the governor to make sweeping cuts in health coverage for low-income families without having to go through the normal legislative process.

Wow. How is the MSM not reporting these facts? It is because somehow the powers that be, the ultra-rich, have been able to turn the masses against each other, distracting them from their real targets, namely the Koch Brothers, the Chamber of Commerce and other all of the other organizations that basically want us to return to an almost jungle-like primal state.
In Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes) Hobbes’ description contains what has been called one of the most best known passages in English philosophy; which describes the natural state mankind would be in, were it not for political community:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

I feel that many if not most Republicans, and every single Tea Party person, wants our country to get back to a place where most would have solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short lives, while the privileged few would be chowing down on cucumber sandwiches all day long.
Post idea via Brian, data via Wikipedia


Loose Lips

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…sink ships. That and a few other mottos about keeping your mouth shut when it comes to things related to our country were not only en vogue but were actively advertised during the World Wars:

Loose lips sink ships!
Loose lips sink ships!

To put it another way, as Michael said to Fredo in “The Godfather”:

Fredo, you’re my older brother, and I love you. But don’t ever take sides with anyone against the Family again. Ever.

Well, the bad people at WikiLeaks took advantage of one soldier’s hatred towards America/mischievousness/yearning to make a big difference in the world in whatever – whether positive or destructive – way possible, or maybe he took advantage of the WikiLeaks organization to get his name out there (now that it is I hope he has fun with the fan mail he’ll get in prison as he serves a mega long court martial sentence), but regardless of the order in which who approached who, a treasure trove of classified information was obtained and shared publicly with the world. This act is taking sides against the family to the nth degree. For shame!
While I get the macro level argument for having a state of full transparency in the world, I do strongly believe in the need for secrecy when it comes to statecraft, and believe in the opaqueness of communication and mission, and I honestly think that releasing all of this information was a bad move. I’m all for transparency, but sometimes things are best left in private and sometimes the best things ever said aren’t said. That being said, I’m not going to pass up on this story just because I find it distasteful. I do think that America’s interests were harmed, though I’m not specifically sure how. I’ll leave that up to the experts to quantify. Even if he/they truly wanted to make a statement, they could have release much less than the 250,000 documents that they published.
Considering that the info is out there though, I’m not going to just avoid it. Here in no particular order is the “top 10” things we learned (he following content was taken from Zach Roth over at Yahoo News):
But what did we actually learn? Here are 10 key revelations from the cables:
1. Many Middle Eastern nations are far more concerned about Iran’s nuclear program than they’ve publicly admitted. According to one cable, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly asked the U.S. to “cut off the head of the snake” — meaning, it appears, to bomb Iran’s nuclear program. Leaders of Qatar, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern nations expressed similar views.
2. The U.S. ambassador to Seoul told Washington in February that the right business deals might get China to acquiesce to a reunified Korea, if the newly unified power were allied with the United States. American and South Korean officials have discussed such a reunification in the event that North Korea collapses under the weight of its economic and political problems.
3. The Obama administration offered sweeteners to try to get other countries to take Guantanamo detainees, as part of its (as yet unsuccessful) effort to close the prison. Slovenia, for instance, was offered a meeting with President Obama, while the island nation of Kiribati was offered incentives worth millions.
4. Afghan Vice President Ahmed Zia Massoud took $52 million in cash when he visited the United Arab Emirates last year, according to one cable. The Afghan government has been plagued by allegations of corruption. Massoud has denied taking the money out of the country.
5. The United States has been working to remove highly enriched uranium from a Pakistani nuclear reactor, out of concern that it could be used to build an illicit nuclear device. The effort, which began in 2007, continues.
6. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton ordered diplomats to assemble information on their foreign counterparts. Documents in the WikiLeaks cache also indicate that Clinton may have asked diplomats to gather intelligence on U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s plans for Iran, and information on Sudan (including Darfur), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Iran and North Korea.
7. The State Department labeled Qatar the worst country in the region for counterterrorism efforts. The country’s security services were “hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals,” according to one cable.
8. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi are tighter than was previously known. Putin has given the high-living Berlusconi “lavish gifts” and lucrative energy contracts, and Berlusconi “appears increasingly to be the mouthpiece of Putin” in Europe, according to one cable.
9. Hezbollah continues to enjoy the weapons patronage of Syria. A week after Syrian president Bashar Assad promised the United States he wouldn’t send “new” arms to the Lebanese militant group, the United States said it had information that Syria was continuing to provide the group with increasingly sophisticated weapons.
10. Some cables reveal decidedly less than diplomatic opinions of foreign leaders. Putin is said to be an “alpha-dog” and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to be “driven by paranoia.” German Chancellor Angela Merkel “avoids risk and is rarely creative.” Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi travels with a “voluptuous blonde” Ukrainian nurse.
The cables were obtained, via WikiLeaks, by the New York Times, the Guardian of Britain, Der Spiegel of Germany, Le Monde of France and El Pais of Spain.


European Maps Accoring to Stereotype

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I love maps. I have a map of NYC that was made for runners (it lists all of the bathroom available in Manhattan based on availability and cleanliness). I have maps of the NYC and London underground systems. And so on, and so forth…
Today I was sent a link to some maps that Yanko Tsvetkov, a Bulgarian living in Great Britain, created. the first was done in 2009 in the midst of the energy dispute between Russia and the Ukraine. Russia was labeled “Paranoid Oil Empire”, the Ukraine “Gas Stealers”, and the E.U. as “Union of Subsidized Farmers”. Switzerland was simply “Bank”.
Click on the thumbnails below to check them out and if you like, check out Yanko’s site. Enjoy!

Via Ann


The Only Way to Combat the Inevitable is to Make it Irrelevant

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I was out to dinner with two political friends of mine this past Saturday night and I wound up codifying a belief that I’ve had since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of corporate money flowing relatively unchecked into political campaigns: money will always be a part of politics. So, the only way to combat it is to make money itself irrelevant.
The way this can be accomplished is by creating the conditions where it does not matter if one spends one to possibly five billion dollars during a campaign, note that this figure is before the special interests get involved. Through either scheduling, or media restrictions, or other means unknown or unstated at this time, the conditions need to be set so that any ungodly sum of money is taken off the table when it comes to any election.
I manage digital projects for a living and there quickly gets to be a point where throwing more bodies at a problem does not generate positive results. Twelve coders working in parallel cannot complete a relatively short term goal most often. To complete the task, you want two coders to sync and be left alone for a week or so to bang it out. The same must be true for campaigns and their cash – they need to have negative results for throwing more money at the problem. If this happens, then maybe we’ll start to see our political discourse and system reformed in a way that sticks for a good bit of time.


The True Nature of Our Economy

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The art imitating life imitating art quality of the Onion sometimes just leaves me breathless with the way they nail the absurdity of our lives head on. Their recent post U.S. Economy Grinds To Halt As Nation Realizes Money Just A Symbolic, Mutually Shared Illusion shines a bright spotlight on the man behind the curtain of our ATM. There is nothing backing up our money except our shared belief / delusion that its worth value. Period.

“It’s just an illusion,” a wide-eyed Bernanke added as he removed bills from his wallet and slowly spread them out before him. “Just look at it: Meaningless pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. Worthless.”

By the time you get to the end of the article, you’ll be laughing too hard to want to get a gun and gold and run off into the woods.