The Reason

INT. Foyer - Day

Upper-middle-American home. This home houses, for the moment anyway, a married couple and two children. The FATHER is closing the front door, holding a stack of mail. He begins flipping through it.

INT. Living Room - Day

FATHER walks through, flipping through the mail.

MEDIUM-SHOT of wheelchair, with an attached I.V. stand. It sits next to an occasional table with a small collection of pill bottles. The chair has clearly been well-used, but it is empty. FATHER passes before it in silence.

EXTREME CLOSE-UP of stack of mail in FATHER's hands. Buried behind everything else, we can make out a GOP campaign flyer. On top of it is a bill from a hospital, with a red border. He flips to the next; it's a credit card offer.

REVERSE CLOSE-UP of FATHER from the side as he walks past the mantlepiece. He appears weary and depressed.

EXTREME CLOSE-UP of the mantlepiece. On it, surrounded by greeting cards, rests a photograph of a smiling, handsome young man in military uniform. The photo is draped in black cloth.

INT. Dining Room - Day

FATHER enters and sits heavily down with the mail. MOTHER enters silently from the kitchen as he holds up an envelope, clearly one he has been expecting. He grimly begins tearing it open. As she sits next to FATHER, she puts a NEWSPAPER down on the table.

EXTREME CLOSE-UP on NEWSPAPER minor headline, reading, "New Layoffs: Jobless Rate Highest in 12 Years". We hear sounds of the envelope being opened, the letter being unfolded.

TWO-SHOT of MOTHER and FATHER seen over the LETTER. Their faces, impossibly, fall even further. FATHER lets his hands fall to the table.

EXTREME CLOSE-UP of pile of mail on the table. The GOP flyer is clearly visible momentarily. The FATHER's hands fall in to frame holding the LETTER, which now fills the frame. It is a foreclosure notice.

TWO-SHOT of FATHER and MOTHER from the side, FATHER in foreground, out of focus. Both are silent for a moment as they stare bleakly through the letter. The focus shifts to the FATHER:


(as if a slowly-dawning epiphany)

I know why all this is happening.




(with rising resentment)

It's those damned gays getting married in California.

MOTHER, momentarily dumbfounded, eyes him quizzically.

CLOSE-UP of table. FATHER snatches the GOP flyer.

MEDIUM SHOT of couple as FATHER gets up, and goes to the kitchen. MOTHER remains seated, watching him with confused concern.


In difficult times, even the most well-meaning, hardest-working people can be led astray. We look for changes to the familiar order, and eye them with suspicion. But the true foundation for our well-being is nothing new: Jobs. Housing. Health care. Energy. Financial security.


I see your problems, and with your help and permission, we'll solve them together. I'm Senator Barack Obama, and I'd appreciate your consideration.


Understanding Big Shitpile

Atrios has been linking more and more to articles on a blog named Calculated Risk, and I can see why. Some of the discussion there is very in-depth and complete.

Of particular note is this article which makes a stab at explaining one reason why the whole mortgages-as-securities concept fell apart. It's rather long, very hairy and involved, and amazingly educational. The bit I had the hardest part understanding was, oddly enough, the graph. Once I realized that the horizontal scale referred to the return rate offered by the rest of the market and not the instrument under consideration (that's fixed in the example at 6.0%), it suddenly made sense.

It may hurt your brain, but it will be good for you. Highly recommended.


HELOC on Wheels

Here, in the heart of New Money and High Tech, I've often gotten the feeling that people around me wonder -- very politely, of course -- why a man in my position has not surrounded himself with more of the trappings of modern affluence.

I don't own a house.

I own -- or rather, will own -- only one vehicle, and it's not an SUV.

The yard isn't meticulously landscaped.

I don't own an HDTV.

I do own a ridiculous number of computers, several gaming consoles, and we have high-speed asymmetric (a/k/a "fake") Internet, but still...

My approach has been a simplistic one -- look at money in and money out, and try to never let money out exceed money in. I mean, that's how it works, isn't it?

But even so, this sense of economic inadequacy is so subtly pervasive, I've often wondered what's wrong with me that everyone around me seems to have more disposable income than I do. How is it that seemingly half the people around me have new cars and electronic gadgetry, and I have trouble keeping the credit card flat? Did I not start saving early enough? Is there some trick I'm missing, I wondered, to getting the neat toys and still keeping your head above water?

Today, Atrios called attention to this article explaining that all the affluence around me may, in fact, have been entirely fake.

In fact, one set of economists opined that the housing market in the US was already overvalued by as much as $6.5 trillion. In 2005.

That's 6.5 × 1012. $6,500,000,000,000. Two years ago.

People apparently have been taking out loans on this $6.5 trillion in the form of Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC). It's not yet known how much of this imaginary money has been pulled out and spent. In other words, we don't know how much of the last eight years of America's economy ran on tick.

How many SUVs were bought with this fake money? How many trips to Europe? How many computers? How many cell phones (and cell phone plans)? How many steak dinners out?

Those of you who lived in the San Francisco Bay Area during the dot-com crunch know all too well just how much damage a small number of spendthrift dimwits can do to the economy. Freshly-hired comp-sci grads leveraged their stock options into the housing market, paying any price, no matter how ridiculous (see the San Francisco Chronicle's excellent series Surreal Estate by Carol Lloyd). That made affordable housing disappear. Once the fake money ran out, the jobs disappeared, too. There was no work, and no place to live. I lost an uncomfortable amount of savings, and went into some rather nasty debt before I found a job again.

It's beginning to look like this same damn fool mistake will be played out again on a national -- possibly international -- level.

And even in the light of this, the "conservatives" still think a laissez-faire, "Sucks to be you," mindset is the way to go. This stuff has blast radius, people. The fact that I wasn't the crazy one, that I was fiscally prudent, will be cold comfort. We can all get hurt.


A Bit of Fun

Pie-in-the-sky thinking can be fun, and today's Slashdot had an article asking the membership, "What Would You Do as President?"

Well, gosh, where do I start?

  • An immediate and orderly withdrawl of all US armed forces from Iraq, with phased redeployment to Afghanistan to disband (again!) the Taliban and pursue and apprehend Osama bin Laden.
  • Once withdrawl from Iraq is complete, sever all ties and contracts with Blackwater unless and until they agree to be held accountable under uniform military code for all actions in the field.
  • "The continued reliance on foreign sources for the nation's energy needs constitutes a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States." In other words, the development of non-oil, non-foreign energy sources shall become a matter of national security. Such development shall not involve armed occupation or conquest of foreign lands or peoples.
  • No legislation that attempts to place final responsibility for Big Shitpile at the feet of the American taxpayer shall be allowed to pass (i.e. no Federal bailout for the sub-prime mortgage mess).
  • Draft legislation repealing No Child Left Behind.
  • Draft legislation that repeals, in its entirety, 17 U.S.C. § 1201.
  • Draft legislation that formally declares as invalid the reprehensible practice of End-User License Agreements.
  • Draft legislation decriminalizing marijuana, regulating (and taxing) it in a manner similar to tobacco, and establish duties for its import from foreign soil. Redirect funds used for interdiction and prosecution toward health care. Study closely the decriminalization of other drugs.
  • Draft legislation requiring public disclosure of source code used in all electronic voting systems.
  • Draft legislation requiring the use of openly-documented electronic document and data formats in all Federal operations. Commercial closed-source products may be used to produce said documents, but the documents may only contain those features/facilities laid out in the open standards.
  • Draft legislation permitting public entities (municipal, state, and Federal) to own and freely operate telecommunications networks, with service available to all Citizens.
  • Draft legislation re-establishing the Estate Tax, with the floor at $5 million, inflation-adjusted.
  • Draft legislation that formally ends "corporate personhood." This status of corporations is actually a legal fiction, ensconsed neither in the courts nor the legislature, but it seems a formal repudiation is required to end this myth.
  • Sharply reduce or end Federal subsidies of corn crops.
  • Allow Bush's tax cuts for the rich to expire.
  • Reform the Alternative Minimum Tax to adjust for inflation. Consider also adjustments based on a geographic area's prevailing cost of living.
  • Dissolve the Department of Homeland Security back into its original constituent Departments. Draft legislation permitting said Departments to more freely share information with each other in accordance with Constitutional principles.
  • Keep NSA and CIA funding at current, inflation-adjusted levels.
  • Abolish the practice of National Security Letters. Declassify and order the immediate disclosure of all National Security Letters issued to date. (Amnesty for unlawful acts revealed in the Letters may be negotiable, providing disclosure is timely and complete.)
  • Increase (modestly) the military budget to raise soldiers' pay, provide quality post-combat medical care, and rebuild resources squandered in Iraq.
  • End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Order Armed Forces branches to admit and integrate homosexuals into their ranks (it worked for African Americans).
  • Repudiate and/or abolish the section of the Military Commissions Act that purports to eliminate Habeus Corpus. That right is established Constitutionally, and is immune to legislative attempts to limit or abolish it.
  • Order the commanders at Guantánamo Bay to, within eight calendar months, prepare and file charges against all detainees still in their custody. At the end of that time, for all those detainees still not formally charged, they are to be released immediately to their country of origin, with our profound apologies. (The appropriateness and nature of reparations may be discussed later.)
  • The practice of Extraordinary Rendition shall be halted immediately, pending comprehensive Executive and Congressional review. Persons currently detained under the program are to be returned to their country of origin or, where a reasonable belief of criminality exists, turned over to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
  • Recommit ourselves to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaties. Seriously review the technology sharing agreements with Pakistan.
  • Convene a Blue Ribbon Panel/Study Group/Research Program/whatever they like to call it composed of top independent economists, sociologists, and anthropologists to examine the implications of digital media (i.e. unlimited duplication/manufacturing at zero cost by any actor, anywhere) on current economic structures and assumptions, and to devise new structures to accommodate these realities going forward.
  • Appoint Al Gore as Secretary of the Interior.
  • Reform sex education -- abstinence shall be but one of many options disclosed to students.
  • Restore the FCC's "equal-time" rule.
  • Completely overhaul the US Patent Office. Fire all top-level personnel for gross misfeasance and non-feasance. Re-draft all examination and approval standards and practices. Draft legislation that prohibits it being considered as a "profit center" for budgetary purposes. Consider abolishing the presumption of patent validity assumed by courts when adjudicating patent disputes.
  • Close the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
  • Read the Koran from cover to cover.
  • Read the Tao te Ching from cover to cover.
  • Read the Torah from cover to cover.
  • Read the Bible from cover to cover.

With respect to the economy, I don't personally see a lot the Fed can do to jumpstart things. We can't order industry around. However, we have a shitload of maintenance work that needs doing, and I'd be inclined to explore a vast public works project that would repair bridges and roads, repair and possibly expand rail lines, repair and improve aqueducts, harden the electrical grid, and so on. This might make a decent domestic jobs program. You can't outsource the plumber...

Also fun, but somewhat less realistic, would be the development of space-based energy platforms, such as giant solar arrays. This would require significant advances in materials science, which could be facilitated by government-sponsored research.

I see the immigration "problem" as largely a red herring, with everyone talking about deporting illegals, but everyone conveniently failing to mention that the crushing majority of agricultural workers are illegal immigrants, because they work cheaper than the natives. And no one but no one is talking about raising farm wages...

Health care is a big problem, but I don't think anyone's properly identified the precise nature of the problem and its causes (I have my own pet theories, of course). I distrust socialized medicine, mostly at a gut level; but neither do I trust the Republican tack that the free market will work things out. The fact that health care is so ruinously expensive stands as proof that the market is broken. I imagine millions of people would cringe to hear it, but I would want more study of the problem, principally so I could better understand the structure of the current (broken) system.

Hopelessly radical but nevertheless valuable ideas include:

  • Draft a proposal for the incorporation of religious education into public schooling. Such education is to take the form of a non-sectarian, objective overview of all major world religions, including their historical and sociological origins, their central figures and prophets, and their central articles of Faith and Mysteries. Faiths covered may include, but are not limited to:
    • Christianity, with major sub-sects (Catholic, Lutheran, Greek Orthodox, Presbyterian, Church of England/Anglican, Southern Baptist, etc.)
    • Judaism
    • Islam
    • Hinduism
    • Buddhism
    • Taoism
    • Greek Pantheon
    • Deism
    • Agnosticism/Atheism
  • Draft a proposal for the teaching of critical thinking in public schooling. Sub-disciplines should include statistics, logic, rhetoric, and debate.
  • Repudiate and withdraw from the WIPO Treaties.
  • End the embargoes and formally recognize Cuba. Establish diplomatic mission.
  • Explore mandatory public service for all citizens, between the ages 18 - 26. This does not necessarily mean military service.
  • The Great De-Crufting Act: All Federal legislation that has been struck down by SCOTUS is hereby repealed.

The following is truly beyond the pale, and I don't seriously believe for one instant anyone could (or should) get away with it. But it's still fun to think about:

  • The following persons are hereby declared as unlawful enemy combatants:
    • George W. Bush
    • Richard B. Cheney
    • Karl C. Rove
    • Alberto R. Gonzales
    • William J. O'Reilly
    • Ann H. Coulter
    • William Kristol
    • Thomas L. Friedman (to be detained for a term of six months, with a sliding start date)

So, that's me. What are your thoughts?

Update 2008.01.14 23:30: A reader pointed out offline that the President traditionally does not draft legislation, that privilege being reserved to members of Congress. So above, wherever it says, "draft legislation," substitute, "propose legislation."


Maybe They Could Apply Some of That There, "Intelligent Design"

This is just precious:

When we started RedState in May of 2004, we used a website program called Scoop — the same program a lot of similar sites on the left used. But, as the number of visitors to our site grew, Scoop kept crashing on us.

If we’d been a liberal website, we would have been able to fix the problem quickly and relatively cheaply. The online left loves Scoop. Unfortunately, there weren’t really any conservative Scoop developers out there to help us. We kept crashing and were out of money. We had to close down or take drastic action.

[... blah blah, substitute blog package wasn't all that, still can't scale, etc. etc.]

So we’ve decided to move ahead with our upgrades without delay, and despite not having the cash on hand – hoping and praying that RedState.com readers like you will help us make up the shortfall with a generous donation.

[emphasis mine]

Jon Stewart returns to the air tonight, and I hope he finds time for this item, as it's simply hysterical on so many levels.

First off, the idea that "liberals" have engaged in a vast conspiracy to keep Web server developers away from Conservative bloggers in general, and RedState in particular, is completely ludicrous. "Conservative" leaning software developers have been around for ages. We know them as purveyors of malware and spam.

Or perhaps RedState's problem is that "Conservative" Web developers are all staunch supporters of the chief principle of Conservatism — "Pay us." In other words, they can't find any volunteer developers.

But the biggest laugh is that "Conservatism," at least as it has been marketed in this country since Reagan (and, to be honest, long before that) has been the camp of Personal Responsibility, of "Get a job, you dirty fucking hippie," of "Pull yourself up by your bootstraps." The idea of unconditional charity — of a handout — is anathema to them. (Conditional charity, however, is a staple of Conservatism, as a review of their political donations illustrates.)

So here they find themselves at the endpoint of their system of "ideals" and "principles." They lack the in-house talent to scale their software (which they got for free, by the way) and they are unable to convince other "Conservative" Web developers to compromise on their "Conservative" principles and do the work for free. So now RedState is asking their readers to compromise their "Conservative" principles — give them a handout — because RedState doesn't want to follow the other major principle of "Conservative" wisdom, which is that, in a laissez-faire quasi-Darwinist "free market," inferior products/services should simply die off.

Simply precious.


Open Letter to Television and Movie Producers Everywhere

While the so-called "left-wing" blogs remind me the ongoing strike exists, I am not here at their exhortation. Nor am here to copy their form letter or follow their bullet points. I'm here to remind you of one simple, incontrovertible fact:

You're wrong.

If it were possible for me to force your browser to fill your screen with the text, "You're Wrong!" flashing red, I would do so. Because apparently you've managed to ignore every other message that you're wrong.

I am well aware of the byzantine rules and regulations that plague unionized work in Hollywood, and which all but asphyxiate a lot of creative work. But I also know that those rules were born out of a need to thwart a coordinated, pathological effort by studios to keep as much money and control to themselves as possible, and to hell with everyone else.

I don't know where you get this sense of entitlement when it comes to the disposition of other people's work, but it seems necessary to inform you that it is wholly unmerited. The ball you're sitting on and threating to take home does not, in fact, belong to you. And everyone watching you knows it.

It's probably also worth pointing out that the Internet -- the vehicle with which you hope to add to your revenues -- can also be the instrument of your undoing. It is no longer necessary to go through you to get creative works produced and distributed. And, despite your childish and highly destructive efforts to stop it, Internet distribution of entertainment media continues unabated. If you remain inastringent too long, the writers may elect to bypass you entirely and develop and release their work to the Internet directly. At which point, you will have nothing, and the true value of your contributions to the industry will be revealed.

As for me, I don't watch a lot of television, and I can subsist very well on my small library of DVDs, the buffer in the TiVo, Web surfing, and video games. So I frankly don't care if new TV shows come out or not. Yet I have taken valuable time out of my day to tell you this:

Your position is indefensible -- ethically, morally, and fiscally. In short, you're acting like a jerk, and everyone knows it. Even people who don't care about television know you're acting like a jerk. And, just in case it's been unclear to you all this time, acting like a jerk is a bad thing.

Grow the hell up and give the writers their fair due.


"...And That I Will Preserve, Protect, and Defend The President's Ass."

It's getting darned depressing listening to the news these days. You can either listen to authoritarian media and get angry at all the things they refuse to cover, or you can listen to "left-wing" news and get angry about the things they are covering.

Today's unplesant revelation came in a broadcast of NPR's Fresh Air, who was interviewing Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage. He previously earned fame covering Bush's unprecedented use of "signing statements," which Bush believes allow him to creatively misinterpret or flat-out ignore laws Congress has passed. Savage now has a book out entitled Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy.

The little trick Savage details here is the use of the little-known Office of Legal Counsel. This is a wing of the DOJ that researches and writes legal opinions for the President, advising him/her on the legality of programs the President may wish to implement (such as torturing prisoners of war for information, or comprehensively wiretapping the entire US citizenry without a warrant or even probable cause). Such ideas are submitted to the OLC, who then research precedent and laws on the books and render an opinion.

Well, when Bush was elected installed in 2001, the OLC was stacked with legal "scholars" who were, to put it mildly, out of their tiny little minds. Hand-picked by authoritarian extremists who bristled at the limits Congress imposed on the Presidency following the Vietnam and Watergate disasters (*cough*Cheney*cough*), these new appointees were given affirmative instructions to roll back or circumvent those limits and, "Leave the office in better shape than when he came in."

To that end, the Office of Legal Counsel has been issuing opinions that are shared by virtually no other legal scholars in the country. The opinion that said torture was okay? That was OLC's work. The opinions that said the President can wiretap anyone he damn well pleases? OLC.

The legal dodge here is that, by consulting with the OLC, the Bush League can claim they weren't going off half-cocked on their own initiative, but that they can be said to have been, "acting in good faith." "Hey, we consulted with our lawyers, we asked for their expert opinion, and they said this was okay. How could we possibly have known something was wrong with it?"

This claim is, of course, fatuous on its face. However, not being a lawyer, I have no idea how much time and energy it will take to blast through this facade of, "good faith." While consulting with the Office of Legal Counsel may lend an appearance of, "good faith," the Office itself was clearly staffed in bad faith, and all opinions rendered thereafter must therefore be tainted. Whether Congress has any recourse here aside from impeachment is unclear.

It's beginning to look as if the corruption of the DOJ has been more complete than anyone initially feared.