And Then the Invisible Hand of the Free Market Slapped Its Forehead

July 8, 2010

So what's the word on the street? Heard any good tips lately?

Your preschool teacher was right: One person can change the world.

Last year, Steve Perkins, a broker for PVM Oil Futures (company slogan: “The Oil Professionals”), went on a multi-day drinking binge and then proceeded to buy more than 7 million barrels worth of oil futures. These saucy antics drove the price of a kind of crude oil up to an eight-month high.

His company eventually lost millions on the deals and Perkins was banned from trading for 5 years in the UK, but this story proves something very powerful. If you think of the world financial system as a giant bulldozer with the power to literally move mountains (as when the price of coal goes up and mountaintop removal becomes viable) or even devastate millions of lives, which is what happens when speculative trading drives up the price of rice or corn, this story reveals that any drunken asshole can hop into the driver’s seat and send the whole system lurching towards the nearest cliff.

...But I didn't really hit bottom until I bought all those shares in Chrysler... uuuuuh

Steve Perkins just had a few too many whiskeys and turned his life into a mash-up of Leaving Las Vegas and Wall Street. He wasn’t some evil genius, just some lush trader whose balls apparently got bigger with every drink until he decided that cornering the market on crude futures in the middle of a bender was a good idea. Imagine if someone who knew what they were doing tried to cause some real damage?

First, we'll get hella fucked up -- then we'll swap some collateralized debt obligations! Let's fucking paaarty!

Like the Taliban but Whiter and Way More Guns

July 2, 2010

If Rand Paul ever makes it to the White House, I think we all know who he'll be tapping for Vice Prez...

“New Study Shows That Majority Of Americans Want Their Warlord Leaders To Focus More On Economic Issues.” That headline was a Tweet from The Onion today as part of it’s future-headlines series: #NewsIn2137

Unfortunately, it looks like we could be dealing with warlords in this country a lot sooner than 2137. The hot trend in right-wing campaign ads this season seems to be gun fetishism (surprise!). Touting the NRA’s seal of approval is certainly nothing new for the GOP, ads like this one from Arizona’s Pamela Gorman take it to a new level of absurdity.

Now, unlike many lefties, I’m not a big fan of gun control. How are we supposed to celebrate weddings, mourn at funerals, or pass the time when we’re bored without shooting guns in the air? OK, there are actually much better reasons for supporting the second amendment, like not wanting the State to have a monopoly on firearms, but for Republicans to act like this is the most important issue facing out country right now is stupider than Forrest Gump at a nitrous party.

After all, the Supreme Court just ruled in favor of gun rights this week and Obama hasn’t done anything to suggest that he’s about to take away our ability to purchase weapons that could turn an armored car into Swiss cheese, so why are the Tea Partiers’ all getting their star-spangled panties in a twist?

Here are two explanations to that question:

1)    It’s easy. In US politics, guns symbolize the brand that these kinds of politicians want to associate themselves with. Tough, “law and order”, no nonsense, old fashioned, etc. These are the associations that conservative voters have with leaders who flaunt their firearms. Plus, by focusing on guns (and the brainless, never-ending mantra to cut taxes), these politicians can ignore the complexities of real issues facing us today. If Pamela Gorman tried to talk seriously about an issue that’s actually a major threat to our country like the need for transparency in the derivatives market, her supporters – most of whom I assume are constantly drooling anyway – would probably either fall asleep or start playing with whatever shiny object is closest.

2)    These people want to live in a fantasy world where they get to play the patriotic militia leader Rambo role and rise up against the New World Order and the “antichrist” black president. Media Matters just posted a great summary of how all the right-wing radio hosts are now proclaiming that we’re on the verge of a civil war. Many of these people are already living in a loony tunes universe where the Earth is only 6000 years old, abstinence-only education actually works, and Jesus will be coming back any day now riding a unicorn made of Bibles. The formerly fringe culture of survivalists has gone mainstream (with “crisis garden” commercials running on the number one-rated cable news network – FOX) and upscale (with next generation bomb shelters designed to look like luxury cruise liners).

Yeah, like the zombies really won't be able to find you down there.

Now, I’m not saying that the government isn’t totally messed up at every level and that it is doing and proposing lots of scary things, like an “emergency kill switch” for the Internet. But electing politicians based on the caliber of weapon that they’re stroking in their campaign ad isn’t the way to make things better – unless you want Congressional hearings to look like the climax scenes in Quentin Tarantino movies…

Although Dale Peterson does make a pretty convincing case about the Facebook thing…


But what the hell is this? It looks like a cross between a Tea Party wet dream and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure…

Next on the Agenda: Putting Lead Back into Paint

June 30, 2010

This is what Yellowstone will look like if the Tea Partiers get their way.

Maybe Nevada’s Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle got bit on the ass by a squirrel once or something, but she must really not be a fan of nature. During an interview on ResistNet, she attacked her opponent Harry Reid for supporting the Mining in the Parks Act, a law currently that prohibits mining in National Parks.

And how would this rising Tea Party star solve America’s energy needs? By deregulating the oil and mining industries.

Considering BP’s still-gushing oil volcano and the recent explosion in a Massey coal mine that killed 29 workers, Angle’s energy policy makes me think that if she were running for office in the 80’s, she would have used the Chernobyl disaster to advocate for deregulating the nuclear industry.

Here are a few little tidbits to think about while pondering Angle’s deregulation proposal…

The Denver Post reported this week that “Oil and gas companies reported almost 1,000 spills to Colorado regulators over the past 2 1/2 years, totaling 5.2 million gallons of drilling liquids and oil.” Wow, that sounds messier than Rush Limbaugh at an Old Country Buffet. I bet with Chairman Maobama in power, those oil companies really got a smack down that would have made Hugo Chavez proud… oh, actually, all those spills have only resulted in two fines totally $650,000. Shit – Lil’ Wayne could have paid off those fines without even going to the bank.

"Hi, I'm here to pay off that oil spill fine. One of my molars should cover it."

So, are the candidates in the Colorado’s governor race talking about cracking down on this dangerous behavior by oil companies and maybe even using legitimate regulatory enforcement to pull in much-needed revenues to Colorado’s economy though legitimate fines?

Nope – both candidates actually seem to be begging the fossil fuel industry to treat the Rocky Mountain State like the floor of a Jiffy Lube. Just the other day, the Colorado Independent reported that Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper proposed relaxing regulations on pit liners that hold toxic waste water contaminated by the fracking process of natural gas drilling.

If that sound kind of like letting a baby with diarrhea sleep on your bed without a diaper… it’s actually a lot worse than that. According to an AP report that came out this week, “Compounds associated with neurological problems or other serious health effects are among the chemicals being used to drill natural gas wells.”

Well, to be fair, that report only looked at chemicals used to drill for natural gas in Pennsylvania. I’m sure if Colorado wants to protect itself from people getting “neurological problems” from chemicals associated with natural gas drilling, it would just pass some regulations to protect it’s citizens from… oh, that’s right – regulations are unpopular because people who wear hats decorated with tea-bags don’t like them…

Screw it. Shit like this is pretty cool, so what kind of unpatriotic treehugger would want to regulate the energy industry, anyway?

‘Shop Off Their Heads!

June 24, 2010

"Wait. So you're telling me this isn't real?"

When Joseph Stalin began into his Axl Rose-like descent into maniacal paranoia, he had comrades who “betrayed” him not only murdered, but wiped from the pages of history, as well. His propaganda squad would use literally erase Stalin’s ex-henchmen from photographs in an attempt to purge even the memory of his enemies from the collective consciousness.  Of course, Russians drink so much vodka that resorting to this crude revisionism was probably unnecessary, but I guess Uncle Joe was kind of a dictator about stuff like that.

So, flash-forward a few decades and look who’s taking an exacto knife to the history books now: the anti-smoking crowd. According to the UK’s Daily Mail, a British museum features a giant poster of Winston Churchill above the main entrance – but his iconic cigar has been Photoshopped out! Not only is this unsavory from a historical standpoint, but now Churchill looks like Dick Cheney. (If Dick Cheney wasn’t a draft dodger.)

According to the article, the origin of the Photoshopped image is “a mystery,” but this isn’t the first time that the anti-smoking lobby airbrushed a famous stogie. On the cover of a British school textbook, a cigar was removed from the mouth of a renowned engineer to avoid “offense.” Now, I’m not trying to stand up for the tobacco industry – I would be totally fine if BP used the bodies of Big Tobacco execs to stuff up the oil geyser in the Gulf. However, let’s leave revising historical record to psychotic totalitarians, shall we?

“He who controls the Photoshop controls the future.” –George Orwell

“Why are you trying to chop off history’s dick?” –Sigmund Freud

Speaking of creepy fascists (what a coincidence!) The Washington Times ran a Photoshopped photo of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan wearing a turban today. This fraudulent picture was apparently meant to illustrate neo-con Frank Gaffney’s conspiracy theory masquerading as an op-ed involving Shariah law, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Wall Street bailout. The only thing that makes less sense to me than the logic of this article is the fact that Gaffney – who previously tried to blame Saddam Hussein for the ’93 World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings – somehow runs a “think tank.”

Nice job, right-wingers. I could have done it better with safety scissors and a glue stick.

I’ll Take the Greasy Pelican Nuggets With the Diesel Dipping Sauce

June 22, 2010

This man owes you a fucking oyster po' boy.

Although I’m sure there was no shortage of them at the yacht race that Tony Hayward jaunted off to last weekend, oysters are about to get a lot scarcer for the rest of us “small people.”  The Gulf oil spill is destroying this year’s oyster harvest and even forcing the removal of these tasty mollusks from Red Lobster’s menu, according to the Orlando Sentinel. (Full disclosure: I own a ton of stock in Red Lobster… just kidding, I don’t stock in anything and I’ve never even seen the inside of a Red Lobster.)

Back to the point: Thanks to BP, not only do the Gulf Coast beaches look like the inside of a baby’s dirty diaper, but now they’re fucking up the BBQ’s, too. BP has to be the worst thing to happen to summer since summer school was invented.

BP's catch of the day.

Last year a report came out saying that seafood will disappear from menus within the next 50 years due to over-fishing and pollution. I remember some folks in the media making a joke out of this impending disaster (“Better eat lots of sushi while I still can”). But now, it looks like that report might have been a little too generous in estimating how much longer we have before the only shrimp cocktails left will be wax museums…

Massive, swirling continents of floating plastic trash are quickly accumulating across the globe.

In efforts to re-legalize commercial whaling, Japan is trying to bribe delegates to the International Whaling Commission with prostitutes and cash.

Kevin Costner apparently know more about how to fix the oil disaster than actual oil companies.

At this rate, the rest of the living creatures living in the ocean will be lucky to last as long as a pack of sea monkeys.

Who wants to go for a dip?

Happy Father’s Day: Here’s What I Won’t Be Getting My Dad

June 20, 2010

Need some last minute shopping ideas? Well... don’t ask this guy.

Non-Recommendation #1

If you’re dad was a huge fan of the Nisour Square Massacre in Baghdad he’s sure to love this inspirational mousepad from the mercenary gang Blackwater. All proceeds go to cover transportation expenses for Blackwater founder Eric Prince, who is reportedly preparing to flee impending criminal indictments by moving to the United Arab Emirates, which doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the U.S.

Nothing says “I love you dad” like fascist office supplies.

Non-Recommendation #2

“Hey, dad, remember when we used to play catch in the front yard? Just you and me, tossing the football back and forth on a brisk Sunday afternoon… I can picture the golden leaves gently falling from the trees as the seasons turned. When you would tell me to “go long” and I would charge across the lawn with my arms open for the Hail Mary pass, I always felt so proud catching ball. Like a real man…

Anyway, isn’t it great that we never had to worry about  white phosphorous bombs melting our faces off? I hope you like this propaganda celebrating the continued oppression of Palestinian children…

It looks like AIPAC got Uncle Sam a new hat.

Non-Recommendation #3

One more thing I won’t be getting my dad this year: Anything from Wal-Mart. Not that I would have been shopping at Wal-Mart anyway, but this new story about how a young gay worker was “outed” by his boss, stripped of his responsibilities and forced to wear a yellow vest during work hours reminded me of what a terrible corporation this is.

Don't expect Walmart to be flying the rainbow flag anytime soon.

America’s Unfunniest Home Videos

June 7, 2010

Nothin’ to see here, move along now.

Anybody with the privilege of an Internet connection can do a search for “police brutality” on YouTube to see that there are tons of cops out there doing ruthless, illegal shit to innocent people all the time. I’m not talking about kicking a murderer while he’s handcuffed after a high speed chase. Cops are out there every day engaging in sociopath behavior that would make Joe Pesci’s character from Goodfellas proud: tazing little kids and old ladies, shooting people in the back, pushing women down stairs, yelling racist slurs while stomping on innocent bystanders, kicking people off their bikes, shooting people’s dogs, and pretty much everything short of water-boarding baby panda bears.

This is nothing new, of course – check the story of Jon Burge for a good example of how systemic this behavior is. Burge was a Chicago cop who used Viet Cong tactics to torture false confessions out of black men for decades and was promoted for his viciousness and even protected from prosecution by Chicago’s current Mayor, Richard Daley. Fortunately, the ubiquity of camera phones has finally given regular people a safety net against unchecked police brutality. I use the term “safety net” because catching cops in the act is really the only chance of protection against the wrath of police – it might not save you, but at least you have a chance.

Usually after the cops assault (or murder) an innocent person, they blame the victim. Good luck trying to win your case or pursue a civilian complaint against the police when it’s your word against theirs. Video evidence has been the smoking gun that’s saved an increasing number of people from false charges and in a few cases, the tables have even been turned when public outrage resulted in cops actually being charged with their crimes (gasp!).

Since cops only like rules when the rules are on their side, now they’re trying to destroy our only safety net. According to Wendy McElroy, “a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer. Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.”

What’s next – are they going to take a cue from Jennifer Lopez and pass a laws that makes it illegal to look a cop in the eye?

If the cops beat your ass, but no one was around to film it, did your ass ever really get beaten?

The “no filming cops” rule could dovetail interesting with another emerging trend in law enforcement: the Blackwaterization of police departments. The San Francisco Chronicle revealed this week that the relatively affluent town of San Carlos may deal with its budget crisis by “dissolving its Police Department and outsourcing the job of law enforcement.” The mayor of neighboring Google City – oops, I mean Redwood City – said “There’s no question in my mind that this is the wave of the future.” (Bummer. I was still hoping that hover-boards would be the wave of the future.)

Anyway, you don’t need to be Nostradamus to speculate on the disastrous confluence of these unconstitutional trends of not being able to record the police and outsourcing police departments.

Just remember: Power will always seek to turn the odds in its favor, justify even the most unjustifiable atrocities and humiliate anyone who dares oppose it.

Let’s check out a few stories from this week’s news to see this equation in action: Sarah Palin blamed environmentalists for the BP disaster; a Clear Channel radio station in Ohio sponsored a contest to send listeners to Arizona “to chase aliens and spend cash in the desert;” Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, wants to prosecute U.S. citizens aboard the ship that was attacked by Israeli commandos for supporting terrorism while the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer denies that there’s a humanitarian crisis in Gaza…

As this never-ending list of laugh-until-you-cry hypocrisy, nihilistic celebration of misery and proud ignorance unspools like ticker-tape charting the crash of what Jeremy Rifkin called “the empathic civilization,” I get the feeling that humanity is not too big to fail.

And for better or worse, there won’t be any bailout when this market collapses.

Salt: Still Safer Than Anthrax and Tastier, Too!

June 1, 2010

You'll know that the food industry lobbyists have won when you start seeing ads for this new "protein shake" popping up at your local health club.

Despite government health experts’ claim that cutting salt consumption could save 150,000 lives a year, the processed food industry is “working overtly and behind the scenes” to “delay and divert” potential regulation or guidelines.

According to the New York Times, trying to get corporations like Kellogg, Kraft Foods and Cargill to cut back a little on the salt is like trying to get a tweeker to reduce their meth  consumption – they just don’t wanna give up those little white crystals.

Corporate “flavorologists” argue that processed food tastes like “cardboard” or “damp dog hair” without added sodium, so unless you want crackers that taste like a homeless guy was sleeping inside of them or cookies that taste like a mutt’s wet ass, you better just learn how to deal with that hypertension, grandma.

Well… actually, they admit that you can make processed food taste better simply by using fresher ingredients instead of just dumping more salt into them, but that would “risk losing profits.” So instead of investing in healthier food, the food industry is throwing millions and millions into a massive marketing push with junk science and PR front groups like “The Salt Institute.

This is how the folks from The Salt Institute unwind after a long day at the propaganda factory.

Here’s my favorite clip from the Salt Institute’s Web site (and when you’re reading this, just remember that this is all funded by corporations that sell globs of chemicals designed to look and smell like food with names like “Green Slime” (a children’s cereal) and “Chicken Rings”):

Most are unaware of the 14,000 known uses for salt, how it’s produced and our success in ensuring the environmental compatibility as it provides the foundation for the quality of our lives. Mankind evolved from the sea and we have a saline “sea” within us as do all fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Environmental author Rachel Carson is best known for her book on birds, but she also wrote The Sea Around Us offering this insight: “When the animals went ashore to take up life on land, they carried part of the sea in their bodies, a heritage which they passed on to their children and which even today links each land animal with its origins in the ancient sea.”

Excuse me while I wipe a salty, delicious tear from my eye – but you’ve just gotta love the corporate behemoths responsible for FrankenFoods and the dominance of factory farms quoting the godmother of the modern environmental movement. These guys must have giant, genetically modified balls to feed us propaganda so ridiculous that if irony was a dude his head would have just exploded.

Cargill’s “Salt 101” campaign is another wonderful case study in corporate psychology and ethics. In response to more and more scientists warning us that excess salt leads to terrible health problems and premature death this company launches an pro-salt advertising blitz that suggests “sprinkling it on foods as varied as chocolate cookies, fresh fruit, ice cream and even coffee.” This would be like if the gun industry put up ads saying “Shoot More People!” so they could increase bullet sales.

Cargill even recruited Food Network celebrity chef Alton Brown to push the “put salt on everything” message. “You might be surprised,” Mr. Brown says, “by what foods are enhanced by its briny kiss.”

Mr. Brown, you can kiss my briny ass – I hope my butt sweat enhances the flavor.

This is the only Salt that I think we need more of…

Lake Pirates Mess With Texas

May 30, 2010

Mexican lake pirates don’t scare me nearly as much as the thought of Tea Baggers in wet suits.

If you thought old white people were going crazy about having a black president, just wait until they find out about this. According to FoxNews, the newest threat facing our nation is… MEXICAN LAKE PIRATES!

Bassmasters beware, here’s how Fox describes the situation: “The waters of Falcon Lake normally beckon boaters with waterskiing and world-record bass fishing. But this holiday weekend, fishermen on the waters that straddle the U.S.-Mexico border are on the lookout for something more sinister: pirates. Twice in recent weeks, fishermen have been robbed at gunpoint by marauders that the local sheriff says are “spillover” from fighting between rival Mexican drug gangs.”

Will Texas call in the Air Force to defend Americans' right to waterski?

When the US media was covering the Somali pirates, they ignored the fact that most of the “pirates” were basically just fishermen who had been screwed over by multinational corporations that were poaching their fish and dumping nuclear waste into their waters. So I’m not going to rush to judge these so-called Mexican lake pirates before I hear their side of the story – They could have a perfectly valid reason for fucking with the Texans. Maybe the Texans were blasting really crappy country music and the Mexicans just couldn’t take it anymore, so they stole their radio.

Anyway, I’m just worried that the US Navy – which has been training dolphins to fight terrorists – might try to enlist some freshwater dolphins to take on these lake pirates. It’s bad enough that the military has drafted marine mammals into the War on Terror – it would really be a shame if they turned dolphins into border guards, too.

Let me see your papers.

Don’t Ask Rush Limbaugh to Take Care of Your Plants Next Time You Go on Vacation

May 20, 2010

Judging by the view from Rush Limbaugh's apartment, the coastline still looks fine. (Yes, Rush actually owns this place -- but who's his interior decorator? This looks like the bedroom of Jimmy Buffet and Marie Antoinette's offspring.)

Rush Limbaugh is still pretending that the BP oil disaster is no big deal, despite the fact that the Louisiana coast is now greasier than Mickey Rourke. Rush serves up more whoppers than Burger King – he claimed for years that nicotine isn’t addictive – so I never really considered the guy Mr. Wizard, in the science department, but his latest claim is even more absurd than the décor of his $14 million New York apartment.

Rush dismissed the devastating effects of this environmental catastrophe by saying that “oil can be a great fertilizer.”

Wow, I can’t wait for the next nuclear plant meltdown so I can hear Rush defend it by claiming that all that radiation will be like free chemotherapy for people with cancer.

Rush Limbaugh's heart. (Just kidding, it's really a tar ball, but what's the difference?)